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

Warning Lights

8.01.19 Leave a comment

Just a couple weeks ago, I was headed out for a relatively short ride when an unexpected “warning light” came on on my dashboard.  When I had a chance to look a little more carefully at what the light indicated I realized that I had neglected to check one of the important fluids in my car’s engine.  I wasn’t in “danger” quite yet, but I needed to pay some attention to what was going on internally.

In circles of people who are mechanical, they’re always checking their car for most anything that needs attention such as oil, tire pressure, radiator coolant, etc., etc.  In fact, those folks call the warning lights by a term that reveals something about the driver:  they call them “idiot lights”!  (Said another way, when you let things get that far out of wack you’re not paying as much attention as you should to the needs of your car.)

It might be a little bit of a stretch for some of us, but I believe that God has given us a number of warning lights when something that we should be paying attention to has been neglected.  One such warning light in my life is when I recognize that I’ve begun to worry about a certain circumstance, decision, or perhaps a need or a relationship.  Worry means that I have somehow not given proper attention to something that God wants to deal with in my life.  In fact, in His Word He directly exhorts us to “forsake your worries!” (Matthew 6:31)  When worry sets in you can be sure that it’s because you’ve neglected to invite the Lord to deal with the situation and to provide the necessary resources to see that situation brought to resolution.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus goes into significant detail about some of the physical things which we all tend to worry about; food, clothing, what we drink, etc.  I think all of those can be extrapolated into more complex issues in our life but at their core they are just like these basic essentials.  They are things for which God gives us promises that if held onto by faith, will bring all the resources of God to bear on whatever need has caused the worry to encroach upon our lives.

I’m in no way minimizing just how real worry can be and just how damaging some of the effects of worry can be on our relationships, our peace of mind and even our physical bodies.  Some people worry so intensely that they can release an inordinate amount of acid into their system which causes an ulcer or some other physical manifestation that brings genuine pain.  Strangely enough, we’ve just added another thing to worry about!

That’s why the exhortation of Jesus in His first major public teaching of the Sermon on the Mount could not be more clear.

“So above all, constantly chase after the realm of God’s Kingdom and the righteousness that proceeds from Him.  Then all these less important things will be given to you abundantly.  Refuse to worry about tomorrow, but deal with each challenge that comes your way, one day at a time.  Tomorrow will take care of itself.”  Matthew 6:33-34 TPT

In these few short sentences, the Lord gives us His solution to the issue of worry.  “Refuse to worry,” says Jesus and “all these things will be provided to you in abundance!”  I have found that the key to getting beyond worry is to pursue the things that God promises:  to seek His face, to seek His righteousness and His Kingdom rule, and it’s not long before you recognize that whatever it is that’s tripped on the “warning light” of worry in your life, God has an answer for it.  I see the many promises of His Word as messages from Him which are simply saying ‘I know what’s going on in your life and I’ve made provision for you to handle it.’

If that’s the case, choose to focus your thoughts and your prayers on God’s abilities, His promises, and His love for you.  What you’ll find in God’s due time is that all the warning lights will go off . . . and every day will take care of itself.

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

Looking Up

7.19.19 Leave a comment

Doubtless, most all of you have either watched, listened or read about the Apollo 11 Lunar Landing and its incredible impact on not just our nation, but the world.

What is very difficult to capture in all of the detailed documentaries, written remembrances and even personal interviews is just how captivated our nation, and to some substantial degree, the whole world became.

I remember exactly where I was on July 16, 1969, at 8:30 in the morning as I watched the gigantic Apollo 11 rocket (some 330 feet tall!) lift off from the launchpad at newly named Cape Kennedy in Florida.  I’ll confess that I listened to updates as often as possible because the scope of this mission was so vast that it seemed virtually impossible that nothing would go wrong.  (Keep in mind that the challenge to put a man on the moon and bring him back safely had been issued just 8 ½ years earlier by President John F. Kennedy.  When he made this bold visionary statement, the most that NASA had been able to accomplish was to put a couple of satellites in orbit to engage the Soviet Union and the “Race for Space”.)

I remember cheering out loud with several of my friends as we gathered together in the home of one of them after lunch to witness the lunar landing at 3:17 p.m. and then for 6 ½ long hours we waited with baited breath for that very first step on the surface of the moon which took place at 9:56 p.m. EST.

In a very succinct comment on this moment, the IBM Corporation wrote on the back page of a special insert in the Wall St. Journal the following:

This boot reached more than the moon.

With every step, it did what so many others couldn’t.

It built bridges between rivals.

It paused protests in the street.

It inspired cultures to put differences aside.

 

50 years ago,

this boot went beyond its mission

by showing us that a man on the moon

had the power to bring millions of people together

right here at home.”

I don’t remember contemplating this achievement in terms of international relations, so I’m not sure that I understood any of those observations that the folks at IBM had apparently deduced from their collective experiences.

However, there is one indisputable thing that I believe in the simplest of ways captures the essence of the difference in our own nation (if not the world) in the past 50 years.

Mr. Jason Gay, a sports columnist and a humor columnist for the Wall St. Journal, defined it as simply and as clearly as anyone could.

You see, if you watch any of the television reports or go online and cherry pick some of the more comprehensive video files of the event, what you will see over and over and over again is that the people of our nation were searching for something that might reunite us, something that might restore our hope for a better future in a time of broad disagreement, fallout from a very unpopular war and a myriad of other less dramatic but equally difficult situations….  The people of America throughout the eight days of this mission all seemed to have one thing in common and that was this:  they were looking up together.

Our eyes were lifted toward the heavens, toward the vast mystery of the universe and toward the specific goal of placing a man on the surface of the moon and bringing him home.

Today, the primary physical posture of most Americans and a good percentage of others around the world is not looking up together;  rather, it’s looking down individually into a small screen in your hand.  At first blush this may seem like an overly simplified summary, but is it not absolutely true that even though we have the capacity to be so much more connected with one another today than in the days of the Apollo mission, but instead we are more disconnected, divided, and disheartened by the level of acrimony and pride leading to deep hurt and division in so many public circles?  This dilemma has not been created by technological devices.  It’s been created by human beings preferring to make the choice to keep to themselves rather than to be together and to focus on what we don’t have rather than what we do have in great abundance.

As we await the celebration of the landing of the Lunar Module and the first step on the moon’s surface by astronaut Neil Armstrong on July 20th at 9:56 p.m., why not join with the people with whom you might be reflecting on these events or celebrating in some way and lift up your head, join a hand with someone else and express a word of gratitude, a word of heartfelt thanks to a God who has mercifully allowed us to continue to discover His incredible plan for every human life, every tribe and tongue, throughout all the world.  Look up and ask God to reveal something to you of the magnitude of His unconditional love, His sovereign dominion, and the fact that He is willing to put His treasure into every human heart that will accept Him through His Son Jesus, and one day fulfill the prayer that Jesus had for us all that “we would be one just as the Father and I are one.”  (John 17:20-24)

Blessings,

Pastor Jay