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.

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!

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)

 

That’s us.

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:10-13)

As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one.” (Romans 3:10)

There is no “us” and “them.” There is no separation. Social standing doesn’t matter. Family heritage doesn’t matter. Wealth doesn’t matter. Education doesn’t matter. Power or influence doesn’t matter. Age, race, national origin, gender, creed, familial status, color, nor sexual preference matter.

Jesus came to the hurting, the sick, and the destitute. He didn’t have to look far.

Because that’s all there is.

A simple hug…

I had a very moving experience Friday as part of a Love INC delivery to one of our neighbors in need. It was a small delivery — paper products, hygiene items, and a footstool. A footstool? Yes.

Our neighbor was a below-the-knee amputee who had diabetes, fibromyalgia, neuropathy, and had a heart valve replaced, too. She was younger than me. She seemed in surprisingly good health — physically. She requested a footstool to keep her leg propped up.

Before we leave, we always pray for our neighbors, so I asked her how I could pray for her. With her head bowed, she said that she couldn’t possibly ask for prayers for herself. I just let that hang in the air. Then I got down on a knee to her level in her wheelchair, and with the gentleman who helped me, we held hands and formed a small circle of prayer.

As I prayed for wholeness for this neighbor, I heard a sniffle, and when I said, “Amen,” she was sobbing. I asked her about it and she replied that she had worked hard for her family for years and years, but now at she needed help, they weren’t helping her. It was heartbreaking. I hugged her, and… she seemingly wouldn’t let go. She was still sobbing. I imagine it was the first hug she had received in months!

She said that she couldn’t pray for herself because she was supposed to be strong, right?!? I said, “No. We aren’t supposed to be strong. In fact, none of us are. We are supposed to be weak in order that God can be strong.” I told her that my New Year’s Resolution this year was to be weaker and dumber than ever. After a laugh, I told her why.

“I want to be weak, so that God can work more and more in me, and more and more through me. And I want to be dumber, so that I can be filled with His wisdom. That way, He gets all the glory.”

We hugged again, and again, she wouldn’t let go.

I don’t think I was hugging her.

I think Jesus was.

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.

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.

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.)

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)

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.