Category Archives: Some Thoughts

…to challenge and encourage.

handmade workmanship

We Are All the Works of Your Hand

Bowls, mugs, plates, tea pots EVERYWHERE! Recently, some of the ladies in our small group took a trip to Poland.  We called it a woman’s retreat. Our goals were to see lots and lots of Polish pottery and get to know one another in the process. The car ride was about eight hours one way, so we had plenty of time to chat.  What a wonderful, refreshing time this was for me. During our long weekend, we reflected on scriptures that pertained to “clay”,  the “potter” and “being molded.” Very fitting!
One of my favorite parts of the trip was our tour through a factory.  It had grown from 20 workers to over 200 in just a few years. Each piece of pottery is truly handmade. We tried to count how many people touched each piece… maybe 15-20 people before it goes to the shelf. It’s amazing how many hands touch each piece, from the guy who places the clay on the wheel to the women who stamps it, to the people that place the handle on the mugs. It’s also amazing how many people touch our own lives.  Isaiah 64:8 says, “But now, Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the works of your hand.”
During our tour, we noticed a pile of broken pieces of pottery. We were told that if the pottery hadn’t been painted that they could re-use it.  Just like the pottery, at times we can be broken… but the Master Potter can renew our faith by walking closer to Christ. From Jeremiah 18:2-6:

“Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do. Then the word of the Lord came to me “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done?”, declares the Lord. “Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.”

No two pieces of pottery were the same.  No two people are the same. He molds each and every one of us.  We saw one gentleman that put a clump of clay on the wheel.  He kept both hands on the wheel when it was spinning.  If he took his hands off or looked away, the shape of the clay would be misshapen.  The same is true about our walk with Christ. It is important for us to keep our eyes on him.

Extreme Couponing

Extreme CouponingWith the constant changes in the economy, the decreasing value of the dollar and the high cost of fuel, many people have become consumed with saving money on groceries and house hold goods. The Learning Channel, or TLC’s Extreme Couponing a reality show that every episode tells the story of two or three different coupon fanatics. The people featured come from all walks of life, but they are all very serious and singularly focused on saving as much money as possible at the register. I don’t just mean hundreds of dollars. I mean thousands, like over $3,000 worth of merchandise for $0.06. Seriously.

The climax of each episode is when the coupon users are “paying” for their purchase; these are transactions that sometimes take more than 30 minutes! (They routinely crash the store’s computer!) In that final moment, all the preparation, the collecting, the cutting out, the organizing the counting, the research… all the hard work usually pays off. But there is always a moment of doubt.

Seeing an episode reminded me a lot of what our faith in Christ must be like. Hearing the cashier say, “Your entire $1,736.57 purchase today is free!” got me thinking that this must be similar to what it will be like when we stand before God as a follower of Christ. The Father says, “You have a debt that you cannot possibly pay, but my Son has taken your place and paid the debt.” Wow. That’s what I call savings!

In Romans 8:12-17 Paul says, “So then, brothers, we are debtors,” but he continues to our status after the purchase is complete. “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.”

Here’s where the original simile breaks down though… jump back to the cash register and Extreme Couponing‘s moment of truth. Your planning and work is done. The coupons are ready, in order and the entire purchase has been scanned. It’s time to see if all the hard work has paid off. Instead of Jesus being a “coupon” (forgive me, Lord!), He comes to the register and says, “Put your coupons away. They are all worthless.” In fact in this metaphor, He would probably say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. There are no discounts or registers because the entire price has been paid. You own the entire store. It’s open 24/7 for you and there is nothing you could have done to earn this.”

“[But God], immense in mercy and with an incredible love, embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us! Then he picked us up and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah.” That is a small excerpt from Ephesians 2:1-10 in The Message.

So perhaps the next time you pull out your discount card or your stack of coupons, remember the price that has been paid for you through God’s incredible love… not just a bargain. He wants to give you the entire store! When you are ready, He’ll be waiting, always open, no coupon required.

Working

This past week has been spent mowing grass, washing trash cans and hauling gravel at the Black Forest Academy campuses to prepare for the school year and to make some simple, sweat-equity improvements. It’s hard work, but these days of sweating and straining have brought two things to mind, 1) the way I and many believers have unjustly elevated certain jobs and ministries over others, and 2) the way we distort and misunderstand ministry.

One thing that the Holy Spirit is doing in the 21st Century church is leveling the playing field when it comes to leadership. Check out the organizational chart in some of today’s most effective churches and you’ll find that it is a lot flatter than in the past. It’s not just the staff, pastors and a hierarchy of leaders who are making a difference. It’s the congregation who is having a real impact in the local community and around the globe. Praise the Lord that ministry is no longer the sole (or soul) responsibility of the pastor!

Being a minister is not about a degree a salary or a title. It’s about sharing the hope of the gospel by stepping out from behind the comfortable walls we’ve built and into the challenging spots where God has placed us. Then… BAM!, we plant our feet in the enemy’s territory answering the Great Commission by reclaiming that place as the Lord’s! You are there and you represent Him.

Whether you are in the board room or working third shift on the Tyson processing line, claim that place as the Lord’s! Whether you are designing and building the newest elder-care facility, or if you’ll be the one cleaning out the patient’s bed pans, you are a minister, a missionary, a Kingdom worker reclaiming and restoring that which was lost. You are representing The Coming King!

If we are mowing, teaching, selling, serving, coaching, washing, leading, hauling or sweating, let’s be an expression of God’s love for the world. We are not here to sit and wait for some magic moment or rapture, but to be a faithful reflection of hope among the lost and broken. Work hard, give God the glory and pray for His renewal in your life and others.

In the coming days as I grab my shovel, pick up the wheelbarrow, or pull the starter cord on the mower, I’ll think of you, faithful brothers and sisters, you who are my co-laborers with Christ. Grace and peace as you step out into the world for the work that lies ahead.

 

Some supporting Scriptures: Ecclesiastes 9:10, Psalm 90:16-17, Ephesians 4:28, 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3

 

Fragile

middle Rhine bridge
Mittlere Rheinbrüke

It happened around the time I was 37.2 years old. How do I know that? …because I was on a weekend retreat called The Walk to Emmaus and someone made a comment that the median life expectancy for an American male was 74.4 years. I did the math instead of listening to the speaker. Give or take a few days, my life was exactly half over! Sure that was only statistically, but it was a real wake up call for me. I barely heard anything else the remainder of the evening. I kept repeating in my head, “My life is half over. I only have half of my life left!”

It’s a humbling thought to consider how temporary and fleeting this life is. In James 4:13-15, the Bible speaks of our lifetimes as “a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.” Even Sting the pop star has a beautiful song with the repeating chorus “how fragile we are.” I’m not sure where I heard it, but I say this phrase a lot, “Life is terminal.”

So am I a fatalist? Am I a Debbie downer? No. I’m really a guy who’s very hopeful and optimistic. Those of you who know me well… help me out here! Here’s what I’m trying to say. If your life is half over, what are you going to do with the rest of it? Pastor Chip Ingram tells of a retired church member who long outlived the 74.4 year average. This elderly gentleman showed his wisdom when he told his pastor, “If I would have known I was going to live this long, I wouldn’t have spent so much time working on my golf game.”

Valerie and I both celebrated birthdays this month, our first since heading out to serve in international missions. It’s not been easy, but every day of our remaining “37.2 years” is a gift from God that we wanted to give back to Him. Yes. We’re another year older. Yes. My half-way marker was awhile ago. But I love the Apostle Paul’s words paraphrased by Eugene Peterson, “So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace.”

2 Corinthians 4:16 [The Message]

No matter how young or old you are, not a day goes by without His unfolding grace. Not a day. I hope that you will experience that in your life and make the most of every day you are given!

Photo note: This picture was taken at the halfway point across the Rhine River in Basel, Switzerland on the Mittlere Rheinbrücke or middle Rhein bridge.

The path to Omaha Beach, Normandy, France

The Days Ahead

The path to Omaha Beach, Normandy, France
The path to Omaha Beach

Two down. Only one resolution remains. I’m not sure why we set resolutions each year, but I think part of it is so that we can cling to some tiny piece of false control when we look ahead at the unknown in the 365 days ahead. Thankfully my final goal that remains has a lot more to do with God’s great love and less to do with my daily habits or personal performance.

Last week, I ran across a story, one of the “behind the scenes” pieces of the Israel’s Exodus and the Ten Commandments. In Exodus 33, we catch an amazing dialog between a merciful Heavenly Father and His reluctant but willing servant, Moses. Note: this is the same righteous, “Old Testament” God who brought death and destruction earlier in the story; both are part of His divine nature.

In verse eleven, it says, “The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” That is an amazing statement that stands in sharp contrast to the gods of other religions who are defined by their inapproachability. This is centuries before Jesus arrives in Bethlehem, an unmeasurable example of the Father’s love for His creation!

Because Moses has already been a witness, an undeserving recipient of God’s grace, he reminds Yahweh of the bond they have and the promise He has given. “You have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found grace in My sight.’” But he also makes a confident request of the Lord, “Show me now Your way, that I may know You and that I may find grace in Your sight.”

We have that same opportunity to come before a God who loves us. Because of Christ’s death on our behalf and His resurrection, we can speak directly with him “as one speaks to a friend.” This is true no matter where we are geographically, politically or spiritually! But even if you don’t want to “be God’s friend,” His words to you in this new year are still the same, “I know you by name, and you have also found grace in My sight.”

So how will we respond? Well, that is my last remaining resolution. In 2011 I want to consistently ask my Heavenly Father, my friend, “Show me now Your way, that I may know You and that I may find grace in Your sight.” Maybe you can make it your prayer too. Another one of God’s character traits that Valerie and I can tell you is true… He is faithful! If you want to know Him better, just ask Him. He will do it. You can experience His love and grace in 2011.