Knowing who’s the potter and who’s the clay

There are things in this life that people try to explain to me that I simply will never understand. Radio waves and how sound travels, I just don’t get it. Anything beyond the very basic laws of physics – nope, don’t understand it. Abstract art, for the most part, you could explain it until the day is long, but I still miss the point most times.

I’ve made peace with this. At 37 years, I’m just old enough to know that life is short, and young enough to still be going full throttle. While I want to understand things, I can accurately identify when to say, “I’m so thankful other people understand that. Thank you, Lord, for the diversity of the human mind.” Sometimes it’s ok to just be perplexed. It feels really good. It means that there is something bigger than us, that we don’t know everything, nor are we intended to, that we need each other, and one another’s gifts, God is God in His courts, and I am not He.

Today, we will learn that, as clay, there is freedom in understanding. We have a place in this art of understanding.

Please read Isaiah 29:15-19 –

Ah, you who hide deep from the Lord your counsel,
    whose deeds are in the dark,
    and who say, “Who sees us? Who knows us?”
16 You turn things upside down!
Shall the potter be regarded as the clay,
that the thing made should say of its maker,
    “He did not make me”;
or the thing formed say of him who formed it,
    “He has no understanding”?

17 Is it not yet a very little while
    until Lebanon shall be turned into a fruitful field,
    and the fruitful field shall be regarded as a forest?
18 In that day the deaf shall hear
    the words of a book,
and out of their gloom and darkness
    the eyes of the blind shall see.
19 The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord,
    and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel.

So often in this world, we want to be the potter and not the clay.

We want to know, but on our own time, our own topics, in our own place. We are the hiders from the Lord’s counsel (v. 15). We think we know, when really we just don’t. We turn things upside down.

Look up these supporting passages to get a fuller picture of wisdom and understanding from the Biblical perspective.

Proverbs 1:7

1 Corinthians 1:25

Colossians 2:2-3 that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

And God does open our eyes and our ears, our hearts, and our minds. He is our potter, and He works the clay and turns the wheel in ways we least expect it. Colossians above tells us that we won’t just receive understanding from knowledge, but that we will receive understanding from encouragement and unity and love.

We become a fruitful field like Lebanon in Isaiah 29:17.

We obtain fresh joy (v. 19).

Why? Because we opened a Book.

When we come together in community around the Word there is no understanding quite like it. God opens minds, and God alone. Drugs are created and healing happens because God ordained it. Radio waves collect together across space and do whatever they do because God wants us to hear. Art becomes art because we were gifted with vision and color and talent from a Creative God. But no wisdom, no understanding is quite as magical as the beauty of the blind seeing and the deaf hearing (Isaiah 29:18) because the people of God gathered round to hear the words of the Bible. This brings us out of darkness into the light of understanding.

Lord, open our eyes, open our ears to Your wisdom. Give us hearts that are encouraged and minds that fire neurons that are continuously growing in You. You, oh Father, are our Potter. You, Jesus, mold us in Your image every day. Spirit, grant that our knowledge would always be accompanied by the Love and Unity with Your people. Lord, help us each day, that what we learn and grow in may always glorify You and lead us in Your truth and lead others to Salvation in Your Word. In Jesus name we pray, by the power of the good and gracious Holy Spirit. Amen. 

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*photo made with the retype app
Exploration:

What leaves you perplexed in this world?

What connection do you see between knowledge, understanding, and love?

How does God work understanding when people study the Bible together or offer one another Christian wisdom?

Beloved: The story of being chosen

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Day 3 – Beloved: The story of being chosen

Today we are going to turn one page in our Bibles and go to Isaiah 44. We will be all over the place in the book of Isaiah during our study. The book itself is not linear, that is, it’s not chronological. Isaiah doesn’t take us through a timeline of history like some books do. When you start at Isaiah Chapter One and read through, it’s beautiful, but it won’t go from A to B to C. My study Bible tells me that the book of Isaiah covers at least 200 years of Old Testament History, circling in and around and back again on itself. The message of Isaiah isn’t a narrative as much as it is a call and response of God to His people and His people to God. It is the message of Salvation played out again and again, preparing the way for Christ to come and save us, once and for all time.

Let’s read Isaiah 44:1-5 –
 “But now hear, O Jacob my servant,
Israel whom I have chosen!
Thus says the Lord who made you,
who formed you from the womb and will help you:
Fear not, O Jacob my servant,
Jeshurun whom I have chosen.
For I will pour water on the thirsty land,
and streams on the dry ground;
I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring,
and my blessing on your descendants.
They shall spring up among the grass
like willows by flowing streams.
This one will say, ‘I am the Lord’s,’
another will call on the name of Jacob,
and another will write on his hand, ‘The Lord’s,’
and name himself by the name of Israel.”

Part of the message of being loved is the message of being chosen.

Think of all the love stories you’ve watched play out on the screen. Girl loves boy. Boy isn’t sure and is really preoccupied in life with something else. Girl does something or something happens to girl. Boy realizes he is missing out. Boy chooses girl. Love songs play and hearts take flight on the screen.

Or think of every young girl’s longing for a best friend.

Think of every middle schooler’s desire to be picked anything but last in gym class.

We want to be chosen. Being chosen is very often how we understand being loved.

Isaiah 44:1-5 gives us a beautiful picture of God’s love that chooses us.

Israel whom I have chosen!” (v. 1)

The Bible teaches us that as gentiles, in Christ, and in God’s covenant of love for all nations, we are chosen.

1 Peter 2:9-10 proclaims this promise clearly –

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Does this sound a tad familiar? If you were with us for yesterday’s study you may recall the language of verse 10 – not a people, now a people; without mercy, now receiving mercy – from the passages. This is how God’s Word works, ever weaving His love and promises into one another and into our lives.

What other promises can you find that speak of God’s love and His choosing in Isaiah 44:1-5 above?

Take a minute to look before you go further. I’ll list a few below, for when you’re ready.

We are formed lovingly by His hands.

We are helped. (v. 2)

Our fears are lifted.

We have been filled.

Our thirst for Life and goodness and mercy and justice has been quenched with the Spirit.

We are blessed, our children are blessed. We know Christ in our lives and His forgiveness. (v. 3)

We are raised up. (v. 4)

His name is written on our hands. We are His. (v. 5)

We are not drained, sisters. We are filled.

How often have you been exhausted and need the promise of the Lord’s love to fill you and sustain you? Weariness, you may come, but you may not reign in our lives.

We are “The Lord’s!”

We are not forsaken. Our children are not forsaken. We are baptized believer’s of the Bright Morning Star. We rest in the promise of His salvation. His name is written on our forehead and our heart.

We are “The Lord’s!”

We are not orphaned. We are greatly loved. We are made and formed from the womb. Planned before the dawn of time.

We are “The Lord’s!”

Write it on your hand today, literally. Bring back fond adolescent memories by taking ink to skin. Write something more important than the homework due next Tuesday. Let your children and your friends ask about it. Write it large or write it in tiny script.

The Lord’s!”

This is your story of being chosen.

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If you feel so inclined, we’d love to see your hand, kiddos hands, chosen hands! Upload a photo in the comments section or share on social media today and tag #ilovemyshepherd and #HeCallsMeLoved

Three little words…love and doubt

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Day 2 – Three little words…love and doubt

About 4 years ago I was sitting in my local women’s Bible study, when the study author alighted on the Scripture in which our theme verse for the week rests, Isaiah 43. It’s a beautiful passage. I’ll highlight Isaiah 43:1-4 for you below, but if you have your Bible available, grab it out and read through the chapter as a whole for yourself. Look for the descriptions of God and the descriptions He gives to us as His people.

But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
    he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
    I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
    and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
    and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
    Cush and Seba in exchange for you.
Because you are precious in my eyes,
    and honored, and I love you,
I give men in return for you,
    peoples in exchange for your life.

Go through again and highlight or underline the following phrases, even if only in your mind –

…he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel…

…for I have redeemed you…

…I have called you by name, you are mine… (v.1)

…I will be with you…

…the flames will not consume you… (v. 2)

…For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, you Savior… (v. 3)

Because you are precious in my eyes,
    and honored, and I love you,
I give men in return for you,
    peoples in exchange for your life. (v.4)

And that’s only the first four verses, friends!

Isaiah is full of beautiful affection from our Lord to us. But the reason it captured my attention that day in Bible study so long ago, was those three little words…

I love you.

Read Isaiah 43:4 again and highlight those three little words in your Bible if you can. Write them down. Write them on your engagement tool if you have it. Write it on a post-it. Write it on your child’s backpack with a sharpie. Channel your inner fifth grader and write it on your hand with a blue ink pen. Write it and return to it.

When I first found this verse in Bible study, all I could think was

“Where has this verse been my whole life?”

and

“How do all women not know about this?”

God’s Bible is a love letter to us. Isaiah isn’t the only book of the Bible that talks about this love, of course not. It’s not even the only book that refers to His children as beloved – there’s Deuteronomy, Hosea, Jeremiah, Romans, Corinthians, the letters of John, and more.

However, this is the only place I have ever found in the Bible that directly says I love you.

Sometimes, sisters, we just need to hear it. We need to hear the three little words –

I love you

from God to us. Direct, obvious, to the point, no pussy-footing around.

The problem is that all the stuff of life gets in the way. Wars and health problems, finances and heartbreak, injustice across the globe and in our own churches and homes. With all of the pain and heartache swirling around us, it can be hard to see love poured out by the Savior of the Nations.

Let’s look at Hosea 2:16-23 for a moment.

“And in that day, declares the Lord, you will call me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer will you call me ‘My Baal.’ For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, and they shall be remembered by name no more. And I will make for them a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the creeping things of the ground. And I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land, and I will make you lie down in safety. And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord.

“And in that day I will answer, declares the Lord,
I will answer the heavens,
and they shall answer the earth,
 and the earth shall answer the grain, the wine, and the oil,

and they shall answer Jezreel,
    and I will sow her for myself in the land.
And I will have mercy on No Mercy,
and I will say to Not My People, ‘You are my people’;
and he shall say, ‘You are my God.’”

Verse 18 above writes out a promise –

And I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land, and I will make you lie down in safety…”

This verse assumes that we have been a people living outside of perfect. That we are a people in need of rescue from pain and struggle. It tells us that God sees, and He knows our doubt. Listen to verse 23 again.

And I will have mercy on No Mercy,
and I will say to Not My People, ‘You are my people’;
and he shall say, ‘You are my God.’ (
Hosea 2:23)

Romans 9:25 references this exact verse, but with slightly different language –

As indeed he says in Hosea,

Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’
and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’”

We are very much loved. God in Isaiah 43 tells us directly how much we are loved even when we wander away. It tells us that fire will come, waters will rage, life will be imperfect. God’s love doesn’t look like flowers and sunshine and roses of financial blessing pouring out of the sky. It doesn’t look easy or pain free. Instead, it looks like relationship. It looks like a God who loves us through Christ despite our frailness, despite our constant running off.

We are called beloved for one reason…because we are also called His.

His creation. His redemption. His.

“In His mercy,” Romans tells us, which assumes we need mercy. We need mercy for our own failings, for the failings of the world around us. God gives us that mercy and then some. He also gives us Love.

It’s so easy to doubt with the world looking suspiciously like it may cave in at any given time. Just be honest with Him. Jesus knows our every weakness, but proclaims His Word over us today and every day.

Rest in the mercy you find today in those three little words of Isaiah 43:4 –

I love you.

Doubt and all.

 

 

Exploration:

When have you struggled with doubting God’s love for you?

 

 

What things in the world are hardest for people to see God’s love through, especially when they do not know Jesus?

 

40 Date Night Ideas to Spice It Up

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Recently I wrote a blog for Everyday Faith, over at Concordia Publishing House – 

Spicing Up Date Night (check it out here!)

Here I’d like to offer the list of fun and spicy date nights contributed by young and old alike at Sammi and Craig’s wedding. See photo of them above… #seriouslyadorable.

So, are you ready to Spice Up your date nights this summer? Dave and I are planning on using at least one of these ideas a month for the coming months. Which ones would you choose? What ideas would you add? 

                  40 DATE NIGHT IDEAS
  1. Rent a limo or car just for fun
  2. Paintball or laser tag
  3. Dance at a country hoedown & eat BBQ
  4. Take a mime class together
  5. Date night at home
    1. Grill pizzas, it tastes like wood oven pizza
    2. Have a bottle of wine
    3. A good movie or a card game
  6. Make homemade ice cream & watch a Disney movie
  7. Go to the farmer’s market & cook with your finds
  8. Go back to high school
    1. Go out for ice cream
    2. Go putt putting
    3. Go to a PG13 movie
  9. Drive In
  10. Take a sleigh ride & drink hot cocoa
  11. Roll in the hay #literally
  12. Muddin with an awesome off-road vehicle
  13. Make a dish from a cooking show together
  14. Zip line together
  15. Do a factory tour, especially any place with samples
  16. Try new candy bars and walk them off together
  17. Create your own cheese of the month club – buy 3 new and creative cheeses to share together each month…enjoy with wine! 
  18. Board games & local microbrews
  19. Go to a coffee shop one morning & get a beverage to share
  20. Ride a tandem bike & eat ethnic foods
  21. Go camping & eat s’mores
  22. Explore hiking areas or metroparks
  23. Recreate the first date you had together
  24. Go to a museum
  25. Pottery/painting or stained glass class- create something together!
  26. Sushi rolling class, followed by dessert at a restaraunt
  27. Breakfast Date
  28. Beach day on Lake Huron (or your nearest body of water)
  29. Taco Night with homemade sangria
  30. Shop for ingredients and build your own creative martini bar
  31. Build a birdhouse together
  32. Do a progressive dinner, try a few new restaurants
    1. Do one restaurant for appetizers
    2. Another restaurant for a meal
    3. Another restaurant for dessert
    4. Lastly a different restaurant for drinks
  33. Go fishing
  34. Go for a moonlight (or daytime!) canoe ride
  35. Go to the theater & watch a movie with popcorn, candy, and a giant pop! Try doing a double feature.
  36. Go to a concert & don’t leave until your feet hurt from dancing
  37. Find a magazine with the best restaurant list, see how many you can visit in a year
  38. Get some pillows, blankets and snacks for a midnight picnic & watch the stars
  39. Get a green screen & take pictures of yourselves in front of it. Then Photoshop really cool stuff in behind you. Like the Eiffel Tower, the sinking of the Titanic, a car crash, or prehistoric dinosaurs
  40. Create a Chopped basket for each other and get creative in the kitchen
 
*photo by Melissa Sue Ripke at http://www.melissasphoto.com/ 

A Call to Action: Grace and Mental Health

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I have to say it. I, for one, am so excited to see the open window for mental health in our culture and in our churches, recently. I see more and more posts on mental health care on the web, our church synod has a task force for domestic violence and abuse, there are conferences and committees to address support and care in many denominations.

This, my friends, is a long time in coming. Two years ago, at a conference, I heard a speaker call mental health the “mission field of the 21st Century” and I could not agree more. It is time. The silence has lasted long enough. The darkness of despair and anxiety and struggle has been overcome by the blood of the Lamb. He waits with healing and grace. We can be that voice of grace for those around us.

But how does that work? What does grace look like when it’s living and active and poured out, particularly in the realm of mental health? Here are some suggestions for churches, church workers, and any one of us ready to answer the call to Grace for the hurting.

John 1:16 tells us that we have all received grace upon grace.

Praise be to God that we can let that grace roll out onto all of those around us!

Find out more

It’s easy to assume that we know. We’ve read a few blog articles about depression, so we “get” mental health. But the needs in mental health are so much broader and wider. Here is just a tiny list of struggles that can be addressed in grace:

anxiety (an estimated 10-18% of the population identifies a diagnosable struggle with anxiety, myself included!)

depression – including seasonal, major depressive episodes, and postpartum

Autism Spectrum and other sensory processing

learning disabilities

sexual abuse and assault

domestic violence

trauma of all sorts

Bipolar

Schizophrenia

addictions

eating disorders

This list is not meant to be exclusive. I could go on and on. What struggle knocks on the door of your heart? Find out more, ask questions, use appropriate terminology and language. Educate others on the issue and just be mindful that these are not random and rare issues in people’s lives. They are much more common than we think, for those inside the Church, as well as those disconnected from the Church.

Grace – reaching out by learning and growing.

Offer community

Mental health can be one of the loneliest places on earth. Whether the stigma is real or imagined or both, it’s not something we talk about in our culture and our churches. Burst open the door! Make your church, your home, your small group a place where it is talked about, prayed for, and actively reaching out. We, as a church, have the amazing opportunity to be a family to those who feel lonely, distressed, and even tormented. It is time to bury the idea that we are unsafe around people with diagnoses. Those with severe and persistent diagnoses need us even more! Research shows that community and social support is one of the largest indicators of success in mental health treatment. People take needed medicines when they have loving friends who check in on them and ask hard questions. People can break the chains of addiction when there are people who do not give up on them.

Grace – offering community, even when it’s hard.

Speak Forgiveness and Life and God’s constant pursuit of us

Psalm 103:4 – “who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy…”

Matthew 11:28 – “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Luke 19:10 – “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Jesus forgives anything we have done or left undone. So many people need to hear these words from the mouth of a living and breathing person. They need to know that God does not give up on them, that He pursues and pursues. That He runs down the road with His robes flying about, waiting to embrace us. Many people that struggle with mental health wonder about their worthiness. It is easy for even anxiety to ostracize people from the love God is trying to pour into them. Individuals often feel afraid to admit that they are afraid when well meaning people cite Scripture that tells us not to be afraid! Share verses that share Who God is, rather than what people should do.

Grace – for the weary soul.

Love, Love, and More Love

Some people are hard to love. Some people are worried that they are hard to love. Some people have a hard time loving. We can let God fill us with His love and then we can share it, even when it gets hard. What does love look like? Sometimes it looks like pouring out affection and time and energy, and sometimes it looks like hard boundaries spoken firmly, but kindly.

Grace – speaking the Truth in love.

Be Faithful

Loyalty is hard when relationships so often disappoint us. People will never be perfect, they will never love perfect or talk perfect or follow through perfect. We have the same Grace that we get to offer others. Often times, people want to give up, both those struggling with mental health issues and those supporting them. Families of those with mental health struggles perhaps need the most support and encouragement. We can love by being true to our promises and not giving up. We can give grace by being someone’s personal encourager and sounding board and safe place. When the going gets tough, the tough pour on more Grace. 

What an awesome season the Lord has before us! We as a church stand in the midst of a perfect time to be real and in tune with the needs of those around us.

Bring on the Grace church! Bring on the Grace.