Ashes to Ashes

Does a little sin in my life matter? What harm can it really do, especially if it is invisible to others? God sometimes places powerful illustrations before us that we cannot miss to help teach us about the enormous impact of little forces.

Presently, dead ash trees loom over tree lines of the Midwestern United States. The hulking brown carcasses speak of death against the backdrop of the lush green life of the other well-watered trees and vegetation. Every time I look out the window from my desk, I see the tree pictured above reminding me of destruction. The impact can be measured in millions and probably billions of dollars, and it can be measured in the sorrow of individual owners. One neighbor had twenty-six ash trees on her lot – and no other trees. All were lost. Understandably, she broke down in tears as each trunk faced the bite of the roaring chainsaw.

Why are they all dead? The cause of death is now well known; it is the emerald ash borer. The larvae of this invasive green beetle from Asia bore through the outer bark of even the stateliest ash trees and then invisibly feed on the phloem and cambium that are essential to the transport of nutrients. The tiny creatures devour the “blood vessels” of the tree. Once the tree has been girdled beneath the bark, the tree dies. Over the last fifteen years, this diminutive bug has killed millions of ash trees as the plague has spread across North America. The results have become especially visible in our area this year. Everywhere you turn, it seems, a dead or dying ash tree reminds you that a small foe is toppling otherwise robust and beautiful life.

The towers of death that dot the landscape serve as a poignant reminder of the influence of sin. Even our little sins – hidden as they are in our souls will bring death. Sadly, there is no cure for the emerald ash borer. But there is for the human soul. Christ has come to do away with sin in his flesh. He sets this reminder before us in our sanctification as Christians in Romans 8:13, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

Death comes when we do not kill sin. Charles Spurgeon once said, “A little thorn may cause much suffering. A little cloud may hide the sun. Little foxes spoil the vines; and little sins do mischief to the tender heart. These little sins burrow in the soul, and make it so full of that which is hateful to Christ, that he will hold no comfortable fellowship and communion with us.”

You know your “little sins.” I know mine. Do not let God’s providence of the emerald ash borer and its destruction be wasted in your life. When you see the death of those ash trees that were so recently filled with life, remember your calling to put to death the deeds of your flesh by the Spirit and live.