By John Stallings
If you like to read cartoons you’ll probably be familiar with the character “Pigpen” from the Peanuts series.
Pigpen always had a cloud of dust spinning around him. It seemed as if he didn’t do anything to cause it. It didn’t require any effort on his part to create the cloud. He didn’t even seem to be aware of the dust. The cartoon and the character Pigpen wouldn’t have been the same without that dust cloud.
Have you ever met a dusty Christian? I have. As a matter of fact I’ve been a little dusty myself from time to time. Of course, we’re not talking about actual dust here, but the residue that can stick to us as we move through the experiences of life.
In Matthew 10:14, Jesus gave some superb advice to His followers when they were faced with those who didn’t embrace their message. He told them as they went to spread the good news, not to waste time or get involved in a debate, but to just “shake the dust off your feet” and move on to the next house or village.
This statement of Jesus to His disciples is one of the most amazing statements He ever made. Jesus didn’t want his disciples to be “Pigpens” going around all dusty.
To put it practically, Jesus knew that the best they could do wouldn’t always be enough so if they didn’t receive a welcome or a hearing in a place, if they “hit a brick wall,” they shouldn’t keep beating their heads against the wall, but rather, dust themselves off and move on. You will make mistakes. Some folk will reject you. You’ll say the wrong thing on occasion. You’ll come up against something called “other people’s problems.” You can’t do anything about that, so don’t make it your problem.
You can go down to the 7-Eleven and buy several baby pacifiers, put them in people’s mouths, and they still won’t like you. If you’ve given it all you’ve got, and it still didn’t work, instead of breaking into tears, instead of moaning the blues, “get outta Dodge.” If you hang around and have a crying jag because of a lack of decent treatment, those tears are going to make mud out of the dust at your feet and mud is harder than dust to shake off.
There are some of us who don’t know when to quit. I tend to have this problem where certain things are involved. I remember learning to water ski when I was sixteen. I have looked back over the years with amazement at the good man who was driving the boat that day. I know it took at least twenty tries before I could get up on the skis. That takes a lot of time not to mention fuel. With the patience of that brother driving the boat and the grace of merciful God I finally quit plowing water and stood up on the skis. Neither the boat driver nor I were willing to give up, and I finally succeeded, but I pushed around a lake full of water in the process.
Some of us will go to ridiculous lengths to avoid failure. I saw a funny carton once showing a man standing in front of his boss’s desk holding his hat in his hands. The caption read, “Fired? Does that mean I don’t get the raise?” There are times when persistence becomes an obsessive-compulsive issue.
So Jesus’ advice to dust off our feet will help us when we encounter unpleasant situations in life. If we’re not careful, we’ll carry the dust of past experiences into every situation we face, and instead of our days being fresh and new, we’ll be choking on the dust of the past.
Kenny Rogers had it right: “You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em.” (“The Gambler”; written by Don Schlitz)
There are five types of dust God wants us to shake off. First there is the dust of—
Repression has to do with experiences that are pushed down into our sub-conscious minds. This is dust of painful emotions, or memories that have been repressed.
The things that we’ve repressed or pushed down are like the bottom part of an iceberg. 90% of an iceberg is invisible beneath the waterline. We push those painful memories down and about the only time they come out is when we have crazy dreams. I don’t mean to imply that all dreams are crazy, but some of them are “pinto dreams” brought on by eating too many beans too close to bedtime.
Dust represents the past. Obviously, we can’t live in the moment if we’re carrying around the dust of past hurts and rejections. You will no doubt remember that dust has been used in the Bible to represent many things.
- Genesis 2:7 tells us that God fashioned man out of the dust of the earth.
- Psalms 103:13 reminds us that God “remembers that we are but dust.”
- Ecclesiastes 3:20 says “we came from dust and to the dust we’ll return.”
- Ecclesiastes 12: 7 again tells us that “we’ll go back to the dust but our spirits will return to the God who made us.”
In ancient times when people mourned, they would put ashes on themselves, that’s why in Job 42:6, he tells us he repented in dust and ashes.
Not only is dust referred to in the Bible, we who live in 2014 still use it in clichés to illustrate experiences we face in life. We say; “Another one bites the dust” and “wait till the dust settles,” “I’m not trying to throw dust in your eye,” and sometimes a fight is called a “dust-up.”
One Square Inch of Human Skin
I’m told that one square inch of human skin contains:
- 19 million cells;
- 65 hairs;
- 19 feet of blood vessels;
- 19 thousand sensory cells; and,
- 20 living animals.
That’s right, there are 20 microscopic bugs living on every square inch of our skin called “dust mites.” Did you know that 75% of the dust in your house is dead human skin? Now that’s gross!
A little boy was told by his Sunday School teacher that God made man from the dust of the earth. Not long afterward he went to a funeral and heard the preacher say, “Ashes to ashes, and dust to dust,” telling the people that we came from dust and at death we returned to dust. The next day, the boy called his mother into his room. He held up his bedspread, pointed to the dust under the bed, and said, “Momma, there’s someone under my bed who’s either coming or going.”
Some experiences are so traumatic we put them away where we aren’t able to retrieve them at will, so that they become information that we don’t have ready access to. Have you ever been in a situation that was so painful, you can’t pull it back, and have almost no recollection of it? Car wrecks and other serious accidents can be in that category for some people. A person can be involved in a physical altercation and be struck several blows, and be stunned when they look in a mirror at the marks on their face and body. It’s not that it wasn’t painful; it’s that it was so painful they repressed it. Make no mistake; even though we may have repressed the painful experience, it can still remain with us as “dust.” Our brain has the capability to store 15-trillion memories, most of which we aren’t consciously aware of.
At Peace With Our Past
God doesn’t want us to live our lives looking in the rearview mirror, so we need by His grace to shake off the repressed dust of our past. Then we need to shake off the dust of—
2. REGRETS AND REMORSE
In 1 Samuel 16:1, King Saul had died, and the prophet Samuel was still mourning his passing. God asked the prophet, “How long are you going to mourn for Saul?” God is saying, just how much of your precious time are you planning to put into this, when I had rejected Saul anyway? Fill your horn of oil and get moving. You have work to do because there’s a future king at the house of Jesse, and your next assignment is to go anoint David, one of his sons, to be Israel’s future king.
Psalms 30:5 says: “…weeping may endure for a night but joy comes in the morning.”
We need to shake off the dust of regret about what we may have done or not done. Or maybe we need to shake off the dust of what another person has done to us.
Martin Luther told the story of how God used his wife to help him shake off a spirit that had stolen his joy. Morning after morning his wife would come to breakfast dressed all in black. She’d serve him his breakfast with her “funeral face” on. After a few days of this, Luther asked his wife why she was dressing in black. She answered, “Well, you’ve been coming to the table each morning acting like God is dead so I just thought I’d dress for the occasion.”
George W. Truett pastored the First Baptist Church in Dallas the first half of the Twentieth Century. One day when he was first called to pastor the church, he and a much loved church deacon went hunting. Deep in the woods as they were trying to get over a barbed wire fence, Truett’s gun accidentally discharged instantly killing his friend. Though it was an accident and everyone knew it and readily forgave him, Truett was so devastated because of what he’d done it was unclear for a number of months if he would even be able to remain in the ministry.
Truett referred to the incident many times throughout his life. One night in the depths of despair, Jesus visited him in his bedroom. He never related all that happened or all Jesus said but it must have been a wondrous visitation. Truett emerged from the depression that had enveloped him to pastor his church until his death nearly fifty years later. During those years the church grew to be the largest church in the world at that time. This church stands as a memorial to God’s power to help a broken man shake off the dust of regret and remorse. Then God wants us to shake off the dust of…
The Book of Lamentations is a book of dirges and mourning written against the backdrop of the Babylonian invasion and destruction of Jerusalem. The war wagons of Babylonia had plowed this city under reducing it to a vast gravel plain, even razing the temple. In this little book we can see the awful suffering endured by the people of that city at the hand of their enemies.
The writer of the Book of Lamentations is believed to be Jeremiah. You’ll remember that he was the weeping prophet. To be frank, Jeremiah was called by God to be a prophet of nothing but judgment. He accepted his calling with reluctance. He was forbidden to marry so that he could be a full time prophet of doom. Jeremiah was “a man of constant sorrow,” and wept openly about the sins of his people. Of course, the fact that his message went unheeded so long probably added to his depression. In a ministry that spanned some 50 years, there is no record of even one convert.
King Zedekiah didn’t appreciate Jeremiah’s ministry, as witnessed by the fact that while the city of Jerusalem was under attack he was sitting in jail. It would seem that Jeremiah had his own “dust cloud.”
But the wonderful thing about this story is that even after enduring a life of rejection, hatred, being mocked, imprisoned, ignored, after seeing his beloved Jerusalem ransacked, desecrated and destroyed, after experiencing the horror of war, the brutality of the enemy and pangs of hunger, Jeremiah was still able to stand in the midst of the rubble of the city and the bodies of the dead, and lift his voice in praise to God for His great unfailing faithfulness to His people.
Somewhere during all of this carnage Jeremiah “shook off the dust” of ruin, and got a glimpse of just who God is and how great He is. Were it not for Jeremiah shaking off that dust, we wouldn’t have the great song we sing, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” Those words he wrote are found in Jeremiah 3:21.
Like Jeremiah, you and I go through times when life seems to fall apart at the seams. It’s during these times that we can read Jeremiah’s Book of Lamentations and see overwhelming the evidence of the unchanging faithfulness of our great God.
Balancing Things Out
In the interest of balance, let me say that some people move on prematurely. Let’s don’t spin Jesus’ words to mean we should quit at the first rifle-crack of opposition. At the first sign of opposition or disagreement, some folk have a “knee jerk” reaction and skip town. “If the boss is going be like that, I quit!” “If things go south on me, I’ll find a new job, a new spouse, and a new church, if I have to.”
We should examine ourselves in those situations, and if our foot-dusting is giving us too much satisfaction, maybe we dusted ourselves off too soon and for the wrong reasons. Sometimes persistence is called for. Jesus told many stories emphasizing that sometimes the wise thing to do is to keep knocking. But, nonetheless, what Jesus is saying here is: blessed is the person who knows when to quit.
Next, we should shake off the dust of—
4. REJECTION AND RIDICULE
Rejection is one of the cruelest tools people use on one another. There’s no more brutal weapon. I don’t do rejection well, because I want everyone to like me. This seems to be a fairly universal feeling. Rejection says, in so many words: “You are worthless. You aren’t even worth the air you’re breathing. I wish you’d get out of my face and out of my sight because I can’t stand looking at you. You make no more impression on me than a bum stumbling down the street, so please just go! I don’t know who you think you are, but you and your opinions mean less to me than a gnat buzzing around my face.” Now most people don’t actually use these words when they reject someone, but that’s how it comes across to the rejected person. Do you see why I say rejection is so brutal?
On the other hand some people don’t care what anybody thinks about them nor do they care about anyone else’s opinions. I would submit that these people have a whole different set of psychological problems.
I’ve shared this before, but as a young preacher there were times I felt like quitting because I couldn’t stand the look a few people would have on their faces while I preached. I finally got the victory over it because I finally learned that most folk who have a perpetual frown on their face have it because they’ve held their face that way so long it’s frozen in place.
Jesus Himself was no stranger to rejection. When He visited His home town, those who’d grown up with Him were incredulous. They took offense at Him and Jesus was taken-aback at their reaction (cf., Mark 6:3). When He left that town, He just shook the dust of His feet, and never returned.
The Apostle Paul was more or less rejected by the church at Corinth. The congregation there thought nothing of comparing him unfavorably to other teachers more to their liking. Paul made allowances for our limitations when he compared us to earthen vessels that God has chosen to use to store the treasure of the gospel in.
Sometimes we just have to shake off rejection and move on, reminding ourselves that we’re “accepted in the beloved” (Eph. 1:6).
Lastly we need to shake off the dust of—
5. RESENTMENT AND ANGER
Have you ever been in a group of people who were sharing their favorite verse of Scripture? I can tell you a passage of scripture that you’ve never heard mentioned in that category. Here it is, spoken by Jesus:
“If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.” (Mat. 5:29-30)
Are these verses figurative or literal? I can assure you that these verses are figurative; otherwise, this message would be a case of the blind leading the blind. If you were to gouge out your right eye and chop off your right hand, the problem remains. You would still ogle with your left eye and misbehave with your left hand. Cutting off your hand or plucking out an eye doesn’t keep you from committing mental adultery. So should you pluck out your left eye?
Take a look around the storehouse of your mind, and see if you can locate a resentment. It will be old and ugly, but don’t let that fool you; it’s still very much alive.
Do you feel a little hostility toward someone for an action or a word that hurt you, or maybe something that should have happened that didn’t? Or maybe you have resentment toward a person because of who that person is. Resentments are very resilient die-hards and can survive on very little. They can thrive in darkness or light. Often resentments are present even when people aren’t consciously aware of them, and they grow like one of those monster pumpkins with roots running deep.
Recently, I heard a team of doctors discussing cancer. They said that a cancerous tumor has such a voracious appetite that it steals energy from its host. That explains why people with cancer can be losing weight eating the same amount of food. Resentment, like a tumor drains away energy, takes away life, and makes us exist on a different, lower level. Resentment crowds out what really belongs to us. What Jesus is talking about is—rather than actually cutting off body parts—that for some things to be removed from us is terribly hard, even almost impossible.
To get rid of some things in our lives is like “spiritual surgery.” Resentment can become such a part of us that its removal amounts to a loss like amputation. Resentment can be so much a part of a person it can actually define their personality. If that’s so, and it is, then removal of resentment can actually temporarily lead to a sense of loss of identity. To give it up can be as spiritually painful as physical amputation.
There’s no way we can bring resentments along with us into God’s Kingdom. Heaven will consist of “spiritual amputees” whose anger and resentments have been removed. Giving up resentment will seem like, at the time, the most unnatural, self-destructive thing we can imagine. Forgiveness, in some respects, for some things, can be almost as great a miracle as walking on the water, yet to gouge it from our lives is necessary for spiritual health. One reason anger and resentment must be dealt with (before sundown) is that; these two bad boys are famous for mutating into something uglier.
Here’s why we must shake off the dust of our resentments. Have you ever spent time in the company of a resentful person? It’s awful; it’s sad; it’s upsetting; and it’s depressing. What would be really sad would be to be that person oneself; then you could never escape the company of a resentful person. What these folk are like is simple, they keep talking about things that happened years ago, and you can tell they’re “feeling it.”
Have you ever been at a health clinic or hospital and seen one of those special waste receptacles labeled—”BIOHAZARD“? Into these receptacles are disposed items that present a health hazard to anyone who comes in contact with them. Imagine with me now another kind of biohazard—one of the spiritual kind. Into this container is disposed the spiritually-hazardous “dusts” that threaten our spiritual health, whether it be: Repression, Rejection, Ruin, Regrets, or Resentment.
The question then becomes: are we willing to take the action of shaking off and disposing of all the dust of the past and present into this hazardous spiritual waste receptacle, giving it all to God?
God will gladly accept these ugly offerings, because He knows that after we have shaken them off, the place where they had been before won’t be a gaping, angry wound, but a site of renewed spiritual health and vitality.###
John Stallings is an award-winning Southern Gospel songwriter, who wrote numerous classics such as: Learning To Lean, Love Grew Where The Blood Fell, Touching Jesus, One Day I Will, You’re All Invited To My Mansion, Blessing After Blessing, Light The Light, Angels Camping All Around Me, God’s Gonna Do It, and many more. His songs have been recorded by many well-known Gospel artists, including, The Blackwood Brothers, The Speers, The Stamps Quartet, J.D. Sumner, Wanda Jackson, Del Reeves, Wendy Bagwell, Roy Rogers & Dale Evans, among many others. His singing career was launched at the young age of six in a citywide revival at famed Soldier Field in Chicago. At the age of sixteen he began preaching. John was Nashville’s prestigious Dove Award recipient in 1977, as well as many other awards over the years. He’s also a veteran pastor, evangelist, church-planter, and travels internationally with his wife, Juda, as singing evangelists. They reside in Altamonte Springs, Florida. John’s twin-daughters, Mary Alessi and Martha Munizzi, are both award-winning Gospel recording artists and songwriters in their own right, who with their husbands co-pastor churches. John’s blog, Wisdom and Wit of John Stallings, is a featured column here on Spirit Life Magazine (see left sidebar).
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