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Character and Clay Pots

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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?

 

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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!

 

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When Everything Is Shaken

 

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Today I am taking in the blessing of sunshine on a cold midwinter’s day and savoring the hint of spring such a day brings. I do that even though crocuses are still deep underground and no hint of green shows on the branches of our forsythia bush.

 

My hope is not in what I see, but faith in the memory of other springs as well as Who created them. Today they have adjusted my thoughts caught up in the discouraging news that pummels me from every corner of the world.

 

It seems that nearly everyone I speak with speaks with concern about what is happening in so many places in the world. It doesn’t take long in such conversations to start to feel agitated or even fearful. It is a temptation to see no light in the darkness growing larger on the horizon.

 

If no light is seen, perhaps it is because we are not looking for light in the right places.

 

I am currently reading in the book of Isaiah as a result of a sermon series on this Old Testament book. I am struck by the reality of how dark the world was that Isaiah was living in. Yes, darkness was there in abundance, but Isaiah also pointed to the future coming of the Messiah even though he was writing between 750-700 BC.

 

I cannot help, but read the prophet’s words and not think of the world as it is in 2017 and see the possibility of a corollary.

 

What were the problems the people of God were facing back then? Rather than get caught up in the specifics of the kings (good and not good) and their friends and/or enemies, I want to look at the truth of the problems behind the problems. What were the people looking toward that deepened their darkness?

 

God’s people were trusting in the wrong things.

 

They were trusting in other kings. They had turned their back on God and determined to trust instead in the chariots and horsemen of Egypt. Later they entered into alliances with Assyria and then Babylon to help them despite how ungodly and misaligned they were from these godless nations.

 

They had also begun trusting in other gods, things produced by their own hands. Idolatry was rampant. It was easier to trust in what they could buy or make than to trust in the Lord.

 

To these they added trust in themselves. In short, they had become self-reliant. Perhaps it was their pride in their own wealth or skills, their reputation or past success that built up this over estimation of what they alone could do or accomplish.

 

The people of God had also chosen to seek the voice of their leaders before seeking the voice of the Lord. Their trust was in the kings and leaders they had asked God for so long before, rather than in the Lord.

 

On top of all this, they had not humbled themselves nor repented of their faithlessness.

 

Yet God loved them so much, He chose to allow everything to be shaken they had trusted in so they could come face-to-face with the unshakeable.

 

I wonder if that is not true of us today.

 

Could it be that we have trusted more in governments and leaders of all types and 85f5032ec43dc1b1fe61804e79721451persuasions, programs and treaties from one end of the earth to another, drones and technical equipment beyond our imagination, words of men more than words from God?

 

What I see ever more clearly is that darkness has been a reality for many years and many eras, to think or believe otherwise is to operate in denial. Before you reject that idea, consider the sense of darkness that pervaded the entire world through two deadly world wars. We can glance over our shoulder and see clearly that example.

 

For us, even as in Isaiah’s lifetime, there was light ahead that could be seen for those who looked and trusted in God more than in any of the things they had begun to trust.

 

The shaking seasons of our lives have often ultimately gifted us with the surest sense of the Lord’s goodness and trustworthiness.

 

Major Daniel Webster Whittle served during the bloody American Civil War, a time of great darkness in the United States. But years later, the light of the gospel and the influence of Dwight L. Moody resulted in the lyrics of 200 hymns flowing from his life. One of his refrain’s many of us still knows was written in 1883:

 

But “I know Whom I have believed,

And am persuaded that He is able

To keep that which I’ve committed

Unto Him against that day.”

 

When I look for light in the midst of darkness when everything is being shaken, I am reminded He is allowing it to reveal to me what is unshakeable.

 

“Some trust in chariots and some in horses,

    but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. 

They collapse and fall,

    but we rise and stand upright.” Ps. 20:7-8 ESV

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The Trouble With Nibbling Gnats

 

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Gnats are such a nuisance! They fly about and create such irritation despite their small size. Have you noticed you rarely have one by itself? They seem to come in bunches or even swarms. Once they show up, they like to make themselves at home and it can be very difficult to get free of them. They feast most often on food scraps we leave out in the open, forgetting we have extended an invitation to gnats they will never refuse.

 

I think it is a wonderful description of what happens when we leave our failures laying around in our thoughts. No sooner than we have done so than gnats of another type come swirling about that keep us focused on those very failures. Before long we have lost our focus and the failure and the gnats are all we see. When we do, we are likely to feel as if we have tumbled into quick sand because we get stuck there.

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We should forget past failures, for they do not define us.”

 

I love this quote by Barry C. Black. It’s true that our failures can teach us much perhaps, but they are never what define us. Sadly, we can easily fall prey to allowing them to do that when they become our primary focus.

 

Let me suggest an example. My house can be actually very clean, but if I happen to forget a plate with an apple core on it gnats will not be far behind. Now it would be foolish to berate myself for having a very dirty house from top to bottom because of one apple core left on a plate. Most of us would be upset that we forgot the apple core, but we would not label ourselves as bad housekeepers if the rest of the house were clean and tidy.

 

Why is it then that we can so easily do that very thing about some failure we remain acutely aware of? We can review it and focus on it like gnats attracted to a scrap of food. If we do it long enough, we will be tempted to believe that failure is what defines us and often we will label ourselves by that very thing. We do not move forward. We do not attempt something else.

 

I cannot help but think of the apostle Paul. He persecuted Christians and stood by holding the cloaks of those who stoned Stephen. Then on the Damascus road he saw the light when Jesus appeared to him. He, like Peter and many of us, have so many things we are not proud of that point to our weakness and failure. Despite Damascus road, Paul could have allowed those very things lay out in his thoughts and made them his focus.

 

It is a great comfort to realize that same Paul (formerly Saul, the Pharisee of Pharisees) writing from his jail cell in Rome in 62 A.D. gives us the prescription for just such a problem in Philippians 3:13-14:

 

“Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” ESV

 

Paul chose not to focus on the failure, nor did he allow the challenges he faced on his missionary journeys to deter him and give fodder for the gnats. He pressed on. Paul’s perseverance became a testimony of the power of the gospel at work within him after he saw the light on the Damascus road.

 

Paul didn’t rehearse his failures; he proclaimed Christ’s victory.

 

magazines-time-1Clearly, Paul models a lot for us to consider when nibbling gnats enter our space. Some of the other quotes you see in and around these paragraphs do as well.

 

I think the other truth we must face is that if we have accepted Christ and repented of all our sins and failures, we dishonor Him when our focus is on failure instead of His victory won on our behalf.

 

One of my favorite passages is Hebrew 12:1-2 and I think it fits in the context of what Paul tells us in Philippians.

 

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” ESV

 

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Our Complicated Lives

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Recently I was blessed to read and review Barry C. Black’s latest book (Nothing to Fear) published through Tyndale House. There was a great deal that spoke to my heart, mind, and spirit in the book. One of the chapters near the end especially grabbed my attention. The title was “Live A Less Complicated Life”. When I looked at the title I was aware I would likely read a lot more of what many are writing and urging all of us to consider—simplify our lives.

 

As I began to dig into the chapter, I found many of the things I thought I would see as well as some things that were worded in a fresh way and caught my attention. One example is these sentences near the very beginning of the chapter:

 

“How can we stay fearless in a world that seems to guarantee to every life the complications of misery and trial? Perhaps the answer is to stop believing that ‘whatever will be, will be’, and to begin, with intentionality, to choose simplicity, the less-complicated road not often taken.”

 

I can easily confess that I have lived most of my life chocked to the brim. I can give you hundreds of reasons why, including that most of them were really good things. One of the craziest of those was when I was teaching full-time while going to graduate school, being a wife, and being a mom. During those five years, we also had two children graduate from high school and later one of those graduate from college and get married with all the things those add to a schedule. I was also still trying to stay active in a ministry at our church. Yes, I know it sounds crazy.

 

5ed6df054070e800add001983a1ea4ebOne of the side effects was that I got used to living that way and thought it was “normal”. I got used to less sleep, less exercise, less time to read and relax except on vacation. There was less time to enjoy cooking in the kitchen or meandering through a shopping mall with my favorite coffee. There was also less time for leisurely lingering over time with the Lord each morning.

 

Vacation would mean I would need the first couple of days to get enough sleep to enjoy the time. I would take a deep breath of the fresh air, read a great book, enjoy fabulous time with my husband, and take in spectacular scenery before jumping right back into the pushed schedule.

 

If I am honest, I will tell you that I am not sure I would change much of it given the circumstances and goals at the time; but after two years of retirement with less complications, I see how rich my life can be when it is full and yet simpler. Much of that comes because no job or role demands I do something or go somewhere at a specific time or place whether it affects my sleep or quiet time or not. One of the benefits is that I sleep better at night and another is losing a few pounds because there is not so much cortisol surging through my system.

 

Hans Hofmann, a twentieth century abstract expressionist painter defines simplicity this way:

 

“the ability…to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak”

 

Even though he was undoubtedly speaking of this in the context of his art, it is a definition that speaks volumes to me.

 

Black’s book lists nine principles to address the theme of the chapter and I won’t detail all of them here, but one of them is not on a lot of lists you might read on this topic and bears repeating here. Under “Number your days” Black brings the truth home in convicting words:

 

“We are not to number our weeks, months, years, or decades; life is too fragile and brief. We’re told to number our days. This suggests to me the importance of enjoying the spice of every day of life. Could it mean that we should live every day as if it were our last, because one day it will be?

 The body doesn’t seem to adequately forewarn us when we’re reaching the end of life’s journey.

 But the Bible warns us, ‘Be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.’”

 

Of course we are to serve and do a great many things with the time that has been allotted to us, but we ought never to fail to simply ‘be’ as well.

 

A few years ago one of my dearest friends and I had lunch together at a lovely restaurant set in the midst of a beautiful landscape including a lake, trees, and various bushes. It was autumn and as each of us got back in our cars to get back to our complicated lives and were driving the winding lane to the street, I noticed a row of trees whose color was vibrantly spectacular!! I called my friend on her cell phone to comment on them and she said she hadn’t noticed them.

 

Yes, it was a small thing like many small things we can miss. I have often been the one who missed seeing something of great beauty too, but this one instance reminded us both we needed to choose to be more intentional about living a less complicated life. This incident is one we tease about, but remember often. The good thing is that neither of us has missed the beauty of stunning autumn color when we are leaving a restaurant again. That’s a blessing because it reminds us of God’s goodness and creative genius.

 

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