When God Throws Mud-A Story of Creation

potter handsI’m a visual learner.  Show me or give me a word picture and I’ve got it.  That’s why many of the hymns of the church captivate me.  They make my imagination take off.

The hymn, “Have Thine Own Way, Lord”, by Adelaide A. Pollard (words) and George Stebbins (music) is one of those hymns.  The stanza that has  shape my life and faith has these words:  “Have thine own way Lord, have thine own way.  Thou art the potter, I am the clay.  Mold me and make me, after thy will, while I am waiting, yielded and still.” 

The potter/clay image is based on the words of Isaiah 64:8, “But now, O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand.”

From working with clay in Sunday School, to reflective Bible Studies, to revival services, these words have reached deep into my soul; expressing my desire to be used by God. 

Until recently, my potter/clay image has been a warm and fuzzy one.  God happily sits at the potter’s wheel, mud stained apron, hands covered with wet clay, patiently turning the wheel, and shaping the clay.  Transposing that to God working in my life, it was like something fragile being gently guided along a conveyor belt as it is made, and prepared for shipping.  The ceramic outcome of working with clay is beautiful and valued. 

I visited a ceramics factory in Italy and was allowed (volunteered) to “throw some mud” with a professional potter.  I learned 3 things in the space of about 15 minutes that changed my understanding and appreciation of what is involved for God to be a potter in my life and for that matter, in anybody’s life.

First, the clay begins as grayish, blocks or tubes.  The ones on top squash the pieces on the bottom of the pallet.  It just sits until the potter begins.  It cannot mold or shape itself.  It is subject to Potter Shaping Bowl2-4laws of physics both as it sits, and as it spins on the wheel.  Gravity and centrifugal forces make it want to move one way, but the pressure of the potter’s hand keeps it in line.  It even depends on the potter to keep it moist so it remains soft and pliable.  Otherwise, it hardens and is no good. Without the potter it will never become the beautiful ceramic that the potter envisions.

Second,  I learned that a potter’s work is physically demanding, requiring constant focused concentration.  Pottery making is multi-tasking.  Beginning with a vision for the outcome, the potter keeps the wheel rotating at the right speed, keeps the clay centered, uses one hand for constant pressure while using the other to shape the clay, keeps Potter Shaping Bowl2-11the clay moist and soft and shapes it as it is moving.  Pottery making fully uses arm, shoulder and core muscles.  If the clay gets out of shape, the potter simply pushes it down in order to raise it up.  It has to be just right.  It is neither simple nor easy being a potter.  It takes hard work and persistence. 

Third, the critical part of the process involves being fired in the kiln at high temperatures so that the soft clay hardens and is prepared for decorating.  The heat removes any moisture and melts minerals to form a hardened coating.  Processes for glazing can be applied, sealing the pottery.

So what does the imagery of pottery and clay say about God and us?  

  1.  Just as a potter has a vision for the clay, and works the clay towards that vision, God has a vision, a plan for our lives and wants to work in and through us to help us become the people we were meant to be.  At a seminar years ago, Rev. Lloyd Ogilvie shared a comment he received from a senior member of his church.  She said, “I hope you become everything you were in the mind of God when God first thought of you.”
  2. Even though I think I am in control of my life, I’m not.  My cancer diagnosis in ’07 brought that home to me.  Like, clay, I am helpless to become what God wants me to be without God’s hand working in my life.  I can’t do it on my own.
  3. Sometimes God’s work in my life is painful.  I resist.  God exerts pressure.  I may hold the new shape briefly, then start to wobble, becoming misshaped.    God removes pieces of clay that don’t belong there.  Often I don’t want them to go.  God adds pieces that I don’t want, but need.  God doesn’t give up.  God keeps on shaping and molding.  God never loses his vision for me.
  4. Clay cannot become beautiful ceramics without the kiln. I’ve been in the kilns of life experience more than once. Unlike human potters who do not go into the kiln with their pottery, God is with me in the kiln, guiding the searing experiences of life as they forge a stronger faith.  

In this imagery I see the tenacity of God, the redeeming power of God, the purposes of God, the grace of God, the love of God, the vision of God, the desire of God to restore us and renew us, my need of God, and the fact that when necessary, God will take me down in order to lift me up.

I’m not the easiest blob of clay to work with.  The Good News is that God hasn’t given up on me (and you) and continues to work the clay of my life (and yours) desiring to create something new.  ceramics

And “No, the finished ceramics pictured here are not mine.  Mine never made it to the kiln.  ;-)

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Retirement: What’s Next?

Clouds, Kayak and Paddle1In a previous post, I spoke of God’s gift of discretionary time.  I noted that using time in the manner God wants it to be used, brings glory to God and gives us the greatest fulfillment in life.  As I have approached retirement, and am now retired, I asked the question, “If I had it to do over, would I want to do something else with my life?”  In high school, I considered a career a day for about 6 months in my senior year. Ordained ministry was not one of them.  That decision came in my freshman year of college.  As I have thought about this question, my clear answer was that while I enjoyed lots of things, I would not have traded my 41 years as a pastor for anything.  I believe I was right where God wanted me.  Now I am retired.  So how do I live this out in retirement?  What does God have in store for me?  What do I do with my time?  Since I am closer to the end than the beginning of my life, I don’t want to waste it.

Everyone who comes to the point of retirement is at a different place.  Some retire one day, and begin a new job, or continue their old job.  Others take no employment, at least for a while.  Some may have health issues that shape their retirement.  Each is different.  My thoughts and comments address my situation. 

Throughout my life, I have discovered that I could not script a life experience anywhere near as good as what God has done in my life and through my life. 

So my first questions are:  “How do I go about living in retirement as God wants me to?  Do I take another church?  Do I pursue other interests such as photography and writing (blogging) more than just hobbies?  Do I get a job in a non-church setting?  Do I visit and spoil our grand-kids?  Do I putter around our flower garden?  Do I do any or all of the above? Do I learn a new trade, as it were?  What do I do?”

I recently attended a retirement dinner for a police officer.  He had a great career in law enforcement.  He was respected.  He was an outstanding police officer.  I remember his early years on the force, eager energetic, enthused.  He never lost those qualities.  In his closing comments, he noted that he was going to start a new job.  I figured he would move into one of the security/law enforcement jobs that many officers move into.  Instead, he told us that he would be soon starting a job that had absolutely nothing to do with law enforcement.  It was totally new for him.  He was excited about learning a new career.

I reflected on this.  How do you switch from something that you have loved, done well, and been trained in, to something brand new in retirement?  No prior experience.  A fresh start.

One of my takeaways is that he understands that who he is, is not defined by what he does, or has done.  His law enforcement career was a part of his total life journey, not the definitive part.  I think he enjoys a freedom to grow in his life journey.

In dealing with these questions, I am confident that God does not want me to sit around doing nothing.  I am using the beginning of retirement as a Sabbath time-a time of rest, reflection, exploring, contemplating, renewal and experimenting.  Some things that I thought I would get into have faded in importance.  I have encountered some new things that never occurred to me.

In this Sabbath time, I am sorting through lots of things. The sorting is allowing time for heart and memory healing.  The sorting is bringing clarity to what’s next.  I am free to follow my passions such as photography, cycling, writing, gardening, working out to name a few.  I am open to new opportunities.  I’m not trying to rush into retirement, trying to find ways to fill my calendar. 

In the Star Trek series and movies, there are scenes of the Enterprise leaving the orbiting docking station.  There, she had been repaired, refitted, and prepared for the next mission.  Disengaging from the station was a slow, careful process.  It was only when they were free, did they kick into warp drive and zip away.

For me, Sabbath time in retirement is a time of renewal, refitting, and preparing for what’s next.  The time of Sabbath is a time of prayer and reflection, pursuing interests and passions, being open to opportunities are all part of my coming to understand the theme(s) of the next chapter of my life.  I don’t have to rush out to do something.  I can let God lead me into whatever is in store.Gull Looking In Eye pp2

Who knows?  I may be the guest preacher when you walk into church some Sunday.   I may greet you with a smile when you come into one of the large box stores.  Who knows?  What’s next.  I’m not sure but I know it will be great.  In the meantime, I am having fun discovering it.  

Blessings

Bill

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Retirement: Moving Forward by Looking Back

Reflections.edit1_edited-1By nature, I am a reflective person. I am a ponderer.  I think a lot.  In some ways that is good.  In some ways, it creates problems for me.

In my previous post, “Refitting Your Life for Retirement” I listed some things I was experiencing in retirement.  In point number 4, I noted that I was doing a lot of reflecting and pondering over my life and career.  When I broke age 60, I started reflecting on questions like, “Have I wasted my life?”; “Did I miss God’s queues along the way?”; “What will my future be like?”; “Did I do the best I could?” and regrets, things I would do differently, things I was sorry for, failures and sins. 

As my retirement date came and passed, these reflections seemed to be re-energized.  Some answers and insights have brought me joy, gratitude and new meaning.  Others occasionally keep me up at night.  I have received (out of God’s blue) notes from persons who were blessed by God through my ministry that have encouraged me.

In my moving through the pondering, I found several passages of scripture that have reminded me that God is still at work in my life, and I will always be a work in progress with God.  I can rejoice and praise God for the good stuff.  I can learn from the other stuff and let it go.  Here is what I have found helpful.

  1.  In Philippians 3:13, Paul describes how he deals with the not so good stuff of his past.  He doesn’t dismiss it or treat it as insignificant or excuse it.  He doesn’t let it be a show stopper for moving into God’s future for him.  Our past is never too big of a mountain for God to move.
  2. Philippians 1:6 reminds me that God doesn’t give up on me.
  3. I John 1:1-2 and I John 1:9 assure me that God forgives my sins.
  4. In the Gospels, Jesus consistently gives people another chance, and shows how they are loved and valued by God.  In his loving forgiveness, there is also the admonition:  ”Don’t do it again.”

At times I took shortcuts that seemed right at the time, but weren’t.  I’ve made decisions out of selfish motives.  I took the easy way because I didn’t want to take the hard way.  I did dumb things, not thinking about consequences.  These things are part of being human and being a sinner.  I also believe that many times, I tried to make the best decisions with what I knew at the time.

At times, the light of my thinking and remembering these things is like the shadow of a flash light, illuminating a small area, and creating large, threatening shadows.  It is easy for my pondering to lead me to a place where I diminish God’s power and love for my life, and give it more power than God. I can’t undo. I can’t redo.

I believe that the light on my reflecting should be the light of the radiant forgiving love of God in Christ, dispelling shadows, bringing clarity, and offering new life.  I can do one of two things.  I can sit and stew in memories or move forward.  I believe God wants me, and all of us to move forward.  Sometimes moving forward is easy.  At other times, it’s like pulling a skiff across a mud flat with a wet rope.  Even then, the bigger set of hands pulling with yours is God’s.  His hands don’t tire, weaken, slip or get blisters.

So my pondering serves as fuel for faith.  It creates substance for confession.  It is a reality check on my humanity with its strengths and limitations.  It strengthens my trust in God.  It  reminds me of my dependency on God.  At times, it brings me to my knees.  It is a source of praise and thanksgiving to God. It becomes a course correction in life. 

The key to preventing our reflecting on the past from becoming emotional and psychological prison cell, keeping us from living into God’s future is to take God at his word.  Trust God to keep hisBeach Fishing.Truck.rod_edited-1 promises.  Let any sorrow be a Godly sorrow that leads to repentance, or a commitment to change with God’s help.  Let God work the past to create a future that brings him glory.

One last thought on confession.  There is an illustration attributed to Corrie ten Boom, based on Micah 7:19 that goes something like this.  God has taken our sins, gathered them up into a ball, and thrown it out into the depths of the sea.  He has posted a sign saying, “NO FISHING”. 

In my next post, figuring out what’s next.

Blessings

Bill

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Refitting Your Life for Retirement

IMG_0002In my last post, I spoke of discretionary time as being God’s gift to us in retirement.  In this, and the next several posts, I want to explore the “how” of fully enjoying this gift.  To be clear, for me, this is like a flower beginning to bloom. I see only a few petals now, but more are coming.  These posts are but some of the petals in bloom.

Every year, our GPS has to be connected to its maker and be updated with new routes, attractions, locations, restaurants, etc.  Moving into retirement is like this.  You update your heart, mind, soul, habits and expectations.  It’s called, “transitioning into new life.”

My starting point has been adjusting to both subtle and not so subtle changes in routine and lifestyle.  Here are some of the things I have noticed:

  1.  Having been in a vocation that involved me with people daily, with phone calls, texts, emails and people contacts.  Now, as I write this, the only phone calls in the last 2 days have been from my wife, a friend, and a wrong number.  Emails are from family, friends, and notices of bills paid on line.  Even spam has dropped off.  I have fewer people contacts (no, I’m not becoming a recluse just fewer meetings and appointments).  I have more silence in my life.
  2. My schedule and daily routine have been radically simplified.  With a few exceptions, I really don’t have to “be” anywhere at a given time.  I can tinker, putter, or nap (list not exhaustive).
  3. I have more time for inward focusing.  I don’t mean becoming self-absorbed, but reflecting, pondering, and exploring.  I am finding more time and a particular place on the patio each day.
  4. I am reflecting on my pre-retired life-what I did well; what I didn’t; how I would redo things; and how can I put my life experience to full use in my retirement.
  5. I am finding that I have had a sense of disconnect with colleagues and friends.  Since my schedule does not automatically put me in touch with them, I have to take more responsibility for maintaining contacts and relationships.   Now, I won’t automatically see so and so tomorrow, or next week.  We have to plan to get together.  The result is that getting together is more by invite than schedule.  In retirement, relationships don’t have to be lost.  The ways of nurturing them simply change, becoming less automatic and more intentional.
  6. I find myself having more in common with my friends who are retired. 
  7. On some practical notes, since I don’t drive as much, I use less gas, and spend less on my truck; I don’t have vestment laundry bills, and being retired and 62, I get some automatic discounts for “seniors”.  There are some savings.  I do wince when a server tells me that they are giving me the “senior” size or price.  Is it that noticeable?  I guess it is the grey hair.

I can either see this as a loss, loss of meaning, familiarity, and purposeful living; or I can see it as new opportunity.  I can view it as starting over and facing it with dread; or I can view it as an adventurous transition time.  New doesn’t have to be scary.

I am confident that God is continuing to work in and through my life.  One thing I have come to realize is that I have to take a lot more responsibility for adjusting and finding new ways adapt to the changes.  Just as I was responsible for my pre-retirement life.  I am responsible for my retirement life.  It’s interesting and fun.

The bottom line is that in any retirement, that which is familiar and routine changes.  It’s not bad.  It’s change.  Yes at times, it can be difficult and perplexing.  Sometimes, exciting.  Opt in for the exciting.

In my next post, I want to spend some time pondering my number 4 above with some of its joys and risks.  

Blessings

Bill

 

 

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