Take Courage! – Part 2 (Unmasking Our Enemy)

6.21.18 Leave a comment

In my recent post of two days ago, we discovered that the most often command of scripture, the one repeated more than any other, is “Do not fear.”

Many of us might have thought that the face of our enemy, or the mask that the enemy wears, is one of evil or some sort of characature of the evil one as described in scripture.  (Keep in mind that even the Bible says that oftentimes “Satan appears as an angel of light’ which means that we would not recognize him as the evil being that he truly is.)

No, our enemy is fear, the opposite of faith and the most debilitating posture that can overwhelm any of us.  Fear can cripple us because we lose sight of God’s path and what He’s leading us to do..  Fear may come as an apparent revelation or some new information that calls into question the foundation of faith upon which we have been building our lives or our destiny.

Fear has so many other expressions that we could get bogged down in simply trying to identify them.  Suffice it to say that fear can blind us because it shrouds the goodness and glory of God in our lives.  Fear confuses us because it allows things that wee have known and trusted as being truth in our lives as perhaps seeming to be unattainable.

In the story that we were studying in Matthew chapter 14, vs. 22-33 we discover one of the most powerful teachings on how to overcome fear in all the Bible.  We ended our study on verse 27 where Jesus said to the disciples:  “Take courage!  It is I.  Do not be afraid.”

What follows that is generally seen as one of the most courageous and exemplary acts of faith that any of the disciples manifested during Jesus’ time on the earth.  It is when Peter replies to Jesus and says,

‘Lord, if it is you, tell me to come to you on the water.’  Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.  But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ (verse 28-30)

So much has been made of the fact that Peter alone was brave enough to put his faith on the line and take a step out of the boat in the midst of the storm in response to Jesus’ invitation to “come.” (verse 29) Indeed, it was an amazing and courageous act; but one that also would be understandable given Peter’s inclination to be the most outspoken and even daring of the disciples.

However, Peter’s courage began to crumble as he saw the wind (and the waves) and fear, our greatest enemy, began to overwhelm him..   At that moment, as Peter was slipping into the water (How in the world did that happen!?) he cried out and said “Lord, save me!”

The response of Jesus is powerful.  “Immediately Jesus reached out His hand and caught him. ‘You of little faith,’ He said, ‘Why do you doubt!'”

Much has been made about why Peter was courageous enough to step out but not strong enough to continue to walk with Jesus.  However, there’s one other very important fact that I believe is relevant to most all of us who may not immediately identify with the courage of Peter.

In verse 32 scripture reveals that “When they climbed in the boat, the wind died down.”  Please note that friends.  The miracle of Jesus as told in this version of the story is that He calmed the storm without even speaking to it.  Consequently, we can make an accurate application of this by saying that there are times in our lives when the storms may be raging and the difficulty surrounding us, but all we need to know is that Jesus is nearby and though we may not have the faith to go to Him, He has the love to come to us and in so doing He will bring His peace into any circumstance that we face.

Sometimes the greatest antidote to fear in our lives is the awareness of the presence of Jesus and the certainty that knows that with His presence comes His peace which is sufficient to address any issue, any struggle, any doubt, any inadequacy or struggle that we face.

Our greatest enemy may be fear, but our greatest strength is that Jesus promises to never fail us or forsake us; in fact, He’s ready to climb right into our situation in life and bring forth His peace.

Blessings,
Pastor Jay

 

Take Courage!

6.19.18 Leave a comment

If I were to pose a question to each of you, it would be simply this:  What is behind the most significant opposition or struggle that you face in your life today?

It may be that your life is full of opportunity and responsibility and you don’t think much about opposition or difficulty.  However, the more personal you become, the more aware you will be of what it is that you fear.

Let’s be clear that when we use the term fear, we’re not talking about the kind of emotional reaction that we have to scary circumstances.  Rather, we’re talking about the possibility that what we most need, what we hope for or dream about and perhaps what we want most out of life will not come to pass.

It should not surprise us that the number one command of scripture, the one that’s repeated more than any other, is simply this:  Do not fear.  We would think that it would be something that seems more spiritual like serve more, pray more, give more,  or even love more.

However, the Holy Spirit, the author of scripture, goes right to the heart of what keeps us from such things and that is simply fear.  It is a fear born not so much of our inability as much as it is our lack of revelation of who God truly is and perhaps even more important,  what He thinks of each of us.

In one of the most beloved stories in the gospels we see the disciples attempting to cross the Sea of Galilee in a boat as Jesus had commanded them.  Jesus sent them off and went up to the mountain to pray it says in Matthew 14:23, and though the boat made some progress, it was “buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.” (verse 24)

“During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake.  When the disciples saw Him walking on the lake, they were terrified.  ‘It’s a ghost,’ they said, and cried out in fear.

But Jesus said to them: ‘Take courage!  It is I.  Do not be afraid.'” (verse 27)

Many interpretations of this story have been expressed by Bible teachers and scholars over the years.

One analogy that seems to fit in my life is I see the boat as representative of my life’s journey in obedience to God across the ‘lake of life’ to a destination that represents His highest purpose and destiny for me.

But like so many others I find that crossing this lake is a challenge that taxes all of my resources.  There are many times when I feel the ‘wind and waves are against me.’

What is so instructive about this portion of the story is that when Jesus moves toward the boat walking on the disturbed waves of the lake, it is fear that prevents the disciples from embracing Him.  The very presence of God which is coming to them to provide strength and help to cross over the lake is rebuffed by the power of fear.

It is no surprise that Jesus directly speaks of that and says ‘Take courage!  It is I.  Do not be afraid.’ (verse 27)

For today’s reflection, spend a few moments asking the Lord where fear has possibly resisted the intervention of God in your life circumstances.  Think about where by virtue of difficulties that you can’t overcome, circumstances that don’t seem to change or opposition that seems too strong to overcome fear has halted your progress in the purposes of God.

Keep in mind that our first inclination is not to see this as fear but as discernment or perhaps even a willingness to accept something different than what you believe God had told you.

In our next study we’ll look at two responses to the presence of God and how both of them address this issue of fear.  For today, take heart simply in the words of Him who will never fail you or forsake you.  “Take courage!  It is I.  Do not be afraid.”

Blessings,
Pastor Jay

Check Your Glasses

6.07.18 Leave a comment

Very recently I was thumbing through a Wall Street Journal magazine which has snippets of contents surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of advertisements.  For whatever reason, I must have noticed a dozen or more very tasteful full page ads that were drawing attention to glasses that we wear, both sunglasses and clear ones as well.

Of course, the main thing that they were selling were the frames whose cost can cover an enormous range from $39 to $3900!

It’s interesting that despite all of the advances in eye care including laser technology that actually corrects the vision to contact lenses which erase the need for glasses, there is still an incredibly, seemingly insatiable, market for regular glasses.  In many ways they have become fashion accessories and not just vision necessities.

One reason is that anyone who has any difficulty with their eyesight recognizes that this is an incredibly liability.  Many of us cannot read any text, whether in a book or on a computer screen, unless we have corrective lenses.  Others of us cannot distinguish objects that are ten feet away without their glasses.  It’s fair to say that in many of those cases, the lens they are wearing will determine how they respond to what’s ahead.

The same is absolutely true about our faith journey.  The lens that we put on our heart of faith will determine, to a large degree, what our experience will be.

Over the years, I have discovered that the majority of people who follow Christ or call themselves Christians, have been hampered by wearing lenses that simply bring into focus their shortcomings and sins, their inabilities and unworthiness, their shame and their guilt and on and on.  For these dear people, answered prayer always seems to happen for others and the blessing of God never seems to be experienced in the ways they read about in the Bible or hear about from others who walk with the Lord.  You can give these people all the encouragement in the world, but when they put on their glasses and what they see most clearly has something to do with their inadequacy or failure, they are pretty much doomed to never see the favor of God flowing through their lives.

However, something dramatic happens when we put on the lenses that cause us to see God as being good.  This is not simply just in the general sense of good vs. evil, rather it’s the very definition and nature of all goodness as we know it.  (“Lord you are good and your steadfast love endures forever.”)

When our lens is that of God’s goodness, our assignment on this earth becomes much clearer.  We start seeing realms of change and possibility that had been closed off to us previously because we were not confident that God cared about such things or that He would do anything about it.  When you see God as good, realms of possibility present themselves and the dynamic of faith is released to cause those possibilities to become a reality.  Instead of living in daily reactions to circumstances and problems, waiting for a breakthrough or a solution, we live with a heart of advancement; looking for opportunities for God’s love and goodness to be manifest.

The two most difficult areas to trust God and His goodness are first, in those which are most familiar to us.  If we have lived for a long period of time with the lens of uncertainty or even negativity, it’s often a struggle to put on the lens that sees things through the goodness of God.  The other area would be in those which have never really seen the goodness of  God at all.  I’m not necessarily talking about a remote part of the earth as much as the mind or heart of someone who has never really heard the gospel or met the true God who has revealed Himself in Jesus.

In any case, it begins with us examining our own lenses.  Thankfully, it’s never too late to get a new set of frames and a brand new set of lenses and just watch what God accomplishes through your renewed heart of faith!

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

Take the First Step

5.31.18 Leave a comment

One of the most important characteristics of a devoted follower of Christ is the willingness to initiate a step in the right direction.

Far too many people who love God and believe in what Jesus did for them, have taken a very passive posture toward making a difference in the Kingdom of God.  They read their Bibles, sing choruses and worship together and even serve on occasion.  However, what they rarely do is to take a bold step of initiative toward a particular opportunity or need that they face.

Many times over the years I’ve heard people say things like “If God wants me to get involved in that, He knows how to get my attention.”  Another common response is, “If God wants me to use that gift, He’ll give it to me,” not recognizing that most everything of significance in the Kingdom of God is “taken by force.”  (See the powerful verse of Matthew 11:12 … “the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.”)

Perhaps the most frequently quoted response is something along the lines of “I don’t know how to do it!”  In other words, God has been putting something on your heart but you don’t know how to approach the situation or the person involved and therefore you fall into the default mode of doing nothing.

Although this is entirely understandable in one sense, it’s also the way that many important ministry moments and significant Kingdom advancements fail to take place.

Not long ago, I was given an opportunity to meet with a person who has a significant ministry in the realms of divine healing, restoration, and other expressions of the power of the gospel.  I recognized that meeting with this individual would have potential implications on my life simply because of the fact that the Lord might use him to speak words of encouragement or exhortation to me.  I’ll be honest and say that, just like many of you, I preferred the position that simply “played it safe” and figured that if God wanted me to know something about my future He would find a way to deliver that message.

However, I simply couldn’t accept that posture as being consistent with what I’ve come to know is an important mark of spiritual maturity; that is, taking the step of initiative.

When I finally took that step and made that connection it was substantially different than what I had expected.  Although there were a number of challenging perspectives and positions that he shared with me, the overall tenor was one of humble support and encouragement.  I knew without question that the Lord was speaking and that some response was going to be forthcoming, but all the fear and uncertainty that I had brought into the situation was swept away by the sense of God’s presence and His overarching love.

When we think about it, there are many things that happen in our daily lives that we don’t fully understand, but that doesn’t keep us from taking advantage of their potential.  Your car can get you from home to school or work or the supermarket, but you don’t know exactly “how” it works!  None-the-less, you get in the car and turn the key and in an act of reasonable trust you move ahead.

I’ve discovered that you don’t have to know how when it comes to some of things of the Kingdom of God, you just have to be convinced of the who!  I want to encourage you to not let what you don’t know keep you from acting on what you do know… when it comes to the seeds of the Kingdom of God in your life even if you don’t know how it might work, keep on sowing, keep on feeding, keep on weeding, and then watch God do what only He can do which is to make that seed grow into a fruitful harvest!

I’m convinced that taking initiative is one of the most important characteristics of a fruitful follower of Christ.  If you don’t see lives being changed or feel that you’re making any difference in your day to day routine, begin to ask God where you need to take a step of initiative and then do so with humble confidence in the fact that you know the One whom you are seeking to obey and you are convinced that He can make it happen!

Blessings in Jesus,

Pastor Jay

When Things Are Slow . . .

5.25.18 Leave a comment

For many years, I lived in the all too common atmosphere of a very busy life.  Like so many of you who might be reading this post today, my day would start early and end late and with few exceptions, most days were full of activity, interaction and a myriad of responsibilities and opportunities.

I was always aware in those times of the importance of prayer because I knew that I would be making decisions throughout the day without having the time to pray through issues that might come up regarding my calling as a pastor or in my personal life as a husband, father and a very blessed man with scores of important relationships.  Things would be moving along so rapidly that I literally had to schedule times where I pulled away from 10-12 hour work days in order to be sure that I was keeping my mind and heart open to the rhema (proceeding) words from the Lord.

In this particular season things have changed rather dramatically.  My schedule is not nearly as full and it’s fair to say that I have ample time throughout the day to prepare for meetings and to pray spontaneously as I’m facing situations and/or circumstances that require the Lord’s wisdom and guidance.

In fact, just this week I was recognizing that I had begun to be somewhat frustrated and somewhat perplexed at just how slowly things were unfolding in a number of areas where I had anticipated a significant response.

I wonder how many of you would agree with the statement that some of the most revealing times in our lives are when things don’t seem to be progressing or, put another way, the only thing that one can do is to wait for the Lord to act on our behalf.

During those times, we become very aware of other needs and/or desires in our lives that aren’t really important but begin to be replayed over and over again in our minds.  It’s not exactly worry or fear, it’s frustration and perplexity that begin to mark our day to day thoughts.

Perhaps this is why Jesus said very clearly in the Sermon on the Mount that we are “not to worry about your life and what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.”  “For who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”  Matthew 5:25 & 27

The reason why the Lord so clearly commands us to avoid this pitfall is that “your heavenly Father knows that you need them,” so “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.”  Matthew 6:32b-33

When it comes down to it, frustration, perplexity and certainly worry are simply the external revelation that we are not trusting God with the very things that He promised He would take care of.  It’s hard to imagine infidelity being clothed in such an innocent wrapper, but that’s indeed what it is.  We are not trusting in the Lord for the most basic needs of life while at the same time declaring our absolute trust in Him for the most consequential things in life such as our purpose, calling and ultimately our eternal destiny.

In a couple of cases I’ve been waiting to hear from individuals concerning opportunities that we discussed and commitments that need to be considered or affirmed.  I can’t really do anything to speed up this process and yet I find myself thinking about these things and being frustrated that I can’t seem to make anything happen to change it.

My posture should be to celebrate the fact that my Lord (and my friend!) has promised to take care of such things and that I should give evidence of my confidence in Him by being thankful and full of praise for His sovereign rule in my life.

It’s interesting that Jesus warns us that what is likely to choke out the word in our life is not “sin” or “the devil.”  No, it’s the cares of this world.  (Mark 4:18)

Needing to have things to do, being tempted by the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things, whether tangible or simply achievements, are powerful enough to choke out the rhema word of God to us.

This need not cause us fear or frustration.  Rather, it should cause us to examine our lives and be certain that beginning each day and throughout the hours that we are given we live with a spirit of praise and thanksgiving for the sovereign grace of God in our lives and build our expectation on His promises to take care of us and the undeniable assurance that He knows every detail of our needs and will be faithful to care for us because that is His holy, divine nature.

When things seem slow, it may well be the Lord simply testing our faith to see just how trusting we really are; not because He needs to know, but because we do.

Blessings!

Pastor Jay

Over My Head

5.17.18 Leave a comment

Most all of us encounter situations, circumstances and challenges that are simply beyond our human capacity to figure out.

Not long ago, I was asked by a friend to get engaged in helping to sort out some serious marital issues which had been plaguing this couple for some time.  I do not present myself as a therapist, but I am willing to listen to people who have open hearts who will consider what wisdom God’s word may have for their situation.

After more than six months of meeting with the couple and each of them as individuals, I came to recognize that the complexity of their marriage issues was simply beyond my capacity to provide answers.  (Now, it may be true that we were on a path of reconciliation that they were not willing to pursue, but the outcome was the same.)

That is just one of quite a number of situations that have come across my path in the last year or so.  I’ve had an unusual number of profoundly difficult physical healing situations, several financial challenges that others have asked me to address and a few situations that have been stagnant or non-responsive to regular prayer bringing a near paralysis to the people involved.

I want to confess that I’ve been lamenting my inability to make progress in these situations.  In the last couple of weeks, however, the Lord has begun to show me that He’s allowed these situations to come across my path to help me understand the nature of  true humility in my own life.

Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount that:  “The poor in spirit are happy, for they will see God.”  (Matthew 5:3)  Being poor in spirit is not succumbing to regular self-criticism or condemnation or especially shame.  Belittling or berating oneself in order to appear humble is not what God is talking about.

King David had overcome enormous challenges to ascend to the throne but part of the reason that he discovered victory was that he knew the secret of humility.  “Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor my eyes lofty.  Neither do I concern myself with great matters, nor with things too profound for me.”  Psalm 131:1  Apparently, David was able to impart this same quality to his son Solomon:

“Now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king instead of my father David, but I am a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in.”  1 Kings 3:7

The Apostle Paul captures this same posture when he says

“By the grace given me I say to every one of you:  do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgement, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.”

The fact of the matter is that our most honest and transformational prayer seems to occur when we are facing situations and tasks that are simply beyond our reach or, over our heads.  The fact is that most of us pray more passionately and hear more clearly and trust more fully when the answer to our situation is beyond our reach.

In a conversation I had with one of our highly committed student ministry leaders I asked him to identify two or three things that every student must have if they are to become fully devoted disciples of Jesus.  He mentioned the need to build a life of intimate relationship with the Lord and one or two other very insightful characteristics.

However, helping young people grasp a vision for their life that is simply not humanly possible, given what they know of themselves, is a wonderful gift.  Such a vision fuels our prayer life and requires of us that we remain fully surrendered to the Lord so that He would undertake on our behalf.

This is why we often see Jesus challenging the disciples to do things  that were simply beyond their reach.    “You give them something to eat” when the disciples told Jesus that the 5,000 that were following Him and His teaching were hungry.  “You speak to the storm” is what He said to them when they thought they were about to die in the raging waves and winds of the Sea of Galilee.  “You heal the sick” in Matthew 10:8.

These and many other challenges were not given to the disciples for them to figure out how to solve them.  They were given so that the disciples would come to a place of absolute trust and the cumulative understanding that nothing was impossible with God.

My posture has been shifting over these months to be less critical of myself when I encounter situations that are above my head and actually I’ve been cultivating a thankful response because I am beginning to understand more clearly how the Lord has allowed these things so that my humility, my total dependence upon God, will grow dramatically and as a consequence my potential effectiveness will continue to increase day by day.

These difficult and often times seemingly hopeless situations are allowed by God so that He might show His power and that we might engage every one of them with a posture of true humility.  As intellectually unsatisfying as this may be, it is spiritually ground breaking.  It’s yet another clear illustration of the paradox of the kingdom of God:  where “the weak are strong, the poor are rich and the last are first.”

Blessings,
Pastor Jay

Profound Connection

5.11.18 Leave a comment

One of the most reliable and proven principles that I have discovered in my prayer life is the profound connection between worship and intercession.  When we talk about “praying for an hour” (as Jesus marveled at the disciples inability to do so in the Garden of Gethsemane), people often give me a strange “look.”  The idea of focused prayer for an hour seems to be out of reach for a lot of every day Christians.

I would submit that one of the reasons this is so is that we do not have a clear picture of the nature and power of God.  If we were certain of the One to whom we were praying was capable of changing hearts, releasing resources and flowing in power into situations and circumstances, praying for an hour would seem like a golden opportunity!

Oswald Chambers said nearly a hundred years ago that

“worship and intercession must go together, the one is impossible without the other.”

And

“Are we so worshiping God that we rouse ourselves up to lay hold on Him so that we may be brought into contact with His mind about the ones for whom we pray?”

The key in this situation is to understand that worship reveals the heart of God toward a situation, a circumstance and most especially, other people.  Without having a sense of God’s heart and perspective, we tend to be somewhat insistent and even dogmatic about what should happen.  When we don’t see those answers to prayer in the way that we have “demanded” them, prayer loses it’s appeal.  It’s not long before that hour can feel like a day.

In this past week I gathered with a small group of passionate believers who were meeting for the express purpose of praying for their ministry.  This involves reaching their target group and praying for God’s Spirit to bring the gospel to many who had not yet heard, let alone received it.

However, the prayer meeting started with 20 or more minutes of passionate worship and as worship moved into intercessory prayer, there was an undeniable sense that we were hearing from God and praying back to Him the things that He seemed to be speaking to us.  Prayer becomes a vital and even exciting time when your heart senses true communication with the God of the universe!

Our hour of prayer lasted well over an hour and a half and could have gone on longer except for the reality that most everyone had responsibilities waiting for them.

How thankful I am that this rather simple but profound connection between worship and intercession has affected my prayer life for more than three decades.  However, my greatest joy is that it is still affecting the prayer lives of the next generation of spiritual leaders.

Blessings!

Pastor Jay

Honoring Your Parents

5.08.18 Leave a comment

In about 5 days most Americans will make a special effort to express their profound love, appreciation and affection to their Mother’s who, in most cases, were the single most influential person in their lives for at least the first 18 years of existence, if not much longer.  (Thankfully, there’s a day coming for the Father’s as well when similar emotions might be expressed!)

Honoring our parents is not just a greeting card company idea, rather it’s God’s idea and it’s stated very clearly in the Ten Commandments, being squarely in the middle as the number five commandment:  “Honor your father and mother….”

In most other scriptural references, honoring is directly tied with reference to obeying our parents because God has established them as the primary authorities in our formative years of life and beyond.  They are worthy of our honor simply by virtue of the position that God has given them in our lives.

We had an experience two weekends ago,even though my Dad has been with the Lord for 20 years and my Mom for 5 as of this writing, that I wanted to share as an encouragement to others who might be wondering what ways they could remember and  appropriately honor our parents .

My brother came up with this significant idea.  A couple months ago he contacted my sister and me with the hope that we might be able to gather together with our spouses simply to spend a little time remembering our parents and thanking God specifically for the ways that they gave of themselves to allow us to get established in our own personal life journeys.

We agreed that it would be wise for us to each include our sons and daughters, so that meant there would be potentially 14 additional young adults in our family gathering.

As things turned out, not all of the children were able to come for very good and understandable reasons; but we also included our three oldest grandchildren and my Mom’s beloved niece who lives in Southern California but became very close to my Mom over the 15-20 years prior to her passing on to glory.

The idea was pretty simple.  We would gather together for a relaxed evening of being together, sharing a large number of family photos and videos that captured just some of the important moments of our lives, and then a pretty large table full of other expressions of our family life, treasures that represented experiences that helped to shape our personalities, our affections and even our destinies.

To be candid, I wasn’t sure how this would all work out, but God clearly had His hand on this entire event.  We found a very appropriate meeting space at one of the local hotels and made plans for a nice but not extravagant meal, had a very large TV monitor that displayed the digital photographs and a couple of other places where people could sit in pairs or small groups to chat before or after the more planned part of the evening.

Without even working at it we came up with about 150 pictures that all had some meaning to us.  We broke it up so that the first 100 photos, which had more family members involved in them, was on a continual loop and then the other 50 became part of a brief “presentation” where my sister narrated each photo to set the context and call to mind what was going on in my parents lives at the time that particular photo was taken.  (These 50 were all in chronological order.)

Following that my brother and I each shared briefly and a few other comments were made along the way about certain qualities of our Mom and Dad that had greatly influenced us even when we were not aware of how significant those decisions turned out to be.

I call to mind two things that I know my parents imparted into my life that helped to shape me forever.

The first was the love for our family and the unique and irreplaceable value of those relationships.  Our “family tradition” was to take the drive from the very, almost rural, community of Beaver, PA, into the city of Pittsburgh where both my Mother’s Mom and my Father’s parents lived.  We would visit both households separately for at least a couple of hours each.

That weekly experience was not optional.  We knew not to plan things with our friends or to do activities that would conflict with our family time.  It’s just what we did and we learned to do it with a good attitude or we would find that there were consequences that we didn’t want to have to pay.

However, participating in that expression of love and appreciation helped me to recognize that it was incumbent on the children to reach out to their parents and to provide however they could for them and at the very least to be a source of love and support as their parents aged.

The second incredibly significant contribution of my parents was the fact that week by week we would attend church together and then after the ride in to Pittsburgh to visit our Grandparents the ride home to Beaver would always start around 7:00 p.m. when Billy Graham was having his national weekly radio broadcast.  I know I must have listened to a couple hundred or more of Dr. Graham’s messages as we took the 50-55 minute journey back to our little town of Beaver every week.

There’s so much more that I could share that may be more dramatic than these two things, but the point is that as the three of us shared our perception of our parents role in our lives it filled us with thanksgiving and a sense of understanding that we are the people that we have become in some significant measure because of our parents investment in us.

I have to say that it was also a wonderful time for our own children to give some thought to what they want their kids to be and so on.

There are probably a million other ways that you might think of to honor your parents and recognize them as the conduit of God’s love and leading in our lives.  What is really fascinating is that this occurred some 20 years after my Father passed on to heaven and 5 years since my Mom’s passing.  Even so, the practice of calling these things to mind still had a significant impact on all of us.

And so, I’ll submit this idea to all of you and you can certainly prayerfully listen to the Lord and discover your own ways to bring appropriate honor to your parents.  In so doing, remember that you are fulfilling one of God’s great commandments for our lives and you’re also cultivating a culture that may define the substance and spirit of your family dynamics throughout your entire lifetimes.

What a blessing!

Pastor Jay

 

Vision

4.24.18 Leave a comment

If you happen to be living in Western Pennsylvania, you will immediately resonate when I say that Spring is having a very difficult time getting established!  In fact, Spring officially arrived 33 days ago and hardly any flowers have bloomed or any leaves begun to open with their gorgeous spring colors.

At this point, most of us are holding on because we have had a clear vision of what Spring is to look like and we believe that eventually … it will fully arrive.

As I was thinking about this reality over the last few days, I was reminded that this may be descriptive of the spiritual lives of many people that each of us may happen to know. Perhaps they have had an experience with God or have demonstrated some level of openness that had been here-to-fore absent; but they simply have not become fully alive with the promised blessing of “the abundant life.” (John 10:10)  It’s the vision of what we hope to be true that sustains us through the long months and sometimes years of waiting for change to come.  This is true when it comes to individuals and is also true when it’s applied to doing something of significance, even greatness, for the Kingdom of God.  Such things always begin with a vision.  However, this is where discernment is needed because it is not a vision of doing something great or achieving something of lasting value; it’s a vision of God and how great He is and how worthy of our trust He has proven to be.

Seeing people change is a marvelous encouragement.  Churches that make a difference in their communities are much needed and potentially of great influence.  However, achievements and influence, change and development can all come to an end.  That’s the power of a vision of God.  It’s never fully realized and at the same time, it never disappoints!  

In a recent conversation I had with a friend, he shared with me how much he had looked forward to building a new home and just how much enjoyment and pleasure he would receive seeing his vision come to pass.  He then went on to say that in just a couple of weeks, he began to realize that the house was not going to  satisfy that deep inner hunger for something more.  In fact, he shares, he felt a bit depressed because the 18 months of planning, providing, constructing, and taking possession of the house did not satisfy.

A vision of God is not like that.  A vision of God continually brings you back for more of who He is and the reason is that you recognize that there is so much more of Him yet to be revealed:  That you can go very deep into the heart of God and very high into the revelation of God and still not feel like you’ve “arrived”!

For me, it’s often in moments of corporate worship that I catch glimpses of who God is that exceed my own experience and understanding.  However, the paradox of knowing God is that often times the greatest revelation comes in the quietest moments that we make for intimacy with Him.

So as we patiently await the arrival of the Spring for which we have great hope, why not invest some of these rainy and cold days in the pursuit of a greater vision of God.  That vision will surely blossom and bear good fruit!

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

 

 

Where Do We Learn HOW To Live?

4.19.18 Leave a comment

One of the innate characteristics that we share as human beings is the need to be taught about all matters of life.  I’m living in that amazing season of life where I am now watching my children teach their children the essentials of life.  (Just a couple days ago, my not-quite 2 yr. old grandson learned that you do not pull on the cat’s tail…!)

Watching toddlers learn how to communicate, discover their fragile physical limitations for now, and how to make grown-ups laugh is an amazing transformation.

The thing about learning is that it continues throughout all of life.  Even in our later years, we want to learn how to care for others as well as ourselves, how to grow closer to the God who loves us and has purpose for us, and just what really matters for eternity.

One thing that I’m finding virtually undebatable is that the secular outlets of wisdom seem to be exceedingly shrill and out of touch with what really matters to the human heart.  In just about every medium of communication we learn how to find fault, criticize or marginalize others while making ourselves more successful, acquiring more, looking younger and at times getting even with those that may have hurt you.  In truth, there are major parts of most days when I simply have to unplug from what is flooding our airwaves and clogging our almost unfathomable resources of technology.

The psalmist wisely said in his very first words (Psalm 1:1 NIV) “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.”

I find it quite fascinating that the first thing that we are taught to do from a scriptural perspective is what we should separate ourselves from in order to find blessing.  The fact of the matter is that if we do nothing and simply go with the flow of the world around us, we end up in destruction.  That’s the drift of the world.  That’s the way ungodly counsel will always take us.

The psalmist goes on to say “But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night.  He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yield it’s fruit in season, and whose leaf does not wither.  Whatever he does prospers.” (Psalm 1:2-3)  For it is possible for our lives to flourish.  Those who delight in the way and the laws of the Lord are positioning themselves to experience the presence and power of God on a day-to-day basis, not just one day in the sweet by and by.

To parents who might be part of this community, you have the incredible privilege and responsibility to help your child discover the wisdom of the Lord at an early age.  In fact, I’ve often encouraged friends that the sooner they help their children to understand how God works in their lives, the more likely it is that they will discover the beauty and fullness of His plan for them.

On the other end of the spectrum, however, those of us who have lived a relatively full life can continue to grow in the wisdom and understanding of God through a myriad of experiences.

For example, on a weekly basis Carol and I experience a home group that chooses to openly share our understandings and experiences in relationship to the Word of God in a supportive and sometimes challenging environment.  I have no doubt that we are both continuing to grow in not just our understanding, but in our experience of knowing Christ as a result of the fellowship of our group.

I wonder if those of us who have been blessed with a healthy and multi-faceted church ministry recognize just how much of a gift that is not just for our lives, but hopefully, for the lives of others with whom we come in contact.  I wonder if we might tend to be far more proactive in sharing these opportunities with people if we recognized the value of them from God’s perspective and just how rare such communities really are, even in a culture as rich and diverse as our own.  If you are convinced, as I am, that Jesus is the best and only one from whom human beings should learn how to live, then it makes perfect sense to share that wonderful discovery with everyone who will listen.  It’s through Him, and His word, that we learn how to live a life of fulfillment and purpose, a life that doesn’t disappoint.

Blessings,

Pastor Jay