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

Training in Transformation

4.11.18 Leave a comment

There are times when I wonder if I’m making much progress in my spiritual life.  I’ll hear a message or have a worship experience which really stirs me to want to move on with the Lord and experience more of His life and presence.  However, unless I have some specific response to that inner call of the Holy Spirit, it’s not long before it begins to slip away.

That’s why I’ve increasingly found myself in relationships that are open and honest so that I can discover obedience that transforms my spiritual life.

Transformed lives are the true measurement of the effectiveness of any ministry.  It’s not numbers, programs, slick technology or the best  music.

This may not stir our senses quite as much, but what I believe the Lord looks for is growth in character as a sign of His presence.  Spiritual gifts and manifestations are one of the ways that we tend to measure the activity of the Lord, but over the longer journey it’s changed lives!

The past  few years I’ve been spending time with a number of men that have experienced pretty dramatic changes in their priorities, their prayer lives and most important, what they really enjoy doing with others.  Whereas they used to be reluctant participants in times of fellowship and/or ministry, they are now looking for opportunities to be engaged.  What used to be casual indifference or sometimes outright skepticism has been replaced by a hunger and open pursuit of the things of God.

This is remarkable to me.  It’s not something you expect to see from anyone over 50 years old, but I’m seeing it on a week by week basis.

This is what Paul exhorts us to pursue in Colosians 3:12-14.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

I can’t imagine a relational dynamic more appealing than what these three verses seem to describe.  This is the transformed life.  This is what it would mean to life together in the love, joy and peace that Christ intended for us.

Transformation is something that we do by simple steps of engagement.  We literally must “train yourself to be godly.”  I Timothy 4:7  In other words, it’s not trying to be more caring, more available, more compassionate or sensitive.  It’s actually taking measurable steps one day at a time and watching God empower those changes in a way that not only you, but others, begin to notice.  That’s transformation.  That’s the kind of life change that our culture cannot replicate in it’s own strength.

Blessings,
Pastor Jay

The Pathway to Maturity

4.06.18 Leave a comment

Have you noticed just how negative our culture is becoming?  It’s difficult to go through a day and not be bombarded by critical, judgmental and even hurtful comments through an ever increasing array of media.

In just the last 10 years, social media has provided a platform, and dare I say even a megaphone, for every person who wants to join in or create their own barrage of political, social and even personal faults and criticisms.

Every news cast seems to be a litany of character flaws and human failures even in the midst of being the most prosperous, well educated and truly free nation that the world has ever seen.

It seems that every few weeks another round of attacks are launched by groups of people who have felt marginalized, oppressed and possibly even harmed by someone who took advantage of them in a personal experience or professional enterprise.

In our home group this week (which is a band of about 12 folks who meet weekly to study the Word of God, worship together and encourage one another) we spent a good bit of time discerning the connection between unity, as clearly proclaimed in Ephesians 4:1-16, and it’s relationship to maturity in our spiritual walk.  It’s not at all uncommon for me to have conversations with people from all kinds of backgrounds and in various stages of their lives who are hungry for more mature understanding of who they are in Christ and what they believe would be the result of such a relationship.

It seems that even believers are susceptible to the barrage of negativity and criticism and are in danger of being “tossed back and forth by the waves and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men and their deceitful scheming.”  Ephesians 4:14

What is becoming increasingly clear is that the pathway to maturity is not one of simply growing in knowledge.  In fact, we’re on the wrong road when we begin to equate our understanding of God with our maturity in the faith.  Knowledge is not maturity.  Obedience and faith are a much clearer measure as are the fruits that maturity brings such as love, joy and peace.

What we discovered in our study this week and what has been percolating in my own spirit for the past few days is the very clear link that is drawn between unity in the Body of Christ and the resulting maturity of character in Christ that it produces.  All 16 verses of Ephesians 4:1-16 are part of this truth, but simply look at these couple of verses that speak directly to this point:

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers,  to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.  Ephesians 4:11-13

I was helped in my understanding of how this all works by a comment in one of the books I’ve been reading by Dallas Willard, a man that I see as a model of spiritual maturity who lived his life in the public eye as a Professor of Philosophy at USC.  He says correctly, I believe, that “the message and reality of redemptive life comes in community.  When we get into these redemptive communities, we move into an area of restoration of the soul, restoration of personal relationships, restoration of our will, of our mind and of our feelings.”

The answer to the waves of negativity and destructive conversations in our daily lives is the unity of the Spirit that makes love it’s goal and finds great fulfillment in seeing the good in others.  A restored soul is one that is secure and able to speak the truth in love and thereby free others from the cycles of discouragement and defeat that seem to hold so many beneath their divine purpose in Christ.

I have a lot more to think about in this matter, but I am so grateful that God has provided a context where I can learn these truths and live them out in a loving and supportive community where I am accepted as I am but not given permission simply to stay unchanged.  I’m challenged to see things differently and to grow in grace by those that I know have my best interest at heart.

That’s the role of redemptive community and that’s the pathway to maturity:  that is, the unity that can only be found in the living church, the Body of Christ in the world today.

Blessings,
Pastor Jay

Delivered from Disappointment!

3.30.18 Leave a comment

Near the end of Luke’s gospel account is a very powerful story about the journey of two of the disciples walking on the road to Emmaus, about 7 miles from Jerusalem.  It reads, beginning in verse 14,

“They were talking to each other about everything that had happened.  As they talked and discussed these things with each other Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing Him.

He asked them, ‘What are you discussing together as you walk along?’

They stood still, their faces downcast.  One of them, named Cleopas,  asked Him, ‘Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?’

‘What things?’ He asked.

‘About Jesus of Nazareth,’ they replied.  ‘He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people.  The chief priests and our rulers handed Him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified Him; but we had hoped that He was the one who was going to redeem Israel.’  Luke 24:14-21

As we stand on the doorstep of the Easter resurrection celebration, it’s set against the backdrop that seems to be a significant point of struggle for many followers of Christ.  For just as these two disciples of Jesus struggled with believing the account of Jesus’ resurrection; downcast in their countenance and almost out of hope, they were unable to believe the report that they had heard.

In what I believe is an all too common posture, I find that many followers of Jesus are so afraid of being disappointed in their requests for the release of God’s power and life into a difficult situation that they are literally bound to unbelief by fear of disappointment.

Make no mistake, if we seek to avoid disappointment at all costs then we will never pray for the release of God’s resurrection power in the here and now.  Ironically, we still believe that His power will cause us to be raised up with Him into eternal glory after we die, but we’re not so sure about that power in our lives in the eternal now.   In the same way that these disciples were bound by disappointment and therefore stuck in their unbelief, so it is with much of the church today.  Out of the fear of the possibility that the miracle breakthrough may not happen, many in the living church of Jesus won’t pray for the power of God to be released into every day situations for fear that somehow they will be disappointed or even worse, cause someone else to be disappointed.

Let’s be honest and recognize that the drive to avoid disappointment at all costs actually allows the spirit of unbelief to hold us in a place where we fail to see the power of God.

In this same story, Jesus continues on with the disciples and later chastises them for being “foolish” and “slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken.”  It’s not until He breaks bread with them that they recognize that this is indeed the risen Jesus whom they have heard was no longer in the tomb, but were not able to believe those first hand reports.

This Easter, check your unbelief at the door!  Wherever you go this Easter weekend, boldly declare that “the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead will give life to our mortal bodies.”  (Romans 8:11)  Choose to step over the barrier of disappointment and trust that God knows how to cause all things to work together for good and that if we want to see any release of His resurrection power, we must be the ones who boldly declare it and believe it!

From that moment, the fulfillment of the hope that the resurrection brings to every circumstance rests entirely upon the sovereign grace of God.  We have fulfilled our mandate in declaring what is possible in the life of anyone who has received the risen Savior.  And because He is risen from the grave, anything and everything is possible for those of us who will believe His promises!

That’s what it means to be delivered from disappointment . . . that’s what it means to celebrate His resurrection!

Easter Blessings,
Pastor Jay

P.S.  Our ninth grandchild was born this morning, March 30, at 3:30 AM…. We rejoice in the healthy birth of James Benjamin Passavant!  Congratulations Jon and Jenny!

Preparing for Easter

3.28.18 Leave a comment

For whatever reason, in many Christian churches the recognition of the importance of “Maundy Thursday” and “Good Friday” have taken an increasingly diminished understanding and therefore recognition.

However, the only way to fully experience the overwhelming joy of the Resurrection is to seek to contemplate what Jesus was going through and what He expected of us on these days leading up to Easter morning.

Maundy Thursday is understood as the recognition of the day of the Last Supper as recorded directly in Mathew, Mark, and Luke and indirectly in the gospel of John.  It is there that Jesus reveals His detailed knowledge of how the next days are going to unfold.  He knows that He’s going to be betrayed by one of the disciples that is seated with him at the Last Supper and that He was going to fulfill His mission to sacrifice His own life so that everyone who believed in Him might have the possibility of eternal life in His presence with God the Father and the Holy Spirit.

The word Maundy is a shortened form of mandatum(in Latin) which means “command.”  I see two things at the very least that Jesus commands us in these stories.  The first is to be a servant to everyone else.  Jesus demonstrated this virtue by washing the disciples feet, a duty normally reserved for the lowest ranking ‘servant’ in a particular household.  Jesus wants to be perfectly clear that the way of life in His kingdom, the way to greatness, in fact, is through servant-hood.

“Now that I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”  John 13:14-15

The second command was a new one.  In John 13:34-35 He says,

“A new command I give you:  Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Reflection on these and many other verses that are descriptive of the Last Supper and surrounding events should be contemplated throughout the day on Maundy Thursday.

Good Friday is still widely acknowledged as the most important day in the life of Jesus with reference to His mission to provide a means of redemption for all of mankind.

“Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins.”  Hebrews 9:22.

We need to be perfectly clear that we do not find salvation at the Resurrection.  No, the Resurrection simply testified to all the world that God the Father had accepted the sacrifice of Jesus when he gave up His life on the cross in the most public, humiliating and painful way possible.

One of the topics that won’t be mentioned in many Good Friday messages is the fact that this is the one place, and indeed the only place, where the answer to the prayer of Jesus was apparently just silence from the Father.  The three synoptic gospels, (Mathew, Mark and Luke) all make it very clear that Jesus prayed with profound and intense focus to the Father that He would “Take this cup from me.” (Mark 11:36b)  Jesus did not want to go to the cross.  He did not want to suffer and be humiliated and physically tortured unto death.  However, it’s the next sentence in that verse that we must grasp.

“Yet not what I will, but what you will.”  It’s in these very straightforward and simple words that we see that the heart of Jesus was not to have what He wanted, but what the Father willed to come to pass in His life.

Dear friends, it is a point of great importance and spiritual maturity that when God says “no” to a specific request or, more often, is silent in response to a specific request, its because He has something more important and inevitably better on the other side of that request.

If the Father had answered “Yes” to the desires of Jesus, then there would have been no means available for the forgiveness of our sins and the possibility that we might have our spiritual nature ‘born again’ so that we would live in all of eternity with our magnificent God!

If you take some time on Good Friday to contemplate these truths; you’ll not only find yourself humbled and moved by the sacrifices of Jesus, but you’ll also find yourself all the more prepared to share this amazing love and the victory of the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead, which remains to this day the only real answer to the question of “Why am I here?!”

I’ll have more to share about the Resurrection before Easter Sunday.

Easter week blessings,
Pastor Jay

The Core of Our Identity

3.23.18 Leave a comment

Over the past 10 years or more, I have endeavored to walk by faith in this matter of facing the very real structural issues with my lower back.  (In 1995, an X-ray revealed that a cracked bone in one of my vertebrae had allowed it to begin to slip out of alignment.  This was only treatable in the long run by surgery which included a spinal fusion.)

Because the surgery was considered the best course of action at the time, I was thankful for it’s success and yet recognized that I would have limitations going forward, some of which could become quite severe in twelve years or so following the surgery.

What I began to experience was that what most all of my friends and colleagues in ministry would ask me about when greeting one another was “How is your back?”

By 2007 and following I felt like I was identified more as a man with a back problem than a man of faith who was trusting God for grace with every problem.

As another decade has gone by I am aware that a great number of people who know Christ and are sincere disciples seem to fall into this same limitation.  Their friends and loved ones think of their limitation as the distinguishing mark of their identity more than anything else.  “Oh, there’s Ashley who’s getting divorced.”  “There’s Brian who has  a substance abuse problem.”  “There’s James who has neurologically induced tremors.”  “There’s Rachel who’s in her late 30’s and not married yet.”

It seems that we are often defined by a circumstance which may be very obvious on the outside… or may not be known (such as relational issues) except by those who know what’s going on within our “inside.”

The tragic reality of being identified with whatever our limitation might be is that we find ourselves in some sort of a box that seems to form a boundary beyond which we cannot seem to move, and may also limit us in how we might affect others because they don’t see the grace in our lives, they see the limitation.  For years I have called out to the Lord that I not be seen as “a man with a back problem” but rather as “a grace-filled follower of Jesus who is overcoming his every limitation.”

What I’ve learned is that I cannot expect others to see me that way unless I am diligently pursuing Jesus for that identity on my own.  How I see myself and how I talk about myself will largely affect how others see me.

In Mark’s gospel in chapter 1:40, there’s a very brief exchange that Jesus has with a man who is only described by his condition.  We know nothing of his background, family or station in life; we don’t even know his name.  He’s just described as a “leper.”

Now this particular limitation was one of the most obvious to the people of that day.  Wherever a leper would travel he or she was required “by the law” to declare the term “unclean!” at least 30 feet before encountering any  other people.  (Contact with another individual is how leprosy was spread.)

What is striking about the leper’s encounter with Jesus is that when this nameless unidentified man throws himself upon the mercy of Jesus and says “If you are willing, you can heal me” is that Jesus does the unthinkable and reaches out and touches him.  The Bible says that “immediately the man’s leprosy is healed” and that which was his identity for who knows how many years, has now been completely erased.  His new identity is to be a follower of Jesus, and as such he is unable to contain the joy of his transformation as seen in the following verses.

A word of encouragement to all of us who might be facing issues, whether physical, relational, emotional, financial or spiritual.  Please do not define yourself by that limitation.

Rather, declare yourself to be a son or daughter of God in whom no limitation will be allowed to exist for a single moment beyond the purpose of God in your life.  Awaken each day with the anticipation that as a child of God, all the resources of heaven are available to you to overcome that limitation; to be healed, to be united, to be prosperous, to be set free as your faith meets the grace of God in His perfect timing.

That’s the identity that every one of us should embrace and even more, should share with others who need this good news.

Hosanna to the King!

Pastor Jay

 

 

The Battle to Believe – Part 2

3.09.18 Leave a comment

In our last post, we brought attention to the ever increasing and almost overwhelming tidal wave of information that tends to cause the moments of quiet stillness in which we hear from God, all the more difficult to discover.  Without a clear leading from the Lord, it’s unlikely that we will have the faith to receive the promises of God that are so necessary for whatever we are seeking for our lives; whether guidance, forgiveness, healing, provision, anointing… whatever is on your heart that is in accordance with His revealed will in scripture.

In Wednesday’s post we looked at a very familiar passage in Mark 2 where the four friends of the paralytic were so clearly convinced that God had led them to bring their friend to Jesus, that they would not be stopped even though every entry way to the place where Jesus was was blocked by the crowds gathered to hear Jesus teach.  (See Mark 2:1-12)  However, this hunger to hear the word of the Lord and to receive a breakthrough from God needed in our lives is seen throughout the Old Testament as well.  In a much more obscure passage in 2 Kings 7, the prophet Elisha brings this clear and yet seemingly inconceivable prophetic word.

Elisha said, Hear the word of the Lord.  This is what the Lord says:  “About this time tomorrow, a seah of the finest flour will sell for a shekel and two seahs of barley for a shekel at the gate of Samaria.”  2 Kings 7:1 (NIV)

What made this word so difficult to believe was that Ben-Hadad, king of Aram, had mobilized his entire army and laid siege to Samaria.  This resulted in a terrible famine in the city because the people were trapped and all supplies had been cut off.  Things had become so desperate that the unthinkable is happening as described in 2 Kings 6:28-29.

When Elisha’s word is given, the King of Samaria, who had blamed Elisha for the whole  debacle, was not able to believe in this word.  Even his trusted adviser challenged the possibility of such a thing happening in verse 2.

“Look, even if the Lord should open the  floodgates of the heavens, could this happen?”

However, there were four men who were so desperate that when they heard this word from the prophet they thought it through and determined that they had nothing to lose if they acted on the word as they could quite possibly die by the famine or by the soldiers of king Aram.  These were four men with leprosy who rested outside of the city gate because they were not allowed inside where they might affect the people with their disease.

You must read 2 Kings 7:3-9 to catch the dramatic discovery of these four destitute men.

Somehow, supernaturally, the Lord has caused such turmoil in the encampment of the forces of the Arameans that they fled from their encampment outside the city in the middle of the night and “ran for their lives” leaving everything behind; their tents, their horses and livestock, their silver, gold and clothing, and most especially… their abundance of food!

These lepers have great instruction for those of us who are seeking to receive from the Lord.  When our minds battle with circumstances that seem to be standing directly in the path of what we need to receive from God, it takes “crazy faith”… faith that acts on what we believe God has said despite what circumstances and/or experiences may be telling us.

I’m not sure why this is the case.  Very often in scripture its the most desperate people, the ones who have no other recourse except to trust in the Lord, who end up receiving the greatest blessing from Him!  Think of how God provided for Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph.  Ponder the desperation of Moses after 40 years in the dessert or Joshua as he faced the Jordan river at the time when its current would have normally wiped away anyone who tried to cross it.  We could go on and on and speak of Elijah, and Ruth, and Daniel and the dozens of individual stories recorded in the New Testament gospels of desperate people defying their limitations and choosing to believe God rather than other voices that would discourage or defeat them.

The battle for believing is one that recognizes that its  only when we choose to believe what we know God has spoken to us, no matter what the test results or external circumstances may reveal, that we have any real hope of receiving.  Even then, it is not a guarantee.

However, the gift of intimacy of hearing the Lord and trusting in Him and His word no matter what transpires results in the blessing of faith which brings great pleasure to God and according to Hebrews 11 never fails to bring eternal blessing to our lives.

Read the story in 2 Kings 7:1-20  and ask yourself where you are in your posture of faith as you face the critical battles of your own life.  Ask the Lord to reveal His word to you and then, when you reach the end of your own explanations and experiences, act on faith in what God has spoken and leave the results to Him. He will never fail you!

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

 

 

The Battle to Believe – Part 1

3.07.18 Leave a comment

Without question, one of the most identifiable characteristics of our current generation is the sheer amount of information that we must process on any given day.

Some of us have lived long enough to recall the days when information about most things was available if you took the time to “research” it , or to go to a trusted source of knowledge such as a parent, a teacher, a coach, a mentor.

In today’s world, information is coming at us in massive volumes that often make it difficult, if not impossible, to focus on the few things that may be truly transformational because they are coming from the heart of God Himself.

Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the  mouth of God.  Matthew 4:4

I truly believe that God is still speaking to us today.  It may be through the inspired and trustworthy cannon of scripture, or a message given by a man or woman whom God brings to our lives, or simply to our own heart if we are capable of being still and quiet before Him.

By God’s gracious design, I am blessed to be in a season of my life when I really should have ample room in my daily schedule to be still and quiet before God and to shut out the non-stop barrage of information that literally seems to be coming after me rather than me looking for it.

One very contradictory indication of just how pervasive this information overload has become can be seen as one walks, runs or bicycles in and around North Park, for example.  This is something that I try to do four or five days a week for at least an hour and the most patently obvious indication of our obsession with information is the number of people who are looking at their mobile devices while exercising their bodies around the park.  It’s not unusual for me to see two or three people walking together, each of whom are looking at their screens rather than talking to each other or just enjoying the display of God’s handiwork all around them.

The real danger in all this is that God has determined to never compete with other voices for our attention.  He’s not on social media and I know of no one who has received any kind of electronic or digital message prepared by God Himself.

Where all of this comes together is in the very practical matter of understanding how we receive from God if we know Him through His Son and understand that His kingdom, His rule,  is here already but not yet fully realized.

The people who receive answers to prayer, words of wisdom, knowledge and guidance; of healing, provision and freedom, have discovered that these life giving words are not received by accessing more information but by acting by faith on what you believe God has revealed or spoken to you.

Let me say that once again.  The only thing that blocks our blessings in life is not lack of information, it’s unbelief in the information that we have.

The ability of people to receive the blessings of God in the days of Jesus’ presence on the earth and in the life of the early church is clearly seen in the New Testament.  Wherever Jesus saw faith in action, He was always moved by such faith and affirmed that His hand is moved by the act of believing, not just the act of knowing.

In Mark chapter 2 a desperate man, a paralytic, could not get to Jesus because of his infirmity.  However he had some friends, four to be exact, who believed in the power of Jesus words so much so that they carried him to the house where Jesus was teaching and when they could not even get through the doorway, they climbed up on the roof of the house and dug and opening through it and lowered the mat of the paralyzed man right into the presence of Jesus.

In this astonishing story in  Mark 2:5, we see that it’s not the faith of the paralyzed man that Jesus noticed, but the faith of the friends who were acting on what they believed.  the exact quote is:

When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”  Mark 2:5

After a brief but revealing exchange with some of the religious leaders of the day, Jesus demonstrates His authority not just to forgive sins, but to heal paralyzed bodies when He says to the paralytic,

“I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.”  He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all.  This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”  Mark 2:11-12

I suppose I  called on this illustration because it seems to me that so many of us doubt our own faith.  We wonder why we have such unbelief and recognize that we seem unable to change the setting on our “spiritual receiving dial” to hear the word of the Lord more clearly.

Therefore, Jesus made it plain that even the faith of friends can move His hand on behalf of someone.  Jesus is inevitably and irresistibly drawn to the act of faith, total trust and the word and character of God.

In a follow up comment on this topic in a couple of days I want to reference an Old Testament illustration of the same principle.  The point is that faith has been moving the hand of God not just for generations, but for thousands of years!

The battle to believe God has been the great challenge of mankind and despite all of our advantages as a culture and all of our technological achievements, for the most part we’re simply adding to our base of knowledge and not increasing our faith and as a result, not receiving from God in the very areas where we need it most.

Take a quick inventory of your day to day life.  How much time have you set apart to listen to God?  If the Lord was speaking a word to you concerning something that really mattered to you, would you be quiet enough to hear what He was saying so that you might act by faith on that word?  Is it possible that you, like me, may be missing out on God’s greatest blessings because we’ve not been desperate enough to silence the informational tidal wave that seems to sweep us right through our day without ever hearing a word from the Lord?

That’s the battle to believe, that’s what has to happen if we are to live victoriously in His kingdom.

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

(Look for Part 2 this Friday.)

One Faithful Servant

2.21.18 Leave a comment

By the time most of you read this post, you will have heard the news that Rev. Billy Graham passed away this morning at his North Carolina home at the age of 99.

There will be a multitude of these reports that will describe in detail the amazing accomplishments of this incredibly devoted servant of Jesus who preached in most nations of the world and held scores of crusades over the decades here in America.

However, it was his strong and passionate voice over the radio and then ultimately the emergence of TeleVision as the primary medium which Dr. Graham found his way into millions of households in our nation and around the world.

One personal story that I would like to share with you is about Dr. Graham’s influence on my family and me at a very significant time in my life.

In the late 1950’s our family relocated from the city of Pittsburgh to the little town of Beaver, which in those days was nearly a one hour drive.  My parents were very committed to visiting their parents on a weekly basis.  Every Sunday afternoon we would drive into the city right after church and visit relatives in the Hazelwood and Bellevue communities. It’s just what we did… No questions asked.

However, I have a vivid memory of the long ride home every Sunday evening.  My parents seemed to plan our exit from the city around the time that Dr. Graham’s national radio broadcast came on the air. For nearly an hour every Sunday evening, we would listen to George Beverly Shea, the crusade orchestra and choir, and most important, Dr. Graham’s gospel message.  Even as an adolescent I found his messages easy to understand and somehow very relevant to my life.  I had the experience that many people share with me from time to time using words like “I felt he was speaking just to me“.

There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that those messages prepared my heart to receive Jesus as an early teenager when we attended a small outdoor crusade somewhere around 1960-61.  It wasn’t with Billy Graham, but it was the same gospel message and I remember very clearly responding, confessing my sins and going forward to begin my relationship with Christ.

If I remember the story correctly, my mom had received Christ just before that experience and my father later at another Billy Graham Crusade in Pittsburgh in 1968.  I wonder how many countless thousands of others could share similar kinds of stories  about the influence of one faithful servant of the Lord who somehow managed to avoid the snares of the ministry to faithfully preach the word “in season and out of season“ leading millions to know Jesus.

As a result of Dr. Graham’s influence on my family and me, I counted it as one of the great honors of my ministry to serve on the executive committee of Dr. Graham’s last crusade in Pittsburgh in 1993.  Even in his later years, he was still able to draw the largest crowds of any evangelist or minister before or since his visit here.

The attached photo of Carol and me with Billy Graham in 1993 reminded me of the unmistakable sense that I had when we met – that this man was indeed humbled to be so powerfully used by God, and very authentically encouraging to those of us who were so greatly affected by his life and ministry.

 

 

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And though our nation and our world will not be the same without him; they have been greatly changed because of the ministry of the gospel of Jesus through him, one faithful servant.  For that, we should all give thanks and praise to God!

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

Beyond Our Grief

2.16.18 Leave a comment

For the past couple of days, anyone in our nation who learned of the unimaginable mass shooting of 17 high school students in Parkland, Florida has been grieving about this senseless loss of life.

Thankfully, people of faith are doing what they can to comfort those who were directly affected and many are having conversations with others throughout our land about the cause of such an atrocity (and the number of others that have taken place in the past few years).

There is no simple answer to be offered in such a complex and indescribably evil act.  In these days immediately following such a tragedy, our focus should be on comfort and the tiny ray of hope that the presence of God through people of faith bring into such a situation.

It’s not surprising that it didn’t take long for politicians to jump on their panacea of choice.  For some it’s legislation dealing with gun control and for others the need to act on existing legislation dealing with mental illness.

There’s little debate that the young man responsible for this act was deeply troubled and revealed multiple warning signs that he was capable of doing something unthinkable.  How our law enforcement and other agencies failed to respond to those warning signs is a worthwhile point of investigation.

However, it doesn’t come close to answering the deeper and underlying question which has to be gnawing in the souls of anyone who has now witnessed similar events on an increasingly frequent time line.

It would be incomplete for anyone to offer a solution, but one observation that I cannot help but make is the fact that in this situation, and apparently in a few others that have preceded it, it’s not what the perpetrator possessed in terms of firearms or weapons; it’s what he did not possess in terms of a family or credible social network that could have offered support, direction and perhaps even intervention if need be.

When some individuals in the media immediately call for additional armed guards to be placed in all of our nation’s schools, doesn’t it raise the question that needs to be addressed before such a step is taken and that is, what has happened in our society that has led us into such an irrational place?

It’s not as simple as somehow tying it to taking prayer out of our public schools, which happened back in 1963.  It is, however, the responsibility of caring people in our society to ask “What can we do to restore the respect for life, peace and human dignity?”

These are questions that warrant thoughtful and even prayerful examination. However, in this immediate aftermath our primary responsibility is to pray for and remember the hundreds of people who have been directly affected by this most recent tragedy.

For most of the nation, the time will come to take some sort of action, but for now caring people will recognize in a Florida school is not a headline, but an matter of consoling those who have broken hearts.

It’s hearts, not headlines, that really should be our first priority; and from that, constructive and hopefully transformational dialogue and action can be taken.

Grieving with God,

Pastor Jay