An Imperfect Pot.

Earlier in this semester, I had the opportunity to make a pot in the Evangel Art Department. One of my friends on my floor was taking a pottery class, and she helped me to make the pot out of wet, gooey clay. It was a lot of fun to sit at the potter’s wheel and try to form something out of the gray lump, although I was quite clumsy at it. My friend instructed me to put a lot of pressure on the clay as the wheel spun round-and-round. By putting pressure onto the clay, I ensured that the clay remained in the center of the wheel and within my control.

My friend continually poured water over the clay, and by doing so, she made sure it remained moist in my hands. When the clay started to get dry, it scraped my hands. Thus, by her pouring water frequently onto the clay, she not only ensured that the clay remained shape-able, but also that my hands wouldn’t get seriously scraped. As I attempted to shape the pot, I had difficulty. After a few minutes, I decided that I was satisfied with the way my pot had turned out. However, it wasn’t until I took it off the wheel that I realized how lop-sided and silly-looking it was. Still, I was satisfied with my pot. In its own unique way, it is lovely.

In making this pot, I couldn’t help but see a parallel between us and God.   

“…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

We are each imperfect pots. We frequently can fight God’s hands as we’re on the wheel. God forms us, but oftentimes we try to move from His hands and drift off the center. We grow so dry on our own, and if we don’t rely on God to fill us up, we can become very un-moldable. We are lopsided and sometimes even have trouble standing without a stable Hand holding us up.

Now that my pot is completed, I look at it from time to time as it sits on my desk. Honestly, I sometimes marvel at its imperfection. Then I think about my own imperfections and the ways I am so very weak. I think about how much God delights in every detail of my life; He isn’t ashamed of my weaknesses. In fact, He asks me to rely on Him when I am so very weak (which is all the time). As I rely on Him in my weaknesses, He receives all the glory. I want to be a vessel displaying His glory–with eyes not on me, but rather on the Creator who uses my cracks and bumps and lopsidedness to display His glory.

God With Us.

This Christmas season, the words “God with us,” have been continually circulating in my mind and heart. Although I’ve been familiar with the name Immanuel meaning “God with us,” I’ve never dwelt on that particular meaning. It’s funny that I haven’t really thought about this concept, especially because it is central to the meaning of Christmas. Through my New Testament Literature class this semester and a series of messages shared by Pastor Jeff Peterson at Central Assembly, I feel like I have gained so much understanding and “Aha!” moments about God’s nearness to us through Christ. Truly, thinking about this concept has made me rest in complete awe of God’s presence and of His choice to be with us.

Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’” ~Matthew 1:23

My mind journeys back to learning about Moses and the Israelites who wandered in the wilderness for forty years. God’s presence was with them at every moment, and He expressed His presence to them through the pillar of cloud and the fire that led them day-by-day. God’s presence was expressed through an outward sign. The Israelites knew that this outward sign meant God’s provision for them by His being with them at each moment. Though they consistently wandered from His presence, still He chose to be near to them so that they would not walk blindly.

Now whenever the cloud lifted from the Tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out on their journey, following it. But if the cloud did not rise, they remained where they were until it lifted. The cloud of the Lord hovered over the Tabernacle during the day, and at night fire glowed inside the cloud so the whole family of Israel could see it. This continued throughout all their journeys.” ~Exodus 40:36-38

My mind also ponders the book of Revelation and the future when God will forever provide unbroken presence to us. Never will we need to fear wandering, distractions, or the strategies of the enemy. For, we will forever be in God’s consistent, accessible, and constant presence. His nearness will be fully expressed to us. He will forever be with us.

The world has now become the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign forever and ever.” ~Revelation 11:15b

What’s so powerful about these two instances is that Christ’s coming to earth as an infant is an extension of God’s presence and His wanting to be nearer to us. I think it’s so awesome to consider that throughout all of history, and into the infinite future, God willingly and lovingly pursues humankind. I think that to the Israelites, He showed His transcendence and “bigness” by His sending outward expressions of His presence. The Israelites could see that God’s presence was with them to lead and guide them. When I ponder our future in Heaven, I picture God’s presence not only so big, but also very near. I picture His presence in us, around us, with us, through us, and pouring in and out of us in a constant cycle. I think this intimate presence will be so familiar to our hearts because God sent His Son to be with us as an expression of His nearness.

So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” ~Hebrews 4:14-16

God sent His Son to be near us. Jesus understands our weaknesses and our temptations because He became human and actually lived among us. When Christ came to earth, God’s presence not only was transcendent, but it became imminent. Jesus was not only a reflection of God’s presence, but He actually embodied God’s presence with us on earth. After Christ died, rose again, and ascended, He paved the way for the Holy Spirit to enter into our lives to dwell in us and lead us each day. Christ is the expression of God’s nearness to us, and the Holy Spirit is a daily reminder of God’s promise to us that He has Heaven in store for us–when God’s presence will be nearer than ever. 

God has always been near to us, but throughout history, He has used many means to demonstrate that nearness to us. He longs to be closer to our hearts, and by sending Christ to be “God with us,” He has done just this. This is a closeness we can live with everyday, and it is a closeness we can look forward to forever and ever. This is the meaning of Christmas that has resonated so strongly with me this season, and it has rocked my world completely.

I pray, friend, that during this Christmas season, you will experience the closeness and nearness of God’s presence in your life. Know that God is pursuing your heart with His perfect love. His love has been expressed for you in so many ways–from His sending His Son to earth to dwell among you, to His allowing His Son to die for your sins, to His inviting you to live in freedom through His resurrection, to His promising that if you accept Him as Lord of your life, you will live forever in His unbroken, beautiful, incomparable presence. 

God with us. What a gift.

Compassion.

“Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.” ― Henri J.M. Nouwen

Facing the Truth.

This past year, the Holy Spirit has continued to bring to my attention specific concepts that my heart has needed to hear. I’m thankful that God speaks to us in such a custom-fit way, and that in speaking to us, He wants to allow us to encounter the truth and allow it to change the way we live. Most recently, I have been learning about truth (John 8:32) and God’s strength in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). I never really connected these two concepts together, but today God molded them together for me to understand how they relate to each other.

I’ve never been one to like criticism. I try to hide from it as best as I can. I will do whatever it takes to maintain an equilibrium of peace and quiet. However, there are moments when criticism is healthy–especially in self-reflection. If we aren’t aware of the areas we need to reassess, then we will never be aware of how we can grow.

The world encourages us to hide our weaknesses, burying them so far deep that nobody can glimpse the full reality of who we are. In concealing our weaknesses from others, we can live as if we are self-sufficient–not allowing others to invest into us, and not allowing ourselves to reach out to others. Even the thought of sharing our weaknesses could make us feel traces of humiliation because we haven’t even reconciled with the fact that we aren’t perfect.

In my life, I have tried to remedy my imperfections by ignoring my weaknesses and capitalizing on my strengths. Sometimes I have focused so much energy on my strengths that I figured my weaknesses would just disappear. Yet, I realized that simply distracting myself from my weaknesses wouldn’t help me to fix those areas. I needed to confront my fears and my worries. At first, I felt discouraged in admitting my weaknesses. It hurt my pride. WHY was I less than perfect when I was trying the best I could? My best was never good enough, and even when I thought I was succeeding in controlling my fears and worries, they would soon resurface. I would feel such personal failure.

Yet, encountering the truth was destined to set me free. Free from my self-enforced rigidity. Free from my skewed idea of grace. Free from my insistence to rely upon my own strength alone.

While the world tells us to hide our weaknesses, God tells us to pleasure in our weaknesses. What a contrast. When I began to realize that I needed to share with God ALL of me, I exclaimed something like, “It hurts, God–it hurts to reveal to You the weakest parts of myself!” Yet, in revealing the weakest parts of our lives to our Maker, He allows His grace to flood into those areas. As He fills our every void, His glory shines through us like a great big light, a beam for all to see. We don’t need to hide our weaknesses any longer, because God has already promised to allow His grace to be enough for us. In moments when we have no strength, we can run to Him to fill us with His strength.

Over the course of this year, I have begun to show God ALL of me, and it’s been painful at times. However, it has also been one of the greatest experiences ever. Now I know where my strength comes from–and it’s not my own futile effort. So when I start to fear, I run to His perfect love. And when I begin to worry, I cast my cares on Him. It’s as simple as that, but it’s been a struggle to simply release these heavy burdens that I so often try to carry on my own. However, I realize there is freedom in vulnerability to God. When we show God ALL of us–even the dark, dirty, and soiled parts–He begins to restore us. He washes us clean, and He delights in doing so!

Wow. What an amazing, amazing God we have. He is so patient with us in the process of our surrender, and He proves Himself faithful with each step we take.

His Beauty in Us.

“As we take the time to discover the beauty within ourselves, we begin to discover the beauty that surrounds us.” ~Anonymous

I came across this quote the other day on my daily quote calendar and found it to ring so true.  I have found that many times in my life, I’ve had difficulty being able to love others and see their beauty because I have not accepted the love and appreciated the beauty that God had given to me.

God is love (1 John 4:8), and since He is love, we are able to love others with His love when we know and love Him. However, I believe a main component of this concept that I have often overlooked is that we must first be willing to accept the love God has given us. And honestly, this can be pretty difficult at times. It’s tough to accept love, especially when we think we don’t deserve it.

In this world of aspirations and goals, society tells us that we should feel fulfilled once we have accomplished whatever we have set is our heart to do. We attach worth to our actions, and when we fail, we attribute our failure to a lack of ability. Attaching worth to our abilities will always fail us (This is a lesson God has been teaching me this past year).

Yet, when we find our identity in God’s love for us, then we don’t have to work, work, work to feel accomplished or secure. God simply gives His love to us. It’s nothing we work for. His love is something we have to accept. Whether we feel we are deserving or not, He allows us to be a part of a loving relationship with Him that fills every desire we have in our hearts. What a gift. Because we feel we are so undeserving, it’s easy to push away this gift and rely on our own efforts to feel secure. As a result, we rely on our own strength to construct our identity; we give out of our own love until we run dry.

God’s love makes us absolutely beautiful. And as we accept His love, we realize how beautiful we are in His sight. When His love fills us, we are able to see the beauty not only in ourselves–but also the beauty in those around us. We can love without the supply running dry, because it flows from God’s heart, not just our own. It’s a wonderful thing!

Filling My Weakness.

Throughout the past few weeks, the Holy Spirit has repeatedly directed my attention toward the topic of where I turn when I am at my very weakest. So I have, in turn, asked myself, “Where do I turn when I am fearful, stressed, confused, hurting, lost, or broken?” As much as I would love to say that that I always turn to Christ, I don’t.

There are many places I have turned to first without even thinking about turning to Christ.

As I turn to these “many places,” I’ve realized they all have one thing in common: None of these places have given me comfort or made me less fearful, stressed, confused, hurt, lost, or broken. They may fill places in my heart during the moment I’m feeling weak, but ultimately, they leave me feeling as empty as I was when I turned to them.

This truly pains me. WHY do I turn to places that don’t satisfy my deepest longings when I know in my heart that I have a Savior who has already promised to fill my every longing? If I already know that God’s perfect love drives away any fear in me (1 John 4:18), then why do I dwell on my fears and expect my mind to be able to banish it by itself? If I already believe that God takes my burdens (1 Peter 5:7), then why do I try to take on every burden myself?

I find myself forgetting that God is the truest, purest, and most satisfying source. So, instead of gaining my strength from Him, I attempt to wake up each morning and live each day out of my own strength. Thus, I become weak…SO very weak. In my weakness, I look for an outlet–anything that will make me feel stronger. Yet, nothing will ever satisfy me like what Christ has to offer me. Nothing.

I have the notion that human beings will carry into excess whatever we turn to first in our weakness. When we don’t have Christ filling our lives with His strength each day, we allow ourselves to plug into other sources like food, television, exercise, alcohol, lust, gambling, or other things that temporarily set our hearts at ease. And when we turn to these things to satisfy our deepest longings, they become a part of us–something we can’t live without. Because we believe they set our hearts at ease, we believe that these are the places we should turn when we are weak. Thus, we become dependent upon or addicted to such things–they control us because we have allowed them to become our sources.

Yet, when we are controlled by the Spirit, we are able to experience the fullness of peace and satisfaction in God’s presence. Romans 8:6 says, “So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace.” And when we turn to Christ, an excess of His Spirit allows us to walk in the fullness of His Spirit–among these are the fruits (Galatians 5:22, 23) and the gifts (1 Corinthians 12). As we walk in the Spirit, we don’t walk in weakness, but rather abundant and unlimited strength that comes from Him.

Yes, we are weak on our own. But Christ is stronger still. And as we turn to Him first to be our source, we are made strong by His strength. 

I’m excited to hear how God continues to speak to me concerning this topic, and I’m also very excited to start consciously turning to Christ first instead of things that never fully satisfy me. I’m thankful the Spirit leads us into all truth (John 16:13), and as He leads us into truth, He allows us to walk in amazing and breathtaking freedom (John 8:32).