Canaan, New Hampshire
I grew up in Canaan, NH…a town that was about the same size as Antrim when I lived there, but now appears to have about a thousand more people. I still remember our address and phone number…PO Box 172 and 523-7763. Not bad, eh? ☺
Although Canaan also has a couple major roads running through it like Antrim does (Route 4 and Route 118)…growing up it seemed “sleepier” to me than this wonderful town. Perhaps it’s just the difference in what we are aware of as an adult versus what we are as a child…but Canaan definitely seemed more like the middle of nowhere than Antrim does.
And although she was a registered nurse, my mom stayed at home to watch us boys in our house on Canaan Street Road (yes “Street Road”). To earn extra cash she took up macramé–and became quite accomplished. She even started an annual craftsman’s fair in town. Since I was actually somewhat cute as a kid (I know, I know, very difficult to believe)–and just as extroverted–she often would leave me alone at the table because it increased sales. ☺
[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the "extras" that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]
Now, because of the nature of her work, it meant my mom had creative friends beyond fellow-macromé-er. For instance there was another couple in Canaan (close to our family) who was quite accomplished at pottery…and even my sister spent some time sliming her hands in spinning clay. I suspect I also had a couple times playing at the potter’s wheel, but can’t imagine I ever produced anything more than what only a mother could love.
And I think we can all appreciate what skill it takes to make genuinely beautiful pottery. Theoretically it seems simple…throw a hunk of clay on a wheel…get it spinning…push here…tug there…and out pops a beautiful mug! But, for must of us, the result would look like it belonged to the swamp monster. ☺
What can be lost in appreciating a potter’s skill is how much more than just having a sculptor’s hand and an artist’s eye–once you’ve formed your masterpiece it takes a combination of creative and scientific skills to finish the work. You have to specially dry it (not just air dry), fire it into bisque form, and then glaze and fire it to its completed state. Those may sound like easy steps–but if you aren’t patient or don’t choose the right temperatures it can lead to some pretty catastrophic results.
A “half-baked” result is no good.
Generally avoid talking too much about myself up front here…so why the long discussion of my childhood in Canaan? Because the Bible speaks of a heavenly potter…and I’d like to discuss that craftsman with you. Let’s turn to Romans 9:14-24:
14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory– 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?
My experience with those words usually are in the negative sense–God’s righteousness in judging the wicked, even though He admits culpability in their fate.
Today, however, I want to focus on something else that is implicit in it–that even the vessels made for honorable use…
Vessels of mercy…
Those whom God has called from Jews and Gentiles…
Are being molded by a master’s hands.
And Paul wasn’t the first biblical writer to use this metaphor–for instance, Isaiah uses it a couple times. The first time is in Isaiah 29:15-16:
15 Ah, you who hide deep from the LORD your counsel,
whose deeds are in the dark,
and who say, “Who sees us? Who knows us?”
16 You turn things upside down!
Shall the potter be regarded as the clay,
that the thing made should say of its maker,
“He did not make me”;
or the thing formed say of him who formed it,
“He has no understanding”?
Again, although the context might be negative…even we saved can learn from it.
Because sometimes we are also guilty turning things “upside down.”
Worrying about salvation
Let’s be honest together; how many of you have worried about their salvation?
Whether you are really saved?
Whether, after you decided to follow Christ, you’ve turned your backs on Him?
How many of you wonder, based on the mistakes you make…the sins you commit…whether you have blown it; cut yourself off from the one you once decided to follow?
I have…and I suspect most people who aren’t blindly following God have too.
Turning things upside down
Looking back in Romans 9…does the vessel do anything for itself? Is it in any way responsible for the finished work?
No…Paul’s whole point in that section is that God reserves sovereign right in who He chooses to save–who He chooses as a vessel of mercy. When we look at ourselves and worry about our salvation it is the equivalent to stating what Isaiah shoots down–saying of our maker, “He did not make me”…that somehow we make ourselves…and the Bible empatically tells us:
You turn things upside down!
Let’s turn again to Isaiah, this time 64:8:
8 But now, O LORD, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
Again…who is is the potter? [God is]
Who is the clay? [Us]
Whose hand are we the work of? [Our Father’s]
The Father’s hand
Hearing about the Father’s hand immediately brought to mind another Scripture I shared the last time we discussed the subject of this sermon. That one is in John 10:22-30:
22 At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me,is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out ofthe Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”
Now…I want you to slow down a bit and consider a couple of very important facts:
- You are being molded by the Father’s hand
- No one…no one…is able to snatch you out of the Father’s hand
So…if you are being molded by God and nobody can snatch you out of His hand…
Just in case
Since I sucked in a Scripture from it, does anyone remember what the name of my previous sermon on the surety of salvation?
It was titled, “Just in Case” after a song of the same name by Tesla. It gave quite a few other biblical references that I won’t repeat here–but I will make sure its notes are available on our web site when I make this one’s available. However, for those who either missed that sermon or, like me, don’t always remember so well…here are some of the things we concluded from that discussion:
- You heard Jesus’ voice and followed Him–you are part of his flock.
- No one can snatch you out of Jesus’ hand.
- The Father gave you to Jesus.
- No one can snatch you out of the Father’s hand.
- The Father’s will is you not be lost, but raised in the last day.
- Jesus desires you be with Him.
- The Father drew you to Jesus.
And…well…as I was writing this I decided we should bring in one more Scripture from that lesson…
26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,7 for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died–more than that, who was raised–who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,
”For your sakewe are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Do you remember what we concluded from that reference?
- You were foreknown.
- You were predestined to be conformed to the image of Jesus.
- You were called.
- You were justified.
- You were glorified.
- Nothing! Nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord!
So…which one of those bullet points would fit our discussion of pottery?
You are being conformed…molded…into the image of Jesus.
Do you trust God? [ Yes. ]
Is He a liar? [ No. ]
Is there anything too big for Him to accomplish? [ No. ]
Let’s look at one final reference before we wrap things up:
3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:3-6).
Paul’s thanksgiving at the beginning of 1 Corinthians has a similar statement as he speaks of “our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:7b-8).
Now…you confirmed you trust God, that He isn’t a liar, and that there is nothing too big for Him to accomplish.
Then you must believe that the heavenly potter…that the Father’s hands…will complete the good work He began in you…that he will sustain you until the end…that He will conform you to the image of Christ.
He will not leave you half-baked because His plans for you were not half-baked.