The Potter’s Hands

Why do we sabotage ourselves?

returning

But now, O Lord, You are our Father;
We are the clay, and You our potter;
And all we are the work of Your hand. Is 64:8

I remember as a teenager in the 70’s reading a newspaper article that said scientists had figured out that if you break down the makeup of a human being into its primary elements that we are pretty much composed of the same things as clay. I was no Bible scholar at the time but I remember thinking, well, that’s no big revelation, the bible teaches us that right from Genesis where God forms man from the dust of the earth. Not to mention the myriad other times we are referred to as clay or earthen vessels.

It might seem weird that we would basically be walking dirt. But it makes sense really, clay is perfect for forming things and if nothing else it comes in real handy for analogies—I mean, clay is moldable, it is worthless unless you take the time to make something of it, holds up best if it’s gone through a fire to acquire strength and will last forever, but it can be shattered and rendered useless if not handled with care.

Sounds a lot like us doesn’t it? We are either pliable and moldable, allowing ourselves to be shaped and worked into something better and better or we are just dry and crumbling, refusing to drink from the living water of the word and the Spirit and slowly turning back into dust. Or we have been through the refining process, shaped, molded, reworked and set in the sun to cure so that we can be painted, the master craftsman not satisfied with just utilitarian precepts but wanting to give us some flare and beauty. He paints a unique design on each vessel making it special and giving it its own character to show us, and the world, that we were created not just for a purpose but by a craftsman who cares about his creations.

Then, when we are just the way he wants us, we are put into the kiln to be tempered with fire making us hard, a resilient kind of hard, and able to withstand washings and repeated usage carrying the precious life giving fluids that sustain and refresh all who drink of what we offer. The firing also makes our design, the hand painted design that makes us beautiful and unique, glossy and brilliant, bringing out the colors in ways that dull unfired glazing never does.

But, as with real ceramic treasures, we must still be handled with care or we can be broken. We have to stay in the hands of the one who created us with such beauty that he handles us and uses us only in ways that will not see us crashing to the floor to be shattered and he instructs others to handle his treasures the same way.

If one is broken, only he, the master craftsman, the God who created the world and all that is in it with a word, only he can put back together the shattered pieces, if we so desire and allow him too. A stubborn jar— broken out of misuse that refuses to be recreated by the creator—is good only for the trash heap or the dust bins of history at that stage.

So there shall not be found among its fragments
A shard to take fire from the hearth,
Or to take water from the cistern.”

15 For thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel:

“In returning and rest you shall be saved;
In quietness and confidence shall be your strength.”
But you would not.   Isaiah 30:14—15

 

Only a clay vessel who refuses to acknowledge the creator and the need for his counsel and protection gets to a place beyond repair or usefulness. Stubbornness and pride are our biggest obstacles to God’s ongoing work in our lives and the ultimate completion of the masterpiece he wants and envisioned us to be in his artist’s eye. All the Creator is asking of the created is that we come back to him, stop our striving and fighting and rest in him in quietness and confidence.

I love that. We don’t have to shout and fret, jump up and down and make a commotion, to get God’s attention or to win the battles that continuously threaten to dash us to the floor, we just need to know that we are loved, that we are protected, and that we are still in the potter’s hands. 

Our greatest hinderance is arrogance, believing that if we cannot see the answer, perceive of the solution that there is none, that it’s done. The epitome of arrogance is saying to yourself: “This is as good as it gets and I will just have to be fine with it.” And saying to God: “I am as good as I will get and you will just have to be fine with me.”

For shall the thing made say of him who made it,
“He did not make me”?
Or shall the thing formed say of him who formed it,
“He has no understanding”? Is 29:16

adult arts and crafts clay dirty
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Why?

So, why do we sabotage ourselves? Why do we insist on introducing impurities that we know will hinder and mar the masterpiece we could be? Why do we fly off the potter’s  wheel and refuse to get back on?

Maybe because we  don’t believe we can get better, let alone become a masterpiece. “This is as good as it gets, this is as good as I get, take it or leave it.”

I’m sorry but it does not say that in scripture anywhere. You are a work in progress, a masterpiece in the making and God will be working on you for eternity.

God loves you just as you are, yes, but he also loves you too much to leave you there. All of us know we are far from perfect and that there is a hunger in our souls for more. That hunger is the vast emptiness left in our psyche by the unfulfilled potential as creatures who were meant for such higher things, eternal and deep, unimaginable things that we sense are just beyond our grasp we just don’t know how to reach them. The one who does know is holding out his hand and offering to show us, to create that reality in us, to continue the beautiful creation that is us.

Be still, and know that he is God.

 

 

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Hitting Bottom

There is always hope, no matter what, there is always hope.

Yetrday's troubles

I waited patiently for the Lord;
And He inclined to me,
And heard my cry.
He also brought me up out of a horrible pit,
Out of the miry clay, —Psalm 40

If you are familiar with the old stories of the Bible you may think of the prophet Jeremiah when you read these words. But they were actually written hundreds of years before Jeremiah would find himself in that miry pit where he was left to die by his own people.

This is a psalm (think praise song) of David, the beloved and world shaking King of ancient Israel.

David’s pits were political upheaval as he and armies fought over his right to be king, as his lust got him into big trouble more than once, as his foolishness would find him aligned with the enemy of his own people, as his infant son would get ill and die even as he fasted and prayed on his face day and night, as another of his sons raped one of his daughters or as another son betrayed him and tried to seize his throne out from under him, even succeeding for a time. That’s just the stuff off the top of my head.

Yes, David knew a thing or two about hitting bottom and finding that the bottom of the hole is nothing but muck, not even a good springboard to rebound off of, and certainly not a good place to rest as you struggle just to keep your head above the mire.

But despite it all, all his failures and hopeless situations—some of his own making, some thrust on him—he always had hope, he always knew who his God was and his God always came through in the end. David actually died old and full of years, to use the biblical phrase, in the arms of his wife, in his own bed, knowing that his beloved son Solomon would inherit his throne and that his God was waiting to welcome him home.

Jeremiah

And then, in that same capital city of Israel, hundreds of years later, a prophet, sent by the God whom David loved, finds himself thrown into a pit full of miry clay by the descendants of the very king who wrote the words he is now living out. King Zedekiah, king of Judah, allows his sons, the princes, to do with Jeremiah as they wish, and they wish to be rid of this troublesome prophet who warns that their party is about to come to an end.

But, as Jeremiah languishes in this pit, wondering if he’ll ever see the light of day or stand on dry ground again, you can be sure that he, a man who had devoted his life to God’s word, both what was already written and that which the Lord was speaking to him, he no doubt knew this psalm very well. And you can just imagine that this was going through his mind over and over again as he languished in that pit:

I waited patiently for the Lord;
And He inclined to me,
And heard my cry.
He also brought me up out of a horrible pit,
Out of the miry clay,
And set my feet upon a rock,
And established my steps.
He has put a new song in my mouth—
Praise to our God;
Many will see it and fear,
And will trust in the Lord.   –
Psalm 40:1-3

These words may have mocked him at first, they no doubt seemed incredibly ironic yet eerily germane. But I have to believe that these words gave him hope and in that hole in the ground, hope was all he had, but it was enough. Jeremiah hung on, clung to life, clung to those words, clung to hope. And in the end, hope did not disappoint him. The sun always rises and tomorrow is always a new day.

When our daughter Jessie was four years old or so she had a hard time grasping the concept of today and tomorrow. She knew that tomorrow was supposed to come after she went to bed for the night because she would ask, “when I wake up will it be tomorrow?”Yup. So she always asked when she woke up—“Is it tomorrow yet?” “I would say, “Nope it’s a new day but it is still today.”

The old today is now yesterday.

How else do you explain it? Time is a mystery. Every day is a new today, yesterday is gone, and tomorrow never comes. And, most importantly, all time belongs to God. So each day is a new day, a day that the Lord has made and another chance for a miracle, to see the sun shine again and to know that the darkness to come is just a path to another tomorrow.

If you are still breathing there is always hope. If you are not still breathing, you do not need hope because your fight is over, your ultimate rescue has come and you are standing on solid ground before the Lord. So even if the worst should happen, you die, if you are in Christ it is in itself the final rescue. In the meantime he just asks us to keep breathing, to keep hoping, to keep looking to the horizon for the sun to come up so that we can bask in his light and see the glory of his deliverance. Knowing that he did it yesterday and that today is a new today that belongs to him.

There is always hope and holightstock_401634_small_user_43213847pe does not disappoint us, because our hope is named Jesus.

I have discovered along the way that God isn’t always so concerned about getting us out of the hole in a hurry as he is about how we handle being in the hole.

 

Without holes we would never know hope, hope would be meaningless, but in this life full of pits, hope is everything.

Someone asked me the other day if it was ever going to be good again. I replyed “yes, it will.”

It always does.

Find your freedom in Christ    Barbarians in the Kingdom

BAR COVER

 

Bad Company

“‘Come on! Are you feeling froggy? -Jump!‘  He was, so we squared off.”

Slide1

 Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits.” 34 Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame. NKJV 1 Cor 15:33,34

I was at a meeting listening to a Pastor talk about his time as a missionary in Central America and how a young man, a new believer on fire for Jesus, came to him frustrated and said “I need prayer pastor, every time I go to the strip club I feel lust in my heart.”

To us the solution is obvious—”don’t go to the strip club!” Yet when we find ourselves in places that are obviously unhealthy, to everyone but us, we often don’t recognize or just plain deny it. Surrounding ourselves with things or people that cause us to sin—either in person or, nowadays, virtually—becomes our normal.

We just hate to admit that we are being corrupt, that we are in bad company or even worse, are becoming bad company.

Strip clubs are obvious—‘I, I’m just here as a missionary!’— yeah right. “I’m just doing research on line!” Lust is lust and can only consume us if we feed it with whatever company, present or recorded, trips our trigger. So be careful the company you keep.

But what about bars? Now, I have no problem going to a bar to eat, provided they have something besides pickled eggs and frozen pizzas. But even then, if you struggle with alcohol, maybe you shouldn’t even go somewhere that they serve alcohol.

I started hanging out in bars when I was 16. In the 70’s in Montana, if you could see over the bar you had a good chance of getting served. My step dad used to take me to a members only Lodge with him well before I was of legal age. He would knock on the door and a little window would slide open, two eyes would appear and a voice would enquire, “who goes there?”‘It’s me, a loyal (animal name here) and my friend who is old enough to drink, thanks for asking.’ And we were in, hanging out like old buddies with all my middle aged friends.

Little wonder it would take a miracle and an intervention by the Holy Spirit to deliver me from addictions to drinking, and worse, years later. And you know what? I do not go to bars anymore, except to eat with my wife on occasion. No reason to, no desire to. Even when I’m eating in one if I can look over and see the bar, see the people sitting there enjoying their adult beverages, it just makes me sad because it reminds me of a time when life was meaningless and the loneliness paltable.

Often times when I drank it was to ease the pain and frustration, to forget the chaos of life or the scorn of others—but the alcohol always made it worse, always left me in a darker place then when I started. And my friends, my drinking buddies, were never very good at giving advice that anyone but a fool would heed, and a fool I was, and foolish advise I would share in return (shudder) who needs it?

bar club nightlife party
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Moral corrupters to be sure.

Wine is a mocker, Strong drink is a brawler, And whoever is led astray by it is not wise. Prov 20:1

 

 

“Strong drink is a brawler.” Boy, aint that the truth. I used to get into fist fights back in my drinking days over the stupidest stuff, usually affronts to my honor. What an irony that a drunk has to defend his honor before or against other drunks.

I was spending an evening with bad company once, partying as usual, and a guy from our neighborhood who had never liked me was there, the feeling was mutual, but we hung out with the same people so he always seemed to be around. He smugly asked me for a taste of my drink.

In the spirit of the party I reluctantly handed the Tequila Sunrise I had just mixed for myself to him. He guzzled it down and then looked at me like, ‘now what are you gonna do?’ Well, I couldn’t let him just get away with that so I slapped him open handed and hollered, ‘Come on, are you feeling froggy? -Jump!‘  He was, so we squared off.

The guy who was renting the duplex we were in told us to take it outside and we did. We spent the next half hour or so punching, kicking and wrestling each other until we were both too exhausted to continue. We both ended up bleeding and with broken noses and finished the evening arguing about who won while washing the taste of blood out of our mouths with more tequila.

I was just angry because he seemed to have enjoyed the whole episode and I was trying to teach him a lesson.

What a waste of time that whole night was. What a waste of time that whole period of my life was for that matter.

And all the while I knew better because I had received the Lord and read the gospels years earlier. But I was determined to have a good time with my bad company, I just didn’t see, because it had happened so subtlety and step by step, that I was indeed in bad company and had in fact even become bad company.

I have often said that my biggest regret from those party years wasn’t what I was doing to myself and the time I wasted that I could have been following the Lord in his plan for me—it was the other people I influenced, talked into doing the same stupid things I was doing; young impressionable people who looked up to me as someone who was cool and had it together —even though I was anything but.

I think about the path I may have started them down that may have led to misery and pain. All I can do now is try to help as many people as I can discover the truth, discover Jesus and live in the freedom and joy that he has given me since I returned. He restored me to a right relationship with the Father.

“If you return,
Then I will bring you back;
You shall stand before Me; Jeremiah 15:19

A pastor friend used to say; “Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future.” I think there’s a lot of truth to that. The most frequent voices in our lives inevitably become the loudest.

selective focus photography of person touch the white ceramic mug with choose happy graphic
Photo by Kristina Paukshtite on Pexels.com

Let me just say this as an old fuddy-duddy or as a pastor—you take your pick— nothing good ever happens in a bar. I know that’s a broad generalization but it’s a pretty good rule of thumb to live by.

You can do so much better. . .

 

Restored Dreams

Ruth

Sometimes we give up on dreams, and sometimes they are just stolen from us—no matter what we do.

It is often the unfulfilled expectations of this life that weigh us down; things that happen to us in this life can leave us desperately searching for a reprieve, a redo, especially when it involves our families. I mean, it certainly doesn’t seem to be an overreaching expectation to be loved and surrounded by family—right?

It seems such a simple dream to be a part of a healthy whole family.  Then the drama comes, the unforeseen crisis, the pain of losing one we love—or fearing that we will— and we say “Why God?  “Why have you destroyed my dream, left me without hope and no reason to go on?” 

But we serve a God who can restore even the most hopeless and seemingly out of reach dream. Just ask Naomi.

Naomi lived long ago in Israel and she had a dream. A simple dream really, of passing on  the family farm to her sons and grandchildren.  She dreamed of growing old with her husband and watching her family grow, of getting to be grandma and seeing her sons marry women who loved and respected her and in return she would love them and hand down the wisdom of life’s lessons learned.

But this dream was shattered by one tragedy after another.

First a famine hit the land and the farm stopped making money, no rain, no graindust bowl time! So they walked away from the farm and moved west to the country of Moab.  Then, just as their fortunes seemed to be changing Naomi’s husband died. But Naomi found solace in that her two sons had both found nice Moabite women to marry. Then, tragically, both her sons died.  Within a ten year span Naomi had lost the farm, her husband and both her sons.

So here they are, three widows without much cause for hope, when they heard that the famine in Israel had ended.  With no other recourse Naomi decided to return home and hope for the best, but she still held out very little hope.  She told her daughter in laws:

Even if I thought there was hope for me, even if I should have a husband tonight and bear sons, (for you to marry) 13 would you then wait until they were grown? Would you then refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, it has been far more bitter for me than for you, because the hand of the Lord has turned against me.14 Then they wept aloud again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, (a goodbye kiss) but Ruth clung to her. Ruth 1

Naomi was convinced that the Lord was against her and she was destined to live out her miserable life alone.  But one of her daughter in laws, Ruth, was not about to leave her. Naomi was her family now and she would stay by her no matter what.

Naomi was blessed by the unconditional love of her daughter in Law but still she tried to persuade her to return home to her own mother’s house not wanting her to have to suffer the same hopeless destitute and lonely life she was sure would be her lot.  Ruth responded to her mother in law in no uncertain terms, “You are my family, your people will be my people, your God my God— so stop telling me to leave you, where you die I will die!” Wow, don’t we all need a Ruth in our lives?

Or a better question might be, Who’s Ruth am I? To whom have you said?—  I will never give up on you no matter what.”

Ruth said this to Naomi, so off they went; this tiny family, Ruth and Naomi, back to Naomi’s home town of Bethlehem.  They got there just as the Barley harvest was taking place. So, lacking any way to support or feed themselves, Ruth said she would go to one of the nearby farmers and ask if she could pick up the left over grain from behind the reapers.

ruth-gleaning

She chose a field that happened to belong to Boaz who turned out to be a relative of Naomi. Impressed by her willingness to work from sunup to sundown picking up dropped gleanings behind the paid harvesters to provide for her and her mother in law, Boaz told his workers not to harass her and  in fact to look after her and to make sure they left enough behind so that Ruth would get a good bushel or two to take home.  Boaz even told Ruth not to go to any other farms because he was afraid she would not be safe on another place.

When Naomi heard about all this she was filled with hope for the first time in years and exclaimed— ‘Boaz is a relative of mine, obviously he likes you, maybe this is the Lord’s way of providing you with a husband and restoring our family.’ ‘Uhm, I just had an idea.  There’s a harvest party tonight at his place. Wash yourself up girl, put on some nice clothes and some good smelling perfume and get on down there and make yourself known!’

“Here’s your one chance Fancy don’t let me down!” No wait, that’s Reba’s mother, not Ruth’s.

Long story short, Boaz did take notice of Ruth and impressed by her loyalty and virtuousness, he married her. And because he was a relative of Naomi he was even able to redeem the family farm that had been lost to Naomi’s family when all the male heirs had died off.

It wasn’t long before Naomi had a grandson and her long dead dream of being the grandma, of handing down the family farm, and having a daughter in law to share life’s joys with, was restored.  Her dream, her long dead— ‘never gonna happen now’— dream, was restored, as was Ruth’s.

 Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without next-of-kin;  and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him.”  Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her bosom, and became his nurse.  The women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed; he became the father of Jesse, the father of David. Ruth 4:14-18

I love that the Holy Spirit put this story in here, sandwiched between much weightier books,  to remind us that he is a very personal God who cares about the individual. 

He cared about Naomi even though she had given up hope. She had given up hope but she never stopped trying, she just kept pushing on and though she was convinced that for some reason God was against her, she never turned to another God, she never rebelled. God was still her God and he came through for her in spite of her hopelessness and despair.

The Red Tent

Then there’s Ruth, a foreigner who did not even know Ruth’s God. Yet exemplified the purity of simple faith, in her willingness to follow her dead husband’s mother to a land she did not know, and worship the God of that land though she saw no tangible benefits to that worship.  She had a faith and a virtuousness that put to shame many more religious women who never knew the tragedy she had endured.

Because of her astounding character she was restored and blessed, even becoming the great grandmother of King David, the throne of whom the Messiah himself would occupy forever.

Both of these women just kept putting one foot in front of the other and recognized the restoring hand of God when it appeared, and appear it did, when they least expected it in a way they could never have imagined.

What a great reminder of who our God is—the restorer of dreams. 

Never give up, never lose hope, your God loves you and hears you.