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Archive for Jars of Clay


I Am Uncertain

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As proverbial “jars of clay,” each of us have one or more issues that can serve as limitations to the great things God wants to accomplish through our fragile lives. For some of us, uncertainty regarding God’s will can be one of the greatest limitations of all.

Take, for example, the story of Gideon, found in Judges chapters 6-8. The story begins with God’s calling to his life, to which he responds with a detailed litany of how he is the least of the least of the least. As God patiently pursued Gideon, he then requested a sign involving a fleece. I find it fascinating that God actually indulged Gideon’s request not once, but twice.

Gideon’s story serves me personally in two ways. First, God is uniquely inclined toward weakness. To Gideon, it made no sense that the “call” would come him, given his lack of pedigree. To God, however, he was the perfect choice.

The second helpful feature of this passage is that God is acutely aware of our struggle between faith and doubt. Belief often is mixed with levels of uncertainty as evidenced in the experiences of others in the Bible as well as our own. We, like Gideon, feel the need for “fleeces” or signs to help us navigate the direction God provides.

We need to be cautious about taking Gideon’s example as anything more than a description of what happened. Just because he asked for a sign and God in his grace granted the request does not make this practice normative or prescriptive. So how do we find certainty as we attempt to discern God’s will?

For years, I’ve pointed to four ways we can discern God’s will, in this particular order.

1. Is it consistent with Scripture?
You may always rest assured that God will never ask you to contradict the Bible.

2. Do I have confirmation from the Holy Spirit through prayer?
Like Elijah, we can find confirmation from the “still, small voice” of the Spirit. This voice will provide a sense of peace in the midst of confusion.

3. Have I consulted the counsel of the community of faith?
In other words, what input can I gain from the wisdom of others who are of similar spiritual conviction?

4. Do I see God at work in my surrounding circumstances?
Can I make connections between God’s call and the activity I perceive God to be doing in other areas of my life?

Those four things, independently, may not provide the confirmation we seek. However, if you stack them all together you’ll find that you are better equipped to proceed with the direction you perceive.

So what if I do all of these things and I’m still uncertain? A long time ago a wise person once answered that same question for me in this fashion. He said, “If you’re not sure of what God wants you to do, do the last thing he told you to do until you are sure.”


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I Am Unqualified

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Deborah is one of the more under valued characters in the Old Testament, I believe, for a couple of reasons. For one, her story comprises a small section compared to the extensive coverage of characters like Joseph, Moses and David. The other issue, of course, is that Deborah is a woman, and many traditions don’t know exactly what to do with her.

The Book of Judges describes her as carrying dual offices. She was a prophet, whose responsibility was to receive and communicate direct revelation from God, and she was a judge, called upon to arbitrate disputes. Even with those offices she seems an unlikely and unqualified person to fulfill the task at hand.

What task? That requires a bit of background. In Judges chapter 4 we find that Israel had once again done evil in the eyes of the Lord and had been turned over to the tyrannical rule of a Canaanite king named Jabin. King Jabin’s commander was a rude dude named Sisera who in turn ruthlessly oppressed Israel. And predictably, Israel once again cried out to God for help.

No leader from Israel would stand up to the oppression. God spoke to Deborah and shared his promise of deliverance. When Deborah transmitted the message to Barak, he refused to go without her. She agreed to go, but with the clear understanding that “You (Barak) will receive no honor in this venture, for the Lord’s victory over Sisera will be at the hands of a woman” (Judges 4:9). Yes, Deborah was a woman, but she also lacked any kind of military background or experience. Since Israel had no centralized government, she didn’t possess any form of commission from a formal leader. Not to mention, but four of the tribes of Israel refused to respond to the call to arms. Ultimately, she didn’t permit any of these things to stand in her way because she valued to calling and the promises of God more than anything else.

Deborah causes me to wonder and think about the God given opportunities that I have passed on because I have done the quick math of self assessment and considered myself “unqualified.” At the end of it all, God doesn’t call the qualified. He qualifies the called.

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Moses: “I am Afraid” (part 2)

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If we were to ask Moses to tell us about himself at the end of Exodus chapter 2, he would self describe as an 80 year old man with a past, who has found himself living the simple life of a shepherd in the Midian desert.
God had other plans for Moses and called him to return to Egypt to deliver the people of God from slavery. Moses was understandably reluctant to accept such a large assignment. His reluctance was so great he determined to argue with God about his personal worthiness. He does so by making five telling objections.

Objection #1: “Who am I?” (Exodus 3:11)
In other words, Moses offers that he doesn’t think he can handle the assignment. One might note that he had already tried once to deliver an Israelite from the hand of an Egyptian taskmaster resulting in the taskmaster’s death. In response to his question, God offered his presence. He said, “I will be with you” (Exodus 3:12).

Objection #2: “What is your name?” (Exodus 3:13)
With this question, Moses is seeking authority. Names are necessary for relationships. It is the first thing one does when meeting a new person. If someone withholds their name, they are maintaining relational distance. Names signify intimacy, closeness and availability. In response, God provided not only his name, but a promise. In the following verses God outlined exactly what he was going to do through Moses (Exodus 3:14-22). And every word of his promise came true. But that still wasn’t enough.

Objection #3: “What if they don’t believe me?” (Exodus 4:1)
God’s answer to this question is interesting. “What is in your hand?” In Moses hand was his shepherd’s staff. One might assume that he used it with his livestock for a two-fold purpose–to provide direction and for protection. The point here is that from this moment in the story, the staff of Moses would be called the staff of God. The common, everyday item became uncommon when placed in the hands of almighty God (Exodus 4:2-9). God provided his power and enablement for Moses to accomplish the task he was called to perform.

Objection #4: “I am not eloquent.” (Exodus 4:10)
Moses appears to be reaching at this point. In Stephen’s sermon of Acts 7, he called Moses, “powerful in both speech and action” (Acts 7:22). Perhaps Moses has lost his confidence in Egyptian palace protocol. Nonetheless, God stated that he would provide Moses with the words he would need to speak (Exodus 4:11-12).

Objection #5: “Please send someone else.” (Exodus 4:13)
Moses is finally reduced to admitting he didn’t want the assignment. God had pledged his presence, had made his promise, had offered his power, and guaranteed for his provision. God’s final response was to commend to Moses a partner for the task, his brother Aaron.

Do you hear or see yourself in any of these objections? Has fear caused you to become reluctant to respond to God’s invitation to serve him? The resources God provided Moses are the same resources he offers us today.

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Moses: “I am Afraid”

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Moses stands apart from many Old Testament characters in that he served as the great deliverer and law giver of Israel. He is a picture of strength and courage in the face of incredible odds. His feats of faith would establish him as one of the most revered of all the leaders of God’s people. If Israel had a Mount Rushmore, he would certainly be included in the memorial.

But he didn’t start that way. His story begins with fear and reluctance, standing barefoot before a burning bush, making excuse after excuse as to why he could not return to Egypt (Exodus 3:1-4:17). On the surface we see his hesitation, but beneath the surface we observe a man overcome by fear.

Why is Moses so afraid? For one thing, he has a past. Prior to this encounter with God we have two small vignettes from his biography that are forty years apart. There’s the story of his birth, hidden in the reeds along the water’s edge then taken in by Pharaoh’s daughter. Then, four decades later, his curiosity drives him to try to re-connect with his true people, only to lose his temper and commit murder. This murder would cause him to flee for his life to the Midian desert. So you can understand why he would be afraid to return to Egypt. He has a past.

Another issue Moses has is the fact that at the time of God’s call he is 80 years old. When I think of being 80 years old I think of being in the twilight of my life. For Moses, 80 meant a brand new start.

Moses certainly has reason to be afraid, no doubt about it. But he doesn’t see in himself what God sees in him. This is often true of us as well. God invites us to become involved in his Kingdom mission because he sees in us something we can’t see in ourselves.

What does God give us in our moments of hesitation and reluctance? I’ll take that up in part two of this post.

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Paper or Plastic?

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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 Christ. We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not of ourselves. (2 Corinthians 4:6-7, NLT)

We keep an empty gallon milk jug in our pantry. No, its not full of milk. Its been rinsed out and has a hole cut in its side and we use it to store our empty plastic grocery bags. The “single use bag” was developed by a firm in Sweden back in the 1960’s and made its way across the Atlantic in 1979. While many companies were trying to figure out what to do with this new material, it was the grocery stores that saw the value. They discovered they could save as much as 20% in the bagging costs by switching to these plastic bags versus offering the traditional paper sacks. In 1982, Kroger Stores introduced them to customers, followed quickly by Safeway. By 1985, 75% of all super markets were asking the question, “paper or plastic?” Consumers like me don’t consider them single use bags by any stretch of the imagination. We reuse them for everyday purposes from toting lunch to work to cleaning up after our pets in the back yard.

The Apostle Paul’s first century world had no concept of single use bags. His world was familiar with jars made of clay. Jars of clay were readily available. They were unexceptional, affordable and mass produced. They had flaws and imperfections and were used in a wide variety of ways. It would appear that first century citizens would have held them in the same regard as we do our common grocery sacks.

Paul used this image as a metaphor for discipleship and life in the Kingdom of God. Clay symbolizes the frailty of our mortal nature and the weakness of our flesh. Like clay, we are prone to imperfections. We crack and crumble.

The great paradox is that God entrusts the treasure of Christ to these jars of clay. The concept seems absurd at first, but it is not without purpose. God does this so that the weakness of our platform will highlight and not diminish the surpassing treasure of Christ himself.

Each of us has our own unique imperfections. Life has chipped and scratched us. Cracks have formed. The importance of that realization is that these imperfections become the very platform that God uses to display his Son.

In the coming weeks, I’ll be posting about some of the jars of clay that God used in Scripture. We’ll look at their imperfections and weaknesses and see how God used those very things for his glory. I suspect that we will see ourselves once again reflected in the truth of God’s word.

Categories : Jars of Clay
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Jars of Clay

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On Sunday I will begin a new sermon series titled, “Jars of Clay.” The goal of this series is to demonstrate how God uses our weakness as a platform to display his surpassing power. For example,

Moses said, “I am afraid.”
Deborah said, “I am unqualified.”
Gideon said, “I am uncertain.”
Samson said, “I am self reliant.”
Nehemiah said, “This is hard.”
David said, “I am inexperienced.”
Jonah said, “I don’t understand.”
Paul said, “I am weak.”

In the lives of familiar characters and stories, we’ll discover how God enables us to serve in the midst of the cracks and imperfections of our lives. I hope you’ll check in from week to week and find encouragement to let the treasure of Jesus shine through your jar of clay.

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