When Hearing Produced Action



Today in much of the world we are bombarded constantly with new information and news. It comes in ways and forms unheard of not that many years ago. Many of our grandfathers relied on newspapers and radios to hear the news. Then came the television and news magazines that added to and sped up how quickly we learned of something. And now we see many things in real time on computers, phones, iPads, and more. In the cacophony of it all, I wonder what we really hear. Has it all become background noise where we pay little attention? Does it come so quickly that we have knee-jerk reactions rather than more reasoned consideration as we did when newspapers were the only source?


It can be hard for us who are adults to imagine what it would have been like before these things were common in our daily life. Imagine the difference of waiting for the news even 50 years ago. That one is not hard for me. When my husband served in the military in Vietnam, our communication was initially limited to letters that took at least a week to arrive. Then we had small reel-to-reel tape recorders to send audio messages back and forth (We were not quite at the point of cassette tape recorders.) and those still took a week.


If we go back even farther in history and time, we can readily see how long someone needed to wait to hear the news of what was happening. When it was heard, it was often incomplete. The waiting must have been very hard, but perhaps it netted more thoughtful and reasoned responses.


I want to invite you to look back to the Middle East in the fifth century B.C. with me to a story that has much we can learn from today. Lack of faithfulness to God had resulted in the destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel (known also as Ephraim) and exile of the Jewish people of the southern kingdom (known as Judah) to Babylon. The sacred city of Jerusalem had been destroyed and the city trampled with walls broken down.


One of the exiles, Nehemiah, serves as the cupbearer to the king in the Persian city of Susa in the area we now know as Iran. Each day it meant Nehemiah’s life was put on the line, as he tasted the wine to assure there was no poison within it meant to destroy the king’s life. As a cupbearer, Nehemiah would have been one of the king’s most trusted servants and he would have spent much time in the king’s presence. Even so, he was a slave.


It is unlikely we would have heard of Nehemiah had it not been for one primary thing. He heard news of his homeland and the condition of the city of Jerusalem. Scripture tells us f17c06a65ab6651a3b115bdcdf0465e8that he wept, fasted and prayed. The news saddened him to such a degree that scripture says his face showed such sadness that the king noticed. The king, Artaxerxes I, must have been quite observant to notice his servant’s face and ask him about his expression. Such an observation created fear in the heart of Nehemiah because he knew his fate lay in the king’s hands and he had never sought to displease him. The king could have believed Nehemiah was involved in some plot to cause him damage and perhaps order his execution.


Let’s not skip the key to this man’s life. When he heard the bad news, he wept, fasted, and prayed.


It seems likely that because Nehemiah had fasted and prayed at the news, he chose to risk being honest with the king and told him that his sad expression was due to the poor state of affairs in Jerusalem and that he wanted to return there to rebuild the walls of the city so those few inhabitants there could live in safety.


How unusual it must have been that this servant and slave received favor from the king! He was not only given permission to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the city, but he also received letters from the king giving him safe passage through the areas he would need to travel and to obtain the timber from the king’s own forest for the gates and walls of Jerusalem.


It seems evident that Nehemiah was a godly man because of how he responded to the news. He heard. His emotional response was to weep from the sadness he felt. His decisional response was to fast and pray. The scripture account does not indicate he began to ring his hands, start telling everyone, or criticize those who had destroyed his homeland and most holy city.


What is our response to news that grieves our hearts?


An initial emotional response is normal and healthy, but do we stop there or act from that place of reactive emotion?


This ancient story of Nehemiah tucked in the Old Testament has much to offer us for our lives today. I want to spend several posts sharing some of the applications we can see from this story. I hope you will join me.


Nehemiah shows us that a godly leader prays.







Character and Clay Pots – III

Napa Valley Winery, CA


If you have been reading the first two parts of this series, you have heard me talking about clay pots and how they are used to illustrate powerful truths in the Bible. I have also talked about how the skill of the potter results in the exact amount of pressure and heat needed to produce the vessel he has designed. I shared about the significant care that is needed to slowly remove the heat and cool the clay pot so it is not damaged.


As I read about the process and skill needed by potters to create the mug for my coffee, I am deeply grateful that we have a Potter with infinite skills and wisdom as He works to create our character so we will neither be too soft and fail to be of use or too hard and brittle so that our hearts cannot respond to Him.


What seems more startling still is that clay pots, earthen vessels, are the Lord’s choice given how precious the item it will be used for. Paul tells us in the II Corinthians passage there is treasure in this clay pot. One might think something grander than clay might be chosen if it is to contain treasure, but the story of a Rabbi I heard illustrates how crucial the material the vessel is made of can be.


In this story, an emperor’s daughter observes his mean demeanor and taunts the Rabbi. He replies by reminding her that her father keeps his fine wines in common earthen vessels, clay pots. The emperor’s daughter responds by asking the Rabbi to put the wines in silver vessels instead. He obeys, but the wines then turn sour so the Rabbi discerns that the humblest of vessels contain the highest wisdom.


The story illustrates how common vessels of clay provide the most excellent and perfect choice for the use intended. That encourages my heart when I reflect on my own vessel. The passage Paul writes uses the word treasure in some translations to describe the light of Christ. In The Message, the translation tells us the vessel looks very ordinary so that anyone looking at it might miss the brightness within it and He has specifically chosen us as ordinary clay pots so that His light, His life, and His message gleams more brightly and prevents anyone from thinking what they see comes from the clay itself.


Think of it! He has chosen me! He has chosen you! And He knew what He was getting from the beginning, the pluses and the minuses, the strengths and the weaknesses, the successes and the failures, the confidence and the doubt. He knew. He always knew what He could do with clay pots and exactly what would be needed with each one to create a character fit for His purposes.


In The Message, we can see the results as Paul writes, “We’ve been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we’re not demoralized; we’re not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we’ve been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn’t left our side; we’ve been thrown down, but we haven’t been broken.”


He knows just how to make me. He knows just how to make you. He knows the shape needed, the temperature required, and only He can cool this vessel at the precise speed to produce His character in us to withstand whatever this world throws at us.

Grapes , Yellowstone
Grapes, Napa Valley


Character and Clay Pots – Part II

Napa Valley Winery, CA


The correlation of the forging of our character and clay pots may not bring a rousing cheer from our lips when we feel burdened, battered, broken, and bruised. I know when I have felt that way I certainly wanted a better option. I also know that my vision, patience, and tolerance are often very limited. In the midst of life’s challenges, I am usually looking for a way out or a solution rather than how my character develops.


Each of us is unique. Before we knew about DNA and all it reveals, we would say we were unique without proof of the many intricate pieces of DNA, which confirm the statement. That uniqueness means that the Lord’s methods for shaping us so that our character reflects more of Him are also varied, but this is where the correlation with clay pots becomes more intriguing.


There are also different types of clay used to create clay pots. Different clays mature at different temperatures and it’s crucial the temperature the clay is fired at fits the type of clay pot. One type of clay pot fired at one temperature might be soft and porous, while the same clay pot fired at a different temperature may be hard and impervious. But one more important step remains. The kiln, which has been heated to very high temperatures, must be cooled very slowly or the pots will develop cracks and the work will be destroyed.


What makes all the difference creating the quality and survival of the clay pot? The potter. Only the skilled potter knows the clay and what precise things are needed to produce the clay pot he has designed and purposed to make.


We, too, have a potter. He is intimately acquainted with each of us. He knows what we are made of and what is needed and when it is needed to bring about within us the character that reflects Him. His love for us means He doesn’t plan to provide trials and difficulties in order for our character to develop. As the potter who knows the environment within which we live, He is well aware trials and difficulties of all sorts will come to each of us in different seasons. He uses them to bring about good in us, to draw us closer to His heart, to grow our trust and our faith, and to mature us in all ways. Growth is something we know is good and we desire, but it doesn’t come without pressure and oftentimes pain.


In both Old and New Testament, we see illustrations related to clay pots or vessels. One example in the Old Testament is found in Judges related to Gideon, but the New Testament gives us a glimpse of what I hope you will see about the correlation of character and clay pots. Paul writes about it in II Corinthians 4:7 where refers to us in one translation as earthen vessels and in another as clay pots. The illustration in the passage adds one thing I have not talked about yet, the treasure within the clay pots.


Come back Friday for one last look in Clay Pots – III


Character and Clay Pots

Napa Valley Winery, CA


As I listened to a conversation spoken too loudly in a coffee shop, I felt pangs of sadness at what I heard. The women speaking could not seem to find one shred of good in their lives, one area to buoy hope, or one possibility to stir them to take a risk or action to move them forward. Whatever had happened in each of their lives to this point resulted in a sense of resignation that anything could positively change or be different for them.


For these two, the hurts and disappointments of their lives, the daily headlines, their economic status, and a much longer list of experiences had so impacted them that the shape of their thoughts, feelings, and very character was altered.


I understand the temptation. I get the realities we face and the hardships we can be called to endure. The results of broken hearts and disheartened spirits appear everywhere. The consequences of choices made by us or for us chase us through the night when we should be sleeping. Faith gets tested at every turn and it is far easier than we admit to be like the children of Israel who gave up on Moses when his time on the mountain seemed to take too long.


Do we give up, give in, or stand in the middle of all that swirls around us?


It is not such an easy choice many times. On a Sunday morning in worship with a hearty “amen” to the message, our confidence grows; but too often it fades in the challenges of any given week. Perhaps we forget because we come into the service empty or half-full and leave filled up again only to get empty again as life keeps happening around us and swirling within us.


I don’t need to feel shame that the challenges of life weigh me down. Our original design to live in Eden didn’t work out as planned. We have been trying to overcome the challenges of the fall ever since then with a need for a heavy reliance on mercy and grace.


After all, clay pots can be easily cracked or broken. Life is hard and messy. Clay pots can be fragile. We see that in the lives of our modern heroes and we see it in the pages of the Lord’s story from Genesis to Revelation. We also see that often the Lord chooses some of the least likely clay pots for His purposes.


Once more it is an issue of our character that determines what we will do when life is messy and broken. The problem we forget is that our character is forged in the midst of the challenges, the failures, the choices (ours and those of others), the stumbles, and weaknesses.


If our character is good, it is not in spite of these things that have occurred but because of them. Clay pots go into the heat of the kiln where a metamorphosis takes place.


It’s there in the heat that clay pots go from being a soft, totally fragile substance to one that is hardened, impervious to water, wind, and time in order to be useful, to endure, and to accomplish their purposes. The clay pots look and feel dry when they are placed in the kiln, but there is still water trapped within the spaces of the clay particles that make up the pot.


Check back on Wednesday to read about Part 2 of Clay Pots.


Who Would Have Guessed?




I am fascinated by how things connect, relationships between people and God, people and people, people and things (as well as places). It can be easy to be tempted to think of these connections as a coincidence. Some of them certainly may be very random, but as time passes I can discover they only seemed that way from my point of view. Let me share just one simple example.


Fifteen years ago I met a young couple while doing their premarital counseling. I thoroughly enjoyed the time we spent together. Fast forward to two years ago after I had retired and started to write. I had never created or set up a website. It seemed like a huge task, but by coincidence the young woman I had met so much earlier had just finished a degree in graphic arts and helped me by designing and setting up the website. Her husband, a writer and editor, was quick to encourage me with my writing and offered some helpful council. When I met them back then, I wasn’t writing and had no plan for a website; but before I asked He was providing.


Coincidence? Some would say so, but I have had so many things like this occur that I am persuaded that it is evidence of God’s provision, His faithfulness to provide us with what we need at a particular point in time as we seek to follow His leading in our lives.


I think it can be easy for some of us to read in the Bible and watch how God moved then. There were so many concrete examples that seem spectacular. A burning bush, a sea dividing, walls of a city falling down after marchers marched around them blowing trumpets, a giant felled by a boy with a sling and a stone, men thrown into fiery furnaces and not burned up or even singed…really? These seem beyond our imagination.


These stories and others can tempt us to wonder why we aren’t seeing such demonstrations today. Who would have guessed these things would have ever happened? Archeological history points to evidences of the truth of them, however.


I wonder if it is easy for us to forget the creative genius of God that extends beyond our capacity to fathom.


Who would have guessed that He would send His Son to earth from heaven as a human infant to show us what He was truly like? Who would have guessed He would be sacrificed on a tortuous cross and then rise from the dead three days later?


As I consider those times I read about from Genesis to Revelation, I am convinced we need to keep an open mind about how God might choose to work in the world.


Just because we don’t see Him with our physical eyes doesn’t mean He isn’t here and working. For those of us who are His, He dwells within us by His Holy Spirit and guides us as we yield to Him. Can that not also include leading us to people and places that He is using to fulfill His ultimate purposes in our lives?


What is further evidence I can see that points to Him working in such a way?


Satan is prone to copy what He has seen the Lord do. He is not all that creative even though his devices of evil are assuredly many. Does he not also bring people and things into our lives for evil, to pull us off track from following the Lord? Of course he does! He copies.


We need to pay attention as we look at the world around us and how things are unfolding. We need to stay close to the Lord and be open to new ways He may be at work. We need to know Him from Genesis to Revelation in ways that confirms His presence at work in the world and in us right now.


Who would have guessed that His body might not know Him well enough to recognize Him at work today?


Make no mistake…Aslan is on the move!