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Good News… Finally!

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. (2 Peter 1:3 NIV)

I can remember teaching on this verse (and on holiness) in men’s group a few years ago. In essence, I taught: “God has equipped you with everything you need to live godly lives — it says it right there! Now go out and do it! If you fail, keep trying! In fact, try harder! If you don’t think you can do it, then you’re saying that God’s Word is not true. We all know that’s not the case, so you ought to be able to live holy lives.”

Mishandling God’s truth is a scary thing, and I did it over and over again. But here’s the Good News…

Yes, he has given me everything I need for life and godliness IN CHRIST JESUS. In Christ alone, I have life! New life. Eternal life. Abundant life! I am a child of God with Christ dwelling in me and I live in the unshakeable Kingdom of God! My hope is secure because His promise is sure. His love endures forever. Hallelujah! I have life… REAL life!

In Christ alone, I have godliness. I am clothed with Christ, in the robe of His righteousness. My sins – past, present, and future – are covered by His blood. Through the Cross my punishment has been cancelled. I have been bought back from slavery by Christ. I am redeemed! I am free from guilt, shame, and condemnation! Yea! Shout for joy! I have godliness… His godliness!

I have those wonderful things in Christ alone, not because of my merit or not because I am living a good life. It is only by His divine power, given as a wonderful, amazing gift of love and grace in Christ Jesus.

As I’ve heard one author say, “Holiness is not what God wants from you; He wants His holiness in you.”

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His Sweet Presence

Have you ever felt the closeness of Jesus? I mean, TRULY felt He was right there with you? Have you ever felt the sweetness of His Presence… as if He were touching you or touching the person you were talking with? Yesterday, I felt the closeness of Jesus unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.

Yesterday, at Love In the Name of Christ (where I work), we gathered items to help a woman get back on her feet after spending time in a shelter. We gathered furniture, pots and pans, dishes, glasses, curtains, blankets, sheets… all coming to Love INC through generous folks like you. She was so appreciative. She had a friend with her who was providing the transportation, and as she was helping load the items for her friend into her vehicle, she mentioned she was trying to do the same thing: come out of the shelter, get an apartment, and get back on her feet as well.

Before they left, we all prayed together, hugged, and they went happily on their way, saying they would come back for the couch they couldn’t fit into the vehicle. Later that afternoon, sure enough, the friend came back, and together, we loaded the couch into her vehicle. She was alone this time, without the woman for whom she was transporting the couch. After loading it, we stopped to catch our breath, and with one simple statement, the floodgates opened.

All I said was, “So tell me about the shelter.” I was wanting to know how it was helping her and trying to discern how I could pray for her before she left. She explained the reason she was at the shelter, and all that had transpired while she resided there. She was a mother of two young children. Now without her kids, she was heartbroken without them. She had a head trauma which had rendered her incapable of defending her rights as a mom and she had lost her kids in court. Now, nearly fully recovered from the injury, caused by abuse, she was completely broken.

As I listened to her story, my heart broke, too. I was able to briefly tell her that Jesus didn’t come to help the folks who have it all together; He came to minister to the broken and battered… the forgotten and forsaken… BECAUSE THAT’S ALL THERE IS! We are all broken. We have all been battered. We have all seemingly been forgotten and forsaken by everyone we trusted, we befriended, and we believed in… except Jesus. He came for the brokenhearted, because that’s all there is.

We prayed together in the parking lot, hugged, and… she wouldn’t let go.

In that simple conversation, I have never felt closer to Jesus.

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Surprise Me!

Yesterday (Saturday), I read a few posts on Facebook alluding to the fact that although “Good” Friday was dark and gloomy, Sunday was coming. The posts said that the joy of Resurrection Sunday is on the way. It’s only right around the corner and we can celebrate the eternal life found in Christ’s resurrection.

It’s easy for us to look ahead to Easter Sunday. We know the story. We know how it all turns out. We know the happy ending. But the first disciples didn’t know that.

Were they surprised? An understatement, to be sure. Shocked? That’s more like it, but certainly stunned as well. That partly described the disciples. I wonder about the gloom they must’ve experienced and the despair they must’ve felt. Scattered in Gethsemane and most watching the trial and execution from a distance, the disciples would wander the streets and hide away, together and separately, for Friday and Saturday. They would not only wander, but they would wonder… at what might have been.

What happened?!? Jesus was being proclaimed King of the Jews. The winds of change were blowing. The people were fully supportive. A revolution was brewing and they were front-and-center. It was all going so well. What happened?!?

First surprised by Jesus’ clear announcement that he would have to die, and then surprised by the Roman detachment in the garden, the disciples were overwhelmed by the announcement that Jesus was to be executed. How could this be!?!

Now reality had hit home and they were finally together. Hiding out partly from fear of reprisals from the ruling council and partly from despair, the disciples lamented their fate. What would they do now? Matthew wondered if he could be a tax collector ever again. No way, he thought. His life had been changed. Peter could always fish. But things would never be the same.

Imagine their surprise Sunday morning when they heard that the stone had been moved! Imagine their shock when Jesus body was said to be gone. What a surprise awaited them when Jesus would join them in that room!

As I sat there reading the resurrection accounts yesterday, I wondered if there is still room in my faith for Jesus to surprise me.

Could He do the unthinkable?
Could He really move that mountain?
Could He touch those who are seemingly untouchable?
Could He clean those who we would deem “unclean”?
Could He save those we fear are too far gone?
Could He open the eyes of the blind and make the lame leap like a deer?
Could He resurrect those who have been given a death sentence?
Could He bring life from death? Victory from defeat?

Sunday is here! Surprise me, Jesus!

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Covered in Blood

Malchus had heard the stories. How could he NOT have heard? This man from Nazareth had done amazing things. He had fed the crowds that had surrounded him and his disciples… several thousands at once! How is that possible?!? He had healed the lame, stopped bleeding with one touch, and put his hands on the blind, only to have them open their eyes to a brand-new world.

A brand-new world indeed. The winds of change were certainly blowing and his boss, the chief priest, and all of his cohorts were trying to figure a way to keep the peace. Jews were restless, being oppressed by Roman rule; and the Roman government authorities knew it. Things were getting worse. Malchus sensed this as well. Being the chief priest’s servant, he had heard all the conversations. He had heard the grumblings. The Jews sensed that this Nazarene could be their new king, and the one that would break them free from Roman rule. Every day seemed to grow more tense. Something had to be done.

Now Malchus was face-to-face with the man himself: Jesus. Judas had done what he was paid to do, and now Malchus could arrest this man, who proclaimed peace and brought peace, seemingly everywhere he went. He was in Gethsemane, as expected. What he didn’t expect was what happened next.

Jesus asked, “Who are you looking for?”
Malchus answered, “Jesus of Nazareth.”
Jesus replied, “I am.”

With those words, everyone in the garden that night was swept off their feet, as if the force of gravity had increased a hundredfold and a hurricane had hit, all at the same time. The only One left standing was Jesus. After what seemed like minutes, those present nervously gathered themselves, not sure what was going to happen next.

What happened next was chaos. As the Roman detachment advanced to seize Jesus, most of Jesus disciples retreated. Except Peter. Peter, seized with indignation, grabbed a sword from one of the Roman soldiers and swung wildly at anyone in armor, and just missed cutting off someone’s head. It had been a glancing blow, but on the ground screaming was Malchus, bleeding profusely. On the ground as well was Malchus’ ear.

The Man of Peace, later to be called the Prince of Peace, lifted his hand and immediately everyone stopped, likely fearing something else or Someone else knocking them off their feet again. After rebuking his own disciple, he reached for his enemy, Malchus. In one motion, Jesus reached for the ear and the man, and when removing his hand, the man and the ear were one again.

Malchus rose to his feet, not sure he believed what just happened. Jesus hand was still on Malchus’ cheek, and as Malchus looked into his eyes, all he could see was… love. How was this possible!?! How was it possible that, first, my ear has been reattached!?! And how is it possible that the man I am arresting looks in my eyes with such love?!? Surely he is not of this world.

As Jesus pulls his hand away from Malchus’ cheek, it is covered with Malchus’ blood. How ironic. Soon Malchus would witness the crucifixion of this man. Soon Malchus would witness more love than he’d ever seen before. Soon Malchus would believe.

And soon Malchus would be covered by the blood of Jesus.

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Seated at the Table

It was Thursday. The disciples of Jesus hurried back to Jerusalem from Bethany. They were instructed by their teacher what to do to prepare their Passover meal tonight. They obediently went to the house Jesus had described, gave instructions to the home’s owner, who somehow knew their plans, and prepared the upstairs room for what was to be their final meal together.

As Matthew sat at the table that evening, his thoughts returned to an earlier time when he and Jesus had shared a meal together. Jesus had been leading his entourage through town when they came upon Matthew manning his customary station — his tax collector’s booth. Those passing through grudgingly pay their tax. They curse, they scowl, and some even spit in the direction of this man who was doing his job and trying to make a living. Granted, he had skimmed some off the top to give himself and his family a little extra, but who hasn’t done that?!? It’s all relative, isn’t it?

But as Jesus came by his booth that day, there was something in Jesus’ face… something in his countenance… something in his eyes… that was different. He was used to seeing hatred and disdain. What was he seeing?

As Matthew sat at the table in the upper room, laughing with his closest friends that night, he flashed back to his first meal shared with Jesus. He was laughing with his closest friends that evening, too, but they were friends more out of necessity than anything else. His closest friends then were his tax-collecting associates and other riff-raff; no one else would dare be seen with him. He was a cheating thief, stealing the working man’s well-earned wages.

Now, as he looked around the room, he reflected on those seated with him tonight. Surveying the room, the men here were not much different from those seated at that first meal with Jesus. These were everyday men with checkered pasts, just like his. There was nothing special about any of them except that they were called by the Man who they now knew to be what his people, the Jews, had been looking toward for hundreds of years: The Messiah, the One who would deliver His people. Just how that would unfold, he was not yet sure, although Jesus was speaking with less riddles that ever before.

Matthew’s life with Jesus began at a table filled with sinners, and now three years later, as he looked around this table, not much had changed… except Matthew’s understanding of who fit under that label.

And looking around the room, he fixed his eyes on Jesus, later to be called “the Author and Perfecter” of his faith. He knew why Jesus would be called that. And now he knew what was different in Jesus eyes that day. Now he knew what he saw.

Love.

And now we all have a place at the table.

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Wednesday: A Lull

After the confrontations earlier in the week with the chief priests and religious leaders, it would seem that Wednesday brought a lull. Jesus and his disciples retreated to Bethany, while the religious leaders devised their scheme to seize Jesus quietly, behind the scenes, so to avoid a public uproar. They gather a group of loyal traditionalists and one of Jesus’ followers. It would require a bribe and might require force, so they would plan to take clubs and swords, just in case. But now the plan was in place.

Meanwhile, in Bethany, Jesus relaxed for dinner at the home of Simon, who was a leper. The disciples had seen this before: Jesus socializing with those on the margin of society, the outcast, the “unclean” (like a leper), the afflicted, the sick, the forgotten. Simon was no different. He was known as “Simon the leper.” That was who he was. That was his identity. Simon the leper. He had heard that said over and over.That was who he was, at least BEFORE his time spent with Jesus.

Before Jesus cleansed me, I could’ve had labels like Simon. “Druggie”, “Misfit”, “Loser”, “Alcoholic”… that would’ve been me. Those would’ve been my labels. That was said about me. “What a shame. What a waste. He had so much potential.” That’s what was whispered. That was my identity. That’s who I was. I heard the whispers, whether they were audible or not. Looking for answers , like so many, I turned to more self-medication.

The medication took many forms. Looking for something or someone to fill the seemingly unquenchable void, I looked everywhere and tried everything. Drugs and drink. Sex and toys. Nothing changed my identity; they only changed my consciousness.

Then Jesus came to my home, so to speak, as he came to Simon’s. We don’t know how Simon’s life was changed by Jesus sharing a table with him. In fact, we lose sight of Simon. Jesus’ visit to his home, astounding in itself, is overshadowed by what takes place inside. While inside, Mary, the sister of the resurrected Lazarus, anoints Jesus body, from head to toe, with expensive nard, worth a year’s wages.

Scripture never says, but Simon undoubtedly sees this act of worship and begins to understand how this woman can give up what, most likely, was her only financial security. Jesus did for her (and her family) what no one else could do. Simon, most likely, understood that; or he soon would. He would no longer be known by his old label. The old was gone. The new had come. He, most likely, was now “Simon the follower.” Jesus did for Simon what no one else could do.

I suspect his new labels are: “Loved.” “Accepted.” “Healed” “Whole.”

New labels and a new life.

For Simon… and me.

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Turning the Tables

“Turn the tables.” It is certainly an idiom in our culture. It means to manipulate circumstances to gain an advantage over an adversary. Like so many of our other idioms (e.g. “Once and for all”), it may find its origin in the Bible.

It’s Passion Week on our calendars. For Jesus, it’s the week His entire life has pointed to. Sunday was marked by the throngs heralding His entrance into the City of Kings, the City of David: Jerusalem. They laid down their cloaks and palm branches in reverence to this king, who they hoped would free them from Roman rule. This man, Jesus, had also freed many from other things: demons, disease, oppression, illness, and even death. He was holding His own against the religious leaders of the day, making them so uneasy, they were plotting to do away with him. In short, he was turning their world on its ear.

He was also turning over tables. Literally. On Monday, He boldly entered the temple to teach only to discover that things hadn’t changed from an earlier visit and that profiteering was the main focus at the temple, not the worship of God. Jesus drove the moneychangers out in a whirlwind of activity, declaring again the purpose of the temple: “My house shall be a house of prayer.”

On Tuesday, he was again in the temple courts, this time being questioned by the religious leaders asking Him, “Who authorized you to do that?!?” Jesus turned around the questioning, asking them if John the Baptist’s teaching was from God. John was extremely popular among the people, a faithful martyr and prophet. If John’s was godly, then Jesus was legitimate, because John proclaimed Jesus as the coming Messiah. If John’s teaching were not from God, then the religious leaders would certainly lose the support of the throngs. They were stuck. They finally answered a weak, “We don’t know“, and in the process, lost their credibility as interpreters of God’s Word and of how God works. They looked bad and they knew it.

By Tuesday, Jesus was certainly “turning the tables” on the religious order of the day. He was turning the tables on how people thought, how people worshipped, and how people saw God. Author Russ Ramsey writes:

“This was a day of turning the tables on common thought. God’s people had become pragmatists. They saw everything in terms of an economy— they made deposits and took withdrawals and measured their standing in the world according to how well they balanced the good with the bad in their lives. This had become their religion, and God had become another creditor come to settle debts.” (From Behold The King of Glory)

We still do this today. We still think that if we do good things… if we live a “good life” (as defined by our culture, not our God), then we will build up some sort of spiritual bank account of “good” with God and He will certainly pour out His favor and blessing upon us. He becomes essentially a banker or a spiritual account manager which we’ll have to answer to, or settle our account with, at the end of our days.

Jesus turns the tables on this thought, supplying the only “good” there will ever be: Himself. He supplies, by His sacrificial death and subsequent resurrection, the only blessing and favor we will ever need: salvation and His presence in our lives forever… both as we live out our days on earth by the indwelling power of His Spirit, but also after our earthly days are over in everlasting life filled with His love, wholeness, and joy.

This is a week in which Jesus REALLY turns the tables, giving us life from death.

This week “It is finished.”

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Who We Are.

At Love In the Name of Christ, we have a set of Core Values… things the ministry places of utmost importance. You can find them on our website www.LoveINCSAW.org. Our second core value is:

Prayer is an integral part of who we are.

We begin each work day in prayer… for our neighbors (those in need we encounter), for our loved ones, for our volunteers, for the ministry, for specific churches and The Church, for our country, and, if you’re reading this, we have most likely prayed for you, too. We have seen God miraculously answer one prayer after another.

We also pray with our neighbors in need when we deliver the items they’ve requested. Our team also prays with folks when they pick up a donation from a generous soul who thinks of Love INC before parting with a sofa, a washer and dryer, or some other household item someone else could use.

Last Friday was a day full of blessings for our delivery team. Our team delivered a sofa, a table lamp, some bed sheets, and tableware to a gentleman in Staunton suffering from a mental illness. After delivering the couch and other items to the top floor of an apartment building, everyone circled up with the gentleman for prayer. When asked what to pray for, the gentleman asked that God would help him find a job.

In his apartment was one chair, a table, and presumably, a bed. He had nothing. He was relying on food pantries for daily sustenance. He wasn’t a freeloader, preying on the kindhearted. He was hurting and humble. He was truly in need.

Is he capable of holding a job? Possibly. However, he wasn’t content “working the system.” He desired to be productive. Our team was privileged to pray with him. We expect God to find a way for him to be productive.

Then the team went to another part of the county to pick up a small donation. When they arrived, they found a cheerful elderly mother and her adult daughter pointing the way to the place to load up the donation. After loading, the mother and daughter were asked, “How can we pray for you?”

The mother immediately broke down in tears, telling the team that she had just lost her husband of many, many years, who died suddenly, eight days after a diagnosis of a tumor. Of course, this was the father of the daughter as well, and through tears, they both told of their heartache. Again, everyone circled up in prayer for the privilege of going to the Throne of Grace together.

As they left each precious soul on Friday, they knew they had ministered love in the name of Christ.

Prayer is an integral part of who we are.

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False Teachers. Beware! I Could Be One.

I’ve been a Christian since 1996. I longed for something (Someone) to fill the undefinable void I felt in my life. I had tried to fill that void with everything imaginable. Whatever you’re thinking of right now… yes, I tried it. It wasn’t until I heard the testimony of an elderly gentleman, Joe Mammo, that I knew I wanted what He had.

I grew quickly in my faith, but not without many ups and downs, some of which were quite dramatic and traumatic. That’s life, isn’t it? We all go through seasons of change, of trauma, of growth. They make us into who we are today, and hopefully, with the working of the Holy Spirit, we are made into something that is more and more Christ-like.

Through the years, I’ve taught and I’ve preached. I’ve led outreach efforts and mission trips. I say that not to boast, but to tell you that I cringe when I think of my teaching, preaching, and leadership over the years. For 15 years, I led a men’s group at my former church. We worked our way through tons of material and opened just about every book of the Bible. However, as I think back, I wish I knew then what I know now. That doesn’t mean that I’ve reached some sort of pinnacle of learning, I just never REALLY understood the Gospel. I know; that sounds strange, but it’s true.

I can think of many times teaching or preaching: In order to be a better Christian, you must read the Bible more, pray more, surrender more, serve more, and, in essence, just try harder. Reading God’s Word is important, to be sure. Allowing the Word of Christ to dwell in you richly (Col 3:16) is transformative. Bringing your requests and petitions before God and resting in His presence will bring peace in the midst of any situation in life. (Phil 4:6, Heb 4:16) Surrendering to the lordship of Christ and serving others are keys to abundant living. (John 10:10) I truly believe those things. However, those things don’t make you more acceptable to God. They don’t make you more pleasing to Him.

As followers of Jesus, trusting in the sacrifice of God’s Son on the Cross for our sins, we are now fully acceptable in God’s eyes. In fact, we are the “apple of His eye” (Psalm 17:8) and He sings over us (Zeph 3:17). There is nothing I can do to make myself more pleasing. There is nothing I can do to make myself less acceptable. Does my continued sin grieve Him? Yes! To be sure. He is more grieved than I, because He sees the consequences. But there is nothing I can do to make God love me any less. (Romans 8:37-39) Conversely, there is nothing I can do to make God love me more, which brings me back to my preaching and teaching.

Consciously or subconsciously, I taught, in essence, a gospel of self-salvation and self-sanctification: Read more, pray more, surrender more, serve more and God will be more pleased with you. The key word in that last sentence is “SELF.” This “try harder” gospel is no gospel at all, because 1) it is impossible (believe me, I’ve tried); and 2) all the emphasis is on self, instead of what has been accomplished for you and me. The focus is on our supposed spiritual growth instead of who we are in Christ. Discovering our identity in Christ as dearly loved, and fully and completely acceptable will bring amazing freedom and lightness, which, if I’m not mistaken, is what the Good News is supposed to do.

Understanding that… REALLY understanding that and getting it deep, deep down within us will fill us with such overwhelming gratitude that we will want to pray more, read more, serve more, and as a result and without hesitation, be fully and completely surrendered.

So, it’s not about what we do for God. It’s ALL about what He has done for us.

So my sincere apologies to so many. May you discover — or rediscover — the Gospel, and may you fall in love with Jesus all over again!

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Snowballs…

Yesterday was a fun day at Love INC, where I work. Everyday is fun-filled and fulfilling, but yesterday was especially fun. I had the opportunity to run some short errands and complete a delivery alongside Brittany Johnson.

Brittany is an employee at Vector Industries, but serves every Friday at Love INC, doing a variety of tasks… whatever is asked of her. Yesterday, she was sorting through a huge canned food donation when I asked her to accompany me on a small delivery to a neighbor (someone in need), and to drop off some Easter items at our Treasures For Love Resale Store.

Brittany is a lot of fun to be around. She loves to kid around and loves to serve Jesus. At one of the stops, I had to run into the bank and drop imageoff some paperwork and left Brittany in the car. On my way back to the car, I grabbed a handful of snow and threw it at the passenger’s side of my truck with Brittany sitting there. It hit the door but not the window, dang it! Ha!

I climbed back in, laughing, and we went on our way. As we were navigating through Waynesboro’s traffic, I expressed my impatience with the traffic, and Brittany helped me by chiming in, “Move it!” We laughed and I said, kiddingly, that was not very Jesus-like to yell at traffic. She retorted right away, “Well, it wasn’t very ‘Jesus-like’ to throw a snowball at me.” We laughed together again. It was a fun ride.

It made me think.

First, and maybe this is a weird thought by me: Throwing a snowball WAS “Jesus-like.” It snows in Israel from time-to-time (at least once every winter), and in my sanctified imagination, I am positive that Jesus would be throwing snowballs! He would be fully engaged in a snowball fight, laughing hard, and throwing snowballs until his hands hurt. I’m sure of it.

Secondly, serving Jesus may require sacrifice. In fact, it usually does. But it always comes with great joy and many times, like yesterday, is just plain fun. Serving Jesus is fun.

So fun, in fact, that I’m still smiling.

  Bring joy to your servant, Lord, for I put my trust in you.
(Psalm 86:4 NIV)