"But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us."
2 Corinthians 4:7 NIV

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

You Are a Masterpiece

I love reading Billy Coffey’s blog. He tells stories like Jesus told parables. A master storyteller can take familiar threads of every day situations and weave a tapestry of profound insights. His simple stories somehow make you feel wiser for having read them.

I sit at my computer and yearn to do the same. I desperately desire to write that way. I wish… and then I wonder. Are my longings a prayer or a grumble?

God speaks as if to clear my clouded thoughts.

What sorrow awaits those who argue with their Creator? Does a clay pot argue with its maker? Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it, saying, ‘Stop, you’re doing it wrong!’ Does the pot exclaim, ‘How clumsy can you be?’ How terrible it would be if a newborn baby said to its father, ‘Why was I born?’ or if it said to its mother, ‘Why did you make me this way?’” 

This is what the Lord says—the Holy One of Israel and your Creator: “Do you question what I do for my children? Do you give me orders about the work of my hands?” Isaiah 45:9-11 NLT

As the oil of the Holy Spirit pours into my jar I am reminded of my purpose. And of my gifts, which are not the same as Billy Coffey’s.

I want to create my works of art, but God wants me to see myself as the masterpiece. His masterpiece.

We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. Ephesians 2:10 NASB

God has shaped us in the exact form He chose for us so that we could accomplish His plans.

Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails. Proverbs 19:21

God has called and equipped Billy Coffey to write engaging prose. He has called and equipped me to teach the Word of God. He has called and equipped you for something too.

Do you know what your calling is? The words from the pen of another Billy just came to mind. This Billy wrote a song with a phrase that could’ve been sung over you by God. (If you don’t think God sings over you, read Zephaniah 3:17.) I can almost hear Him now as He belts out that He loves you just the way you are.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Just Say the Word

Perhaps you’ve heard the saying, “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” I said as much yesterday when I shared my pastor’s proclamation that Jesus has the last word. But I wonder, does His Word “settle it” for you? When you can’t see past your insurmountable circumstances, it takes a tremendous amount of faith to accept that God’s Word “settles” it. I won’t pretend faith like that comes easy.

God Himself must know how hard it can be, because when a Roman centurion exhibited that level of faith, it astonished Jesus. Imagine that, a Gentile with little knowledge of God exhibited such faith that even Jesus was surprised.

When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. "Lord," he said, "my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering."

Jesus said to him, "I will go and heal him."

The centurion replied, "Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, 'Go,' and he goes; and that one, 'Come,' and he comes. I say to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it."

When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, "I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. Matthew 8:5-10 NIV

The centurion believed that if God said it, then that would settle it. And his faith was rewarded.

Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! It will be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that very hour. Matthew 8:13 NIV

Do you think we would experience similar rewards if we took Jesus at His word as readily? I do! The centurion said to Jesus, “just say the word.” Jesus can speak into our situations too. Not like He did that day, but through the Word of God. When we trust what the Bible says, we take Jesus at His word. And when we do, we will be rewarded.

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. Hebrews 10:35 NIV

Monday, March 29, 2010

Reality or Truth?

My daughter and I purchased a balloon bouquet recently from a talkative sales associate. Distracted from her job of pumping helium, she allowed the balloon to grow bigger and bigger until we were certain it would pop. But just in time she snapped it off the spigot and tied it. After yesterday's sermon I feel as ready to burst, but I can't contain the message like so much hot air. I might float away. So I will plant my feet on the ground and tell you what my pastor so passionately preached.

First let me say that I could hardly keep my head from nodding in agreement. His main point reminded me of an online conversation I'd had a few years ago. An artist who claimed to be Christian had posted one of his paintings on a prayer wall. It was horribly vile. As you could imagine the forum was in frenzy. I don't usually enter such heated online discourse, but my spirit was so troubled I asked God what He would have me do. When I read the artist had defended his depiction by claiming he was simply illustrating reality, I knew exactly how to respond. I typed these words: Just because something is reality in your experience doesn't make it truth. Truth and Reality are not necessarily the same thing. My fingers pounded away as I wrote that his reality was a lie. Unfortunately mankind has lived a lie for thousands of years. Pontius Pilate ruled as a governor of Rome, but when he said to Jesus, "Don't you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?" Jesus answered, "You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above." In reality Pilate held authority over Jesus. But in truth, Jesus held dominion.

Later in John's gospel Pilate asked Jesus if He was a king, Jesus responded by saying, "You are right in saying I am a king. In fact for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me." Pilate responded with a question. "What is truth?" Jesus didn’t answer that day, but He’d done so previously when He declared, "I am the way and the truth and the life." Truth trumps reality when reality strays from truth.

My pastor delivered a similar message yesterday morning. He read from Philippians 2:5-11 and pointed out that Jesus has the last word. What we see with our eyes, or hear with our ears, or touch with our hands does not determine true reality. Far beyond what our senses tell us, Jesus has the last word. His name gives hope to those who believe in truth rather than in what they see, hear or touch. Just as the Father exalted Jesus and gave Him the name above every name, our Lord and Savior lifts us from the darkness of our reality and shows us truth. May we have eyes to see and ears to hear because Jesus has the last word.

Quotes of Jesus and Pilate from John 18:37-38 and John 19:11 and John 14:6 (NIV) 

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Truth of Your Tremendous Worth

Too often my efforts go unnoticed. I feel underappreciated, taken for granted, even used. My longed for “pat on the back” comes few and far between. I know I’m not alone. That’s why I jumped at the opportunity to speak at an Honored Women luncheon recently. Several different churches across California’s Central Valley got together for one reason: to acknowledge the contributions made by women who rarely receive the accolades they deserve. Warmed by the gracious, humble women who quietly blushed as an appreciative friend recounted their tremendous worth, I found myself wishing gatherings like that happened 52 weeks a year.

Then I realized they do. Every Sunday.

Every Sunday men and women of tremendous worth gather at church. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

Every Sunday men and women have the opportunity to learn just how valuable they are. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Every Sunday you can hear expressions of the Father’s love in words sung to the God who sent His Son to die for us. You can hear assurances of the Father’s glad welcome in prayers offered to the God who listens to the forgiven and redeemed. You can hear truth drown out the negative self-talk that rushes in to flood your thoughts with lies.

The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.

You may never have the opportunity to stand before an admiring crowd while holding a certificate that proves your worth. But every Sunday men and women gather to honor the God who has lavished His love on them and proved their worth. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

If you need a little encouragement, don’t miss church this Sunday.

The italics represent the following Scriptures in the order they appear: 1 Peter 1:18-19, Romans 5:6-8, Zephaniah 3:17, Hebrews 10:23-25 NIV

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Matters of the Mind and Heart

Because the language of Christianese often bundles “Praise & Worship”, I’m afraid we miss the intricacies of worship all by itself.  

First let me say that “praise” is one of my favorite worship activities. Especially singing praises. When used as a verb it means to express admiration. Halal, the Hebrew word for “praise,” connotes boasting. And it’s not restricted to something we do with our mouths. According to Psalm 150 we can praise God with everything from a trumpet to a harp, a stringed instrument to a flute, from tambourines and dancing to loud clashing cymbals.

While praise is one method of worship, worship is not limited to praise. Paul urged in his letter to the Romans to, “offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.” Living a sacrificed life seems poles apart from boasting. My dictionary defines sacrifice this way: to give up somebody or something important or valued in exchange for somebody or something else that is considered more important or valuable. In other words, to worship is to completely set aside your dreams and aspirations and live a surrendered life of obedience and submission to God.

Jesus taught us to worship in spirit and in truth.

You will never worship in truth if you do not know what the Bible says about God. You will never worship in spirit if you do not trust what the Bible says about God.

You worship in truth whenever you open the Bible and proclaim the words you read. You worship in spirit whenever you make a conscious decision to apply the words you are proclaiming.

Worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness; tremble before him, all the earth. Say among the nations, “The LORD reigns.” (Psalm 96:9-10a NIV)

If the Bible says, “The LORD reigns” then He reigns. Therefore, in order to worship in truth, you must believe God has supreme power and authority. However, to worship in spirit, you must submit to His authority. The Lord reigns indeed. But does He reign in you? Who is the boss of your life? Answer that question and you’ll know who you worship. (Because we all worship something.)

When you praise God by saying, ”LORD, You reign!” you are worshiping in truth. But to worship in spirit, you must also declare, “Lord, reign in me!”

Definition of sacrifice taken from the Encarta® World English Dictionary ©1999 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved. Developed for Microsoft by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

When Illogical Enthusiasm Makes Perfect Sense

To extol is to praise with great enthusiasm, to praise with a passionate or consuming interest. What a great word. I can almost picture the one extolling. He’s cheering loudly as if his favorite team just won the Superbowl. She’s clapping madly as if her child finally rode a bike without training wheels. You can’t extol quietly. You can’t extol from a recliner. It begs for expression. It virtually explodes.

King David wrote in Psalm 34, “I will extol the LORD at all times; his praise will always be on my lips.”

David didn’t simply talk about extolling the Lord. He did it. Frequently. He once danced so vigorously out of love for God that his wife was embarrassed by his undignified display. He wrote passionate psalms proclaiming God’s majesty and power. And in Psalm 34 he claimed to extol the Lord at all times. All times. Really? Didn’t he ever focus on caring for his high maintenance wife, or commanding his mighty men, or ruling his kingdom?

Obviously David was not suggesting that he praised the Lord 24/7. Instead he was declaring his commitment to extol God in good times and bad times, in busy times and boring times. In other words, offering praise was not tied to his circumstances or his feelings. David didn’t say great things about God only when his life overflowed with blessing. Praise was always on his lips.

Job exhibited this same quality. In the first chapter of the book of Job we discover he “fell to the ground in worship.” The tragic events that put him flat on his face make his reverent act appear counterintuitive, if not completely illogical. As he lay prostrate before the Lord he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.” (Job 1:21 NIV)

Job didn’t praise God because of his circumstances; he grieved deeply as a result of them. And yet praise was on his lips at an excruciating time. Why? Job worshiped God in spite of his circumstances. Praise was prompted from his understanding of who God is, not his experience of what God had or had not done for him.

David and Job teach us to lift our eyes from our struggles and focus on God. Did you see the Scripture I quoted yesterday from Isaiah? 

“You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.” 

The peace that washes over you as a direct result of extolling the Lord in the worst of times may not cause cheering and clapping, but it makes Job’s response seem downright natural.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Just Enough is not Enough

I used to have another blog. I deleted it. It represented failure, so I wanted to forget about it. If only our memories were as easy to delete. The blog was called Just Enough Joy. I must have settled on that peculiar title on a bad day. No, I think it was a bad year. Back then God gave me just enough of what I needed. Just enough money. Just enough sleep. Just enough of the basics to keep me from losing my mind. Sure, He provided. But He always held back His hand until the eleventh hour, so I felt put off. I experienced more than enough stress, but only just enough peace. Just enough patience. Just enough joy. I certainly didn’t see evidence of a bumper crop of the Fruit of the Spirit in my life.

The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23a NLT

With just enough energy to make it from breakfast to bedtime, I probably shouldn’t have tried to start a blog. I never posted anything after the first one. (Maybe that’s a good thing!) That lonely post was entitled “Stress Relief.” Is it any wonder? I wrote that the discipline of giving thanks in spite of your circumstances brings “just enough” peace. But later I quoted Isaiah 26:3 which says, “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.”

For heaven’s sake, which is it? “Just enough” peace or “perfect” peace? I recommend you trust the Bible over me. God’s Word promises perfect peace, great joy, unfailing love.

I apologize for the misguided post on my short-lived (and now deleted) blog. 

In yesterday’s musings I likened myself to a clay jar filled with the treasure of God’s indwelling presence. He’s the oil in my jar. I long to pour out only what He pours in. But sometimes my human nature slips into the mix. That’s why at every one of my speaking engagements I pray this prayer, “Lord, if I say something wrong make everyone forget it before they leave this place.” It’s a little stickier with the written word. But then again, there’s always the wonderful delete key.

By the way, I’m still squeaking by on just enough money and just enough sleep, but my commitment to give thanks and praise to my Provider in spite of my circumstances has produced a harvest of more than enough of the Fruit of the Spirit. Thank you, Jesus!

O God, I beg two favors from you; let me have them before I die. First, help me never to tell a lie. Second, give me neither poverty nor riches! Give me just enough to satisfy my needs. For if I grow rich, I may deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?” And if I am too poor, I may steal and thus insult God’s holy name. Proverbs 30:7-9 NLT

Monday, March 22, 2010

A Willing Vessel

I figured since this is my first post I probably ought to explain why I named my blog “Oil from the Jar.” It has nothing to do with culinary endeavors or fuel-burning lamps. I’m the clay jar. As a believer in Jesus, I contain the all-surpassing power of God. He’s the oil. Every once in a while the treasure hidden within makes an appearance. A brilliant comment, profound insight, or some other incredibly impressive display pours out of me. I always recognize its Source because I could never have come up with such wisdom on my own.

As a public speaker appearing to have it all together, I sometimes tell my audience I’m the opposite of Colombo. He was a character in a TV show I watched as a kid. An awkward, scruffy homicide detective, Colombo came across as a dimwit. Assuming he was clueless, criminals would carelessly reveal their misdeeds. But Colombo’s mind was as quick as Michael Phelps’ freestyle. He not only solved the crime, but he consistently blew the bad guys out of the water with his genius. In direct contrast, I take the stage dressed for success and deliver a polished presentation. But inside I’m desperate for the Lord to speak through me. I’m consistently blown out of the water by God’s genius. And I hope people don’t give me the credit owed to Him.

I want to write like I speak: a willing vessel who desires to pour out a little oil. The prophet Jeremiah wrote, “…if I say, ‘I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,’ his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.” Jeremiah’s words express my heart. God has filled my jar of clay with treasures I can’t wait to share. You’ll find these gems right here if you stop by again. I hope you do!

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. Ephesians 1:17-23 NIV
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