Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Clay Jars or Crack Pots

Clay Jars or Crack Pots

"Fragile human beings who handle difficulty so differently that people are attracted to them."

That is my definition of the Biblical reference to jars of clay in the first century.

Those in palaces did not use clay jars for their valuables. Oh, you would have found them in the kitchen and the outhouse. For everything but the most ordinary functions, they used gold, silver, other metals, and well cured ceramics. Expensive liquids were not put into clay jars; they were stored in expensive, sturdy containers. In fact, it would be easy to be as impressed with the container as it was with the contents inside. "What an impressive pitcher you have," you might have said as the hostess poured your drink. Those were not ordinary clay pots presented to Jesus by the Magi, as they worshipped Him with gold, frankincense and myrrh. Those were expensive containers.

Clay jars in the first century were ordinary, common, easily broken, often discarded. They were used for carrying water and other ordinary functions, as trash containers, even as toilets. They would not have appeared as a main character in the cartoon version of "Beauty and the Beast." Bottom of the household totem pole, but functional.

So it's terribly humbling to realize that the Apostle Paul tells us we are clay pots. Harshly unflattering. It would not be so bad if he was talking about our lives B.C. (before Christ), but he's talking about after we have Christ in us. What is that about? Look at this.

2 Corinthians 4:4-12 (NIV) "The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. 6 For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you."

Here it is:

God puts the unbelievable, inconceivable, unthinkable, unimaginable, implausible treasure of the Universe "the very Presence of the Almighty God of the Universe" IN US! You'd think that would make us expensive containers. Precious contents go in valuable containers - that would make perfect human sense. But no.

He places this most precious treasure in "jars of clay." Why? So that others will see and experience the treasure of Christ rather than being impressed with us. Remember the earlier definition of clay jars? �Fragile human beings who handle difficulty so differently that people are attracted to them.�

What happens when a clay pot gets jostled around, bumped, passed from one person to another, or even cracked? The contents spill out. Or in the Apostle Paul's words, what happens when a fragile human being who is filled with Christ is 'hard pressed' perplexed'persecuted'struck down'faces death�' That person spills out the Presence of Christ on all in the area, filling the place with the aroma of Christ. What happens if it is not jostled? That treasure just sits there.

The jostling in our lives is not because God has abandoned us at all. It is because He believes in us as His treasure holders who spill His Presence.

Problem is that too often we whine when we're jostled, spilling out stuff that does not look, smell or taste like Christ because we've never learned or somehow forgotten that we are clay pots filled with Christ. Rather than cracked and leaking a treasure that attracts toward Heaven, we've simply become "crack pots."

What will it be for you?

Boldly, Herb

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Living for the Dot or the Line

Imagine you and I are standing together in my back yard. I have in my hand a stake with a roll of paper 3 inches wide wound around it. I ask you to drive the stake into the ground, which you do with finesse and strength. A helicopter descends, a passenger reaches out, takes of the roll of paper, flies north, carefully unwinding the 3-inch roll of paper. At 25 miles, it reaches the end of the roll, lands, and the passenger drives another stake in the ground, attaching his end of the roll to it. (Okay, Herb, where are you headed on this one?) Hang with me.

We begin to walk along the roll, reading the history of time. We see the story of Adam, Eve, the serpent and the expulsion from the Garden. Cain and Abel. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and the exodus from Egypt, conquering the Promised Land, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah. The kingdoms of Babylon, Greece, Rome. David killing giants and writing songs, Solomon exercising wisdom (as judge if not at home), the enslavement of Israel for disobedience. We come to a picture of a huge cross, the story of Jesus "earthly life" Christmas, His temptation, miracles, death, resurrection and the gift of His Presence through the Holy Spirit.

We continue on to see the early Church continuing the work of Jesus, we see persecution after persecution, the acceptance of Christianity by Caesar Constantine, the fall of the Roman Empire, the Middle Ages, the sad irony of the Crusades, the Dark Ages, the Enlightenment, George Washington and the American Revolution, Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, the Industrial Revolution, two World Wars, the Civil Rights Movement, the embarrassing hairstyles and clothes of the seventies, the upheaval of the past two decades, September 11. We finally pause, after many miles of history, at the present day.

You look carefully for your own life, (as we always do, trying to find ourselves in a picture), but can't quite make it out. I hand you a very powerful magnifying glass, with which you finally see your name and birth date. After checking for a date of death (sorry, it's not there), you look closer to see the symbol representing your life - a dot. "A dot!" you roar, "My life is only a dot! All the time and energy I put into living on this rock, and it is only a dot!"

Yep, a dot. In the scheme of history you and I are only a dot, a spot, a pencil mark, a speck, an instant, a moment, a mark on the long march of time. Perspective is humiliating. Read on.

Only a dot, but we are on the long line of time. A dot in the context of all that is before and all that will be. I found a definition: "a line is a straight one-dimensional figure having no thickness and extending infinitely in both directions." (http://mathworld.wolfram.com/Line.html)

What catches my eye is the phrase "extending infinitely in both directions." Standing on our dot we can see the line extending forever, (not human history, but God's existence). Looking forward we see the same, except there is a change. Somewhere ahead the line fades into a vast, golden carpet that leads to a mansion beyond anything the lives of the "rich and famous" have ever imagined. At the door stands the Savior Himself, open armed. Catch the picture? You are an almost invisible mark on the history of time, yet part of the eternity God has created.

All of which begs the question, are we living for the dot or the line? And another, should we be living for the dot or the line? The second question is easy to answer; it is a simple matter of mathematics. The first is harder, challenging us to surrender what we can see, touch, taste and feel, for what is mostly unseen but claiming to be more real. The dot will quickly be over; the line and all the dots on it, will last forever.

Living for the dot of this short, earthly existence or the line of eternity that lasts forever and ends in an existence in Heaven that, for Christ followers, is beyond our best imagination is the choice we make every day. Just that most days we don't recognize we are making it. What will you do today?

Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?" Mat 16:24-26 (NIV)

Boldly, Herb