Vessels of Earth

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” – 2 Corinthians 4:7

For the past week I’ve been physically ill and have felt so limited.  My regular schedule already leaves me feeling, from day to day, that I can never accomplish everything that needs to be done.  My desk hardly ever sees the light of day, and the back burner never goes out.  Then, when you add illness on top of that, it is a recipe for feeling even less capable.  My illness has affected my throat and it is painful to swallow, let alone speak.  When you’re the pastor, not being able to speak makes you feel even more useless.  What good can come out of this?  How can being sick help me to do what God has called me to do?  Or what others depend upon me to do?

I’m reminded of Paul’s words to the Corinthians, “we have this treasure in earthen vessels…”  That is all we are, vessels of earth – of clay.  God has put the most wonderful, valuable, incredible treasure, not into vessels of fine gold or some other durable substance, but into frail, breakable, and unimpressive vessels of earth.  This was not a mistake on God’s part.  He purposely chose that we, who would carry the message of the Gospel, and know the riches of Christ, be nothing more than vessels made from the dust of this world.

For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.” – Psalm 103:14

Have you ever felt useless?  Have you ever felt incapable?  Have you ever thought that you’re not up to the task?  Have you ever wondered why God didn’t choose someone else more capable, or who seems to “have it all together?”  Well, you’re not alone in wondering, but there is an answer if you’ll accept it.  “…that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.”   God is not looking at our vessel the same as we do.  He does not expect our vessel to be impressive.  In fact, the less impressive our vessel is, the more impressed others can be with God instead of us.  It’s not our power, but His power that needs to be excellent.

Sometimes we just need reminders of what we are made of.  We are something He has formed and fashioned for His purposes.  Not every vessel will be the same size, the same shape, or for the same purpose.  However, every vessel has its purpose – not to be questioned by the vessel, but accepted by the vessel.  What matters is not what we want to be used to do, but how He chooses to use us.  Not what we can handle, but Whose hands we are in.  Not that we are trophies, but that we carry His treasure.  We are clay and it is futile – absolutely useless – to pretend we are anything more.  A reminder by illness or circumstances outside of our control are needed from time to time lest we forget the real source of excellency – the real power behind what it appears we do.  For our value is not determined by what we can do, but by the One who has chosen to use us earthen vessels.

Thanks for the reminder Paul!

And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9

Disastrous Disappointments

Everyone experiences disappointments in life. As long as men continue to set expectations, men will continue to be disappointed. It is not that expectations are wrong; God has expectations, and He too has been disappointed. 

When we consider the life of Jesus Christ, the Perfect, Holy, Sinless Son of God, He did not meet everyone’s expectations and thus many felt disappointment. 

Consider John the Baptist.

“Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples, And said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?” – Matthew 11:12-13

John had spent his time promoting Jesus Christ, building Him up before the people – in essence, building up people’s expectations for the coming Messiah.  Yet, John himself began to be disappointed that Jesus was allowing him to remain in prison.  It just didn’t seem right that someone, like John, who had been different for the cause of Christ, endured conflict with the Pharisees concerning Jesus, and spoke boldly for righteousness, would be left to rot in prison while the One Who, in his mind, was supposed to change all of that, seemed to have forgotten him in all of the attention He was receiving.  John felt a little forgotten, and a little disappointed. 

John sent his disciples to Jesus with a hint of a reminder that John was in prison, and if Jesus was truly Who John introduced Him to be, that He should make it known…and a good start would be to “get me out of jail!”

Jesus’ response may have even been disappointing to John the Baptist, because it would have revealed to John that he was putting expectations above truth and righteousness; his personal desires above the work Christ came to do.

“Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.  And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.” – Matthew 11:4-6

Jesus was doing exactly what He was supposed to be doing, and wonderful things were happening; just not for John.  John, like us, was disappointed because of his own personal condition.  The fact that other people were rejoicing in what the Chrsit was doing for them, didn’t comfort John while he was suffering.  It was the “but what about me?” disease that all of us with the sin nature have from time to time. 

John was suffering for doing right, and it didn’t seem right to him.  John the Baptist was a little disappointed.  But Jesus tried to help him with a blessing for those who would not allow their disappointment in Christ to become a reason to quit.  “And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.”

What a lesson for all of us when we are feeling disappointed. May we learn to consider whether we are upset because someone has actually done wrong, or simply because our personal expectations have not been met?

Jesus turned the conversation back to those He was with and spoke highly of John the Baptist, and even answered some of the concerns those with Him may have had concerning John the Baptist.

He challenged their expectations.

“And as they departed, Jesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind?  But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? behold, they that wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses.  But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet.  For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.  Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” – Matthew 11:7-11

Jesus realized that the people may begin to be disappointed with John the Baptist after this, and He questioned their expectations of him.  What did you “expect” to find in John?  Jesus had nothing but praise for John even though John was born of woman – he was flesh. We cannot set people, even our leaders, in such high expectation that when they disappoint us, “we” stumble.  It does not mean we have no expectations, but we must be realistic in our expectations.  We all have the ideal in our mind of “what should be,” but reality is not always going to match up with the utopia in our mind, and we need to be willing to get past our disappointments. 

It was part of the problem with the generation Jesus encountered, and that generation continues to resurface.

“But whereunto shall I liken this generation? It is like unto children sitting in the markets, and calling unto their fellows, And saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented.” – Matthew 11:16-17

We will always have those who call out, or express their disappointment, to those who do not perform in the way they expect them to.  The truth is, “nobody” is going to ever meet 100% of “your” expectations 100% of the time.  And this is why it doesn’t take much for people to so easily turn against those they once held in high esteem.  The longer we know someone, the more opportunity for them to disappoint us.  It is still true, “Hope deferred maketh the heart sick.” (Proverbs 13:12a).   The longer it takes for us to see our expectations become reality, the harder it is. We should not lose hope, because the rest of that verse states, “but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life.”

Jesus took this opportunity (or illustration) to give a great warning to those living in His time, that would, because of disappointment in Him, face destruction if they allowed their unmet expectations to keep them from accepting Him.

“Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not:  Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.  But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you.  And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.  But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee.” – Matthew 11:20-24

May we never lose our sense of, or our desire for, righteousness.  Righteousness is a high bar for all of us, one in which we all fall short except for the righteousness imputed to us by faith in Christ. May we allow ourselves to be disappointed in others, but move pass it as we must so often do with the disappointments we have for ourselves.  Don’t allow disappointment to become a stumbling block. Don’t miss all of the good that is there because of the area of unmet expectation that is also there.  

The truth is John, Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, even if He is not meeting your expectation at the moment.  Don’t forsake Him, just because you’re hurt or disappointed. Just focus on the good He is doing, even if it does not seem to be exactly what you would hope for, concerning yourself, right now.