Beauty from Ashes
by Jack Wald | June 10th, 2012

I Corinthians 6:9-11

JASON GRAY – I AM NEW

Now I won’t deny
The worst you could say about me
But I’m not defined by mistakes that I’ve made
Because God says of me

I am not who I was
I’m being remade I am new
I am chosen and holy and I’m dearly loved
I am new

Who I thought I was
And who I thought I had to be
I had to give them both up
Cause neither were willing
To ever believe

I am not who I was
I’m being remade I am new
I am chosen and holy and I’m dearly loved
I am new I am new

Too long have I lived in the shadow of shame
Believing that there was no way I could change
But the one who is making everything new
Doesn’t see me the way that I do
He doesn’t see me the way that I do

I am not who I was
I’m being remade I am new
I am chosen and holy and I’m dearly loved
I am new I am new

I am not who I was
I’m being remade I am new
Dead to the old man, I’m coming alive
I am new I am new

Forgiven, beloved
Hidden in Christ
Made in the image of the Giver of Life
Righteous and holy, reborn and remade
Accepted and worthy
This is our new name
This is who we are now…

You can tell that I am a big fan of Jason Gray. He is a great musician, composer and lyricist. This is all important but what pushes him to the top of my list is the depth and authenticity of his music. Jason Gray does not sing of superficial emotions and superficial truth. He does not sing simply of feelings. He sings of the deep truth that comes from the bowels of the earth, God’s truth that created this world and longs to be revealed in each and every life on this planet.

He sings from the perspective of having had a very difficult childhood with an abusive stepfather. Out of this experience he developed a stutter that stays with him to this day when he speaks (but not when he sings). He sings from the perspective of someone who tried to end his life but, as he writes in his song, Without Running Away:

I’ve spent some days looking
For a length of rope
And a place to hang it
From the end of my hope
But where I thought hope had ended
I always find a little bit more

His life and his music are testimony to the power of God to change our lives.

His video that we just watched is a powerful presentation of the truth that God can take junk and make something beautiful out of it. As Jason and his wife took the junk they found and made a beautiful collage, so did God take the junk of Jason’s life and make a work of art.

We admire the collage at the end of the film and we admire the beauty of Jason Gray’s music but we need to look deeper and see how this happened. When we go to an art gallery and admire a painting or sculpture, we want to know who the artist is. Where did this work of art come from? Who created this wonderful piece of art?

God is the artist who creates beauty from ashes. At the beginning of the service we read the passage from Colossians 1 that speaks so beautifully of the supremacy of Jesus. (Colossians 1:15–17)
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

This is where we have to start. Beauty does not come out of ashes by itself. Jesus, God in the flesh, created all that we see around us. The creative power of God that created so magnificently continues to work to create beauty.

In Genesis 1 we read: (Genesis 1:1–2)
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

Before there was anything, before there were plants and insects and birds and fish and mammals, before there was anything:
the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

BBC produced an absolutely delightful series, Planet Earth, which uses stunning photography to show how beautifully and intricately created our world is. From jungles to deserts, from deep, dark caves to the heights of mountains, from the heat of the equator to the frigid polar regions, from the skies to the vast oceans, our world teems with life.

From the tiniest of insects to the largest of mammals and from molds and fungi to the majestic forests of trees we see the seemingly infinite variety of design and beauty of creation.

From nothing we arrived at this symphony of creativity and beauty and the artist behind this creation was the Spirit of God who was hovering over the waters.

When I read that verse I think of all the pent-up potential waiting to be released. All the designs and all the vibrant colors and all the variety of life were there, waiting, waiting, waiting until it was time to create.

This is the power of God that transforms us. This is the power of God that takes junk and turns it into beauty. This is the creative power that worked in the pain and ashes of Jason Gray’s life and made him a creator of such beautiful, deeply true music.

But when we look around we see lives that are not beautiful. We see dissatisfied, unhappy people who struggle, struggle, struggle. Day after day they struggle and live in a life so tangled it seems the knot will never be unraveled.

If God has such creative power, why is it then that we see so much ugliness? Why is it we do not see this beauty and creativity in everyone? Why do the knots in some lives continue to get more tangled?

It is not that God lacks power and creativity. It is not that God does not love us and want to unleash his creative power in our lives. The problem is us. God will not force beauty; we have to allow God to work in us to create beauty from the dust of our lives. It is a matter of submission. Will we submit to God and allow him to work in us?

Paul wrote his letter to the church in Rome with eight chapters full of glorious truth about who we are and what God has done to work his wonders in us. Paul followed this with three chapters pouring out his heart with concern for his fellow Jews and then Paul began chapter 12 with this: (Romans 12:1–2)
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Because of all the incredible things God has done for us, Paul wrote, we are to offer ourselves as living sacrifices. We are to submit. That is where it starts for us. When we submit to him, God begins his creative work in us, begins cleaning up the mess of our life.

Jesus said in (Luke 9:23)
If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.

We have the enormous, creative power of God ready to work in us to transform us and all we have to do is to submit to him. We have to say, with Jesus, not my will, but yours be done. (Luke 22:42)

When you realize the context for these words of Jesus, the Garden of Gethsemane, then you understand how much more difficult it is to submit than it seems. It was not easy for Jesus to submit and go to the cross and it is not easy for us to submit either.

In the baptisms at the ocean a couple weeks ago, several of the stories centered on the struggle to submit to Jesus. We celebrated the submission of these students as they declared they were followers of Jesus, seeking his will for their lives.

This act of submission is not a one-time event. We have to surrender to Jesus when we accept his gift of salvation but then we repeatedly come to forks in the road, decisions to be made and we have to choose between what we want for ourselves and what God wants for us.

I met a man this week who talked with me about the unhappiness of his life here as a student. He wanted to study one thing but the university assigned him to another course of study. He talked to me about his dreams, none of which involve being here in Morocco, and told me that God can do miracles, nothing is impossible for God.

I agreed with him but said that God can do his miracles but he will not do our miracles. We are not in control. We do not dictate the future. We have to submit and trust that God will lead us into a future that is good for us.

I see an unhappy future for this young man unless he comes to a point of submission to Jesus. Right now he is full of himself, determined to put on a positive face and fight the system that is not treating him well. He is a strong, intelligent man, frustrated with the life he is living and determined to do better. God has given him his strength and intelligence, but these need to be used in submission to God, not an unyielding determination to move toward what he things is best for his life. He is so set on his course he cannot hear anything God may be trying to tell him.

When we come continually to God to ask for help with the decisions we have to make and ask him to guide us because we want his will not ours, we are led onto a path that leads to life. Beauty is created. But when we set out determined to do what we think best without regard to what God has in mind for us, we end up in tangled knots and wonder why so much seems to go wrong in our lives.

But no matter how tangled the knot, God can unravel it. How do I know? Because I have seen it over and over again in the lives of people who share their story with me.

I know a woman who lived for some years in the world of drugs and promiscuous sex. She came to a point of despair, submitted to Jesus and the Holy Spirit began his work in her. Beauty was created and she entered into marriage with a wonderful man as a pure bride. She makes me smile every time I see her. She is a beautiful woman with a bright future.

I know another woman who grew up in foster homes where she was physically and sexually abused. She got caught up in drugs and alcohol, had her first child as a 16 year old and finally came to a turning point when she submitted to Jesus and the Holy Spirit began his work, cleaning up the mess of her life. She once went to a counselor who told her that everyone she knew from a background like hers was either dead or in jail. But God mended this woman and created a woman of beauty whose life shines.

I know a man who was part of a street gang and a crack addict. He abused himself and others until he met Jesus who began his work of salvation in him. He went to Bible school, became a pastor and started many new churches. He has been very influential as a leader in the church, has a wonderful wife and family. His life is testimony to God’s creative power to bring beauty out of the junk of our lives.

This is not a new thing God is doing. This is something God has been doing throughout the history of the church.

Corinth was known as one of the most immoral cities in the Roman Empire. The 1,000 prostitutes at the temple of Aphrodite contributed to this reputation and a new Greek verb was coined, Corinthianize which meant to practice immorality.

The church in Corinth to which Paul wrote was composed of people from this culture and you can see in his letter the background some of them came from. (1 Corinthians 6:9–11)
Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Pay attention to that list: Sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, homosexual offenders, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, slanderers, swindlers. This is not a very trustworthy list and yet when you went to the church in Corinth, the thief was now the church treasurer and a prostitute was counseling in marriage. Drunkards and swindlers were the deacons and elders in the church.

Out of the junk of ruined lives came beauty as they were cleaned up by the Holy Spirit.

In the RICEmail this week I sent out a story Festo Kivengere, from Uganda, used to tell.
“One day a little girl sat watching her mother working in the kitchen. She asked her mummy, ‘What does God do all day long?’ For a while the mother was stumped, but then she said, ‘Darling, I’ll tell you what God does all day long. He spends his whole day mending broken things.'”

Eugene O’Neal, an American playwright who knew a lot about brokenness, said: “Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue.”

We are all broken. We all need mending. The work of God is to put us together, to make something beautiful out of our lives, but we have to be willing to allow him to work in us. The work is often painful and we try to avoid being mended, but submitting to God’s healing is what makes all the difference in our lives.

The Apostle Paul was a persecutor of the followers of Jesus until he met Jesus on the road to Damascus. In Acts 26:12–14 he tells King Agrippa his story:
“On one of these journeys I was going to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. 13 About noon, O king, as I was on the road, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions. 14 We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’

A goad was a prod used to keep cattle moving and kicking against the goads was a proverb that described the uselessness of fighting against a divine being.

Many of us stopped kicking against the goads a long time ago and although we still struggle to make good decisions, to seek God’s will rather than our own, most of the time we are able to submit and follow God’s plan for our lives.

When you meet someone whose Christian life you admire, you are looking at someone who has, most of the time, submitted to Jesus. We all struggle and no one is perfect, but the Christians you admire have, day by day, made the decision to submit and follow Jesus.

When you meet someone who is struggling with life and losing, you are looking at someone who has, most of the time, refused to submit to Jesus. It has been my will, not yours be done.

When we meet someone who is struggling, kicking against the goads, we understand that we are not better than they are; we understand we could easily be in a similar position. The difference is not that we are better but that we try as much as possible to seek God’s will and submit to him.

When someone says or does something offensive to me, do I take offense? When someone irritates me, do I pray that God will help me see that person with his eyes? When I do not get into the school I want or the program of study I want or get the relationship I want or the job I want or the promotion I want, what do I do? Will I fight against this rejection or submit and ask God what direction do we take now? Do I say, “God, why did you do this to me?” or do I pray, “God, help me. Help me to know what to do next. What is your plan for my life?”

These are the daily decisions we need to make. I need to take up my cross daily and follow Jesus. Not my will but yours be done. Over and over again there needs to be in our lives points where we deeply surrender to Jesus, asking him to lead us and guide us.

When we do that we have the experience Paul wrote about in Romans 8:15 (The Message)
This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?”

When disappointment comes we say, “OK, what’s next, Papa?” When things are not working out as we expected we say, “OK, what’s next, Papa?” We do not kick against the goads. We come to God and ask him where we go from here.

Is there a part of your life where God is not in control because you will not let go and trust him with that part of your life? Are you resisting God in part of your life because you are unwilling to give up your plan, your agenda for your life? In what way are you holding on to control of your life? Are you at a crossroad in your life and struggling with what to do? Are you frustrated because things are not working out the way you would like them to?

The amazing creative power of God is waiting to come into that part of your life and begin cleaning and mending. Mistakes can be mended. Painful memories can be healed. Relationships can be restored. Your life can be made new. Beauty awaits. You do not have to live with pain. Will you surrender and allow God to come in?

Colossians 1:15–23 (The Message)
We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen.
We look at this Son and see God’s original purpose in everything created.
For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels—everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him.
He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment.
And when it comes to the church, he organizes and holds it together, like a head does a body.
He was supreme in the beginning and—leading the resurrection parade—he is supreme in the end.
From beginning to end he’s there, towering far above everything, everyone.
So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding.
Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross.
You yourselves are a case study of what he does. At one time you all had your backs turned to God, thinking rebellious thoughts of him, giving him trouble every chance you got.
But now, by giving himself completely at the Cross, actually dying for you, Christ brought you over to God’s side and put your lives together, whole and holy in his presence.
You don’t walk away from a gift like that!
You stay grounded and steady in that bond of trust, constantly tuned in to the Message, careful not to be distracted or diverted.
There is no other Message—just this one.
Every creature under heaven gets this same Message.

This Jesus is ready to unleash the creative power of the Holy Spirit in your life to bring you what is good and pleasing and perfect. The knots of your life can be untangled. You can become a work of beauty but you have to surrender and allow God to work in your life.