The Potter And The Clay

“If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. f we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts..” – 1 John 1:8-10.

Scars. They tell stories, don’t they? We may have fallen off a bike or you had your appendix out or maybe they are emotional rather than physical scars. We all have them.

The physical scars are often easy to hide. The emotional scars not so much. The physical scars tend to fade over time. If only emotional wounds worked that way. You’re betrayed by a close friend, lose your job, unexpectedly lose a family member, or have a miscarriage. Any one of those leave scars. There is no band-aid to fix these problems, nor does the pain fade quickly.  We begin to think our lives are useless, or broken, that our talents are wasted, and our dreams dashed. It is at this time we need to remember that God can make a masterpiece out of any vessel. “ 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)

Not that we don’t need some work. There are many rough edges in every one of our lives, but God can polish away all our imperfections, blemishes, failures and scars through the working of the Spirit in our lives. God starts with crude non-distinguishable chunks of clay and begins to mold us with love and care from His Son. He begins working His grace in our lives and slowly creates the form that resembles a work of art in human form. Romans 12:2 says, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”

God has proven by the power of His death and resurrection that He desires to heal us, restore us, and set us free. Be content with your imperfections and your progress, knowing that even if you’re not quite where you want to be, God is not finished with you yet. He is working on making you the masterpiece He created you to be. 

I wish every scar magically disappeared, but that usually is not the case.  Remember that God has the ability to take every scar, and as the Master Potter that He is, He will take it all and make you better than ever.   

Your life in Christ is a thing of beauty that even Michelangelo in all his glory could not even come close to creating.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Can you remember a time when you tried to make something out of clay? How did you do? What did you make? How did your project turn out?
  2. What’s the most difficult thing about being the clay?
  3. What can we do this week to be better clay for God the potter. 

Where is God?

“There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” – Luke 21:27-28. 

The last few weeks have been traumatic for Americans. We saw in high definition the devastation of Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Louisiana. We saw the heart wrenching pictures of Texans wading through water that covers prized possessions. Then we have Irma, a massive hurricane devastating the Caribbean and now Florida.  We have another hurricane striking Mexico. But these hurricanes are only the latest in a long series of other terrible disasters around the world that include earthquakes, tsunamis  cyclones, and volcano eruptions, etc. These are all what insurance companies refer to as “acts of God”. In other words they are events outside the control of man.

All of this leaves us with very tough questions: “Where is God when disaster strikes?” Why did God allow this tragedy? A good and loving and powerful God could have prevented all this suffering couldn’t He? So where was He? Why didn’t He intervene?” This is a question for the ages. People far from the heart of God and those who are followers of God have asked that question. Not surprisingly many great saints in the Bible struggled with this question. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?vWhy are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?” (Psalm 22:1)

Job suffered for a long time and had no answers to his questions. The Psalmist sometimes felt overwhelmed and confused. For example in Psalm 69:14-15 we read, “Rescue me from the mire, do not let me sink; deliver me from those who hate me, from the deep waters. Do not let the floodwaters engulf me or the depths swallow me up or the pit close its mouth over me.”   

So what are we to do? We need to trust God because God is with us in every storm. As hard as it is to do, turn your attention away from the crisis and focus on God. It does you no good to obsess yourself with things that are beyond your control. The more you focus and obsess on it, the bigger it grows. You gain nothing by setting your eyes on the calamities. You gain everything by setting your eyes on the Lord. The more you look to God, the quicker the problem is reduced to its proper size. This was the strategy of the psalmist: “I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”  (Psalm 121:1-2)

Where is God when disaster strikes? He is right there reaching out in love to all who will turn to Him. He is the God who cares, the One who saves. As Jesus told His disciples, “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Discussion Questions:

  1. Read Psalm 46: How does that affect your thinking when natural disasters strike?
  2. What can we do to trust God in time of natural disaster?

Prison and Rhoda

He knocked at the door in the gate, and a servant girl named Rhoda came to open it. When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed that, instead of opening the door, she ran back inside and told everyone, “Peter is standing at the door!” You’re out of your mind!” they said. When she insisted, they decided, “It must be his angel.” Meanwhile, Peter continued knocking. When they finally opened the door and saw him, they were amazed. He motioned for them to quiet down and told them how the Lord had led him out of prison…”  – Acts 12: 13-17. 

In this section of the book of Acts, we encounter a number of important characters. There is King Herod: dark, threatening, ruthless and cruel. He had James the brother of John put to death by the sword and arrested Peter and imprisoned him. Then there is the figure of Mary, the mother of John Mark. It was in her home that the believers met for prayer and to which Peter came on his release from prison. Then there is Peter. He is in prison until an angel visited Peter’s prison cell and miraculously released him. In complete contrast to all of these we have the figure of Rhoda, who is a servant girl.

This passage tickled and surprised me. I wondered why Scripture includes the name of this girl who recognizes Peter’s voice and then runs away from the door instead of letting him in. There are many nameless people in Scripture. For some reason, Rhoda isn’t one of them. But think about the scene for second. People are gathered at Mary, the mother of John Mark’s house to pray for Peter’s release.

Peter, after his miraculous release from prison goes to the house and knocks on the door in the gate.  Rhoda, a servant girl, answers the door. More than likely, she asked, “Who’s there.” Rhoda wasn’t about to open the door in the middle of the night. When Peter identified himself, Rhoda hears Peter’s voice on the other side of the door and turns away from the door to run screaming through the house “Peter is standing at the door!” Their reply was “You’re out of your mind!” they said. When she insisted, they decided, “It must be his angel.” Peter keeps knocking and eventually they answer the door and to their amazement it was Peter. Apparently it was easier to get out of prison than to get into this prayer meeting. 

The feeding of the 5,000 and the story of Rhoda remind us that we should expect great things from God. God wants to bless us. God wants to take a little and turn it into a lot. Believing and expecting God to act and move is to be the norm and not the exception. Rhoda had such faith. She knew that God had freed Peter, and he was there at the door. She believed God would work a miracle in Peter’s life. She wanted to celebrate. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How has God blessed you? How has God turned a little into a lot in your life? When you have experienced great joy, how did God come through?
  2. What can you do this week to expect great things from God?

The Land Of Plenty

“And 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.

There are times in most people’s lives when things are scarce. There is little food in the fridge. There is no gas in the tank and there is little money in the checking account. At those times optimism and hope are just as scarce. Unfortunately, life doesn’t stop. It is in times of scarcity that the story of Jesus feeding 5,000 can remind us of a fundamental truth—that Jesus is asking me to simply give my nothing—my little loaves and fishes—and then to stand back and watch Jesus teach a different kind of economy, an economy grown by God’s abundance.

You know the story. There is a big crowd. Jesus tells the disciples “You feed them.” The disciples are puzzled. They have no food. No reserves. They stare out at a hungry mass of people that looks more and more like a hungry mob. They state the obvious: “We have nothing—only five loaves and two fish.” Jesus says, “Bring your nothing to me.” He blesses the fish and bread and proceeds to distribute food to the masses. As Matthew tells the story, “And they all ate and were satisfied.” (Matthew 14:20)  The bottom line: This story of Jesus challenges us to re-imagine our life and live into an economy of God’s abundance. 

Most of the time I operate through the lens of scarcity. I’m afraid of not having enough time or resources. Will I have enough money to provide for my family? What if I get a chronic illness? If we view life through the lens of scarcity, we will always be fearful and anxious. So how do we live the abundant life Jesus promises?

We are serving a God who has abundance at His disposal. But we are human. And being human, we can fail to remember what God has done in our lives in the past and therefore what He is capable of doing presently. It is important to remind ourselves over and over how God has provided in the past. God knows how easily we forget. Our definition and understanding of whatever “scarcity” and “abundance” means is shaped by remembering who God is, what God cares about, and how God does things. And that shapes our trust and confidence.

Malachi 3:10 says, “Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test!”  And Jesus makes us a promise in Luke 18:29-30: “…I assure you that everyone who has given up house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the Kingdom of God, will be repaid many times over in this life, and will have eternal life in the world to come.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you define scarcity and abundance?
  2. How do we live a more “abundant” life?
  3. What can we do this week to live a more abundant life?

God’s Generosity

“You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing” – Psalms 145:16.

Generosity is a beautiful characteristic in people. We love and admire generosity. We are told early in life to always be generous. But what about God? Do we reflect on and acknowledge the generosity of God? Do we think He could be a little more generous in His blessings or do we think of Him as extraordinarily generous regardless of our circumstances?  Our God is a generous God. Every spiritual blessing you have received you received from the hand of a generous and gracious God. Every material blessing you have received you have received from the hand of a generous and gracious God. That is not to discredit your hard work or your abilities. But the truth is what we have we have from God. God is not a stingy God who begrudgingly dishes out His blessings in small portions. In the following passages of scripture we see different aspects of His extraordinary generosity:

  • “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8) 
  • And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19) 
  • “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ” (Ephesians 1:3) 
  • If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.” (James 1:5) 
  • “Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens.He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession.” (James 1:17-18) 

No one is more generous than God. He’s the greatest giver of all time. And we should acknowledge that fact every day.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Can you remember a time when your resources were very limited, and God provided for you?
  2. Read through Psalm 103 and make it personal. Remember all the good things God has done for you. Worship Him as you read the psalm.

All That Jabez

“Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” – Hebrews 4:15.

Have you ever met someone who didn’t want God’s blessing on their lives?  I haven’t either. What would prompt you to say, “I don’t want His blessing?” Yes, we all want God’s blessing, but it is not automatic. It doesn’t happen by chance.The Bible is clear that God is ready to pour out His blessing on His people, but only when we order our lives rightly before Him and seek Him first. Psalm 67: 6-7 says, “Then the earth will yield its harvests, and God, our God, will richly bless us.Yes, God will bless us, and people all over the world will fear him.”

Jabez is one of the Bible’s least known characters. I can’t tell you exactly who he was or what he did, but I do know what he prayed. In 1 Chronicles 4:9-10 we read, “There was a man named Jabez who was more honorable than any of his brothers. His mother named him Jabez because his birth had been so painful. He was the one who prayed to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and expand my territory! Please be with me in all that I do, and keep me from all trouble and pain!” And God granted him his request.” That’s all there is, there’s no more about him anywhere within the Bible, but we know that Jabez was blessed and God heard his prayer.

The Bible does not say this, but I wonder if one day Jabez heard about the God of Israel, a true and personal God who did wonderful things for people who dared to call on Him. So Jabez dared to ask God to make his life larger, to extend his territory. He was convinced that God could free him from the his troubles and pain. Five powerful words end the biblical passage about Jabez” ”And God granted his request.”   

My prayer is that we will pray as Jabez prayed. I pray that we will ask God to bless and multiply everything that we do and “be with me (us) in all that I do.” Jabez not only recognized God as the one and only true God, he also acknowledged that blessings come from God alone. Jabez wanted God to be in every moment of his day. He understood the power of God’s hand to protect and to lead in the right direction. And that is the greatest blessing of all. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you think it means to be “blessed” by God? What are some of the blessings God has given you in your life?
  2. When was a time that you experienced God blessing others through you?
  3. Consider one way that you could bless someone else this week, whether here or around the world. 

A Little Something

“He will love you, bless you, and multiply you. He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, your grain and your wine and your oil, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock, in the land that he swore to your fathers to give you.” – Deuteronomy 7:13

The feeding the 5,000 is one of the best known stories in the Bible. Think about the story for a moment. It has always struck me as important that Jesus did not start with nothing. He could have started with nothing if He chose to. But instead, He chose to start with something. He chose to start with five loaves of bread, and two fish, brought to him by a small child. I don’t think it’s an accident that Scripture tells us about that first, small gift. Because it may not have been much, but it was something.

You know the rest of story. Jesus took that little something, and transformed it into something far greater and better than it could be on its own.

I think that’s what happens when God gets involved in something. We give our “something” and God doesn’t just add to it. God takes what we give and multiplies it into something we couldn’t imagine. It’s not God just giving us more. It’s God creating something new out of what we give, and multiplying it until what we end up with is so much bigger and better than we could imagine.

This applies to anything we give to God including our spiritual lives. When we give God just a small part of ourselves, whether in prayer or quiet time or service, God gives us back something even better; a sense of His presence, and love and grace. 

The key is to let go of the things we hold so tightly, whether our time or our gifts or even our fears, and let God work with them. Too often, we are comfortable with simple addition. We prefer to hold on to the something we have. It’s safer that way. There is less risk. Or so we think.

But what if God is hoping that we won’t just settle for a little something in our spiritual life? What if maybe for too long we’ve been settling for less, instead of believing in the possibility of something better? What if God is waiting for us to give Him something that He will multiply in ways that we could not even imagine. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Read Luke 9:12-17. There was not much food: 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread. Have you ever been at a point in your life where you said to God- this is all I have, do with it what you will? What happened?
  2. Read Isaiah 55:8-9. Where do you need God’s wisdom so that whatever you are doing can multiply beyond what you are capable of doing on your own?
  3. What something in your life can God multiply? 

Imagine A World Without Jesus

“ For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors…” –  1 Peter 1:18.

The movie Beauty and the Beast has a happy ending, But what if….? Have you ever wondered what would have happened to the beast had the beauty not arrived? What would the beast’s fate be if Belle had not happened along?

Let’s just say he probably would not have been selected as the Bachelor on the TV series. Who would choose a foul tempered, skulking monster with paws, curled tusks and a constant bad hair day. But let me ask another what if question…one that is relevant to each of us. Where would we be without Jesus? Where would we be if Jesus’ love had not transformed us from what we were.  I have heard hundreds of Christians ask the same question: “How do people make it in this world without Jesus?” The answer Is I don’t know. I can’t even imagine a life without Jesus. 

But let me illustrate what living without Jesus would be somewhat like. Cape York, Peninsula in Australia is a huge expanse of untouched wilderness located on the country’s northern tip. The region has a population of only 18,000 people. It is considered to be one of the largest undeveloped places left in the world. Imagine that you are a farmer. The soils are so unworkable and unresponsive to fertilizers that attempts to grow commercial crops have usually failed. Everywhere you look in every direction is isolation. But each day you rise and try to grow something. You work all day go home, and get up the next day to repeat the process. Nothing changes. And then one day, something breaks inside you and dies. You decide that growing crops and your life are hopeless. You get in your car and start driving to see if your neighbor has some advice or solutions on how to grow something, but after several hours you find nothing but endless road. There is no beauty to be seen. You have no neighbors, and what’s worst you’re completely lost, low on gas and water and the possibility looms that you will die out there in the sheer emptiness of it all. The hopelessness of it all overwhelms you. That is a poor attempt at describing a life without Jesus. I don’t think we could ever imagine life without Jesus. Without Jesus there is no peace. No assurance. No true love. No eternal hope. Without Jesus there is no light in the darkness. The Christ-less life is a lifeless life. But thank God, we don’t have to imagine what life would be without Jesus.

Because of the cross, we have life and hope through Christ. The Apostle John said it best – “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not have life.” 1 John 5:12

Discussion Questions:

  1. What would be the hardest part of life without Jesus?
  2. What is the hardest part of living for Jesus?
  3. What are some things we can do this week to better live for Jesus?

Transformers (Not The Movie)

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” – Romans 12:2.

Toward the end of Beauty and the Beast, most of the characters are transformed into their true human form. The beast is once again the prince. Cogsworth, Lumiere, Mrs. Potts, Chip and all the other characters in the castle transform back into their human characters. The transformation of the Christian can be just as remarkable because it is so much more than a perceptible change outwardly in behavior. The changes in our lives should be just as dramatic as those in Beauty and the Beast and require that you love others and be loved in return.

But what does it mean to be transformed? Can one truly be transformed; does transformation actually occur? As Christians, being transformed should be the priority in our lives much as it was in the life of the beast. Romans 12:1 says, “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.”

Paul is urging us to prioritize a personal relationship and that means nothing is off the table. Everything we are is being continually offered and available to use as God sees fit. If we have a deep and thriving connection in our hearts to God, it will naturally produce a desire to serve. Romans 12:2 goes on to say, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”

Some of you are thinking God will only love you once you have your issues solved and you’ve reached a stage of “maturity.” That is wrong. God will never love you any more than He already does right now. He will never love you any less than He does right now. God is more concerned with the direction of your life than the perfection of your life. It’s the direction of your heart that says, “God I want to voluntarily submit to the changes You want to make in my life. I want to be transformed. I want to more like You.”

Remember that transformation is a process. This is how growth toward spiritual maturity happens, too. It’s a process, it takes time, and it typically occurs incrementally. 

So, do you want things to be different?  Do you want to experience personal growth?  Does your heart yearn for genuine change?  Is your longing for genuine, inside-out transformation of your heart, your spirit, your attitudes, and your relationships? Then, choose to cooperate with God and let your transformation begin?

Discussion Questions:

  1. If you could change just one thing about your walk with God, what would it be? How can you begin to change it?
  2. What role does the Bible play in spiritual transformation?
  3. What do we need to do this week in the area of being transformed?

My Heart Of The Problem Is The Problem

“The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:7. 

In the introduction to the movie Beauty and the Beast, we are told that the prince had everything his heart desired, but was spoiled, selfish and unkind. The beast’s issue was not his appearance, but the condition of the heart. The beast is a microcosm of the human experience. It is evident throughout history or even by picking up the Bible that humanity may try to rise above the evil that is deep in their hearts, but continually fails. “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked…” (Jeremiah 17:9) 

It doesn’t take much study in the Bible to realize that Jesus is concerned about the heart. It is also equally obvious that Jesus is not concerned about cleaning up our act on the outside. “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence! You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too.” (Matthew 23:25)

Jesus is not concerned with outward appearance. The goal of Jesus Christ is to change the hearts of sinners like you and me. That is because the heart is what you are, with no veneer. The heart is what you really are, when nobody is watching but God: what you are, in the secrecy of your thought and feeling. And what you are at the invisible root matters as much to God as what you are at the visible branch. “The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7). From the heart are all the issues of life.

So the heart is utterly crucial to Jesus. What we are in the deep, private recesses of our lives is what He cares about most. Jesus did not come into the world simply because we have some habits that need to be broken. He came into the world because we have hearts that need to be purified.

God is looking at why you do what you do. That goes to the level of the heart. Given the mess we are in if left to ourselves and our sinful nature, it is amazing that God would love us enough to reach down and offer us a new heart, and a new mind, and new motives. But that is exactly what He does.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does God speak to your heart? How does God give us a change of heart?
  2. How can we help God clean up our heart this week?