AUTHOR: Larry Locke

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.  Ephesians 2:10

Many of us have the tendency to beat ourselves up.  We make a few mistakes at work or at home.  We fail to realize our own expectations of ourselves.  Even worse, others can point out how we failed to meet their expectations for us.  Any of those can put us into a tailspin.

In those moments, it can be so comforting to allow the Lord to speak into our lives.  We can return to scripture like our text for today and be comforted.  Only the Lord has the prerogative to define who we are.  Not our co-workers, family, or even ourselves.

But wait!  If only God has the power to define me, doesn’t that hold true for others?

  • Only God has the power to define my neighbor (also God’s handiwork), even when he irritates me for parking in front of my driveway and I am tempted to define him as a nuisance.
  • Only God has the power to define your marriage (a picture of Christ and the church – Ephesians 5) even when you might be discouraged and define it as a big mistake.
  • Only God has the power to define your children (a gift of the Lord – Psalm 127) even when they challenge you and you’re tempted to define them as exasperating.
  • Only God can define himself (compassionate, gracious, loving, faithful, and forgiving) even when we might be treating Him more like a cosmic vending machine.

Truthfully, only the Lord has the authority to define the entire universe – you, me, others, and the world around us.  It seems remarkably self–centered of us to accept God’s gift of redefining us but refuse it with respect to everyone and everything else.  Just as we gain value and comfort from knowing God’s word on us, everyone else in our lives is measured the same.

This week, my friends, let’s look beyond ourselves and see the world as God sees it.  Let’s walk in the truth of God for ourselves and for the whole world.

First hearts, then hands.

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.  Ephesians 3:16-17a

I have heard many a young believer say they wanted to be “the hands and feet of Jesus”.  It is often in the context of a desire to serve, particularly in some form of missions.  I get it.  I want to be the hands and feet of Jesus, to my family, my friends, the whole world.

When you think about it, it is something of a scary prospect.  The hands and feet of Jesus don’t always fare that well.  The last time we see Jesus’ hands and feet in this world they all had pretty cruel nail marks in them.  Is that part of what it means to be the hands and feet of Christ?  I am afraid it may be.

Sadly, even when we have the courage to serve like Christ, it doesn’t mean we are fit to serve.  My hands aren’t like Christ’s hands.  Mine are soiled with sin, in every category I can think of.  Mine aren’t trained to help and heal.  Mine are more accustomed to selfish grasping.

My hands are a reflection of my heart.  My hands are soiled and selfish because my heart is.  How different from the heart of Christ!  The heart of Christ is loving, wise, caring, and holy.  Even when I try to serve, I can wind up doing more harm than good.

In Acts chapter 1, the disciples were told the Spirit of God would empower them for service.  We need that same Spirit.  It is an important prerequisite for serving in the place of Christ.  Join Paul in his prayer, my friends – that God may strengthen us through His Spirit, bringing an indwelling of Christ in our hearts.  With His heart, we are ready to be His hands and feet to the world.

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.  Ephesians 3:17b-19.

Many of us, who have reached a certain age, carry some level of regret.  We can look back on our lives and remember things we wish we had done differently.  We can remember angry words we spoke to someone we care about, or fearfully walking away from obvious invitations to help, or even striking out at someone for selfish reasons.  It hurts to think about them.  I try not to.

Of course, Christ has an answer to our guilt.  One of the things that drew many of us to Jesus was His message of forgiveness.  We heard that He loves us enough to forgive all our sins.  And the idea of not having to carry around all our guilt can be almost intoxicating.  No wonder we accepted Him and committed our lives to Him.

But somehow it is still there.  Sometimes it can show up in things, activities, or even people missing from our lives because of past mistakes.

And for some of us, we wonder if there really is enough forgiveness, enough love, enough grace in Christ to make us free and whole.  The sins of our past can loom larger and larger as we consider them.  We believe that Christ is Lord and Savior, but we wonder if our spiritual baptism might be a few drops short?

When my daughters were small they sometimes played in a sandbox near our house.  One summer, however, my wife and I took them on vacation to Florida.  We put them in their swimsuits, handed them their sandbox gear, and fastened them in the car for a drive to the beach.  My youngest asked, “But where is the sandbox, daddy?”  I told her, “Oh honey, don’t worry, daddy has a sandbox for you.”  Her next stop was a white sandy shorefront that stretched as far as the eye could see in either direction.

In our text for today, the Apostle Paul hints at these same comparisons of proportionality.  If what we need is a few drops of grace, Christ’s love is an ocean.  If what we need is a few extra moments of mercy, Christ’s love is an eon.  If what we need is a few crumbs of forgiveness, Christ’s love is a bakery filled with the sweetest of delicacies.

Don’t let the enemy rob you of the glory of our forgiveness, my friends.  It is enormous beyond the comprehension of man.

The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”  I Samuel 3:10

Life is full of decisions.  Some of them are mundane and easy.  Some are hard.  We know this.  Should I stay in my current job or take the new opportunity overseas?  Should I invest in the new venture or wait for the market to turn?  In the college world, I get involved in a lot of, “What should I major in?”  There is also a lot of, “Should I be involved in a relationship with this person or not?”  Mercifully, I don’t have to get involved in those.

When we face those difficult decisions, we can plaintively seek God’s help.  I have stayed up many a night seeking God’s guidance for a big decision.  We can ask our family and friends to pray with us.  We can search the scriptures methodically, or spontaneously, trying to get a word from God on what to do.

None of those are bad things.  God can speak to us in all different ways.  But when God speaks, it always comes with a level of compulsion for us and it almost always requires us to make change on the inside, whether or not it requires change on the outside.  Exodus 20 contains 10 commandments, zero suggestions.  Matthew 28:16-20 sets forth the Great Commission, not the Great Opportunity.

In our text for today, young Samuel was ready for whatever God would lay on him.  He didn’t know what was coming but one thing he knew – his relationship to God was one of servant.  Is that how we come to God?  Are we really asking for Him to reduce our risk, to affirm our ambitions, to promise us His help?

Let us come to the Lord seeking His word, fully prepared to adjust our lives to whatever He will say.  Let’s bring Him our questions with open hands.  Let’s dare to ask God to speak to us.  Knowing that we, His servants, are prepared to listen.

The One Thing None of Us Can Afford

Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.  Mark 5:5

In the course of my career as lawyer and pastor, I have known a few individuals who were “cutters”.  One fellow described to me how he was driven by his internal pain and turmoil to cut his own arms.  He told me how, as he watched the blood drain out of his wounds and run down onto the ground, he felt some small reprieve from the pressure.  But it soon returned.

Many of us do the same.  We may not inflict physical harm on ourselves but we have a wide variety of ways we try to purchase our own peace.  We may obsess over guilty feelings for wrongs we have committed, beating ourselves up emotionally.  We may even compensate for our failures by giving extravagant gifts of time or treasure.

It doesn’t work.  It never did.  That poor soul in our text for today didn’t just cry out and cut himself once.  He did it night and day, cut off from other people, alone and in turmoil.   Fortunately, the man possessed by “Legion” is an extreme case.  Even more fortunately, even that extreme case was completely delivered by Christ.

The one thing we can never achieve is our own forgiveness.  Our blood will not do it.  A self-inflicted emotional flogging will not compensate for our wrongs.  Everything we own is not enough.  The only thing that will buy us forgiveness is the blood of Christ.

It sounds too good to be true.  Yes, it’s that simple.  Yes, the cost is all on Him.  But so many of us would rather tax ourselves to the point of harm.  Why?  Perhaps because we would rather believe that we can pay for our own sin than accept that Christ paid for it for us.

Today, my friends, let’s admit our poverty.  Start the day knowing that no matter how hard you work or how much you accumulate you will never be able to buy forgiveness.  More importantly, remember you don’t have to.