The Potter and The Prophet

potterElisha added some water to the clay in his bowl. On these dry days the clay thickens so fast sometimes. Even though he likes the sunny weather, it did make his work a little harder.

“Elohim, it would be good if you gave me some clouds this afternoon.”

No clouds came.

Well, no man could order Yahweh around anyway.

Elisha was a sixth generation potter and his family had a reputation of excellence throughout Judah. The mark of his family meant that the pot was a good one. Elisha knew that a reputation like that was hard to get and easy to lose, so he jealously guarded it. Rachael often told him he was too picky with his pottery and that they could make more money if he wasn’t so particular.

But being particular was his way. His father had been meticulous with his pots and had demanded that excellence from Elisha from a very early age. The tradition had stuck and now Elisha was every bit as hard on his own sons to do good work.

He lifted the lump of clay out and set it on the pottery wheel. Wait, too little. It is easy to take some away but adding more is harder. He took another fistful of clay and added it to the lump.

The men of Jerusalem don’t respect the difficulty of pottery. They respect a warrior or priest or even a farmer, but they don’t give much respect to a potter. They think it is easy unless they get a flawed pot and suddenly a potter’s job is important. Well, at least important enough to chide him for his failure.

Elisha wasn’t chided often. He was much harsher with himself than any other man could be of him. He took very personal responsibility for the clay in front of him. The clay was a representation of him. If communicated what sort of man he was. Sometimes he would see his own work in the marketplace or the temple and would smile. His work was reflecting him well.

Not everyone could spot a good piece of work, but Elisha could. The best work really was his.

As he worked the clay deftly with practiced fingers, it slipped smoothly into whatever shape he wanted. Maybe he should make a large bowl now. Yes, this lump of clay would make a fine bowl.

A sound in front of him awoke him from his reverie.

“Good morning Elisha.”

Elisha jumped slightly and nearly marred his work. Looking up he saw Jeremiah the Priest.

“Good morning Jeremiah,” he said, trying to look unsurprised, “Does the temple require some pottery today?”

“No, your work is good and all of your bowls and water vessels seem to last forever. Elohim truly blesses your work.” Jeremiah said, looking somewhat distracted.

“How can I help you Rabbi?”

“Well,” he said with some obvious discomfort, “I have a strange request for you. Would you permit me to watch you work today? I have a special assignment and I’m told you can help me.”

Special assignment? What is he talking about? Elisha wondered to himself if maybe Jeremiah was trying to spy for one of Elisha’s many competitors. They were always trying to learn his secrets. But Jeremiah had been a friend for years and as a priest, he had no reason to be a spy. Elohim knows that Jeremiah has enough enemies as it is. He doesn’t need more.

Elisha pondered whether he could even tell a priest ,”No.” The temple was an important customer of his and also he felt like his offering to Yahweh was his fine craftmanship that is used in worship. Besides, Jeremiah would never violate a trust like that. He is a Yahweh fearing man.

“Yes, Rabbi, you may stay and watch. Please don’t speak while I work. I need to concentrate.”

Jeremiah went to sit to Elisha’s right side and sat to watch him work. Elisha glanced over at how close he was sitting to a water jar that was almost ready to be placed in the oven. This was a little too close for Elisha’s comfort, but he didn’t say anything.

With everything still again, Elisha began to work. The soft smooth clay slipping gently over his fingers. The muddy smell that always permeated his shop filled Elisha’s nostrils. He worked the clay into a cylinder and willed it to become a bowl. His hands knew how to work as Elisha delighted in the work. When Yahweh made the world, this must have been how he felt. The firmament giving in before his magnificent fingers and forming the ground.

It was this feeling of being a creator that filled Elisha with the most delight. What a privilege to be able to take something as meaningless as dirt and to use the skill given by Yahweh to turn it into something useful, even something beautiful. It was not lost on Elisha that man was made from dirt too. What a privilege.

Wait, what’s that? Something hard had brushed by Elisha’s thumb. He waited a moment.

There it is again. There is a small rock in this clay!

Anger and frustration filled Elisha. He drove his pointer finger into the clay and snatched the offending stone out. Pinched between his two fingers, he hurled the stone out the open doorway. Looking down at the deformed bowl with a deep gouge, he grabbed the whole lump and lifted it and smashed it onto the spinning wheel.

It was then that he realized he had lost his temper right in front of a priest, a prophet no less.

Does Yahweh punish those who lose their temper in front of a prophet?

Elisha looked sheepishly at Jeremiah. The prophet was sitting quietly, as if expecting something else to happen. He looked almost impatient.

“It’s fine Elisha. Please, keep going.”

The old man began to work with the lump of clay again. How had he let this happen? He knew better than to have a stone in his clay. Maybe he was losing his touch. Maybe it was time for him to pass the business onto his sons.

While he thought his hand began to work. This time it was not a bowl, but a water jar he would make. He had a rule that if he had to start over, then he would make that clay into something truly special. As if redeeming the clay made it more valuable, more precious.

Yes, this will be a lovely water jar. I will inscribe flowers into it. It will be unique and a delight to the eyes.

“Elisha, tell me something. Why is it that you were angry?”

“Rabbi, I am ashamed to have done that in front of you.”

Jeremiah waved the apology aside and indicated for Elisha to answer the question.

“Well, Rabbi, I love the pottery. It is so beautiful. This lump of clay is not beautiful but my vision for it is exceedingly lovely. If it resists me, I become angry because it should do as I say. I know what it can be and what it should do, it should submit to me. I know it is silly. The clay is just dirt, but I feel like it is either working with me to become something wonderful or working against me to become something ugly.”

“Why didn’t you throw that clay away?” Jeremiah asked.

“I have a rule Rabbi, that if I have to rework clay, I make it into something very special. Somehow redeeming it makes it very special. My best works, the ones that truly delight my soul, are the ones that I have broken and remade. Most of the works in the temple are remade. They stand as a testament to my failure and also to my success.”

While he spoke, Elisha’s hands finished a truly remarkable water jar. It was difficult to say why it was special, but to anyone who saw it, it clearly was. Somehow the love and passion Elisha felt drifted into his fingers and into the clay.

Jeremiah suddenly sat more upright, almost as if he were at attention. His gaze was distant, as if he were listening to another far away voice.

“Rabbi, I…” but Jeremiah silenced Elisha with a waved of his hand.

“Thank you Elisha, I must go at once” the prophet said hastily.

With that, Jeremiah bolted out the door. The bewildered old man was left with his lovely water jar.

“Well, just leave then” Elisha muttered. He picked up the water jar and placed it gently on the shelf to dry. He preferred to be alone with the pottery anyway.

-Chip

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do.

Then the word of the Lord came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. Jeremiah 18:1-5

The image above is courtesy of Walt Stoneburner and is used with permission

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Gifts from My Father

dad

My Dad

As Father’s Day approaches, many of us are considering what to give our fathers. Amazon is convinced I should buy him a new Fire TV setup (I haven’t had the heart to tell them he wouldn’t want it). Personalization Mall really feels like he needs a personalized tie and Best Buy believes I don’t love him unless I get him a laptop.

As a father myself, I have come to the conviction that Father’s Day should be all the more about what we as fathers can do to serve our wives, our children, and our community. It is good to celebrate fatherhood and fathers. There are few more daunting tasks than to be a good father.

I did not buy my dad a Father’s Day present, as is my custom. It is not a sign of ingratitude, I’ve never been much on giving gifts (sorry Amazon). In many ways, this is not as much a celebration of what I can do for my father and more of a memorial for what he has done for me. This Father’s Day, let’s take a walk back and remember what I have been given by my father.

His Work Ethic

My dad did something truly amazing. Superman may be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, but my dad did something even better. He got up early every morning and trudged to a job he didn’t like because he loved us. Dad worked for years with difficult people and frustrating demands. He rarely complained to us, but I know the toll that took on him.

That sort of work ethic is commendable, even excellent. I strive to live up to that. Thank you dad for that gift.

His Love of Learning

One of dad’s better kept secrets is his deep intelligence. He reads more than anyone I know. One of the jokes from our childhood is how rich we would be if dad had just been willing to go on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire (answer: we would have been millionaires). He introduced me to some of the greatest authors out there including C. S. Lewis, Edgar Allen Poe, Rudyard Kipling, Arthur C. Clark, H. G. Wells, and many more. I am a little bitter that I had to find The Lord of the Rings on my own, but I have since forgiven him.

In addition, he was able to speak intelligently on most topics in science and in particular space. Dad always had a secret dream of being an astronaut. He even applied to be the teacher on the Challenger Mission in 1986. Being that it blew up on lift-off, I am glad he didn’t win.

To this day, I still call dad and we chat about science and history and whatever is on our minds. Thanks dad.

His Love of Family

The classic Easop’s Fable of The Tortoise and the Hare ends with the mantra, “Slow and steady wins the race.” In that case, dad won. You will never find my dad creating a viral video where he break-dances or sings some Sinatra to my mom. He is not a flashy guy. A little uncomfortable in crowds, I doubt many of you know him the way we do.

Dad’s unwavering, determined, firm, and emphatic dedication to my mom is legendary. He is truly in love with her. He extends that dedication to us kids. Daily I am challenged to love my family to be faithful to them like that.

Thank you dad.

His Love of God

Many mornings I would wake up and find my dad sitting and reading his Bible. He was always conversant about any biblical topic I could bring up. Far from being an intellectual snob, he never once treated a question of mine as stupid (though some of them were, in fact, stupid). Certainly I was overwhelming to him at times, but he was always respectful with me.

The patience and dedication of God showed through in his life. The challenge has been laid to me to give to my family in the same way.

Thank you dad.

For Being My Dad

This Father’s Day I don’t want to celebrate what I can give my dad but rather to celebrate what I have been given from my dad. The debt I owe is beyond repayment, but being my dad, he has always told me to pay it by caring for my own children well. For the rest of my life, the work he did for me will, by the goodness of God, echo for a thousand generations to come.

One day, my dad will stand in Heaven. There will be a crowd there but dad will be off to the side. He never really liked crowds. He will see 10,000 men and women walking by who will each and every one will owe him deeply for the sacrifices he made. Generation after generation of those who will now know that pains, trials, and joys he experienced to bring them to Heaven as well. They will know because dad’s Father in Heaven will have told them. You see, He promised to exalt the humble.

These are the gifts from my father.

-Chip

Make Her Glad You’re Home

3473338897_889e375ae0_oI sit in the car after a hard day’s work. The engine turns off and the interior light blinks on. Looking into the passenger seat, I pull up the mental energy to head into the house.

I’ve read the books. I know what to expect. My wife is just now pulling a delicious home-cooked meal from the oven. The children are playing thoughtfully and respectfully in the living room. My wife comes over to me and, with glowing affection, gives me a kiss and asks about my day. She looks radiant having just taken some time to freshen up.

Then cold, hard reality sets in. My real wife in my real house caring for my real children. She has made the hard decision to stay at home and home-school our kids. She doesn’t work outside the home even though she excels in the working world. She uses her tremendous gifts to care for and raise our children well. I am very grateful.

But with that gratitude, I better mix in some understanding. She has been working since the kids got up at 7 AM. No real breaks and always on call. With my four kids, she is essentially running a day-care (except she doesn’t get off at 5 PM). In addition, she has managerial functions of acquiring and delivering food for this hoard of little mouths. She is handling deliveries of mail and supplies and paying the bills. She then also coordinates the frequent home maintenance and repairmen who come and go.

And she often packs my lunch in the morning.

Far from the books that have so many recommendations for her about how she should take care of me when I go through the door, maybe I should consider how I should care for her.

Many men, including this man, feel like once we’ve worked hard all day, we are entitled to a little rest and relaxation at the end of the day. For that matter, I’m entitled to some good sex as well. I’ve worked hard. I deserve it.

But this attitude is not biblical at all. The oft-quote sections of scripture speaking to men never explain what I can expect from her. Far from it, every time the Bible talks to me, it reminds me of what I should be doing for her.

It’s called servanthood.

Loving my wife as I love myself means that as I sit in the quiet of my still car, I need to be aware that she is tired too. She has been working harder than I have in a poorly defined job without the accolades of employment. The hard-working employee gets a pat on the back from his boss. The hard-working homemaker gets the occasional dirty look at the grocery store and the periodic blog post reminding her that she is a second-class woman.

Her job is harder than mine.

Despite the books reminding me that my wife should greet me at the door with a smile, a warm hug, an understanding ear, and a hot meal, I am the chief servant. The question I should ask is what can I do for her. Far from demanding that she act glad to see me, maybe I should care so well for her that she will be glad to see me. I don’t need to see how much I can take from my family, but how much I can give.

As the daddy of four little people, it is completely unrealistic that my wife will be refreshed and thrilled to see me at dinner time. She will be at her most harried. But, rather than think of how terrible it is that God made things this way, what if this is an opportunity? You see, I can be the hero. What if I told her she could take a break and I cooked dinner? What if this is a chance to haul the kids all into a bath? What if I could help her and not drain her?

So, when I step out of that car, I will walk through that door not asking what she can do for me. No, I will walk into that house and help where I can. If I do this right, maybe she will actually be really glad to see me.

And sex, hopefully nice sex afterwards.

-Chip

Photo by Tiffany Terry and used with permission

Valentine’s Day: An Opportunity to Fail

dreamstimefree_163036Guys, you know what I’m talking about.

She has this all planned out. She has been planning her Valentine’s days since she was a little girl. The day begins with a full breakfast cooked to perfection. You leave for work with a look of gentle sadness in your eyes, knowing that you are leaving the gems of your life behind. She is pleasantly surprised to find a little love note in her purse from you. Yes, you did it again, a poem hand written by you that is perfectly in tune with her every heartbeat. She sighs gently to herself that she is the luckiest girl in the world.

You send her thoughtful texts from work reminding her that you know she is the most beautiful thing that God ever created. You instruct her to dress in something formal because there is a surprise date this evening to somewhere special. Right as she is finding the right dress, the doorbell rings. She answers it to find a delivery of the largest bouquet of roses she has ever seen. You sent a dozen for every year you’ve been married.

You arrive home looking fresh and relaxed after another day of killing it professionally. She is wholly secure in her financial future because of your great work ethic and careful planning just in case the worst happens. She looks radiant in her dress. You take one of the roses from the bouquet and with a deft hand you make a beautiful corsage on the spot that goes perfectly with her dress. You walk to the car holding hands as you drive to her favorite restaurant.

She is so surprised when the waiter beings you to a private table. You order for yourself and then show how carefully you have been studying her all these years by ordering what she would like as well. You check with her to be sure, but you were exactly right. As you sip champagne together you reminisce over all the great times you have had over the years. You tell her that when God made the world, he made her just right to be the perfect match for you.

You drive home holding hands in the car. When you arrive, you hurry over and open her door. When you go inside, you dim the lights and turn on her favorite romantic music. As you take her in your arms, she breaths a gentle prayer thanking God for such a wonderful husband. As the evening progresses, well, let’s just say it went well from there.

Not intimidating at all, right?

The real you wakes up on February 14th, nearly forgets to shave, hurries to work. Yells at the dog on the way out. Has a very stressful day at work. Rushes home and decides to fix that leaky faucet in the basement. After a long and exhausting day your head hits the pillow and you look into your dear wife’s eyes. Those hurt, angry eyes.

Crap, you forgot again. At least you weren’t away fishing this year.

None of us guys can live up to the Hallmark commercial. She won’t smile as big in real life as the girl in the Kay Jewelers commercial did. The fact is that only one word describes Valentines Day.

Intimidation!

We aren’t up to this. If she just liked sports more this would be easy. But no, she has dreams of romance and kindness. Less beer and more wine. What is a guy to do?

You have a couple of options. The worst one is to ignore the day. Sure it’s scary, but I promise she knows it’s coming. If you forget/ignore the day, she won’t. Minimal effort really is worth more than no effort at all.

Nearly as bad is a passing mention. “Happy Valentine’s Day honey” with a kiss on the cheek. She has dreams of being romanced and a simple well-wish will not cut it. You need to do more.

Some men fall into the trap of thinking this is about money. If you spend sufficient funds on flowers, chocolate, and a cute night gown (let’s face it, the night gown is a gift for you). To be sure, money helps. Particularly if you are a tight-wad or gifts are her thing. But let’s not pretend that money is honoring and showing her that you prize her. Money spent is only as good as it shows her that she is precious to you.

So let me show you the most excellent way. Demonstrate she is precious to you the other 364 days of the year.

I was recently discussing with my wife an idea I read in the book Practicing Affirmation by Sam Crabtree. Every day, he writes a note on the 3×5 card to his wife affirming her in some way. She loves these notes so much that she has shoe boxes full of them from many years of notes. Even when he travels, he leaves prewritten notes for her.

My wifes’ response was priceless. “I can’t imagine a woman who wouldn’t love that.”

Hint taken.

As of last week, I have written a 3×5 card every day I work. My friends, this works. It is good for her to read these notes but it is also very good for me to write them. It is good to be reminded about the things I love about her. It is not that we don’t fight, but it created a very affirming atmosphere for us to fight in. It has been so good that I will be writing one to each of my children once a week.

Gentlemen, the best way to love your wives is not to show her you care one day a year with a glorious and romantic evening. She would much rather you did a few little things the other 364 days. If we have done well, Valentines day will be the culmination of a previous year’s work. It doesn’t help me much if God loves me on Sunday but has no help for Monday. Your wife needs you to love her well the rest of the year so that you can give her a single rose on Valentine’s Day, but she knows that rose is from a man who deeply loves and affirms her.

Will this solve all your problem, not by a long shot. Loving is hard. But if all loving has this kind of payoff, then loving her well is wonderful indeed.

Now go tell that woman specifically what you love about her.

-Chip