When I woke up yesterday morning, three fire stations and dozens of firefighters were out on the highway, wielding water hoses at flames licking out the windows of a little country church around the corner here.
Smoke threaded from the steeple straight up the sky like it was an ashen seam between heaven and earth. Were there ashes around the pulpit, like God’s Word lit the place on fire?
Does the passion that light fire in our bones — always leave a trail of ashes through our hopes?
A teenager told me the hardest things last night.
A woman I’ve prayed with for years, she told me that her husband looked her in the eyes yesterday and said, “I don’t love you anymore…” — and she curled up in a fetal ball on the bathroom floor and sobbed and wondered how abandonment can feel like being torn from the warmth of a womb and you’re left gasping to breathe, how it can feel like a cold wind on your bare back and there’s no one who can shield you from the relentless chill.
I had no words — only could feel this ember burning up my throat.
Our baby cry-howled through the night last night. I rocked her through the shadowed hours and thought of fathers in Syria who rocked the bodies of their chemical asphyxiated dead daughters and all across your centre, you can feel the slow scorching of this old broken world.
On the brink of holy week, the way we are all on, is our own Via Dolorosa. Suffering is at the burning core of the world — because love is at the core of the world.
Your world can feel like it’s kinda burning and your people are on fire.
“Sometimes you feel a bit like you’re in a house on fire and there’s a crowd outside trying to save you, trying to help you, trying to give you something to hold on to—but you’ve locked your door and you’re burning alone in your fire.
And you need at least person to stop trying to save or rescue you, one person to ignore all the panic and alarms, and just come sit with you in your burn.
In your burn, what you need is to feel the heart of Christ burning for you.Everyone needs someone to be with them in their fire.” ~The Broken Way
I stood once on the side of a mountain, beside a burn-scorched tree.
Stood there running my hands along the ruddy bark of that burn-scarred tree, and I’m telling you, that if you’re honest, life can smell like stinging smoke in the nostrils.
Ended up standing there by that burnt tree, kind of struck:
While the Maker of the Cosmos curled up in the amniotic waters of a womb, while the ancients of Crete were picking olives from the trees under a noonday sun, while the Chinese astronomers are watching a new star appearing in the east, in the constellation Capricorn, and increase in its rapid peak brightness by a factor of 10,000 to over one million —
While God incarnate is born barefoot and bald in a barn that smells like dung, while the insanity of the Creator of the Cosmos dwindles down to earth and one damp fist unfolds on the planet He Himself breathed into existence, while the air in a manger in Bethlehem tastes like blood and beast; like dank manure and mire and sweaty, salty prayers —
there was this very slip of a tree growing on the other side of this pale blue dot of a planet, this shoot of a tree stretching on the pungently earthy slopes of the Sierra Nevadas, its small, scale-like leaves, arranged in spirals, unfurling and unfolding without a sound.
Come 30 AD, the Man God, He hung on a tree just by iron nails driven straight through the veins of the One who choreographs the lines of stars.
God’s back is rubbed raw by the bark of the cross, His heart ripped open by the snarl of the crowds; the Creator bleeds for the resurrection of His creation — and there’s this one tree, this sequoiadendron giganteum, reaching for the fresh air of the sun on the western slant of mountains on fire.
In the Western Sierra Nevadas, this one tree stood in the heat of the burn, in the searing blaze of the rising flame. And when the smoke cleared, 7000 feet up that mountain, that one wonder of that tree still stands an island of life in a charred desolation.
And at the foot of the standing Cross Tree in the East, at the foot of a Sequoia tree in the west, it’s like all the wind anywhere will always tell you:
Do not ever be afraid of ashes.
When Christopher Columbus ran into land on the curve of the earth in 1492, on the eastern coast of the North American Continent, on the western coast, this one sequoia finds itself over 1000 years old, having survived a fire every 10 years, having survived nearly 150 crackling infernos.
The bark of that tree under my hand — it had the thickest skin, bark that grows up to 24 inches thick, the thickest bark of any tree on earth — and every single fire it endures burn away it’s competition for sunlight, and it’s the fire that makes a fertilizer for the tree’s growth.
This fertilizer — otherwise known as ashes.
What seems like ashes in your life — can be the actual fertilizer that grows your life.
Souls grow most in soil made rich by ashes.
Fire makes a fertilizer for growth — and ashes can be the best soil for the best soul growth.
Do. not. ever. be. afraid. of. ashes.
Standing there with my hand on the largest living organism on earth, hand on a tree that’s inner rings are scarred with hundreds of fires and it grows like a reverberation in in your interior: do. not. ever. be. afraid. of. ashes.
And everything around me rings: C’mon. How do you have no fear of the flame?
The flame of the unexpected, the unwanted, the unnerving, that can make kindling of your life, that disaster, that diagnosis, that debacle that burns up your people, the burns down your dreams, that you blink and turn around and your life is ON FIRE.
All down the mountain side, the snow’s falling down around me and the massive sequoia giants, like all this papery, flaky mana coming straight down.
Once the people of God stood in a wilderness burning up with a scorching heat and they bear witness to this age: What seems like scarcity, may actually be abundance.
What seems like flaky ashes — may turn out to be abundant manna.
What seems like broken barrenness — may be the beginning of abundance.
Manna, that material that’s as flaky as ash, that fell down into the searing heat of the wilderness, bears witness to the overflowing generosity of God.
And the people of God say, “Manhue?” — Hebrew for “What is it?”
And some scholars suggest the word, manhue, is related to the Egyptian word that the Israelites carried out of slavery, manna being related to the Egyptian word meaning GIFT.
What you can’t explain in your life — may be explained as being a gift.
The question marks in your life — are gifts for your life.
Question marks can be gifts.
The mysteries in our life, the what is it things — they are meant to be a gift to sustain us.
Eat the mystery of your manna — the thing you do not understand, the mysteries of life, the ash-like material that make no sense to us— and discover it is a gift of abundant life.
I sat down in the snow at the foot of an unwavering Sequoia tree and those three lines keep coming to me like a song:
Wish for the past and you drink poison. Worry about the future and you eat fire. Stay in this moment and you eat the mana needed for now.
Mana, that fine, flaky like ash kind of food, that drifts down from above, burns up the lie of scarcity.
Jesus came to touch those suffering from the scars of scarcity — the scarcity of wellness, the scarcity of wealth, the scarcity of worth, the scarcity of worship — and He heals them with the generosity of abundance.
Hadn’t Jesus’ own disciples suffered from scarcity: “”How can you feed these people with bread in the desert?” (Mark 8:4).
But Jesus’s mind is made of the generosity of abundance, and He stands in the burning heat and asks the question of abundance: (“How many loaves do you have?” (8:5). They answer: “Seven.”
This is enough.
What you have in your hand, God can always make into enough.
What Moses had in his hand, God made into enough to part the Red Sea.
What the poor woman in the temple had in her hand, God made that mite to be mighty enough.
What the boy with a few loaves had in hand, God made into leftover loaves in overflowing baskets.
What ashes from your hope and dreams that you still have in your hand, God will make into abundance that will be too much to hold in your hands.
This is the theology of enough — the theology of abundance.
He will leave none of your ashes alone until He alone makes abundance out of them.
And only those who believe in and live out the theology of enough can live out Sabbath rest.
The rest who don’t believe God will give enough bread, they have to hustle every day of their lives.
Those who can’t rest in the rest of God, who can’t rest in the mystery of abundance, live Pharaoh-like lives, Pharaoh who never took a day off, who kept striving to get more and more and they never slow down because they are duped by the lie of scarcity that they won’t ever have enough and God alone is never enough.
There is none like God — and He needs none of our relentless hustle.
How can we in the richest nations who have the most, still covet the most?How can we live in the generosity of abundance — and yet live out the ideology of scarcity? And how can the poor, suffering from scarcity — most choose to live out the generosity of abundance?
One of the central problems of our lives and our times and our world is that we say that He gives us the good news of the generosity of abundance — and yet we suffer from the disease of scarcity.
This is disease that makes us angry, despairing, greedy and unneighborly.
This is the tension of our lives and one of the defining issues framing this moment in history.
Are we controlled by fear, driven for more, frantic for enough, suffering from scarcity — or is our present tense devoid of that tension — so that we are fully present to the presence of a generously abundant God?
What if we all realized that the real issue facing us in every single aspect of our lives was simply, powerfully this:
Can the generosity of God’s abundance be trusted in the face of seeming scarcity?
Could we look at the ashes in our churches, in our marriages, in our hopes, in our culture — and believe that in the midst of the ashes of what looks burned down — God will raise up a beautiful abundance?
How would it change our families, our communities, our vision, our politics, our prayers, our people —- if anywhere we saw the suffering of scarcity, we believed God’s good news of the generosity of abundance?
What if anywhere we saw ashes — we believed God for abundance?
Because this is the startling truth: The suffering of scarcity — the suffering of a scarcity mentality in our homes, a scarcity mentality in our world view, a scarcity mentality in our churches, a scarcity mentality in our policies — the suffering of scarcity always leads to death.
But the people of God get to bring the witness of abundant manna.
When we can relax, when we can trust, when we believe there is enough to be broken and given like bread to the needy, when we can live given, as He has abundantly given to us — then we are living into the generosity of abundance.
There is a more abundant, excellent bread than striving materialism, than fear-driven walls and fences and lines, than a mentality of NOT-ENOUGH.
It is the Bread of Life and you don’t have to bake it or make it or fake it.
Jesus is the Bread of Life and though He was rich, “yet for your sakes He became poor, that by his poverty you might become rich.”
Culture and economics and politicians may say it takes money to make money?
But Jesus’s life proves it: it takes the mystery of poverty to produce the generosity of abundance.
It takes what looks like brokenness to make abundance.
Jesus broke and gave Himself to enrich others, and we are called to live broken and given — there is no other way to live rich lives.
That word in the Hebrew for abundance there in Ps. 65:11?
That word for abundance is deshen — and while it means abundant provision, fatness — that word for abundance, deshen, also has another meaning: ASHES.
Ashes — referring to the remains of the sacrifices on the altar where the ‘ashes’ were composed of the charred remains mixed with the animal’s fat.
Hear that: The same Hebrew word that means abundance — also means ashes.
Abundance rises from ashes.
What looks like your ashes — is the beginning of God’s abundance.
What seems like the discouraging ashes of your hopes — can be the nurturing ashes of your growth.
Do not ever be afraid of ashes.
They can try to burn down your hope, torch your courage, scorch your endurance, and roast your resolve — but ashes are never the last line of any of God’s stories. Abundance is.
“You don’t have to be good enough — Because He is grace abundantly enough.
You don’t have to be strong enough — Because He is abundantly Savior enough.
You don’t have to be sure enough — Because He is abundantly certain enough.” ~The Broken Way
Abundance, not ashes, are the last line of every story of God.
I witnessed a baby breathe in this deepest sleep today. I can testify how an old man said sorry today and he meant it, you could see it in his eyes.
I watched a woman wipe her tears today and say she was going to go ahead and get her hopes up — because she didn’t see the point of staying down.
And I heard this afternoon that the country church around the corner was saved, the way faith always saves.
Heard that someone said that ashes caught on the spring wind, and you could see it to the west of the steeple, all up through the spruce trees, the sky filling with all these sparking, glowing ambers.
Like the rising of abundant, undeniable glory.