…all things…

“To be clear, that tub was purchased to hold water balloons.”

That’s what one of our elders told me in a group text the day before we were to hold our first baptism service in quite a long time. I had casually mentioned months prior that I would be happy to “rinse out the baptism tub and get everything ready.” I had assumed that was the reason we owned a largish sturdy plastic tub stored upside down in our church back yard. I suppose the elders just didn’t have the heart to tell me that the tub was meant for holding several hundred rounds of Methodist baptism ammo, rather than a tank in which to freestyle-baptize a few folks on a Sunday. But, there I stood, about to baptize a husband, wife, and son, an awesome dude whose wife had been praying for him for years, and my 12 yr old son. And here’s Jesus, using a water balloon tank to show the Universe that he can use anything.

This is what Jesus does. He uses the foolish to shame the wise and the weak to shame the strong.

Up until about a year ago, I felt a bit like an overturned water trough in the backyard of the Church. I had spent my entire adult life serving in youth groups and pulpits only to find myself sanding drywall and painting baseboards. I knew from about age five that I was called to be a preacher, so, where was the pulpit? What had I done wrong? Had my calling run its course? At 40 years old, was I all poured out and washed up? Then out of what seemed to be nowhere; a tip on Facebook, “My brother’s church needs a pastor.” A text message. A return phone call. Another call. Another call. And then here I am, 52 weeks later, baptizing adopted sons and daughters of God in front of a congregation that has entrusted me with the honor of shepherding them.

How can I express this truth in a way that doesn’t sound like the lamest of well- trodden cliches? Let me try…

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9)

THERE we go. That’s nicely put. Oh, but wait… did you know that 1 Corinthians chapter 2 ALSO has a verse 10!?

“These things God HAS revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.”

See what the Bible just did there? The Bible just said that for the believer, for those in whom the Holy Spirit dwells, those “unseeable” “un-hearable” and “unimaginable” things HAVE been shown, told, and imagined. It should have come as NO great shock to me that the Lord could rinse me out, fill me up, and use me for great things.

But, what would have happened if Jesus had never shaken the drywall dust off my sandals and walked me into a pulpit? Would he still be good? Would he still be able to do great things through me? Would I still be a part of his awesome preordained plan? Can He use a handyman as well as a preacher man? Can he use all things or just some things? Well, I think you know where I’m going with this…

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

If you’ve ever sipped from a coffee mug from an out-of-business Christian bookstore then you’re familiar with that verse. The tricky part of that passage is that pesky word ‘all.’ In its original language, it meant ‘total’ or ‘entire’ or ‘everything’ or ‘excluding nothing’ or ‘the universe.’ See what I mean? The word ‘all’ is a giant pile of screaming greased pigs – very hard to get around and impossible to ignore. We either believe that God uses all things or we do not. The middle ground is not given to us. Is there a situation or entity in all of creation that is outside the reach of God’s right or ability to use? Is there a person, place, or thing that can tell God ‘no thanks, I’m good, I’d rather not be used according to your purpose? Class? Anyone? Anyone? Jonah? Great fish? Donkey’s Balaam? The answer is no, obviously. Unless of course, you’re a discouraged out-of-the-pulpit preacher scrambling to pay the bills as a handyman, or a once-used and long-forgotten tub for water balloons. In that case, you would be WAY out of God’s reach.

Our discouragement comes from failing to see what we thought 1 Corinthians 2:9 told us was unseeable. We fail to see, by the power of the Holy Spirit and an anchor of Biblical truth, that our circumstances, our heartache, our mistakes, our every moment of every day, is a part of the ‘all things’ that God is going to work together for His glory and our good. But, here’s the key, we have to desire God’s greater glory over our better circumstances, and choose greater joy over immediate happiness. You have to be willing to see past circumstances and feelings and see God’s greater purpose for everything. 

Holy Spirit, give us the eyes to see your working in all things.

Let me leave you with a poem. Yeah, I know, how 80’s preacher of me.

“Just, a Poem of All Things”

I’m just clay on the bank of a river,
Now I lay in the corner of a workshop.
Spinning on a wheel,
My discontentment is dizzying.
Pressed, and pulled, and stretched, and formed.
Do I have no say in what I become?
Just a bowl?
Fired in a kiln and sealed with glaze.
After all that… I’m just a bowl?
Placed in an upper room and forgotten.
Just, a bowl.
Filled by a carpenter? I should have been used by a King!

Poured out to rinse the dust of fisherman’s feet?
I wanted to be important.
But no,
Just a bowl.

All glory be to Christ, Tommy Shelton