Friday, August 26, 2011
Sometimes I wonder what kind of model we should adopt as Christians? Paul in Corinthians uses the following words to talk about the “ordinary” Christian. “For God…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.”
Wow! Think about that. As Christians we are people in whom God dwells. God shines in our hearts. That’s big news…But what does it mean?
Does it make us special? Absolutely!
Does it make us empowered? No doubt!
Does it make us fresh and new! Of course!
Those are all biblical images of the Christian…
And sometimes it causes us to develop a model of the Christian that is essentially intimidating. I was in a bookstore the other day and picked up a book on the “Victorious Christian Life.” The cover portrayed this almost super human character… complete with supernatural glow! As I leafed through the book I almost got depressed… the person I read about certainly wasn’t me! What is the best picture to put in our heads…? Warrior? Prophet? TV Evangelist (OK, forget that one).
Lets look at the way completes that statement about the glory of God. “This precious treasure (the presence of the living God) we hold in jars of clay.” So there’s our image. Clay pots. Not alabaster jars or marble vases. No vessels made of gold or silver. Not vases of incredible beauty or strength…but pots….clay pots.
What can we say about clay pots? They are common. Not too pretty. And they are fragile. They crack, sometimes they fall apart. Friends, that is the Judges. That was King David. That was Peter. That was Paul. And that is us. Just average folk. Common. Not too pretty. And we are fragile. We get sick, we have accidents, we die. We are tempted, we blunder, we fail. In short, we crack.
And that is where the trouble beings. What do we do when the pot cracks. Some people become obsessed with the crack. All they can see is the tragedy. All they can think about is the illness. They simply can’t see past what they did wrong. The focus on the problem, and become what one of my friends calls “catastrophic hypochondriacs.” And all too often they become angry, bitter, cynical and hopeless. They capitulate to the chaos and the pain , and become defeated.
How sad, for there is a better way. Paul’s suggestion? Focus on the treasure not the pot.
Focus on the presence of God within. The first thing that happens when we adopt this focus is that we begin to realize that even common pots, even cracked pots, have incredible value in God’s eyes. When we begin to think that God has entrusted the treasure of his presence, his power, his reality in us…That is incredible! It is not that God doesn’t have options. But God chooses to dwell in us.
The second thing that happens is we begin to see just how precious the treasure is… and what a difference its presence makes. You know, if we focus on the treasure we remember that we are never alone. There is one who has said to us, “I will never leave your nor forsake you. I will be with you, even to the end of time.” And he mean it. God is here for us. We are always full of the presence, the power, the love of God….cracks and all. And if we leak, and we become kind of empty… God refills us…. Like a “spring of water welling up.” Jesus said that !
The bottom line is this. When we are filled with God , when we focus on God’s love and grace, we cannot, ultimately, be empty, helpless, or overcome. Listen to Paul’s words in verse 8. “We are hard pressed on all sides, but we are not crushed. We are puzzled, but never in despair. Persecuted but never abandoned, struck down but not destroyed.”
This is not “pie in the sky” theology. There is no denial here. Paul acknowledges that we are hard pressed, perplexed, persecuted, even drive to our knees…but in the midst of all that there is still survival. An ability to hope, to dream, to look forward, to choose life.
What happens, when we focus on the treasure and not the pot is that we focus on God -- and God is amazing. John Claypool, an amazing preacher from the deep south once preached a sermon titled “God’s other name is surprise.” In that sermon he clearly defines the difference between focusing on the pot (ourselves) and focusing on the treasure (God)
“Our tendency” he said…”is to set limits on reality according to our perceptions; to create a set of expectations out of our past experiences rather than making room for wonder and surprise…” This is “pot” thinking, and it is incredibly limiting!
“What we need to do is realize that God is the only adequate predicate for words like ‘possible’ and ‘impossible.’ … how can we ever set limits on Him or dare to reduce Him down to our pathetic images of what is possible or impossible.” Claypool ends this way. “The challenge is to learn to trust and to obey, confident that He will keep His word, but flexible as to when and how and in what form he will do it. About the only thing you can safely expect, is that what He will do will not be what you expected….rather something bigger and better and vaster than you ever dreamed.”
Treasure thinking! With our God despair is presumptuous. It is concluding something about ourselves, “I’m irrevocably cracked” or about our lives, “I can never be valuable, or whole” that we have no right to conclude. Who knows what this God of surprises can bring out of the day by day events of our lives. Who know what surprises God can bring out of us?
Back to Corinthians: “We do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.”