What Does the Clay Have to Say?

(Blog post by Stan Kellner – www.stankellner.com)

 Read Isaiah 45:9-10 and Isaiah 64:8

I remember when we were kids we could spend hours (literally) building entire towns out of clay – clay houses, clay people, clay animals.  Did you know that some clay animals can actually fly? (Of course with a little help from my friend who would throw it at me!)

We’d spend hours molding and remolding, shaping and reshaping.  Our imaginations would run wild with what we could create, what adventure we could have on any given day.  Someone might ask me along the way – “What is that you’re making?”  I’d be proud to give an answer like, “It’s a half-man, half-bug flying thingy!”  “Don’t you recognize it?”

Clay.  Clay in the hands of a molder.  Clay being molded by the molder with the molder having their plan in mind.  Not once did I ever hear my half-man, half-bug thingy say to me, “Hey, what do you think you’re doing?  What do you think you’re making?  Don’t you realize how embarrassing this makes me look?”

I know I’m taking a childhood pastime and attempting to stretch it (pardon the pun) way beyond its logical boundaries.  But, I gotta tell ya – there have been more times than I can count where I’ve questioned what God is doing in my life.  Like I know the whole story?  Like I know the best path?  Uh, excuse me?  Did I make God?  Or did He make me?

I’m thankful for passages like Isaiah 45 and 64 which come in the midst of a long discussion about God’s dealing with His people.  The point is clearly made that He is the Creator and Sustainer of all things.  Consequently, He knows the best way, the best path, the best amount of pruning, the best level of testing, etc., etc.

Even as I write this I am walking on a part of my journey that I don’t like very much.  I recently experienced an unexpected job loss and deep in my heart I’ve been wrestling with my Potter at times.  How could you…?  Why would you…?  What are you teaching me through…?  Couldn’t you have…?

ALL honest and fair questions.  And, by the way, God wants us to be real with Him.  He is not offended that we ask.  He doesn’t send us to detention for asking.  If anything, He uses these reshaping times to help us, no to help me, understand that even if I don’t understand it right now, He has my best in mind.  By faith, I recognize that He knows how He wants to mold me.  

Some years ago we saw a guy who was travelling around the U.S. telling the story of the Potter and His clay and all the while, he was actually molding a pot on the potter’s wheel.  Perhaps you saw his performance as well.

Fascinating how at times he pressed here or pressed there or threw some water on the clay to help reshape or slowed down or sped up the wheel.  All of these “twists and turns” are for the good of the pot.  And since the potter knows what he wants this pot to look like, he is the best judge for just how many twists and turns the pot experiences.

Painful but true.  Can we commiserate together?

  • Don’t you feel sometimes like – “God we’ve already been over this.  Why teach this to me again?”
  • I’ve asked the question, “Couldn’t there be another way?”
  • In my recent job loss, the key question arose, “Is there anything I could have done different?”
  • The bottom-line is clear – HE is the potter; WE are the clay.  Even though I can hate my circumstances sometimes, Deut. 32:4 reminds me, “The Rock! His work is perfect, for all His ways are just…”

We have a choice to make –

His way or the clay’s way!

The Path Well Traveled.

(Blog Post by Stan Kellner – www.stankellner.com)

Read Psalm 23

If there is one thing that is plentiful in Israel, that is well-worn pathways around the country.  One of the many reasons God chose the land of Israel to plant His promise was due to the fact that it was a natural crossroads of the world.  Folks coming from Europe or Asia had to pass through Israel to go to Africa and vice-versa.

 One of the aspects I love so much about teaching in Israel is the voluminous amount of object lessons contained in the land.  Jesus knew this and used so many to highlight, amplify or illustrate His points – lilies of the field, stormy seas, the grass withering, etc.

On one of our daily excursions our guide pointed out that if we look closely off to our right we’ll see a place called the Valley of Deep Darkness and we were also able to make out the trail on which the Shepherd took His sheep in and through that dark valley.  Yes, like Psalm 23 mentions, there really is a place called Valley of Deep Darkness (Shadow of Death).

In other parts of the land, I took a bunch of pictures of shepherds guiding their sheep.  Unlike old TV shows like Rawhide or movies like City Slickers, shepherds don’t prod the sheep.  They go out in front of them and call the sheep by name.  The sheep follow him because they know his voice.  Further, before the shepherd would call out the sheep to go on this journey, He first blazed the trail.  In other words, he went and scouted out every step, every nook and cranny, every high and low place on the journey so that he could fully care for his sheep.  THEN, he called them by name and set out on the journey. 

In Psalm 23:3 it says of the Shepherd, “He guides them in the paths of righteousness”.  Another word for path in Hebrew is “well worn grooves”.  Land that developed into visible paths because of the amount of people and the amount of times people walked on this part of the land. 

Our Shepherd is guiding us on the path well traveled!  So be encouraged by these truths:

  • Count on the fact that before the Shepherd called you by name He already blazed the path that He would take you on. 
  • Be encouraged to know that when life deals you surprises, big and small, recognize that the Shepherd already knows the whole path from beginning to end; thus nothing takes Him by surprise.  Nothing!  (I did the emphasis to help continue to drive this point through my thick skull!)
  • The dark valley that you are presently experiencing is not, I repeat, IS NOT a detour or something that came into your life because God hates you and can’t forgive you or because He got distracted and forgot about you.  That dark valley, rather, is a planned part of the experience that the Shepherd has for you.  If you want me to fully explain that to you now, then to quote a New Yorka, “Forgetta bout it!”  I’m still working on this one myself.  🙂
  • The bottom-line.  The Good Shepherd is guiding you on the path well traveled because He traveled it first and knows it best.
  • Stay on His road and you won’t e-rode!

Pass the Bagels and Black-Eyed Peas.

(Read Acts 2 & 4)

Ah!  Two types of food that are common in a community setting.  Growing up Jewish, any and every gathering (except Passover time) included the grand old favorite – Bagels and Cream Cheese.  Oh yes, and lox also.  (Although I never developed a taste for lox.  I’ve said to some, if liking lox is a sure sign of being Jewish – then I am SO Gentile!)

Black Eyed Peas are synonymous with special family times and special holidays especially in the Southern part of the U.S. Growing up in Massachusetts I had never heard of Black-Eye Peas. It wasn’t until I lived in the South, and to be more specific, met my wife at Bible College in Dallas, when I had my first taste of Black-Eyed Peas. 

My wife’s family has their “down-home” roots in Mississippi.  Black-Eyed Peas are a wonderful staple of the community of the South.  I’m now a lover of Black-Eyed Peas and, yes, Ham (even though I’m Jewish, Jesus made me Kosher than I’ve ever been before).

So, what in the world does this have to do with relevant truth from an ancient land?  Glad you asked! 

One of the things that struck us as we have toured Israel is to learn about insular life.  In other words, families built on to their home as they grew, rather than uprooting pieces of the family as time went on.  Peter’s home in Capernaum provides a good visual aid for visitors to the land.

They lived life together – in close quarters, sharing meals, helping raise each other’s kids.  Community was natural for them, not something they had to conjure up.

By the way, this insular concept might give all of us a bit more insight regarding John 14 when it says, “In my Father’s house are many dwelling places”. (NASV) In other words, rooms are added on to the main house to provide adequate space for God’s followers!

Many cultures around the world experience insular living even today, allowing for extended family or elderly grandparents to live with them.  Not so much in the U.S.  We tend to have a place for our elderly parents (called assisted living or nursing homes). 

Acts 2 & 4 express what life was like with the early Jesus-followers.  They understood community, true community.  They were so close-knit that they understood instinctively the concepts – sharing all things in common or when one hurts, we all hurt; when one rejoices, we all rejoice.

I can only speak for Christianity as played out in the U.S.  We say we are “in community” but are we really?  Years ago while living in Dallas, we were part of a “mini-church”, what would now be called a Life Group or Fellowship Group.  In that early experience, we did life together in every facet.  It wasn’t just the weekly meetings.  It was the eating together, praying together, reaching out to another member when times were tough.  Having a baby shower when one of the members got pregnant.  Grieving together when one of our members lost a job or a loved on.

God has led my wife and I into another level of community recently – one that neither of us expected.  My wife volunteers with an awesome ministry that, among other things, is building a national network of host homes for the sole reason of reaching out to traveling bands who live life on the road.  For those bands who are followers of Christ, they see this life as a calling and as a sacrifice in order to impact our culture.

This band outreach is teaching us community on two levels:

  • The Kellner’s community.  Now that we’ve had more than a dozen bands stay with us (some multiples of times) we are SO thankful for the life we draw from them.  Living life on the road, playing 150-200 dates a year isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.  When they stay with us not only are they thankful for the warm bed, shower, good food, Wi-Fi and fellowship.  But we are profoundly impacted by them – their diverse points of view, the tapestry of belief (as we have experienced lately with 3 sets of bands staying with us within two weekends of each other).  We hear their hearts, catch their vision and appreciate the unique ways they approach music and impact, sometimes quite different than other bands might approach the same goal.  We love the depth and richness of this community!
  • The band’s community.  Another level of community is hearing the God-stories in their lives – how they formed the band, what life is like on the road together (the good, bad and ugly), how they learn to depend on each other, how, in many cases, they become more family to each other than with their own biological families.  We have been blown away by the depth of commitment and love they have for each other.

At this juncture in life, we are experiencing apartment life for the first time.  Not a big apartment by the way.  Recently, a band called on short notice that was doing a gig in Cleveland (40 minutes from our house).  They asked if they and another band could stay with us overnight.  We said, “Totally!”  Two hours later, 11 band members descended on our small but adequate apartment and the thirteen of us experienced unbelievable community til the wee hours of the morning.  Yes, an important part of band community is JAVA! 

TODAY, ask God to help you appreciate the community He has put you in or ask that He would help you begin a community right where you are.

Why We Have Trouble Sitting Still.

(Blog Post by Stan Kellner – www.stankellner.com)

Posted September 27, 2010

Read Psalm 46, esp. verse 10

 Psalm 46:10, in most translations, says, “Be still and know that I am God”.  Awesome translation, awesome goal and awesome experience. As good as this verse sounds, I discovered some time ago an alternate translation from the Hebrew – “Cease striving…” as opposed to “be still”.  Oy Vey!  Now, that nuance takes on a whole new meaning.

Be still could mean things like find a quiet place and spend some time with God, when I’m nervous I need to be still and pray, etc.  All good stuff.  But when I looked at this verse with a fresh perspective, the truth rang more deeply in my heart.  Cease striving.  Okay, now that’s something that hits me right at the heart.

Our world today, at its core, is really no different than the first century culture or the Old Testament culture.  I guess ever since Adam and Eve, mankind has had troubled with balance, with doing things in moderation.  Seems we either work at a frenetic pace (because we’re excited about burning out for Jesus) or we work at a hugely slow pace (thinking that deliberateness is next to godliness).

So how does this play out in my life?  Cease striving when I find myself in a tight spot.  Cease striving when I have just lost my job and feel I’ve got to initiate a flurry of activity.  Cease striving (like my activity will gain greater favor with God anyway) and chill; rest in God’s love and grace. You can make your own list.

Cease striving Abraham and let me work out the child thing.  (Oops!  Abraham strove and look what we’ve got now.)  Cease striving Moses and let Me part the Red Sea.  Cease striving Gideon and let Me distill your army down to 300 rather than thousands.  Cease striving Jehoshaphat and let Me smite the enemy.  Cease striving Peter and don’t cut off any more ears already!  Cease striving, Stan, and I’ll guide you to your next role.  (Ooh! Now that’s hitting too close to home.)

Wow!  How in the world do we even attempt to apply this in our busy, fast-paced, technologically connected world?

  • There is a “be still” factor in this process.  Stop for a moment and take a deep breath.  I mean right now.  Didn’t that feel good?
  • I find that there is a fine line between putting forth effort and striving.  Each of us must define this line before God.  I can’t answer for someone else.  They can’t answer for me.  But we need to ask God for His wisdom and clarity.
  • Caution Flags – If my BP is going up, perhaps I’m striving.  If my palms are getting sweaty, perhaps I’m striving.  If I’m doing more effort and less praying, perhaps I’m striving.  If my brain is obsessed with how to solve the problem as opposed to trusting God to give me His wisdom as to how to solve the problem, perhaps I’m striving.
  • Ask God on a daily basis to fill your life with His presence, His expectations, His peace and trust that what ever you accomplish today is exactly what God wanted you to accomplish for him.  Nothing more, nothing less.

 Now, that doesn’t that feel better?

Abba, Abba. How Does Your Garden Grow?

Blog Post by Stan Kellner, www.stankellner.com.

(Read Isaiah 28:23-29)

I’ve got to cut to the chase regarding this passage.  It has haunted me for years.  If there’s anything I’ve struggled with consistently throughout my walk with Jesus it’s the concept of knowing how long a trial is going to be and can I make it to the end?

Yes, Scripture tells me that nothing we encounter is totally foreign to the rest of the human race.  Further, I’m told that God will not allow me to carry more than I can handle and, even at that, make a way to escape so I can endure it.

Okay, but I’m not the rest of the human race and I have had times where I have felt that not only is it too much but there seems to be absolutely no end in sight. 

I’ve been in a 5+ year intense pruning process with the Lord.  I’ve made some mistakes along the way but I also am convinced that God has led me to some decisions clearly by His hand that plain fell apart through no fault of my own.

How do I cope?  How do I comprehend this?  First, I’m still working on the coping part.  But what I do know is that God wastes nothing, knows everything about me, is not surprised by my circumstances (no matter how haywire they may feel) and God loves me!  Second, Isaiah 55:11 and Romans 11:33 tells me that God’s ways are beyond my finding out.  Even though that can be frustrating at times, mostly it brings me peace.

It’s like, “Okay, God, I get it.  You are there, you love me, my life just fell apart and I can’t explain why or how but I know that it isn’t all about the plans but rather it’s all about YOU.

As I reflect on the passage in Isaiah as he writes about the planting, cultivating and reaping process several truths jump out at me:

  • God’s work in us is very particular to us.  Notice Isaiah says that the farmer sows dill but scatters cumin.  He plants wheat in rows, barley in its place and rye within its area.  Very specific plants, very specific ways to plant, very specific outcomes.
  • The harvesting is very different as well – dill is beaten out with a rod not with a threshing sledge (whatever that is!).  Cummin is beaten with a club not a cartwheel.  Again, very particular treatment for each individual crop.
  • So far we see also that for us – while all of us are to grow in Christ and there are core principles related to how we grow, we must be careful not to judge how God is growing us versus another believer. I confess that I am guilty of this way too often. 
  • This last point is what God uses to so often stabilize me in the midst of big, hairy trials.  Note what the passage says, “…he does not continue to thresh it forever, because the wheel of his cart and his horses eventually damage it…”  What I get from this verse is that there is an end in sight and, yes, God knows how long I’m supposed to be in this trial.  Also, even though I don’t always feel this way, God is not damaging me but rather bringing me through a necessary process, not because He is spiteful but because He cherishes me and cares for me deeply.

Cracked Pots for Jesus!

(Blog post by Stan Kellner, www.stankellner.com)

Read II Corinthians 4:7

As I peered into the case containing pottery that dated back to Abraham’s time (while visiting a pottery shop in Old City Jerusalem on one of our Israel trips), I became fascinated by one piece in particular. This piece of pottery had been broken and pieced back together.

The guide made the point that even with the best efforts of the potter, there were still unexpected cracks and crevasses that, if a candle was lit inside, would hinder the full light from going only through the top. In other words, whether the pot wanted it to or not, it could not control where the light was going to shine because of these cracks.

My mind quickly raced to II Corinthians 4:7 – “Be we have this treasure (the light of the glorious gospel) in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves”.

Wow! That moment was almost too much to comprehend. You and I are being referred to as earthen vessels. You might be aware that in the Greek this could also be translated, “cracked clay pots”? Before we get to thinking too highly of ourselves, God wants us to remember this key truth. He has placed this magnanimous, glorious, earth-shaking glorious gospel in us, not as beautifully fine-tuned vases and perfectly cast bowls, but rather in us, “Cracked Pots for Jesus”. What’s my take away from this?

  • Jesus has poured His life and truth in us. (That should be enough right there!)
  • We are to let His glorious light shine through us.
  • If we were perfect vases or bowls, we’d probably get the attention not Him.
  • Rather, we are earthen vessels, “cracked pots” so that people would see God’s power in us.
  • Since we are cracked by our very nature, we CANNOT control where and when Jesus light is going to shine into someone else’s life. Guess what? That way we can’t take the credit TODAY, fully embrace that you are a cracked pot for Jesus, one who has been entrusted with the very life and power of Jesus shining in and through you. Shine on, dudes and dudettes!

Neat and Tidy!

(Blog Post by Stan Kellner – www.stankellner.com)

Proverbs 3:5-6

Many years ago, we were preparing to head to Geneva, Switzerland to live and work.  God changed our direction abruptly and we never made it.  However, we were immersed in the process which included taking an intensive French language course.  I love languages and to prepare myself personally, I also began to read the Bible in French (en Francais Courant version). 

Two decades later I’m still struck by some fascinating nuances that I found as I meditated on Proverbs 3:5-6 in the French.  Now, I’m not a French expert but here is a paraphrase of that passage –

“Have all your confidence in God NOT in your neat and tidy intelligence.  Search and become familiar with the way in which you should embark and you will be led to success in the sound and correct way.”

This passage hits me deep in my heart to this day.  One phrase that jumps out is “neat and tidy”.  Our world, including the Christian world, tends toward wanting everything in a neat and tidy package.  TV murder mysteries get solved and wrapped up in 60 minutes (unless it is a “…to be continued”) which I absolutely hate, but that’s a whole other issue.  🙂

While I’m certainly not against doing things decently and in order (as the Bible mentions – I Corinthians 14:40) there is a propensity in our society to do everything “within the lines” or “on time” or “expediting the result”.  We are driving ourselves into a frenzy.  I’m not sure God is real excited about this approach to life.

One insight that helps explain the bent toward “neat and tidy” is our Western Mindset.  As we look at history, there are two distinct mindsets at odds – the Middle East or Hebraic Mindset and the Western Mindset.

The Hebraic Mindset tends to be not so “neat and tidy”.  This mindset believes in an orderly universe, etc.  However, Hebraic allows much more room for discussion, debate, challenge and even disagreement and yes, we can still be friends.

Go to Old City Jerusalem and what we, in the West, would easily confuse as anger and bitter attacks, is actually just two Jews “with three opinions”!  They can raise their hands and even raise their voices and yet, when they are finished, will hug and say “L’heet Larote” (translation for “see ya later”).

The Western Mindset, Greco/Roman thinking, which the U.S. is impacted by, wants everything answered in a “neat and tidy” package.  We need the “six steps to…” or “how-to” formulae.  Now, these approaches are not bad in and of themselves. 

However, as we attempt to trust God everyday and do what He asks, SO often He will tell me how He appreciates my input on a given situation and then He takes me in a totally different direction!  Or I would like the answer at 10:30 and yet God seems to always wait until 11:59.  Oy Vey!  I guess God and I must own two different watches.

So, what’s my point?  Here’s a key lesson God is teaching me as I am walking through a God-ordained transition that was totally unexpected on my part –

Rather than – “…God, I know we could live in these places and I know my jobfit tests tell me I should do such and such…”

How about – “Abba, You’ve created me. You embroidered me in the womb, you’ve wired and gifted me in specific ways so that the most glory can be given to you as I experience the joy in doing them.  So, please show me where and how I should serve you and prepare my heart and will to obey you.  I want to go where You tell me to go.”

This mindset takes loads of burdens off of my back.  I still stay occupied in an active job search but…daily as I acknowledge God, I recognize that He will guide me, with intimate detail, as I follow Him.

Where are you today?  Are you attempting to hold on to your “neat and tidy” world”  Or are you willing to risk and tell Abba that you are ready to serve Him no matter what?  Isaiah says it this way, “Here I am…send me”.

Does this preclude the ability to work in the same role for 30 years ?  No.  Does it preclude the ability to sink your roots down in a particular neighborhood? No.

What it does require is your willingness to let go of the “neat and tidy” if that’s what God asks of you.  Oh, and by the way, this idea of forsaking our “neat and tidy” approach is to literally deal with the tendency we all have to speculate about a given outcome.  Until recently I was the king of speculation.  God has been doing a number on me to break me loose of speculation and wholly lean on His understanding, His perspective, His timing and His outcome.

My prayer and challenge for you today is simply this – Ask God for His will, His direction, His path no matter how it might upset your plans and propensities.  I can guarentee you one thing – you’ll never be bored again!