The Person God Uses

“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19)

If we read the Bible as a book of disconnected stories teaching moralistic and ethical messages on how to have our best life now, we tend to believe that the Scriptures are all about us. We will look at the great men and women of the Bible and believe it was their greatness that caused God to use them. But when we rightly understand that the Bible is a single story about God’s unfolding plan of redemption that finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ, we look at the great men and women of the Bible and recognize that what made them great was simply the fact that God graciously choose to use them for His purpose.

So, who is the person God chooses to use as an instrument of salvation and sanctification in His mighty right hand? He or she is a card-carrying member of “Triple-A” – that is, someone who is . . .

  • AWED by the glory of God
  • AVAILABLE to the Spirit of God
  • ACTING on the Word of God

God is in the business of taking common people and making them uncommon; taking weak people and making them strong; taking foolish people and making them wise; and taking average people and making them extraordinary. In God’s economy, it is not those with great ability who are called into His service; rather, it is those who are awed by His incomparable glory, available to the promptings of His Spirit, and obediently acting on His Word, regardless of the cost or circumstance.

Does this “Triple A” mindset describe you and the confession of your life today? When we are awed by the glory of God, we know what Paul knew: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways” (Romans 11:33). When we are awed by the glory of God, we become available to the moving of the Spirit of God, and we are ready and willing to follow God wherever He leads us. This is living a life that is acting on the Word of God.   

When we rightly read the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation, we realize that God did not call extraordinary men and women into His service to expand His Kingdom. Rather, those ordinary men and woman, people who were broken and marred by sin, were made great by God, simply because they were available to be used by Him and acted on the words He had spoken to them.

How is it with you? Are you ready to be used by God?

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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My Life Is Not My Own

I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me — the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace. (Acts 20:24)

“My life is not my own!” This was one of my mom’s favorite sayings when I was growing up, and it contained two distinct and different levels of truth that she was teaching us kids. On the surface, she was speaking of the incessant demands of running the household and raising five children. But Mom was also teaching us a far deeper message, because she loved Jesus and she understood that her life was not her own; no, her life belonged to Jesus to do what He wanted with it.

One of the best descriptions of this biblical truth is delivered in the Heidelberg Catechism, which was written in 1563. The Catechism was originally intended to be taught on each Sunday of the year, so the questions and answers are organized around 52 Lord’s Days. The very first question cuts right to the heart of the reality that my mother understood so well:

Lord’s Day 1

Q: What is your only comfort in life and in death?

A: That I am not my own, but belong – body and soul, in life and in death – to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.

My mom knew that there is no greater comfort in life and death than to know that her life was not her own. She knew that she had been purchased by Jesus at the cost of His precious blood, which He shed on the cross for the forgiveness of her sins – all of her sins. She also knew that her Lord and Savior was in complete control of everything in the universe, including everything in her life — every bit of it — and He was working all of it together for her ultimate good. Mom loved us best by loving Jesus most and living for His glory alone.

Do you and I live that way?

Regardless of where this message finds you today, let me encourage you to embrace my mom’s favorite saying: “My life is not my own.” When you do that, you will experience the freedom and joy of living wholeheartedly for the glory of God and the good of others. This is living in a way that truly testifies to the Good News of God’s grace — not just daily, but moment by moment.  

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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Christ In Our Chaos

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. (John 14:27)

When the chaos in the world around us is heaviest, the light of Christ shines brightest . . . if we will but look in His direction.

Think about the chaos at the wedding reception that took place at Cana in Galilee when they ran out of wine. Jesus and His disciples were invited guests, and when His mother realized that there was no more wine, she went to Jesus for help. In the ancient world, wedding receptions were week-long events; often the entire town would be invited to attend and celebrate the couple’s new life together. To run out of wine at one of these events was not only an embarrassment, it also broke the unwritten rule of hospitality. Imagine the chaotic concern that was beginning to spread: “They have no more wine!” Then the light of Christ shone brightly as He turned mere water into wine — and not just wine, but the best wine they had ever tasted.   

Think about the chaos on the hillside where Jesus fed the 5,000. Scholars estimate that, due to the fact that only the men were counted and recorded for such an event in the ancient world, it is likely there were anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 men, women, and children who had gathered to hear the Lord teach. The disciples came to Jesus, saying that the hour was late, the people were hungry, and that He should send them away to go get food. Parents were probably beginning to anxiously wonder how they would feed their children that night. Then the light of Christ shone brightly as He multiplied five loaves and two small fish to feed the massive crowd — and there were plenty of leftovers after every one had eaten their fill.

Think about the chaos in the region of the Gerasenes, when a man with an evil spirit came running from the tombs to confront Jesus, a man so wildly powerful that no one could bind him, even with chains. Night and day this demon-possessed man would cry out among the tombs and cut himself with stones. Then the light of Christ shone brightly as He cured the man and sent the legion of demons out of the man and into a herd of nearby pigs (another chaotic scene, to be sure!), who then ran over a cliff and drowned in the sea.

What kind of chaotic circumstances are confronting you today? Are storm winds blowing your way? Are waves of challenge crashing over you? Are you simply caught up in the chaotic pace of everyday living in a culture that conditions us to live like the Energizer Bunny, who keeps going and going and going? Remember that Christ is in every circumstance and He is available to carry your chaos . . . IF you will let Him.

No life was filled with more chaos than the life of Jesus. The multitudes came to see Him, hear Him, touch Him, ridicule Him, mock Him, condemn Him, trap Him, follow Him, and be healed by Him. How did Jesus deal with the chaos that surrounded Him?

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. (Mark 1:35)

Jesus’ example shows us how to rise above the chaos of life: we are to spend time alone with God. When the disciples found Jesus they said, “Everyone is looking for you,” which was no surprise to Jesus; you see, the chaos in His life was ongoing. Our Lord knew He needed to withdraw from the daily pressures and connect with His Father in heaven.

This is the key to conquering the chaos in our lives. We must withdraw into the presence of Christ, especially during our most chaotic circumstances, for He will give us the peace that passes all human understanding. “Peace I leave with you,” our Lord promises us; “my peace I give you. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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Lean Into Your Limitation

When I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:10)

The title of today’s word of encouragement may seem a bit strange. When it comes to our limitations and weaknesses, we do everything in our power to minimize them, eliminate them, or, at the very least, cover them up. We view the strengths God gives us as assets — the areas in life that we should lean into and strive to increase and improve. What is so striking about Paul’s words to the Christians at Corinth is that he was telling them that the same is true for our limitations. God gives us both strengths and weaknesses, and they are to be stewarded and used for His glory and the good of others.

Today’s verse comes from the famous passage Paul wrote about dealing with “a thorn in my flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7). Three times Paul pleaded for the Lord to take it away, and three times God refused, saying,“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). God dispenses both strengths and weaknesses to His disciples, and we must learn to lean into both in order to maximize our service to our Lord.

Please understand that Paul was not using the word “weakness” as synonymous with “sin.” Paul sternly rebuked those who were boasting that their sin displayed the grace of God to an even greater degree (Romans 6:1-2). The best way I know to explain the difference between weakness and sin is this: God gives us our weaknesses to cause us to turn toward Him and depend upon Him more; our sin, on the other hand, turns us away from God as we depend more upon ourselves. In our weaknesses, God’s power is put on display for all the world to see as we trust more in what God can do for us than what we can do for ourselves.  

Paul saw his thorn (that is, his weakness) as a liability to His ministry at first, calling it a messenger of Satan (2 Corinthians 12:7), and he pleaded with God to remove it. But in time, he came to realize that God was using both his strengths and his weaknesses to advance the cause of His Kingdom. Now, if you are anything like me, learning to see weakness as a gift from God does not happen as anywhere near as quickly as it did for Paul. He only asked three times for God to take his weakness away; I sometimes still ask God to take it away. But over time, I am slowly learning how to trust and depend more and more upon God, and less and less on Tommy Boland.

How do you see your weakness and limitation? When was the last time you considered leaning into your limitations for God’s glory and your good? Never forget that Paul said he was given his weakness to keep him humble; that is one of the great blessings of our limitations. The more we lean into our limitations, the more God humbles us; the more God humbles us, the more we become like our Lord Jesus.

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 4:9 that “It is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.” He was not confining the word “trust” to our strengths; Paul was stating that everything God has given us is a trust, and that includes our weaknesses. May the confession of our lives demonstrate our utter dependence upon God as we lean into our limitations.

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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Blessed To Be A Blessing To Others

May God be gracious to us and bless us . . . so that your ways may be known on earth. (Psalm 67:1-2)

What a great reminder we have before us today! We are to seek the blessing of God — not for ourselves, but for others. The grace of God that comes to us should flow through us to others. The mercy of God that comes to us should flow through us to others. The love of God that comes to us should flow through us to others. In short, we are blessed to be a blessing to others.

I recognize that we are living in a cultural moment that is marked by excessive individualism; Robert Bellah and a team of sociologists emphasized that point in their book, Habits of the Heart. Many of us are primarily concerned with “Me, myself, and I.” Here are some of the popular slogans that characterize this way of living:

  • Be true to yourself.
  • Follow your heart.
  • Find yourself.
  • You be you. no matter what.

This is not for you! The child of God has been saved to walk in the newness of a life that is marked by the blessings of God, in order to be a blessing to others.

Here is a question which, when I first heard it, changed my life: “How attractive do you make God?” Of course, God is attractive all by Himself, and there is nothing we can do to make Him more glorious, but you get the point. Do we live lives that cause others to be attracted to our Savior? Or do they turn away from Him because of what they see in us? I have said here before that you are the only Bible that some people will ever read. What sort of God are they reading about in the way you live your life?

The psalmist tells us to desire the blessings of God, so that those who we come in contact with us will see how awesome and gracious our God truly is. It has been well said that the good news of the Gospel either attracts or repels, but we who who have been saved by that Gospel message are to live lives that cause others to take notice of the One who has saved us. The life we live should point to the One who gave us life. When the blessings we have received from God flow through us, others are drawn toward the light that shines within us . . . and that Light is Jesus Christ.

Every encounter we have with others offers us one more opportunity to reflect the reality of the beauty, majesty, and glory of our God. There is no better way to accomplish this than to let the blessings that have come to us from the hand of God flow through us into the lives of others – all others – regardless of cost or circumstance.

Jesus lived a life characterized by blessing others. Peter summarized the life of Christ by saying that He “went around doing good” (Acts 10:38). Do we do the same?

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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Wake Up To Mercy!

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-23 ESV)

The prophet Jeremiah was writing at a time of great national hardship and despair after Jerusalem had fallen to the invading Babylonians. God had judged His people and sent them into exile in Babylon. Yet even in midst of their divine discipline, there was still reason for hope, because God was not finished with them yet.

God disciplines His children out of His great love. What kind of father would let his children do anything they please without providing discipline and course correction along the way? God never for a moment stopped loving and caring for His people, even when He was disciplining them.

The biblical understanding of the word mercy is God withholding just punishment. Where grace (which theologians frequently define as “unmerited favor”) is God giving us what we do not deserve, mercy is God withholding what we do deserve. Make no mistake, God takes pity on all of His children. And His pity, which is perfect in every way, seeks the highest good of His children, even when that good is delivered through painful providences.

Just at the sun rises each morning to bring new light into the day, God’s mercies rise each morning to bring new hope into our day. We wake up to mercy each day, because God is on the throne of our lives and is working everything together for our good and His glory. Every morning is a new beginning, an opportunity for us to start afresh, secure in the knowledge that He who began this good work in us will bring it to completion (Philippians 1:6). Nothing will stand in the way of our God and His ultimate goal for our lives, which is conforming us to the image and likeness of our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29).

So . . . did you wake up to mercy this morning? Did you sip from the cup of His compassion? We all have those mornings when we get up on the “wrong side of the bed.” But even in the midst of those bad days, we must remember that God got us up that morning to give Him glory, and He will give us everything we need to do that very thing.

“My grace is sufficient for you,” He promises us, “for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). We can count on His mercies being new every morning, regardless of how we spent the night before. Even when we have blown it badly, we wake up to mercy because Jesus is our loving, merciful Savior.

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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Other Orientation

“Everything is permissible” – but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible” – but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others. (1 Corinthians 10:23-24)

Inasmuch as Paul was addressing the practice of eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols in the first-century city of Corinth, the point of the passage is the freedom we have been granted in Christ, and Paul’s words are every bit as fresh and relevant to you and me today as they were to the Corinthians then. The freedom we have received must always be used for two reasons: the glory of God and the good of others – all others. Paul was telling the Corinthians that it is lawful to eat all food that God has given us, but when it hurts the conscience of others, we are not to exercise our Christian liberty.

The life of the believer should be marked by “other orientation.” We are to think about others and consider how whatever we are doing might affect them, either positively or negatively. We should never exercise the freedom we have been given in a way that might cause a brother or sister to stumble into sin or waver in their faith. Some activities are permissible for us to engage in, but not beneficial for others. Jesus Christ laid His life down for others, and we are to use His model to guide us to the best decisions possible in our own Christian walk.

The liberty we have in the Lord must never to be used as a license to live any way we choose. We must always consider the impact our choices may have on others. Paul knew that meat offered to idols was still just meat, and therefore completely permissible to eat, but the more important question was whether or not the practice of eating that meat was beneficial for others. So the overarching consideration is not whether a practice is permissible, but whether engaging in that practice is in the best interest of others and the expansion of the kingdom of God.

The bottom line is this: the principle of love is the foundation upon which our lives are to be built. Our thoughts should be shaped by other orientation. Because love is not self-seeking (1 Corinthians 13:5), but rather other-oriented, we must always consider others before we act. Selfishness is not the way for the saints of God; sacrificial service is the way, service built upon our love for others. The Christian life should transcend self as we seek the good of others.

When we find ourselves in one of life’s “grey areas,” we are to live graciously for the good of others. It is permissible to drink a glass of wine, but is it beneficial to do it in the presence of a friend who may struggle with alcohol? It is lawful to play a game of low-stakes poker, but is it beneficial to play with a friend who may become ensnared by gambling?

How other-oriented is the life you are currently living? Do you consider others when you are making decisions, especially in the areas of freedom and liberty? Remember, love always lifts others up, and this must be our goal, even when living in love limits our own freedom. “Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.”

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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The Saint, the Stone, and the Savior

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)

There is a story that falls under the heading of biblical legend, as it does not appear anywhere in Scripture. However, its profound meaning is woven throughout the pages of Holy Writ from Genesis to Revelation.

The story goes like this: Jesus was walking with His disciples, and He asked each of them to pick up a stone and carry it for Him. They all picked up stones — some bigger, some smaller. Peter picked up a small, smooth stone that would be easy to carry and placed in in his pocket. They traveled together for several hours, arriving at the next town tired and hungry. Jesus promptly turned the stones into bread and said, “Enjoy your lunch.”

Peter was frustrated, knowing that his small stone — which was now a morsel of bread — would only provide him a meager meal. After lunch, Jesus asked His disciples to pick up another stone and carry it for Him. Peter, being a quick study, picked up a large boulder and hoisted it on his shoulder. Jesus and the disciples traveled to the next town throughout the afternoon. This time, they arrived at a river bank, tired and hungry, and Jesus directed them to throw their stones into the river, which they did at once. They looked at Jesus, waiting expectantly for the miracle of their stones being turned into bread . . . or perhaps fish! This time, however, Jesus did nothing. When Peter and the disciples began to grumble, Jesus looked at them with great compassion and asked them gently, “For whom did you carry the stone?”

This story is as profound as it is personal, because we are all like Peter. The first time the disciples carried the stones for Jesus; the second time, they carried the stones for themselves. Are you and I any different? How often, in serving our Lord, are we actually serving ourselves? How often do we serve with an eye toward what we will get in return for our service?

The question we must ask ourselves is this: For whom are we carrying the stone? Perhaps the stone is . . .

  • Bible Study
  • Prayer
  • Church Attendance
  • Giving Money
  • Volunteer Service
  • Sharing The Gospel

This list will vary from saint to saint, but the goal must never change. We are to carry every stone for the glory of our Savior and the expansion of His Kingdom . . . and for no other reason. Is this the confession of our lives?

I have admitted to our congregation on more than one occasion that all too often my so-called “service” is stained by the sin of my own self-interest. I would guess that you have experienced similar moments of conviction. At those times, recall the great compassion of our Savior, and accept His gracious invitation:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9).

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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More Than Common Sense

Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:24)

We all need common sense, which gives us the ability to use sound judgment in the practical matters of life. One can have great knowledge but no idea how to apply it to daily life, while the one who has common sense will usually make good decisions. But the one with wisdom has the power of God at his or her disposal in the person of Jesus Christ. That is the way to live life!

In the beginning, “By his word were the heavens made, and all the host of them” (Psalm 33:6 NKJV). As John tells us in the opening chapter of his gospel, this Word was not only with God, this Word was God, and through the power and wisdom of this Word that became flesh and dwelt among us, everything was created as a hymn to His glory. “Everything” includes every one of us. But the only way we will be able to sing that song for which we have been created is by looking to the One who is able to make us wise. He is the one who offers us true wisdom.

The so-called “wisdom” of this world at the time of Christ could not comprehend a crucified Messiah. It was inconceivable that the Savior would be nailed to a cross to die a criminal’s death. Make no mistake, when Jesus died on that cruel cross, the wisdom of the world believed that His life had ended in ignoble defeat, not glorious victory. And why would they not? Death is the ultimate weakness. This carpenter’s son may have performed some miracles, they reasoned, like multiplying the loaves and fish and turning water into wine, but coming back to life was something they simply did not have a category for.

Yet this is the wisdom of God: Three days after the crucifixion, God the Father put His stamp of approval on God the Son by raising Him from the dead. To be sure, the death of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins seems foolish to the unbelieving mind. But when Jesus walked out of the grave on that first Easter morning, the wisdom of God became available to everyone who will but trust in Jesus as Savior and Lord. The Wisdom of God is available to us on every page of Scripture. All we need to do is invest our time prayerfully marinating in and meditating on that wisdom.

Remember, “To get wisdom is better than gold” (Proverbs 16:16). Gold can make you a living. Wisdom can make you a life that will live on long after you are gone. Wisdom is much more than common sense, and it is available to you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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Holy Hedge Of Safety

The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them. (Psalm 34:7)

Our loving Lord gives us a wonderful promise in today’s passage of Scripture, but it comes with a condition. God has placed His “holy hedge” around all those who fear Him. This fear of the Lord is not something that drives us into a small, dark corner, cowering miserably because we are afraid of God; that is the fear Adam and Eve felt as they hid from God, shivering in the flimsy fig leaves of their own self-righteousness, after their terrible act of cosmic treason. No, the fear you and I should have for God is a holy reverence and awe for the awesomeness of our God because we love, respect, and honor Him.

The word encamps used in Psalm 34:7 reminds us of the wilderness wanderings the people of God experienced for forty years after having been freed from their bondage in Egypt. Because of their unbelief and disobedience, God gave them forty years to think about their rebellion. But in all that time, He never abandoned them. He encamped around them and protected them from everything that would come against them. Even in their faithlessness, they still feared God, and He was faithful to ultimately deliver them into the Promised Land.

Do you fear God? Do you love and respect Him? Do you esteem Him above all else? Then you can claim this promise today, that God will deliver you from anything comes against you. You have the promise of God’s protection, God’s deliverance, His love, His favor, and His mercy.

Now, we must be careful not to assume something that is not promised. We are not promised a trouble-free existence. The promise is that God will encamp around you and ultimately bring you to the other side of every storm that comes against you . . . if not in this life, then certainly in the next, where you will reach your own Promised Land, a place where there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain (Revelation 21:4).

David wrote in the fourth verse of Psalm 34, “I sought the Lord, and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears.” God not only hears your cries, He has promised to answer them and replace your every fear with faith. All you need to do is seek Him out.

So . . . are you living your life in the fear of God, knowing that He has encamped around you and established His holy hedge of safety? I know that there are times when we feel alone when the waves of challenge are crashing down upon us. At those times, we must remember what Jesus said to His disciples just before His Ascension into heaven: “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18). You are not alone. Jesus is with you every step of the way — He is encamped around you — even when your way is long and winding and filled with difficulties. You have His Word on it!

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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