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Living vessels
by Bernie Ziebart
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My daughter, aged 9, tends to be the careless one in our house when it comes to spilling anything she drinks. If we didn’t confine her to the kitchen table when eating or drinking our carpets would resemble an abstract artistic rendering. But after looking at the carpets, I have come to a bigger truth; anything that we put into a cup or vessel will come out. Likewise, we are God’s vessels. We spill. We splash. Everyone knows what is in our vessel. It is up to us to make sure that it is filled with the things of God.

We are filled with varying quantities of whatever we put in it. God commands us in Galatians chapter 5 to be filled with the Fruit of the Spirit. However, being human, we are also filled with the bitterness, jealousy, envy, greed, etc. It is our call to be sure that the first (and only) thing to spill out of us is what God’s grace has given us.

In Acts 9: 15, the Lord referred to the apostle Paul as a vessel; “for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel”. In Corinthians 4:7, Paul states, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” Romans 9: 23, “And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory.” I spent a great amount of time trying to determine what it is about a clay pot or cup that would cause God to make these references. Paul in 2 Timothy 2: 20 makes it clear. “Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work. Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”

God, in his mercy, has given us two different methods of finding out what is inside of us. First, the Bible is a light that shines into the dark corners of our heart, revealing sin. Second, God uses others to ‘bump’ into us. When people crash into, jostle, and scratch us, whatever is inside will ‘splash’ out onto those around us. It is that which comes out of us which also reveals our inner character; either the Fruits of the Spirit or sin.

Sadly, what ‘splashes’ onto others is not always the Fruit of the Spirit. That guy who cut you off in rush-hour traffic, the lady that jumped in front of you in line at the grocery store, your boss, co-worker, spouse, child, etc., was that person that ‘bumped’ into you the one that filled your vessel with bitterness, envy, or jealousy? Absolutely not! We put it in there; God just uses another person to draw it out of us. It is this awareness that must bring a cleansing process. This process begins with an examination of the perfect vessel, Jesus Christ.

When Jesus was being kicked, scratched, bruised and ultimately crucified only love came out of him, because there was only love in that vessel. In that hour of excruciating pain and torment, Jesus revealed everything that he had in Him. In Jesus, love was the only thing he had and he poured it out like a drink offering. If Jesus had even an ounce of bitterness in him, it would have come out, but it didn’t. With his dying breath, he eschewed hatred and showed mercy. “Father,” he pleaded, “forgive them for they know not what they do.”

As Jesus was ‘bumped’, he used it to show what the power of love can do. How many standing around the cross that day left saying “Surely, this was the Son of God?” Jesus used what spilled out of him to expose others needs, in this case, an obvious need for salvation. Likewise, we need to use our ‘bumps’ as an opportunity to show mercy to others as we are growing in grace ourselves.

This process lies at the basic core of Christianity: love. If we are not responding in love, sin is winning the war in our vessel. This battle is as old as time itself. God warned Cain in Genesis, “Sin lies at your door…either you conquer your sin or your sin will conquer you.” However, Cain did not heed God’s warning and allowed bitterness, jealousy, envy and disobedience to enter his heart. The next time he ran into Abel, the bitterness ‘splashed’ out. Abel did not cause Cain’s vessel to be filled with hate and bitterness. Cain chose it by refusing to keep his vessel pure with the Fruits of the Spirit. And he became consumed with sin. Our vessels are finite; once it is filled with sin, there is little room for anything else.

No one can make us bitter, envious, jealous or hateful. We do that to ourselves when we do not rely on the grace of God when responding to bruises that we get in life. When we become bitter, we need to repent for a lack of love. For if we love as we should, we will never become bitter. Trouble, hardship and bruises will come in life. And unless we respond to it with the grace of God, we will focus on the bruise and on the scoundrel who gave us the bruise.

Mark 7:15-23 says “Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him… That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man."

Jesus shows us that the evils that war against you from the outside cannot defile you. However, our reaction to those evils, the ‘bumps’ against us, will defile us if we respond in kind. Yet be aware that it is impossible to respond to evil with a pure and Holy attitude…impossible on our own. (If you could do it on your own it wouldn’t be Christianity.)

But my vessel is full of bitterness, how do I cleanse it? The Bible gives us only one way to produce a holy vessel; through repentance and brokenness. The grace of God is present in every difficult circumstance. We then have a decision to make; do we lean on the grace of God or do we lean on natural inclination? By becoming bitter, we had to reject God’s grace that was abundantly available and chose instead to give way to natural inclination. Thus repentance is needed for making bad choices.

A pure vessel, cleansed through brokenness happens when we are in deep mourning over the extent of our depravity in the light of who God is. As a Christian, you will never experience the fullness of joy without complete and utter brokenness. It is in brokenness where we also find peace, Godliness and wisdom. It is in brokenness that we begin to remove the sins of natural inclination from our vessel. It is in brokenness that we find the will of God.

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