Filth and Mercy

[Disclaimer: This post is not for the faint-hearted]

Filth and Mercy

I thought I was hallucinating. The sight was so repulsive; I knew it couldn’t be real. I’d never seen anything so up close and personal like this, right in front of my eyes, so repulsive, so disgusting, and so disturbing that my stomach wanted to jump out through my throat. I will never forget him. God, I pray I never do. And I’ll never forget how I had to go to school, try to focus on learning his language, knowing he sat on the sidewalk right outside. How I wanted to scream, cry, weep, run away to a solitary place and process what I just saw. I’ll try to describe it, best I can.

This morning, before I saw him, I was confronted with my own sin. My self. The part of me that kicks against righteousness and rebels against the divine life within. I told the Father I didn’t understand His unfailing love for me. So often I rebel, let him down, disappoint him, stray consciously and unconsciously from the path of righteousness He carved out for me. I wrote Him a letter this morning, pleading to understand His love for me and for others. He heard me. And He answered. I prayed the words of a song and posted the words as the status on my facebook page, “So make me deaf that I might heard You; make me blind that I might see You” (thanks Jess).

And so I started on my typical journey to school in the heart of Bangkok, the business district where thousands, perhaps millions, pass by every day. I got off the skytrain, went down the stairs, where, at the bottom I’m always greeted by a cripple placed there to beg every day. Today, it was the woman who usually makes an appearance a few times a week. She was squatting as usual, with her mangled, leprous eaten hands (or what was left of them… she has no fingers), raised to receive anything for passersby. I got her eye and smiled at her, simply acknowledging that someone sees her. Even the people who drop coins into her cup or give her food hardly ever look her in the eye. I try to atleast give her that dignity every time I see her.

I continued, in normal routine, to purchase a quick breakfast of grilled bananas, rice cakes dipped in egg and orange juice for 75 cents. As I turned the corner, through the mob of people wanting to cross the street, I was accosted with a rancid odor, which I found odd because there was no sewer under me. The more steps I took, the more rancid it became. I have my earphones in my ears, currently listening to a brand new song “Mercy” by Casting Crowns. “You’re greater than my yesterdays, You hold me close today, You’re the Lord of my tomorrows… Your mercy saved me, Your mercy made me whole; Your mercy found me, called me as Your own”. I mentioned the song because what made this moment powerful was how God orchestrated me hearing this song and seeing what I saw at the same moment in time.

Being a few feet away from him now, I thought he was just another homeless demon-possessed man… for they all have the same look here in Bangkok, regardless of their gender. It’s quite strange, really. Their hair is always long, dark, matted. They are very dirty as if they hadn’t taken a bath in a year. Their clothes are worn, torn, and barely hanging on their body. They mumble and stare off into space, as if they’re looking into another world in front of them, in a trance-like state, oblivious to anything going on around them. It’s as if they’re all the same person, certainly overtaken by the same evil spirit. I only give you this description to help you understand what I see nearly every day.

But this man, he was a bit different. Usually this ‘type’ of person I’m describing seems very healthy and strong. But this man, from a distance (now 10 feet away), his legs were outstretched and it looked like his legs were leprous or something. I couldn’t tell. As I approached closer, keeping my distance on the edge of the sidewalk of course, the odor hit me like a wall and I recognized it. Feces. I examine the man as I passed slowly by, overwhelmed by the sight of a human under the power of the wicked one. I realized his legs were not diseased, but literally covered in feces. And as their clothes are barely hanging on anyways, it didn’t take long for me to see the depravity of the situation. What was left of his shorts were overflowing in a way that looked impossible. I’ve never (that I can recall) looked at a human being and had to put my hand over my mouth and swallow so I wouldn’t vomit as I passed by. The sight and smell and horror of the situation was so grotesque and disturbing, I nearly passed out. And he sat there, eating something he’d found in the garbage, as if he didn’t even know he sat in his own filth and feces. I will spare you further details… I think I’ve already written enough, perhaps too much. But, after I passed by, I looked back to see if it was really there. It really was. I hadn’t hallucinated.

Two things occurred to me in the next 4 minutes it took me to get to class.

First, the thought of doing anything to help this man… to get close to him, even to go back and give him my breakfast (for I had no need of it anymore, or the rest of the day, for that matter)… even the thought of going back to see it made me fight the urge to vomit. There’s not a person I know who would (could) get near enough to him and help him clean himself up. I knew I couldn’t. I could not love him.

Second, as I listened to the song “Mercy” and tried to process what I just experienced, I realized… it’s me. In my sin. Sitting in the filth of my sin. God is so holy and pure and righteous, that He is absolutely repulsed by my sin. My sin is literally gross, hideous, loathsome, nauseating, repelling, sickening, vile. He is offended by it in every way. He can not dwell with it. It’s a picture of me in the filth of my sin, rebellion, impurity, pride, selfishness…

And as I listened to the words in my ears about His mercy, Jesus came to me. In my filth. Where no one else would or could. He came and kneeled down and cleansed me of the feces I sat in, oblivious to. Not because he had to. Not became he’d feel guilty if he didn’t. Not because it’s the right thing to do. Only because of His love and mercy. And that is the only reason He needs.

After school, I passed back by, to see if it was real… or just one of those special moments God gives us to teach us concrete lessons in life. Sure enough, there were traces of him left behind. It was real.

And His mercy is just as real.

“You’re greater than my yesterdays, You hold me close today, You’re the Lord of my tomorrows… Your mercy saved me, Your mercy made me whole; Your mercy found me, called me as Your own”.
(Mercy, Casting Crowns)

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November Newsletter

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[click above link to open my latest update]

Pottery 101: Lesson 3

So, I forgot to take a picture of what I wanted to before I left my pottery lesson. So you’ll have to wait for the deeper thoughts on how God taught me through the painting I did. It’s neat how God speaks silently through colors. The explanation on that will come  in a few more days…

Last week I learned about cutting off the excess clay to make the vessel more beautiful. Last week I did it all by hand… which basically just means it didn’t turn out very pretty because I’m not used to the cutting utensils (they feel so awkward in my unsteady hand) and well, I’m just not the best potter. But atleast I’m learning that. The one thought that kept running through my mind as I worked with the clay in my feeble, awkward, unsteady, untrained hand, was how I see more clearly that I am NOT the best potter… or even a decent one, at that. In my lack of experience, combined with my awfully high expectations of myself, I’m always disappointed in the end at how this all is turning out. As the hours progressed and I continued seemingly to make everything worse rather than more beautiful, I simply offered a tiny prayer to God in my heart: “Thank you that YOU are the Potter and I am not. I would totally make a wreck out of my life.” It seems like such a simple prayer, but I think it means a lot for Him to hear us say that… basically, “God, you are God, and I think you are doing the best job at it.” So many people (including myself, ofcourse), blame God for… well, most things, right? Well, anything that doesn’t go the way we want or expect. I need to tell Him more often that He’s doing the best at being God.

So, during my lesson, as I’m struggling with these odd utensils in my hands, trying to carve away the blemishes and smooth out all the roughness of my pieces, the instructor points to the wheel and tells me I can try doing it on the wheel. Well that was a new thought. I always thought the wheel was a place of molding, shaping, forming. Gentle love and patience, right? Nope, there are other purposes for the wheel, too.

Before you station it on the wheel, you have to… you guessed it, ‘center’ it. Interesting thing about that part was that you let the wheel spin as you observe the incongruences in the vessel.  Since it hasn’t been fired yet, it’s still soft to the touch. In fact, if you dropped it back into a bucket of mire, it would return to its previous state of slime. So… Then you have to watch carefully and give it a thump every time it comes around, in the place that is not right (for lack of a better word). On the first piece, I was watching my instructor do this part. The poor vessel… spinning round and round, being thumped and knocked upside the head every now and again by its potter. I saw myself there. I’d never really felt that way with my Potter until I came to Thailand. I’d always felt His loving hands around me, gently holding and molding me. But the other week I got a huge thump– well, a couple– from the hand of the Potter as I was spinning in every direction. The first response is usually, “Hey! What’d you do THAT for? Don’t you love me? Don’t you see me confused and hurting, spinning like this, not knowing which way is up?” To which he wisely responds, “Yes child, and THAT is why I had to thump you. You’re not centered.”

As I stationed the piece on the wheel, giving it support on the base with soft clay to hold it in place, it then started to spin again. Then I could take the utensil and carve away excess clay that way. The excess clay started flying everywhere. It came off ribbons at a time… not like when I trimmed it off the wheel, where it was just tiny pieces at a time. Since coming to Thailand, I’m pretty sure the Potter has me spinning on the wheel as he thumps me back into being centered so he can carve away chunks that must go. Nothing about this is pleasant for the clay at the time, neither is it for us. We can relate to how confused, neglected, mistreated, perhaps abused, the clay feels by the Potter that was once so fatherly, kind, compassionate, loving, gentle, supportive.

And it’s important to remember… He is a gentleman, and He will stop if we ask. He will not force us to receive 100% of what He has for us. A fellow missionary once asked me (months ago) when I was in the thick of this experience I’m writing about, “He will not force you. Do you want to stop now? Or even if He has brought you 95% percent, or 99% of the way, would you want Him to stop now? Would you settle for less than 100% of what He wants to give you?” I didn’t even have to think about it. Ofcourse not. Take it all or take none… but don’t take 99% and leave me short of receiving 1%, even if that last 1% hurts so much I feel like I will literally die. I hate the process of spinning and cutting and all this… but I really do want His best. And I really do want 100%… to go all the way.

“I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus has taken hold of me.” [The Apostle Paul, Phil 3]

A long lost prayer

Out of God’s mercy, He brought me a special book that once redirected my focus upon only Him years ago. I found a prayer in the book that is so basic yet so authentic, that I just had to post it. It’s a prayer I will pray every day this month.

 

Your Most Basic Act of Worship
[Taken from Ruth Meyers 31 Days of Praise, p. 151]

Lord, I’m yours. Whatever the cost may be, may Your will be done in my life. I realize I’m not here on earth to do my own thing, or to seek my own fulfillment or my own glory. I’m not here to indulge my desires, to increase my possessions, to impress people, to be popular, to prove I’m somebody important, or to promote myself. I’m not here even to be relevant or successful by human standards. I’m here to please You.

I offer myself to You, for You are worthy. All that I am or hope to be, I owe to You. I’m Yours by creation, and every day I receive from You life and breath and all things. And I’m Yours because You bought me, and the price You paid was the precious blood of Christ. You alone, the Triune God, are worthy to be my Lord and Master. I yield to You, my gracious and glorious heavenly Father; to the Lord Jesus who loved me and gave Himself for me; to the Holy Spirit and His gracious influence and empowering.

All that I am and all that I have I give to You.

I give You any rebellion in me, which resists doing Your will. I give You my pride and self-dependence, which tell me I can do Your will in my own power if I try hard enough. I give You my fears, which tell me I’ll never be able to do Your will in some areas of my life. I consent to let You energize me… to create within me, moment by moment, both the desire and the power to do Your will.

I give you my body and each of its members… my entire inner being: my mind, my emotional life, my will… my loved ones… my hopes for marriage… my abilities and gifts… my strengths and weaknesses… my health… my status… my possessions… my past, my present, and my future… when and how I’ll go Home.

I’m here to love You, to obey You, to glorify You. O my Beloved, may I be a joy to You!

Pottery 101: Lesson 2

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Centering on the Foundation

Sometimes I feel like I do on this blog is post songs. Well, I do like them. And I really like when there is a song that expresses what I want to say, but just can’t find the words to say. During my pottery class today, I learned something that is expressed in the song, “Be the Center”…

Jesus, be the centre
Be my source, be my light
Jesus

Jesus, be the centre
Be my hope, be my song
Jesus

Be the fire in my heart
Be the wind in these sails
Be the reason that I live
Jesus, Jesus

Jesus, be my vision
Be my path, be my guide
Jesus

Be the fire in my heart
Be the wind in these sails
Be the reason that I live
Jesus, Jesus

Jesus, be the centre
Be my source, be my light
Jesus

FOUNDATIONS.

Not too long ago, I was praying and I was thinking about the tallest building in Thailand, the tallest hotel in Asia, and one of the tallest buildings in the whole word. It took seven years to construct. If you come to Thailand on a Remember Nhu vision trip, we will take you here. There is a revolving deck observatory at the top on the 84th floor, and on a clear day you can see all of Bangkok. It’s incredible. And overwhelming to be overlooking a city of about 20 million people. The most fascinating fact about this building for me, though, is that while it stands 88 stories high, the foundation (underground, where no one can see) runs 22 stories below ground. That, my friend, is a LOT of digging. I can’t even wrap my mind around HOW you would go about digging 22 stories below ground. Can you imagine what you would have to dig through and the kind of machinery you would need to… nevermind, I’ll never understand that one. The point is, no one knows the foundation except the builder, and if the end product is going to be a display of His splendor, well… prepare for a lot of digging, all the way through everything you think you are. If you won’t ever make it to Bangkok, lucky for you that someone has put a panoramic view of Bangkok from the top of the Baiyoke Tower here: http://www.thailandbilder.se/panorama/BaiyokeSkyTower/

So back to what I saw when I was praying not too long ago… I saw a monstrous drill going through all the layers of my heart, much like a drill digging through 22 stories under the Baiyoke Tower… I saw all the layers of dirt, muck, mire, clay, etc. Then it hit solid rock. All the ground above was ruined. And what was found at the bottom, where the drill couldn’t dig through any deeper, was solid rock. When I ‘saw’ this, I assumed that rock was my faith in Christ. Wrong. I’m just now realizing that the solid rock I saw is not my faith, or anything to do with me, but Christ Jesus Himself. He is the foundation of all I am. He must be. Because aside from Him, everything I am is just dirt, muck, mire, clay.

What does this have to do with throwing pottery on the wheel? The hardest part, I think, about being a potter is getting the slimy clay ‘centered’ on the wheel. At first, I thought it just meant throwing it on the wheel and making sure it’s in the middle of the target. Nope. As the wheel starts turning and you slop more water on the slimy blob, you have to learn the art of ‘centering’ the clay, which basically means to make it feel perfectly smooth. Once it’s centered, it really is an amazing feeling to lightly lay both hands over the slimy clay as it spins around and it feels absolutely perfect. Like this:

palmcent

Also in regard to foundations, I learned one more things today. Last week I made 3 pieces of pottery on the wheel. This week, I thought I would do the same. Nope. We went back to those 3 pieces and I learned there is a lot more work to do on the foundation after the piece is created. I used one utensil that reminded me of that horrific weapon the dentist uses to scrape your teeth clean. It has a different use on either end of it. I had to measure and carefully shave off excess clay in order to make the foundation more distinct, beautiful, and symmetric. And I had to figure out how much of the bottom to carve out in order to make somewhat of a rim on the bottom. The potter has to learn to carve out just enough so that it still has a strong foundation on the bottom. Needless to say, after carving all the excess off the pieces I made last week, I had lots of ‘leftovers’ and ‘unwanted pieces’.

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I was delighted after we swept up all the unwanted pieces (which I thought would be thrown into the trashcan), and she smiled as I watched her put them into a bucket with brown icky muck (I know you are impressed with my big words). She said nothing is wasted, and the clay will just turn into its former state and be used for something else. I thought about that. And I thought about things in my life and how rather useless some of it seems to be. Or even the things that God has carved out of us, things that could have ruined us or made us miserable… all the sins and imperfections. Even those things God can throw back in the bucket and use for good. Nothing in my life is wasted by the Master Potter. Nothing.