Be the Malleable Clay


Photo credit here.

S (Scripture): Jeremiah 18

1 Jeremiah received the Lord’s word: 2 Go down to the potter’s house, and I’ll give you instructions about what to do there. 3 So I went down to the potter’s house; he was working on the potter’s wheel. 4 But the piece he was making was flawed while still in his hands, so the potter started on another, as seemed best to him. 5 Then the Lord’s word came to me: 6 House of Israel, can’t I deal with you like this potter, declares the Lord? Like clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in mine, house of Israel! 7 At any time I may announce that I will dig up, pull down, and destroy a nation or kingdom; 8 but if that nation I warned turns from its evil, then I’ll relent and not carry out the harm I intended for it. 9 At the same time, I may announce that I will build and plant a nation or kingdom; 10 but if that nation displeases and disobeys me, then I’ll relent and not carry out the good I intended for it.

O (Observation):  God’s metaphor for Israel is that God is the potter and God’s people of Israel are the clay. God wishes to mold and shape the people that God wants these followers to become.   Sometimes, when the potter works the clay, the clay becomes fractured or flawed.   So, the potter re-works the clay and re-shapes it. 

God sees that the people of Israel are like so much flawed clay.   Now, God seeks to re-shape the clay.   To be re-shaped, God’s people would need to ask to be forgiven.   Should they repent…they would become malleable.  Upon repentance, God’s people see that they will not receive harm.  

A (Application): Repentance is not something we embody very well in this nation, or even as The Church.    This is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, and we lift up our brother, Martin Luther, as a saint.  Yet, in today’s world, I disagree much with what Luther had to say against Muslims and Jews.   I renounce those teachings and yet still revere and honor such a brave witness to the Gospel.  

I think Luther’s the perfect example of what it means to be clay that is willing to be reworked.  He was a bold, brave, and sometimes stubborn person. Yet, when he was convinced that he was in the wrong, he would repent.  (Though in his final years he spoke out too strongly, in my opinion, on the topics I already mentioned.)

We can all use a little repentance in our lives.  Myself included.   I confess of my shortcomings on a weekly basis.  This is part of my Lutheran heritage: confess and receive forgiveness, eat of the wine and bread of forgiveness…weekly.  

As we repent…we become that clay willing to be re-worked, re-shaped.  Molded to a fitting purpose.  Less of my will…more of God’s will.  I hope.  I pray.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, not my will be done, but yours! Amen. 

One Nation, Underwood

S (Scripture): Proverbs 29

25 The fear of others lays a snare, but one who trusts in the Lord is secure.
26 Many seek the favor of a ruler, but it is from the Lord that one gets justice.
27 The unjust are an abomination to the righteous, but the upright are an abomination to the wicked.

O (Observation): Peace and security comes from the Lord, not from any earthly ruler or authority.   Trusting in God brings one justice and hope.  

And who is an abomination?   Depends on the viewpoint.   The unjust acquire wealth and status in ways that make the righteous jealous – though it shouldn’t.  The upright are an abomination to the wicked, because the upright are genuine and receive eternal favor without working lies or deceit.  

A (Application): The freakiest line from the latest House of Cards series is the title of this blog post.  President Francis Underwood pontificates on the future…and he says, “One nation.  Underwood.”  How creepy.  

How often does the “bad guy” win?   How do we allow this?   We do allow it, by the way, either because we stick our heads in the sand or because we are complicit with the system.  

…until we lift our heads…until we are no longer complicit…

We reach a true freedom when we begin to believe in and trust the Lord.   We can walk upright (repenting as we go) fearing no ruler.  We will do no battle.   Instead, our upright nature will drive the wicked ones crazy.   

Our trust will be in the Lord, and as we trust the Lord, we will see that our spirit is not captured.   Our will is set free in order that we live upright lives in the midst of an unjust world.  

Francis Underwood rules through wicked means.   Will you?  Or will you let genuine love for your neighbor guide your ways and your will?

P (Prayer):  Lord, lift up our heads to you!  Amen.  

How’s That Working Out for You?


S (Scripture): Psalm 66

8 Bless our God, O peoples,
  let the sound of his praise be heard,
9 who has kept us among the living,
  and has not let our feet slip.
10 For you, O God, have tested us;
  you have tried us as silver is tried.
11 You brought us into the net;
  you laid burdens on our backs;
12 you let people ride over our heads;
  we went through fire and through water;
yet you have brought us out to a spacious place.

O (Observation):  The understanding of God in parts of the Old Testament is that God allows good and evil to befall God’s followers.   If they receive blessing, that is good and this blessing is a reward.  If they receive harm, this is to make them understand their sin and the challenges that come with that sin (in the hopes that they would sin no more).   

Being tried like silver seems to be like a smelting process by which the silver is burned at a high temperature and in this process impurities are removed.   In God’s people, they see God trying to purify the people through helping them to know the effects of their own sinfulness.   

A (Application):  We always like “our” way of doing things…whatever that way is.  Sometimes, we even like our ways over God’s ways! (Gasp!  Oh yeah, that’s called sin.)

The punishment of sin is not something we need in addition to the sin itself.   Rather, in sin, we tear ourselves away from God and from others.   That is a hell (or punishment) in and of itself.  That distance we put between each other as we sin towards our neighbor is a chasm that feels like an eternal distance.   We feel alone.  We feel abandoned.  And sometimes, we have no one to blame but ourselves.    

Christ, however crosses this chasm, even the chasm caused by death.   And Christ brings us back into relationship.  We need only to seek that forgiveness.   Recognize our own wrongdoing.   

God does watch us go wayward from time to time.   When we cry out to God, God helps us.  But at first, God probably says, “So, how’d that work out for ya?”

“Yeah, God…umm, not so well.   Please forgive me.”

“Ok,” God says…”I forgive you.   But you go and sin no more.”

P (Prayer):  Lord, we give you thanks for the forgiveness you are always willing to show to us. Amen.  

The Only Response to God: “I repent!”

dust

S (Scripture): Job 42:1 Then Job answered the Lord: 2 “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted;…3b I have declared without understanding things too wonderful for me to know.

4 You said, ‘Pay attention, and I will speak; I will question you, and you will answer me.’

5 I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye has seen you.

6 Therefore I despise myself, and I repent in dust and ashes!”

O (Observation):  Job has come to the conclusion of his trials before God.  He never blasphemed God, but he did assume wisdom beyond that of God.   Job thought he knew best, but God’s last couple of points about the weather and the Leviathan being beyond Job’s comprehension were enough to cause Job to come to one conclusion:  “I repent in dust and ashes!”

 

Job has sensed that he truly encountered God in this experience.  He’s heard about God…but he doesn’t think he’s ever heard from God directly.  Now he has.  He has now “seen” God (that is, he has “encountered” God).

A (Application):   Job’s response is the only possible response when in an encounter with God.   Nothing we say or do can ever please God in and of itself.  All that we do is tainted with a bit of sin.   But we act boldly, anyway, trusting that our Lord will guide all things together for those who trust in the Lord.

We can be as righteous as Job, but that still doesn’t make us worthy of God’s love.  Instead, God’s very nature is mercy and love.  And so, we come, humbly, into our encounters with God, trusting that God will pick us up from dust and ashes in which we repent, in order to wash us clean, fill us with the Spirit, and send us out to make disciples.

…but it all starts with the only response possible:  “I repent in dust and ashes…”

P (Prayer):  Lord, give us repentant hearts…and pick us up from the dust and ashes.  Amen.

But What Did I Do? 

S (Scripture): Acts 3:17 [Peter said to the crowd on Solomon’s Portico] “And now, brothers, I know you acted in ignorance, as your rulers did too. 18 But the things God foretold long ago through all the prophets – that his Christ would suffer – he has fulfilled in this way. 19 Therefore repent and turn back so that your sins may be wiped out, 20 so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and so that he may send the Messiah appointed for you – that is, Jesus. 21 This one heaven must receive until the time all things are restored, which God declared from times long ago through his holy prophets.”

O (Observation):  Having healed the lame man, Peter re-emphasizes that Jesus – the one who’s power made the lame man walk – was the one the people crucified.  Yet he also points out that this was predicted by the prophets.   

Despite the prediction, the people are not innocent of their wrongdoing.  Thus, repentance is in order.   Peter reminds them of the necessity of this repentance.  The joy that comes from this repentance is that Jesus will be coming back for all believers.  

But for now…heaven waits for the right time to release Christ from coming back.  

A (Application):  What culpability do I retain for wrongdoings of the culture around me?   Am I colluding with a culture that causes poverty?  Racism? Sexism? Xenophobia? 

If I was in the crowd, and didn’t say anything for or against Jesus, where would that put me?  

I think I would land firmly in the camp of those needing to repent.   Just because I didn’t do anything overtly AGAINST someone, if I don’t stand up for someone…perhaps the work I’ve left undone calls for repentance.  

Now, we can’t do everything, nor or we expected to do everything.   But perhaps we can repent of what we have done or left undone, and move forward with God’s grace…follow God’s call.  

After all, repentance is not about staying down in the doldrums, but rather, to open up the flood of God’s grace to lift us up and equip us for the work ahead.   

“But what did I do?” was a phrase I used as a kid, when I was lumped in with a guilty group.  And today, I still say that same phrase in my own mind, when I’m feeling guilty about something that harms my neighbor.  Maybe I didn’t do anything wrong, but maybe I also didn’t do something when I could have.  Maybe next time I will act.  

The next time you worhship in a place in which Confession and Forgiveness is a corporate act, pay attention and see that this is indeed a time of Good News for our redemption.  

And if you feel so moved, help out!  With a homeless Ministry.  With an after-school program.   With handing out meals at a local food shelter.  Your blessings will bless others.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, you know what deeds we have done and have left undone.   Be with us.   Redeem us.  Equip us.  Amen.  

Family Arguments and God’s Grace

 

S (Scripture): Revelation 16:5b “You are just – the one who is and who was, the Holy One – because you have passed these judgments, 6 because they poured out the blood of your saints and prophets, so you have given them blood to drink. They got what they deserved!”

7 Then I heard the altar reply, “Yes, Lord God, the All-Powerful, your judgments are true and just!”

10 Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast so that darkness covered his kingdom, and people began to bite their tongues because of their pain. 11 They blasphemed the God of heaven because of their sufferings and because of their sores, but nevertheless they still refused to repent of their deeds.

O (Observation): 7 angels with a bowl of wrath for each angel to pour out on the earth.  At this point, 5 bowls are poured out.  The bowls are apparently filled with the blood of the saints and prophets.   This is like salt in a wound to those who are not repentant.  The people either repent, at this point, or dig themselves deeper into their stubbornness.  

A (Application):  I’m not one to dwell on punishment for sins.   I’m just not.   Sin is its own punishment, for it puts a divide between us and God, or between us and others.    

Punishment for sins is perhaps where my biggest problem with Revelation persists.   I hear of Jesus talk of judgment even in the Gospels at times, but I just don’t see this is as the main motivating factor to draw one to repentance.   Rather, grace draws us in.  

I will say, however, that a “story” such as this can serve the purpose of helping someone like me to fear and love God so that I might be saved.   Fear, that is, in terms of respect, or to be in awe of God.  Not so much a worry that God might smite me : )

I struggle with a short temper with my family at times.  My wife and kids don’t deserve that.   When I seek repentance in those relationships, the wonder and grace of God reigns down on me in ways unimaginable.  Nothing draws me in like God’s grace.  

What are you lacking for in terms of repentance? How does receiving God’s grace transform you?

P (Prayer): Lord, motivate us in whatever way necessary.  As your servants, we hope to respond. Amen. 

Scare Tactics for Salvation? No Thanks…

  S (Scripture): Jeremiah 32:15 The Lord says, “A sound is heard in Ramah, a sound of crying in bitter grief.  It is the sound of Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because her children are gone.”

16 The Lord says to her, “Stop crying! Do not shed any more tears! For your heartfelt repentance will be rewarded.  Your children will return from the land of the enemy.  I, the Lord, affirm it!

17 Indeed, there is hope for your posterity. Your children will return to their own territory. I, the Lord, affirm it!

18 I have indeed heard the people of Israel say mournfully, ‘We were like a calf untrained to the yoke. You disciplined us and we learned from it.  Let us come back to you and we will do so, for you are the Lord our God.

19 For after we turned away from you we repented.  After we came to our senses we beat our breasts in sorrow. We are ashamed and humiliated because of the disgraceful things we did previously.’

20 Indeed, the people of Israel are my dear children.  They are the children I take delight in. For even though I must often rebuke them, I still remember them with fondness. So I am deeply moved with pity for them and will surely have compassion on them.  I, the Lord, affirm it!

21 I will say, ‘My dear children of Israel, keep in mind the road you took when you were carried off. Mark off in your minds the landmarks.  Make a mental note of telltale signs marking the way back.  Return, my dear children of Israel.  Return to these cities of yours.

O (Observation):  So I wonder what caused these people to repent? As a matter of having faced God’s wrath, through neighboring countries coming in and conquering them and exiling them to Babylon?  Was this simply God’s Way of allowing God’s people to try things on their own, and letting them reach the end of the round capacity, followed by an invitation by God to come back to their homeland?  

This text was written while God’s people were in exile, so making note of the landmarks – the trail of breadcrumbs back home – was perhaps God’s way of bringing hope and grace in the midst of the sinfulness and waywardness of God’s people. 

So what is God’s point: About the potential wrath of God, or about the promise of repentance and forgiveness?    I find the more compelling notion (what I find in the whole of Scripture) is a call to repentance and forgiveness.  

A (Application):  Scare tactics are not helpful, nor do they lead to true repentance, in my mind.  Responding to a scare tactic (the wrath of God) only causes us to want to save our own skin. With this tactic, we fail to consider the body of Christ, we fail to consider the fact that this isn’t just about me and God but about US and God.

With scare tactics, we live in fear only, with very little hope. 

I believe the promise of grace and hope always exists for those who believe in Jesus Christ. That is what I see from Scripture.  That is what I see in being part of the church.  That is the gift of the Holy Spirit calling us back to God.
In the person and the event of Jesus Christ, everything shifted.  Repentance and forgiveness still go hand-in-hand, but now access to God’s grace has shifted to being readily available to all people and to all races and tongues…and not as a scare tactic. 

In Jeremiah, God’s people didn’t deserve to be brought back home. Their call home was only about God’s grace. They were not scared into submission. They were given hope of a new day, hope for a better tomorrow.   (Wow, sounds like I’m writing for a politician, now : )

P (Prayer): Lord, teach us to move and pray and act out of joyful love for you.  When we lack obedience, remind us again that we are intimately connected to you and to the rest of the body.   Remind us of the fruit we are called to bear.  Amen.