The_Potter_And_The_Clay_UCG

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					Sermon Transcript — February 4, 2006

The Potter and the Clay
by Mr. Lyle Welty
When Job was going through his most serious trial, he was told, "There is no other teacher like
God". Throughout the Bible God teaches us many important lessons and principles by using the
familiar, common ordinary teaching tools, things that are around us that we see and handle. He
uses things like seeds and weeds, and soil and trees, and leavening, and weddings and grape
vines, to teach us valuable, important spiritual lessons.
We recognize, of course, that we have a lot to learn, and God being the masterful teacher that He
is, uses very clever, interesting but effective tools, to teach us those lessons so we can understand
them, but also so that we can remember them and apply them.
Turn with me, if you will, to I Peter, Chapter 5. We'll see a very important but a difficult lesson
that every Christian, everyone of us needs to learn, as we go through our Christian experience. I
Peter, Chapter 5, beginning in verse 5, we'll go, actually halfway through the verse (the second
half of the verse is the part that I'm focusing primarily on). Peter's quoting from the Book of
Proverbs.
I Peter 5:5: It says, "God resists the proud" — we're going to stop there for a moment so we can
understand a little bit of what God is saying. Who is it that you resist? Are there people like
"Pushy Salespeople, or Telemarketers" that you just resist — you just put up a barrier and a wall,
and you just kind of distance yourself from them, because the attitude, or the approach is perhaps
offensive to you. Well, God say He opposes, He sets Himself against those who are proud, but
He gives grace, meaning favor and blessings, and He delights in those who are humble.
God is saying, "Remember that I watch your attitude; I watch how you treat people, and I learn
to deal with you accordingly." And God does watch the way we deal with others; He monitors
our attitude very carefully. Notice:
Verse 6: "Therefore, humble yourselves under the Mighty Hand of God so that He may exalt you
in due time."
Now I imagine we easily understand the second half of that verse, the part that talks about
"exalting us in due time", and certainly the final and fullest fulfillment of that would be when
Christ returns, that we will be resurrected and changed, in a moment, in a twinkling of an eye,
and this physical body will be changed to spirit. And all that involves, as far as the spirit body
and eternal life, more than we can even understand at this point.
But what about the "humbling ourselves under the Mighty Hand of God", part? It's obvious it's
something we should be actively and willingly doing. What does it mean? How do we humble
ourselves under the Mighty Hand of God? Are we doing it? And how are we doing it?
To help us answer those questions, in the sermon today I'd like to review one of the examples of
ordinary life from the Bible, a tool that God uses us to teach. In particular, the imagery we're
going to be looking at today is something that God refers to many times throughout the Bible,
and it's something I think we can relate to. It's the example of the Potter and the Clay. The
Potter's referring to God, and the Clay's referring to the people that God is working with.
Let's begin this study in Jeremiah, Chapter 18, Verse 1. We'll begin to see this topic "The
Potter and the Clay" beginning to be explained. Jeremiah, of course, was a Prophet, and he was
sent to the nation of Judah with a job of warning them and pleading with them to stop sinning, to
turn back to God so that God would not bring the punishment on them that He had promised to
bring. This was kind of a final warning for them.
Jeremiah 18:1: The word of the Eternal, (or rather the word which came to Jeremiah from the
Eternal, saying :)
Verse 2: "Arise and go down to the potter's house, and there I will cause you to hear My words."
The Pottery making was a major industry in Jerusalem in Jeremiah's day; it was something that
everybody used, everybody had pottery. They knew where it was made and who made it and
how it was made, and even though the Pottery Industry is not so commonplace in our society
today as a prominent part, it's something we can still understand and relate to. God used this
illustration to teach how He works with people. So there's a direct correlation and analogy of
how a potter works with clay, how God works with people.
Verse 3: Then I went down to the potter's house, and there he was, making something at the
wheel.
A potter's wheel, if you've ever seen one, or certainly a picture of it, you understand basically
there are two wheels involved: one on top, an axel in between, one on the bottom — the bottom
one was turned by the foot, and as the bottom one was turned the top one rotated as well, so this
was spinning. And the clay was placed on there and it was molded and shaped.
Jeremiah watched this potter at work for a period of time; he was trying to learn "What is it that
God is trying to teach me?" Watch this potter making a jar or a pot of some kind.
Verse 4: And the vessel that he made of clay was marred (in other words, he started shaping it,
but there was a problem, there was a defect with it now in the hand of the potter, so he made it
again). So he smashed it down into a lump of clay and he started all over again, making this
object that he was developing, as it seemed good to the potter to make.
Now, just out of curiosity, how many of you have ever seen a potter make something on a
potter's wheel? Quite a number of you have. Fascinating study; it is intriguing. I could sit there
and watch them for a long time. It's very interesting the way they do this, the technique that's
used, pushing and pulling, and inside and outside — very interesting, very intriguing. A lot that
can be learned, and certainly enjoyed. But the potter puts a lump of clay right in the center of the
wheel, and begins to work with it, and work with it, and work with it, until finally it's an object
that he's pleased with.
A skilled potter can detect the slightest defect, a wobble, something wrong somewhere, and
when he does that, when he detects that, he smashes it down and starts all over again so that it's
made properly. You obviously would have to have very sensitive touch, be very astute to what's
taking place, but very concerned that this object is being formed properly. Notice:
Verse 5: Then the word of the Eternal came to me saying: (Here's what God wanted Jeremiah to
understand and to tell the people)
Verse 6: "O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter?" says the Eternal. "Look, as the
clay in the potter's hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel!"
Let's stop for a moment and ask, "What is it that we can learn at this point from this example, the
potter and the clay? What lessons was God trying to teach Judah; what was it that Jeremiah
learned, and saw, and put into words so that he would write for and explain to the nation then,
but also write for our learning today?" The lesson really has several aspects to it. First of all, God
is saying He's the potter, that He's the Creator; He's the One with the power and the plan. He's
saying, "I'm the master engineer of your life. I'm the One that works with this mind, and
character, and attitude, to come to the place that it becomes like God Himself, like Jesus Christ.
I'm the engineer; I decide what I want to make you into and how it is that you're going to come to
that conclusion, but I'm the craftsman", He's saying.
God is great at forming things. We certainly look at the creation around us, we look at the
universe, and we realize that God is a master engineer; that He's a Creator, but He's skillful, and
what He does is perfect; He does perfect work. He took certainly lifeless clay and formed it into
a human body with facial features and body parts (that was Adam), and then He breathed into it
the breath of life and Adam came alive. But he did this all out of clay. I don't know about you,
but about the best I can do with clay is to make a snake or a snowman! But God made a human
being with all the working parts, inside and out.
The second part of the lesson we could learn from this analogy of the potter and the clay at this
point is that God is very merciful; He's very patient, that when people are flawed or have defects,
(sin, we would say), He doesn't just throw them away and get a new lump of clay, but He
continues to work with that same lump of clay, over and over, until finally it's one that He's
happy with. Now I think we take a lot of delight, a lot of relief in knowing that God works with
us. Once He starts to work with us He doesn't stop; He continues until we're to the place that He's
content.
In this case, He wanted Jeremiah to tell the nation of Judah that He would work with them if they
would just cooperate. If their attitude would just be repentant and cooperate, He would work
with them; yes, He would smash them down and bring them back, He would work with them
until finally it was a nation that He was happy with and one that would reap incredible blessings
from Him.
A third part of this lesson we might learn also is that physical clay is inanimate. Human clay,
people of course in this analogy, have free moral agency. Human clay, (people), are a little more
complicated than just working with a piece of dirt, a piece of clay. People are a lot more
complicated, because we can either choose to obey God, to cooperate with what He is doing, or
we can choose to resist Him. And it's a choice we make repeatedly throughout the day. God has
all the power and the skill to be able to form His character in us, to bring us to the place He
wants us to be, but it takes our cooperation. It takes our blending with God's power and His
work, it takes mutual cooperation; God has His part in character development, but we have ours.
It has to be a mutual working together in order for it to work. Notice Verse 7, of Jeremiah 18, to
demonstrate the fact that God is saying, "Human beings, His clay, has free moral agency".
There's a complication.
Jeremiah 18:7 "The instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, (and
obviously, the same thing is true of individuals, because nations and kingdoms are just made up
of individuals), to pluck up, to pull down, and to destroy it,
Verse 8: "If (showing again there's a complication, or a wrinkle, there's free choice; free will is a
factor when we're working with people), " if that nation against whom I have spoken turns from
its evil, I will relent (I'll change my plan) of the disaster that I thought to bring upon it." And
God emphasizes His mercy and His patience. He wants to start all over with that lump of clay,
not throw it away; He's willing to work with us. But it takes a humble, repentant attitude on our
part before God is prepared to do that.
Verse 9: "And the instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to build and to
plant it,
Verse 10 : "If (again, showing free choice, there's a wrinkle; it's more complicated with people) "
if it does evil in My sight so that it does not obey My voice, then I will relent (I'll change My plan
the other direction) concerning the good with which I thought to bring upon this nation."
More than once in the Bible, God reminds us that human clay, or people, can "get things out of
perspective". We all do that. We all have the potential to get things a little "jaundice", a little out
of view, a little too narrow, a little too broad; we lose perspective. One of the examples of this,
is, I think, very cleverly and interestingly put in Isaiah Chapter 29, Verse 16. Let's go there,
Isaiah 29:16. Here God is confronting His sinful people in Isaiah's day, and I think it's very
insightful how God words this. I'm going to read this from a more modern translation, "God's
Word for Today", and I think you'll see the point that He's making, that human beings, us, each
of us, can get things out of perspective.
Isaiah 29:16 "You turn things upside down", God says. "Is the potter no better than his clay?
Can something that has been made say about its Maker, 'You didn't make me?' Can a piece of
pottery say about the potter, "He doesn't understand?" Now, what's wrong with that picture?
No one has ever seen a physical piece of clay talk back to the potter, except, maybe in a Disney
animation. But normally, that doesn't happen, does it? And God's point is, that He's the potter;
we're the clay — what is our attitude toward His involvement, His work in our lives? Are we
critical of what God is doing? Are we disapproving, are we resisting? The point is that God
created us and has a marvelous plan for us, but it takes a cooperative spirit on our part in order
for the plan to work.
Now it's important to understand a point here, that this verse is not talking about people who are
trying very hard to live God's way of life. He's not talking about people with a right attitude that
occasionally, because trials get heavy and difficult, that they cry out to God and we say, "I don't
understand what's happening". What am I doing wrong, here?" That's not the attitude that's being
addressed. What Isaiah's addressing is, he's talking about people that have an attitude, an
argumentative attitude, a resisting attitude, a rebellious attitude, and God's taking exception to
that.
These are people who want their character to be shaped by somebody other than God, maybe
their own ideas, or the society around them, whatever's popular at the time, but they don't want
God molding them. These people are "self-centered"; they want to please themselves. That
would certainly be a good description of our society in general, that they want their own way,
and they really don't want God's involvement at this point, until things really get bad.
But there's another account of the potter and the clay that's well worth looking at, because it's the
other "ditch", in other words, the other extreme, a very positive attitude, and this one is found in
Isaiah 64, Verse 8, and I believe many of God's people have this attitude, and it's certainly one
we want to foster and encourage. Isaiah Chapter 64, Verse 8, a beautiful verse; an attitude that's
very pleasing to God, I think even "touching" to God — He responds very favorably to this
attitude. Notice:
Isaiah 64:8 Yet, O Eternal, You are our Father; we are the clay and You are the potter; and we
are all the work of Your hand.
This is an attitude on our part that's saying that I want to humble myself under the mighty hand
of God; that I want God's involvement, I want His direction, I want His leadership. I want God to
be guiding me. That's largely what we read there is I Peter. It's a kind of humility or submission
of heart and attitude to God. It's the opposite of insisting that "my will be done", but rather, as
Christ set the example of, "not My will, but Your will be done".
But did you notice in verse 8 that we read, the words that were chosen and used. He didn't say,
"I'm the all powerful King of the universe, and you're just a bunch of lousy clay" — that wasn't
the attitude. The attitude was: "You are our Father, we are the clay." The power that's molding
and shaping us isn't time and chance, it's just not life circumstances, but there's a Being, a person,
directing our lives, and that person, so to speak, is a Father to us, someone who's wise and
understanding and very kind and loving, someone who we can trust, who has our best interest at
heart. He also cares very much about the choices we make daily. When a Christian says to God,
"I am the clay and You are the potter", it's an attitude of completely submitting to God, accepting
His direction in our lives, being willing to learn from life and its experiences all that we can; an
attitude very much pleases God, it's a delight for God to see that attitude.
Since that's the case, what can we expect as we go through the process of humbling ourselves in
the sight of God? But by understanding how a potter works with clay, we can actually learn
lessons that we can apply in our own lives; the better we understand the analogy, the better we
can understand how God personally works in our lives. So we're going to look at, specifically,
this analogy of the potter and the clay, and see what we can learn from it.
Step number one: As far as the potter working with clay, it's that first of all the potter has to
select the right clay — many different kinds of clay, many different colors, different
consistencies and textures, but some types of clay work better with certain types of pottery. So,
obviously there are some choices to make here. Clay of itself has very little value, but once it's
been molded and shaped and prepared and finished by a professional, by a master craftsman, it
can be something very beautiful and something very enduring; it can be a beautiful work of art.
But the potter begins by choosing carefully the right kind of clay. That reminds us of John
Chapter 15, Verse 16, it's a familiar verse to us, just like the potter carefully chooses his clay,
God carefully and individually chooses each of us. We don't see what goes on in Heaven; we
don't hear the discussions that are taking place. But God, according to the Scriptures, carefully
selects individuals to become the first fruits, members of His church now, and eventually
members of the first fruits, the first ones to be born into His family at Christ's return. We didn't
volunteer for this, we didn't choose this anymore than physical clay chooses its own potter.
John 15:16 "You did not choose me", Christ said, "but I chose you and appointed you that you
should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain",
We won't turn to John 6:44, but a similar point is being made there when Christ said, "No one
can come to Me unless the Father draws him"; so there's clearly an invitation involved, there's a
calling, there's an opening of the mind and a drawing toward God that takes place. Each of us is
here because God chose us; we didn't volunteer for this. A lot of us may have learned first hand
that it's not just a matter of explaining the Scriptures clearly for somebody to understand God's
plan.
I don't know if you've ever had this experience, but I remember when I was first learning the
truth, I was seventeen, my family was just starting to come into the church, and my oldest sister
was just about to get married. My future brother—in—law was a very nice man, so my family
and I decided that really, we'd like my sister and brother—in—law to be in the church, too. And
all that was the matter was sitting them down and explaining to them God's plan: seven Holy
Days, three resurrections — it's a breeze! We sat them down, we explained this all to them, they
thanked us, got up and walked away; we never heard another word. In fact, there was a strain —
they did not want to talk about religion for years! And we learned; we learned to shut up, and
talk about "apple trees, and dogs and cats, and cars", and things like that. It was not a matter that
it has to be "crystal clear" before somebody understands. There's an opening of the mind, there's
a drawing, there's an invitation that has to take place, and if it's not there, it's not going to make
sense; it's not going to work.
And God is only calling a few now. We understand that certainly from the Scriptures that only a
few are being called into the church now; eventually God will include everybody in His family,
everybody will have that opportunity. But He's working with only a few now, preparing us to be
teachers in the world tomorrow. Why did God call you? Have you figured that out? Is it still as
exciting as it was initially, to understand that God handpicked us, as individuals, to be in the
church? That God selected, carefully, those individuals He wanted to be first fruits, that He saw
had the potential to be successful now; a particular kind of clay He was looking for. God has
given us a very special calling. It doesn't make us special; it puts a very heavy responsibility on
us. He had to choose some people to be first. And others, of course, He'll invite later into His
family, we understand that. But it was not a random thing, was not a matter of time and chance,
we happened to be at the right place at the right time and therefore we heard the radio program,
or we saw the Good News magazine, or whatever it was. There was the cartoon from years ago
of the leader of the company making his executive decisions by having a big dartboard behind
him, and he would spin it and throw a dart, and wherever it landed, that was his decision for the
day. God doesn't work that way.
There must have been incredible discussion between the Father and Christ as far as who to be
called now, who not to, why? — Why this lot of details must have taken place before the final
initiation of the drawing began to take place. But I hope it's still inspiring to us to realize that
God chose us; we didn't choose Him. It's not a selfish thing, it's not an ego thing, it's just the
reality that God had to call somebody first to be the teachers for the next generation, for the next
part of God's plan. There are no useless members in the church of God. God calls everybody for
a place where they can fit into the church now, but He also has in mind where we can fit into
God's family during the Millennium, and also in God's family permanently. He knows where He
can fit each of us into His plan.
Before Christ was crucified, He told His disciples that He was going to be leaving them, that He
would go and prepare a place for them. Now we learn from that, that there was a specific spot
that He had in mind for each of those disciples. And we can draw from that that God also has a
spot in His family, a part of His plan, where He feels we can fit best as far as serving in the
family of God forever, and He's involved in the process of preparing us for that responsibility.
Step number two: After choosing the clay, the potter has more work to do; he actually has to
kind of spread the clay out and pick out the foreign objects, things like gravel and stones and
small tree roots — things like that, the obvious defects. And that's certainly what the potters
would have done in Jeremiah's day, got the clay, laid it out, pulled out the obvious defects and
began to work with it. Turn with me to Romans, Chapter 2, Verse 4. Romans, Chapter 2,
Verse 4, the physical potter has to get rid of the physical, obvious defects or flaws, or the pieces
of foreign matter that's in there, before he can proceed with working with this clay.
Romans 2:4 says, (well, especially notice the second half of this verse) Or do you despise the
riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God
leads you to repentance? The goodness of God leads us to repentance.
As God begins to call a person, He leads that person to repentance. Those of us who have gone
that initial stage of repentance and conversion remember what that's like, remember beginning to
see ourselves differently than we did before. We began to see where we were sitting; we began to
see attitudes, and actions that were wrong. For many of us we stopped working on the Sabbath,
we began to keep it, or if you knew about the Sabbath, perhaps began to keep it properly. We
looked at money differently; we began to give God His tithe. We looked at time differently: there
were Sabbaths and Holy Days — many things. We stopped cheating on our income tax; we did
many things differently once God began to call us and we began to repent. So God began to get
the obvious impurities out of us, and of course the process has continued, but it's more of a
refining process.
Step number three the potter used: Next the potter took the clay and he threw it over and over
again against the stone, or in some cases would take a mallet and just beat this clay. Isaiah talked
about the fact that in his day, a potter treaded, or walked up and down on the clay, just back and
forth on this clay. It might seem like a strange thing to do, but there was a purpose in mind, and
that was that often times clay would have air bubbles in it. His intent was to work out those air
bubbles, because if he made an object, he made this piece of pottery but it had an air bubble in it,
when he stuck it in the kiln to bake it that air pocket would expand; that air would expand and it
could burst, it could blow a hole in it, or maybe destroy the whole object. So that air pockets,
those air pockets had to be gotten out of there. And certainly we can understand clearly that God
works in our life too, that it may feel as though there are times when we're kind of being "thrown
up against the stone", or being beat down a little bit with a mallet, or God's "walking on us", but
there's a purpose, there's an intent. God is molding us and preparing us into something very, very
special. God does work with us to eliminate the defects, to work out the sins and the weaknesses,
and to develop the strengths that each of us has. God knows what He's doing. But there's a
process involved, and you very distinctly get the feeling that it's not an easy thing being clay, that
it's a process, a tough process, there's some difficulty, some stress involved.
Step number four: Once the potter has the lumps and air pockets out of the clay, he's ready to
start molding and shaping it into whatever he has in mind, the particular object that he has in his
mind to make. But there's still a problem at this point; the clay typically is not ready to be
molded and shaped, it is not soft enough yet. And certainly beating it with a mallet, or walking
on it helps it to become more pliable, but even then it's not the right consistency for easily
moving it and adjusting it, and making the walls thin, or the shape and the curves; it needs
something else added to it. Many times the potter will realize that he needs to add either water to
it, so the texture is a little smoother and softer, or sometimes, even oil is added. Now of course,
we can see a symbolism there, because in the Scriptures oil and water typify God's Holy Spirit,
and we realize the importance of God's Holy Spirit being added to us, to our mind, so that we can
become "workable", and "moldable"; and shaping, it will be shaped by God through His Holy
Spirit.
Let's go to John Chapter 7, Verse 37. This is a familiar Scripture to us, but it illustrates the fact
that God likens water to His Holy Spirit. Just like the potter adds water or oil to his clay to make
it supple, to make it just the right texture, we can mold and shape and push and pull, God has to
add His Holy Spirit to us so that our minds can be worked with in a positive way.
John 7:37 On the last day, that great day of the Feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, "If
anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.
Verse 38: "He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart (or innermost
being) will flow rivers of living water."
Verse 39: But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive;
for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
No one can completely submit to God, and God cannot completely work with the mind and the
attitude unless God's Holy Spirit is present, unless we have God's Spirit. And without adding the
water to the clay it's not pliable, it's not soft enough, it's not supple enough to be worked with.
Step number five: When the clay's finally prepared, the potter puts this lump of clay on the
wheel and begins to spin it slowly, lifting the clay, pulling and pushing (and you've seen all the
manipulations that the potter has to go through), but a symmetrical form begins to take shape,
something that's virtually impossible for an amateur to do. If you've ever tried it, it looks so easy,
but to actually do it, it's very difficult. It takes a professional with lots of training to know how to
do it. It's not uncommon for a new person to just, his first attempt at it, to start it and all of a
sudden the clay's flying off the wheel — he doesn't have the touch. But, of course, God is a
Master at this; He knows exactly how to mold and to shape us, and He doesn't make any
mistakes. A master potter skillfully applies pressure here and there: pulls and pushes and tugs,
and stretches, and everything necessary for this object to finally take its shape. And you know, in
our lives as well, it takes a certain amount of pressure; it takes a certain amount of prodding, of
encouragement, of direction, a certain amount of work, of God working with us to finally get us
to the place that we begin to look like the children of God. It takes work. Someone once
described it as "creative tension", that it's enough pressure to push us in the right direction, to
help us grow, but not overpower us, not overwhelm us. And we, in our lives, certainly look at
this constructive, this creative tension, as instruction that we're given, but also as in some cases,
even correction that's necessary in order for this clay to take its proper shape.
A potter many times will smash that object down and start over again, time after time, until it's
finally just right, just the way he wants it to be. There may be times that we feel like we're
making progress, things are going really well, we're really growing, and all of a sudden things
change. It's almost as though God is pushing us down and starting over because the foundation is
not firm enough, something is wrong, a defect is somewhere. I know many of us think from time
to time it would be nice to have a year off from trials and tests occasionally. Maybe every
seventh year we could have no trials, no tests, no difficulties; be a free year. But it doesn't work
that way. There are seasons of difficulties and trials and there's seasons where there's a lot of
encouragement, but it's not exactly a Sabbatical year, is it?
But God knows exactly what He's doing; He's got the process perfected. He knows exactly how
to work with each individual to bring about the best fruit, the most beauty, the most character;
this picture of a potter patiently working with this piece of clay. But with determination — He's
got in his mind exactly what He wants it to look like when it's completed; is a picture of God
working in our lives. God's not the Creator who starts something in motion and walks away from
it, and kind of lets it go whatever way it wants to. When god begins to work with us, as Paul
wrote to the church in Philippi , when He starts working with us, He doesn't quit. He doesn't quit
until the plan is completed and that object is perfect, just the way He wants it.
Lets turn to Romans, Chapter 8, Verse 28. Romans 8:28 is a familiar Scripture, but it's one
sometimes that we get out of perspective. It's one that we sometimes overlook, but it's certainly a
Scripture that helps us gain perspective, and this is so important in our lives that we don't either
get discouraged or we don't forget the calling that God's given us. This is a perspective Scripture.
Romans 8:28: (I'm going to read this in the New American Standard Version; it makes one point
a little clearer than the New King James). And it says:
For we know that God causes all things to work together for good, to those who love God, to
those who are called according to His purpose.
God causes all things. But notice again, it also talks about those who are called. It reminds us
again, there's an invitation, a process involved; God is selecting individuals to work with now.
The rest He'll work with later, but He's calling some now. Notice:
Verse 29: For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son,
that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.
We can say that He has in mind from the beginning this work of art, this final product, that He
wants us to look like Jesus Christ, His Son. There's no way we can understand now exactly how
God can cause all things to work together for good. That's something beyond our grasp, our
comprehension, our capacity to understand, but we do believe that God keeps His word, and He's
able to bring good out of every situation that He allows our lives to go through. I'm sure that we
can understand the principle that God delights in seeing us make progress. In fact He talks about
what a delight it is for Him to see us bear much fruit, to see us make progress, to grow
spiritually. God's pleased with that, and we can understand that even on a human level, because,
if we do something well, maybe you're a sculptor, or you paint, maybe you grow a garden, or
you bake a cake — you do something, maybe write a song, but you do it well, that you finish the
product and you get a certain amount of satisfaction. You think, "That looks great; that sounds
wonderful"! I'm sure God very similarly takes pleasure in seeing us make progress. He's working
with us, but seeing us respond in a positive way, and character and fruit be born as a result of
that.
Step number six: Next, this perfectly formed piece of pottery is put on the shelf. It's put there to
dry for a period of time, and time is a factor in character development. Mr. Armstrong taught us
for years that no character is developed by fiat, or instantaneously, that it's over time and through
experience. But time has to pass; this wet piece of pottery has to sit there until it dries, and even
though it looks like a finished product, it isn't. It is dry, but it's not complete, and if you were to
take that piece of pottery and pour water into it, it would turn back into clay again, because it's
not finished. So that brings us to:
Step number seven: Step number seven is when the pottery is actually put into the furnace, or
kiln. But before it's put into the kiln the potter coats it, or paints it with a certain liquid, some of
the finest glaze, or silica. This glaze looks dull — it goes on, it looks like kind of muddy, cloudy
water — anyone watching the potter do that would wonder why you would take a piece of
pottery and put such an ugly solution all over it. Once the pottery is in the kiln, it has to fired to a
temperature of nearly 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which is roughly the same temperature of
heating metal to the point that impurities are separated from the metal. If this temperature is too
high, this piece of pottery begins to warp, it's twisted. But if the heat is too low, the pottery is
never right, it's never finished, it's never completed — it has to be just right. Let's go to I Peter,
Chapter 4, Verse 12. There's a close parallel here in the way that God works with us. Now you
may be ahead of me on this, because there's a Scripture that talks about the fire that God works
with us; it's not the lake of fire, there's another fire before that, that's the one of fiery trials.
I Peter 4:12: Beloved, he said, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try,
or to test you, as though some strange thing has happened to you.
We shouldn't be surprised or astonished when there's a measure of suffering that God allows in
our lives. It isn't some strange misfortune, it's not a mistake; it's not something interfering with
the Master Potter's plan — God allows a certain amount of fiery trials in our lives for things to be
developed, for character to be learned, for lessons to be learned.
Notice the verse begins by saying, "Beloved". God very lovingly and tenderly works with us, but
He still allows in some cases, in all of our lives, a number of fiery trials, things that we might not
expect, or predict — things that challenge us down to our very foundation. But at least we should
respond differently than the world around us when those trials occur, because we can understand
what God is doing. We understand that God is creating a family, and that there are things to be
learned. There's a process involved; character development takes time and experience in order
for it to be completed.
Notice Verse 13: But rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when His
glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy,
He's saying, "It may not be fun, it may not be — it's not going to be easy at times", but
understand what God is doing and don't reject it, don't resist it; allow it to run its course. Let's go
to Hebrews, Chapter 12, Verse 5. We're not expected to rejoice and dance up and down when a
fiery trial comes to us, but we are expected to respond differently, as I mentioned; differently
than the world around us, because we understand what God is doing.
Hebrews 12:5 And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: "My son,
do not despise the chastening of the Eternal, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him;
Verse 6: For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives."
It's easy for us to think the converse is true, that when God loves us, He makes things go well for
us. It's interesting that God says, "Whom He loves, He chastens, and corrects", He works with. I
doubt that any of us think, "Well, that last trial just wasn't hard enough,
didn't really learn much from it — I wish the next one would be a lot harder." You know, I've
never heard one Christian say that! Maybe there's an exception in this congregation; never heard
one person say that. In fact it's usually the other extreme, "Are you sure that God knows what
He's doing? Are you sure that this isn't too much? I'm not sure I can stand this." That's typically
our concern, isn't it?
Many times we need reassurance, as we read Romans 8: 28, but also I Corinthians 10, Verse
13. I Corinthians 10:13 is another perspective Scripture, another one that helps keep it in
perspective, what God is doing. And the reassurance, the promise here that it's never going to be
more than we're able to endure. It may feel that way, but God says in reality, it is not that way.
I Corinthians 10:13 No temptation (same thing would apply as far as a trial), no trial has
overtaken you except such as is common to man (it happens to other people also); but God is
faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted (or tested) beyond what you are able, but will with
that temptation (or trial) also make a way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.
That God will be with us, helping us through that trial. God knows when and the exact degree
that which each of us as children will benefit from a fiery trial. He knows us inside and out. He
watches very carefully, monitoring it, so that that didn't exceed our capacity to deal with; it will
never be too severe. It won't be too light, otherwise we develop soft flabby character, but it will
never be too intense, too hard that destroys us.
After pottery's been fired in the kiln, although it has the exact shape that it had when it went in,
the chemical properties of this clay have changed; something dramatic has happened. It's no
longer porous, in fact, now it could hold water indefinitely. That clay is actually more like stone
than it is like clay. A transformation has taken place. Properly fired pottery will never break
down nor disintegrate after even thousands of years being buried in the ground, and God is
forming something even more permanent and more important than pottery; He's forming His
own character in us.
In the intense heat of this kiln, (2,000 degrees), something amazing takes place. That dull glaze
that was painted on before it was put in there also changes; there's a chemical change there.
Where there was no color before, now there's beautiful color. It often takes on a glass—like satin
finish, a shine. There's a beauty there that just was not there before. Being in that fiery oven for a
period of time does something dramatic to that clay, and obviously, when we go through severe
trials ourselves, they change us too. Sometimes we're never quite the same — we've learned,
we've grown, we've experienced something that is life changing for us.
Step number eight: The potter still isn't finished yet. There is decorating to do, the finishing
touches have to be added — many times fine gold or silver was actually added to this pottery, to
enhance its beauty. Sometimes it was painted and stuck in the kiln and painted more, sometimes
two or three times — a number of times. The same way, God often puts the finishing touches on
our character, on our lives as well, making the good character that's there even better. We
probably would not ask God to do it again — one more time! But God knows what He's doing.
He alone has the wisdom and the love to know how to do it, how much to do, and when to do it.
Step number nine: The final step, Revelation, Chapter 22, Verse 4. As the last step, the
Master Potter puts his name on his work, just as human craftsmen and artists do the same thing.
Revelation 22, Verse 4 is talking about the children of God, those who have been changed to
spirit, that they're part of the family of God. This is what it says: Revelation 22:4 They shall see
His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads.
We're going to have God's name on us; we will be part of the family of God.
When a human potter finishes his work, he many times has a beautiful piece of pottery that he
may enjoy, passed down from generation to generation, but when God finishes His work on His
pottery, (human beings), He ends up with sons and daughters forever!
Why this might all be interesting to some degree, but how do we apply what we have talked
about today? Let's talk about some points of application. First of all, it's very important that we
consciously and deliberately maintain an attitude of understanding that God is the Potter, and we
are the clay. That helps our prospective and our attitude toward God. It helps us in the way God
works with us; it maintains — yes, we talk about a Father and child, and that's very important as
well, but another part of the process is, there's a potter and the clay. It many times helps us have
a clear insight of what God is doing. We don't ever forget the lesson, and the analogy is
beautiful, and it's not "my analogy", or "the church's analogy", this is God's analogy. He says,
"This is how I work with nations; how I work with people." It helps us to understand how He
works in our lives. It's important for us to maintain this attitude of allowing God to work with us,
not resisting Him.
A second point of application would be, that we should perhaps consider the benefits of being
God's clay. If you'd turn to I Peter, Chapter 5, Verse 6 — that's where we started today's
sermon — I Peter 5, Verse 6, we see some of the perspectives, one of the major benefits — it
certainly is an important benefit that God gives us as a result of us being His clay and allowing
Him to be the Potter.
I Peter 5:6 Therefore, humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, (in other words,
cooperate — don't argue, don't resist what the Master Potter's doing), that He may exalt you in
due time.
And there's a future benefit in due time; true, but right now there are benefits too.
Verse 7: Casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.
When we have worries, and concerns, and cares, and anxieties, it's not easy for us to
automatically and instantly throw them off and just forget them. It's a type of thing that just
haunts us; they're there constantly in some cases. God wants us to grow to the place that we're
able to transfer those worries and those anxieties to His list, God's "to do" list, and we can trust
Him to help us work through them. But that takes time, that takes learning, that takes maturity to
be able to do that and do it well. But understanding that God is the Potter and we are the clay is
important. We should be praying that God would give us the faith to trust Him, but also that He
would give us the strength and a cooperative attitude that we would never lose the attitude
essential for God to continue to work in our lives, and to allow Him to do that. We should be
praying for one another, that God would help us all to have the kind of attitude: He can work
with us, and mold us and shape us, and reshape us if we need that.
Finally, knowing that God is the Potter, knowing that each of us is His handiwork, we should
always treat one another with a certain amount of healthy respect. If each one of us is a lump of
clay in God's hands, which we are, and think of the price that God paid for each lump of clay,
that Jesus Christ died, His life is what God paid for us. That should inspire us to treat each other
with a healthy respect, that we would not look down, or despise, other lumps of clay. You may
have seen the bumper sticker that's so true, that "God isn't finished with me yet"! And that's true
of all of us, God is just not finished, we're all at the stage of still being worked with, still being
molded and shaped; we're still in that training stage.
If you're still there in I Peter, Chapter 5, notice verse 5. Part of the context of humbling
ourselves under the mighty hand of God, notice verse 5. It says:
I Peter 5:5 Likewise you younger people, submit yourself to your elders. Yes, all of you be
submissive one to another, and be clothed with humility, for "God resists the proud, but gives
grace to the humble."
God's church should be a living example of everyone here (everyone of us) showing the right
amount of dignity and respect, and honor and value, to the other lumps of clay that God does.
God values each one of us, and we should be doing the same thing for each other. One piece of
clay should not look down upon another piece of clay with disrespect, or contempt. There should
be no "put—downs", or "impatience", or "belittling". We are all, individually, each, a lump of
clay that God is working with.
Well, I hope, brethren, it's been helpful to review the process, the very striking image in the
Scriptures of God working with clay, the Potter and the clay — it's throughout the Scriptures.
We will reach spiritual maturity. We'll reach that final point where God is complete, (His work
in us is complete), if we allow God to use His skill and His power to mold us into the beings, and
the people, and the children, the character that He wants us to be. And I hope that all of us can
say along with Isaiah, "O Eternal, You are our Father; we are the clay, and You are the Potter;
we are all the work of your hands."

				
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