Tag Archives: Potter

Broken Down and Built Up Again

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.
Jeremiah 18:1-4 (NIV)

Life is a series of screw ups. Let’s face it. I like to project an image of having it all together. I’ve spent most of my life thinking that there’s some acceptable level of life perfection out there (that everyone else seemingly has) while I quietly haplessly flail my appendages behind a series  of nicely painted stage flats. I’ve come to the conclusion along the journey that the real illusion is thinking that any one is any different than me. God’s Message is perfectly clear (in several different places) on this count:

  • No temptation has seized you except what is common to all
  • There’s no one righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins.”
  • All have sinned and fall short.”
  • Whoever keeps the whole law and stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”

I’ve always loved the word picture God gave Jeremiah in today’s chapter. He tells Jeremiah to throw on his sandals because he was going on field trip. They end up at the house of the local potter who was working at his wheel. If you’ve ever tried your hand at a potter’s wheel you know how tricky it is. It looks so deceptively easy, but one slight miscue and the whole pot falls apart in your hands and you’re starting again from scratch.

I had a friend one time who was walking with me through a terribly difficult stretch of my life journey. I went through a litany of all the things that had gone wrong in my life, the mistakes I’d made, the consequences I was facing, and the stresses that felt as if they were tearing me apart. My friend smiled at me warmly and quietly observed that my life was breaking down, being “deconstructed” so that God could remake it like a Potter reworking the marred mess of clay in His hands.

It’s a good thing to have wise companions walking alongside you on your journey.

I find myself so drawn to this notion of the “one-and-done” transformation, the miraculous touch leading to a perfect ending, or God suddenly drawing my number in the Life lottery and suddenly everything is as it should be.

I’ve come to observe that the truth is a lot earthier, more substantive and repetitive. The word picture of the Potter and the clay is not a “once in a lifetime” deal. Rather, I find that life is a constant process of being broken down and rebuilt. My job is to allow Living Water to make me more pliable in the Potter’s hand, to release myself to the steady flow of the wheel spinning, to allow myself to be molded at the Potter’s touch; To stop resisting, even when life breaks me down again and the process starts all over.

Have a good week, friends. Here’s to being pliable.

Lessons from Pottery Class


Yet you, Lord, are our Father.
    We are the clay, you are the potter;
    we are all the work of your hand.
Isaiah 64:8 (NIV)

When our daughter was young she wanted to take a pottery class, so I signed us up for some father/daughter time learning to work clay. We journeyed one night a week to a pottery studio in an old warehouse space in Des Moines and proceeded to get our hands dirty. We didn’t produce anything and anyone would confuse with fine art. I made a cigar ash tray for a friend who, I believe, promptly threw it away. Taylor made clay replicas of a Taco John’s taco and an order of potato ole’s.

During our class we got to try our hand at the spinning wheel. Anyone who has tried it know that it is much more difficult than it looks. The clay is slippery and unpredictable. I often felt as if the clay itself had a mind of its own and was working against me. It collapses on you or falls apart in your hands. The slightest unintended movement reaps disastrous, unintended consequences. Watch even the best of potters at work and you’ll see them work the same lump of clay over and over and over again until they get the desired result.

In today’s chapter God speaks through the ancient prophet Isaiah and uses the metaphor of the potter and the clay. We are clay being fashioned by a Master at work. We each are being molded, moved, and squeezed by the Potter into our intended shape, form and purpose. We just might break, only to be reduced back to a lump so the process of becoming our intended work of functional art can begin anew.

This morning I am reminded of an old hymn. We used to sing it a lot on Sunday mornings when I was growing up. Its verses riff off Isaiah’s metaphor pretty well…

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.

Neither my daughter nor I actively pursued pottery after our class. Still, it was a fun experience together. The most important things I learned were less about art or craft and more about the things of the Spirit. Clay. That’s me. That’s my life. Dirty, messy, lumpy, and often quite wonky on the wheel. To be better clay — flexible, malleable, and yielding appropriately to the slightest of the Potter’s intentional touches. That’s my pursuit.


The Potter, The Steward, and Two Unique Pots

Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?
Romans 9:21 (NIV)

On Sunday we had the increasingly rare pleasure of having both Taylor and Madison with us at the same time. The opportunities for the four of us to be together as family are increasingly spread out. It has happened only once or twice a year during the girls college and graduate school sojourns.

A conversation came up yesterday as Maddy Kate and I visited with my folks. “Every mother wants her grown children to live nearby,” it was observed. While I acknowledge that natural desire, I thought to myself that I have always desired for our girls to live wherever God would lead them. I want them to live out their respective roles in the Great Story. I have given up my right to expect that they might keep close to home.

With Taylor out of grad school and Madison done with her bachelor’s degree, it has been fascinating to watch their respective roads emerge. It always amazes me how different children from the same household can be. Taylor will soon enter communal living full time, offering much of her time and energy to service as she pursues a creative project with only speculative income potential. Madison, currently a flight attendant, is avidly pursing a career in corporate sales. I don’t see either of those paths leading back to Pella. C’est la vie.

I do not think either daughter is right or wrong, good or bad, wise or foolish. Taylor’s altruistic path does not make Madison’s path greedy. Madison’s path, which will afford more financial security, does not make Taylor’s path foolhardy. These two lumps of clay are each actively pursuing the purposes of the Potter, who has fashioned them into two very different vessels. Both are beautiful. Both are useful. Both have particular uses the other does not have. Both have a role in the Great story, albeit very different roles.

Today I am once again contemplating the role of parenting with a certain amount of hindsight. To try to control my child’s path and have them choose a path of my self-centered desire is to place myself in God’s shoes and presume omniscience. I’ve discovered that the Creator wears an infinitely larger size shoe than I do. Whenever I try to step into them I always trip over myself in both comic and tragic ways.

God has made me a steward of my children, not their master. My role has been to teach them to love and pursue God. If I accomplish my role, they will each be led to their purposed, respective paths. Like every other aspect of our life journey, this requires faith, just as Jesus said it would.


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Chapter-a-Day Ezra 6

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With great joy they celebrated the Feast of Unraised Bread for seven days. God had plunged them into a sea of joy; he had changed the mind of the king of Assyria to back them in rebuilding The Temple of God, the God of IsraelEzra 6:22 (MSG)

When I was a kid, my dad always had the radio on. It was as a kid that I learned to appreciate an old radio news man and commentator named Paul Harvey. In the morning and at noon, Harvey would offer his own special take on the day’s news. In the afternoon, however, that distinctive voice pouring out of the radio would share a unique biographical story with a twist at the end that revealed the mysterious person he was talking about. Harvey called it The Rest of the Story, and I always listened intently to see if I could figure out the identity of the mysterious figure he was talking about.

I thought about The Rest of the Story as I read today’s chapter. At the beginning of 2011, we were journeying through the book of Jeremiah’s prophesies and the “weeping” prophet was warning the people of Jerusalem that they’d better straighten up or God was going to send the King of Babylon to take them into exile. In Jeremiah 18 I pulled out this verse for our chapter-a-day:

So I went to the potter’s house, and sure enough, the potter was there, working away at his wheel. Whenever the pot the potter was working on turned out badly, as sometimes happens when you are working with clay, the potter would simply start over and use the same clay to make another pot. Jeremiah 18:3-4 (MSG)

Almost a year has passed. And now, at the end of 2011, we read “the rest of the story.” The people refused to listen to Jeremiah so God, the Potter, crushed the marred pot he’d been working on. The Babylonians swept into Jerusalem and flattened the city, along with Solomon’s temple, like a lump of clay on the potter’s wheel. The people of Israel were taken into exile where they languished for many years.

Then, miraculously, a new king emerges who sends a remnent of Israelites back to Jerusalem to begin rebuilding the city and the temple. The Potter is back at work, redeeming the lump of clay which had been broken, and making it into something new for His purpose. The people are plunged into a sea of joy as they begin again their worship in the new temple in Jerusalem.

As I look back over the years, I see how God is writing “The Rest of the Story” in my own life. Broken and marred, I have (on multiple occasions, actually) felt life falling in like the walls of that clay pot on the Potter’s wheel. Though it felt like some kind of tragic end in the moment, God was no more finished with me than He was finished with the Israelites stuck in exile. God is a God of redemption. God is a God of hope.

He’s not finished with me yet.

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Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 64

Red and yellow, black and white. Still, God, you are our Father.
   We're the clay and you're our potter:
   All of us are what you made us
. Isaiah 64:8 (MSG)

Many years ago, I signed my daughter and I up for a pottery class at the Des Moines Art Center. Once a week we would drive downtown to their pottery shop and learn to make things out of clay. It was a blast gettting our hands dirty, experimenting, and seeing all of the cool stuff that more experienced and talented artists had made. You can make almost anything with clay. Taylor made a taco and some potato ole's (non-edible, of course, but they looked really cool).

God is so infinitely creative. He makes such an interesting mix of amazing, beautiful people. It's easy to forget that the guy driving slow in the left lane is one of God's unique creations. That wenchy woman in the check out line is molded in God's image too. God didn't create the man to be a poor driver or mold that woman to have a wenchy attitude. Nevertheless, they are God's creation just like me. The least I can do is treat God's handiwork with a little deference.

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