Treasures Found in the Clay

“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing”

2 Corinthians 4:7-8 (NASB).

Paul speaks of treasure, or of something of tremendous worth. We seldom place value on things with the same intensity that God does. Its obvious that as a culture our values aren’t really biblical. Paul understands this overriding principle of the eternal over the temporary. God’s power–treasured. Our weakness– accepted.

The rationale for this “making room” for the power must be understood. Its only when we grasp this holy ‘mechanism’ can we sparkle and shine as believers. It is of God, not of ourselves. Paul says that we are afflicted in everyway imaginable. From disease, to injury, to difficult relationships, to a simple toothache. Believers run the full gamut of affliction.

It all is significant, it all means something!

As a former Army medic, some of the worst injuries were “crushing” ones. The human body experiences things that are so heavy that they simply collapse.  At times like these it seems the best you can do is make a pile.  To be crushed is a terrible thing.

God’s Rubik’s Cube

He says that we are “perplexed”. The word means, “to feel completely baffled by.” It’s when something is so complicated that we can’t figure it out. Have you ever been given a ‘Rubik’s Cube?’ You twist and turn, trying to get the same colors on the same side. Every move affects the outcome. And you just can’t seem to get it right.  (I once peeled of all the colored stickers off and re-stuck them, but I was having “ego problems” that day.)

God gives His children a spiritual ‘Rubik’s Cube.’

It maybe a family crisis, or a medical issue. You could be trying to figure out your spouse. But the problem is that it totally baffles you. There is no rhyme or reason that you can see. Everyday you try again and again.

There are some things that so confuse and mystify that we begin to doubt everything we have been taught. But, we are not to despair. Despair is not for the believer. We may not understand, we are baffled by the present circumstances. We may come close, but we can not despair. God has promised that he will use this time of affliction, and its outcome will be glorious.

 “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.”

Romans 8:38

In the KJV of Romans 8:38, the phrase used is “nor things present.” What is your present predicament? It cannot separate you from the love of God. He cares for you, even if the moment is hard and miserable. God often tests His real friends more severely then the lukewarm ones.

At the end, God will not look you over for medals, or diplomas, He will look you over for scars.

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Mother Teresa Explains Humility

false-Christian-humility

“But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant.”

Luke 22:26, NLT

Jesus Christ turned everything upside down. I know of no other teaching that might disturb his disciples as “humility.” I’m sure that they shook their heads and replayed what Jesus had said. (Maybe looking for a loophole?) This is not something you just “click into place,” rather it’s a complete overhaul of living as a disciple. Humility is a process, not an event.

“So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Matthew 18:4

We may think children are wonderful, but hardly the stuff of the Spirit. And then Jesus shows and as we listen to him we are schooled further. Generally the attitude of a child can be seen as: innocent, simple, kind, eager, curious, relying on others, and of course–humble.

As a bona-fide broken believer I find I’m quite consumed with “me.” Life can revolve around “me.” The awful nature of my mental illness is I get absorbed with it, and it is all I think about. And I  hate this. It isn’t right. It isn’t healthy.

Mother Teresa, 1910-1997

I came across this list written by Mother Teresa that sheds further light for us. Her discipleship was radically different than mine, and I have much– very much to learn. Perhaps you might commiserate our mutual lack.

“These are the few ways we can practice humility:

To speak as little as possible of one’s self.

To mind one’s own business.

Not to want to manage other people’s affairs.

To avoid curiosity.

To accept contradictions and correction cheerfully.

To pass over the mistakes of others.

To accept insults and injuries.

To accept being slighted, forgotten and disliked.

To be kind and gentle even under provocation.

Never to stand on one’s dignity.

To choose always the hardest.”

Mother Teresa (The Joy in Loving: A Guide to Daily Living)

Once my church gave me a gold medal for humility. The elders took it back because I wanted to wear it all the time. Anyway, I like most of this list, with one/two questions— and I’ll let you find them.

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Simply Golden

by Norman Rockwell, 1961

“And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.”

Luke 6:31, ESV — The Golden Rule

 “Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them! If you only love the lovable, do you expect a pat on the back? Run-of-the-mill sinners do that.” 

Luke 6:31-32, MSG

Sometimes it seems, I hit the switch, and shut it all down. Essentially, I get wrapped up with one of my favorite sins and soon I turn off my faith, unplugging myself from the wall.  I have a desire to escape from what I see as restrictions that I believe faith brings me.  I want to have fun–I don’t want to pray, or read the Bible.

Actually I can do this subtly.  I just raise the volume of my sinful desires, and try to drown out that still small voice.  I can maintain a holy life for my Christian friends, while I enjoy the pleasures of my favorite sins.  Sins or holiness, I want to go for both– but the reality is I just get one.

There is still a voice that is speaking profoundly. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.”  Our particular concepts of Christianity so rarely include this–“the golden rule.”  In my own mind, I diminish this as a little bit antiquated.  I will rarely feel its pinch or pull.  It is never a topic of serious thought or meditation.  It seems that it has become what I call–“an optional truth.”  It is very much real, but it is not connected to me in my daily walk.

Treating others, the very way you want to be treated—do this!  Love other people outrageously and deeply; because you like it when they do this to you.  There is reciprocal action here, a sort of spiritual circle of kindness.  Our vernacular says, “What goes around, comes around.”  And it certainly has a ring of truth in it.

All too often we have a version of Christianity that has had its teeth pulled. We have tamed it, and brought the sharp teeth of the faith under our personal decision-making process.  The wildness of a true faith is domesticated and ‘house-broken.’  And we start the rush to unplug things.  The golden rule gets detached right away.

As I struggle as a mentally ill Christian, it is mandatory that the truth be lifted up in my life.  I can become quite disturbed and manipulated by life’s dealings.  My issues of paranoia and delusion cripple me, or they could become the step-stool for those wonderous things on the shelf of grace.

Dear ones, use your illness to reach for the best, live this and change your world.

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‘Sunning Ourselves in the Smiles of God’

A boy stood on a windy hillside, flying a kite. He continued to release the string of the kite and it went higher and higher until it was completely out of sight. One of his friends walked up and asked how he knew there was still a kite on the other end. He replied. “I know it’s there I feel it tugging on the line.” Like the kite, we can’t see heaven with our eyes, but we feel it tugging at our souls!

As a person with Bipolar its easier in some ways to think about that place I am journeying to.  Through many cycles of mania and depression I find this present life gets old, and the more I hear about heaven, the more excited I get.  I imagine a life without meds, and the constant monitoring of my moods.

 Heaven is described as:

  1. a great reward, Mt 5:11
  2. present suffering not worthy to be compared with future glory, Rom 8:18, 
  3. eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 2 Cor 4:17,18,
  4. surpassing riches of His grace towards us, Eph 2:7, 
  5. beyond all we could ask for or even think, Eph 3:20.

I think of my infirmities and pain.  I can’t wait to “shed” this mental illness. 

To be free from it will be one of best thing I can think of.  To take off my depression, like a heavy coat on a warm day. To sit with Jesus in a garden with living water, that’s more refreshing than any iced tea. Eternity is my favorite thing to think about–

“Where the unveile’d glories of the Deity shall beat full upon us, and we forever sun ourselves in the smiles of God.

—Ezekiel Hopkins 

I want to encourage you who are struggling now, with depression, anger,  schizophrenia, paranoia, abuse, OCD, addictions, PTSD or Bipolar, etc.  There is a day coming for us, when we will forget the agonizing battles that have gone on within us.  I boldly tell you with all the strength I can muster–there is coming the day.  So take hope and journey one more day, thinking of heaven.

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Present Day Thorns

And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.”

2 Corinthians 12:7

“I have thanked thee a thousand times for my roses, but not once for my thorn. I have been looking forward to a world where I shall get compensation for my cross, but I have never thought of my cross as itself a present glory. Thou divine Love, whose human path has been perfected through sufferings, teach me the glory of my cross and the value of my thorn.” 

— George Matheson

We like the rose, but tolerate the thorns. But alas, if we want the flower we must by default receive those pesky jabs. It’s part of the whole package. They come together and you can’t separate them (perhaps scientists will engineer a thornless rose someday).

The Apostle Paul engaged his own version repeatedly. On three different occasions he asked the Lord for relief.

“Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

2 Corinthians 12:8-9

Some conjecture can be made to what this thorn was. A telling word is “infirmities.” It means “feebleness of health; sickness,” (Thayer’s Lexicon, #769). Some have surmised it was a problem with his eyes, and that could well be. He was blinded on “the Damascus Road” for a period of time (?).

Satan has the power to afflict believers, but only under supervision. The verses declare God’s sovereignty over Paul’s thorn. God would work it for His own glory. Satan would be ultimately defeated.

 “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”

This must of been an incredible truth for Paul to learn. Perhaps his entire ministry hinged on apprehending what the Lord wanted him to know here. It was a critical lesson for Paul to know. It would enable and sustain him through a very difficult ministry.

Those who are afflicted, mentally or physically, are in prime position to teach us about grace. They’ve experienced the thorns first-hand. And in their most lucid moments can tell us of finding strength in their weakness.

There is much to learn in these couple of verses. There is much to learn from our brothers and sisters.

What is your thorn? What repeatedly drives you to the power and grace of God? Can you see the Lord’s hand in it?

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God Wants to Hear Your Heart

 

There are different ways God uses to hear your heart. Your voice, actions and attitudes are all subject to His evaluation and analysis. He is continually watching us. He uses His divine stethoscope to know us.

“Yet even now,” declares the Lord,
    “return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
13     and rend your hearts and not your garments.”
Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;
    and he relents over disaster.
14 Who knows whether he will not turn and relent,
    and leave a blessing behind him,”

Joel 2:12-14

The Old Testament prophet Joel is also interested in the human heart. His words make that a central issue. He diminishes the outward that doesn’t include the inward. (Unfortunately it is easier to be seen rather than “to be.”)

“Rend your hearts and not your garments.” This God’s very real word to a wayward people. To “rend” means to tear and it is the most critical attribute for a wayward heart.

We have this strange tendency to reduce repentance to outward actions. These may or may not reveal something real. We however must stress the inward rather than than the outward.

God desires to hear your heart.

“Blessed are those who mourn [especially them], for they shall be comforted.”

Matthew 5:4, Emphasis mine

“To do so no more is the truest repentance.”Martin Luther

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A Disciple’s Proclamation

“I am finished with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tamed visions, mundane talking, frivolous living, selfish giving, and dwarfed goals. I lean on Christ’s presence. I love with patience, live by prayer, and labor with the power of God’s grace. My face is set. My gait is fast, my goal is heaven. My road is narrow, my way is rough, my companions are few, my Guide is reliable, and my mission is clear. I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, deluded, or delayed. I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of adversity, negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity. I won’t give up, shut up, let up, or slow up until I have stayed up, stored up, prayed up, paid up, and spoken up for the cause of Christ. I am a disciple of Jesus” 

— Sister Ann Shields

 

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