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The Greatest Donor

This past week I had the opportunity to meet a man who recently had a liver transplant. He was recovering nicely and was in improving health. However, he is also on dialysis and once he reaches an acceptable level of health, will need a kidney transplant as well.

“What would it be like to be a donor?”, I wondered to myself. My mind spun in possibilities.

I know a husband who gave one of his kidneys to his wife who needed a transplant. It took him longer to recuperate than her, but they’re both doing wonderfully. What a sacrifice! What love!

Last night, I watched the 1993 movie, “In the Line of Fire,” the Clint Eastwood movie in which he plays an aged Secret Service agent. In the story line, 30 years earlier he had been assigned to the motorcade when President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. The memory still haunts him. Fast-forward to today: In the course of a routine investigation, he discovers a plot to assassinate the modern-day president. Throughout the movie, he battles the memory of his failure to protect Kennedy and wonders if he really had the courage to take a bullet for the president. In the climactic scene, he does, indeed, take a bullet for the president. He’s wearing a bullet-proof vest and survives, but proves he is willing to do his duty and lay down his life for the President of the United States.

In Scripture, Jesus tells us, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13, NIV)

Our military heroes are in the line of fire for one another all the time. They show us what sacrifice means. While we might donate a kidney for a loved one or friend, another thought came to me: Would I donate a kidney or organ to someone I didn’t know, or worse yet, someone I knew was living a selfish life, a life lived only to please themselves?

I am an organ donor. Once my life is over, my organs – if usable – may be able to save or improve the life of another. But what if, in my opinion, they don’t deserve it?!? Thankfully, I don’t get to make that decision.

However, I know someone who did. There was One who laid down His life for others, even when they didn’t deserve it. He showed us not the “greater love” that He spoke of above — laying down a life for friends, but the GREATEST love. Paul tells us:

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8 NIV)

God knew that some would waste their life on selfish living. He knew some wouldn’t be worthy of a kidney donation, let alone a life laid down in sacrifice. He knew that we weren’t righteous – none of us – and yet, in His astounding, extravagant love, sent His Son to die for us.

That is love. Not “Oh, I’m in love with you, baby.” Not even the wonderful, selfless, sacrificial human love of a husband for a wife who needs a kidney. This is a love that trumps all. Dying for the selfish. Dying for the ungodly. Dying for me. Dying for you. That is the GREATEST love. That is God’s love.

I don’t know about you, but that changes me.

For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only only Son, that whoever would believe in Him would not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

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The seat next to you…

Yesterday, I came across a post about the Church on Facebook that was quite thought-provoking. It was an open letter to the Church about why folks are REALLY leaving the church or won’t venture inside a Sunday morning service in the first place. In a nutshell, here are the reasons:

1. Our (the Church’s) Sunday productions have worn thin.
2. We speak in a foreign tongue – Not speaking in tongues, but too much church lingo.
3. We can’t see past our own building.
4. We choose lousy battles.
5. Our love doesn’t look like love.
(Source: http://www.churchleaders.com/outreach-missions/outreach-missions-articles/244545-dear-church-heres-people-really-leaving.html)

The last one is the one that really got me. That’s the one that grieves me the most. The open letter goes on to say:

“It feels like a big bait-and-switch sucker-deal; advertising a ‘Come as You Are’ party, but letting us know once we’re in the door that we can’t really come as we are. We see a Jesus in the Bible who hung out with low-lifes and prostitutes and outcasts, and loved them right there, but that doesn’t seem to be your cup of tea.

Church, can you love us if we don’t check all the doctrinal boxes and don’t have our theology all figured out? It doesn’t seem so.

Can you love us if we cuss and drink and get tattoos and, God forbid, vote Democrat? We’re doubtful.

Can you love us if we’re not sure how we define love, and marriage, and Heaven, and Hell? It sure doesn’t feel that way.

From what we know about Jesus, we think he looks like love. The unfortunate thing is, you don’t look much like him.”

I was at a local church to see a southern gospel group, The Talleys, last night. They did a song entitled, “The Broken Ones”, and to be frank, I almost couldn’t stop crying. The chorus goes like this:

Love the broken ones, the ones that need a little patchin’ up
See the diamond in the rough and make it shine like new
It really doesn’t take that much, a willing heart and a tender touch
If everybody loved like He does, there’d be a lot less broken ones
(© Newvip Songs)

There’s just one more thing: WE ARE ALL BROKEN ONES. There is not one among us that is not broken in some way, shape, or form. But broken people cannot fix brokenness. We need divine intervention. We need the love of Jesus.

Today, as you go through your church doors, keep an eye open for the broken ones.

They’re sitting right next to you.

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Valuable…

As most of you know, I work for the non-profit ministry Love In the Name of Christ (Love INC) in Fishersville. Our mission is “to mobilize the church to transform lives and communities in the Name of Christ.” We meet needs and transform lives by the love of Christ through the Body of Christ (the Church). It’s a great organization which brings unity to the Church and where God works every single day.

If you’re like me (and virtually everyone is), you want to do something of value in your lifetime. Whether it’s raising your children or finding the cure for cancer, we all want to do something of value. We want our lives to matter. I really think that is a universal quality of mankind. Yes, there are some whom are oppressed in one form or another and never get to live out that kind of hope, but I think every human wants to do something that is of value. I chose to work at Love INC because I want to do something of value, too.

However, I think we all get caught up in performancism. We fall into the trap of believing that the more value we contribute to society, the more valuable we are. Tullian Tchividjian writes:

“Performancism is the mind-set that equates our identity and value directly with our performance. Performancism sees achievement not as something we do or don’t do but as something we are or aren’t. How we look, how intelligent we are, how our kids turn out, what people think of us — these things are synonymous with our worth. In the world of performancism, success equals life and failure equals death.”

Think about it. We do this. All of us. It may be subtle, but we do it. We value those who are successful. We treat them better. We cozy up to them. We want to be just like them. If we have a success, we feel like a success. If we fall and fail, we feel like a failure. We create identities based on our behaviors. Tchividjian writes:

“In other words, we’re exhausted because we’re trying to rescue ourselves from a meaningless existence by what we do. We’re weary because we feel the burden to create our own validation. But broken people cannot fix brokenness. We need divine intervention. We need validation, but we can’t muster it ourselves. What an amazing thing, then, that the holy God of the universe, who set the standard for validation higher than we could ever reach, reaches down to us and proclaims over messy sinners who can’t ever get their own act together, ‘Justified!'”

We are ALL of equal value and worth, based on the fact that we all are made in God’s image. We are all incredibly valuable simply because Jesus chose to die for each one of us… and all of us. “For God so loved THE WORLD…” John 3:16 says. All of us. Each of us.

You are loved. You are accepted. You are PRICELESS!

That is the Good News.

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Counter-intuitive Resolutions for the New Year…

I’ve thought of two resolutions, although they’re not new.

A couple of weeks ago during a staff meeting at Love INC, we were talking about what 2015 might hold — both for the ministry and personally.

A thought came to me: A just want to be dumber and weaker. These are my resolutions for the coming year (and beyond).

I’m discovering that the older I get, the less I know. Yes, I may have gained more knowledge in the world’s eyes by taking various classes or by learning through “the school of hard knocks,” but in the deep things of life, I know very little. And as I get older, I see that I will never have the answers… at least not on this side of heaven.

Through schooling, experience, and through trial and error (mostly error), I’ve learned a few things, but just enough to be dangerous. I can just as easily stick my foot in my mouth today as I could twenty years ago. I can just as easily rush into a bad situation and make it worse. But worse than anything, I can think that I can get by on my own smarts and cleverness. I easily think that I can figure things out on my own. I can easily fall into the trap of trying to pull myself up by my bootstraps, independent of any help from God (who gave me any smarts or abilities I may have in the first place).

I want to go into every situation I face in the coming year with zero preconceived notions, and with both ears wide open ready to listen to those around me and most importantly, to hear the voice of God. I want to hear God’s still, small voice. I want His wisdom to guide my decision-making this year.

Secondly — and surely entwined with being “dumber” in the coming year — I want to be weaker. I want to be slow and prayerful to react to the chaos around me (sometimes called “life”). I can easily fall into the trap of trying to work things out by myself. I can easily fall prey to thinking that by trying harder, re-doubling my efforts, or “cleaning up my act”, I can earn some sort of special favor with God. I can easily think that I can just “make things happen.”

I don’t want to solve problems by myself. I want to be dependent on God’s strength, His wisdom and His promises. I want to rely on those God has placed in my life and partner with them. I want to hear their wisdom and make use of their talent, if possible. I am inherently flawed. I know this. I am genetically sinful. Again – on this side of heaven – I will never be free of those characteristics. I am weak. That’s why I need Jesus and His grace, His strength, and the power of the Holy Spirit. I need it… desperately.

So, it may be counter-intuitive, but I want to be dumber and weaker in 2015. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll catch a glimpse of God working… and He will get (and deserve!) all the glory.

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Revolution, Not Resolution

It’s coming you know.

Yep. New Year’s Day. A new beginning. A fresh start. Time to turn over a new leaf and begin anew. It’s time for a New Year’s Resolution.

Phooey.

I wonder how many folks follow through on their New Year’s Resolution. Wait… let me look it up… (Google is a wonderful thing) … Care to hazard a guess? 40%? 30%? 15%? What do you think?

I hate to be the bearer of bad news but the fail rate of New Year’s Resolutions is about 92%. Whether it’s a diet or exercise program, chances are that 9 out of 10 will not follow through. If you’re reading this, you may not be climbing the mountain of endless exercise or eating rice cakes, but you may be thinking of starting a Bible reading plan or beginning a new devotional. I’m afraid the same statistics apply to you as well. However, it doesn’t have to be this way.

Most of our New Year’s Resolutions are done in our own strength. We exert our willpower to overcome the obstacles. We try harder. We begin again. We love do-overs. A fresh start. A chance to wipe the slate clean. And most of the time we fail because we do so in our own strength.

What if I told you that you needed NO strength whatsoever?!? What if I told you that the spiritual transformation would come with no effort at all? What if I said that, as a Christ follower, the good work He began in you would be finished eventually — by Him… by God?!? (See Philippians 1:6)

The only work required is to receive. No re-doubling your efforts. No more vows to God to read the entire Bible in one year. No more beating yourself up because you don’t pray an hour every morning. Let me explain.

When you truly receive the love of God into your life and understand — really understand — what it means, you are freed from having to worry about yourself. You can now focus on God and others, which are the only commandments to follow now. (Matthew 22:37-40, Galatians 6:2) When you know that your fate is now secure and that no one or nothing can snatch you away from God (see John 10:28), a burden has been lifted and you can walk in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control. It becomes (more) automatic. The more you understand your identity in Christ, the more automatic it becomes. The freedom will spread to every area of your life, and as it does, you’ll avail yourself more and more to God. You can abandon yourself to God completely without fear, because His love and unconditional acceptance eliminates the fear. (See 1 John 4:18)

Will you fail and fall? Of course. From time to time (edit: every day), it’ll happen. But as you understand God’s love, you’ll come running back to His arms, not fleeing in guilt and shame. You understand that nothing can separate you from the love of God. You understand that your obedience doesn’t make God love you more. You understand that everyone is disobedient. Everyone is unrighteous.

Correction: There is One who was (and is) obedient. There was One who was, and is, righteous; and because of Him – Jesus – all our spiritual resolutions are unnecessary. The focus isn’t on what you and I do; it’s on what Jesus has done.

The work’s been done. It is finished.

No more resolutions. It’s time for a revolution. Receive the Good News.

(By the way, Bible reading plans are wonderful. Beginning a new devotional on January 1st is a great idea [Here’s a good one]. Just cut yourself some slack. Quit measuring your progress and growth. Remember, it’s not about you.)

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Three Minutes…

Take three minutes to read this before going to church. Then worship the One who gives this amazing gift…

From One Way Love by Tullian Tchividjian:

“Jesus came to liberate us from the weight of having to make it on our own, from the demand to measure up. He came to emancipate us from the burden to get it all right, from the obligation to fix ourselves, find ourselves, and free ourselves. Jesus came to release us from the slavish need to be right, rewarded, regarded, and respected. Because Jesus came to set the captives free, life does not have to be a tireless effort to establish ourselves, justify ourselves, and validate ourselves.

“The Gospel of Jesus Christ announces that because Jesus was strong for you, you’re free to be weak. Because Jesus won for you, you’re free to lose. Because Jesus was Someone, you’re free to be no one. Because Jesus was extraordinary, you’re free to be ordinary. Because Jesus succeeded for you, you’re free to fail. One way to summarize God’s message to the worn out and weary is like this— God’s demand: “be righteous”; God’s diagnosis: “no one is righteous”; God’s deliverance: “Jesus is our righteousness.” Once this good news grips your heart, it changes everything. It frees you from having to be perfect. It frees you from having to hold it all together. In the place of exhaustion, you might even find energy.

“No, the Gospel of grace is not too good to be true. It is true! It’s the truest truth in the entire universe. God loves us independently of what we may or may not bring to the table. There are no strings attached! No ifs, ands, or buts. No qualifiers or conditions. No need for balance. Grace is the most dangerous, expectation-wrecking, smile-creating, counterintuitive reality there is.

“Grace is a bit like a roller coaster; it makes us scream in terror and laugh uncontrollably at the same time. But there aren’t any harnesses on this ride. We are not in the driver’s seat, and we did not design the twists and turns. We just get on board. We laugh as the binding law of gravity is suspended, and we scream because it looks like we’re going to hurtle off into space. Grace brings us back into contact with the children we once were (and still are)— children who loved to ride roller coasters, to smile and yell and throw our hands up in the air. Grace, in other words, is terrifyingly fun, and like any ride worth standing in line for, it is worth coming back to again and again. In fact, God’s one-way love may be the only ride that never gets old, the only ride we thankfully never outgrow. A source of inexhaustible hope and joy for an exhausted world.”

———

Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you.

I am emphatic about this. The moment any one of you submits to circumcision or any other rule-keeping system, at that same moment Christ’s hard-won gift of freedom is squandered. I repeat my warning: The person who accepts the ways of circumcision trades all the advantages of the free life in Christ for the obligations of the slave life of the law.

I suspect you would never intend this, but this is what happens. When you attempt to live by your own religious plans and projects, you are cut off from Christ, you fall out of grace. Meanwhile we expectantly wait for a satisfying relationship with the Spirit. For in Christ, neither our most conscientious religion nor disregard of religion amounts to anything. What matters is something far more interior: faith expressed in love. (Galatians 5:1-6, The Message)

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“A great battle…”

“Philo of Alexandria is quoted as saying, ‘Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.’ ” — James Bryan Smith, The Good and Beautiful God

Part of my responsibilities at Love In the Name of Christ (Love INC) include scheduling deliveries or arranging the pick-up of items that our “neighbors” have requested and are in need of. After an interview and verification process which begins building a relationship and determines the scope of each person’s needs, we gather the things needed from our warehouse of donated items. These may include appliances, furniture, clothing, curtains, dishes, and pots & pans. (By the way, we are always in need of good quality items)

Anyway, after the items have been gathered, my job is to contact the neighbor to arrange for a pickup, if possible, or a delivery. Deliveries are back-logged because, as more and more folks find out about us, the needs increase, and we have limited volunteers able to deliver items during the day. Therefore, if someone is able to pick their items up, they will receive them sooner. (By the way, we are always in need of volunteers at the warehouse, in the office, or to do deliveries)

Yesterday, I made a phone call, telling a woman that her items were ready and she could pick them up. She said that she had just come home from the hospital and was still in pain. She had no transportation. I told her that if we delivered, it might take longer for her to receive her items. She was angry and frustrated about this and begrudgingly said that she would call her god-daughter who might be able to pick them up for her. A few minutes later, her god-daughter called and said that she doesn’t have any transportation either and impatiently and angrily said that we should deliver the items. I then called the woman back, who was even more agitated by this time, seemingly ungrateful that we were meeting her needs. I could feel my flesh rising up within me when I somehow remembered the quote from the book above which I had read a year earlier. I remembered that this woman had just been discharged from the hospital and was in pain. It was the pain that was making her angry and impatient. She was indeed fighting a great battle.

I asked her how much pain she was in and she said she was in considerable pain. I asked if I could pray with her over the phone and she said that she needed prayer. We prayed together and when I said, “Amen”, her demeanor had changed totally. Her tone of voice had become more gentle and kind, and before she hung up, she thanked us profusely for helping her and praying for her.

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.

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He’s The One…

I was prompted to read 2 Kings 6:8-22 yesterday morning. It’s the story of Elisha the prophet predicting the attacks that were happening to the army of Israel. Because of Elisha’s predictions, the Israelites had the upper hand. The enemy was so incensed by this that he sent an army of assassins to kill Elisha. If Elisha was dead, the enemy’s superior forces would then be able to overrun the Israelites.

The enemy found where Elisha was staying, surrounded the city at night, and when Elisha’s servant saw what the predicament was, he panicked. But the man of God, Elisha, told his servant to look to the hills, where, after Elisha prayed, he saw the “hills full of horses and chariots of fire.” Elisha says, “Don’t worry. The army that fights for us is greater than the one against us.” (v.16)

Of course, that brings great comfort when we couple it with New Testament passages like Romans 8:31:

“If God is for us then who can be against us?”

and 1 John 4:4 which says,

“Greater is the one in you than the one who is in the world.”

God fights for us. He’s been fighting for us since the beginning of time and has gone to incredible lengths (understatement!) to fight for us and redeem us.

I was then somehow reminded of the song borne out of the Brownsville Revival of the last 1990s, “Enemy’s Camp.” We used to sing it with great enthusiasm. It was a fun song to sing. It went like this:

Well, I went to the enemy’s camp and
I took back what he stole from me (x3)
I went to the enemy’s camp and
I took back what he stole from me

You know
He’s under my feet (x6)
Satan is under my feet.

However, in thinking about those lyrics, I’m not the one who went to the enemy’s camp. Jesus did. He took back what the enemy, Satan, stole. He’s the One who is the victor! He is the One who has Satan under His feet, foretold in the first prophesy in the Bible, as God curses the serpent in the Garden after the Fall:

So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,
“Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life.
And I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.”
(Genesis 3:14-15)

I am saved… I am protected… I am redeemed… I am comforted… by the Victor — Jesus — and His army.

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Reason to Shout!

But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

(Colossians 1:22-23)

The Scripture above makes it clear that:

1) As believers, you and I are holy. You may not feel like it. I certainly don’t. But faith isn’t always about feelings. In fact, it’s rarely about feelings. Faith is being “sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1) Faith is about trusting and walking in it. In this case, it’s knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are holy. And you didn’t have anything to do with it! It’s only by the blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus. You are free! You are declared NOT GUILTY in the Highest Court of All. And it’s all because of Jesus and His death on the Cross.

2) Secondly, the only thing we have to do is continue to walk by faith in this Good News: by faith alone in the work done by Christ alone, it is finished! This is your hope. This is my hope.

It is the Good News that brings freedom. It’s not a freedom to just accept the gift of God’s grace, and then go on with the rest of our lives as if nothing has happened. No. Once you understand what has been done for you and me, it changes you. It changes everything! As a captive set free, you can walk… no, run, with hands lifted high to the One who loves you and accepts you.

This is Good News that sets us free from having to work for God’s favor. It sets us free from trying to remain in God’s good graces, as the saying goes. We are loved and accepted! It is this firm hope that brings liberty and joy.

It gives us the freedom to shout with joy of the coming of our King this Chistmas.

He truly is the (only) Hope for all the world.

 

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Desperate… Still Desperate

Do you miss them? Have you even noticed that they’re not there? If you attend a church in Augusta County, then I know you’ve noticed that they are not at the first corner you come to as you exit church.

Yes, I miss the panhandlers.

And, yes, I know that they made more money on their corner than many of us make in a year. Yes, I know that they may have financed their drug trade by panhandling. I realize that. Yet I still miss them, but not in the way you think.

Panhandlers, for me, helped keep my social conscience in check. They were a constant wake-up call to the desperate plight of society. More than anything, they reminded me of my own desperation. Without them – to some extent – I grow numb to my desperate need for God’s grace. I believe that I’m doing just fine, thank you very much. I’m reading my Bible, memorizing my Scripture, being obedient, doing my good deeds, and filling my mornings with “quiet time.”

Yet, I’m reminded that all this self-sufficient, self-righteousness is like filthy rags… like menstrual cloths, as the Hebrew actually translates it. (Isaiah 64:6) When I remember that my supposed “righteous” acts don’t get me any closer to God, I echo the cry of the disciples, “Who, then, can be saved?!?” (Matthew 19:26)

No one. That’s the answer. No one. No one can be saved outside of God’s amazing grace. No matter how well you’re doing on this journey called faith, your goodness doesn’t get you in. Your obedience doesn’t get you in. (Read Matthew 19: “All these I have done since I was a child”) Your presence in your pew on Sunday or your prayer closet on Monday doesn’t get you in.

Likewise, no matter how poorly you’re doing on this journey of faith, your failures, doubts, and questions don’t keep you out of the Kingdom. That’s right. Because in the eyes of our holy God, we ALL are doing poorly at being perfectly holy… which is what He requires. We ALL have sinned and fallen short. (Romans 3:23) We keep falling short!

Praise be to God, He has given us this wonderful, astounding, radical gift of grace through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus is the only One who can save us, if we’re desperate enough to realize it.

His grace is sufficient for a panhandler like me.

Now, that’s Good News!