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Sunday, 8 September 2013

Dust and Ashes

Let's imagine this scenario, which is based on real-life experience: A friend of mine invites me to a party, but on one condition - that all men invited must turn up in formal dress. I thought, "Fair enough" - and so when the evening arrives, I dress in a pinstripe suit, white shirt and dark blue tie. Then I head off to the party.
Of course, I'm free and single, no girlfriend, let alone having a soul-mate. A pretty young female seem to be giving me the eye as she was talking to another female whose boyfriend was sitting next to her. The music played, the thump, thump, thump of drumbeat causing the glass of sherry to vibrate slightly. At last, after some hesitation, I approach the lass to introduce myself.
"Yes, I am Frank, and I live alone at an apartment on Such-and-such Road." I said.
"That's amazing!" She responds. "What are your interests?"
"Travel and photography." I replied.
"Travel? Do you go on package holidays (vacations) or on escorted tours abroad, or stay here?" (in this country.)
"Both, but when abroad, I don't generally go for either package or escorted. Instead, I backpack."
"Wow! You are brave. Where have you visited?"
"Much of Europe, including France, Spain, Italy, Holland, Belgium and Germany."
"You've been around."
"That's only a start!" I responded with a touch of boasting. "I also been to the Middle East, where I worked as a volly in Israel for two months, before staying at a backpackers in the heart of the Old City of Jerusalem for a full month, making three months overall."
"When was that?"
"1994. Then a year later, I backpacked the USA, with the Grand Canyon and the city of San Diego being the two greatest highlights of that trip."
"Did you do all this on your own?"
"Sure! At least there's no quibbling on deciding where to visit or what to do. Then two years later, in 1997, I did the Big One - Round the World, stopping at Singapore, backpacked the East Coast of Australia, then flew over the Pacific to California, landing at Los Angeles. All on a special cheap deal" *
"You must be a professional, to earn an income that pays for such traveling experience!" The lady sounded impressed. "What do you do for a living?"
This was the question I was dreading being asked so soon before any friendship, let alone relationship, even got off the ground. But deception was not my thing. I much prefer to tell the truth, no matter how much the truth may hurt.
"I'm a self employed window cleaner. I clean domestic windows of housing estates as a thriving business." I answered, while trying to keep my embarrassment as concealed as much as my facial expression allowed.
There was a moment of silence. Then she got up from her seat and called into the kitchen.
"Maisie! Do you need any help?"
I decided to make an excuse to the host, apologising to him that I felt a bit under the weather. It's the same old story. The pretty female wanted someone with a good university degree and spending his working hours at a desk, pushing a pen. After all, how would she feel among her posh friends that she is dating a window cleaner? The fact that I have a rich travel experience indicates a good income, most likely adequate enough to support both of us. But that wasn't the point. In our culture professional status matters.

Grand Canyon, 1995
This sort of thing makes me wonder why a group of youths in the street pose such a threat, or why rival football fans are segregated in the stadium, or why there are some who are passionate patriots. Or in my case, enjoy boasting of my endeavours. To others, it's owning and driving a fast sports car. The feeling of low self-esteem, particularly among the poorly educated, students who fail to make it to uni, and among those who depend on State benefits, unable to find employment. Businesses here in the UK, especially among the restaurant trade, prefer to hire foreign labour for low-paid jobs, than to employ a home-grown Brit, as the official explanation is that a hungry person from abroad is willing to work much harder than one from welfare taking on a job with lower pay. Or could it be, as I think, that such a worker would not want to be seen washing dishes, or even fixing a pipe or electric cable while another man in a posh suit walks in or drives by, making him feel "inferior" academically? Let's face it, Education has been an important issue for our Government, Tory or Labour, over the past fifteen or sixteen years, which seems to reflect the level of snootiness among school leavers against engaging in manual apprenticeships or to work in restaurant kitchens.
Inferiority complex has always been an issue with me during the days of being an adult single. Maybe this is where my love of travel arose. Not that I looked upon travel as a mere psycho-builder or emotional healer. I always had, and still have a genuine curiosity and desire to see this big, wide planet we call Home. Yet, on the other hand, as a bachelor, I developed "travel snobbery" against package and escorted trips, for "real travel" where I quickly learnt to take care of myself while away from home and in a far-away country. This has helped build my self esteem to combat the disastrous era of school tie failure of the 1960s.
At present, with my wife Alex ill in hospital with a back malady, and the medical team is yet to find out exactly what it is; fear of uncertainty and of the unknown holds sway. Alone at home and with our coming trip to Crete to celebrate our anniversary cancelled, surely I would be forgiven for feeling down, depressed, angry or frustrated. Yet, soon after cancelling the holiday, at the station platform, I could not help but praise and thank God for his goodness and mercy, after realising how much he loves us.
What is the secret of this thanksgiving and praise to God in an adverse situation? Believing in the Lord Jesus as Saviour? Yes, this plays a part. Being filled with the Holy Spirit? Yes, this too is important. But my love for God and longing for his presence and his government in my life stems from the real truth about myself - an expression Abraham used on himself - that I am but dust and ashes.

Dust and ashes (Genesis 18:27) - what a contrast to the celebrity mentality which dominate our land, along with emphasis on social class, profession, education level, wealth, and national superiority with echoes of past Empire. I guess we all like to be respected by others to a greater or lesser degree. To be held in honour, to be looked up to, or at least to be treated as equal with others around. In our nation of conservative English, the vast majority adore the Royal Family. Even among the "lesser Royals" Prince William, second in line to the throne after his father Charles, would have caused a national scandal had he dated and married the daughter of a plumber. Although marrying into an aristocratic family, at least this provided an acceptable concession other than marrying a daughter of another royal. A plumber's offspring would never do. Suppose Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, went down with the same symptoms as my wife Alex, losing her ability to stand and walk, not only would she be admitted in one of the nation's top private hospitals, but newspaper and TV news bulletins would place her condition as the main national headline, above the news of thousands killed in strife-torn Syria or any other country afflicted by war and disease.

It looks to me that seeing myself as dust and ashes by comparison to God's holiness forfeits my human rights as well of a sense of self-worth or importance. Yet Abraham must be one of the greatest men to have ever lived, short of Jesus Christ himself, having fathered not just one but several nations. Another example of true self evaluation was by a young shepherd's boy, David. After killing the giant Goliath, and having received praise from the women of Israel for killing tens of thousands as opposed to the King's thousands, he approached the reigning King Saul in a cave with a protest that he was just a flea (1 Samuel 24:14, 26:20.) The flea is the smallest living thing visible to the naked eye. If the wonderful science of microbiology was available in his day, David would have most likely referred to himself as a virus.

I feel there is something liberating about giving myself the true evaluation in God's point of view. It means that I realise that it is through the grace of God that I am alive, that I breathe, eat and digest food, have good health, and have my being. Freedom from trying to be something that I'm not, just to impress others and win respect, if not admiration. Seeing myself as dust and ashes frees me from the need to buy and drive a fast car, or to climb the property or career ladders. We live as tenants in a rented property (i.e. public housing, as opposed to a private landlord.) Since our real home is in Heaven, I don't mind having this status. Rather, I'm grateful to God that we both have a roof over our heads.

It also looks to me that seeing myself as I really am before a holy God is inextricably linked to the truth of eternal security of the believer, or the rather unpopular doctrine of Once Saved Always Saved, or OSAS. To see myself as dust and ashes, as Abraham did, can I really kid myself in thinking that I could lose my salvation if I commit certain sins or not hold faithful? Sure enough, there are many Scripture passages exhorting us as believers to live holy lives to glorify God in the sight of others e.g. Matthew 5:16, but to kid myself that I have the power of choice to either keep or forfeit my salvation, given to me as a free gift paid by Christ's atonement on the cross, is deceptive.

Abraham referred to himself as dust and ashes after God had declared him righteous in Genesis 15:6, most likely after a good number of years. Therefore, if he believed that it was God's own righteousness imputed into him by judicial acquittal through faith, then seeing himself as dust and ashes leaves nothing he could have contributed towards his redemption.

With my dear wife confined to a hospital bed, I can't help feeling lonely at home, and prone to deep depression (as my Facebook friends would tell you!) - along with the feeling of helplessness, the fear of the unknown, an uncertain future, even lamenting over the loss of an exciting trip to Crete. But in retrospect, seeing myself as a holy God sees me: Dust and ashes, or a flea, puts everything in the right perspective. I am alive. So is Alex. We live because of God's goodness, love and mercy. This helps me to see the experiential reality of Romans 8:

For we know that all things work for the good of those who love God, and are called according to his purpose....For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present or the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus.

Wow! Thanks, Paul. With a promise like that, it is certainly worth looking at myself as a flea rather than a celebrity.


* Thanks to an agreement made between British Airways and Qantas Airlines in 1996, offering extra cheap RTW airfare deals.



  1. Dear Frank,
    Continuing to pray for both of you, for wisdom and skill for the doctors, complete and rapid healing for Alex, and peace and comfort to you both.

    How amazing that the God Who created us from dust & ashes desires fellowship with us & loves us enough to have given His Son to save us. Then He adopted us as His children, made us joint heirs with Christ, appointed us as His ambassadors, will allow us to govern with Him in the Millennial Kingdom, and will bless us with His presence in Heaven throughout eternity.

    With all that, what need do we have for worldly fame and fortune? Yet so many prefer the temporal to the eternal.

    Thanks for the great post, & God bless,

  2. It reminds us again of what Paul said in I Corinthians 1:26-31. "For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord."

    Just think how many of the rich and famous will reject Christ because they feel they are good enough they don't need him. PAISE gOD, HE CAME FOR US WHO WEREN'T SO GOOD.

  3. Frank,
    don't let negative thoughts take root. We have indeed a God who loves us and with Whom all things are possible. There is a scripture 'Many are the plans of a man's mind, but the Lord directs his path.' Sometimes what appears to be disruption can be God's will, to strengthen us in our weaknesses. Take every thought captive and bring it into obedience to Christ. God inhabits our praises so it is always good to praise Him, and what is not possible with man is possible with God. God always loves us and all He requires is that we trust Him and do not WILFULLY sin.
    God bless you and may He heal Alex.

  4. Hoping your lovely wife gets better, Frank.

    God bless you both.