CATEGORY: Devotionals

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.

Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,
    your judgments are like the great deep. Psalm 36:6a.

Yesterday I was walking along the beach with my bride and this verse came to mind.  The water was calm with small waves lapping at the sand.  When you looked out from the shore, however, the ocean stretched out past the horizon.  It was a vast expanse of water that we couldn’t even see across, much less down into the depths.

Mountains are different.  They can be grand, intimidating, unscalable, but not beyond examination.  God’s righteousness, in the same way, is observable.  Just like the ancients, we can see it in His creation as it works harmoniously all around us.  We can see it in how He moves through our lives, teaching us and growing us.  We see it in the crucifixion of Christ, making that righteousness available to us through His atonement.

But God’s judgments are not the same.  They are mysterious, like the deep.  The ancients saw the ocean as an alien world of mysterious monsters.  We aren’t that different.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says that over 90% of the ocean floor is unexplored.  It seems every year we discover some new species there.

Just like the ocean floor, God’s judgments are mostly unknown and unknowable.  They are beyond our ability to see or understand.  The next time you are tempted to judge someone else’s motives or actions, remember how unqualified you might be.  You know less about real justice than you do about what is at the bottom of the sea.  Leave that work to God, whose judgments are like the deep.