THE POTTERY SHOP

“Go down to the potter’s shop, and I will speak to you there.” So I did as he told me and found the potter working at his wheel. But the jar he was making did not turn out as he had hoped, so he crushed it into a lump of clay again and started over. Then the Lord gave me this message: “O Israel, can I not do to you as this potter has done to his clay? As the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand.” [Jeremiah 18:2-6 (NLT)]

hibiscusIn January, there will be an Empty Bowls event in our town. Attendees will purchase a bowl and then fill it with soup and bread donated by local restaurants. The money raised will help feed the more than 36,000 food insecure people in our county. To make that event possible, 4,500 one-of-a-kind bowls are made by local potters. Then, with the help of local volunteers, the bowls are painted and fired. Recently, several of us from church gathered to decorate some of those bowls. While we painted, I thought about the potters who made our bowls—how they formed and reformed their creations until they were just right. Varying in shape and size, no two bowls were exactly the same and, by the time they are painted, each will have a personality of its own. When their purchasers are done eating soup from them, they will be put to different uses. The ones embellished with paw prints or bones probably will be used by pets, and the others may be used for popcorn, nuts, cereal, loose change, or even soup!

In words found in Jeremiah and Isaiah, we see God portrayed as the potter and mankind as His clay (rather fitting since Adam was made from dust on the ground and clay comes from the ground). Picture God forming us in His heavenly pottery shop. As with the bowls we painted, each of His creations would be carefully crafted and one-of-a-kind. While our bowls were made of the same kind of clay, God would choose the best type of clay for each one of us. For those who will be severely tested in life, He would chose a clay that withstands high heat but, for those who will have to be especially adaptable, He would chose a clay that is more easily worked.

Once He’d selected the type of clay, God would knead and shape us. While the bowls we painted were all thrown on a potter’s wheel, God might choose to pinch us into shape, or roll long threads of clay and layer them. For one person, He’d combine flat slabs of clay but, for another, He might select a unique mold or use His wheel. No matter the technique chosen, God would continue shaping and re-shaping us until we were formed the way He wanted us. If we got lopsided, He’d prop us up and, if we tore, He’d put us back together. Because clay is malleable and capable of change, God can continue to fine-tune His creations. We might not enjoy all of that pinching, squeezing, molding and scraping, but it is for our own good.

The parallel ends here because the bowls we painted, having been dried and fired, couldn’t be reshaped. God, however, is never done working on us and we continue to be a work in progress until our dying day. Nevertheless, I picture Him with a paintbrush, making each of us beautiful in our own unique way. Moreover, just as the bowls we painted couldn’t complain that, rather than being painted with flowers they wanted polka dots or preferred candy apple red to sour apple green, we really have no voice in how our potter formed and embellished us. God is sovereign over his people; the creation doesn’t get to argue with the Creator!

How foolish can you be? He is the Potter, and he is certainly greater than you, the clay! Should the created thing say of the one who made it, “He didn’t make me”? Does a jar ever say, “The potter who made me is stupid”? [Isaiah 29: 16 (NLT)]

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)]

Copyright ©2019 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

MINISTERS ALL

And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…. [Ephesians 4:11-12 (RSV)]

alstromeriaWe tend to think of our pastors as the ones who do the ministering and we, the congregation, as the ones to whom he or she ministers. Indeed, our pastors do care for, comfort, aid and support us but their main job is to equip us: to train, outfit and prepare us to go out and be Christ’s ministers to the world! Rather than them being the players in the game with us being the fans who show up on game day, our pastors are more like the coaches and athletic trainers who prepare their team to go out on the field and play with skill and enthusiasm! Too often, however, we act like onlookers rather than members of the team.

Paul’s 1st century words continue to apply to the 21st century church. Those saints who are to become ministers are normal everyday Christ followers like you and me. Ministry is what being a Christian is all about and it has little to do with a pulpit, church, seminary, or ordination! When we became Christians, we were ordained as Christ’s ministers. Rather than preach with words from a pulpit, we preach with our lives: our words, demeanor, lifestyle, finances, and even our appearance.

The work we do every day is a gift from God and a way to reach out and touch people with the voice and hands of Jesus. We minister from behind the counter when we’re patient with the difficult customer, when we hold a nervous patient’s hand before surgery, or take the time to chat with the lonely widow whose room we’re cleaning. We minister when we volunteer at the charity resale shop, open the door for the woman with the stroller, or bring flowers to a new neighbor. We minister when we set good examples, listen, help, invite, welcome, encourage, offer assistance or smile. We minister when we use social media to God’s advantage. We minister when we quietly say grace regardless of where we are. We minister when we send an encouraging Bible verse to a friend. We minister when Bibles are present in our workspace and homes (and we know what’s in them).

There should be no division between clergy and laity—we all are ministers of the Gospel! I remember the words of a visiting pastor who, following the closing hymn, exclaimed, “Our worship has ended, let our service begin!” It’s time to get out of the bleachers and into the game!

We are all missionaries. Wherever we go we either bring people nearer to Christ or we repel them from Christ. [Eric Liddell]

He has enabled us to be ministers of his new covenant. This is a covenant not of written laws, but of the Spirit. The old written covenant ends in death; but under the new covenant, the Spirit gives life. [2 Corinthians 3:6 (NLT)]

In everything we do, we show that we are true ministers of God. [2 Corinthians 6:4a (NLT)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

 

INADEQUATE AND UNQUALIFIED

I came to you in weakness—timid and trembling. And my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit. [1 Corinthians 2:3-4 (NLT)]

buttercupWhen I sit in front of my computer to start writing, I often wonder what makes me think I am qualified to spread the good news of the Gospel. I take comfort in the Apostle Paul’s similar feelings of inadequacy. Of all the people we meet in Scripture, Paul’s credentials (other than those of Jesus) seem to be the most impressive. Fluent in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, from the tribe of Benjamin, and a second-generation Pharisee who had studied and trained under the respected Gamaliel, Paul was well-versed in the Hebrew Bible and passionate for Jesus. Yet, we know that even he sometimes felt inadequate to the task. Although extremely knowledgeable, by his own admission, his preaching ability left much to be desired.

Then again, an 80-year old man who stammered was called to lead his people out of slavery, a shepherd boy was called to be a king, and a housewife was called to be a prophetess and judge. Samuel was just a boy when he first prophesized, Jeremiah little more than a teen when God called him, and the disciples were just ordinary people like you and me. None of them had impressive resumes. Yet God, knowing exactly who they were, their ages, skills, capabilities, and shortcomings, called them! And He calls us!

In 1 Corinthians, Paul wrote that, rather than calling the qualified, God choses to qualify those he calls: “God chose the things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise.” [1:27] Paul reassured the Corinthians in a later letter that, “God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others.” [2 Corinthians 9:8] While the Apostle was referring to material gifts for the believers in Jerusalem, his words hold true for the other gifts with which God has blessed us. Sometimes, we don’t even know we have those gifts until God calls us to use them!

Whether God calls us to lead two million across the desert or lead a small group, to compose letters to the new church or write a blog, to speak to kings or a troubled teen, to build a temple or the set for the Christmas pageant, none of us can do it alone; we must depend on God and believe his promises. We continually underrate ourselves because we’re thinking small; we think we have to go it alone, under our own power, but we don’t. When God called the young Jeremiah to be His prophet, He didn’t promise that it would be easy or that he’d never get discouraged or frustrated. What God promised was His protection, provision, and supervision. Those promises apply to us, as well. God is the source of our ability and it is His power that will enable us to do His work. We are merely God’s tools; He is the builder and we must let Him use us to build His Kingdom.

Loving God, His word, and His children hardly qualifies me to write and yet, with over 1,800 devotions written, as unqualified as I am, through God’s power, it’s been done. He has, indeed, generously provided. We must trust the God who calls us to reach beyond where we think we can grasp, to climb higher than we’ve ever been, or to dig deeper than we thought possible. He will enable us to do whatever He asks us to do. While we may not do it perfectly, all God asks is that we answer Him, obey His call to the best of our ability, and trust in His provision. The outcome is His responsibility!

We are confident of all this because of our great trust in God through Christ. It is not that we think we are qualified to do anything on our own. Our qualification comes from God. He has enabled us to be ministers of his new covenant. [2 Corinthians 3:4-6a (NLT)]

For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God’s power. [1 Corinthians 4:20 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2019 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

HIS GIFTS – OUR TOOLS

Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. [Romans 12:4-6a (NLT)]

white-tailed deerLike a good house guest, when the Holy Spirit moves into our lives, He brings us a gift. Instead of flowers or a potted plant, He brings a custom-designed gift just for us – a spiritual gift! Unlike a hostess gift, spiritual gifts can’t be purchased on Amazon and, unlike scented soaps or candy, they are expressly designed for each one of us. They’re a little like a custom-made Craftsman tool—meant to last a lifetime and to be used for building. In this case, our spiritual gifts are the tools given to us by the Spirit that enable us to build God’s Kingdom.

Unlike the natural abilities and talents with which we were blessed at birth, Spiritual Gifts are given to us when we’re reborn! Since God is not about to waste anything, they often line up with our natural aptitudes. Lists of these gifts are found in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4, but no two lists are identical and there are differences of opinion as to their number. From these three Epistles, there seem to be about twenty different Spiritual Gifts: exhortation, giving, leadership, mercy, prophecy, service, teaching, administration, apostle, discernment, faith, healings, helps, knowledge, miracles, tongues, tongues interpretation, wisdom, evangelism, and pastor. Mentioned elsewhere in the Epistles, are five other possible gifts: celibacy, hospitality, martyrdom, missionary, and voluntary poverty.

These Spiritual Gifts build God’s Kingdom in a variety of ministries including teaching, outreach, speaking, counseling, discipleship, serving, benevolence, practical assistance, visitation, shepherding, support and small group, and prayer. No gift is more important than another and all gifts are essential for the church. While the person gifted in service (the ability to see undone tasks in God’s work and get them done) is often unseen, the person gifted in hospitality (the ability to warmly welcome all people into home or church) may be front and center every Sunday at the church door as he welcomes people by name, introduces himself to visitors, and extends the hand of friendship by showing them around. The one gifted in pastoring (spiritually caring for, guiding, protecting, and feeding a group of believers) frequently needs those gifted in administration (the ability to steer people toward God-given goals by planning, organizing, and supervising).

Moreover, because He’s not a miser, in many cases, God blesses us with more than one gift and the lines often blur between one gift and another. The person gifted with knowledge (the desire to know as much as possible about the Bible) may also be gifted in teaching (the ability to instruct others for true understanding and growth). The gift of knowledge also might be combined with the gift of wisdom so that the person not only knows what God’s word says but also can see it’s application and relevance to real life situations. Since each gift is God-designed for each one of His children, it would seem that there aren’t just twenty or even twenty-five; there probably are as many gifts as there are people.

Just because we’re not gifted in something, however, is never an excuse for not doing it. Not being gifted with evangelism doesn’t mean we’re not called to share the Word or invite someone to church and not being gifted with hospitality doesn’t mean we don’t welcome visitors. We may not be gifted with intercession, but we still pray for one another and, while not gifted with giving,  we can still pack a Christmas box for Samaritan’s purse. In fact, it often is by doing God’s work that we discover what our gifts actually are.

Unfortunately, just because the Holy Spirit has given us a gift doesn’t mean we’ll use it; it can remain as unused as the bath bombs your last guest brought. Using our gifts is up to us. The important thing is to be a good steward of whatever gifts we’ve been given. As for me, when that last day comes, I hope to hear God say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. [1 Peter 4:10 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2019 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

DAY ONE

DawnThe faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!” [Lamentations 3:22-24 (NLT)

For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. [2 Corinthians 4:6 (NLT)]

I’m an early riser anyway but the three hour time difference between the east and west coasts had me up well before dawn. While sipping my morning latte, I looked out the window and watched the morning appear. As the sun began to rise, God got out his paints to color the sky and the horizon took shape. I slipped on my shoes and went out to greet the new day. While a rooster in the distance crowed his welcome to the sun, I silently shouted my good morning to God and thought of Matthew West’s song Day One of the Rest of My Life. “It’s day one and here comes the sun!” I sang to myself. Indeed, each morning brings day one of the rest of our lives—day one of the best of our lives! Thank you, God.

Seeing the sunrise shouldn’t just be saved for Easter morning services and I feel sorry for those who sleep through the day’s awakening. They miss experiencing that perfect moment when dawn breaks through: when today becomes yesterday and tomorrow becomes today. Although saying, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life!” is a cliché, that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Telling us that yesterday does not have to repeat itself today, each dawn brings a new beginning.

Of course, we don’t have to arise while it’s still dark to enjoy a dawn in our lives. Our faith in Jesus takes us from the darkness of unbelief into a new beginning. Moreover, because of God’s grace, we’re assured that even when we mess up (and we surely will), there is another new beginning and plenty more after that. Nevertheless, seeing a sunrise reminds us both of God’s forgiveness and the new life in Christ we’ve been given. It tells us that this is the day we should live life to the fullest, honor and serve God the most, and be the best we can be. This is the day we can get back on the right path, realize our dreams, fulfill His will, and be wiser, better, and more forgiving. But, just as we don’t have the power to make the sun rise, we don’t have the power to become the person God wants us to be by ourselves. That power comes from the Holy Spirit within us. It is He who fills us with the peace, love, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control to meet each day.

The Psalmist said, “This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.” [118:24] Indeed, each new day brings reason to rejoice. Yet, since every dawn inevitably ends in a sunset, the sunrise also serves as a subtle reminder of the brevity of life. Not a moment should be wasted in regret, anger, resentment, worry or fear. Lord, whether today is the first or the last day of the rest of our lives, fill us with your Spirit so that it is the best day of our lives!

Well, I wish I had a short term memory,
Wish the only thing my eyes could see
Was the future burning bright right in front of me;
But I can’t stop looking back.
Yeah, I wish I was a perfect picture of
Somebody who’s never not good enough.
I try to measure up but I mess it up
And I wish I wasn’t like that. …
Well, every single day Your grace reminds me
That my best days are not behind me.
Wherever my yesterday may find me
Well, I don’t have to stay there.
It’s day one of the rest of my life!
It’s day one of the best of my life! [Matthew West, Peter Kipley]

This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! [2 Corinthians 5:17 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2019 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

YOUR GIFT IS NEEDED

There are different kinds of gifts, but they are all from the same Spirit. There are different ways to serve but the same Lord to serve. And there are different ways that God works through people but the same God. God works in all of us in everything we do. Something from the Spirit can be seen in each person, for the common good. [1 Corinthians 12:4-7 (NCV)]

turkey vultureYesterday, when I compared vultures to mankind, I did vultures a disservice. Although unattractive, smelly, and with rather disgusting eating habits, vultures play a valuable role in keeping our ecosystem healthy and clean by disposing of rotting carcasses and preventing the spread of disease.

When in Tanzania, we came upon a committee of Rüppell’s vultures gathered by an impala carcass. The animal had collided with a vehicle and lay by the roadside—perfectly intact but clearly dead. The birds, however, weren’t eating and seemed to be waiting patiently while dinner lay right in front of them. When we asked our guide why they weren’t dining, he explained they were just waiting for the arrival of more vultures (but not out of politeness). The waiting vultures, while well-equipped to stick their heads into an animal’s carcass, didn’t have strong enough beaks to tear into its unbroken hide. They were awaiting the Lappet-faced Vultures who, with their strong beaks, could tear open the impala’s tough hide and through tendons and other coarse tissue to expose its insides. Being the larger dominant birds, the Lappets eat first. Once done, plenty of food remains deeper in the carcass for the medium-sized vultures like the Rüppell’s who, with their bald heads and necks are perfectly designed for getting down and dirty into the remains. Once they’re done, the Hooded Vultures get to eat. With their smaller heads and beaks, they are perfectly designed to extract the last bits of meat found deep in the animal’s remains. Last to dine is the Bearded Vulture. Unlike its cousins, this vulture has a feathered head making it ill-suited for eating flesh; fortunately, it likes the bones. When each vulture has done its part, their job of cleaning up the carcass is complete. When we wondered how all the different vultures managed to find this one dead animal, we were told that the White-backed Vulture has excellent eye sight and will “wheel” in the sky as a sort of dinner bell to alert all the others. Unable to tear open a carcass, it eats with the Rüppell’s.

There are twenty-three different species of vultures and God has equipped each one of them in a slightly different way. They all have the same assignment—to be nature’s garbage men—but each is equipped to do that in different ways. The White-backed Vulture signals, the Lappet-faced Vultures get the job started, the Rüppell’s do the dirty work, the Hooded-Vultures pick the bones, and the Bearded Vultures finish the job. Each vulture needs to do its part if their joint mission is to be accomplished.

God gave the vultures their assignment and, in Matthew 28:19-20, He gives us ours: “So go and make followers of all people in the world. Baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach them to obey everything that I have taught you.” Within that greater assignment of expanding God’s Kingdom, however, we each have a distinct position to fill and a gift that will enable us to fulfill it. Like the vultures, the church cannot survive unless everyone uses his or her gift but, unlike the vultures, our gifts are rarely as obvious as a strong beak or a bald head.

While the Holy Spirit has gifted us, it is our obligation to determine the nature of His gift. In all of his discussion of spiritual gifts, however, the Apostle Paul gave no directions for recognizing those gifts. Perhaps he felt no need for guidance because recognizing our gift really isn’t so terribly difficult. All we really need to do is ask ourselves where we can best serve. Are we the guys with the big strong beaks or the ones who pick the bones clean? When we find the place where we can best serve effectively, we will have discovered our spiritual gift and we can get to work using it to further God’s kingdom.

Each of you has received a gift to use to serve others. Be good servants of God’s various gifts of grace. [1 Peter 4:10 (NCV)]

The most important thing is that I complete my mission, the work that the Lord Jesus gave me—to tell people the Good News about God’s grace. [Acts 20:24 (NCV)]

Copyright ©2019 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.