Saturday, January 26, 2008

A Cracked Pot for the Glory of God!

"But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us." ~2 Corinthians 4:7~

There is an ancient Indian proverb that tells as follows:

A water bearer in India had two large pots, each hung on each end of a pole which he carried across his neck. One of the pots had a crack in it, and while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water at the end of the long walk from the stream to the masters house, the cracked pot arrived only half full. For a full two years this went on daily, with the bearer delivering only one and a half pots full of water in his masters house.

Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, perfect to the end for which it was made. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do.

After two years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, it spoke to the water bearer one day by the stream. "I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you."

"Why?" asked the bearer. "What are you ashamed of?"

"I have been able, for these past two years, to deliver only half my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your masters house. Because of my flaws, you have to do all of this work, and you don't get full value from your efforts." The pot said.

The water bearer felt sorry for the old cracked pot, and in his compassion he said, "As we return to the masters house, I want you to notice the beautiful flowers along the path."

Indeed, as they went up the hill, the old cracked pot took notice of the sun warming the beautiful wild flowers on the side of the path, and this cheered it some. But at the end of the trail, it still felt bad because it had leaked out half its load, and so again the Pot apologized to the bearer for its failure.

The bearer said to the pot, "Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of your path, but not on the other pots side? That's because I have always known about your flaw, and I took advantage of it. I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back from the stream, you've watered them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate my masters table. Without you being just the way you are, he would not have this beauty to grace his house."

There is an obvious moral to the story. God can even use flawed creatures like us. Our inadequacies do not stop God from fulfilling His purpose for us. That is enough cause to rejoice!

But let's think further and deeper. God does not settle for us because He has nothing better to work with; it is not as if He resigns and says, "Well, it's the best I can do with what I created! I guess I'll just have to be content with who they turned out to be!" Do we think that God is not sovereign? On the contrary! God has ordained the situations and pain and cracks and brokenness in our lives because it is what brings Him the most glory.

We are to live fully as broken vessels. Beautiful vessels. Vessels that let the Living Water drip from our jars of clay to produce flowers along the path that we travel.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

KEEP OUT: Threat of Oxygen Ahead!

This past Sunday, we studied John 3:1-21 at Come Thirsty. As I was preparing to teach the lesson, I was struck with the number of references to light verses darkness. We investigated the reasons why Nicodemus might have approached Jesus at night, in the darkness. We looked at our own hearts and asked ourselves what keeps us from coming to the light, then brainstormed ways to step out of the darkness and walk with confidence into His glorious light.

Have you ever wondered how a light bulb works? Light is emitted when an electrical charge passes through a thin filament, heating the filament until it produces light. Metaphorically speaking, God is our electrical current, and the filament is our lives. Without His life-giving energy moving through us, there would be no heat to produce light. When we are born again, this process begins, and His light shines through us.

But there is another key. The enclosing glass bulb around the filament keeps oxygen in the air from hitting the hot filament. If oxygen gets in, the light would be destroyed rapidly by the process scientists call oxidation.

What serves as the outside air in your life that seeks to destroy the light that God has produced? Is it wealth or materialism? What about relationships? Could it be distraction? How about image? Or is it egocentrism--focusing so much on your own needs and concerns that you fail to see those around you who are spiritually dying?

I generated this list from thinking about my own personal struggles. Every single one of those items would be on my list. Maybe they affect you too. Maybe they don't. But I want to challenge you to think about the outside air in your life.

For today's blog image, I chose a picture of a light bulb that is emitting light. I distributed this picture in class on Sunday, and around the bulb, we all wrote down the things which threaten to destroy our light. Then I challenged us to pray over and against one of these items every week, asking God to eradicate it from our lives. With all of the items I listed, I need to spend many months in prayer, and even then, I know I am only scratching the surface.

Thursday, January 10, 2008



by Walter Wangerin, Ragman and Other Cries of Faith

I saw a strange sight. I stumbled upon a story most strange, like nothing my life, my street sense, my sly tongue had ever prepared me for.

Hush, child. Hush, now, and I will tell it to you.

Even before the dawn one Friday morning I noticed a young man, handsome and strong, walking the alleys of our City. He was pulling an old cart filled with clothes both bright and new, and he was calling in a clear, tenor voice: "Rags!" Ah, the air was foul and the first light filthy to be crossed by such sweet music.

"Rags! New rags for old! I take your tired rags! Rags!"

"Now, this is a wonder," I thought to myself, for the man stood six-feet-four, and his arms were like tree limbs, hard and muscular, and his eyes flashed intelligence. Could he find no better job than this, to be a ragman in the inner city?

I followed him. My curiosity drove me. And I wasn’t disappointed.

Soon the Ragman saw a woman sitting on her back porch. She was sobbing into a handkerchief, sighing, and shedding a thousand tears. Her knees and elbows made a sad X. Her shoulders shook. Her heart was breaking.

The Ragman stopped his cart. Quietly, he walked to the woman, stepping round tin cans, dead toys, and Pampers.

"Give me your rag," he said so gently, "and I’ll give you another."

He slipped the handkerchief from her eyes. She looked up, and he laid across her palm a linen cloth so clean and new that it shined. She blinked from the gift to the giver.

Then, as he began to pull his cart again, the Ragman did a strange thing: he put her stained handkerchief to his own face; and then HE began to weep, to sob as grievously as she had done, his shoulders shaking. Yet she was left without a tear.

"This IS a wonder," I breathed to myself, and I followed the sobbing Ragman like a child who cannot turn away from mystery.

"Rags! Rags! New rags for old!"

In a little while, when the sky showed grey behind the rooftops and I could see the shredded curtains hanging out black windows, the Ragman came upon a girl whose head was wrapped in a bandage, whose eyes were empty. Blood soaked her bandage. A single line of blood ran down her cheek.

Now the tall Ragman looked upon this child with pity, and he drew a lovely yellow bonnet from his cart.

"Give me your rag," he said, tracing his own line on her cheek, "and I’ll give you mine."

The child could only gaze at him while he loosened the bandage, removed it, and tied it to his own head. The bonnet he set on hers. And I gasped at what I saw: for with the bandage went the wound! Against his brow it ran a darker, more substantial blood -- his own!

"Rags! Rags! I take old rags!" cried the sobbing, bleeding, strong, intelligent Ragman.

The sun hurt both the sky, now, and my eyes; the Ragman seemed more and more to hurry.

"Are you going to work?" he asked a man who leaned against a telephone pole. The man shook his head.
The Ragman pressed him: "Do you have a job?"

"Are you crazy?" sneered the other. He pulled away from the pole, revealing the right sleeve of his jacket -- flat, the cuff stuffed into the pocket. He had no arm.

"So," said the Ragman. "Give me your jacket, and I’ll give you mine." Such quiet authority in his voice!

The one-armed man took off his jacket. So did the Ragman -- and I trembled at what I saw: for the Ragman’s arm stayed in its sleeve, and when the other put it on he had two good arms, thick as tree limbs; but the Ragman had only one.

"Go to work," he said.

After that he found a drunk, lying unconscious beneath an army blanket, and old man, hunched, wizened, and sick. He took that blanket and wrapped it round himself, but for the drunk he left new clothes.

And now I had to run to keep up with the Ragman. Though he was weeping uncontrollably, and bleeding freely at the forehead, pulling his cart with one arm, stumbling for drunkenness, falling again and again, exhausted, old, and sick, yet he went with terrible speed. On spider’s legs he skittered through the alleys of the City, this mile and the next, until he came to its limits, and then he rushed beyond.

I wept to see the change in this man. I hurt to see his sorrow. And yet I needed to see where he was going in such haste, perhaps to know what drove him so.

The little old Ragman -- he came to a landfill. He came to the garbage pits. And then I wanted to help him in what he did, but I hung back, hiding. He climbed a hill. With tormented labor he cleared a little space on that hill. Then he sighed. He lay down. He pillowed his head on a handkerchief and a jacket. He covered his bones with an army blanket. And he died.

Oh, how I cried to witness that death! I slumped in a junked car and wailed and mourned as one who has no hope -- because I had come to love the Ragman. Every other face had faded in the wonder of this man, and I cherished him; but he died. I sobbed myself to sleep.

I did not know -- how could I know? -- that I slept through Friday night and Saturday and its night, too.

But then, on Sunday morning, I was wakened by a violence.

Light -- pure, hard, demanding light -- slammed against my sour face, and I blinked, and I looked, and I saw the last and the first wonder of all. There was the Ragman, folding the blanket most carefully, a scar on his forehead, but alive! And, besides that, healthy! There was no sign of sorrow nor of age, and all the rags that he had gathered shined for cleanliness.

Well, then I lowered my head and trembling for all that I had seen, I myself walked up to the Ragman. I told him my name with shame, for I was a sorry figure next to him. Then I took off all my clothes in that place, and I said to him with dear yearning in my voice: "Dress me."

He dressed me. My Lord, he put new rags on me, and I am a wonder beside him. The Ragman, the Ragman, the Christ!

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Love the Lord Your God

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength" (Mark 12:30b).

One of my grad school professors started out class every day by having us reflect on a Scripture passage. One day, she asked us to read the verses out loud as many times through as there are words in the verse. Each time, we were asked to emphasize a different word. For instance, with the verse above, the first time through I would read, "LOVE the Lord your God with all your heart...." The second time, I would emphasize the article: "Love THE Lord your God with all your heart...." The third time, the emphasis went on the third word: "Love the LORD your God with all your heart...." And so on.

Last night, on my way to my niece's birthday party, Mark 12:30 popped in my head. I ran through that exercise in my head. I think it can teach a person quite a bit. Here's what I learn:

LOVE- God doesn't ask for our religious fervor inspired by duty, but our hearts motivated by love. He wants me to really love Him. That is the starting point. If I mess up at the first word in this verse, and my motivations shift away from love, everything else in the formula will be skewed.

THE- There is only one God. He is THE God, not a god. Wow! I serve THE God, and THE God invites me to love Him! He wants to be known by me! How sweet is that?!? :)

LORD- Here is the object of my affection. Though there are so many things in life that tempt me to remove my gaze from my First Love, God gently reminds me that it is He who my heart must pursue. The Lord is the only One whom I should love with all of my heart and soul and mind and strength. Everything and everyone else falls short.

YOUR- Again it strikes me that He is my God. My search is over; He has found me. I belong to Him and He is my God. If He is my Lord, it is only logical that I must live like He is my Lord. He must have Lordship over my life. There is no other option. There is no other joy.

GOD- I've often reflected on the longing in my heart to worship someone or something. I have been created to worship. Isn't that blatantly obvious in all of our hearts if we are honest with ourselves? Am I going to worship me--am I going to worship my hopes and dreams and desires for my life--or am I going to worship God? God doesn't snuff out our desire to worship as if He has to put out a dangerous fire in our lives. On the contrary, He invites us to worship with every ounce of our being, and He points to Himself as the One whom we must worship.

WITH- Semantically, the word "love" has no power. What gives the word power is not even the sentiment behind it, but the action behind it. If we are going to love God, we must love Him with something. Otherwise love becomes a meaningless philosophical term.

ALL- Three little letters. Why is this such a hard concept for me? God wants ALL of my heart, soul, mind, and strength. I tend to give only a fraction, most of the time deceiving myself into thinking 9% or 99% is the same as 100%.

YOUR- It is my personal offering unto God. No one else can offer it for me.

HEART- My affections and the deep inner longings within me all belong to God.

AND- It doesn't end with my heart. There is more I can offer to God!

WITH- See previous note on "with."

ALL- See previous note on "all."

YOUR- See previous note on "your."

SOUL- My body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. God desires to dwell within me and reign supreme in my life. I must love Him with my spiritual senses, my emotions, my personality, and all else that makes me

AND- See previous note on "and."

WITH- See previous note on "with."

ALL- See previous note on "all."

YOUR- See previous note on "your."

MIND- How can I love God with all of my mind if I am letting it become cluttered with the cultural messages that teach me that my value and self-worth and self-preservation lie in materialism, consumerism, humanism, and egocentrism. Man is not the measure of all things. God is. He is the author of Knowledge and Wisdom; these cannot be found apart from Him.

AND- See previous note on "and."

WITH- See previous note on "with."

ALL- See previous note on "all."

YOUR- See previous note on "your."

STRENGTH- If it is when I am weak that I am strong, then loving God with my strength involves becoming weak for the glory of God. It means realizing that Jenny Schulenburg has no strength. God does. Jenny Schulenburg is not wise. God is. Jenny Schulenburg cannot succeed or make a name for herself. God is the author of success and only His name is great. It is all from God, for God, by God, and to God.

One little verse. One lifetime of lessons. And I continue taking notes in the School of His Presence.

Happy Birthday, Lori!

The Bible has some very beautiful, detailed descriptions of God's handiwork. His creation is "majestic" and "full of splendor." It reveals His glory and magnificence. It illustrates God's creativity, His orderliness, His authority. All of creation will one day bow before Him, for He is the King of all.

Man's artistic ability is one of the many characteristics that sets man apart from beast. God has gifted select individuals with the ability to strike awe and wonder in the hearts of others using the canvas as their medium and the paintbrush as their tool. Whether or not the artist acknowledges the fact, he or she reflects on a diminutive scale God's painting of love, grace, and mercy on the tapestry of one's heart.

My sister-in-law Lori, married to my second oldest brother, Randy, has been gifted with great artistic abilities. She has enough vision to take an unadorned object and transform it into a thing of beauty and grace. But Lori's vision is not limited to her artwork. Lori sees beyond the sinfulness of unredeemed sinners and demonstrates love and compassion in her interactions with them. She illustrates the way that God transforms His children into beautiful vessels for His glory through both her artwork and her life.

Lori, today we celebrate who God created when He made you. I cannot consciously recall a time when you were not a part of our family. When I was around five years old, I thought my brother Randy was bringing over a friend for me to play with, and I would drag you away from him to play with my dolls. :) Even though you wanted to spend time with the man who would eventually become your husband, you were sweet and gracious and entertained the little girl in pigtails. I don't think time has changed much. I still drag you away, only our conversation has replaced our imaginative play. I hope you have a wonderful birthday!

Saturday, January 05, 2008

He Covered Me

The Inspiration

"And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them" (Genesis 3:21).

Wow! I find this to be some of the most beautiful words in Genesis, perhaps in Scripture, and I enjoy spending time thinking and meditating on them.

The Backdrop

Adam and Eve are in the cool of the garden enjoying unhindered, unencumbered, unadulterated fellowship with the God who created them. Everything is perfect, until the serpent begins to hiss the sly sentiments of Satan himself. A sprinkle of deception. A dash of doubt. A pinch of despair. And viola! Creation falls. And the human dance of entanglement with sin and Satan begins.

They Are Naked, And They Are Ashamed

Immediately after eating of the forbidden fruit, Scripture tell us "the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked" (Gen. 3:7). Their immediate impulse is to cover their physical bodies. For the first time, they feel shame.

While they immediately address their physical nakedness, I cannot imagine the pain of feeling spiritually naked and exposed for the first time. I was born a depraved sinner; I've known nothing else. They were created perfect; they never knew the feeling and pain of sin. Until they ate the fruit of the tree, they never had the "knowledge of good and evil."

Can You Imagine?

How terrified Adam and Eve must have felt when they covered themselves, but the dirty stain of sin and shame shown through the futile fig leaves! They could cover their bodies; they could not cover their hearts and their souls. They could not make their sin go away. Their attempts fell short.

God Intervenes

Fig leaves can never cover a person permanently. Leaves crunch and crumble as they are crushed on the ground. Fig leaves fail.

So God intervenes. He writes Himself into the story, over and over again. He is their only hope. He takes an animal. I wonder if it was an animal that Adam and Eve knew by name. After all, God gave Adam the chore of naming all of the animals. I wonder if their eyes locked with the creature as it was taken away, wondering what God was about to do. I wonder if God killed the animal in front of them. I wonder if they were horrified as they saw life drain away from the animal they named as it slowly went to sleep and awoke no more. I wonder if they cried as they saw its blood flow from its lifeless body. Scripture doesn't spell out the details, so I am left to wonder.

He Covers Them

God then takes the skin of the creature and wraps it around Adam and Eve. He corrects them. He clothes them. He covers them. Through the death of another creature, they are covered!

He Covered Me

Two thousand years ago, the process repeats itself on a grand scale. All of life has built up to this moment. The King doesn't take His throne; He is nailed to a cross. His blood flows down and spiritually naked individuals gaze upon the sacrifice, hoping that they might be clothed.

He dies, but His death isn't permanent. He rises again, and there is power in the sacrifice. He defeats death. He crushes Satan. He provides a way for those who respond to His message. And those individuals find that they are covered.

I stand here today fully clothed, washed clean by the blood of the sacrifice. My fig leaves have been replaced with garments of righteousness. The Bridegroom has adorned His bride in white for her entrance into glory, and I am counted among that number. Praise God, for He was the garment that covered me!

Happy Birthday, Christina!

This year, my goal is to write a blog post dedicated to each of my family members on their birthdays. I find it beautiful that God has placed so many people into my life with various talents and gifts--people who I love deeply and who love me in return--and I want to celebrate who God created them to be for His glory.

My niece Christina turns seven today. She was the first child born to my youngest brother, Kevin and his wife, Melissa. Kevin and Melissa dropped by our house one night and said they had a gift for us. It was a small, unassuming box. We tore off the wrapping paper and found tiny baby shoes inside. It was their official announcement; in January a new baby would be born to the Schulenburg family!

Christina is very bright, she devours books, she is artistic, she has an infectious smile and a contagious laugh, she is "all girl," and she loves Jesus. Christina is my "look alike" niece. I love it when people come up to us and instantly know that we are related. But even more, I want her to reflect the heart of Jesus Christ. I want Him to increasingly become her all-consuming passion, greatest joy, and deepest satisfaction.

God is planting seeds of truth and life inside of her at an early age. I observe it every time she taps my arm in the church service to ask me a question in order to clarify what the pastor has just said. I relish those interruptions.

Christina, you are a beautiful gift from God. Live every moment of your life in pursuit of Jesus Christ. Devour your time in His presence as much as you devour your books on kings and princesses living in far away kingdoms. He is your King, and He has made you to be His princess. The kingdom of heaven is far away, yet very near. It is not a fairy tale, but a bright and shining reality. And you have been given the royal invitation!