We Are Clay Jars – imperfect, yet living examples

S (Scripture): 2 Corinthians 4:7 But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. 11 For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.

O (Observation):  By “we” Paul may mean the group to which Paul belongs, that is, he and those disciples carrying the Gospel to Corinth and helping to settle new locations in which the Gospel can be read and heard and lived out.  I suggest this, because in v. 12, he suggests that this work causes a death in Paul and his disciples, FOR THE SAKE OF “you” (those in the church in Corinth).  

Paul makes clear that the carriers of the Gospel message are not the central factor.  Paul declares that he and his disciples are but clay jars – imperfect containers for that which is life-giving.  The nature of the Gospel is not tarnished, even though the carriers are.   

A (Application):  As one who supports making disciples who make disciples, I have to keep one very important thing in mind:  calling people to follow me is not about following me, but following the One, Jesus Christ himself.  

Have you ever made a copy of a copy of a copy, etc?   What happens to the content being copied?  Yes!  It diminishes in quality.  The letters and images become more and more fuzzy.  If you make copies from the original, you get a clearer picture.  

The same would happen if we called others to follow us for the sake of following US, and not following Jesus.  So the tricky part (really, the part of us that must die) is that when we share the Gospel and call people to follow, we point to the Gospel and to Jesus and NOT just to us.  

The hard part is that calling people to follow is a combination of the message and the messenger.   We who carry the Gospel (clay jars) are thus called to be living examples (not perfect examples).   We need to give folks something to imitate before they can innovate their own way of carrying the Gospel.   

The dying part of this imitation piece is that we have to let go of our way of being a clay jar when our followers (really Jesus’ followers) start to create their own way of being a clay jar.  

Remember: we are not in the clay jar-making business…we are about the work of carrying a life-giving Message.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, help us to lead, and then to get out of the way.  Amen. 

A Wide Door Awaits

S (Scripture): 1 Corinthians 16:5 I will visit you after passing through Macedonia—for I intend to pass through Macedonia— 6 and perhaps I will stay with you or even spend the winter, so that you may send me on my way, wherever I go. 7 I do not want to see you now just in passing, for I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. 8 But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, 9 for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.

O (Observation): Paul trusts the Spirit to guide him.   He has a clear purpose: share the Good News.   But the strategy and the implementation of that strategy are guided almost completely by the Holy Spirit.   

Paul is listing out his travel plans to his brothers and sisters in Christ in Corinth.  He points out that a “wide door for effective work” has opened up for him in Ephesus.  The Spirit is opening the pathway for him to walk along.  He serves the purpose he has been given, and he does this most effectively when he follows the grace poured out for him by the Spirit.  

A (Application):  While we do the “hands and feet” Kingdom work, the Spirit is also constantly at work, preparing folks’ hearts and minds to receive the Good News.   No speech or tactic is in and of itself the factor that causes people to believe.  Rather, the Spirit guides this process.  The Spirit prepares people’s hearts and minds. 

The Spirit lays out a pathway for us, a roadway lined with vision and grace…and the Spirit has all the time in the world.   So the Spirit will wait for us.   

This pathway is a gift from God.   The pathway may lead where our hearts are already going; or where our minds are going; or where both heart and mind are headed.   And sometimes we get off that path.  Sometimes we are WAY off that path.   Or maybe we only recently took a wrong turn.  

This pathway is where our spiritual gifts lie in wait, ready to be used for the good of the Kingdom.  We need only to take the abiding time necessary to discern what gifts we are to use, when to use them, how to use them, where to use them.   

In all of this, the Spirit is busy guiding us and giving us hope that – no matter the circumstances – a wide door for effective work awaits us.  

P (Prayer):  Spirit, guide us.  Grace us all the way back to the path.  Amen.  

Who is Setting the Pace for You?

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S (Scripture):  Luke 24:28  As they came near the village to which they were going, Jesus walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”

O (Observation):  This text comes not from the Daily Moravian texts…but this is the Gospel text assigned for Sunday, April 30, 2017.   

These two followers of Jesus received news of Jesus’ death.  They are despondent and downtrodden.   On their long walk back home, the resurrected Jesus comes alongside these two men and asks what is troubling them.  They share that Jesus has suffered and died, not recognizing this stranger is Jesus himself!   Jesus reminds them of the salvation stories, starting with Moses and the prophets…on to the current day.  But these followers still don’t quite know what to make of this stranger…(who just happens to be the resurrected Jesus!).

Not until Jesus breaks bread with them is he revealed to them, fully.  Their “eyes were opened and they recognized him.”  Then he left…vanished.   And the disciples realize that Jesus was there in their midst, the whole time.

A (Application):  We don’t always get it.  We don’t always get the fact that Jesus is journeying with us.   The world around us is constantly challenging us.  Kids’ sports practices.  The latest gadget.   The dwindling bank account.   The competition to succeed.   The race to the top.   The need to meet the quotas.   The rat race….over and over and over again.

Breathe.   Just breathe.   Let today be the beginning of something new…a break.   Just for a few minutes…just for a day…maybe for a  few days.   Re-charge.

While you are resting…maybe you will have a chance to recognize God’s presence in your midst.   While we are running, we have a hard time catching our breath or noticing what God is up to in our lives.

You need some downtime to sit, break bread with others…and notice that God is here.  Now.  In your presence.   Do this “rest” thing with someone you love and trust.   See what happens.

Then…get back at it.   Go on.  But now, know that God is with you.  That will change your whole outlook on the race you are running.   You will no longer be running the race for yourself…you will realize that you are not running alone.  You will see that God is with you on your journey…let God set your pace.

P (Prayer):  God, slow us down…pace us…let us know your presence is real.  Amen.

From Spiritual To Material


S (Scripture): Romans 15:23 But now, with no further place for me in these regions, I desire, as I have for many years, to come to you 24 when I go to Spain. For I do hope to see you on my journey and to be sent on by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a little while. 25 At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem in a ministry to the saints; 26 for Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to share their resources with the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. 27 They were pleased to do this, and indeed they owe it to them; for if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material things. 28 So, when I have completed this, and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will set out by way of you to Spain…

O (Observation): Paul is always on the move.  He is graced with the blessing of being an apostle – always out on the frontier.   And loving it, since this is his calling for the most part.  

In his travels amongst places where he was establishing churches, he found that the churches in Macedonia and Achaia were eager to offer their resources to the churches in Rome. Paul was carrying this offering and wishing to go to Spain, but to visit the church in Rome and drop off this offering as part of what he hoped to be an epic journey to Spain. 

The spiritual impact in the faith communities started and helped by Paul has led to material offerings and support to other churches.   

A (Application):  As a pastor, I have the blessing of sharing God’s generous spirit with the congregation I serve and with the wider community.  Our spiritual blessing leads us to material generosity.   

We have found that money follows ministry.  We like to get caught up in scarcity, but our God is always surprising us in ways unimaginable.   Where will the money come from?  I don’t know.  Maybe it will, maybe it won’t and we have to shift plans.   But we are always discerning our way forward…always wondering what God is saying to us, and wondering what God wants us to do.   

As we continue to wonder, we see fruit coming from our times of discernment.  We have a Cub Scout group and a home school co-op using our building during the week.  We host a quilting ministry, Bible study, worship, a Zumba class, a free exchange program, called Weecycle, which meets in our parking lot twice a month.  We give to the wider church, at a rate of 8% of regular offerings, and we donate to various local ministries.  We partner with other organizations to show love to our neighbor (as I wrote about in yesterday’s post).   

We are blessed, and we want to share this blessing with others.   We are not worthy, but for what we have, we give thanks.   And in our discernment, we sense God calling us to pay forward the blessings we have received so that others might experience the same blessings.   Sometimes that blessing is money, sometimes it is time, sometimes it is sharing a promotion of an event or such.  

We move from spiritual to material.   How about you?

P (Prayer):  Lord, you are generous.  Help us to be generous, too.  Amen.  

The Church: Pioneers and Settlers Working Together


S (Scripture): Romans 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the life-giving Spirit in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death. 3 For God achieved what the law could not do because it was weakened through the flesh. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the righteous requirement of the law may be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

O (Observation):  Paul is finally getting to the crux of salvation – and it’s not found in the law of the flesh.   The law had been manipulated over time to favor the “in” crowd (The Jewish people) to the exclusion of everyone else.   

Paul never faults the Jewish people for sensing that they have a special place in God’s eyes…he’s just letting them know that the law of the flesh leads to bondage and sin…and that the law of the Spirit leads to freedom and new life.  

How do we become righteous?  Not by our heritage or lineage.   Not by our laws or customs.  Instead, our righteousness comes about through the law of the Spirit…the “law of the Spirit” being the fact that the Spirit connects us to God and salvation, as opposed to the “law of the flesh,” in which we rely on our own adherence to loyalty and customs.   

A (Application):  How loyal can we be?   And to what are we loyal?   So many struggles in churches are based on misguided loyalties:  type of music, who the pastor is, who the musicians are, printed or projected words, “who do we serve?”, “who do we allow to join?”, and on and on.   

Churches are full of both pioneers and settlers.   Some folks (settlers) are great at locking in the tradition, and some are great at forging into new territory (pioneers).   Quite often, these two sets of folks lock horns.    Typically, we think that the only way to settle this battle is for one side to win.  Or if one side sneaks in a win, the other side needs to fight back or sneak in their own “win.”

This duality rarely allows us to enter a possible third way…   This duality fails to recognize that God himself is a three-way relationship that defies duality.  With our three-fold God, we have an example of living beyond dualistic thinking.  

We can find a third way…a way that brings honor to God, and to the opposing forces in our congregations.    

(One caveat:  sometimes people are just antagonistic and evil…or they feel like they will never be open to a third way.   For these people, all we can hope for is for God to help them settle into a new place of worship.)

As for those who wish to know of a new way forward, we go back to the Romans text. We live according to the law of the life-giving Spirit.  The Spirit brings creativity and life into a situation that seems bleak.  Let us allow our loyalties to reside in our God who is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  

Instead of opposing forces, let us consider how pioneers and settlers can work together!  As pioneers in the faith forge new territory, they will have to be okay with not settling every territory if it is not bearing fruit.  Pioneers are needed to come along and settle into areas that seem to bear fruit.   And, as this new territory is established, the pioneers are to move along to even newer territory.  If settlers never settle an area, then the work of the pioneers is mostly for naught.   And if pioneers never explore new territory, the settlers will become ever complacent and eventually become completely closed off…and eventually die off…or just re-populate within themselves, which completely ignores the Great Comission.  

We need this third way.  And we receive this third way according to the  law of the Spirit.   

Where do you see pioneers in your faith community?  Where do you see settlers?   Do you despise one or the other?  Why is that?  Is your loyalty to pioneers?  Settlers? Christ himself?

Do you see the third way being possible in your midst?  Is the third way already happening?

P (Prayer): Lord, your Spirit is life-giving and creative.  Help us to embrace  our life in you.  Amen.  

Suffering, Yet at Peace 


S (Scripture): Romans 5:1 Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of God’s glory. 3 Not only this, but we also rejoice in sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance, character, and character, hope. 5 And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

O (Observation): Suffering is not something we like, yet Paul reminds the church that sufferings are not the end of the story, because we have a peace with God.   Paul sees how a person given faith in Jesus Christ can see suffering through the eyes of Christ.   Christ’s suffering had a glorious ending.  So, Christ’s suffering has a glorious hope and peace for us all, too!

Paul’s own suffering has produced endurance in him, because of Christ being with him.  His endurance developed his character,  because Christ was shaping him.   Paul’s character allowed him to hope, because Christ was with him.  

A (Application):  I don’t believe that Christ wants us to suffer.  I don’t think it is EVER God’s plan for someone to suffer.  However, when someone is suffering, I very much believe that God can create an opportunity to translate that suffering into hope, as Paul suggests:

Suffering >> Endurance >> Character >> Hope

God, who gives us peace, can take our situations of suffering, and cause us to pause and think about things.  To endure the current suffering, giving us endurance.   This endurance will shape our character (as it did Paul’s).  And finally, as people of a developed character, we will hope.  We will know that suffering is not the end, but rather, a peace in God. 

Many people are suffering in spirit these days, as a result of political movements towards the right.   And to those who are suffering, I say this: Remember Paul’s words, founded in faith in Jesus Christ…that we have a peace in God.  

If you sense that you are suffering, know that this is not the end.  That this will be a time of endurance development, character development.   And that you will be hopeful, because our salvation rests not in political leaders, but in our Lord Jesus Christ, who has overcome the power of evil.  

Use this time to mine for gold down in the pit.  God is with you, giving you strength.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, remind us that we already have a peace in you, made real through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.  

Through Faith Alone

S (Scripture): Romans 4:13 For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would inherit the world was not fulfilled through the law, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. 14 For if they become heirs by the law, faith is empty and the promise is nullified…20 He did not waver in unbelief about the promise of God but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God. 21 He was fully convinced that what God promised he was also able to do. 22 So indeed it was credited to Abraham as righteousness.

23 But the statement it was credited to him was not written only for Abraham’s sake, 24 but also for our sake, to whom it will be credited, those who believe in the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. 25 He was given over because of our transgressions and was raised for the sake of our justification.

O (Observation):  Paul is starting to dig a bit deeper into the identity of the Jewish people.  Over time, they have become convinced that the works of the Law made them who they were: God’s people.  

Paul is helping them to see that Abraham’s faith in God was not a work of the law, but rather, came about as a gift of faith that originated in God, and thus allowed Abraham to believe at all. Salvation came to Abraham NOT because he performed a “good work” by believing.   Rather, seeing the blessing available to him and Sarah, he responded to the blessing by actually believing in the blessings to come.  

Salvation came to Abraham OUTSIDE OF his own doing.   He recognized that, and ONLY THROUGH FAITH APART FROM THE LAW did Abraham believe.   

Faith was the key to Abraham’s salvation and blessing.  The same goes for those who believe in  the one who raised our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead.  Paul tells the Jewish Christians in Rome:  just as Jews credited faith in God with Abraham as a model of faith, so too is the opportunity available for ALL to believe that God raised Jesus Christ from the dead, apart from any understanding in the Law or Jewish customs.  

In other words, Gentile Christians have just as much opportunity to be a part of the Church as Jewish Christians.  

A (Application):  I have learned from Mike Breen’s book on discipleship, Building a Discipling Culture, that our identity as Christians stems not from our work towards God, but in God claiming us and bestowing faith upon us.  (This is illustrated in the triangle picture above.). Once that identity in God is established, then we are able to do the work that God calls us to do.   The summation of this, found in Breen’s book is this:  God >> Identity >> Obedience; God is the originator of our identity, which leads to our confidence to be obedient to do God’s work (albeit imperfectly).  

Here is how lots of people express faith in a way that says we earn God’s grace.  Notice how it is the opposite of Breen’s (and Scripture’s) suggestion:

Obedience leads to >> Identity as God’s children >> which then grants us access to God.  

This breaks down when you think about all of the times that we slip up, like when we are angry at someone and speak ill of someone or when we blatantly sin in any way (we’ve all done this, unfortunately).   In this sense, we are always exhausting ourselves to stay in God’s good graces.  Yet this is not the way that the Scriptures describe our relationship with God.  

Rather, God claims us, gathers us, enlightens us, and makes us holy, in order that we might then fulfill God’s will by doing God’s deeds on earth.  The way of God looks like this:

God claims us >> that we might be indentified as God’s children >> that we might be obedient to do God’s deeds.   

Abraham was chosen by God.  Abraham knew (through faith alone) that God would bless him and Sarah and that he and Sarah would be a blessing to others.   Then God brought about righteousness through Abraham’s lineage.  

May we know that God has chosen us and that God can choose to help anyone believe…even those who might not look and act like us…who might not speak our language…who might live a different part of the world.   

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to see that the path to you is by faith alone.  Amen.