“The Potter’s Wheel” (Jeremiah 18:1-6)

I grew up in Mississippi with a friend named Gene. Gene was a very shy and withdrawn child. When he was 9 years old, his parents led him to faith in Jesus. Shortly after that, when he went shopping with his parents in Memphis, TN, he became separated from them and lost in a crowded department store. Gene prayed that if God would let him be found, he would do anything God wanted him to do. Immediately, upon looking up he saw his parents coming toward him.

When Gene was 12 years old and in a Vacation Bible School service, he felt the Lord calling him into Christian ministry. However, because he was so shy, he clung to the pew refusing to go forward. God collected a promise that day. Gene remembered a small boy promising to do whatever the Lord wanted if he were just found. The next Sunday when the pastor announced that Gene felt called to preach, there was mixed emotion. Old ladies cried and children snickered, and everyone else shook their heads: “Poor thing!” they said. “He thinks he can be a preacher when no one can understand him!” You see, Gene had a very bad speech impediment – a lisp so bad that only his closest friends could understand him.

Gene’s lisp must have improved some during his teen years, because he got a few invitations to preach in country churches, but they never invited him back. Yet, the shocker came when he went to college, away from home for the first time. Strangers there asked him to repeat everything. Some students even mocked him, talking back in baby-talk. Gene didn’t know why, because he never knew the extent of his impediment.

One day during his first week at college, he heard his dorm mother talking to another lady: “Have you heard that young men in room 113?” she asked. “I can’t understand a word he says!” Gene chuckled until it hit him: He was the only one in room 113. Then it all fell into place – all the times people had asked him to repeat himself and mocked him in baby-talk. That night he cried and prayed himself to sleep: “Dear God, why have you let me leave home thinking I’ve been called to preach if I can’t use my lips to share the gospel? Is this some kind of divine joke?”

Gene fell asleep still wet with his tears. That night he dreamed he was a beggar, clothed in rags and sitting outside one of the gates of old Jerusalem. Suddenly, a crowd topped the hill, and Jesus was in the midst. “Master,” Gene cried. “Touch me and heal me!” Jesus stopped, and with a look of compassion and love, he reached out and touched Gene’s lips saying, “Be healed!”

Gene awoke with perspiration on his brow knowing his dream was real. He dressed and rushed to the cafeteria to talk to anyone. When he ordered breakfast, his heart sank. The waiter said, “I’m sorry; I didn’t understand you. Please repeat your order.” He would have run away from home, but his mother told him not to cross the street alone! So, not knowing if he would stay or leave, he stood in the long registration lines every student knows.

Teachers were sitting at desks in the hallway to counsel students. Gene’s line didn’t move for a hour as he stood in front of a kindly, older lady professor. They began to talk, and she asked about his speech problem. Gene unloaded his story. She said she was a speech therapist, and she had been watching him talk. She told him he had what she called a “lazy tongue.” He never learned to use his tongue when he spoke. He asked her to give him private lessons, but her schedule was filled. She only had one hour free each afternoon at 3 PM which she was saving to grade papers. As Gene walked away so disheartened, Miss Nellie Magee called to him and said, “I’ll see you in my office Monday at 3 PM!”

For 6 months Miss Magee worked with Gene, teaching him to pronounce every vowel and consonant like a one-year old learning to talk – training him to use his tongue properly. One day, a total stranger asked Gene for directions, and Gene realized the man didn’t ask him to repeat anything! Gene went back to the same bedroom where he had cried himself to sleep and thanked the Lord for healing him through a Godly speech teacher.

I like to tell that story to encourage young people that nothing is impossible when you are willing to follow God’s call. You see, my name is Thomas Eugene Lovorn, and where I grew up in Mississippi, they called me “Gene!”

But, the story has a P.S. Forty years later, when I made my first trip to Jerusalem, I found the gate where I sat as a beggar in my vision. The Damascus Gate is exactly as I saw it when I was a college freshman. I even found the spot where I sat! And, the most wonderful thing about that gate is not that I dreamed myself there. But, just outside that gate, around a bend in the road is a skull-shaped hill called Calvary. It was through that gate that Jesus carried his cross when he died for me. And, through that gate Paul was converted and called to preach on the Damascus Road. And, outside that gate, my calling was confirmed and I was healed.

My life has been like a potter’s wheel where God has used the circumstances of life to mold and shape me as he made me become what he wanted me to be. Anything I have accomplished has been because of the Potter’s Wheel. Many times, he has had to crush me and start over. But, praise God, he didn’t throw out the clay! Because of what Jesus has done for me, “I’ll Tell the World That I’m a Christian.”

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