Christianity 201

April 17, 2020

Potsherds, Grog, and other Pieces of Our Past

Today’s devotional is an excerpt from popular Christian author Lysa TerKeurst‘s bestselling book, It’s Not Supposed to be This Way in which she shares living through cancer. To read the full excerpt, click this link. To learn more about the book, click this link.

When God Gives You More Than You Can Handle

[O]ne day… a couple of girls introduced themselves while standing in line to get some take-out food at a restaurant near my house. We chatted for a minute about what God had been teaching them, and then the topic of what I’d be writing next came up. I told them about… the revelation God had given me about dust. Jessica’s eyes lit up. Her mom is a professional potter…

…She’d seen clay being formed into many beautiful things when placed into her mother’s hands. And then she shared something with me that made my jaw drop.

She told me that wise potters not only know how to form beautiful things from clay, but they also know how important it is to add some of the dust from previously broken pieces of pottery to the new clay. This type of dust is called “grog.” To get this grog, the broken pieces must be shattered to dust just right. If the dust is shattered too finely, then it won’t add any structure to the new clay. And if it’s not shattered enough, the grog will be too coarse and make the potter’s hands bleed.

But when shattered just right, the grog dust added to the new clay will enable the potter to form the clay into a larger and stronger vessel than ever before. And it can go through fires much hotter as well. Plus, when glazed, these pieces end up having a much more beautiful, artistic look to them than they would have otherwise.

Jessica smiled and said, “C’mon, that will preach, right?!”

Oh, it absolutely did. I kept thinking about what Jessica shared and how it might relate to my season of suffering. What if the clay made from all the other dust currently in my life could be strengthened by this newly added broken piece?

And then I read Isaiah 45:9:

Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker, those who are nothing but potsherds among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’ Does your work say, ‘The potter has no hands’?

God is making something beautiful out of my life. I know that. So, why question what He sees as the necessary ingredients to make my life stronger and more beautiful than ever? Sure, my diagnosis added some more brokenness, but even this could be used for my good.

I kept reading that verse from Isaiah and decided to do a little investigation into the term potsherd.

A potsherd is a broken piece of pottery.

Interestingly enough, a potsherd was also mentioned in the story of Job when he was inflicted with an awful disease.

So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head. Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes.

His wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!”

He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

In all this, Job did not sin in what he said. — Job 2:7-10

A broken potsherd can lie on the ground and be nothing more than a constant reminder of brokenness. It can also be used to continue to scrape us and hurt us even more when kept in our hands.

Or, when placed in our Master’s hands, the Master Potter can be entrusted to take that potsherd, shatter it just right, and then use it in the remolding of me to make me stronger and even more beautiful.

Taken from It’s Not Supposed to be This Way by Lysa TerKeurst Copyright © 2018 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson.

August 11, 2014

Delighting in the Old Testament Law

With today’s installment of Christianity 201, we’re happy to report that Canadian pastor Clarke Dixon is going to be the first of a number of regular contributors here. (You won’t have to wait six months for the next appearance.) As always, you’ll be able to link back to read at source.

When I think of “the law” I think of something cumbersome or wearisome. I picture myself wading through Leviticus. Perhaps you know what I mean. But in Psalm 19, David was downright giddy about God’s law. Why the disconnect between us and David? Click the title to read at source…

The Torah and the Christian. Delighting in the Old Testament Law

by Clarke Dixon

Torah MitzvotPreviously we saw from Psalm 1 the importance of God’s law for those who want to be “like trees planted by streams of water” (Psalm 1:3 NRSV). But the Christian might ask “Why would we take “delight” in a law that we do not even follow much of the time? Or should we start following all those rules and regulations we find in the Old Testament?”

Good questions, the last of which became important to the early church and was the concern of an important church meeting in Acts 15. The final decision was quite short and to the point:

For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose on you no further burden than these essentials: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell
(Acts 15:28-29 NRSV)

If only all church meetings could be kept so simple! You will notice that the “essentials” are essentially those matters in which Jewish ethics would be quite contrary to the practice of paganism that new believers were coming out of. So, no you do not need to become a Jew, but yes, you do need to pay attention to the God of the Jew. So how is the Christian of today to relate to the law as found in the Old Testament? Can we “take delight” in it, and so resonate with Psalm 1? Here are four questions to help us think on it.

First, what kind of instruction are we talking about?

Note the temptation to immediately think of law in negative terms as regulations. When you mention “law” I think of rules, and the first rule that comes to mind is that which limits the speed I can legally attain on my motorcycle. Now since downsizing to a 125, the speed I can legally attain is not so different that the speed I can actually attain, but no matter, some rule maker is trying to spoil my fun!

But what if, when we hear the word “law,” we think, not of rules and regulations, but of instruction. Let’s consider the motorcycle example again. If instead of thinking of speed limits and kill-joys, I think instruction, I will think back to my brother instructing me on the basics of operating the controls, changing the gears, and wot not. And I will think of the motorcycle safety training course which was an absolute hoot to be on. As someone learning to ride, the instruction was something I could take delight in, something I naturally wanted to meditate on. Where we tend to think of what fun we might be missing on by thinking of God’s law as rules, we ought instead to think of the joy it leads us into by thinking of it as instruction for life.

And so we can delight in the law of God as found in the Old Testament. Perhaps we will not set up cities of refuge as the law instructs, but we will delight in that example of God’s provision of justice and compassion, and will seek to be just and compassionate ourselves. We may not keep laws on leaving some crops unharvested, but we delight in learning about God’s love for the poor and foreigner those rules point to. We may eat lobster contrary to the Old Testament law, if eating ocean going bugs is your thing, but we will delight in the holiness of God that all those dietary restrictions point us to. Some of the law will not work in our time and place, but all of it will instruct us on who God is and what kind of people He wants us to be.

Second, what kind of a band is this?

Note the change that happens between the Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament law is like the score that a composer brings to an orchestra to perform. It is very specific, each note of each instrument has been chosen by the composer and if any one musician ditches the score, the piece simply will not work. But when the musicians get it right, it is a thing of beauty.

We must be sure to be thinking straight about this, for there is a temptation to say that the Old Testament law was a bad thing that badly needed replacement. Not so. The law of God found in the Old Testament is a beautiful thing, and had the musicians, Israel, kept to the score better than they normally did, then its beauty would have been much more apparent. It would have been seen as the masterpiece that it is:

5 See, just as the Lord my God has charged me, I now teach you statutes and ordinances for you to observe in the land that you are about to enter and occupy. 6 You must observe them diligently, for this will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people!” 7 For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is whenever we call to him? 8 And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this entire law that I am setting before you today?
(Deuteronomy 4:5-8 NRSV)

But now things are different and since the advent of Jesus and the gift of the Spirit God has been doing a new thing. As a follower of Jesus Christ I am less like the bass player I was in Grade nine music class trying to follow a score provided by the teacher, and more like the bass player I was in my former rock bands working on original songs. We never had musical scores, instead I had freedom to come up with my own bass lines. However, I was never free to do anything I wanted. I had to keep in time, play in the correct key, and come up with lines in a style appropriate to the piece. Likewise as Christians we are free from the law, but we are not free to do whatever we want. We need to keep in step with the songwriter. He is not helping us with our song, we are serving His purposes as He composes His song: “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:25 ESV)

We are given the wonderful privilege of being invited to make music with our Lord. While we have freedom, we do need to keep in step with the Great Bandleader, so that our part fits in with His masterpiece. But in getting to know our Bandleader, we do well to spend time listening to that great masterpiece He has already provided, the Old Testament law. There is a wonderful “trademark sound” that can be discerned in both the Old and New Testaments. Though we are not required to keep the law in all its rules and regulations, knowing the law helps us know the Lawmaker, the Composer of the greatest masterpiece. And that is something we can take delight in!

October 22, 2013

Chase Inning

Job 5:17  Behold, happy is the man whom God correcteth: therefore despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty (KJV)

Proverbs 3:11 My child, don’t reject the Lord’s discipline,
and don’t be upset when he corrects you. (NLT)

Chase Inning would be a great name for a baseball player.

Now that we’ve got you curious with our title play on “Chastening,” it’s time to return to a writer we introduced you to in February, Tim Whitehead, who blogs at The Expositor, and wrote this under the title, He Let Me Live. (I’ve added some bold face type to highlight key points.)

The Lord chastens. Most people know this is true. However, the Lord’s chastening is one of those subjects that folk would rather not talk about, and certainly one that they want to hear about even less. We all love to hear about God loving, forgiving, healing, prospering, providing, protecting, etc. Yes, we love to hear about God’s many blessings, but the less we talk about chastening the better. Admittedly, it’s not popular but is pertinent. No one can have a relationship with the Lord without experiencing His chastening at some point.  It’s all a part of relationship. If you say that you have a relationship with the Lord and never experience relationship, I question the genuineness of your relationship.

There are those who have no interest in a relationship with the Lord. All they’re interested in is want what they can get from Him, what He can give to them and what He can do for them. They don’t want Him; they want what He has and what He can do. These are the ones who seek the Lord’s hand and not His face.

For those who are saved, those who have been born again, God is our Father. Not if, but when, He chastens us He is acting out that role of Father in our lives. The Father chastening us is also a sign of His love for us and that we have been received as his children. The Bible makes this clear to us in Proverbs 3 verse 11 and 12, where the Lord says, “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.”

Growing up, I didn’t like being chastened. I don’t know of anyone who did. As an adult, looking back over my life, all of the chastening, whether physical or verbal, was only for my good in the end. As our Father the Lord isn’t requiring, or even unrealistically expecting us, to enjoy when He chastens us. He does want us to have a correct attitude toward His chastening.  He does command us to receive it the right way, which is to not resent or despise it.

The word chastened in Psalm 118:18 is from a Hebrew word meaning, “to chastise, to instruct”. Chastening can occur in a couple ways. It can be literal, in the form of an actual physical beating, or, it can be figuratively, as in the case of a verbal chastening, using words. Sometimes a verbal chastening can do just as much good, and be equally as painful as a physical one.

David’s chastening from the Lord was not unwarranted, and I’m sure that it was well deserved. The Father never chastens His children without a reason. He doesn’t chasten us because of some twisted pleasure which He derives from it. Chastening is never for the Father’s benefit, but always ours. It is for our growth, maturity and godly character development.

In my mind I would imagine David saying, “It’s true, the Lord has chastened me, and you know what, I deserved every bit of it, and then some! Although I deserved it, and the Lord pulled no punches with me, He was merciful enough to not leave me to die. He loved me enough to chasten me, but He was merciful enough to let me live in spite of my wrong.”

I believe that the chastening which David received from the Lord was physical because in verse 14 he speaks to his enemy and he says, “You pushed me violently so that I was falling, but the Lord helped me.” The Lord did not come down from heaven, take off His belt and gave David an actual beating, but it seems as though He did allow David’s adversaries to temporarily have an advantage over him. But He did not turn David over completely to his enemies. While chastening David the Lord still helped Him.

There are times when the Lord has to chasten us. If we’re honest we’ll admit that those times are frequent, even though we’re saved, and we’re daily, by the grace of God, striving to obey God’s Word. Unfortunately, the reality is, while we are in this physical body and living on this planet, sin is going to always be a constant which had to be dealt with in our lives (See Romans 3:10, 23). The Father has to chasten us in order to move us from rebellion and disobedience to obedience. At times that chastening is stern. It can be uncomfortable and quite difficult. But even in those times when He is chastening, the Lord does not totally abandon us. He does not give up on us and He doesn’t give us over to the enemy. If we’ll but come to our senses, if we will repent of our sin, we will discover that He is right there to help us.

Before I go on, let me pause here and make it abundantly clear that I’m not saying that its okay for us to go around intentionally practicing sin daily. God forbid! In fact, no one who is truly saved, who is truly born again continues to live in sin. If you say that you are saved, that you are born again, but you are continuing to live a sinful lifestyle, still doing the same things, living the same way, with little to no change in your desires or manner of living, you are not saved! (See 1 John 3:1-10)

Chastening is instruction. We are supposed to learn from it. When because of our obstinacy we refuse to learn we soon discover that it takes a lot longer than it need be. Sometimes we even go through the same things repeatedly. The longer it takes for us to learn, the longer we will remain in some situations and experiences.

We can be a lot like Israel of old and we can learn a lot from them. The Israelites would somehow disobey the Lord. He would then speak to one, or more of the prophets, giving them a message of warning and repentance for the people. When they stubbornly refused to take heed, which was most times, the Lord would chasten them; sometimes that chastening could be quite drastic and dramatic. For instance, the Lord would allow Israel’s enemies to invade their land, take their property, and enslave them for a time. After a time, they would come to their senses, call on the Lord and repent. In His mercy He would deliver them. This scenario occurred repeatedly throughout the Old Testament.

Can you see the Lord’s pattern in dealing with His people? First, He chastens us through His written Word and by His Spirit within us. If we refuse to hear, then He may use a fellow believer to correct and warn us. If we still choose not to listen, then as a final attempt He may allow, and expose us to, certain experiences. Usually this last option is not fun.

You’ve probably heard the saying, “If you don’t want to hear then you’ll feel!” In other words, when you refuse to listen, when you choose to not pay attention when someone is trying to tell you something for your own good, then the only thing left is for you to have to learn the hard way and experience it for yourself.

Whoever came up with the idea that experience is the best teacher obviously did not have a relationship with the Lord. The Greatest Teacher is the Spirit of God.

I don’t know about you, but there are some things that I do not want to have to personally experience in order to learn. Some experiences are too painful and some situations are too difficult. The wise ones hear and learn. They watch what happens in the lives of others who disobey and refuse to repent. They learn from the experiences of others. Learn doesn’t always require you to have to personally go through and experiences things.

It is important that we do not confuse the Lord’s chastening with the natural consequences which can occur as a direct result from our sin. Some things are not God chastening you; it’s just the natural consequence of your sin. All sin has both pleasure and a consequence. Oft times the consequence of sin lasts far longer than any pleasure derived from sin. Let me give you an example. In the scriptures, the Lord commands us to not have sex before marriage or with anyone other than our spouse. If someone chooses to go out and have premarital sex, or have an adulterous relationship, ending up with a sexually transmitted disease, the disease isn’t God chastening you. It is the natural result of your sin.

Even though an individual may confess their sin to the Lord and repent, they may still have to deal with the consequences for their sin. Having to deal with the consequences doesn’t mean that we were not forgiven. When we repent and confess our sins, the Lord is faithful and just to forgive us (1 John 1:9). But, forgiveness and cleansing does not mean that we will not have to face, and sometimes even live with, the consequences of our sin. If a person does something that not only violates God’s law but man’s law as well, it may mean that very well might have to deal with the consequence of it, which could be something as simple as a a fine or community service, to serving lengthy jail time.

What does the Father desire to accomplish in chastening us? First, as already stated earlier, the Father chastens us for the purpose of instructing us. Times of chastening are teaching moments. They are opportunities to learn. As a result of chastisement we are able to learn more about the Lord, as well as, become more acquainted with His will and what He desires for our lives.

Second, through chastening the Father’s ultimate goal is accomplished. The Father desires for all of His children to be inwardly conformed to the image of Christ, that is, that we become Christ-like in character. We are to display that Christ-like character to the world. Consider this; the only Christ the world will see is in and through us. The world needs to see this, but without chastening there will be no Conformity to Christ’s image.

Thirdly, chastening makes us aware of our sin that we can confess it, repent of it, receiving forgiveness and cleansing.

Fourth, and finally, the Father wants us to live exhibit holy lives to the world around us. He desires for our lives to show outwardly, to those around us who are not saved, that we have been given a new nature and a new heart within as a result of having been saved. The world needs to see Christians living and conducting themselves differently than they do. By doing so, we honor the Lord and bring glory to Him.

March 24, 2011

Run it by God First

My wife and I met at an interdenominational summer camp in eastern Ontario where she was the food services director, and I was there to teach a one-week staff training session on “relationships.”  (Always good when you can provide a teachable moment by starting a lifelong one at the same time!)

Camp IAWAH is actually an acronym for In All Ways Acknowledge Him, taken from a familiar passage in Proverbs 3: 5-6.  Here’s the larger context:

1 My son, do not forget my teaching,
but keep my commands in your heart,
2 for they will prolong your life many years
and bring you peace and prosperity.

3 Let love and faithfulness never leave you;
bind them around your neck,
write them on the tablet of your heart.
4 Then you will win favor and a good name
in the sight of God and man.

5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Some of you work in an office or on an assembly line where you have to “submit” to a boss on any changes you’re making, decisions you’re facing, or new initiatives you’re considering.  You may have some creative control, but unless it’s “rubber stamped” by someone higher up the chain of command, you don’t really have the authority to just forge ahead by yourself, or issue orders to others to act solely on your command.

But verse 6 in the NLT clarifies this isn’t just talking about asking for God’s approval on a decision you’ve basically already made, but also looking to him for guidance in advance:

Seek his will in all you do,
and he will show you which path to take.

However, I don’t think the latter element negates the former.  God has given each of us intelligence, insight and other giftings, and I believe sometimes he does indeed throw the ball back in our court and says, “What do you think would be the best thing to do here?”

“Uh, God, I was hoping that you would make that clear.”

So, if I may, let me suggest that part of our submission to God might involve something like, ‘Work out your decision-making with fear and trembling.’  Seek his advance guidance to be sure, but in the absence of clear direction, or direction to simply wait, make the clear and logical decision that most honors Him or is most productive for the advancement of God’s Kingdom.  Then talk to Him about it and ask for continued guidance.

Are you one of the “givers?”  While churches and ministry organizations are often pleading for money, there is a small group of generous Christ-followers who are often looking for projects worthy of their support.  If that’s you, consider interdenominational Christian residential camp ministries.  Their needs are great and many limp along with just a handful of supporters.

Someone once said, “You can accomplish more in the life of a child with one week of camp than you can with 52 weeks of Sunday School.”  I don’t want to minimize the importance of weekly Christian education, but the statement does reflect the potential life change that can take place in the life of a child when removed from the comforts of home.  Contact me for information on how you can track down camp ministries in your area, and remember, we’re talking about rustic summer camps that take in kids for a simple program of sports, crafts, and devotions; not five-star conference centers!