Tag Archives: obedience

The Ultimate Alpha Dog–Jeremiah 18:6

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 18:6

id-10032215A few months ago, Penny and I procured a new dog, Beau or Bo–I’m not sure how we spelled it. Beau is a standard poodle, but before you start scoffing at the idea of a poodle, let’s be clear. A standard poodle is a cool dog. He’s about the height of a golden retriever, lean and athletic. We don’t keep his hair cut in that ridiculous poofy look at you see sometimes. Trust me–real poodles are great dogs.

But like any dog, Beau came into our home and tested the boundaries. He wanted to establish exactly where he stood in the grand scheme of things. Most of all, he wanted to establish that we weren’t the alpha dogs, the bosses of his pack. It took a while, but I think we have pretty much succeeded. Beau now cooperates and goes to his kennel at that word. He’ll mostly come when called, although he’s still terrified of Livie’s boyfriend Sam.

Dogs are wonderfully sensible. When they learn the hierarchy of things, they’ll live within it. If Spike is stronger than Fido, then Fido will mostly fall into line and yield to Spike’s leadership. People can be sensible in that way. That’s why we pull over when the police turn their lights on. We know they have the power and so we yield. That’s why we file our taxes every April, knowing that the IRS can make our lives miserable if we don’t.

However, we don’t always assume that the police or the IRS are right or all-powerful. I have argued successfully with the IRS on a couple of occasions. I’ve never gotten into a high-speed chase with the police, but there’s still time for that. Realistically, we only fight the power that we think we can overcome. We fight when we think they’re not really the alpha dog.

While you might beat the police or the IRS, you will not beat the ultimate alpha dog. When God asks Israel if he doesn’t have the power to overturn them like clay, he’s not really asking a question. He’s asking them to see the reality of it. What can God do with us? Anything He likes. Can we resist His will? Only as far as He allows.

If we cannot manage to behave like clay, yielding perfectly to the potter’s hands, perhaps we should at least try to be sensible like dogs.

Don’t Be An Egg–Jeremiah 18:3-4

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.–Jeremiah 18:3-4

id-10032215“All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again.” I’m not sure why Humpty Dumpty got up on that wall in the first place. He was, after all, an egg, but he did get on the wall. And being an egg, once Humpty was broken, he couldn’t be re-assembled. All Humpty Dumpty was good for at that point was a cautionary nursery rhyme–or perhaps a plate of scrambled eggs.

All too often, it seems to me, we look at life from a Humpty Dumpty perspective. Something bad happens and we feel that we’re doomed. And let’s be clear, life can, for a variety of reasons, not all of them our fault, drop some pretty egg-crushing events into our laps. Your marriage explodes. Your child dies. You find yourself a quadriplegic. You lose your job, your house, or your life savings. Bad news comes your way from your doctor, your plumber, or the IRS. If those or similar things have not reached you, then count yourself blessed and wait for next week. The Buddhists have this one thing right when they say, “Life is suffering.”

The problem, however, is that we think of ourselves as Humpty Dumpty, fragile little eggs that, once cracked, are forever ruined. But in Jeremiah’s analogy, we are clay. Clay can be endlessly worked and reshaped. In the hands of our Master Potter, our disastrous lives can be remade. What seemed like egg-crushing tragedy can be the first step in re-forming the very earth from which we were formed. Painful? Perhaps. Disorienting? Definitely. But how else can a mangled pile of clay be turned into a beautiful pot?

What then do we need to do? There’s a reason that God spoke to Jeremiah  about clay. Clay doesn’t have to do anything except yield itself to to the hands of the potter. The clay has no choice. We, of course, have a choice.

If we’re wise, we’ll not exercise that choice. Don’t be an egg; be clay.

Head to the Potter’s House–Jeremiah 18:1-2

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.”–Jeremiah 18:1-2

id-10032215Supposedly, the famous photographer Weegee, Arthur Fellig, when asked about the secret to taking stunning photos, shared this advice: “F/8 and be there.” The f/8 part of that, if you’re not a photographer, refers to the aperture setting on the camera. Frankly, I don’t think that the f/8 part was what Weegee meant to emphasize. Instead, he wanted to impress on his hearer the notion of being there.

Do you want to take a great picture of a sunrise in the mountains? You’re going to need to be in the mountains, ready to shoot, before the sun breaks the horizon. Do you want to get fabulous shots of wildlife? You can’t expect to step out of your minivan, snap a couple of exposures, and step back in. Good photos come from photographers who go to the trouble of being there and shooting lots of shots while they’re there.

I’m reminded of that today as I read about Jeremiah’s encounter with God. I have to admit that, had it been me, I’d have probably been saying, “What? Go to the potter’s house? But the Royals game is on! Can’t you just tell me here? Maybe I’ll go there tomorrow when it’s not raining. That’s okay, isn’t it?”

But to get the word of the Lord, Jeremiah had to do it on the Lord’s terms. He had to go to the potter’s house. Why? I don’t know, but what rational person argues with the creator and sustainer of the universe?

How often do we miss out on the messages and blessings of God because we resist going down to the potter’s house? We want things according to our own desires and our own conveniences and our own expectations. Perhaps the first step in allowing the potter to make a beautiful vessel of us is to acknowledge that we’re nothing but clay.

 

100% Perfect (Hebrews 5:9-10)

and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him  and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 5:9-10)

Looking in the mirror today, I couldn’t help but notice my lack of perfection. My hair is receding in uneven and undesirable directions. My belly is advancing over my belt. My eyes struggle to focus. I’m a bit of a wreck. My quest for perfection will have to wait until–oh, who am I kidding? It’s a lost cause.

As I read today’s verse, a continuation of the sentence in yesterday’s, I’m struck by something. Jesus, if I read this correctly, did not start out perfect. That’s not to say that he started out sinful and the worked his way to sinless. I don’t see that sort of thing ever happening. Instead, I think it means that he simply wasn’t perfect at the outset. Like a tiny green tomato on a vine, Jesus began as potentially perfect. He suffered in the wilderness, resisting temptation. He suffered undoubtedly before that. His temptation may have continued after the wilderness, although apparently Satan left him alone for a time.

When did Jesus become perfect? I’m not sure. If that verse, the one saying, “And with that piece of suffering Jesus officially became perfect,” apparently didn’t make any of the gospels. What we do know is that suffering led to obedience, which led to perfection, which made him the proper vessel for my salvation.

No amount of suffering or obedience can make me the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world, but, happily, that job has already been filled. In fact, no amount of suffering or obedience will ever perfect me, but that’s okay.

Even as my body betrays the passage of years and my poor eating habits, my spirit, through suffering and obedience can become, if not perfect, less imperfect. Once again, if such a thing was desirable for Jesus, then it’s good for me as well. Perhaps tomorrow, as I look into the mirror, I can see myself as not better looking but a bit closer to perfect than what I saw today.

Suffering for Supper (Hebrews 5:8)

Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered (Hebrews 5:8)

I’ve been suffering today. There’s been food sitting in front of me pretty much from the rising of the sun to the setting of the same. Breakfast, at the Hampton Inn in Goodlettsville, Tennessee, included omelets and muffins. Good stuff. Lunch was taken at Chick fil-A. For dinner, we had oodles of pizza and then ice cream at the Baskin Robbins next door. In between, lest we waste away, we had a steady availability of candy and shortcake.

Okay, that wasn’t really suffering. In fact it wasn’t suffering at all. Perhaps if I had eaten the fruit for breakfast, the salad for lunch, and a couple of slices of cheese pizza at dinner, I might have been both sensible and (to a degree) suffering.

I’d never really thought of it before looking at today’s verse, but it’s really on in suffering that we’re being obedience. Could I claim to be obedient when my host tonight said, “Get some ice cream, Mark”? I followed his direction, but in doing so I simply did what I wanted. Big deal.

We learn obedience when we do what does not come naturally, what chafes against the sinful spirit. We learn obedience when we roll out of bed at an unkind hour, deprive the body of the food that it would love to ingest, or read scripture rather than watching NCIS.

How, precisely, did Jesus suffer? Beyond the cross, I’m not entirely sure, but I don’t believe that the author of Hebrews referred here only to those eighteen hours. Perhaps Jesus suffered in rising at hours that his body resisted. Perhaps he suffered each time he had to smell the stench of life in first century Judea.

I don’t know that it matters. He suffered and learned obedience. If Jesus needed that learning, how much more do I need it?