Giving Thanks For You

11.17.17 Leave a comment

Over the past several weeks in our home group, we’ve been studying in the book of Ephesians.  Even though we had initially planned to study this amazing book for 12 weeks, it’s become very clear that we would just skim the surface of the depths of the truth that the Apostle Paul  reveals if we kept to that schedule.

For about three weeks we were caught up in the amazing doxology of verses 3-14 which in the original Greek text is literally one long sentence.  Over and over again Paul writes “in Him” to unequivocally declare the inheritance that we’ve been given by virtue of our position in Christ.  The language in these verses is not something that one can find in simple prose, but bears the marks of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit as Paul soars in praise and searches for ways to declare the sovereignty and majesty of God.

In this last study, we had been sharing some of our own personal issues which is common for us when we gather.  But as we studied the text we were reminded by Paul  in verse 16 that the posture that we should embrace toward each other is to “never stop giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.”  What a wonderful reminder as we move into the Thanksgiving season.

Yes, it’s appropriate that we thank God for the blessings of health and provision, for promise and hope, and for our wonderful nation where we share such things freely and openly.

However, let’s not forget to “give thanks for one another” as the wonderful incarnation of God’s love is expressed from one person, one family member, one friend to another.

Too often we take these relationships for granted.  Too often we think that life would go on as we replace one person with another, but that’s not the case.

Everyone that God has put into your life is there for a specific reason.  As faith grows in their lives, whether it be in the nascent stage or highly developed, follow Paul’s example and “give thanks” for such a wonderful gift.

If I may be so bold, let me suggest that someone take the lead and before the delicious Thanksgiving meal is served, pause for a few minutes and thank the Lord for each person who gathers at your table this Thanksgiving.  They are a gift from God to you.

Blessings,
Pastor Jay

Living the Good Life

11.09.17 Leave a comment

Most of America was shocked yet again when another senseless, inexplicable mass murder took place in our nation.  This time it was where the shooting occurred that touched many of us, almost as much as the tragic loss of life.

I’ve heard some spiritual leaders say that “every place we go should be safe” so that security should be the same at a night club as at a church.  Somehow, I don’t think this is the mindset of people in America.  For more than two and a half centuries, Americans have viewed their place of worship as a “holy” place.  The word holy here is not just in reference to the fact that God is worshiped, but also is implicitly tied to the meaning of the word in the original language which is “to be set apart.”  It seems to me that the majority of Americans would view our places of worship as being “set apart” from other venues  when it comes to violence and most especially something as unthinkable as mass murder.

It may also be stating the obvious to say that we are beginning to become somewhat numbed by the barrage of such occurrences just this past year.  Last week it was 8 pedestrians in New York City, and a few weeks before that it was 58 people at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas, etc., etc.  This has given rise to a number of conversations that I’ve had in just the past three days that have asked the question, “What is going on?”

Unfortunately, I’m not prepared to speculate or even try to provide a shell of an explanation for such egregious and unthinkable occurrences.

However, I do want to make an observation about two things that go together and are often unspoken until someone exits this life and is being eulogized at his or her funeral service.

Over the past 40+ years of attending hundreds of funerals I can not recall an obituary or eulogy that focused on how someone looked, if they had a full head of hair, white teeth or expensive clothes.  The things that are almost always referenced have to do with the person’s demeanor, their ability to provide friendship, care, service and most especially love.

In the end, most of us want to be known as having been a “good person” more than we want to be known as someone who was successful, well-off or powerful and highly accomplished.  (There is nothing wrong with those things, but rarely do they define us at the end of our lives.)

In a recent conference that I attended, a question was asked about what goals or aspirations did people hold for their lives.  The highest “vote-getter” for that question was to live a good life.  This was also rather profoundly captured in our Declaration of Independence as the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

I wonder if what we have lost in our pursuit of “the good life” is the fact that it cannot be separated from what it means to be “a good person.”  In fact, in biblical understanding, a good person will become someone through whom a good life will naturally flow.  (I want to be clear in stating that living a good life is not the same as having eternal life.)

It is worth noting that when Jesus was called “good” by the Rich Young Ruler in Luke 18, He quickly responded by saying,

“Why do you call me good?”  Jesus answered.  “No one is good – except God alone.” (Luke 18:19)

From that one verse, we might be led to believe that being a good person is simply not possible, but many other verses would reject that idea such as Matthew 12:35 “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him.” etc.  Yes, a good man is one whose identity has been established in who God is and not surprisingly a good man will then live “a good life.”

It’s imperative that we understand that it’s not the other way around.  Would you not do good things or try to live a good life, so that we can be called a good person? That’s futile.  As our identity as a son or daughter of God becomes increasingly real to us, when we understand that we have been forgiven and accepted by God because of the sacrifice of Jesus for our fallen nature, we then begin to discern what decisions leading a good life would require.

Clearly, there’s no quick or easy way to pursue such a radical shift in our orientation.  I would say, however, that it’s the responsibility of every parent and/or guardian to help their children understand God’s definition of goodness and to learn at an early age that good things flow out of the heart of a good person.

I would submit that, though this may not be a quick fix, that within a generation there would be a radical shift in the core of our nation; not one that was imposed by some sort of legislation or political posturing, but by the transformation of a human heart; something only God can do.

Our prayers continue to be with those who have lost loved ones or are recovering from the injuries of these past weeks.

Blessings,
Pastor Jay

 

 

The Reformation… 500th Anniversary!

11.01.17 Leave a comment

It’s widely believed that October 31st, 1517, was the day that Martin Luther, an Augustinian Monk who was a teacher at a university in Wittenberg, Saxony (North Germany) nailed his 95 thesis on the front door of the university.

Luther’s act was simply the result of years of studying the growing practices of “selling indulgences” and other biblically indefensible actions that were widely practiced in his Roman Catholic church.

History records that Martin Luther had no intention of creating a rebellion, rather he simply wanted to propose some reforms to bring the church back into alignment and to reduce, if not eliminate, the corruption that was widespread on this and some other issues such as nepotism and other means of control.

What Luther could not have foreseen was that his 95 Thesis made their way to the Pope himself and perhaps more importantly, was duplicated by the thousands because of the recent invention of a device called the printing press.  (It’s fairly certain that nothing would have become of these 95 Thesis had they been posted just 50 years earlier.)

As a result of Luther’s stance and his unwillingness to recant, it is fair to say that the greatest upheaval in the history of the Roman Catholic Church had been instigated.  Luther himself is pretty widely acknowledged as the most significant figure of the last millennium; high praise indeed when one considers the progress of humankind from the years 1000 – 2000 AD.

It’s impossible to explain in any detail the complex nature of the relationship of the Catholic Church with the existence of nations throughout all of Europe especially, but also in other nations around the world.

The Holy Roman Empire was still a major power in the eastern half of Western Europe.  It was essentially a federation of smaller states, whose princes elected the overall king, who as a matter of course would then be crowned emperor by the Pope in the time honored fashion.  Luther had no idea what his simple action would precipitate.  His intention was to have a scholarly debate about how indulgences should be properly administered, if at all.  But as he later wrote, “What I did toppled  and consumed earth by fire.”

Over the next years, Luther moved in and out of hiding and for good reason.  People who had been declared heretics (as Luther was) usually paid for such grievance through torture and death.  In fact, during the next century, slow expansion of the “Reformation countries” brought with them a myriad of clashes, battles and even wars.

The Reformation movement which had unwittingly been started by Luther spread throughout Eastern Europe and eventually all of Europe and Great Britain.

At the heart of Luther’s position was his conviction that he had formed while studying Paul’s letter to the Romans during his time as a teacher at Wittenberg.  This doctrine, justification by faith, was at the heart of his theology.  The central message of Christianity, according to Luther, was that people are not saved by what they do – whether by good works, pilgrimages, paying money to the church or any other “act;” but by the free gift given through Christ’s sacrifice and accepted by the believer through faith.

Lutheranism spread quickly in Eastern Europe and particularly the Scandinavian countries because of another priest by the name of Ulrich Zwingli.

When we keep in mind that communication 500 years ago was basically done by delivering messages on horseback, it’s not difficult to understand why things took years, and in some cases decades, to be fully embraced.

None-the-less, what Martin Luther did forever changed the dynamic of the Catholic church and the rule of the nations throughout all of  Europe including Great Britain and other nations.  (England had one of the most convoluted transitions as King Henry VIII sought to put himself in the position of the Pope in England, thus being the head of the church as well as the head of state.)

There are so many things to contemplate when we think of the Reformation.  However, just two points to make today.  The first, never underestimate what one simple act of obedience could mean in effecting organizations, institutions and even nations; let alone individual human hearts.

Second, the door that Luther opened quickly burst forth as men like John Calvin followed in his footsteps and further developed Reformation theology and the creation of thousands of Protestant denominations around the world.

Thankfully, though it’s been a long time in coming, Catholics and Protestants are communicating once again.  In many places old traditional postures that looked down upon any relationship of Catholics and Protestants have begun to give way to embracing one another for our common beliefs in the Lordship of Jesus and the practice of loving one another as clearly taught in the Word of God.

We have not only the privilege but the responsibility to clearly promote such conversations and relationships.  The Church of Jesus Christ, Catholic and Protestant, is the largest spiritual body in the known world.  In a time when other religions are making converts and in some cases compelling obedience, it is the responsibility of the Church of Jesus to continue to spread the good news, the gospel, which is that we can be accepted before God and declared justified by Him, not because of what we do but because of what Jesus has done.

Reformation blessings!

Pastor Jay

What People Want To Know

10.27.17 Leave a comment

This past weekend we received the unexpected and difficult news that my brother’s wife’s mother had passed away rather unexpectedly.  Although Leona had been ill for quite some time, her body gave way rather suddenly even though she was in a major hospital receiving treatments for a disease she had been battling for quite a while.

As a result, we made plans to be with the family to remember Leona’s life and also to celebrate our confidence that her eternal destiny had been established many decades ago when she received Christ into her life and had walked faithfully with Him for these many years.

The small town from which she haled, Coudersport, Pennsylvania, is like most small towns in America.  The people are generally friendly and establish patterns or routines of life that they tend to nurture rather than change over time.

My brother and his wife contacted Leona’s pastor and he immediately agreed to lead the Memorial Service on Monday morning.  The reception of friends and guests took place the day before in the local funeral home.

At first, I thought this might be one of those occasions where I would attend such an event and not have any specific responsibilities.  This allows me to engage the family and to be fully present with them rather than worrying about logistics and details of pulling together a service.

However, that perception was short lived.  It turned out that the local church pastor was not able to do the graveside interment service because of a previous and important commitment he’d made quite a while ago.  Consequently, my brother asked if I would handle that one portion of the arrangements, which I was very happy to do.

It’s not unusual in our immediate surroundings for people to pay their respects at the funeral home but not make it to the funeral service if it happens to be on a week day.  However, this was not the case in this community.  A good number of people came by the funeral home on Sunday, but at least as many if not more came to the funeral service on Monday morning at 11 a.m.  The real surprise was that fully half of those people made their way to a rural cemetery some 20 minutes outside of town.  What I thought would be a very brief and intimate time with the family and a couple of friends, turned out to be a gathering of 60 or more people who had come to pay their respects right up to the time of the burial itself.

One thing my brother had asked of me was that if the pastor had not given a clear gospel message in the service, that I do so at the graveside for the sake of those who may be in attendance who are not sure of their own personal faith.  Of course, I agreed to do so.

However, when we arrived at the cemetery, it was the middle of the day but the temperatures were barely above 40 degrees and the wind was blowing steadily over hundreds of acres of wide open farm land.  Thankfully, the grave-site itself was surrounded by a line of mature pine trees which blocked the wind and provided some protection from the elements.

It is normal at the graveside to keep remarks to just a few minutes, a reading or two from scripture and a prayer of commitment of the loved one into the hands of God as well as for comfort and strength for the family.  However, I was also reminded that I had promised my brother that I would present the gospel to those who came.

I knew that I probably had 5 minutes or less to give this message and to do it in a way that was appropriate to this circumstance and yet personal enough for everyone to relate to what was being said.

Even though I spent some time thinking about it the night before, I really don’t remember how I began the message, but I quickly moved to the basis of Leona’s assurance of her eternal destination and then rather quickly made the pivot to asking each person in attendance to consider their own relationship with God and their own confidence in their eternal destiny.

At that moment, I knew I had the attention of everyone who was present.  It was a not an awkward silence, but rather a deep and decisive moment when people were brought face to face with the reality that all of us will one day end up in the same place that Leona was before us that day.

I invited everyone who had either “lost their way” with God over the years or had “never really been on God’s path for their life” to pray with me.  I then began a simple prayer of confession, repentance and receiving God’s gift of redemption by faith in His grace as revealed in Jesus.

What happened in the two minutes that followed was very dramatic.  When I began the prayer, phrase by phrase, it was clear that a significant number of people were praying out loud with me.  I had made it very clear that only if people wanted to know God’s plan for their life and to receive Christ’s gift of redemption, should  they pray.  My sense was that there were at least 20 people or more who wanted to know what is in the heart of most every human being: that is, what is my eternal destiny?  They wanted to know that they would live beyond this life in a relationship with God their Creator and Redeemer.

Following the prayer, I confessed to those who gathered that my only regret was that I was not going to be able to be around to meet with any one who prayed but strongly encouraged them to tell a friend, someone they knew who had personal faith, a leader in their church or even a pastor.  It’s all that I could do, but in the end, it’s all that I was responsible to do before God.

I learned a number of things throughout this experience. M ost important to me was the reminder that people everywhere are still desperately hungry to know how to have a relationship with God that’s real to them and provides them with a clear and historically validated source of confidence and peace with God concerning their future.

The fact is that no matter where we live and no matter how we encounter others around these issues, our responsibility is simply to share what we have discovered; never pressuring anyone, but on the other hand, not missing the opportunity to hold forth the promise of forgiveness of sin and eternal life.

This is the question that most every honest person wants to have answered in some way.  Agnostics and atheists may argue that they won’t believe anything they can’t prove, but that’s not true.  They believe all kinds of things that they can’t prove that have to do with living every day.  Prove to me that everyone driving on the roads will stay in their proper lane on your way to work and not force you into a guard rail. You can’t do it … that’s an act of faith.

In the same way, we can’t physically prove what we claim, but we can point to the evidence that Christ has risen from the dead and has been given authority over all things in heaven and in earth and graciously offers to us forgiveness of sins and an unimaginably incredible life beyond the grave.  It’s something that everyone should know.

Blessings,
Pastor Jay

 

 

Created for Community

10.20.17 Leave a comment

One may not see the warning signs, but they are literally all around us.  Despite the explosion of technology, and in particular, social media over the pasts ten years, Americans are increasingly isolated.

In fact, in a recent PBS story, a research project confirmed that people who spend two or more hours a day on social media are much more likely to feel isolated than those who spend less than a half hour a day.  It turns out that “virtual friendships” really don’t satisfy the deep inner hunger for community that God has placed in our soul.

On the other hand, wherever people make room in their busy lives to spend meaningful time with others, they are generally blessed and even excited about the fruit of those relationships.

About a week ago, in my regular home group meeting,  we were studying the first chapter of the book of Ephesians and wrestling with some of the profound issues around election, the providence of God and free will.  There was a very healthy exchange with differing points of view, but everything was shared in the context of honoring one another because of our shared commitment to Christ and His people.

Imagine my surprise when this past Monday evening, the first of two home group Bible studies that I visited in the Catholic parish here in Pittsburgh was actually having the exact same conversation about the nature of God and the destiny of His people.  The same words were even used in defining the issue:  election, providence and free will.

What was extremely encouraging in both of these illustrations is that these are topics that we all tend to tuck away in the deeper recesses of our hearts and minds because they don’t have simple, easy answers.  The inability to fully reconcile a sovereign God with man and his free will has challenged theologians for centuries.

However,  just the freedom to talk about these things and to recognize that we may not be the only one who has real doubts when it comes to such matters is very freeing.  To know that God loves us despite our questions and that our eternal destiny is not determined by right doctrinal beliefs but by relationship with Jesus is the most freeing discovery of all.

We are created to share such things in community.  Yes, the more typical things are also fair game for these small group gatherings.  We pray together, support one another, laugh together and often serve together; and in some ways discover just how to incarnate the 33 different “one anothers” in the New Testament alone.  (Honor one another, forgive one another, pray for one another, encourage one another, etc.)

What I find most amazing about all this is that true community has never been a “program” of the church.  As is commonly understood, Jesus modeled the ideal building block of community when he called the 12 disciples to be together and to follow him.  After Jesus was ascended, the book of Acts clearly discloses that the believers met in the temple courts and house to house on a regular basis.

In my view, community that takes place in homes, or in offices, or dorm rooms, or anywhere believers gather will always have a special and even sacred place in our hearts.  However it won’t take the place of corporate gatherings for worship and teaching; nor should it.

I count myself to have been greatly blessed to have lived in a season where in the church, particularly in America, we discovered the idea of community in small group gatherings.  I can think back some 50 years ago when “K” groups… for koinonia… were being introduced in some of the mainline denominations.  However, such gatherings were already taking place spontaneously on college campuses, living rooms and family rooms scattered around the country and even in church buildings that were normally vacant during the week. There’s always been a craving, a hunger for community and the past five decades have seen an explosion of understanding and more important, participation, in small group life.

If you happen to be reading this post and are not currently involved in some sort of active, vital small group, then let this serve as an invitation to discover where within your church, or perhaps your neighborhood, a small group may already be meeting.  If there is not one, ask your pastor or priest if you could host such a group and perhaps have them provide leadership.  The arrangements for such things are fairly simple and the resources are abounding.

The most important dynamic is the presence of the Holy Spirit who promises to be with you when you’re gathered in the name of Jesus.  We have found that a group of 8-12 people who commit to simply sharing God’s word together and open up their discoveries and sometimes their difficulties with one another experience a life changing bond for which we were all created.

Blessings!

Pastor Jay

“I Will Not Be Shaken”

10.13.17 Leave a comment

The past six weeks have provided a number of significant events that have affected millions directly, and pretty much the entire nation indirectly.

From the time that Hurricane Harvey made landfall on August 25th and meandered around the Gulf Coast for nearly a week, to the most recent outbreak of devastatingly destructive wildfires in Northern California, it seems to be a virtual non-stop assault on our senses.

Three massive hurricanes, a senseless mass murder of at least 59 innocent people, to the seemingly unexpected and deadly wildfires that have killed at least 23 and destroyed 3500 homes and buildings that continues today.

Whether you get your news online or on your TV or radio, (or some print medium) it’s been a rather long, almost non-stop litany of things that assault our sense of security and maybe even cause some to question “Where is God?”  That negativity that’s seemingly bombarding our rational thoughts can begin to chip away at our confidence in God’s sovereign control over everything inn His creation.

Natural events such as hurricanes are terribly indiscriminate and, as the Bible says, “Rain falls on the just and the unjust.” (Matthew 5:45)  Add to that the absolutely random and to this point inexplicable man made disaster of the Las Vegas shooting, not a few people find these things to be in conflict with their idea of what a “good God” would do … or perhaps, allow.  A really detailed attempt to explain how sovereignty works in a fallen world marred by sin, deserves a better forum than can be provided in this space.

However, to the individual who sees such things and perhaps associates them with pain, destruction, suffering and loss in our own lives, needs to find refuge in a place where they feel safe under the covering of God.

The great King David was no stranger to experiencing suffering and loss throughout his life.  However, in Psalm 16 where he references the loss that is happening around him, he says quite clearly:

“I have set the Lord always before me.   Because He is at my right hand I will not be shaken.”

The only way to experience the peace of having confidence in God’s sovereign control in your life, is to practice the discipline of “setting the Lord before me.” as instructed by David in Psalm 16:8.  We do that in several simple, but profound, ways.  Daily reading God’s word fills us with hopefulness because His promises set forth His eternal and endless provision to meet our every need.  But this is something that you may not be doing.  I can’t urge you too strongly to give God a little time to speak to your heart by reading His word on a daily basis.  That literally is nourishment for the soul and the source of confidence that enables you to “not be shaken.”

Another way to keep the Lord before you is to worship, whether by personal expression where time and space allow, to corporate declarations where the faith of other believers helps to lift us and keep our eyes on the Lord whatever the circumstance.

Last evening, in our weekly home group, we were dealing with some difficult questions about God’s sovereignty.  The most unifying and strengthening time was not in the conversation and discussions that we had, though helpful and instructive; the strength came from a time of worship where our spirits were focused again on the glory that is our God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Finally, I find that  activity that serves the needs of others can often times return to me as an awareness of God’s presence and even pleasure because serving others s the very nature of God as seen in the life of Jesus.

So as the news continues to roll out, and perhaps other events come that simply defy explanation, set your heart on the truth that we trust in a loving, righteous and altogether holy God who is in control of everything that concerns us.  Because we have that assurance and have seen it played out throughout redemptive history, we can say along with the great King David of old, “I will not be shaken.”

Blessings!

Pastor Jay

 

Our Moral Foundation

10.05.17 Leave a comment

Over the past couple of days, Americans everywhere have been struggling to explain how one man, who apparently acted alone, could be so consumed by evil thoughts that he would intentionally kill 59 innocent people and would innjure 500 more in the largest and most grievous killing in American history.

It would be a mistake to try to simplify this down to one or two spiritual or moral principles, but it’s also a mistake to disregard the widely recognized and slowly grown spiritual vacuum in our nation.

On one news channel the three hosts were debating the efficacy of those who were mentioning prayer and even quoting scripture during these days of solemn reflection.  One of the commentators said that “I know many people who don’t go to church and never cracked a Bible and they are really good people.  They’re just not religious.”

That’s not an outrageous statement.  I believe that to be true.  However, does that constitute enough of a principle upon which to build the moral fabric of a nation?  Even a cursory study of those who were engaged in the initial process of drafting the Constitution and it’s amendments were deeply aware of the influence of God and of faith in this historically monumental document.

George Washington declared on the day of his inauguration as President that

“We have to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained.”

Perhaps even more convincing and one of many hundreds of such observations came from Alexis de Tocqueville who wrote a two-part work “Democracy in America” (which has been described as the most comprehensive and penetrating analysis of the relationship between character and society in America that has ever been written).  In it he related that:

“I sought for the key to the greatness and genius of America in her harbors…; in her fertile fields and boundless forests; in her rich mines and vast world commerce; in her public school system and institutions of learning.  I sought for it in her democratic congress and in her matchless Constitution.

Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power.  America is great because America is good and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.

The safeguard of morality is religion, and morality is the best security of law as well as the surest pledge of freedom.”

Rather than argue about political responses to such horrific acts of evil, perhaps some thoughtful internal introspection about the moral foundation of our society would bring clarity to what we must really do.  For us to see no connection between the slow decline of spiritual activity in our nation with the rising number of violent and deadly acts of crime and evil is simply to blind ourselves to the source of such atrocities.

We would all do well to ask God to reignite our passion for righteousness and godliness in our nation.  One of the indications of a true revival would be a turning away from the evil and violence that seems to await us at the most unexpected of times.

This is not to say that such a change would happen overnight.  It is to say that unless we begin to be more openly reflective of the spiritual drift of our nation the less likely we are to find a solution to these painful and most crushing acts of evil.

God is good.  God desires peace and righteousness in our land.  The only real question is are we willing to align ourselves with Him in order to see things begin to be restored to His divine intent?

Praying for those who have lost so much,

Pastor Jay

 

Blessing Others

9.28.17 Leave a comment

As we walk in the Kingdom of God, we face two kinds of challenges.  The first and often the most challenging have to do with our own lives.  There is absolutely nothing inappropriate about bringing your needs to God as the first priority of prayer.

However, the other challenges have to do with people that God brings into our lives; as close as our family members and as unfamiliar as a stranger.

There’s no doubt in reading the gospels that Jesus exemplified the desire of the Father to empower us to meet both of these challenges.  We learn through God’s Word how to lay hold of what’s been promised to us personally in the Kingdom and to move from simply believing to the reality of experiencing God’s provision.  However, the majority of the gospels has to do with how Jesus met the needs of all who were around Him.  From paralysis to poverty, sickness to sin, we just don’t see Jesus blessing others with words of comfort and moving on.  Rather, He was so aware of what His heavenly Father desired to do that He was able to bring the imminent power of God to bear on every circumstance so that provision, release, healing and forgiveness are woven throughout the gospel stories.

If I’m honest with myself, there are times that I don’t want to engage the needs of others around me.  I know that once I fully understand the challenge, I’m called to do more than just “wish them the best.”  Our summons as followers of Christ is to do what we can to bring the power of God’s Kingdom to bear on the needs that have been revealed.  I want to be clear and say that I don’t believe that it’s our responsibility to provide answers to every need that we encounter.  However, I do believe that when God seems to bring a particular situation back into the forefront of our daily experience, that’s where we need to pay careful attention.

In recent weeks, I have been engaged in some marital situations that are far too complex and difficult for me to simply speak a prayer and a blessing and let them go.  Rather, I know I’m called to pray daily for the couples involved and make time to present the power of the Kingdom to bring about the change that I know is possible when hearts are surrendered and the power of His love rules over personal events, discouragement and disappointment.

I’ll be really honest.  In some of these kinds of situations I’d rather speak a blessing and move on.  It takes time and commitment to see breakthrough.  However, the redemption of any marriage relationship is worth whatever price we are called to pay.  What I’ve found is the more convinced I am of God’s will for a situation; the more I see of what His Kingdom could bring, the more likely I am to not just hope for the best, but to be the agent through which God acts to bring about His blessing, His healing and His restoration.

So whatever the situation may be that has been coming across your path recently, if there’s some sense that you are to be engaged, do so not simply in your human strength, but in the power that God has provided through life in His Kingdom.  When we see ourselves in that light, it doesn’t bring glory to us; it always reflects back to Him.  We’re not the ones who cause the breakthrough or provide the blessing; we’re simply the vessels through whom God desires to do His amazing work.  That’s the best way I know to … help others.

Blessings,
Pastor Jay

Strengthening Ourselves

9.20.17 Leave a comment

In many of our lives today, we encounter obstacles, challenges and difficulties that may seem too personal to share with others or perhaps too chronic to continue to seek prayer or ministry.

King David was facing such a situation in 1 Samuel 30 when he returned from battle to find that his hometown had been destroyed and the wives and children carried off to unknown places.  It was a time of despair made only worse by the grumblings of those who served under him who made it clear that they blamed David for this disaster.

Then a very small, even obscure verse appears in 1 Samuel 30:6.  It simply says “And David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.”  Some translations read “took courage” or “found faith” but the clear force of the Hebrew word is that he ministered to himself in a time of serious need.

There’s something strengthening, even healing and certainly refreshing that comes only from the presence of the Lord.  If we can only find such refreshing or ministry at the hands of others, then we will be greatly limited in times of unexpected or deeply personal need.  Beyond that, it is sometimes impossible to clearly express how a situation has affected us.

These are the times when we must learn to minister to ourselves, to strengthen ourselves in the Lord.

One of the ways that this begins for me is to focus on who the Lord is as declared in His word.  Praising God for His providence, omnipotence and love is a sure foundation for facing what may be attacking in my life.

However,  great strength seems to come when I move from praising God to giving thanks to Him for what it is that I’m going through. As contradictory as this may sound, it’s something that is clearly exhorted in scripture.  “Give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) stands as a clear directive to break the power of trials and temptations and release the grace of God in our lives.

These times of praise and thanksgiving cannot be mere acknowledgements.  They must be an outpouring of our heart  which confronts the darkness that we face.  In fact, I would submit that the darker the situation, the more resolved and continuous I must become in expressing my confidence in Him.

There’s no doubt that two realms are in conflict here.  In the natural it seems like a useless waste of time.  However, from the realm of faith this is exercising confidence in the reality that God’s plan, power and purpose for my life cannot be destroyed by anything that He does not control.  When the realm of faith begins to open up, I find myself rejoicing with confidence that His power to deliver will prevail.  It’s interesting isn’t it, that in the natural life, joy proceeds rejoicing.  In the kingdom of faith, rejoicing may often proceed joy.

This is not to say that sharing your needs with others is inappropriate or unnecessary.  It’s simply declaring that we do not live our lives with others and at some of the most critical times we must learn this clear, but challenging practice of “strengthening ourselves.”

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

 

So This Is Love

9.13.17 Leave a comment

About ten days ago as I was preaching at the 11 a.m. service at our Wexford campus, at a particular place on the time line of my message I read John 17:20-23.  (I had read these same verses in the previous two services that weekend.)

However, in this final gathering, my mind and then my heart were captured by this phrase

“May they be brought into complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

There it was in plain sight.  I have read these verses more times than I can begin to accurately speculate.  However, as I read these words out loud the impact of this statement, the incredible, even unimaginable, reality of what is being said, stopped me in my tracks.  “… that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”  John 17:23b

I doubt that many folks who take the time to read this post on a regular basis have any doubt about the reality of God’s love.  In fact, most of us would say that we “know that God loves us” and that’s a wonderful thing.

What somehow captured me in this reading was the implication that the same love that the Father has for the Son, (Jesus) that same love He has for each one of us!

Perhaps you have a more secure view of your own “lovability” than I, but to say that Father God’s love for me is the same love that He has for His Son, the perfect expression of a human being, took my breath away.

You see, there are many times when I sense God’s love and feel aware of His presence and even pleasure.  However, I’m also aware of numerous times when my behaviors, my thoughts and my affections for other things do not please God and are not His perfect will for my life.  During those moments and the times of conviction that follow them, I grieve that I may have disappointed God and perhaps proven myself unworthy of His love once again.

Following the very brief comment I made on this revelation “on the fly,” quite a number of people took the time to share what this meant to them.

Person after person shared that the greatest struggle that they had in their spiritual walk was believing that they were truly loved by God their Father.  It was not a time to dig deeply into the causes of that for each person, but several of them made a comment alluding to the experience that they had with their earthly father growing up.  In most cases he was emotionally detached, distant and rarely able to show or express affection or worth throughout their childhood years.

Even those of us who may have been blessed with a positive father figure in our personal lives, may have had other experiences that related the expression of that love with a certain behavior or putting obedience to the “law of the land” in their household.  In other words, it was conditional love.

The love that the Father gives to the Son is in no way conditional.  It is expressed by the Greek word agape’ which means unlimited and unconditional love which never changes regardless of how we respond to it!

The implications of this single discovery or understanding puts my spiritual life on an entirely different plain.  The primary thing that it does is to take away the fear of failure when it comes to walking with God!  I’m loved no matter what I do and rather than being a license to indulge the old ways of my fleshly nature, it becomes the basis upon which I can overflow with unceasing praise, worship and thanksgiving.  I am loved, you are loved, we are loved with a kind of love that can be found no where else.  It’s also very important to recognize that this love is never earned or achieved; it is simply poured out upon us as we surrender the control of our lives, the lordship of our lives from ourselves to Jesus.  Once that takes place, it cannot be reversed or retracted and can only be built upon, celebrated and shared for the rest of our lives on earth and, imagine this, throughout all of eternity!

My highest desire for this brief correspondence is that you would take the time to meditate on this thought, this astounding revelation and what it might mean to you.  Have you ever really fully grasped what Jesus is saying here and what it truly means for the balance of your lifetime?

One other word of encouragement.  Once you are able to experience the power of this reality, I would venture to say that God would put on your heart or put upon your path a steady stream of individuals who need to hear and understand this simply stated, but profoundly powerful and life-changing truth.

“The Father loves us, with the same love with which He loves His Son.”

It just can’t get any better than that!

Pastor Jay