Jars of Clay

7 But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. 11 For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.  2 Corinthians 4:7-12 (NRVS)

Power does not consist of size, great ministry programs, or eloquent preachers.  I am convinced that God let you to invite me to be your pastor almost six years ago.  I don’t think you or I got that wrong.  I am further convinced that God led us to reimagine ourselves from a “church for the unchurched” to a “restoring church” when we changed our vision, values and name about 3 years ago.

All we really want to do is be obedient to what God has called us to do.  And last we checked with God on this it was to “restore His world one heart at a time.”

Henry Blackaby has famously said that “when you are uncertain what God’s specific will for you to do is, do the last thing He told you to do until God tells you to do something different.”  So, as your elder brother and pastor I am here to declare to you that as best as I can discern, God has not changed His mind in what we should be doing.

Power is not found in anything external to us.  True power exists in paradox, the most significant of which happened 2,000 years ago when God in the flesh died. When omnipotence surrendered to impotence.

Jesus, who had the power to call angels down from heaven to destroy His enemies, didn’t. Instead, He endured the shame of the cross, “and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats.” (1 Peter 2:23)

This passage is about power.  But not the kind of power we normally think about.

Power to minister effectively and impact others comes from God. But His power is not displayed as humans would display it. There are no parades of military might. No bold headlines. No press conferences. No flexed muscles, or clenched fists, or angry threats. So how does God display His power?

But we have this treasure in clay jars…  Vs. 7

Earthen vessels. Simple clay pots.  Fragile and flawed. You and me. What a paradox. Power in pots…life in death.

Why would God p[lace His priceless treasure in such pottery?

…so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. Vs 7b

Like Mary’s expensive perfume in John 12, the aroma of Jesus inside our hearts cannot be experienced by other until it is poured out.  And often, God’s way of pouring out that fragrance is to break the earthen vessel that holds it.

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…  Vs. 8-9

But that is not we want in life, is it? We want to be big, beautiful and displayed on some safe shelf.  God, however, wants us to be a fragrant aroma of Jesus.  And that means we have to be taken off the shelf, poured out, and even broken.

The spiritual battle is real, but we don’t want real battles. We want to watch battles in movies or play them in video games.  Things blow up, be we are safe on this side of the video screen.  We don’t want a real battle, we just want a safe thrill.

Life, however, isn’t a movie. It is a war zone with real battles, real bullets, and real blood.  Sickness, disease, heartache, disappointment, crippling accidents, crushing experiences, tears, and death touch each one of us.

Life is not a movie.

But does God put us through all this just to watch us squirm…to make us miserable…to prove that He’s in charge?

No.  Instead, this all points back to the cross.

We come now to another paradox: Experiencing the life of Jesus requires an acceptance of death.

… always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. Vs.10

There is not abundant life without first an abasing death. And this reality should be displayed in our lives not only clearly but continually.

 For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh.  Vs.11

What does Paul mean by “death” here? It includes acceptance of those four painful experiences mentioned before in vs.8-9.

Afflicted…perplexed…persecuted…struck down.

When we accept those struggles as part of the process of releasing our fragrance, we’re not destroyed.  Rather, His power is perfected in our weakness. For when we die, He lives. When we lose, He wins. When we’re weak, He is strong. When we are dependent, He is powerful.  That is the beauty of the paradox. That is the power in clay pots.

“Given up to death.” Doesn’t sound like a Hallmark movie, does it? But there is divine wisdom in the paradox. We are constantly being delivered to the point of death so that God’s message will leak out. Then people who watch us will realize there isn’t anything significant about the vessel—it’s what’s inside that counts.

When other people see this death in us, it changes them…

 So death is at work in us, but life in you.  Vs.12

When others see God’s power perfected in our weakness, it dawns on them that maybe God could use them too.

Do you want to make an impact where you work?

Do you want to touch your neighborhood?

Then merely live out the dying message of Jesus. Let it out. Don’t hide the cracks. Let your humanity show.  It’s the cracks in the clay that allow people to see through and focus on the Lord.  You’ll be amazed how often God honors a weak, broken piece of pottery—how seldom He uses fine china.

I want to share with you six practices that will position us so that the best light possible can shine through our cracked pots.  I am going to call you to join me in living a life of brokenness so that Jesus can shine through.

earthenvesselphoto

If the clay pot had feelings, how do you think it is feeling right now?  A lot of pain? A little fragmented? Confused? Demoralized?

This month is the 30th year of me being a pastor and here is an observation based on that experience that I would like to share with you.  Church for many has become something you go to, like you might go to a gym, a sporting event, a gallery, or a show.  Church has become a destination.  But the truth is, while we never want what happens on Sunday’s to be tortuous, it is never to be the destination.  What happens when the body of Christ reassembles on Sunday’s is supposed to do is be a celebration.  A celebration of how the Light of Christ has escaped from the cracked pots that gather here.

You know the old adage that if you want something to change you have to do something different.  Or as Einstein said was the definition of insanity was to do the same things over and over again and each time hoping and that this time it would turn out different.

I am calling you who call this place your church home to go on a journey with me this year.  James says do not be hears only but be doers of the Word.  I am going to call you all to a deeper walk with Jesus and His bride, the Church.

This is going to be an arduous journey.  You might be tired of hearing about the PCT that I went on last year, but here is one more truth that applies to us.  I have been backpacking for 50 years.  I know how to backpack.  But I had never hiked 15 miles a day for 30 days. I did lots of reading.  Watched lots of Youtube videos.  I went as light as I have ever gone in my life.  And yet, ten days in at the first opportunity I started discarding things that at the beginning I thought were necessary for survival.  I had to adjust my plan.

I am going to outline a journey towards being vessels that shine the light of Christ, but that will certainly mean we will have to adjust our plan along the way.

So, with that in mind I want to suggest to you that we, as a bunch of crack pots, covenant together to do something different.  I am calling to you join me in a grand experiment.  I wonder what it would look like if this Church of broken vessels left this building each week to live a life marked by the following:

1 Work it Out 

Every follower of Christ is in fulltime ministry. Our work life is therefore also part of our ministry. The symbol of a clock reminds us that we have the opportunity to ‘work out’ our salvation at our place of work/career.  Our work life is a major part of our spiritual formation. Some of us have become workaholics and we’re invited to rediscover a healthy work rhythm, others are in the wrong career and they can realign themselves with their gifting – calling.

Practical examples of this include:

– Not exceeding 50 hours a week at work (making exceptions for busy seasons)

– Developing a Sabbath rhythm (keeping Sabbath at least once a week)

– Develop a life outside of work.

– Evaluating whether my job is ethically honoring God and is in line with how God created me.

– Be approachable at work.

– Take lunch breaks and spend the time with people at work.

– Use my calendar to book my hours.

– If I have employees under me, negotiate good working conditions for them (hours/pay/environment)

– Start a prayer group at work

– Set reminders to remember God (phone/email/screensaver)

– Evaluate work every 6 months and ask if it’s still honoring God.

– Email my accountability friend on Monday to ask for prayer/thank for aspects in work.

2 Downward Mobility

We live in a culture obsessed with ‘going up’ or ‘climbing the ladder’. In contrast, the Jesus way is one of servanthood and emptying oneself. An orientation towards downward mobility. This is symbolized by someone walking down the ladder. For us this is the decision not to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ but to join the movement in an opposite direction. This involves whole-life stewardship. It was a huge shock to us when we realized that we were the rich Jesus talked about; and we’ve been on a journey of figuring out what the implications of this are. Giving of ‘our’ time, resources and skills is the implied journey of this invitation – it’s a developing of a servanthood-mentality.

Practical examples of this include:

– Being honest about your finances by disclosing it to one other person or family (in detail)

– Determining with your family what a sustainable lifestyle is and commit to keep it (giving room for inflation) then giving the rest away; work out a budget.

– Start with a rhythm of giving 10% away.

– Redistribute educational skills and life experiences.

– Make a habit of comparing downward instead of upwards (check out http://www.globalrichlist.com)

– Make resources available for use in the community chest (exercise your sharing capability).

– Making friends with people lower on the organizational chart.

– Not always accepting promotions.

– – Stop being obsessed with name-brands.

– Give extras away (to a person you know) – (clothes/cutlery/electronics etc.);

– Fasting from restaurants/luxuries/expensive foods and give money away (or tip 100% or whatever percentage would stretch you)

– When buying something new, give something else away

– Get out of debt

3 Incarnation

God became man through the life of Jesus. The technical phrase for this is incarnation – literally meaning ‘in the flesh’. We are also called to live like Jesus in the context where we find ourselves. This is symbolized by two shoes. We ask, ‘how would it be to walk in your shoes’? In a post culture wars that are going on in our country and the way many socially progressives feel about the evangelical church lets be creative to show equal parts grace and truth.  (John 1:14) All they are hearing now is TRUTH shouted at them and it sounds like hate.  Jesus wants to liberate both groups. For us this has evolved into developing friendships between the rich and the poor. I found this quote but have lost who said it, “The rich and the poor need each other to rediscover their humanity … The rich need to realize that they’re not God and the poor that they are also made in the image of God and has something to contribute”.

Practical examples in our community:

– Developing a friendship with someone who is other – gay/black/white/poor/rich/famous/atheist/agnostic/other religion etc.

– Commit to a monthly cross-cultural experience (Walk or support an AIDS awareness walkathon or race, find something else that forces to deal with strangers  and pray with them and then join them in the work they’re already doing).

– Learn people’s names and learn their stories (security guards / tellers / baristas / workers in garden / baggers).

– Walk into relationships of reconciliation where we confess past hurts and reconcile (one on one).

– Buy groceries in bulk to give away.

– Learn a new language.

– Visit someone in jail/hospital.

– Get involved with the homeless ministry.

4 Puzzle Piece

Every person is uniquely gifted. This is symbolized by a puzzle piece. A puzzle piece is nothing on its own, the puzzle cannot be completed without every piece.  Instead of discovering our spiritual gift and thry to find a place to serve, how about we think of each of us as a gift and offer ourselves to Christ and His body in what ways make the most sense for the gift? (charismata)/talents/personality/experiences and passions.  Ask the question ‘where do I fit?’ Or more pertinent – ‘how am I a gift’? instead of ‘what is your gift’? This may reduce the lay/clergy divide as far as ministry is concerned.

Practical examples of this include:

– Serve with what you are good at (the skills you use at your work is a good place to start).

– Participate in group activities (say what is on your mind) come to services with a servant attitude.

– Put your name on the chore list at church: (cleaning, landscape, nursery, serving, etc)

– Discover your gifts/talents/personality by doing an inventory and discussing it with people you know.

– Look the Everett Gospel mission and ask what the needs are and see which ones are within you capability to fulfill.

– Live out your passion within RCM; listen to needs and see how you can help with them.

– Be real / don’t think that your piece is not ‘spiritual’ enough – admin/using your hands/ making meals/ writing / locking and opening the facilities are as spiritual as teaching/ preaching / praying.

5 Re-Member

Loving others cannot happen in the abstract it happens during face-to-face encounters, we symbolize this invitation with bread/eating. Reclaiming hospitality and eating meals together have been a huge journey for us. Jesus constantly developed communities around eating and drinking in houses and continually diversified the people coming together. This diversity included different races, classes, and religions. Every member in our community commits to breaking bread with their neighbors.

Practical examples out of our community:

– Gather together on a Sunday.

– Pray with others at least once a week.

– Get together at least once a month with accountability partner.

– Meet at least once a week with other Christians in order to share life.

– Have at least a monthly meal with someone who is not a Christian.

– Combining events (movies, sport, shows, games nights) with fellowship. (Especially with people who are outside of your affinity).

– If REALLY busy, set aside at least one day for fellowship, and make that day count.

– Meeting others at work.

– Engage in hobbies together like running, hiking, sports, jazz shows, reading groups, etc.)

– Have at least a daily God conversation with someone (not the same person).

– Hang out with biological family.

– Make space for single people in married couples’ lives.

6 Plugged In Daily

As followers of Jesus we want to develop a rhythm of plugging in daily. This rhythm is symbolized by a plug. Just as all our gadgets (phones, laptops, toothbrushes) need charging – so do we. This rhythm links one with the classic spiritual disciplines (what traditionally has been called a quiet time). This is an invitation that keeps people in conversation with God. The classic disciplines as described by Richard Foster and Dallas Willard are of great help here. We encourage people to engage for at least 15 minutes a day with a formal discipline, and then some other informal plug-in’s for the rest of the day

Practical Ideas for this discipline:

– Bible reading (books/chapters/www.project345.com))

– Memorizing passages

– Prayer (Psalms, Praying the hours)

–  Develop a group of people in the church and designate a certain day— call it ‘Discipline Tuesday’ where someone chooses one of the classic disciplines (silence, meditation, solitude, fasting, celebration, confession) and everyone practices it and then give each other feedback).

– Reduce the time watching TV and spend that time in prayer and Bible study.

– Couples read books to one another . (Just before or after supper is a good time.)

– Listening to the Bible/radio/worship CDs in your car while you travel

– Coins in pockets (or anything for that matter) which serve as prayer/ any sort of reminders.

– Journal

– Read a dead guy/gals devotionals  (Oswald Chambers, Hannah Hurnard,)

– Read/pray through sacred space

– Read the lectionary readings for Sunday

– Use trips in the car as a retreat space

Conclusion:

I wonder if you will join me on this great experiment.  Join me in a covenant for one year. What would our church look like if over the next six months we took one of these rhythms and concentrated on learning about them, practiced them and came on Sunday and heard stories of victories and defeats about how living as Cracked Pots worked during the week?

My dream is that we happy few, we band of brothers and sisters, learn about these practices, then go out and practice the practices and come back on Sundays and celebrate what happened the week before, then learn some more on how to live the practices, and go and practice and come back and tell the story and celebrate victories and failures.

I wonder if you will join me in letting Jesus light so shine before men that they may see our good deeds and glorify our Father in Heaven?

If so I am asking you to come and take a shard of this broken clay and take it home.  Spend a week asking God if he wants you to go to this level of community and soul training commitment. Then take a Sharpie or pencil and write a prayer on your piece of broken clay, bring it back with you next week and we will reassemble the earthen vessel and glue it all back together.

We will put a candle inside it and light it to represent the light of Christ inside of us and let the beauty of diffused light shining through our brokenness remind us that this is about Jesus and not about us.

One more thing.  By doing this I am calling you to enter a covenant.  Covenants in the Bible were when an animal was sacrificed and separated in two sections and the two parties that entered the covenant walked between the two sections of the carcass.  I’m just asking you to come take a shard of broken pottery.  And while we are not sacrificing an animal; we don’t need to because Jesus died once and for all for our sins, I am calling you to enter into a covenant with me that you will practice to the best of your ability these rhythms for one year.  Then the week after Easter next year we will all enter into a month of prayer and discernment and ask God if He is leading us to stay together as Church for another year.  Each person will pray and ask God to reveal if they are to remain with His portion of His body called Restoration Church Mukilteo.  If God says, “Leave and start this, or leave and attend that.” Then you are released and go with blessings.

But during the year when it gets tough and you get discouraged, don’t leave.  You are entering a covenant.  You can leave but keep your promise to stay until the month of prayer and discerning and if God still says go, then go.

The Light is ready to shine.

Let’s shine.

 

 

About Joe Chambers

I am the beloved of the Most High God. I am an avid reader and writer and have been a continuous learner since my college studies in Ancient Literature and English. I live at the base of Mount Princeton in the Colorado Rockies with my wife of over three decades. I believe I have been put here to tell people that God is not mad at them and to show them the way Home. I am the father of three sons, a daughter-in-law and four grandchildren. I love to read, tell stories, and spend time in the wilderness with my friends and sons.
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One Response to Jars of Clay

  1. Katie Donohoue says:

    Wow! This is it! I’m forwarding this to my Pastor son. He is planting a church this summer. What a way to begin!

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