Clay accepts: Am I a coffee mug or a vase?

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If you pictured yourself as a clay vessel, formed by God, what kind do you think you would be? A cup, a mug, a vase, a bowl? What do you imagine the potter forming you into? The Biblical picture of clay reminds us that we don’t all look the same. We all have different shapes and sizes, colors and bumps. Perhaps most importantly we have different purposes. Sometimes I like those purposes. Sometimes I’m in love with those purposes, and other times I’d like to take those purposes and shove ’em.

God addresses the issue of my jaded heart in Isaiah 45:9-11. Please open to that passage, if you have your Bible out. If not, read below:

“Woe to him who strives with him who formed him,
    a pot among earthen pots!
Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’
    or ‘Your work has no handles’?
10 Woe to him who says to a father, ‘What are you begetting?’
    or to a woman, ‘With what are you in labor?’”

11 Thus says the Lord,
    the Holy One of Israel, and the one who formed him:
“Ask me of things to come;
    will you command me concerning my children and the work of my hands?

Gotta love a passage that starts with a good “Woe to him…” Yikes.

Let’s be honest for a moment –

Does the clay say to the pot? How often do I say to God, what in the world are You doing?

Your work has no handles? Are you sure you’re doing this right, God? I think it might be better if you gave me this or we went over here and did this instead.

What are you begetting? Why? Why? Why, God?

With what are you in labor? What are we making here…it better be something worthwhile, God.

These are pretty convicting phrases when we look at the verse for ourselves and not just as a problem those Israelites had long ago.

My heart can be mighty hard. As soon as I think I’m all over this spiritual maturity thing, thank you very much, life happens. I learn pretty quickly that I’m talking clay, wanting handles when I’m meant to be a bowl.

The problem isn’t our questions, really, it’s the hardness, the “I know better than You.” The “My ways are better than Yours, God.”

Jesus instructs us in a different posture in Matthew 7:7-8 –

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.

We still get to ask questions.

We still get to come to God because of all Jesus did and Who He is, but we do so knowing that His ways are better. His ways are Life and Salvation. His ways are True and Honorable and Lovely and Just.

There’s another passage about our life as a pot, a jar of clay. Look at 2 Corinthians 4:6-9.

For God, who said,“Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;

God’s light has shone in our hearts. Our hearts are different because of Jesus. We are bearers of Christ’s message in everything we have and everything we do and every single purpose we fulfill. We know this now. When things happen in our lives and our steps seem unsure, we rest in the Potter. Our security is in the “knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Isn’t that beautiful? I’d really rather be Jesus’s face to someone than my own, wouldn’t you?

Isaiah 45 is actually about a guy named Cyrus and some stubborn people, but it bleeds God’s promises across the page in a way that reaches us in the 21st century beautifully. Cyrus would be the King who would loose the yoke of exile for the Israelites, opening the doors of the kingdom of Babylon so that the people of Israel could return to their homes and their lives. Many of the Israelites were resistant to this plan. They liked their own lives, even in captivity. Babylon was a nice place, a comfortable place. Never mind the bondage and all that, it was cozy.

Sound freakishly familiar? I really like cozy. Sometimes when God asks for us to get un-cozy, the best thing we can do is let the Holy Spirit remind us of His promises. Back up in Isaiah 45 to the verses preceding our theme verses for the day and read God’s promise to Cyrus in Isaiah 45:1-2, 5-6 –

Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus,
    whose right hand I have grasped,
to subdue nations before him
    and to loose the belts of kings,
to open doors before him
    that gates may not be closed:
“I will go before you
    and level the exalted places,
I will break in pieces the doors of bronze
    and cut through the bars of iron,

I am the Lord, and there is no other,
    besides me there is no God;
    I equip you, though you do not know me,
that people may know, from the rising of the sun
    and from the west, that there is none besides me;
    I am the Lord, and there is no other.

God opens doors.

That’s who He is. And He levels the road we walk. He promises to equip these jars of clay and not leave us to our own devices. And along the way, He opens our own hearts to His Word and His people, His work.

What doors has God opened for you in the past? What uncomfortable thing has He brought you through into the light of the “knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ”? How do you see things in your life differently through Christ’s message?

All of these questions are good. They help us to know the Potter, but not tell Him what He think He should do with the wheel.

Ask away, but let Him pot.

You are a treasured vessel, lovingly created and formed from the beginning and each day since. Entrust it all to Him, who molds and makes.

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*photo made with the fontcandy app, using photo from pexel.com

Exploration:

What do you like in life that’s cozy? What are you most attached to- certain people, a place, a few items you own, etc? (This is a fun question, so choose anything that adds a little cozy to your life, big or small.)

Where have you seen God bring you through the uncomfortable to see a greater purpose?

What open door are you asking God to open right now?

Clay Walks: A life lived in love

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*photo made with the vrsly app, using a pexel.com photo
Are the pages of Isaiah getting easier to turn as we man-handle the pages? My study Bible has these ridiculously thin pages and until a section has been tossed and turned again and again, I trip and I fall around trying to find the right chapter and verse. The pages stick together. I turn them and go six chapters too far. I back track and finally land on the selected passage. It becomes easier as I turn the pages more and more. As I study more, the pages have my fingerprints all over them. A side effect of this is that the pages get just crinkly enough that I can turn them deftly and without all the frustration.

This is how faith seems to work as well. Turn to Isaiah 30:18-22.

Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you,
    and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.
For the Lord is a God of justice;
    blessed are all those who wait for him.

19 For a people shall dwell in Zion, in Jerusalem; you shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. As soon as he hears it, he answers you. 20 And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. 21 And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left. 22 Then you will defile your carved idols overlaid with silver and your gold-plated metal images. You will scatter them as unclean things. You will say to them, “Be gone!”

Walking, like our fingers moving across the pages of our Bibles, is one of the descriptors of faith in the Bible. In Isaiah 30, we find a fun name for our God associated with this walk – Teacher.

We do not walk alone, girls. We have a Teacher who guides and leads. While this passage doesn’t speak about clay, it fits into our title of clay because clay is moldable. It’s instruct-able. When we say, “Mold me and make me, Lord. You are the potter, I am the clay.” We also say –

Teach me.

Walk with me.

Show me the way.

Isaiah 30 gives us clarity in this picture. As we walk in faith, not in perfection, but simply walking, we grow up into Him, into the Teacher, Christ Jesus. Look at Ephesians 4:14-15:

…so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…

Look just a tiny bit further in your Scriptures and rest on Ephesians 5:1-2.

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Living the truth in love looks a whole lot like walking.

Therefore…walk in love. I so often walk in hurt, in bitterness, in impatience, in discontent, in annoyance, in apathy.

Because of Jesus Christ, I can walk in love. I am instruct-able. I need and I have a Teacher to show me the way, to walk beside me, to walk behind me and cover me in forgiveness when I mess up. He also walks ahead to guide me in the True Light.

When I learn, I’m walking. When I grow, I’m walking. When I trust, I’m walking.

Check out Acts 9:1-2.

But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.

Paul, he was walking as God’s clay before he even knew it. He was walking hunting down people. He was walking in destruction. It’s ironic that Christianity is referenced here and only here as “the Way.” Neither right nor left, friends. Jesus is the Way. Paul walked and life changed forever along that Way.

When I am wrong, I’m walking. When I repent, I’m walking. When the breath of forgiveness rushes in, and covers my sin, I’m walking.

He leads. I walk. In His love, in His mercy, through crinkly pages and brokenness into marvelous, inestimable Grace.

Keep walking, friend. Clay walks.

 

Exploration:

What was your first experience with studying the Bible?

 

What group Bible studies have been memorable for you?

 

What is the hardest part of walking in love for you?

 

 

Sons and Daughters

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Today we return to Isaiah 43. It’s fair to say that I am in love with this chapter of Scripture. It helps us see both God’s Law and God’s Gospel, our rebellion and the promise of a Savior, in a way that is clear and ready to share.

Isaiah itself is such a gem. My study Bible* tells me that no other book is quoted more frequently in the New Testament as Isaiah, and some commentators call it “the Fifth Gospel.” In just three weeks of our eight week study, I think you can see why. Isaiah holds so much promise, without ignoring our sinful state. It recognizes our need and His willingness as our Savior.

That said, open to Isaiah 43 again, and see how God speaks to all nations through His prophets. Look at Isaiah 43:1-7. I’ll highlight verses 3-7 below.

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.
Fear not, for I am with you;
    I will bring your offspring from the east,
    and from the west I will gather you.
I will say to the north, Give up,
    and to the south, Do not withhold;
bring my sons from afar
    and my daughters from the end of the earth,
everyone who is called by my name,
    whom I created for my glory,
    whom I formed and made.”

God communicates His love for all nations here. This promise comes immediately after God declares, “I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life…” (v. 4)

God is nothing if not congruent. When the world would claim that the Bible contradicts itself, verses like this help us to see the fullness of God and understanding comes when He opens our eyes to the page. What exhortation is at the very beginning of verse 5 as a pivot in the passage?

“Fear not, for I am with you…”

We may not understand completely what God is doing at any given time, or ever! But He promises His presence. In these verses He says in effect, (forgive my rough paraphrase)

I know this is hard to understand. I know there is sacrifice. I know that it’s confusing.

But fear not! I am still there. I am still God over all.

I do care. I am Love.

Each and every being on this Earth is my precious child.

And how does God refer to those he is gathering from the ends of the earth?

Son

Daughter

Oh, girls. I can barely take it, it’s so beautiful. You see, I like the idea of being God’s child. I love the picture of resting safe in His strong arms, looking to Him as a faithful and true parent, with concern and grace and wisdom. But ever better…

I want to be His daughter.

My dad died when I was about 18-months-old. Until recently, I hadn’t realized what an impact on my life this was. Every girl needs a dad. Someone to tell her she’s pretty, someone that lights up when she walks into the room, and someone to teach her who holds her value and it isn’t a man.

If you haven’t had this in your life, I’m very sorry. Often times, but not always, God fills in the gaps with other people in our lives. Sometimes we have only Him. I know it’s hard. It is a huge loss. Mourn it, sister. Give it to Him. Perhaps you are the one that can understand, better than any of us, the value and the need for our Faithful Father God. Everything we need is stripped bare, but never doubt that He is the Faithful Father you have been missing.

My step-dad adopted me when I was 5 years old. He never fails to make me feel like the prettiest girl in the room. He gets up at 5am to make me breakfast sandwiches and good coffee when I visit, not wanting to miss even a moment of conversation together. He stands in the driveway when I pull my minivan out to head back to Ohio. When I round the bend, sometimes…he’s still standing there.

God is our double time father. He made and created us (Look back at Isaiah 43:7). Then he adopts us in Christ Jesus. More on this tomorrow. For today, let’s focus on God’s affection for His daughters.

Please turn to Mark 5:21-43 (or you can go rogue with the parallel passages in Luke 8 and Matthew 9, but Mark is the most complete account). I will highlight Mark 5:22-27, 35-36, and 41-42 for want of space below.

Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing him, he fell at his feet23 and implored him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” 24 And he went with him.

And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him. 25 And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, 26 and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment.

While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” 36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.”

Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” 42 And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement.

Look at the verses again. Highlight or underline anytime the word daughter, child, or little girl is utilized.

When Jesus sees us, he doesn’t just see a mass of people. He is concerned with the communal, the group, the body of believers, the nations, but he is also concerned with each and everyone of us and our inherent uniqueness. It strikes me that Jesus asks the question, “Who touched me?” (v. 31), not for His own benefit, but for hers. The woman was already healed immediately when she touched His robe.

But Jesus reaches out and invites her into relationship with one word – daughter.

Jesus then tenderly speaks to Jarius’s daughter. “Talitha” is an Aramaic word. It is a very unique phrase, a feminine word, specific to young women. Strong’s asserts that it is more correctly translated maiden or even damsel.* Jesus is no fairy tale, but He knows a girl’s heart, for sure.

Daughter, maiden, little girl, child, beloved. Could we want for more endearment?

Jesus fills in all the gaps where life has left us empty. We have a perfect God who declares us Sons and Daughters of the One True King. He is so faithful.

More Than Anything – All Sons and Daughters (Official Lyric Video)

 

Exploration:

How do you think the relationship of Dad is a blessing and can be confusing in our relationship with God?

What terms of endearment mean the most to you, in Scripture, in your marriage, in your family, anywhere? What loving words and names speak grace and love into your life?

 

*The Lutheran Study Bible published by Concordia Publishing House

*biblehub.com

Nations, constitutions, and things that pass away



Day Five – Nations, constitutions, and things that pass away

We, as people living and breathing, like to feel secure. It isn’t an American thing; it isn’t attributed to a specific heritage or culture. I have seen it in nations of poverty and nations of wealth, nations with expanse and nations that are tiny dots on the map, every race, every tribe, every tongue. We like to feel like our feet stand on solid ground, like our lifestyle is stable, our loved ones, our economic status, and our way of life tightly secure.
In fact, I think we prop security up like an idol. We place all our trust in things that appearthat they will not perish, that appear that they will not pass away. Strong armies, glamorous princes, a well spoken president, a bolstered reserve. In reality, history teaches us well that all of these will pass away.
In fact, they will not just pass away. They will in their time, be plucked up.
In Mark 13:1-8, Jesus teaches his disciples and those around Him:
And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” And as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” And Jesus began to say to them, “See that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains.
(This passage, or at least portions of it, also appear in Matthew 24 and Luke 21.)
           
Buildings have their time. Governments have their time. Nations have their time.
We know, as amillenialists, that we are in the end times. The Old Testament believers waited for the fulfillment of the promised Messiah and we, New Testament believers, await His coming again, when all things will be made new, when our way of life is plucked up by God for something better. Knowing this, knowing what is to come, and that it is all in God’s hands, we can rest our security soundly where it belongs, with Christ. We can pray for our nation. For its place and time in history and ask God to work in and through it, but we do not place our trust in it.
What does all this have to do with our study of Ecclesiastes? Context.
Matthew Henry brings up in his commentary of Ecclesiastes that the language of the Old Testament with uprooting, or plucking up, is almost always in relation to the nation of Israel.
Here’s on example in Jeremiah 12:12-15:
Upon all the bare heights in the desert
    destroyers have come,
for the sword of the Lord devours
    from one end of the land to the other;
    no flesh has peace.
They have sown wheat and have reaped thorns;
    they have tired themselves out but profit nothing.
They shall be ashamed of their
[a] harvests
    because of the fierce anger of the Lord.”
Thus says the Lord concerning all my evil neighbors who touch the heritage that I have given my people Israel to inherit: “Behold, I will pluck them up from their land, and I will pluck up the house of Judah from among them. And after I have plucked them up, I will again have compassion on them, and I will bring them again each to his heritage and each to his land. 
God wanted his people to know that they were chosen people, they were for a place and time, because He had chosen them to bring His son to the world and thereby His saving Grace to every nation on earth. Every nation. His judgment of every nation, every ruler, every person, in their place and time, is perfected in God’s desire for all people to be saved. Thank goodness!
I have no opinions about the current political status of the nation of Israel or America, or any other nation for that matter. What I do care about is that God is secure. God is the solid rock. God is eternal, unshaken, our anchor.
 And so we wake up and we lie down. We live our lives. We pray for our leaders. We pray for our military. We pray for our first responders. We thank and praise God for each and every day He gives us safety, and wealth to be stewards of, and peace in our land.
But trust… our trust we put in Him and Him alone.
Our King of Kings our Prince of Peace. To Him be the glory, forever and ever. Amen.
Discussion questions:
What is your national or cultural heritage? How does this influence you?
In what way can politics or national security be a stumbling block to our faith in God? How can it be a blessing to us?