setting: a baptist church in Ouanaminthe, Haiti.
Date: June 18, 2017.
i knew i wouldn’t really be able to understand what the preacher would be saying – it was in Creole (as it should be) and while i could parse out little bits and pieces, he was speaking at a pace and a volume at which i couldn’t follow. i knew very soon that the next forty-five to sixty minutes would be time for me and God to chat.
i’ve not often had times exactly like that. it’s different from quiet time on my front porch in Kentucky, and it’s different from reading my bible and having worship music in my ears. there’s nothing like this: i’m in another place, a place that isn’t home, with people i don’t necessarily know well, with a preacher, ebbing and flowing in his tone, who sets the mood of the passage he’s preaching.
it is 2 Corinthians 4:7-9. it says:
but we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…
a piece of paper is handed to me from our translator before the sermon even begins. he isn’t going to translate the whole sermon for us – he’ll give us bullet points. so i start chewing on this passage in my head, mulling it over. i start formulating my own little sermon.
Lord, it’d been a while since i’d done that.
three years, actually – or just under.
i used to preach.
most of my readers know this. i’ve told the story before but i’ll tell the story again: i attended a church in Berea, KY for about eight years, and spent a good four of those heavily immersed in ministry: children’s ministry, worship ministry, church council, life groups, preaching. i loved it. i was good at it (at least, that’s what everyone told me) and i enjoyed it. i was entertaining ministry as a career path of sorts. we talked about me planting a church.
in 2014, i moved to Lexington and kept commuting for a while but at the end of the year and after lots of prayer, left my home church to find church in Lexington.
in the beginning of 2015, instead of going to a new church, i started enjoying my Sundays off – after all, they’d been work days for a long time and i already worked my regular job a lot, so Sunday was a day to really be off. i was less sharp spiritually. i was lonely. i dated a girl, and it didn’t go well – but there’s plenty chronicling that in older blogs.
by the end of 2015, i was a pretty broken vessel. some days, i couldn’t or wouldn’t look myself in the mirror – that guy i saw couldn’t have been the guy who held a microphone on a stage telling people about how much God loved them and how much He forgave and spurring them on to live a godly life. i kept telling myself (or hearing) that i’d blown it, that it’s one thing if you screw up and then you start following Jesus but if you know better – as in, you’d been a Christian for eight years and preached the gospel and stuff – then it’s worse.
i thought about all of this on that Sunday morning in Haiti. i thought about the people God uses. i thought about us all as vessels. rather, the Holy Spirit talked to me about how people are vessels. how we’re jars. jars of clay.
verse seven says we have this treasure in jars of clay. what treasure?
the Gospel, i swear it.
it must be.
[after all, 4:1-6 is talking about the light of the Gospel.]
but even if i didn’t know that, it’s the only thing that makes sense. we have the treasure of the message in a jar of clay. in other words, we are the jars.
and jars, well – jars get scratched, and jars occasionally crack. sometimes they get smashed to bits. sometimes they have a little puncture and they can’t hold what’s poured into them.
but we know God, and God is a Potter.
so God takes us – in all of our weakness, our mistakes, our failures, our inconsistencies – and He keeps putting the treasure in us, and He knows how to melt us back down and re-form us into a vessel that can carry the treasure.
see, the treasure – the Gospel – needs to be carried one way or another. and God isn’t in the business of throwing away His jars once they get a crack or a scratch or once they fall and hit the ground and break. even if He already remade it once or twice or three times or a hundred. nope – the treasure is in jars so that we know that the surpassing power belongs to God, not to us.
i realized in this morning with God that i always fancied myself a jar with a big ole crack, and that God had starting putting the treasure in this cracked jar and it kept leaking out – i’m gonna stop with the jar metaphor for now – the way this looked for me was me constantly protecting myself, constantly looking for a way to cover up or fix that crack. it looked like spending a lot of time by myself, protecting my time lest anyone come in the way of the healing process i felt i needed to undergo. it looked like not sharing my thoughts and not leading and not speaking up and not having any confidence in the Gospel because i knew it was just going to seep back out and i wouldn’t ever be able to confidently carry it. it looked like always calling myself broken. it looked like – instead of acknowledging the reality of a spiritual fight – just assuming that any mood i was in, any negative thought i had must have been a result of still being broken.
then God said,
you’re not broken anymore, son.
that’s a name and a status there, Lord.
yeah, I know. because you’re My son and you are who I say you are and what I say you are – and you aren’t broken anymore. you’re My vessel.
i never really played sports or had a bad injury so i don’t know if this analogy would hold, but imagine you’re passionate about something – maybe you’re a pitcher on a baseball team – and you blew out your elbow and the doctor told you you’d never play again, but then you go get a second opinion a few months (or years) later and they say, “oh, that other doctor is crazy. you’re good to go. you can go throw today, even.”
that was me.
i never thought i’d lead a song of worship again. i never thought i’d be able to be seen as a leader in a small group again, or preach a sermon. but here was God, in a church, to His hot, sweaty son, saying: “yeah, I think you need to pick all of that back up and keep doing what I made you for.”
and friends, if you’ll allow me to share – and i hope to only share to the glory of God – the types and numbers of doors that have been opened since that day in Haiti.
i’ve been asked to officiate a wedding.
i got to baptize my friend.
i get to sorta help co-lead a small group.
i was asked to lead worship at a retreat in the fall.
i have a job interview on Monday to get paid to lead worship. really.
ok, so maybe it’s not that many, but it feels like a lot. i’m overwhelmed in the best way, because God is incredibly faithful.
people used to call me pastor Jeff. i never knew how to take it – i embraced it at times (my twitter handle used to be @pjpoling, the p being for pastor) and at other times i (although humbly) didn’t embrace it – but i think they meant it prophetically. i don’t know how to humbly say that there’s a call i’ve always had to fill and have been (and will be) unsatisfied if i don’t – to carry the gospel, to preach, to worship, to study Scripture, and to share with others. my only career ambition in life has been “work in a church” – in whatever capacity.
i share this story publicly for two reasons:
-to glorify God in my life
-to glorify God in yours. i think the reason i’m so excited about this story isn’t because all these great things happening for me – but because God is faithful, faithful, faithful to give His kids good things, He’s faithful to restore us, and faithful to give us a name. i don’t know who all reads what i write. but someone out there may be like me, whether in the same context of ministry or otherwise. afraid God won’t use you, afraid you blew it. i’d encourage you – He doesn’t call you broken. He accepts you in your brokenness, and then He makes you whole. that’s Who God is. that’s what He does. Max Lucado once said, “God loves you just the way you are – but He refuses to leave you that way.” i love that – because it’s true when we’re broken and it’s true when we’re whole. He keeps taking us on, from glory to glory and grace to grace.
you are His vessel. your name isn’t broken. your name is