Potter and clay

There was a time in my life when, like many in my generation, I felt strongly that I deserved things.

That was no more clearly evident than in the job market. I spent nine months at one job beating my head against the wall because it wasn’t “in my field” doing what I thought I “should” be doing. I challenged a company policy about how quickly someone could be hired from within for another position because I was certain that I deserved to be in a different position from where I would be much better positioned to serve the company. It was all in the company’s best interest.

Of course it was.

When the company was named “Me. Myself. And I.”

I had thought I had escaped that mindset, but this recent life change I have encountered has challenged me once again. I still have debt from the degrees I earned for what I considered “my” field. That debt has been insisting that because I have it, I must be what I expected I’d be when I took it on.

But is that true?

At the beginning of Jeremiah 18 (you know you want to click that link and go read it – go ahead, I’ll wait), Jeremiah encounters a message from God at the house of a potter, working at his wheel. The potter ruined the vessel he was working on, so he smashed the clay down and started again. God’s message through Jeremiah was simply: why should I not do this to Judah? Why should I not do this to you?

If God is the potter and I am the clay, why can God not remake me, remold me, rework me according to his desires? Why should He not completely change the direction I believed I was going and become a bowl instead of the vase I thought I was going to be (or vice versa)?

Now, I don’t consider myself “ruined.” But if God has better or just different plans for me, well, He’s the potter and I’m the clay. Maybe I’ll still be a preacher. Maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll work in a church again. Maybe I’ll be a layperson. Maybe I won’t be able to attend church at all while I pursue other work.

You know what won’t change? He’s God. I’m not. He’s savior. I’m redeemed. Tomorrow remains in His hands. It will never be in mine.

Psalm 42:5-6a says:

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.

I want everything to work out just the way I want it to. I liked what I was seeing in the reflection of the mirror on the potter’s wall. But if God has other uses for me (or if He does not), then that’s okay. I choose to praise Him anyway.

He is God. In Him I hope. He is my salvation. He is my God. He is the Potter. I am the clay.

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Packages so Neat

My first job after college was for one of those large mall anchor stores. I worked in one of the clothing departments, eventually making my way to one of the specialty shops that focus on a certain brand. Part of working that section of the department involved being able to fold the shirts a particular way, every time. I learned.

A few years later I was working for a different retailer in another state. This retailer offered their customers gift wrapping. It turns out that in addition to folding shirts the right way, I can wrap a gift well, from small boxes to awkward large framed prints. Using minimal tape, I could make sharp and even lines with the paper. I came to be the go to wrapper when I was on shift.

Ten years later, I was still folding my shirts the way I did for those two months in that specialty shop. And I am the gift wrapper in my house. My wife can’t figure out how I can start with a new roll of tape and not have to ask for a new roll halfway through the first gift.

The thing is, we like to have our stuff neat and presentable. Well-wrapped gifts give the aura of luxury. We like that. And it doesn’t just go for gifts. We want our books, magazine articles, television shows, and life events to all wrap up nicely. I have never watched Lost or The Sopranos, but I know plenty of people who were less than satisfied by their finales. They didn’t wrap neatly.

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Why He Came Down

Text: Zephaniah 3:14-20

I imagine, if any of you were like me, your initial reaction when you heard about the events in Connecticut on Friday was not, “Sing aloud…shout…Rejoice and exult with all your heart.” My reaction was much more in line with an earlier verse from Zephaniah’s prophecy. In 1:15, he said this: “A day of wrath is that day, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness.” Yes, that is much more like it.

When I heard there was another mass shooting to add to the stats of 2012, then that the shooting was at a school, then that the school was an elementary school, and then that the toll was borne the heaviest in a Kindergarten class, my thoughts turned to my own children. My oldest will be a Kindergartener next year. I thought of some from our church and the many like them of that very same age in our own community.

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A Thanksgiving Meditation

Text: Haggai 1

(You’ll probably want to actually read the text before you dive into the rest, so go ahead and click on the link above to head over to the passage at Biblia.com. I’ll wait for you.)

I am going to take a wild guess here and say that of all the places in the Bible you might turn to for words to use for thanksgiving, a post exilic Minor Prophet is not the first place you might look. Of all of the doxologies, songs, and other expressions of gratefulness that the Bible has to offer, we don’t often look to the Minor Prophets.

And there is good reason for that. The Minor Prophets are not a generally cheerful lot. They are brooding. They are accusatory. They speak words of challenge and judgment, not of encouragement and praise. Thanksgiving, with its full tables, gatherings of families and friends, memories and reflections on good times and good things and good people, and the stomping over one another for those Black Friday deals now available to all of us on Thursday evening …

Wait a minute. Where did that come from? Sorry, I don’t know how that got in my manuscript.

Or maybe I do. For those of you who use Facebook, you have probably seen those pictures that people like to post with a person on one side and a block of text on the other.  They are usually quite humorous, and often quite insightful. There is one about Black Friday. The picture on the right is of a woman pushing an overflowing shopping cart. The text on the left says, “BLACK FRIDAY: Because only in America do we wait in line and trample others for sale items one day after giving thanks for what we already have.”

(You can see the card here.)

It had been twenty years since Cyrus had given the decree that the Jews could return home. In the first two exciting years, there was a mighty construction boom as they erected an altar for their sacrifices and even laid out the foundation for a new temple.

Then everything halted.

Well, not everything. The construction boom continued. Houses went up. And not just houses to protect from the elements. These were houses to brag about. Not McMansions by any means, but pleasant houses that Joe could go to Ben and say, “Have you seen what Dave over there has done to his house? I have GOT to get me some of that! Tamara will have my hide if she sees that at Sarah’s before I get her some.”

You see, life was pretty good in the Persian Judean satrap. Not blissful, mind you. There were still a few who could remember Jerusalem before Nebuchadnezzar. They could still see the glory of Solomon’s Temple in their mind’s eye. But compared to exile, things were really good! They had their own land back. Jerusalem was coming together a bit at a time. Persia was a pretty benevolent master. They had stirred up a lot of trouble with the temple business in those early years, but the threats and murmurings had settled down since work had stopped. There wasn’t really a need to cause more trouble when life was just settling into a relaxed, predictable cycle.

Of course there never seemed to be quite enough flour in the jar. The wine always seemed to run out before the guests did. The flocks seemed pretty sickly. The ground was incessantly drier than the farmers hoped. And Persian taxes and the cost of goods seemed to make it difficult to ever have two coins to rub together.

The thought never struck them that they might have offended God when they stopped working on His house in order to protect their own heads. Besides, have you SEEN Dave and Sarah’s new paneling?

Here in America, we are blessed beyond measure. Oh, we complain about the economy and how hard life is. And certainly life is difficult when there are mounting bills and no job interviews. But so much is expected as a right here in America: heat or air conditioning, transportation, three meals, phone service, electricity, television and internet, a one-family home with more than one or two rooms and a reliable roof. These are assumptions here that are incredible luxuries in other parts of the world.

Think with me. Use your imagination to go back to your house. Wander through its rooms. Now stop. Whatever room you are in, look around. Look at the furniture, the window coverings, the wall hangings. Look at the tables and shelves around the room and what is on them. How much is there that you haven’t laid a hand on, except maybe to dust, in the last week? Month? Year? Decade?

And how many of you have already made out a Christmas list or mapped your route for Black Friday to add yet more stuff to your collection?

Are we really any different than the crowd in Haggai’s day, loving their paneled walls to the detriment of the work of God?

Let us give thanks this day for the many things with which God has blessed us. And let us remember that everything we have is God’s, something that He has given to us for a little while, not for ourselves, but for His own use and His own glory.

And let’s consider this Thanksgiving the greatest reason we have to be thankful. God has called us from the exile of death to the new country where there is the river of life, the new kingdom He is making ready for His bride. He has marked the path with His own tears and His own blood. He calls us to follow it and invite as many as we can to come along, too.

Let’s be thankful for that. Let us come together and make it our business to work on the house of the LORD – His new house that is His bride, the Church. Let’s make it our business not to grow our houses and our bank accounts and our nest eggs. Let us make it our business always to grow the kingdom of God that is – most thankfully – already ours.

And let us be grateful this day that we hear the words of the Lord to us that the crowd around Haggai finally heard once they started work back on the new Temple: “I am with you.”

Through the Fire

Text: Daniel 3:14-18

I would guess that most all of us have had the experience of God taking us places that we don’t want to go. As easily as we think of the place we’d most love to be in all the world, we can all think of places or situations where we certainly never want to find ourselves. For me it would be pretty much anything that involves large, pressing crowds. That could be a concert, a city, or just a cramped meeting space with only a dozen people. I like my space. I like having the ability and freedom to get out of the way rather than always being in someone else’s way – and them in mine!

There are other places I don’t want to go. I don’t want to go to an office where someone in a white coat comes in to tell me that either I or a family member has cancer or another terminal illness. I don’t want to go to a day where a police officer has to call my house. I never want to attend the funeral of one of my children. I never want to visit the day on the calendar when the money and the food and the gas all run out before the end of the month has come.

Daniel’s three friends, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, found themselves being forced to go where they did not want to go.

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