"Treasure In Clay Jars" series


One of the reasons I preach is because of the words that shaped me into a preacher. I was often encouraged by the good folks at the Winslow congregation. They complimented me when I preached on occasion and I have to believe they were encouraging me for the future for I doubt there was much benefit in what I had to say.

There is one moment from those days that stands out. A Christian brother named Wayne Dockery, the son of our preaching minister at that time, was visiting his parents and I was preaching the sermon that evening. Wayne had been involved in ministry and shepherding. He had preached good sermons and heard good sermons I am sure. As everyone was leaving the service that evening Wayne took my hand and stared directly at me. He did not compliment my sermon as most had done. Instead he blessed me. He said “You have a gift. Do not squander it.” I replied, “Thank You.” He emphasized again, “God has given you a gift. You need to nurture it. Use it for Him.”

Wayne’s words did not sink in that day. In fact, I think I forgot about them for quite some time. It wasn’t until later in my life when I was struggling to understand why I was in ministry that I recalled his words. His words gave me perspective – they reminded me that I do not preach for myself but I preach for the good of God’s people and also for the Lord. His words gave me hope – they reminded me that what I have is a gift of God and not dependent on my own ability (thank you God for that). I remembered his words and I still remember his words even now. They have been an influence on me and even though Wayne is gone, I will never forget his words to me.

clay being formed on pottery wheel Words shape us. When God created the universe he did not use tools or lightning, rather he used words. God spoke and it was so. And that was just the beginning. God’s words continue to create reality. He called Abram and a nation was formed. He gave Jacob a new name and he had a new future a new identity. God spoke through his prophets and declared that some nations would rise and others would fall. (Jeremiah 18:1-10). After the people of God had lost their way, after they were sent into exile, and after they returned they were rebuilt not through the restoration of cities and houses but when Ezra read to them the words of God. When Jesus was born God announced the birth. A proclamation of good news was sent out to kings and shepherds. Nothing would ever be the same, a new age had dawned. Words shape us – and the word of God creates reality.

When Jesus was being tested for ministry he fasted for 40 days. Satan knew very well that Jesus had the authority to use words to create. “You’re hungry,” he says. “You have the authority to make hot rolls out these rocks,” he says. “It won’t hurt anybody, so why not?” he says. Jesus also knows that words have the power to shape reality and identity so he says, “A person needs more than bread to live, one is fed and sustained by every word of God.” (Matthew 4) Better than bread when one is hungry is the word of God. Food can feed the body, but the word of God nourishes the whole person.

13It is written: "I believed; therefore I have spoken."With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, 14because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. 15All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. 16Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.

I appreciate my heritage of faith. I am interested in the history of the Restoration Movement in America. One of the values of the Restoration Movement that I cherish is the reverence for Scripture and the desire to be biblical. This is another reason I preach, because I believe that God’s word is not only foundational but formative. Of course this also intimidates me because I know, from personal experience and the study of history, that revering Scripture and being shaped by it can be two very different things. The lump of clay in the potter’s studio can admire the work of the potter and extol the beauty of clay jars and the treasure they contain, but to actually be thrown on the wheel and molded by the potter is to be changed.

Sometimes our relationship to Scripture has been like a stroll through a museum. We behold the artistry of God and extol the beauty and perfection of God’s work, but we don’t really own the work and we are only involved as an observer. Sometimes our relationship with God’s word is a little more intimate and we see ourselves as those who are blessed to enjoy the useful instruments that God has provided in his word. Like a chef who delights in the useful stoneware and pottery that she has the privilege to use.

But what if we turned the relationship around? What if we understood ourselves as the instruments in the service of the word? What if, instead of seeing the Bible as a constitution for the church that we debate, discuss, and apply like a code of law we regarded ourselves as the parchment or stone upon which God writes his word? (2 Corinthians 3:3)

God’s word is so unlike the “sacred writings” of religion and even the way we have perceived it at times. For Islam, the true Quran cannot be translated. The true Quran exists only in Arabic. It is a message rooted in a particular language and culture. Though cherished and revered, it is a work that exists in a set form. For Mormons, the Book of Mormon has a divine origin that is rooted in mystery. The angel Moroni revealed golden plates to the prophet Joseph Smith and gave him the power to translate the heavenly language before taking the plates back to heaven. Over against these the Bible’s origin is really sort of mundane and messy. It is written in two languages and translated many times over into other languages. It did not fall out of heaven but was collected over the course of centuries by ordinary. And there were periods during the first century when the first century church did not have the complete New Testament. That might seem alarming. Anyone who admits to this might seem to be discrediting the word of God. That would be the case if the word of God were just a book – but it is more than a book. The word of God cannot be reduced to words written on pages in a book or scroll. The word of God is living and active and sharper than a double-edged sword. The words we read and speak were never destined to rest quietly on a page, but they are intended to penetrate our lives and cut away sin and shaped us into God’s people for the sake of his mission. If we believe them, then we will be shaped by them, and we will speak them in word and action ...

13It is written: "I believed; therefore I have spoken." With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, ... Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.

Faithfulness to God’s Mission demands that we must be shaped by the Word of God. His word is renewing us day by day. We tend to think of Scripture as something that we use on others: as though the word is case law that we can form into a crafty argument, or a quote that we can use to gain advantage in debate. But Scripture is meant to equip us – to shape us and prepare us to live out the word and not just use it in arguments.

Making Disciples and Being Disciples. – A disciple is a learner, one who is learning a discipline. Not just head knowledge, but discipline in thought and action. It is a way of life. When we think about our mission statement, let’s be aware that some of the disciples being made are you and I. There’s no way we can make disciples if we are not concerned about being disciples.

We dare not invite people to share in the journey of following God’s call if we do it from a position of arrogance or superiority. We are being shaped and discipled just as much as the disciple who is baptized today. We know the power of words, so don’t be surprised that we are being shaped by the word of God.

Why do you preach? Why do you speak?
What do we believe? What we believe is how we shall live. Words shape us.

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 26 February 2006

Treasure in Clay Jars
Lesson Three: Pattern 2 – Feb. 26, 2006
“Being Shaped By Scripture”

What is this lesson all about?

  1. Your group will understand that the Bible has a formative role in the church’s life and that all church members must learn what it means to be a disciple.
  2. Your group will explore the role of Scripture in missional formation and discipleship.
  3. Your group will develop opportunities to practice the pattern of biblical formation and discipleship.

Getting Started:

  1. You might open with a conversation starter. Ask the class to share with one another what they think of the old line: “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Is this true or false? If it is false and words do hurt, what does this say about the power of words and the enduring nature of this old proverb?
  2. Can you recall something someone said to you or wrote about you that impacted you negatively? How long ago was it? Does it still affect you today? How have you overcome it?
  3. Can you recall something that someone said to you that impacted you positively? What was it? How has it shaped you? Do you come back to that moment?

Searching the Word:

  1. Read Genesis 1 (read verses 1-5 if time is critical). Discuss how God uses words to bring creation into existence. Invite the class to respond to what this means about the power of words.
  2. Do our words have the power to shape reality? How much more then does God’s word have the power to shape our reality and identity?
  3. Read Hebrews 4:6-13. You might acknowledge that verses 12-13 are more familiar than the context starting in verse 6. (Note: It may be useful to show that the context involves disobedience). Have the group identify the adjectives, verbs, and images used to describe the word of God. Are these the sort of words will typically use to describe the Word of God? If not, what words do we typically use?
  4. Explore the context of Hebrews 4:6-13 and the images used to describe the word of God.
    1. What does the description of God’s word as sharp, penetrating, dividing, living, and active tell us about the function of the word as it relates to obedience? What do these words tell us about the way Scripture is supposed to shape our lives?
    2. What is the relationship between obedience and discipleship?

Making It Real: Exploration and Response

  1. In this closing section, it is important to emphasize that the role of the Bible in our life together is to shape us into the kind of people God wants us to be. The goal of biblical teaching is obedience and discipleship and not just knowledge.
  2. Exploration Strategy: Divide into two groups.
    1. Give Group A the following assignment (It is best if the other group doesn’t know this assignment): Ask Group A to answer the following question for a skeptic/non-Christian - “Why should I study the Bible?” Have someone write down the answers that the group gives.
    2. Give Group B the following assignment (It is best if Group A doesn’t know this): Ask Group B to answer this question for themselves - “Why do you read the Bible for yourself?” Have someone write down the answers the group gives.
    3. Bring the two group back together and compare the two lists. Do we read the Bible for the same reasons we tell seekers or non-Christians to read the Bible? Why or why not?
    4. The purpose of this exploration strategy is to make the group aware of assumptions that we might have about the role of Scripture in evangelism and discipleship. Do we regard the Bible as containing information that converts must accept, or do we view the Bible as the living word of God which shapes all of us (converts and Christians) into disciples? This is important to the way we “use” Scripture in our lives.
  3. Consider the reasons you study the Bible. Is it for your own “benefit?” Is it to gain guidance for a difficult decision? Is it to build an argument? Is it part of a routine discipline? How might we go beyond these and dwell in God’s word so that it transforms and disciplines us?
    1. Alternatively, imagine ways we might read the Scriptures together as a called and sent community. Invite the group to suggest ways we could collectively discern God’s word for us in our current context (recall pattern 1 – missional vocation).
  4. Read Matthew 28:18-20. What is involved in the process of making disciples? (Note: baptizing and teaching). How long does this teaching last? What are the essential elements of this teaching?
    1. Exploration Strategy: Distribute cards and have the group members write on the card what they consider to be the “essential elements” of the teaching commissioned in Matthew 28. Encourage them to write down as many elements as they can. Invite discussion from the class: “Have we included everything? How long will it take us to educate on all of these?”
    2. The purpose of this strategy is to demonstrate that training in discipleship is not simply a matter of knowledge but a discipline for one’s life.
  5. Encourage the learners to go on “field trip” (literally or imaginatively) around the congregation’s facilities. Notice what Scriptures are on display. Gather samples of congregational literature. Notice what Scriptures are on display.
    1. Why are these Scriptures on display? What do they say about our “vocation” (Recall Pattern 1)
    2. How do they shape and form our life together? How should they shape and form us?
    3. Are these scriptures “equipping us for righteousness?” Are they forming us into a called and sent people? Why or why not?
    4. If not, what should we do to allow the word of God to judge our thoughts and attitudes?
    5. How does being a disciple enter into these everyday situations: 1) buying a house, 2) purchasing a car; 3) choosing a career; 4) dining together as a family; 5) choosing what books to read, movies to watch; 6) the way you treat those who serve you; 7) the way you treat those you serve. (Please add your own everyday situations.)

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 26 February 2006

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