Resting in His Presence

A friend of mine and I are working our way through The Good and Beautiful God, a wonderful book by James Bryan Smith. It is framed around the premise that we have many false narratives about God, His character, and His nature that need to be replaced by the way Jesus saw and knew His Father. In essence, we need to renew our minds. Its subtitle is: “Falling In Love With the God Jesus Knew.” I highly recommend it.

We are on Chapter 4: God is Generous. At the end of each chapter is some homework: a “Soul Training Exercise.” The exercise for this chapter is to memorize the already familiar Psalm 23 and recite it as many times as possible throughout the week (two weeks in this case, since my friend and I meet every two weeks).

So here it is from memory:

The Lord is my shepherd.
I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for His Name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil,
For you are with me.
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil.
My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life
And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

I’ve meditated on those verses, on each phrase, and in most cases, on each word. I have mental pictures of each verse or phrase, such as “green pastures” and “still waters.” Those word-pictures are easy to envision. However, as I meditate on “You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies,” I have trouble with that imagery.

As I conjure up an image in my mind, it is one of confident defiance of any enemy, or of the Enemy of my soul. It is a confidence of knowing that I am a child of God, with Christ dwelling within me, and I live in the unshakeable Kingdom of God. There is nothing that the Enemy can do to ULTIMATELY defeat me. God is mine, and most importantly, I am His. No matter what lies ahead, even in the darkest valley, God is with me.

How is it that the Lamb of God, who died for me and you and who takes away the sins of the world, now is the Good Shepherd!?! My mind almost cannot comprehend that kind of love!

I can truly rest in that generous love. He DOES make me lie down in green pastures. I CAN rest beside still waters.

God Isn’t Mad at You

God is not mad at you.

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied,” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ ” (Matthew 22:36-37)

There it is: The greatest commandment is to love God with all that we are. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t come naturally for me. I suspect that it doesn’t come naturally for most. Since it doesn’t come naturally, I guess I’ll just be obedient and muster up some love for God because that’s what I’m supposed to do.

No. That’s not it at all. We can’t just muster up love… for God, for our spouse, or for our enemies (as Jesus tells us to do as well). No, we love because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19) We can respond with love for God when we realize how much He loves us and delights in us.

James Bryan Smith states in his book, The Good and Beautiful God:

“What if God… responds to us with absolute delight regardless of how we look or feel, or what we have or have not done? The only possible response would be to feel ‘absolute delight’ in return. If God is delighted in me — regardless of my performance -— then my immediate response is to feel love in return. And in so doing, I fulfill the greatest commandment.”

So many Christians are taught that God responds to us by how we respond to God. That is, many of us are taught that God will be more pleased with us if we would pray more, read our Bibles more, and serve more. Throw in a little fasting on the side, and you’ll have the favor of God.

But that is not the generous, giving, gracious God that Jesus tells us about. Remember the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard? (Matthew 20:1-15) No matter when they were hired, they received the standard wage. It didn’t depend on how long or hard they worked; they all received the same wage from their generous employer. Jesus says that the Kingdom of God operates the same way.

Smith goes on to say:

“Two of the most important verses in the Bible, in my opinion, are 1 John 4:10-11. They are the verses that began my own transformation by the renewing of my mind: ‘This is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.’ These verses became the bedrock of my dominant narrative about God. Our love for God does not determine God’s attitude toward us. God loves us first, and we see that clearly in God’s Son offering his life in order to reconcile us to God. And that love propels me to love God and others in return.”

God is not mad at you.

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.”

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.


And now we all have a place at the table.

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 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!


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.

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.


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.)