Ash to ash, dust to dust

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I remember the first time I saw someone with ash on their forehead in observance of Ash Wednesday.

It was in college (that’s how denominationally aloof I was). It was a professor of mine, Dr. Dillon–great American History professor. [If you read this, Dr. Dillon, I fully regret not caring more about your courses…aging often speaks its own rebuke.]

I thought it strange, though, the ash. Messy and unnecessary. Uncivilized perhaps.

I thought myself as somehow beyond such ancient practices.

I also grew up a little during college, and a bit more since.

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

I need that reminder.

The psalmist captures it in a hauntingly beautiful fashion: Psalm 39:5 “Lord, let me know my end and the number of my days, so that I may know how short my life is.”

Microscopic organisms and Mack Trucks and malignant tumors are no respecters of persons.

It’s going to end.

Life, that is.

When is the variable, not if.

Ash to ash, dust to dust…

For what or whom are you living? Spiritual or not, everyone has to answer.

Do you live for what you get more of when you die? If so, you could say, like St. Paul, “to live is Christ; to die is gain.”

 

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Ever feel like you’re serving in a ministry of death?

Death // Spirit

Condemnation // Righteousness 

Fading // Enduring

These are the contrasts employed by the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 3:7-11. For the sake of context, please take it in

“Now if the ministry of death, chiseled in letters on stones, came with glory, so that the Israelites were not able to look directly at Moses’ face because of the glory from his face — a fading glory —8 how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious? 9 For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness overflows with even more glory. 10 In fact, what had been glorious is not glorious now by comparison because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was fading away was glorious, what endures will be even more glorious.”

— ‭‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭3:8-11‬ ‭HCSB‬‬

It’s a weird text, really. Paul is saying that the old laws (e.g., 10 commandments) were a ministry of death and condemnation and, ultimately, are fading. Makes you want to jump into Deuteronomy and read it all right now, doesn’t it?  

But when you compare the old law, now fulfilled in Christ (Matthew 5:17-18), with the law of the Spirit, now you’re talking about something different. It’s the law of life and peace (Romans 8:6). Life and peace or death and condemnation…tough choice. Yet we choose the latter so often.

This got me thinking about just how easy it is, given our various ministries contexts, we to feel, well, dead. Whether that ministry is on a church staff or in a Christian school or at a dentist’s office, unless it is being lived out though the Spirit at all times, it will feel like death, like condemnation, like a fading fad. 

See, “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom,” writes Paul later in 2 Corinthians 3:17. Freedom. Do you feel free–more free!–in your work because of Jesus? Because the Spirit of God dwells in you and leads you? 

If not, something’s off. If I work day in and day out and feel dead or condemned or like the work is petty, then I’m not living life in the Spirit. I’m living by my power, for the approval of others, or something lesser than the Almighty God. I’m certainly not living by the Spirit. 

If it’s really better for everyone that Jesus left us the Holy Spirit and ascended into heaven, then how about showing the world how it’s better? I think the world is calling our bluff, dear church. It’s our move. 

What would a life of freedom lived in and by the Spirit look like? How radically different would it be from the mostly mundane lives of death we’re living now?