The Journey of a Seed

2.12.19 Leave a comment

One of the dangers of our “instant gratification” culture is that we anticipate that within a very short period of time the investments that we make, the things that we share or the seeds that we plant in the lives of others will bring about rather sudden transformation and hopefully, a long term harvest.

I was profoundly reminded that the great majority of the seeds that we plant will not return an immediate harvest and may literally slip out of our remembrance over time.  However, don’t be discouraged, because in those seasons when the seed goes unnoticed, we don’t know what God might be doing.

About ten  days ago at the one-year anniversary celebration of the Beaver Valley campus of North Way Christian Community, I joined with hundreds and hundreds of others who were celebrating the faithfulness of God in seeing the establishment and strengthening of this new expression of the Body of Christ in the Beaver Valley area.  Pastor Chris White and his team, along with an incredible number of committed servants are making a real difference in that under-served area of Western PA.

The most unexpected moment in that service came for me shortly after we had been dismissed and were heading slowly toward the exits.  A tall guy was talking with another person that I didn’t know off to my right and seemed to be waiting for a moment to introduce himself to me.  Before we had the opportunity to greet one another, I recognized that his voice sounded familiar, that somehow and somewhere I had had conversations with this man before that morning.

When he warmly introduced himself to me and said “You may not remember who I am, but I wanted to share something that was started in my life through something you said 25 years ago.”

It turns out that this gentleman was the project manager of the construction of our Wexford campus facility in 1993-1994.  He was a very young man to have that level of responsibility, but I remember getting along well with him and exchanging numerous thoughts about the significance of this project and how the efforts of his team would go far beyond a normal retail facility.  Of course, he was part of the dedication of the building and a few other more spiritual moments than he had been accustomed to sharing in the construction world, but there was one particular moment that stood out to him.  I don’t recall the exact circumstance but he did, and he recounted to me that on that particular day when a group of us had been called together to address a decision that affected the direction of the project that I had asked him to offer up a prayer for God to give us wisdom and guidance in our next steps.

He didn’t tell me at the time but he recounted in our conversation last week that he had never been asked to pray and that this was a life changing moment for him.  In some way that I’ll more fully understand, that “seed” slowly took sprout and launched him on a spiritual journey over the past 25 years.  We had lost touch after our project was completed and I didn’t know anything of what was happening in his life.

In a nutshell, God had been moving in his life and over the years he had eventually come to a relationship with Christ that he had not discovered in his previous experiences with “church” or “religion.”  The joy and excitement of that relationship was evident as he shared where God had brought him over these years.

The pinnacle of the conversation was still to follow.  He said to me in a very respectful way, “The one thing I really want to do is to be water baptized to show my love for Christ, and I wondered if you’d be willing to be the one who would baptize me?”

I looked into the eyes of this guy who is at least 6′ 4″ tall and a full 50 pounds bigger than I am and I said “I’d be happy to do it… along with Pastor Chris!”

I’ve thought of that exchange for the last 10 days and continue to be deeply moved by the reality that conversations that I’d had with him during that one year process of construction and those particular moments that stood out to him, were just little nudges along the path of his spiritual discovery.  I’d not prayed for him for a long time and really had no idea what had happened.

I’m humbled by the grace of God in all this and excited about the upcoming water baptism that will seal this chapter of 25 years of having a seed grow even when I didn’t know what God was doing.

In the very same way, continue to be faithful to cast your seeds wherever God gives you the opportunity and never believe that just because you may not see fruit or transformation or change when you might so deeply want to see it, the Lord is the Lord of time and when that time has fully come, that seed will become a tree of life.

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

 

How far will this go…?

2.01.19 Leave a comment

For the past couple of days, I’ve been contemplating what my response should be to the most explicit and possibly horrifying description of what some influential pro-choice Americans believe about abortion.  By the time many of you read this post you will have very likely seen or heard clips of a recent exchange in the State House of Representatives for the Commonwealth of Virginia.  A new house bill, #2941, was submitted by Representative Kathy Tran.

Following normal protocol in the legislative process, Ms. Tran was asked by the House Majority Leader, Todd Gilbert, if her bill would allow for a mother to insist on an abortion not just in the third trimester, not just in the week before birth, but even when the mother was dilating and going through the birth process would she still be allowed to abort the baby?  Ms. Tran affirmed that her bill would allow for that.

But even more shocking by everyone’s admission, was the summary of what would be allowed in this bill as described by the current Governor of the state of Virginia, Governor Ralph Northam, himself a medical pediatrician.  When he was asked about what might happen if the infant was born and might show some signs of a birth defect or other abnormality, Governor said the following:

“I can tell you exactly what would happen.  The infant would be delivered.  The infant would be kept comfortable.  Then a discussion would ensue between physicians and the mother….”  (That decision would be whether or not they would choose to keep that baby alive.)

No matter how many times I’ve seen that clip and watched the response and reaction of the people in the room at the time of the interview, I cannot get beyond the undeniable clarity that this elected official would spell out in detail how infanticide would take place in our nation well into the 21st century.

As of this time, three other states, New York, Rhode Island and Louisiana, are also debating the possibility of allowing third trimester abortions.  It’s the widely held position of most pro-choice Americans that every American should support a woman’s right to make her own choices about her body and her health.  This is “non-negotiable.”  (Tom Perez, 4/21/2017)

What we have caught a glimpse of, rather unintentionally I believe, is the essence of the culture that is driving this radical position.  It is a culture of self-centeredness, fear, pride and ultimately … death.

What is so difficult about that statement is that I do not believe that many of the people who hold a pro-choice position perceive that any of that is true.  At the very least, I do believe that the majority of pro-choice Americans would not agree with the “final step” as described by Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia.

None-the-less, if those of us in America who believe that all life is sacred and has been given as a gift from God, then the inevitable clash of these two totally opposite world views is inevitable.  Its my conviction that this will become a seminal issue once again in our national dialogue and will ultimately, at some point, end up in front of the Supreme Court once again.

However, my reason for taking the time to address this is not to take a political stance or to single out any individuals, as grievous as I think their position may be, it has much more to do with how I’ll respond in the here and now as a person of faith who has been placed in this nation.

My responsibility, our responsibility, is to bring the culture of heaven to those here on the earth.  (Thus the fulfillment of the prayer “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”)  Heaven’s culture would not allow us to use fear, nor selfishness, nor power, and certainly not death under any circumstance, to demonstrate it’s influence in our world.

It is true that we have been given the same mandate as Jesus which includes “destroying the works of the evil one” (see 1 John 3:8), but we do not do so by personal attacks or harsh criticism or judgmentalism.  Rather, our representation of the Kingdom of Heaven and it’s values may place us in a position of vulnerability.

I’ve frequently commented over the many years of ministry that I’ve been privileged to serve, that the only time I was ever arrested by any kind of governmental authority was back in the 1980’s when I stood with several scores of members of the North Way Christian Community as a new church when we chose to peaceably stand across the street from the known abortion clinic on Sixth Avenue.  Despite the fact that it was a peaceful protest and we believed we were within the stated guidelines, the police chose to end the demonstration by simply arresting everyone who would not leave the scene.

I spent very little time in confinement and was released that night, but the memory is still quite vivid in my mind.  The lesson was simply that there are times when standing for righteousness may cost me some of my freedom.  In fact, standing for righteousness might even cost me some of my privilege or even possessions.

Everyone of us needs to wrestle with the fact that our corporate mandate from the Lord Jesus is to bring the culture of the Kingdom of Heaven as it is right now in His presence, here to the earth right now as we live with His presence within us as His church, the body of Christ.

I grieve for our nation if we continue down the road of abortion on demand and without limitation.  How will God allow a nation with the grace and favor, knowledge and understanding with which we’ve been blessed to do such unthinkable things impunity?

This incident may soon disappear from the pages of the media for now, but it’s message should remain in our thoughts and prayers for the weeks and months and years ahead until we with humble and repentant hearts turn to the Lord and seek forgiveness for where we may have failed to bring the culture of His kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven.”

Prayerfully,

Pastor Jay

Competing Affections

1.23.19 Leave a comment

If there’s one challenge that most every person would acknowledge in their walk of faith it’s the ability to slow down enough to take their eyes off of other things and to concentrate their thoughts, emotions and affections on the Lord Himself.

For most of us, our daily responsibilities are more than enough to fill 16 hours of an average day with little or no time to quiet the soul and concentrate on God.

The little lie that we believe is that a time will come when things will slow down enough that we’ll be able to enjoy a more leisurely pace and we’ll naturally find a great deal of time, perhaps hours a day, to be more spiritually minded than we are in the rush of things now with responsibilities, family life, school, work, taking care of the home, car and a myriad of other mundane but normal life activities.

This past weekend we experienced one of those rare times when most everything in our commercial world was either pulled off the table or at least put into question because of an oncoming “monstrous snowstorm” that was to potentially render travel as treacherous, and ancillary issues like loss of power were not out of the question.  Most everything was shut down on Saturday and even though the storm never really caused much of a problem anytime that day, hundreds of businesses, recreational establishments and even familiar gathering places were closed out of concern for the storm.  On Sunday morning things were quite a bit more severe and as a result most churches cancelled services as did hundreds of other establishments.

None-the-less, I wonder just how many of us used a portion of those 36 or more hours to focus on God?  How many of us took the time that we might have spent shopping, doing chores, entertaining ourselves or being with friends, etc., and simply said, “Lord, I’m going to give you the next couple of hours and spend some of my very best time in your presence?”  The truth is that there will always be competing affections as well as necessary responsibility that will keep us from the Lord.  In Isaiah 45 the Lord is admonishing the children of Israel to stay away from all of the idols that had been tempting them because they are lifeless and have no promise of meeting their needs.  In Isaiah 45:22 he simply says “Look unto me and be saved.”  In the Living Bible it reads “Let all the world look to me for salvation!  For I am God; there is no other.”

For whatever reason, it seems that there will always be some lesser thing that will scream for our attention in order to keep us from focusing on the Lord Himself.  There will always be some need, responsibility, commitment or attraction that will prevent us from “looking to Him.”

I had a brief but very meaningful exchange just recently with a retired surgeon who commented just how “really busy” he had found himself to be during these retirement years.  In other words, he simply exchanged one set of demanding responsibilities for an entirely different one where making time for God was still a challenge.

I wish I could say it was different for me, but it’s not.  Every single day my office space cries out for attention and my body reminds me that it needs certain care and extended times of work outs and stretching or it too will begin to complain through it’s own set of pains and limitations.

In the midst of all of this, there are scores of things which compete for my attention.  Whether it’s the constant flow of information that comes through my various devices, the almost unlimited selection of entertainment on the television screen or the daily barrage of print media.  I never lack for something else to look at other than the Lord.  The more I think about that, the more humbled and amazed I become at the various “idols” that I’ve allowed to compete for affection in my life.

2 Corinthians 3:18 is one final expression of promise to the whole idea of concentrating, beholding, who God is.  It declares with bold certainty that “we all, with open face, beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image.  The Living Bible says “We can be mirrors that brightly reflect the glory of the Lord (as we set ourselves to behold Him).”

In the end, it comes down to what I want most.  Is it for my immediate needs to always take priority or is it for the life changing, character building and God revealing qualities that are all available if I will but choose to put the focus of my eyes, the eyes of my heart, on Him each and every day?  It is something that every one of us must first recognize and then resolutely determine to make room to behold Him.

Blessings,
Pastor Jay

Don’t Get Distracted

1.15.19 Leave a comment

Early in the New Year many of us have already recognized that some of our best intentions are going to be resisted by a wide variety of circumstances, dilemmas and distractions.

In reading the Gospel accounts of the “training ground” of the disciples, it’s clear that they did not learn the lessons that Jesus was teaching them over night.  In the reading in Matthew 14 from my devotional yesterday I read the wonderful story of how Jesus fed the 5,000 with the multiplication of the five loaves and two fish that the disciples brought to Jesus.

In my natural thinking, to witness such a miracle would cause me to recognize that this incredible Messiah was able to do literally “impossible” things to demonstrate His nature and His essence.

After witnessing such a dramatic miracle one would think that the disciples would be on such a spiritual high that nothing could distract them from trusting Jesus with whatever else they might face.  Yet, that very night as Jesus was praying by Himself, the disciples were crossing the Lake of Gennesaret and were “buffeted by the waves because the wind was against them.”  Matthew 14:24

When Jesus once again demonstrated His natural powers by walking on the water, rather than believing in His ability to overcome whatever circumstance they were facing, they succumbed to fear and simply cried out “It’s a ghost.”  Matthew 14:26

Despite His encouragement to not be afraid, Peter failed in his attempt to come to Jesus on the water and the disciples huddled back in the boat in terror.

Jesus eventually saved Peter, climbed in the boat and spoke directly to the disciples and said “You of little faith.  Why did you doubt?”

The distractions of weariness, the wind and the waves impeded the disciples ability to move on to their next level of miracle relationship with Christ.  They had more to learn before they could fully trust the Lord no matter what the circumstances might be saying to them.

In a less dramatic but no less important way this is true for all of us.  The distractions of our responsibilities, our family demands and a myriad of other challenges whether physical, financial or relational, often distract us from the clear revelation of who Jesus is to us.  Consequently we’re not able to make spiritual progress and to grow in the fullness of our destiny as sons and daughters of God.

The irreducible necessity of all this is to jealously guard our time of communion with Jesus.  It’s only in that place of communion with Him that we come to know Him and gain a revelation of our identity and purpose.  As we fully perceive in our hearts the revelation of who He is, the reality of who He is flows into our lives and transforms us no matter what the circumstances in our lives may be.

Think about it. In the first two weeks of the year what distractions are already impeding your time of communion with the Lord?  I urge you to ask the Lord how to jealously guard your time of communion with Christ, whether it be early in the morning, a quiet hour in the day or the last hour of your evening.  Don’t be deceived into thinking that somehow you will press on by ignoring that sacred time.  Just as the disciples eventually grew into their eternal destiny and changed the world through the power of the Holy Spirit in them, so God has the same design for every one of us to introduce the Kingdom of God into every place He sends us in our world today.  Deal with the distractions and discover a whole new level of spiritual life and power.

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

Unforeseen Blessings

1.11.19 Leave a comment

2019 marks the beginning of the 38th year since North Way Christian Community was established in a few homes and eventually a small restaurant in the North Hills.

Perhaps one of the most profound memories of those first days for me highlights the unforeseen blessings of our difficult steps of obedience.

For nearly 18 months prior to those first gatherings, my wife Carol and I had sought to accept a position in a Presbyterian church somewhere outside of Pittsburgh even though we knew that the Lord had done a rather remarkable thing in our seven years of service in our region.

After numerous rejections from churches  in different parts of the East Coast and as far west as Indiana, we entered into a relationship with a small congregation that served as a bedroom community primarily for men and women who worked in New York City.  The pastor had been there nearly 40 years and the church was ready for a new start.  It took three visits and a couple of dozen other conversations and interviews before Carol and I agreed to accept the call to this long established and fairly traditional Presbyterian congregation.

We returned back to Pittsburgh and shared with the people that we loved in our home church, and most especially our family, that we were being called to leave the area and start afresh.  That following weekend we announced to the church where I was serving that we would be leaving the first of January, 1981, and put our house on the market and began to prepare to move.

About 10 days had passed since we made the announcement when a phone call came from the Executive Presbyter of New York City who told us that there were some serious issues within the church that had extended the call to us.  He told us that he would investigate and get back to us within three days.  I’ll never forget his exact wording when he told us of what he had discovered in his visit to the church and conversations with numerous members.  He said there was a serious division within the church and that it would “be a tragedy for this church and your family if you accept this call.”

I let those words sink in for quite a while because sometimes obedience can cost others but that may not mean that we shouldn’t move ahead.  However, in this case, I clearly heard the Lord say “I did not intend for this to come to pass.”

Keep in mind that at that point I had no job and was unclear as to how I was to support my family going forward.  Several people with whom I had been praying over the many previous months began to gather together to pray about what this may mean to our future.  On January 2, 1981, we had the first gathering of the core of 9 men and their spouses who would become the founding members of North Way Christian Community.  We met in the basement of Jay & Sue Dawson’s home on a cold January day.

Several weeks later, in one of the many hundreds of morning prayer meetings that we had, the Lord spoke a prophetic word through one of the founding members.  He said that the Lord had impressed him to say to me that my willingness to “leave the area and lay to rest my desire and dream for the North Hills was akin to Abraham lifting his knife to slay his son Isaac as the Lord had commanded.”  Because I had not hesitated to obey the Lord, He provided someone else for that church which went on to do very well and that freed us to know that whatever happened at North Way was not because of our efforts, but by the plan and grace of God.

I share that today because it was the reading that I had in my daily scripture time in Genesis 22.  I pray it encourages you in those difficult times when  you may not see why the Lord has called you to do something, but just know that obedience is pleasing to the Lord and always carries with it some measure of purpose and blessing.  We look with great anticipation into what the Lord may have in this year ahead.

Humbly His,

Pastor Jay

Walking Together as Dads

1.03.19 Leave a comment

Any time a family with mature adult children who have children of their own comes together, the circumstance becomes an opportunity for significant growth.

One thing that I have lamented when I look back over previous Christmas/New Year family gatherings was the very obvious lack of a time of honest sharing and focused listening with the fathers of the group.  Sure, we had many times when we were all together for meals, relaxing while the kids were in full activity mode or in some rare instances watching a football game or going to a special event together.

This year was the first time in the past several Christmases when all three of my children and their families were here in Pittsburgh over the Christmas holiday.  With each spouse also having a family, it’s not difficult to understand why one family or another was not available for the Christmas celebration on any given year.

As this year’s Christmas approached, I sent a simple but heartfelt request to the three other men in my immediate family, my two sons and my daughter’s husband, to see if they felt we could carve out a few hours together to simply listen to one another and perhaps establish a couple of “prayer priorities” for the new year.

I have no doubt that our kids communicate with one another on a regular basis, but I also have no doubt that we rarely all communicate about important things and with regular updates.  For me, it simply represented a huge opportunity that we were missing to support one another as husbands, fathers and men of God who share our common desire to serve Christ well while fulfilling all of life’s other responsibilities.

The immediate response to my request, which happened in the space of just a couple of hours from sending out the email, was encouraging.  Because of a major family wedding in Michigan just a few days after Christmas I knew our window for meeting would be quite limited.  I asked the guys to find a two-hour block of time where we could be separated from the families and free to talk openly and transparently with one another.  (It was clear from every response that the guys would have liked to have made more time to share a little more deeply, but just getting this idea off the ground was somewhat of an accomplishment.)

Knowing that our time was rather tightly defined, we wasted very little of it and moved directly into the area of “What’s coming in 2019 for which each one of us desired consistent, faith-filled prayer support and communication?”

It really wasn’t a surprise to me that each guy stepped up to the plate and opened their heart and communicated with transparency and a certain level of passion about the challenge, circumstance or opportunity that was clearly a major focus in their own mind and heart.  One of the implicit commitments was that none of these things would be shared with anyone else outside of that room so that every guy could feel secure that this would not become a conversation in any other platform but between the four of us.  Therefore, there won’t be any detail in this little summary about the response of each guy but I will say, generally speaking, that there wasn’t one of us that simply gave a perfunctory answer like “more time with the family” or “doing a better job at work.”  Each man was honest in sharing just how overwhelmed they felt at times by the level of responsibility that comes with having high responsibility full time employment, building a stronger marriage, loving and protecting our children in a high-stakes environment and added on top of the spiritual growth, personal fitness and some of the enjoyable and refreshing opportunities that life can give.  At first, I was intent on giving them a few resources that they might find helpful in building their prayer life or somehow strengthening their walk with the Lord, but nothing seemed to resonate at that personal level.  However, when I handed each of them a copy of a brand new book by Bill & Beni Johnson of Bethel Church in Redding, CA, entitled “Raising Giant-Killers” every guy took that book with an immediate sense of interest and anticipation.

A quick summary of our conversation around this resource revealed that if there’s one area where every dad really wants to do a better job it’s somehow related to their love and commitment to help each one of their children discover God’s love, purpose, design and destiny for their lives.  It’s not that every one of my guys was not trying to do their best, but they were openly acknowledging of the fact that they didn’t feel particularly successful at what was happening in those processes to date.  Said another way, each one openly acknowledged their desire to feel like they’re doing a better job in this most significant or responsibilities.

The New Year is here and our plan for “corporate follow ups” will start to take shape in the next couple of weeks.  The desire to see where this might lead us in future gatherings was broadly supported as part of our plan for 2019.

Even though we’ve turned the page on the calendar, I would encourage every father (and mother) who wants to become a little more intentional about building their family dynamics, to start somewhere to establish a place and priority of communication.  One of the great blessings of living in this current generation is that the internet provides the possibility of “face-to-face” meetings, even if families might live thousands of miles apart.  You just need to be a bit more creative and really committed to the idea, but you can make it happen!

There were many wonderful moments over the Christmas and New Year’s break for our family including amazing celebration of the birth of Jesus, the giving of gifts to one another as the Wise Men gave to Jesus, a big family wedding where the more extended family saw each other for the first time in months if not years; but for me the highest moment was when the four of us joined in a small circle and agreed together that we would stand with and support each other in our calling and desire to be the best husbands, fathers and followers of Jesus that His grace would allow in the New Year.  That would be my prayer for each one of  you as well.

Blessings!

Pastor Jay

Our Season of Hope, Part 2

12.20.18 Leave a comment

One of the most astonishing facts about the birth of the baby Jesus is that His appearance had been prophesied for hundreds of years.

In the book of Isaiah some 600 years prior to the birth of Jesus the prophet says,

“The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the gentiles will hope in Him.”

There’s no doubt that the longer we seem to have to wait for the fulfillment of a promise the more difficult it can be to sustain our confidence that God will not fail us.

But now that the Lord has come and His Spirit has been poured out throughout the earth, we live in a different era.  Paul declares this in the book of Romans 15:13

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

I like the way the Message translation speaks of this experience when it says,

“May God fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope!”

In other words, you don’t simply trudge along from one battle to the next wondering if the Lord’s going to come through.  We are literally “brimming over with hope” and that is to say living lives with expectancy and competence regardless of circumstance.

Hope is to affect everything!  It’s helpful if we simply examine our lives in three distinct eras.

Hope affects our past when we see it through the blood of Jesus.  No matter what our history may have recorded, because of Jesus we can stand before the Father as clean as the Lamb of God Himself.  This gives us hope that the past will never define us.

Our hope in the present comes into focus when we see ourselves as sons and daughters of God.  The present is all about knowing our identity as children of God first and foremost.  We are called to bring His kingdom into every part of our life.  Therefore we can “brim over with hope” no matter what the day-to-day circumstances may be.

Finally, our approach to the future is to present ourselves obediently to the Lord and expect Him to guide our steps and reveal His assignments to us as we walk by faith with the assurance of the Holy Spirit’s life within.  If that is our posture, we know that God will fulfill His purpose in us!

There are a number of things in my own life that have not yet come to pass for which I continue to sustain a deep confidence and settled hopefulness.  We learn from Abraham and Sarah that age has nothing to do with it.  We learn from David that we are not disqualified by past mistakes.  We see in the life of Paul and the early disciples that no matter how difficult the circumstances of culture, nothing can stop the establishment of God’s kingdom and the fulfillment of His promises.

As we come in to these final days before Christmas may I encourage you to take a few moments and allow the Lord to help you examine the past, present and future of your life’s journey and apply the blood of Jesus where you have missed the mark, affirm your identity as a chosen son or daughter of God for the present, and openly yield yourself to the power of His Spirit according to His will for your future, and the hope of the nations (see Haggai 2:7) will arise with fresh revelation in your heart this Christmas season.

May God bless you as you share this hope with your family, loved ones and friends, all of whom need a word of encouragement in these stressful times.

Blessings!

Pastor Jay

Our Season of Hope

12.13.18 Leave a comment

As we count down the days to Christmas, there are many positive emotions that are very often renewed in these days.  There are the feelings and much anticipated expressions of love with family and friends, the joy of celebrating together, especially if there are little ones in your household.  But perhaps the most needed gift of Christmas is that of hope.

For many of us, the experiences of almost a full year since the last Christmas celebration may have had many times of struggle, challenge and even sorrow and loss.  (Two of my closest college friends passed rather unexpectedly this summer.)

As we look at the Christmas season we realize that the people of God had been in an extended time of waiting for the promises of God to be fulfilled.  The prophets had spoken that a savior was going to come to set the people free.  The Israelites saw this freedom in primarily political terms, that is freedom from Roman oppression; but God had much greater plans.  This was the savior of the world to set not just the Israelites but all men and women who turn to Him to find freedom from sin and death.

The reason why our source of hope is so critical is that many other things in the world tempt us to believe that they’ll deliver on such promises.  We hope in business deals and the possibilities of financial windfalls, we hope in politicians and some even in professional athletes.  The truth is that none of these human resources ever deliver or if they do, it’s fleeting at best.

In the coming few weeks I want to detail 5 different ways that the hope of Christmas is one upon which we can  close out this year and enter into 2019 with anticipation of a brand new start free from the burden of loss, disappointment and even the greater darkness of depression or despair.

Hope is the great restorer of expectation and possibility!  We’re going to look at specific promises that basically represent the fact that God has gone into our future and seen what we need for each and every circumstance and then came back and recorded those specific promises in His word in such a way that we can access them at any time and in any circumstance to find the strength to live victoriously in the hope that He provides.

Christmas is a time of hope.  It’s especially profound for people who have struggled for seemingly long and difficult seasons.  Jesus came when no one was really expecting Him and that’s what made His arrival all the more glorious.  As the angel said, He came and brought “news of great joy that will be for all the people.”  Luke 2:8  Let’s explore this together in the weeks ahead.

Blessings!
Pastor Jay

Fresh Air

12.07.18 Leave a comment

In what has been a rather remarkable week, the airwaves of our nation have silenced their incessant criticism and negativity to honor the life and legacy of our 41st President.  In what I would call a rather remarkable testament to his life, men and women from all over the political spectrum, as well as other nationalities and other spiritual backgrounds, have all united to commend this gentle, humble and authentic man.

President Bush was asked about 10 years ago to talk about the greatest challenge he ever faced in life and how he overcame it.  I want to quote his handwritten letter in response to this question as I believe it holds some significant wisdom for any who would read it with an open heart.  As a man who openly professed his faith in Jesus Christ, I believe President George H. W. Bush would attribute this wisdom to the God in whom he believe.

“I cannot single out the one greatest challenge in my life.  I’ve had a lot of challenges and my advice to young people might be as follows:

  1. Don’t get down when your life takes a bad turn. Out of adversity comes challenges and often success.
  2. Don’t blame others for your setbacks.
  3. When things go well, always give credit to others.
  4. Don’t talk all the time.  Listen to your friends and mentors and learn from them.
  5. Don’t brag about yourself.  Let others point out your virtues, your strong points.
  6. Give someone else a hand.  When a friend is hurting, show that friend that you care.
  7. Nobody likes an overbearing big shot.
  8. As you succeed be kind to people.  thank those who help you along the way.
  9. Don’t be afraid to shed a tear when your heart is broken because a friend is hurting.
  10. Say your prayers!!

George Bush”

Although these may not be the most profound insights that have been acknowledged this week, I think they have been the most practical and widely applicable to us all.  Repeatedly, when friends of the president were asked about his most outstanding qualities, humility, kindness and generosity were almost always referred to as the most remarkable qualities of his life.

I encourage you to reflect on this list of 10 insights into successful living.  In fact, as we begin to focus our minds and hearts on a new year, why not think about making 2 or 3 of these your primary “character objectives” for the new year?

Indeed, George H.W. Bush was courageous, patriotic, sacrificial, intelligent, athletic, devoted to his family, respected by national and world leaders and yet… he would be the first to say that the source of all of these qualities, of all of these strengths, of all of this wisdom, was the love and grace of his Savior, the Lord Jesus.

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

Getting it Right at Christmas

11.30.18 Leave a comment

For most of us, one of the most common challenges of the Christmas season is figuring out what particular gift to give that special someone in your life who has most everything they need and wouldn’t reveal it if they had something they desired!  Nonetheless, we don’t hesitate to ask other family members what they think that ‘special someone’ would like to receive at Christmas.

I’d like to submit to you that there is something incredibly more important that we would do well to learn to articulate at Christmas time.  As you know, this season presents more opportunities to talk openly about our faith than any other time of the year.  (Easter time is a close second but because of the widespread commercialization of Christmas, many more people are aware of what it is that we  celebrate at Christmas).

Most of us have gotten beyond the smoke screen kinds of distractions such as ‘Santa is just another way to spell Satan…’.  It’s never a bad idea to explain that the original idea of giving gifts at Christmas time began with the story of the Wise Men who sought out the Lord Jesus (see Matthew 2:1-12).  It’s still an extremely powerful story, the impact of which we seem to celebrate without fail every Christmas season.

The one thing that we would do well to have very clear in our minds in order to be prepared to address common ‘Christmas heresy’ is this: in a recent survey of American Evangelical Christians (notice, this is not just about unchurched or unredeemed people), an astounding 73% of the people surveyed responded ‘strongly agree’ to the statement “Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God”.  At first glance, this may seem like a simple detail or perhaps a splitting of a ‘theological hair’, but nothing is further from the truth.  Even though this heresy was called out by the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD as being unacceptable, it reveals that many people have a distorted image of who God is.  They somehow still think of God not as a perfect, if mysterious, tripartite being of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,  but rather as a heavenly father figure, who brought a son into this fallen world that he might redeem those who believe in him, and then an even much more confused description of the Holy Spirit.

One of the reasons why a clear understanding of the true nature of the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit as co-equal members of the Godhead, is that it affirms in no uncertain terms that the being whose birth we celebrate at Christmas is in fact, and literally, God Himself!  To describe Jesus as “the first and greatest being created by God” is to immediately diminish his divinity and thereby eliminate the possibility of his perfect, sinless nature and in the end, God’s entire redemptive plan for mankind.

This is no small issue!  What was astonishing to me as I read this report is that such a high percentage of people ‘strongly agree’ with the description of Jesus as a created being and not as a co-equal member of the Godhead.  It’s fair to say that our human reasoning and the faculties of our intelligence are not capable of fully explaining the mystery of the Incarnation; that is, how could an infinite God limit himself in a finite human body?  It is one of those things that requires that ever so important and equally difficult to find gift of faith.  It cannot be proven by any archeological or scientific discovery, it has to be embraced by faith that God himself was fully present in His son Jesus through the miracle of the virgin birth over 2,000 years ago.

And so, if the opportunity presents itself in a conversation for someone to explain who they think Jesus is, give them the opportunity to respond to the question “is Jesus the first and greatest being created by God?” and see how they answer.  If this research study is accurate (and it was done by Lifeway Research and Ligonier Ministries) you have now been presented with an opportunity to simply and clearly explain that the reason why the birth of Jesus is the most significant event in human history is because almighty God chose to reveal himself in the person of a baby, born to a peasant couple in Israel, who went on to live a perfect life suffer death on a cross for the sin of mankind so that all who believe in Him might not perish but have eternal life.  This is the truth of Christmas!

Blessings!

Pastor Jay