THE ARTIST

And yet, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, and you are the potter. We all are formed by your hand. [Isaiah 64:8 (NLT)]

What sorrow awaits those who argue with their Creator. Does a clay pot argue with its maker? Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it, saying, “Stop, you’re doing it wrong!” Does the pot exclaim, “How clumsy can you be?” [Isaiah 45:9 (NLT)]

horseSeveral years ago, while spending the winter in the mountains, our morning walk took us by an art gallery. We frequently stopped to chat with the owner, look at the latest acquisitions and watch the progress of a local sculptor who had set up shop in the gallery. Working in clay, he was crafting the model for what would eventually be a cast bronze sculpture. As the final shape began to emerge, the artist continued to tweak it with small changes, a little pinch here or a small adjustment there, each time making it a better representation of a cowboy and his string of horses. Envisioning the final product and assured that it was nearly ready for casting, my husband and I made a pre-cast purchase of the piece.

We returned to our Midwest home and waited for the bronze to be completed. Nearly a year later, the gallery informed us that the piece remained a work in progress. They offered us a refund and, impatient and unsure of ever seeing the completed work, we accepted. Two years later, we walked into another mountain gallery and saw the finished piece. While the original concept was still recognizable, the beautiful final product was different (and better) than what we’d expected (and we regretted our impatience).

Works of art rarely are created overnight; they require time and fine-tuning. God, like the unhurried sculptor, doesn’t rush as He works on us. Wanting a masterpiece, He isn’t going to complete us in a few months and the process of sanctification goes on for a lifetime. There is always something in us that needs some modification, even if it means a little squeezing, twisting or pulling one way or another. Just as my husband and I couldn’t visualize exactly how the completed sculpture would look, we’re never quite sure what it is God has in plan for us or how He is going to accomplish it.

Although we didn’t trust the sculptor’s skill, we must trust in God’s heavenly artistry as His expert hands do their holy work on us. While the artist eventually was satisfied enough to cast his work in bronze, God is never quite finished with us; we remain a work in progress until our very last day.

Let us be clay in His hands!

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. [Philippians 1:6 (NLT)]

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. [Ephesians 2:10 (NLT)]

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BAKING A PRAYER

Once Jesus was praying in a particular place. When he had finished, one of his disciples approached. “Teach us to pray, Master,” he said, “just like John taught his disciples.” [Luke 11:1 (NTE)]

ibisI used to look forward to our occasional stops in the bank where a tray of homemade cookies always was laid out for their customers. I admit to having no will-power when it came to their white chocolate chip/macadamia nut cookies. With a hint of lemon, they were so delicious that I searched the internet to find the recipe so I could skip the bank visit. Several recipes came close but none were quite right so, using those as a guide, I developed a recipe that met the taste test!

When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, He recited what we call “The Lord’s Prayer.” It’s important to remember that the disciples asked how to pray but not what exact words to use. Being a good teacher, instead of a lecture on praying, Jesus gave them a model prayer, but certainly not the only prayer to be said.

My recipe search told me the basic ingredients I needed for the cookies: flour, baking powder, brown and granulated sugars, butter, eggs, and lemon extract. Jesus’ model prayer included basics like praise, an acknowledgement of God’s holiness, acceptance of His will, confession, forgiveness, and petitions for daily provision and protection from evil. I found other recipes that included ingredients like cornstarch, lemon zest, nuts, and vanilla extract. If we look at other prayers said by Jesus, we find things like thanksgiving, a desire to bring God glory, and pleas for others and for the church.

When Jesus showed the disciples how to pray, He gave them an outline (or a basic recipe) rather than a comprehensive list of components. Like a recipe, it’s up to us to put them all together. Some days, I give God an extra cupful of thanks and praise because, unlike salt, we can never overdo those ingredients. It’s often easy to skip the confession and forgiving but, like forgetting the baking powder in cookies, prayers don’t seem to come out right without them. While it’s possible to add too much flour to a cookie recipe, our prayers seem to improve the more we pray for the needs of others. God, however, probably won’t find our prayers very appetizing if we spend more time mixing in petitions for ourselves than for others! Unlike a cookie recipe, there is no set amount of time for baking the perfect prayer; that’s a judgment call. As for me, I often find it necessary to bake my prayers a long time before acceptance of God’s plan forms in my heart.

When we grow bored with the food we’ve been preparing, we create new recipes or tweak the old ones by adding something extra like dried cherries or cinnamon chips to oatmeal cookies. The same goes for our prayers. If prayer seems boring, we need to change it up by gathering the ingredients and presenting them to God in a different way. Just as there are countless ingredients with which to bake delicious cookies, there are countless components that can go into our prayers. Regardless of the recipe, my grands are pleased whenever I bake; I think God feels the same way about our prayers!

Believers do not pray, with the view of informing God about things unknown to him, or of exciting him to do his duty, or of urging him as though he were reluctant. On the contrary, they pray, in order that they may arouse themselves to seek him, that they may exercise their faith in meditating on his promises, that they may relieve themselves from their anxieties by pouring them into his bosom; in a word, that they may declare that from him alone they hope and expect, both for themselves and for others, all good things. [John Calvin]

“So this is how you should pray: Our father in heaven, may your name be honoured may your kingdom come may your will be done as in heaven, so on earth. Give us today the bread we need now; and forgive us the things we owe, as we too have forgiven what was owed to us. Don’t bring us into the great trial, but rescue us from evil.” [Matthew 6:9-13 (NTE)]

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HIS HAND IN MY GLOVE

This is the explanation: God has made us what we are. God has created us in King Jesus for the good works that he prepared, ahead of time, as the road we must travel. [Ephesians 2:10 (NTE)]

Canadian RockiesLast summer, we moved permanently to our home in Florida. Knowing we’d no longer be spending any time in the cold winters of the Midwest, I packed up our winter attire for the charity resale shop. Along with the many coats, scarves, hats, and boots, I had a pile of winter mittens and gloves. Along with our super warm double ragg mittens, my husband and I had an assortment of wool, fleece, and leather gloves. He had a pair of heavy duty insulated Carhartts and I had some polyester/spandex gloves I often wore while walking. While packing up the rest of the house, I came across work gloves in the furnace room, rubber gloves by the wash tub, gardening gloves in the garage, silicone heat resistant gloves by the grill, fingerless gloves in the gym bag, vinyl gloves in the first aid kit, a pair of oven mitts, and even some chemically treated silver polishing gloves! Each pair had a specific use but, without a hand inside any of them, they were nothing but empty shells.

Thinking about our mittens and gloves, I remembered the words a pastor said many years ago: “Let the hand of God slip into the glove of your life.” When God slipped His hand into Gideon’s life, the fearful man became a warrior. When He slipped His hand in David’s life, the shepherd boy became a giant killer and king. By slipping His hand into Mary’s life, a peasant girl became mother to the Messiah and, when His hand slipped into Peter’s life, a fisherman became a Rock. When God slipped His hand into the glove of Saul’s life, the persecutor of Christians became the builder of Christ’s church.

Those gloves are nothing more than pieces of fabric and leather until they are filled by a hand and put to use. Like a glove without a hand, we are but empty vessels until God’s Holy Spirit fills us. Each glove is designed for a specific function and so are we; each of us has been God-designed for a specific reason. When we let God fill the gloves of our lives, we become His hands and can do the work for which He specially made us. When God fills the voids in our lives, we truly come alive and gain both a sense of purpose and the power to achieve it.

Father Almighty, fill us with your Holy Spirit. Give us loving obedient hearts and servants’ hands so that we joyfully do your holy work.

May not a single moment of my life be spent outside the light, love and joy of God’s presence and not a moment without the entire surrender of myself as a vessel for Him to fill full of His Spirit and His love. [Andrew Murray]

May the God of peace, who led up from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the eternal covenant, make you complete in every good work so that you may do his will. May he perform, in you, whatever will be pleasing in his sight, through Jesus the Messiah. Glory be to him for ever and ever, Amen! [Hebrews 13:20-21 (NTE)]

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FINAL HOURS

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” [John 3:3 (NLT)]

Every man must do two things alone; he must do his own believing and his own dying. [Martin Luther]

ColumbineWhen Pat died, it was difficult to find words of comfort for her grieving husband. A non-believer, he has no faith in Jesus, no understanding of the soul, no hope of eternity, and no anticipation of Christ’s return. Distance and timing kept me from attending Pat’s Celebration of Life and, because we rarely saw one another, I’m not sure I felt her absence until today when I received a letter from her husband. With the letter was a bookmark made for her Celebration of Life. It had her picture and some sweet words about memories filling our hearts, time healing our souls, and the peace of knowing there’s one more angel in heaven. To a non-believer, those words may be comforting but, to me, they were empty (along with being theologically incorrect). I’ve never understood how non-believers find it so easy to believe in heaven and angels but so hard to believe in judgment, hell, God, or Jesus.

As difficult as I found it to find comforting words for Pat’s husband, I’m not finding words in Scripture that bring much comfort to me. Sadly, Pat seemed to share her husband’s lack of faith in Jesus. Although we grew up together, our lives went in different directions when I was fifteen and we lived more than 1,000 miles apart as adults. Except for an occasional wedding or funeral, our contact consisted mostly of emails, a shared interest in genealogy, a few phone calls, and Christmas cards.

Growing up, we attended the same church and I know Pat was baptized as an infant; that, however, doesn’t mean she was saved. Regardless of the age or the method, Baptism isn’t what saves us. We are saved by a proclamation of faith in Jesus. While she may have proclaimed her outrage at cold water sprinkled on her head, that wasn’t a statement of faith.

We both were confirmed in eighth grade but, like infant Baptism, Confirmation has no Biblical basis. At the time, Pat reaffirmed the vows her Baptismal sponsors made for her, but I suspect that was more about doing what was expected and getting a new white dress and gifts than declaring her undying faith in the work and words of Jesus. In spite of our Confirmation classes, I don’t think either of us truly understood the ritual’s meaning or knew what a commitment to follow Jesus as Lord and Savior really meant.

Undoubtedly, Pat was a good person but “Christian” is not an adjective nor is it a synonym for good. If good works were all it took for eternal life, Jesus’ death upon the cross wouldn’t have been necessary. Salvation is more than going to church, being raised in a Christian family, a sprinkle of water, a Bishop laying his hands on your head, a prayer, giving to charity, calling yourself a Christian, or even saying you’ve made a decision; it is becoming a new person in Christ. Being a Christian, a follower of Christ, involves putting our entire faith and trust in the person and work of Jesus, finding a new life in Him, and the presence of His Holy Spirit in our lives.

Pat knew of my faith but let me know that Jesus was off limits when it came to our communications. Nevertheless, I look at that bookmark with the picture of her smiling face and wish I’d tried harder. If Pat didn’t do so earlier, I hope that, in her final days, she took God up on his offer of salvation. Waiting until the eleventh hour, however, is dangerous; after all, we might die at 10:30!

When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of his grace he made us right in his sight and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life. [Titus 3:4-7 (NLT)]

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HE “HAD” TO GO THAT WAY (John 4:1-42 – Part 2)

Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us. [Colossians 3:11 (NLT)]

black-crowned night heronJerusalem and Samaria may only have been about 40 miles apart but centuries of hostility separated them. Both politics and religion alienated the Jews from the Samaritans—much as they did Catholics from Protestants in Northern Ireland during the violence plagued decades of The Troubles. Because of the enmity between the people, even though the shortest path from Judea to Galilee was through Samaria, most Jews detoured east to avoid Samaria entirely. John 4:4, however, tells us that Jesus “had to” pass through Samaria. The word used was edei meaning “it was necessary.” Why?

We certainly know Jesus didn’t take that shortcut through Samaria because He was in a hurry. After meeting the woman at Jacob’s well, He lingered there for two more days. It would seem that route was necessary because Jesus and the disciples had a divine appointment in the Samaritan village of Sychar. The appointment wasn’t just with the woman but also with the townspeople who would hear His message and come to believe.

While Jesus rested at the well, the disciples went into town to buy food. Because the gospels aren’t in chronological order, we don’t know if this happened before or after another Samaritan village had spurned the disciples and James and John had suggested raining fire upon it. [Luke 9:53] This time, however, the Samaritans welcomed them. After the disciples successfully obtained food, the village begged Jesus and His men to stay. That divine appointment clearly prepared the disciples for the command Jesus later gave at His ascension: “You will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” [Acts 1:8] Did that divine appointment also include a valuable lesson about not judging an entire people by the bad actions of a few?

Whether it’s because of politics, history, language, race, religion, ethnicity, past grievances, or simply because we don’t know them, we tend to dislike people who are different from us. Thinking in terms of “them” and “us” we define others by our differences. Perhaps it’s time to start with our similarities: we all are children of God! We’re told to love our enemies but how can we do that if we don’t know them?  Animosity begins someplace but, then again, so does relationship. Maybe we’ll find “they” aren’t our enemies at all!

The best way to destroy an enemy is to turn him into a friend. [F.F. Bruce]

But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also. Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back. Do to others as you would like them to do to you. [Luke 6:27-31 (NLT)]

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THE BOSS’S SON

Who, though in God’s form, did not regard his equality with God as something he [Jesus] ought to exploit. Instead, he emptied himself, and received the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of humans. And then, having human appearance, he humbled himself, and became obedient even to death, yes, even the death of the cross. [Philippians 2:6-8 (NTE)]

station of the cross II

My son is the third generation to run the family business. Although he is now its CEO, he didn’t begin that way. As his father had done before him, he started by sweeping floors and emptying trash.

The business expanded when my husband purchased a company in another town. With manufacturing processes that were unfamiliar, our son needed to learn new fabrication procedures and started working in the new facility. When he began, only his supervisor knew his relationship to the business’s new owner. He may have been the boss’s son but, to everyone else, he was just Jim, the new guy on the line. In his work shirt and steel-toed shoes, he looked like everyone else, kept the same hours, followed the same rules, and made the same money. What he didn’t do was pull rank or take advantage of his identity.

Although our son originally thought he could learn everything he needed by reading about it, a few days operating the machinery and getting his hands dirty told him there was nothing like first-hand experience! Now that he’s the boss, his employees recognize that he understands and appreciates the challenges they face in doing their jobs.

I tell this story to help us understand what it was like when Jesus put on human flesh and lived as a man. Clothed in work clothes, my son looked like every other hourly employee on the line. Although Jesus is often depicted with a halo, when He was clothed in human flesh, there was no halo and He looked like any other man. Instead of giving up coat and tie for overalls, Jesus gave up His immortal perfect form and took on the aches, indignities, and illnesses that come with a mortal body.

Just as my boy remained the boss’s son but gave up any status or privileges that came from that, Jesus remained God’s son but gave up the benefits that came with His divinity. Of course, Jesus gave up far more than did my son! He set aside the glory of heaven for life on earth and relinquished the divine life He had in heaven to be an itinerant rabbi in Galilee. Even though equal with His Father, Jesus chose to submit to Him as an earthly son does to his father.

Just as our boy never stopped being the boss’s son, Jesus remained fully God while fully man. Just as his co-workers didn’t know our boy’s real identity, people had trouble recognizing Jesus as God’s Son. While my son did what he did so he could learn the family business, Jesus did what He did to take away the sins of the world. Our son may have humbled himself by starting at the bottom but Jesus humbled himself by deliberately choosing to die a torturous death as a criminal on the cross!

My son knows what it means to be one of his employees and he’s a better boss because of it. Jesus knows what it’s like to be human and we are better because of that! Jesus knows what it is to hurt, be disappointed, suffer, struggle, get tired, thirst, feel hungry, bleed, hope, love and die. Because He lived as one of us, we can come to Him confidently and without fear; instead of condemnation, we will receive God’s grace and mercy!

Well, then, since we have a great high priest who has gone right through the heavens, Jesus, God’s son, let us hold on firmly to our confession of faith. For we don’t have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin. Let us then come boldly to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy, and may find grace to help us at the moment when we need it. [Hebrews 4:14-16 (NTE)]

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