Our “Big” Problems vs. Our “Big” God

11.15.19 Leave a comment

One thing that has not changed very much at all over the past couple of decades is the reluctance that many people have to pray for God to do something life changing, whether it be in our own lives or that of a friend, family member or even a stranger vs. not praying at all.

What is it that keeps us from not praying prayers of healing, deliverance or even salvation when we know with nearly 100% certainty that these are all things that God promises to do in answer to our prayer throughout scripture?

Not too long ago, I knew the Lord had spoken a word to my heart about giving an invitation at the close of a message that I had been asked to bring on a particular weekend.  This was something that I had been accustomed to doing for many years when I was preaching regularly, so it was not at all out of my comfort zone.

However, when the actual time came for the invitation at the Saturday evening service and at the Sunday 9:15 service in Wexford I found myself rationalizing my way out of giving the invitation.  I won’t complicate this by telling you in any detail what was going on in my mind except to say that I somehow didn’t feel that the circumstances were “right” to give an invitation at that moment and so I simply chose to allow my concern to overpower my conviction.

That’s difficult and humbling for me to confess even though it’s been a few months since it happened.  On the other hand, I can think of multiple other occasions since then when I have likewise evaluated a particular problem that I was facing, or more often, that someone I cared about was facing, and instead of believing God’s promises as clearly spelled out in His Word that He has both the desire and the power to address those problems, I somehow did not act on how I believe God was prompting me.

It’s not actually disobedience in the defiant category but it certainly is negligence in allowing my problem to be bigger than my confidence in the size of my God.

If this is something that you struggle with you’re not alone.  Because many of our problems are so on-going, and the ones that are the most difficult are usually the ones that have been around the longest, it’s not unusual that our “big” problems are unconsciously overwhelming of our faith in the power of our “big” (remember the meaning of the word sovereign which is literally ‘over all things’) God.

Finally, in the third service of that weekend that I mentioned above, I realized that I had one more attempt that God was granting me to chose to obey His leading in my life – His prompting to my heart, or to simply write it off as not being the right time to do so.

Thankfully, I remember vividly that when I moved out of my message and into the invitation it flowed very simply and easily from my heart to others and the Holy Spirit did exactly what God had promised He would do.  In that one service alone somewhere between 12 and 15 people openly acknowledged their desire to receive Christ as their Lord and Savior, the One who forgives our sin and brings us the hope of eternal life.

After all this was past, I was rejoicing on the one hand that there was significant fruit that was evident when I had obeyed the Lord; but I will also say that it was somewhat limited because I knew that I had missed two opportunities to do the same for others in the earlier services.  That was an opportunity I will never have again with that same group of people.

I want to encourage you to chose to believe in the greatness of God toward you and the promises of God to meet your every need so that whenever you’re called upon to pray for someone else or even for yourself, don’t even hesitate to declare what God has said in His word as being true for your loved one or for yourself.  Do so before the enemy has time to talk you out of it and somehow make you think that your problem is bigger than your God.

In a simple but very powerful verse which I find myself quoting all the time no matter what the problem or obstacle that I’m facing I believe that “I can do all things through the God who strengthens me.”  Phil. 4:13

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

 

The Paradox of Suffering – Part 2

10.25.19 Leave a comment

Just recently, our home group experienced a special evening of prayer where we spent an unusually long time opening our hearts to God in worship, calling out to Him for others in intercession, and then spending considerable time bringing our own needs to Him in honest confession and acknowledgement of our need.

At one point, and I believe it was during the time of intercession, the question of God’s sovereignty came up as we prayed.  The scope of the consequence of our view of God’s sovereignty is enormous.  For some, it’s a very narrow view which is inclined to believe that God simply pulls the strings and manipulates the events of our lives as if we were some sort of lifeless marionette which God controlled completely.  This view is obviously very limiting, if not deterministic and seems to imply that everything in life happens as dictated by God.  There’s a course and a plan that He has in mind and nothing will change it.  God is at work and we are just passive observers on the journey.

There’s something about the reality of suffering and loss which forces us to look carefully at this conviction.  If this is truly what sovereignty is then it’s very difficult to understand God as a loving being who wants our best and who cares intimately about everything that happens to us.  (See Matthew 6:25-32)

People that I have come to know who have navigated their way though loss whether physical, relational, emotional or personal, are the ones who understand that God’s sovereignty encompasses all of life, that is, not simply the tragic experiences but how we respond to them in a redemptive way.

In a sense, belief in God’s sovereignty can actually give us a sense of security knowing that God is in control, but also allows us the responsibility of exercising our freedom to make wise choices and to remain faithful to Him despite our lack of understanding of circumstances around us.  In effect, it assures that God is in control, even transcendent, without cancelling out the role we have been given to choose to trust Him.

A close seminary friend of mine has written about this paradox in a profound and deeply compelling book entitled “A Grace Disguised” where he details his own journey through the loss of his mother, wife and a daughter in one horrific traffic accident caused by a drunk driver a number of years ago.  In the end, Jerry has come to see life differently because of the accident and has chosen to allow God to enlarge his soul through the process of grief and loss rather than to pull away and give up on the one source of hope, which is the presence of God in all things, which is where he and his remaining family could find peace.

In the end, that’s what I would encourage anyone who is going through a time of profound suffering or loss to consider.  We can’t promise that God rules all things in a way that we would desire, but we do know the promise is certain that the Lord our God will never leave us or forsake us and that in His presence we find peace.  It is peace in the midst of suffering that ultimately conquers the loss and sustains the hope that will carry us into eternity.

Blessings,
Pastor Jay

The Paradox of Suffering

10.17.19 Leave a comment

It would be very unrealistic to say that I’m going to provide anyone with a satisfactory answer as to why even very mature and committed believers go through the experience of human suffering at some point in their lives.  In fact, it’s not unrealistic to say that some of the most mature people in their faith are people who have had to endure more than their “fair share” of suffering.

For whatever reason, I was reflecting over the last 9 months and realized that many of my closer friends, as well as a number of relationships I have through our local church, have all gone through some of life’s most difficult suffering in just this past 9 months.

That’s why I approached our small group Bible study in the “Rooted” curriculum which was on the topic of “Where is God in the Midst of Suffering?”

The more reading and preparation I did for this week’s study a somewhat different perspective began to take shape in my understanding of the experience of suffering and to some degree the “why” we all seem to go though it and not just once in our lives in most cases.

Unquestionably, the most common and understandable response to the experience of suffering, whether it be physically, relationally, emotionally or even spiritually, is to seek to find answers as to why God does not seem to hear our prayer and in some way relieve us from the sufferings that we are having to endure.  In other words, suffering happens to us and we expect that God will deliver us from these painful and often debilitating experiences.

It’s perfectly reasonable to believe that that is something God wants to do as the life of Jesus, as recorded in the four Gospels, is replete with illustrations of how Jesus seemed to be drawn to suffering people and without exception would do what was necessary for people to experience the healing, restoration, deliverance or forgiveness necessary for the suffering to be removed.

That’s why it’s always an appropriate thing to pray for the Lord to heal, renew or restore us in times of suffering.  However, there also seems to be one other critically important thing that we often overlook in a season of suffering.  The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 5:3-5

“Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance character; and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint us because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.”

Yes, it’s absolutely accurate to say that positive things take place within our lives as a result of suffering!  It’s the same reason why James declared

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.”

It’s not that we are rejoicing or thanking God for suffering; that would be an irrational response to something that is painful and even potentially damaging in our lives.  It is, however, appropriate to say that God will use the very specific experiences of suffering to do positive work in our lives; that He will actually benefit us in some way through the suffering experience.

This is the paradox that the experience of suffering provides for us.  On the one hand, it can be the most painful and difficult time or season of our lives, but on the other hand, as we go through the experience with our eyes on God and our heart open to His presence through praise and worship, the Word and fellowship, we actually experience the transformation of our character to be more like Christ.  Is it too much of a leap to say that suffering is one of the necessary experiences that we must go through because the world into which we were born is a fallen one and sin still has influence on our lives even though the Lord has provided ultimate victory and triumph over sin and it’s consequences.

Studying these and many other scriptures and reading a number of things along the way has brought me to a renewed conviction that suffering is actually a redemptive experience in our lives.  In other words, suffering is a way in which the character of Jesus that has been imparted to us through faith in Christ and His work on the cross is increasingly revealed as we endure suffering in these seasons of our lives.

My intent is to speak into this proposition a little more in my next installment on the “why” of suffering.

So be encouraged, dear friend, if you are in one of those seasons.  God has not left you there alone and you are not suffering without a redemptive and beneficial purpose.

Blessings,
Pastor Jay

 

 

The Lord Knows What You Need

10.04.19 Leave a comment

When it comes to “big decisions” in our lives, most of us would acknowledge that we want to have some sort of leading from God, whether scriptural, circumstantial or prophetic, that enables us to move forward with the confidence that God is with us.

Just recently I had a “big decision” situation in my life, but it did not concern a decision that I had made but one that one of my sons had been praying about for some time.

I do know that some readers may think that asking God for a “confirmation” reveals a lack of faith, and in some cases that may be so, but scripture does reveal that the Lord will answer that prayer.  Remember Gideon when he was called by God to defeat the Midianites so that the people of Israel would be free from their seven years of oppression.  That’s when Gideon had his very well known “fleece” test. (Judges 6)

If you want to see a similar situation in the New Testament, look at Peter when he was standing in the boat and wanted to be sure that it was Jesus who was walking on the water near them when he said “Lord, if it’s you, Peter replied, tell me to come to you on the water.”  “Come,” He said.  (Matthew 14:28)

In my situation, this was a family member who had made a very big decision about a job opportunity in an entirely different part of the country.  It is a good position, but it’s also pretty far from the rest of our extended family.

This past weekend we were visiting Jon & Jenny and their family, getting acquainted with their new surroundings and the position that he had accepted.

Although many of the circumstances were affirming, and I really had no reason to doubt that this was the right decision, in my heart I was asking the Lord for some further confirmation just so I could release them and know that God had His hand upon them.

On Sunday morning we went to a worship service together at a very vibrant and healthy congregation that meets in a newer facility not far from where my kids and their family have recently moved.

The service was very good from start to finish and I felt a growing sense of confidence that if this was not the right place, it was certainly a good option and indicated that there would be other churches in the area that are alive in Christ.

What happened at the very end of the service is something I won’t soon forget.  The pastor closed his message with an invitation to receive Christ (something I’ve done in my ministry for the past 40 years).  He then asked everyone to stand and he introduced someone who apparently comes to the church twice a year for an extended time of ministry and coaching.  There was no bulletin with names and I somehow didn’t hear this brother’s full name.

He came to the microphone and shared a powerful word from the Lord which seemed to be a fitting and encouraging close to the whole service.  Then the pastor received the microphone back and said, “We thank God for Pastor Joe Ewen and times of ministry that he shares with us.”

Suddenly I realized that I just heard from an anointed brother in Christ who has visited North Way multiple times and has received a number of mission prayer teams in his church and hometown in the nation of Scotland.

As you might imagine, it was just too strong of a connection for me to interpret as a simple “coincidence.”  This was the Lord’s way of communicating to me that His hand was outstretched toward my son and his family and their steps were being guided by Him.  I was very moved by the whole experience and went forward and shared with Pastor Joe Ewen about my son and his family and how they were new to that area and were looking for a church.  He gladly embraced them and promised to make an effort to help them get to know the ministry of that particular church and what other opportunities might be out there.

I will look back on that moment as a seminal moment when God went “above and beyond” the normal way of confirming His will and sending to me one of His messengers whose very presence was a confirmation that the Lord knew exactly where they were and that He would be with them in all the steps they were about to take.

What an amazingly personal and faithful God we have!

Blessings,
Pastor Jay

 

We Must Know that God is Good

9.27.19 Leave a comment

In a recent leadership training gathering at my home church of North Way Wexford, a handful of 3 x 5 cards with attributes of God were laid out on the table and at the appropriate time we were asked to select one.

There was one particular characteristic I was hoping to find, even though the ten or more cards all had profound and unique biblical characteristics of the person of God.  They mentioned His faithfulness, His love, His righteousness, His mercy, etc., etc.

The characteristic of God that I’ve been coming back to over and over again in the past several weeks has been about the perception of God as being good in all of His dealings with mankind.

I’m not sure why it is, but many people seem to live with the perception of God that they have inherited, whether from some religious background or perhaps some identification with a parent who did not reflect goodness in the way that God the Father is revealed to us.  We see this illustrated time and time again when people are talking more about the problems and struggles that they are having, or the impending sense of difficulty, whether in relationship, or purpose in life, or even in physical and health related terms.

It’s time that we reexamine our own hearts and be sure that we believe with every ounce of our being that our God is really good.  When I perceive that God is good, it changes how I expect Him to act in my life.  Rather than seeing Him as a place to go and hide from problems, I find myself declaring with settled confidence and even boldness based on His promises, that God is always working for my best.  That’s why Romans 8:28 is so precious to us all when it says:

“For God works all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.”

I hope that is something you can embrace in your spirit.  When you see God as being fundamentally good and therefore good in His activity in your life and good in His intentions for you, then we quickly move away from being defensive or expecting difficulties and move into the realm of letting our faith lay hold of the blessing that God has prepared for us.  I’m not talking primarily in terms of material things as much as I am in terms of the depths and riches of our heart relationship with Him.

When we think of God as being good then we think of the possibilities that God may have for our life and we start to anticipate that in each and every situation God can take what seems to be a loss and turn it into a gain, a set-back into a set-up for His glory, and a way of revealing just how magnificent He really is because of His faithful work in our daily lives.

Just the other day I spoke to a group of about 70 seniors who gathered at the Beaver Valley campus of North Way for their first meeting in our new location.  70 seniors(age-not grade in school) came together with probably close to 5,000 years of cumulative relationship with the God of the universe.  Perhaps that is why so many people took the time to share with me after the formal gathering just how much they had been blessed by God’s work over the past years in the Beaver Valley and particularly the fresh breath of hope and anticipation that this new campus has brought to that entire area.

That experience reminded me that it’s very often the case that God sends some of His best saints into areas where God’s presence and glory have not been greatly manifested in recent years.  That’s one of the reasons why I believe that God will be raising up an army of anointed student ministry leaders and volunteers who will share with great confidence, expectation, and joy of the possibilities of God for each and every student in our entire region.  Student Ministry, students between the ages of 12 and 18, has had some seasons of great blessing over the past 50 years.  However, the complexity of our culture and the rather dismissive posture that the public schools have taken toward the acknowledgement of God have resulted in a whole generation of students that have largely missed out on the blessing of knowing the goodness of God.  I believe it’s time for that to change and for an army of prepared, excited and creative student ministry leaders to go back in and seize the territory that the enemy has tried to take from us.

Our God is a very good God!  Begin your day with the proclamation of that truth and the expectation will be established that you will see His hand of favor and blessing guiding every moment that He gives you to enjoy the creation that provides during this season, the very stage upon which He will live out His glorious life in and through every one of us!

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

 

 

Demonstrations of Life in the Body of Christ

9.12.19 Leave a comment

Over the last several days I’ve had a series of experiences that have reminded me of the incredible importance of life in the Body of Christ.  When I encounter friends from my past and present ministry, one of the first things I want to establish with them is whether or not they are actively involved in some sort of consistent fellowship.

The reason for those queries is not because it’s something they “ought to do”; rather, it’s because all of us need the support of the Body of Christ in our lives even though there may be some seasons where we seem to be doing fine on our own.

Consider, in these past five days, that I spent several hours with hundreds of other believers who came around the Madia family as they remembered the life and legacy of love of Jean Marie Madia who left our world far too early but now sits with Jesus in the heavenly places receiving her eternal reward.  What struck me in that time was just how important having people of faith surrounding the family really is.

On Monday we spent the evening with Lisa and Alfredo Anderson-Umana and their family and about 70 or so people who represent hundreds who have supported Lisa in her nearly 30 years of ministry in Latin America through Christian Camping International.  To see not just the reach of Lisa’s ministry to hundreds of thousands of campers over the years, but also the beautiful family she has raised in the midst of these challenges was awesome.

On Tuesday I learned of a close friend and his wife who have encountered something that all of us who are married seem to inevitably discover:  the intimate relationship of two people over a life of experiences can produce some very difficult times.  I’m blessed to do what I can to come around this couple and cover them with grace and love so that the resurrection power of Jesus might make some things new and desirable once again.

Wednesday was really the capstone of the past five days as I participated in the Senior Luncheon at North Way Wexford, which is a ministry that my wife, Carol, has spearheaded for well over a decade.  With help from dedicated partners such as Kathy Bain and Susie McCabe and some very devoted volunteers, the ministry now set a new mark of 125 Seniors who enjoyed an incredible experience of fellowship together, a declaration of worship, a stirring testimony from Daniel & Jessenia Bain who will be returning to Nicaragua in less than a month to renew their ministry to the children of that deeply troubled nation.  The meeting was highlighted by a creative and deeply insightful teaching by Pastor Billy Bob White about the source of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives.  Billy Bob was his normal energetic, humorous, and engaging presence but he added a dimension of honor to the many people in the room who are a generation older than he and who have learned much in their journey with Jesus.

I necessarily will leave out a number of my own personal exchanges, some of which were really uplifting and a couple of which challenged me.

The point is that in just five days I had at least a half a dozen significant experiences where the Body of Christ demonstrated love, support, encouragement, compassion, faith, and generosity in a way that will undoubtedly help sustain hundreds of other believers as they journey through life and it’s many opportunities and challenges.

Let’s take the mystery out of it.  We need each other in the Body of Christ and I’m so thankful that we’re part of a church family where these opportunities abound.

Blessings,
Pastor Jay

The Wisdom of God’s Word

9.05.19 Leave a comment

In several situations this past week, I’ve been asked to pray for circumstances and personal matters that required sensitivity and wisdom.

In each of three different situations I certainly assured the friend that I was with that my prayers would be with them throughout the week, but I needed something more tangible.  That’s when I was drawn back to Psalm 139 in The Passion Translation.  It has ministered to me over the past few weeks and in several other exchanges that I’ve had where human wisdom simply wasn’t reassuring enough for the uncertainty that these friends were facing.

I’m going to quote just a few verses from Psalm 139, but you’ll be able to sense almost immediately the depths of the insight and reassurance that these verses bring.

“Lord, you know everything there is to

know about me.

You perceive every movement of my

heart and soul,

and you understand my every

thought before it even enters my

mind.

You’re so intimately aware of me,

Lord.

You read my heart like an open book

and you know all the words I’m

about to speak

before I even start a sentence!

You know every step I will take

before my journey even begins.

You’ve gone into my future to prepare

the way,

and in kindness you follow behind me

to spare me from the harm of my

past.

With your hand of love upon my life,

you impart a blessing to me.

This is just too wonderful, deep, and

incomprehensible!

Your understanding of me brings me

wonder and strength.”  Psalm 139:1-6

As you read these verses carefully, it’s clear that the Psalmist is describing a relationship with God that transcends any other human connection.  If we have the assurance that God knows and understands our thoughts even before they enter our mind, then why should we worry about saying the wrong thing?!

One of the prayers was for wisdom about a decision concerning a move and the last sentence of verse 4 above reads “You know every step I will take before my journey even begins.”  How reassuring is that?!  How much anxiety can that kind of love eliminate from our lives.

For another who is praying about relocation, verse 5 speaks so powerfully:

“You’ve gone into my future to prepare the way, and in kindness you follow behind me to spare me from the harm of my past.”

If God goes before us and behind us, we needn’t fear that the mistakes we’ve made will somehow catch up to us or that the things that we face will somehow overwhelm us.

Following these separate situations where prayer was offered I had some confidence that my encouragement was helpful, but I had a deep assurance that the scriptures I had quoted and given as a reference and a future reminder will somehow affect the outcome more than anything I could say.

I’ve had a number of other really significant exchanges as I’ve opened God’s word and shared with others.  I encourage you to do the same as there are needs all around us where our friendship and presence means a great deal, but the word of God is a foundation upon which life change, no matter what the circumstance, will be secure in God’s hands.

Blessings,
Pastor Jay

Pay Attention to the ‘Nudge’

8.29.19 Leave a comment

Most of us have a good idea what a ‘nudge’ is to our inner man, our spirit.  It may be doing something as routine as taking a walk when we feel a ‘nudge’ to look a little closer at a plant or a tree.  When we do we something of the intricacies of God’s created beauty that we would have past by had we not taken that moment.

I had one of those unique experiences this past weekend.  Having had the privilege of preaching at the three services at North Way Wexford, I spent a substantial amount of time in preparation.  When it came to describing a few of the qualities of a healthy small group community, my second word came right out of Ephesians 2:8-9.  It’s the word grace… which is abundantly present especially in the New Testament scriptures.

In those verses in Ephesians it refers to our relationship with God through His Son Jesus and how it all comes as a result of undeserved or unmerited favor, not works, but faith and even that comes from God so that there’s no room to boast.

There’s so much to unpack in reference to that word in our relationship with God that I didn’t think much more about it.  I went on to try to describe how grace works at the horizontal level, that is in our relationships one to another especially in a small group.

I wrote down my thoughts and added another scripture and a brief illustration.  As I was about to move on to the next point I had a nudge, a very distinct impression from the Lord that was something like this, “There will be people present this weekend who do not understand grace in the vertical sense of receiving My love and forgiveness.”

When a nudge takes place there is always a moment of decision as to how seriously we’re going to take it.  At times, other circumstances may prevent us from acting on that prompting in the way we would like and other times it simply won’t be ignored.

I finished the message and then went back and simply thought about what God might be saying to me regarding the word grace and the people that would be present at these services.  It didn’t take me a very long time to realize that the only reasonable response to that nudge would be to somehow take time to explain that a true relationship with God is not established through works or behavior or any other things that we tend to associate with religion.  Rather it’s a free gift that has to be received with a humble and open heart.

This prompting stayed with me the last day or two before our Saturday evening service.  As the worship team and all the folks that helped to bring the service to life met to pray, I shared with our worship leader that I wanted us to be prepared for me to give an invitation at the close of the message should the Lord confirm that as I preached.

This next acknowledgement is difficult.  By the close of the message on Saturday evening I had gone slightly over the allotted time and somehow felt like I needed to close the service.  I did so without an invitation.  The Sunday morning service at 9:15 a.m. was very engaged and responsive  and though I was prepared to close with the invitation, something circumstantial prevented me from doing so and I realize that I had missed two opportunities.  (It’s at times like this you begin to wonder if it really was a nudge from the Lord or just something that was in your own mind.)

At the close of the 11:00 a.m. service I was very aware that the Lord was reminding me of how specific He was when He said, “There will be people here who do not understand how grace works in relationship to me.”  At the end of the message at the 11:00 a.m. service I simply transitioned into  a two or three minute explanation of the difference between religion and relationship and how grace is the only way that we can be sure that we’ve received forgiveness of sin and the hope of eternal life through the sacrifice of Jesus.

And though it had been many, many months since I gave an invitation, I knew in my heart that people had responded and though the lighting was extremely bright and I’m not sure I could see every person who lifted a hand and looked to the platform, I know that I acknowledged six specific people and had at least two more who came up after the service and told me that they had prayed.

Many years of doing invitations has taught me that for every person that I acknowledge at least two others have prayed but I didn’t see them or they weren’t ready to take that step quite yet.

In any event, it’s not really the number of people that responded, it’s the fact that some did and it’s only because of a nudge that I even gave the opportunity for people to pray.  Needless to say, I look back on that time with a sense of profound thankfulness at the goodness of God in a way that I wasn’t looking for it.(I also have had to ask forgiveness for not being more responsive in the other services and the opportunity that may have been lost in those moments.)

So whatever the nudge is for you, learn from my experience this weekend.  Don’t let yourself be talked out of it and by all means, even if you don’t see an immediate response or understand the “why” of that nudge, leave it in the hands of the Lord and be confident that every time He speaks and we obey something eternal takes place.

Blessings!

Pastor Jay

The Call To Community

8.21.19 Leave a comment

In his book entitled “The Call” by theologian and author Os Guinness he takes a step off of the primary focus of the book which is the discernment of one’s individual call to describing the call to community.

About 1/3 of the way through his book he summarizes our current situation this way:

“Community, of course, has fallen on hard times in the modern world.  First, all modern people live with a greatly weakened sense of community compared with traditional people — due to modern travel, modern mobility, modern media, modern work and lifestyles, and a saturation of modern relationships.”

He goes on to say:

“No amount of talk of ‘virtual community’ can overlook the fact that communication that is person to person but not face to face amounts to a severe loss.  The plain fact is that for most modern people, community is either a rare experience or a distant, even mocking, ideal.”

That observation was made in the original writing of this book in 1998.  How much farther down that trail of isolation, individualism and loneliness have we traversed now that we’re in the digital age of modern social media and almost unlimited access to virtually anything we need to live our personal lives without ever leaving our individual dwellings.

I found this observation to be a pretty clear summary statement of the challenge that we all face as part of the “community of believers” that are otherwise known as the church of Jesus Christ.  Even though America was accurately described many years ago by historian and anthropologist Alex de Tocqueville when he wrote in “Democracy in America”

“Americans of all ages, all conditions, and all dispositions constantly form associations…. whatever at the lead of a great undertaking you see the government in France, or a man of rank in England, in the United States you will be sure to find an association.”

De Tocqueville accurately observed, among many other things in his study of the American experiment, that doing things together was a central characteristic of what made America great.

The fact that we have been losing that inclination to be involved with others for a specific purpose is one of the most difficult obstacles to overcome as we engage the members of our local church body to be committed to the idea of community, especially as it is expressed through small groups in our church family.

As I hope to explain with a little more detail in my message at the Wexford campus this upcoming weekend, community life at North Way was a value that we full-heartedly embraced from the very first day that a group of nine men (and their spouses) met together in early 1981 to investigate the possibility that God was moving to start a new church in the North Hills of Pittsburgh.

During the following three months that transpired before our first worship service, one of the most critical characteristics that we sought to embrace as a new church was the idea of being fully committed to ‘community life.’

This meant that we were taking very seriously the importance of each and every member of the church in the contribution, encouragement, and support they could all provide for each other that far exceeded what any one pastor or hand full of leaders might try to accomplish.

What we discovered throughout the years was that many people would visit North Way and express enthusiasm about the dynamic worship services, the biblical teaching, the ministry to students and children, and the passion to share the good news of the Gospel of Jesus with not just our neighbors, friends, co-workers and fellow students, but throughout the U.S. and even around the world.  We discovered that people who wanted to identify with North Way in all of those areas were a little more reluctant to consider a commitment to a small group of people where they would meet regularly, if not weekly, in someone’s home in circles of 8-10 or 12 people to study scripture, pray for each other, and encourage one another in the challenges and the victories of life.

What I find to be profoundly encouraging to me nearly four decades later is that we stood upon that value and continued to invest in it throughout the years so that community as expressed in a small group setting is still a central value that is both declared and experienced by a majority of North Way attenders.

Despite all of the obstacles that Os Guinness described in his book and the numerous ones we could add to that, there are many that would say that community life at North Way is still the time of the week that they most anticipate being together with other believers.

They, like many of you, have answered the “call to community” and lives have changed as a result.

Blessings,
Pastor Jay

In Times of Change

8.09.19 Leave a comment

It seems that I’ve talked with quite a number of people this summer who are in the midst of a significant season of change in their lives.  Some are in between jobs, others are about to enter into a new opportunity, and not a few have experienced some sense of loss or uncertainty.

It’s often somewhat difficult to know what to say when someone you care about is going through a time of change or moving into some new circumstance where they simply don’t know how things will work out.  When I was in that exact situation with someone very close to me, the Lord led me to Psalm 139 where King David speaks of God’s nearness in every detail of our lives.  I read these verses as several of us prayed together.

Lord, you know everything there is to know about me.
You perceive every movement of my heart and soul,
and you understand my every thought before it even enters my mind.
You are so intimately aware of me, Lord.
You read my heart like an open book
and you know all the words I’m about to speak
before I even start a sentence!
You know every step I will take before my journey even begins.
You’ve gone into my future to prepare the way,
and in kindness you follow behind me
to spare me from the harm of my past.
With your hand of love upon my life,
you impart a blessing to me.
This is just too wonderful, deep, and incomprehensible!”

Psalm 139:1-6 (TPT)

Somehow, in these verses I found the true essence of my prayer and my very best hopes for this family in transition.  It was as if God knew what was inside of me and had already chosen the words that He would speak over them to be my prayer in that moment.

The wonderful truth is that these words of promise are not just for someone else, but they’re for you as well.  Perhaps you’re the one that’s going through change or transition, the one that’s leaving one place to go to another, the one that’s now settling in to someplace that you’ve never been before; remember these words “You know every step I will take before my journey even begins.”

I don’t know if it’s just how overwhelmingly reassuring these words are, but I can’t think of anything that brings me more peace and confidence than the word of God even in the very details of our daily lives and decisions, small and large.

There are many more wonderful words of personal love and care in Psalm 139.  I urge you to read the entire Psalm carefully and see which part of this amazing scripture God brings to life for you, dear friend, or for someone that you care about.

It’s always wonderful to share big moments such as this with family and friends, but it’s so much more life-giving and sustaining to know that the Lord our God has already spoken these things to us no matter what the situation that we face may be.  In those promises you can find rest.

Blessings,

Pastor Jay