What a Father Needs to Hear

6.13.19 Leave a comment

As we come upon Father’s Day 2019, I want to be simple and somewhat straightforward about one of the most important things every father deeply desires to hear.

Most dads spend a lot of their waking time at their place of employment or fulfilling their chosen career.  In those environments there is always an expectation; sometimes very clear and regularly expressed, and other times simply acknowledged and occasionally reinforced.  

Most every father lives with the awareness that they will have some sort of “performance review” at least once a year, if not more often.  They recognize that they are accountable to someone for the fulfillment of their responsibilities and that they are being measured day-in and day-out by their ability to fulfill those expectations.

Now, if the father happens to be in an unusual work environment where occasional expressions of affirmation, encouragement and even appreciation are expressed, they will tend to enjoy their job and learn to live with a little less stress than many other men in responsible positions.

That’s why, whenever a father comes home to his family, there are few things that move his heart more than some very sincere, straightforward and open expressed words and actions of appreciation.  Even though this may not appear to be much of a profound insight, let me say quite clearly that most men with whom I interact and have gotten to know over these many years of ministry will tell you that more often than not, their home is a place of another set of expectations… not appreciation.

If the dads are in a season when the children are still at home, almost without exception those young ones are wanting dad’s attention.  They deeply desire his affirmation and love and will do most anything to get some focused attention from dad from the moment he walks in the door.

It’s not at all uncommon that the hard-working mom also has some expectations that might be related to some time of relief from the duties of being with the family or perhaps running the household and its myriad of necessary investments from simple repairs to maintaining the yard to a hundred different items large and small that are just simply a part of maintaining a home.  Most dads really don’t mind doing those things and understand that the responsibilities of keeping up a home  and raising the children are shared responsibilities that require their attention.  It comes with the territory!

However, when a dad hears words of affirmation and appreciation or little expressions of those same qualities, they have an ability to fill his emotional tank more rapidly and powerfully then what most other members of the family fully understand.

It’s not that dads need to have a steady stream of “thank you” and “well done” day-in and day-out.  Rather, it’s simply the recognition that the occasional demonstration of love and appreciation for what the dad has done or is doing to provide for the family, take care of the needs of the household and perhaps most significantly, carry the spiritual weight of the care and oversight of the home cannot be overstated.

When a dad has the blessing of knowing that he’s appreciated now and then it makes him all the more willing to do whatever it takes to meet the needs and even desires of the family because he knows he’s not being graded on his performance, but rather loved and appreciated for his care and commitment.

A very simple way to check on how you’re doing in this area is to keep a little journal on what happens in the first 30 minutes when dad comes home.  Take notice of what gets said and how things get expressed when a dad has gone through a long day and perhaps has had the added stress of rush hour traffic or unexpected delays to deal with.   If every family could give dad 30 minutes or so just to decompress and be shown some affection and appreciation my experience tells me that the balance of those times together will likely be much more enjoyable, fun and full of the kinds of expressions that make it the best part of dad’s day.

Every dad needs to hear those words of appreciation.  Don’t just make it on Father’s Day, but in some way let it become part of the vocabulary of your household and your whole family will be greatly blessed.

Perhaps this is the reason why the Bible encourages us hundreds and hundreds of times to give thanks to the Lord.  It’s not that God needs it in the way that we do as human beings, but it reminds us that all the wonderful blessings we have in life come from His hand.  Why not make that same expression part of the culture of your home, no matter what season you’re in!

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

Reflections on D-Day 2019

6.07.19 Leave a comment

Over the past week or so, I have watched, listened and read substantially about Operation Overlord and the resultant D-Day battles for the heart and soul of the European continent.

This being the 75th anniversary of D-Day means that there are only a very small number of soldiers who participated in that incredible assault on the beaches of Normandy who remain alive today.

There were a number of moments while I was absorbing the details of this strategic, bold, complex battle, that I realized how absolutely critical this day was, not just for one military battle, but by most historians seen as the turning point of World War II and the literal deliverance of our democracy from the grasp of the demonically inspired Nazi Regime.

Trying to comprehend the scale of this initial offensive attack against a well equipped, well prepared and well rested German army is almost impossible to fully understand.  The invasion force of June 6, 1944, consisted of 4,000 ships, 11,000 airplanes, and nearly 3,000,000 soldiers, marines, airmen and sailors who assembled in England for the assault.  (Imagine just the logistical issues of feeding and caring for the basic needs of 3,000,000 soldiers who were awaiting their orders to strike.  They needed food, water, basic shelter and all the fundamental day-to-day needs to survive while waiting for this incredibly significant announcement.)

However, it’s not until one listens carefully to some of the stories that these men tell of that horrible day that our hearts begin to really be softened and even moved by the indescribable bravery, fortitude and courage demonstrated by nearly all of the 150,000 men who were part of that first assault command issued by General Dwight D. Eisenhower.

At 2:00 p.m. today, June 6, in 13 different locations in our nation, church bells rang 13 times to commemorate the sacrifices and heroic actions of the 13 medal of honor recipients during the D-Day invasion.

I was able to read some of these stories in detail and found it almost impossible to imagine what these men gave to this cause against the best German soldiers in all of Europe who had taken nearly three years to secure the land that they had previously seized from France.

However, it was not just these 13 men who demonstrated these rare and humanly supreme qualities.  In reality, every one of the 5,000 American soldiers who perished on that day on the beaches of Normandy fulfilled what the Lord Jesus described as the greatest demonstration of love.

“For the greatest love of all is the love that sacrifices all.  And this great love is demonstrated when a person sacrifices his life for his friends.”

I’ve thought and pondered this profound statement for quite a bit of time all of this week.  One of the things that these reflections have rekindled in me is the fact that the Lord our God measures love not so much in words but in deeds.

Notice that Jesus did not say that it was the ability to sing praise and worship songs that showed great love.  It was not the words of care and concern that constituted a greater love nor was it something written or expressed in some creative way that comprised this ‘greatest love.’

No, it was the act of laying down one’s life for the sake of his ‘friends’; or in this case, fellow soldiers and fellow citizens of our great nation.

In my lifetime, I’ve never been called to make a choice about sacrificing my life for someone else.  I would like to think that I would be able to do that by the grace of God, but I honestly don’t know and that both concerns me and also challenges me.  It concerns me because I wonder if I might fail at that moment when sacrifice, the ultimate sacrifice of one’s life, would be required.  On the other hand, I would like to believe that by the grace of God I would be able to summon the courage, the selflessness, and the strength to follow the example of these thousands of men, let alone the inescapable reality of my Savior’s own personal choice to give up His life for mine and for all of this world that He created.

I found this to be a sobering but also an encouraging focal point of the last week. I want to be able to love like that and I find myself surrendering everything about my will, my resources and what matters to me the most over to the hands and heart of a God who loved me, and all of us, that much.

In the end, I am so grateful to know that God alone will sort out the eternal destinies of those who demonstrated “the greatest love.”  That is not for me to judge in any way.  However, it is up to me and all of us who are alive today to ask God to draw us near to Him, to be filled with His Spirit and to live a life of sacrificial obedience, knowing that if we do those things, that in a time of ultimate test, we will be far more likely to obey the Lord to the very end in light of what we know with certainty He has promised to all who live and ultimately perish within His perfect plans and destiny for each of our lives.

You may not know the origins of the term “D-Day”.  Historians are in agreement about one thing concerning it’s meaning and that is that there is no one clear and universally explanation for the term.  You may put in any word you chose that starts with a D and you’re likely to be as close as anyone else to what that one letter might stand for historically.

However, when it comes to D-Day 2019 and beyond, I am drawn to the idea of the letter D standing for our Destiny.  If, indeed, our choices are ones of sacrifice, selflessness and surrender for the sake of others, then we might assuredly know that the Lord will be pleased with us and that our eternal destiny, because of Christ, will be sealed not just for a period of time, but for the everlasting ages.

May the Lord bless you on this D-Day and every future commemoration when you can commit yourself to living that kind of life.

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

The Power of Spontaneous Prayer

5.30.19 Leave a comment

Over the past number of months, the folks in my weekly home group have been encouraging one another to listen for the prompting of the Holy Spirit and to step out in prayer for people when the Lord seems to be opening a door.

Even though this sounds like a very simple act of obedience, a myriad of different objections and circumstances often seem to complicate the decision to act in obedience rather than simply wish that you did.

Interestingly, most all of us have agreed that when we have simply asked for permission to pray with someone, even in a public place, they almost always agree to the request because they really do desire prayer for the circumstance or situation that they are facing.  It’s quite intriguing to me that people are willing to face some sort of public scrutiny in order to receive prayer even though they most likely would not dream of initiating some action such as prayer in a public place.

Just a few days ago, this very circumstance appeared in my life.  I was sharing an afternoon coffee with a good friend seated in an outdoor setting in the middle of a clear and relatively mild afternoon.  As we were chatting, someone came to our table and greeted me in a way that demonstrated that we had made a couple of other connections perhaps quite a while ago.  I will confess that though his face was familiar I could not immediately remember his name or the circumstances in which we had conversed.

Although he was sensitive about not interrupting my conversation, I asked him for a brief update on what was going on in his life at the present time.  He paused for a moment and then shared two or three rather significant issues that were obviously in the forefront of his mind and heart in these days.  One of them was personal for his life and two others had to do with people with whom he was associated or related.

When he paused I sensed that unmistakable nudge of the Holy Spirit to ask this friend if he would mind if we prayed for him right then and there.  He seemed somewhat surprised at first but then immediately picked up a chair and sat down and said he would be honored to pray with us.

The next minute or two were almost like we had stepped outside of that environment into our own private space.  We prayed openly and rather declaratively for God’s will to be done concerning relational issues and for His promises to be fulfilled concerning the personal matter that he had been facing.

I’m not sure what it looked like to others who were seated at the tables around us, but I can honestly say that it didn’t matter at all.  I knew we were doing something that would be effectual in the spiritual realm and far more memorable than simply some words of encouragement or a promise to pray in the future.

Shortly after we prayed, the friend went on into the restaurant and meet someone else and continued with his day. I turned to the brother with whom I was meeting and we both agreed that we had experienced a special moment, a moment that none of us would soon forget.

As we read through the gospels and the book of Acts there is undeniable evidence that this kind of spontaneous prayer was absolutely “normal” for the Lord Jesus, and consequently, the disciples as well.  Who can forget the words of Peter when confronted by a lame beggar in Acts 3:1-10.

Peter said, ‘I don’t have money, but I’ll give you this – by the power of the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk!’  Acts 3:6

The power of spontaneous prayer is that it seems to bypass the normal reservations and hesitations to pray boldly for people because of perceived circumstances or obstacles.  As a result, our faith is often heightened because we’ve not convinced ourselves that our prayer was just too bold or even presumptuous.

I want to challenge you in this next week to be open to that moment when, whether it be in conversation or during an unplanned interaction in a public place like a grocery store or a coffee shop, you can put aside your fears and concerns about decorum and simply speak the word of the Lord to the person that God brought across your path.  It may be for that very exchange that God had orchestrated the events of your day.

Those kinds of spontaneous prayers can be life changing, not just for those who receive them, but for those who by faith intercede for the one in need.

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

Scriptural Refreshing

5.23.19 Leave a comment

Over the many years that I have been reading the scriptures, God’s Word, I have found myself trying a number of different translations, beginning with the J.B. Phillips New Testament translation back in the late 60’s, the Revised Standard Version, the New King James, and then the seminal translation called the New International Version which came around 1973.  I have three identical NIV bibles, single column, that I used consistently during the three decades that I was called to teach on a regular basis at North Way Christian Community.

I occasionally referenced paraphrases such as The Message translation and The Living Bible, but some of the liberties taken in those paraphrases were very free in their enhancement of what the translator believed the intent of the writers might have been.

When I first heard about The Passion Translation (TPT) I was a little cautious because of my other experiences with bibles that tended to be more paraphrased than translated.  However, over the past six months I have discovered something very refreshing and stimulating in this recently published translation of the New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs.

Of course, every individual will find their preferences, but what I have discovered is that very familiar passages take on nuances of meaning that I had never considered before or didn’t fully understand in the way that the translator presents it.

Permit me to use one very familiar passage from one of the gospels to illustrate what I mean.

Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.  Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.”  John 3:5-6

Now consider those same two verses in The Passion Translation.

Jesus answered, “I speak an eternal truth:  unless you are born of water and Spirit wind you will never enter God’s kingdom realm.  For the natural realm can only give birth to things that are natural, but the spiritual realm gives birth to supernatural life!”

It doesn’t take a great deal of meditation to see the strength of the interpretation in The Passion Translation.  When I read and thought about “the natural realm can only give birth to things that are natural, but the spiritual realm gives birth to supernatural life” it was like shining a light on why so many of my conversations with friends, neighbors and acquaintances never seem to lead to anything as profound or life changing as I would have hoped.

We all understand that there is a natural realm which can be explained through natural laws and natural explanations.  People who have no awareness of the “spiritual realm” fail to see how there can be any other explanation for any occurrences, whether it has to do with our physical bodies, or relational dynamics, the circumstances of life, etc., etc.

When in fact one begins to understand that the spiritual realm is just as real as the natural realm is when an entirely new paradigm of understanding opens to us.  In fact, as one studies the relationship between the spiritual real and the natural realm it is clear according to scripture, that the spiritual realm not only co-exists with the natural realm, but is superior to it and can affect control of it.

This is why miracles such as Jesus speaking to the storm in Mark 4 and causing the wind and the waves to die down immediately seems so unimaginable to the Disciples, yet very simple to the one who understood the rule of the spiritual over the natural.  (This is where I particularly like the term “the spiritual realm gives birth to supernatural life!

It’s not my purpose to encourage everyone to go out and try this one specific translation over every other, but I must honestly say that my Bible reading and study times have been greatly refreshed as I’m working my way through the New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs.  At the very least, I can recommend that you review your own Bible study and determine if it might be a time for you to change translations for a season to see if something new and refreshing begins to feed your spirit on a daily basis.  For as it says in Matthew 4:4

“Bread alone will not satisfy, but true life is found in every word, which constantly goes forth from God’s mouth.”

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

The Parable of the Seeds

5.16.19 Leave a comment

In Mark’s gospel, Jesus spends the first 20 verses of chapter 4 telling the “parable of the sower” or as some prefer to call it, the “parable of the seeds.”  However, as I have read this many many times, the true variable is not the sower of the seeds, it’s the soil upon which the seeds fall that determines what happens after they are planted.

“Consider this: A farmer went out to sow seeds.  As he cast his seeds some of it fell along the beaten path and soon the birds came and ate it. Other seeds fell onto gravel with no topsoil and the seeds quickly sprouted since the soil had no depth.  But when the days grew hot, the sprouts were scorched and withered because they had insufficient roots. Other seeds fell among the thorns, so when the seeds sprouted so did the thorns, crowding out the young plants so that they could produce no grain.  But some of the seeds fell onto good, rich soil that kept producing a good harvest. Some yielded thirty, some sixty—and some even one hundred times as much as was planted!  If you understand this, then you need to respond.” Mark 4:3-9 (The Passion Translation)

It’s not my purpose to look at each of the soils that failed to produce a harvest, but rather to simply focus on the “good soil” that yielded the harvest of thirty, sixty, even one hundred times more than was sown.  (Acts 4:20)

In a recent gathering, I had the privilege of meeting with six other couples representing four North Way campuses.  (Only one of the couples was from the Wexford campus which is where Carol and I most frequently worship.)

As part of this particular meeting, every couple shared a little of their history at North Way and a particular moment that represented a spiritual turning point or marker during their journey at North Way.

Every couple shared something significant, but three of the six couples shared very specifically and rather passionately about the fact that the highlight of their journey at North Way came when they met Jesus as their Savior and how in the following months and even years, He had “completely changed their lives.”

These three couples were all in their thirties and I believe every one of them had some young children along with their jobs or careers.

To be candid, I was deeply moved by their stories because they represented true, authentic encounters with Christ that had changed their lives forever.  (The three other couples had powerful stories as well but had more to do with them growing in their faith that already existed in their lives.)

I’ve been thinking about that gathering for some time.  What it spoke to me was that every one of us needs to be mindful of the fact that the fruit of our steps of faith in our lives cannot simply be measured by what we see in the immediate days, weeks, months or even years of our lives.  In fact, these three couples came from campuses that we had not even dreamed about establishing ten years ago.  However, as we were taking steps of faith earlier in this decade, we planted seeds that are now bearing fruit and will continue to bear fruit for years and even whole generations to come.  (That’s one good interpretation of what it means to have a ‘thirty, sixty, hundredfold’ harvest of your seed.)

If there’s one way that many of us get discouraged when it comes to sharing our faith or investing in someone’s life, it’s when we perhaps don’t see any immediate response.  We think that somehow we’ve done something incorrectly, or the timing wasn’t right, or we just misjudged the other person or situation.  I want to encourage you that it might be something entirely different.

The seeds that were planted in these areas where other campuses eventually were established perhaps did not bear a lot of fruit for the first several years because the campuses weren’t fully functional.  But now that they’ve been in their locations for some time, they are in fact reaching their neighborhoods and touching the lives of people in other parts of the city where North Way had no measurable impact a decade ago.

Let me say with humility and joy, that few things bring greater satisfaction to my life than knowing that something that I was blessed to sow as a seed years ago is continuing to bear fruit that I don’t even recognize a decade later.

That truth got me to thinking about the other lives I have been privileged to interact with over the past 45+ years.  (I know, for example, that through the ministry of the Pothen family in India that some 600 churches have been planted reaching nearly 60,000 people on a regular basis, along with a very fruitful Bible college that trains pastors and leaders for full time ministry.  How well I remember planting those seeds when North Way was really just getting going in the late 1980’s.  Now, not even 30 years later, those seeds have reaped a thousandfold return!)

And so the message this week is to search for that good soil.  Find those people who are ready to receive the Word of the Lord and with a little bit of nurturing and care, you will likely be blessed at some point on your journey to recognize that the harvest greatly exceeded anything you could have imagined.

Even one life, saved for all eternity, makes our seed planting efforts worthwhile.  However, God has an entirely different paradigm by which the Holy Spirit multiplies our efforts to reach multiplied numbers of people and a reward of righteousness that will glorify the Lord Jesus and His sacrifice for all of eternity.

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

Hope… and the NFL Draft

5.01.19 Leave a comment

This past weekend, the annual National Football League College Draft event took place in Nashville, Tennessee.  As several commentators pointed out, the NFL has become almost a year round sport even though they only play 16 official regular season games.

This draft event was an indication of how true that observation is. According to tracking statistics, over 46 million people watch the televised draft programs on Thursday and Friday evenings and all day Saturday.  In addition, an amazing 600,000 people went and observed the event in person in the Nashville area.

It got me to thinking and it raised one simple question.  Why would so many millions of people watch this highly produced event where about only 250 men from around the nation are selected by the 32 NFL teams, the first round picks being the only ones that are pretty much assured  of a multi-million dollar contract and the rest from the second round on may  not even make their perspective teams?

It may be an oversimplification but I really think it points to what drives this whole event and the almost fanatic-like following it creates.  That simple word is hope.  For every one of these teams, a draft weekend represents the recognition that some of the “old” players are phasing out and a new crop of younger and possibly even more talented players will take their place.  For some teams, this is almost like throwing a life preserver to a drowning team by giving them one of the top choices in each round of the draft.  (This year it was the Arizona Cardinals.)  However, even the New England Patriots who picked last had, by all accounts, a very solid draft even though they selected last at 32.  Hope for change is an extremely powerful motivator.

I wonder just how much different we might be if we could see change through those same eyes in our local churches, let alone our personal walk with the Lord.  In fact, in my experience, people really don’t want to change even though some of the practices and policies that they’ve been embracing for decades have not led them to any significant growth or fruitfulness.  It’s not unusual to hear people say “it’s just not the way we’ve done it” and therefore pass on the possibility of something new that might infuse their church or their personal lives with fresh hope for the future.  We see this intransigence frequently addressed by Jesus as He confronted the scribes and pharisees and rulers of the synagogue with their unwillingness to recognize the prophetic fulfillment of Jesus ministry right before their eyes, choosing rather to remain locked in the forms and practices of the past.  Change, for them, would mean that they might lose something in the short term, even though they would gain so much more if they followed Him.  (See the story of Jairus in Mark 5.)

Perhaps Isaiah said it most clearly in his prophetic utterance in chapter 43:18-19 of his book in the Old Testament:

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.  See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up.  Do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the dessert and streams in the wasteland.”

I know that this illustration may not be all that interesting to some of us.  However, it is an interesting cultural barometer of just how relevant a subjective value such as hope really is in every facet of our lives.  How much more should this be the case for those of us who want to grow in our spiritual journey and discover the “new things” that the Spirit of God wants to reveal and release through us!

May God fill you with hope…

Pastor Jay

 

Remember the Cross

4.18.19 Leave a comment

As we come to the Easter weekend, I wonder how many of us are caught up in the idea of celebrating the resurrection but not necessarily understanding what had to take place in the life of Jesus so that the resurrection might have it’s ultimate meaning and purpose fulfilled.

May we never forget that the cross was not a place of suffering that Jesus deserved for anything that He had done.  The cross was not a punishment for Jesus breaking the rules that the scribes and pharisees had imposed upon Him.  No, much more profound, is the reality that Jesus suffered on the cross for us.  Permit me to present this from the scripture.

“Yet it was our grief He bore, our sorrows that weighed Him down.  And we thought His troubles were a punishment from God, for His own sins!  But He was wounded and bruised for our sins.  He was beaten that we might have peace; He was lashed — and we were healed!  We — everyone of us — have strayed away like sheep!  We, who left God’s paths to follow our own.  Yet God laid on Him the guilt and sin of every one of us!”  Isaiah 53:4-6 TLB

It is so important that we give place to the transaction of what did transpire on the cross where Jesus hung for our sins.  The false judgments, the merciless beatings, the 40 lashes, the crown of thorns and the impossibly painful suffering of the cross were not just the plan of Satan to bring down the Son of God.  No, in fact, we do not fully understand what happened there unless we recognize that Jesus bore the wrath of God the Father for the sins of all of humankind for all time!  And as Hebrews 9:14 affirms, “Jesus offered Himself through the eternal Spirit.”  It is correct to say that all members of the Godhead shared in the terrible suffering that took place in real time, in a real place to fulfill a real purpose that God had ordained.

“But it was the Lord’s good plan to bruise Him and fill Him with grief.  However when His soul has been made an offering for sin, then He shall have a multitude of children, many heirs.  He shall live again and God’s program shall prosper in His hands.  And when He sees all that is accomplished by the anguish of His soul, He shall be satisfied and because of what He has experienced, my righteous Servant shall make many to be counted righteous before God, for He shall bear all their sins.”  Isaiah 53:10-11 TLB

It is the incomprehensible scope and magnitude of the plan and purpose of God that took place on the cross of Calvary in the deepest spiritual realms following Jesus death that brought us to the unimaginable glory of the resurrection, the defeat of sin and death in our lives and the promise of the hope of eternal life for all who will trust in Jesus!

Dear friends, there is no other so-called “religion” that has any kind of revelation of a god who suffered for his people so that they might be born into his family for all of eternity.  This is the divine mystery of the love of Christ in His life, death and resurrection.  This is how everyone of us stands to inherit the most incredible eternal relationship with God the Father, Jesus the Son, the beloved Holy Spirit and all of the other countless members of the body of Christ with whom we will share our eternal destinies.

I encourage you to spend time in these next hours reading through these passages in Isaiah, the gospels, Romans 6, 7 & 8 and a myriad of other scriptures that reveal the plan, power and purpose of God that we freely and gloriously celebrate this Easter weekend of 2019.

Amazed by His grace this Easter,

Pastor Jay

People of Influence

4.11.19 Leave a comment

Do you ever wonder how believers in Christ can truly affect the culture around them?  In most work settings it would not be appropriate to talk about God in the middle of your meetings or while your fulfilling your assigned or chosen responsibilities and obligations.  However, when God puts you in a position to influence the values of your workplace that’s when you may very sensitively but meaningfully make a difference in the culture in which you’ve been placed.

This was bought home to me in a very powerful way through the recent college basketball tournament, and particularly the final four of the NCAA Division 1 teams who played this past weekend.  Players from all 4 teams gave words of testimony about their personal faith when given an opportunity, but perhaps the most powerful expression of what it means to live out your commitment to the Lord in your assigned calling came from UVA Coach, Tony Bennett.

If you watched the final game on Monday night you know that the University of Virginia Cavaliers won the national championship beating a very tough and competitive Texas Tech team in overtime 80-75.  It wasn’t just the very brief acknowledgement of Tony’s personal faith on being interviewed as he received the winner’s trophy on behalf of the team and the school.

Rather, it came from an interview conducted just before the weekend games when he briefly summarized his whole approach to coaching in the following way.

“There’s a verse that says always be prepared to give a reason for the hope that is within you but do it with gentleness and respect.  (1 Peter 3:15)    I know what that hope is for me,  I know what my life is grounded on.  There’s nothing that touches it, it’s a joy that’s unspeakable.

Our program is built on pillars, 5 actually biblical pillars and I’m always respectful that whether our guys believe that or not, they are wisdom for our program.

  1. Humility, do you know who you are as a team and as a player?
  2. Passion, do you play with passion?
  3. Unity, being part of something bigger than yourself.
  4. Servanthood, the way to greatness is through being a servant.
  5. Thankfulness.

So, we use those for our team specifically.  And you always hope that through sports these guys become better players and better young men.”

That’s the power of influence.  That’s not abusing your position of authority but actually seizing the opportunity to influence others with unchanging, character building values that not only make for a better team, but enable you to build a better life.

The story of this tournament, and specifically the University of Virginia, is all the more remarkable given the fact that they were knocked out of this same tournament last year, 2018, by a number 16 seeded team when they were a number 1 seeded team in the first round of this same “March Madness” NCAA tournament.  It was the first time such a loss had ever taken place.

Keep in mind that these players had those same values 13 months ago and they lost in an upsetting and even embarrassing way in front of a national audience.

Several commentators made the point after they won the national championship this year that that turn around from being the biggest disappointment of 2018 to becoming the champion of 2019 is remarkable by any standard.  Coach Tony Bennett and his players won the respect and admiration of not just other basketball players, but an entire nation of basketball fans who watched this stellar achievement.

Whatever your place of influence, whether it be something very simple and seemingly unnoticed, never discount the way that God would want to use you to bring glory to His name and thereby influence others around you that the Kingdom of God is real and that the reason for the hope that you have is your personal confidence in the Savior that gave His life that you might be free to become all that He destined you to be.

Blessings!

Pastor Jay

 

Proactive Faith in Difficult Circumstances

3.28.19 Leave a comment

In the past week I’ve been aware of two illustrations of how the peace of God can empower us to confront some of life’s most difficult moments with the sense of the presence and strength of God needed to overcome potentially paralyzing circumstances.

In one case, it was the passing on to heaven of the patriarch of the family that had learned to walk with Jesus for many years.  I’ve been in many circumstances where the inevitability of death causes great sorrow, mourning and regret.  However, in this case, the settled confidence that the loved one who had lived a blessed and productive life, not without it’s challenges, was ready to be with Jesus.  His own expression of his desire to “leave this body and be with the Lord” sounded much like the words of Paul in Philippians 1:23.

For the family, however, this deep and settled confidence brought about a certain sense of victory of life over death and peace over anxiety that many find difficult to comprehend at such a moment in life’s journey.

The other story involved one of our campus pastors and an incredibly difficult challenge that he saw as an opportunity to bring the hope and love of the gospel into a tragic situation.  Because of some potentially unsettled legal matters, I’m going to leave out all names and references that are not necessary to understand what took place.

When asked by a grandmother whose daughter (or daughter-in-law) had recently lost a seven month old baby to officiate at a funeral service for the infant, this pastor did not run from the situation.  He could have easily found a reason not to get involved as none of the family members had anything to do with his church.  On the contrary, from what he could gather they were largely not interested in God or church in any way.

Imagine walking into a situation where there are strong and profoundly deep emotional feelings being expressed between family members, including potential blame for the infant’s death, and knowing that your only resource to take on such complicated and even destructive feelings are the hope and reality of the redemptive promises of God.

I only got a brief summary of the outcome of the service, but as we had prayed, the Holy Spirit did His work in that funeral service.  Some walls came down and a number of the family members indicated a desire to know more about this God who they desperately need to make sense of this situation.

Both of these situations remind me that our faith really matters when we expect something of it.  For whatever reason, it’s possible to go through much of life and allow complacency and the status quo to define our life in Christ.  Rather, it should be the leading of the Holy Spirit and the sense of the awareness of His call to engage in every circumstance in life with faith and the expectation that you are there to make a difference not just for yourself, but for everyone involved.

Far too often we speak in terms of faith when it comes to matters of healing or a miracle intervention.  However, it’s also true that our faith can reveal an even more profound reality which is Emmanuel, God with us… in every situation.

When we have that confidence, then we know that “all things will work together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.”  That is the substance of faith… the “hoped for” sovereign control of God in all of life’s challenges and circumstances.

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

Finding Light in Dark Days

3.22.19 Leave a comment

Even though we just turned our calendars into the first days of Spring, many of our days are still cloudy with the threat of dark storms not far in the distance.

Any time we come into the light of the awareness of Jesus and His presence, we are empowered to stand against the darkness that would seek to envelope our lives.  Throughout scripture, darkness is a picture of the fruit of sin and/or godlessness that surrounds us. It may just be my own perspective, but it seems that so much of what we hear in every form of media is intent on spreading darkness and extinguishing the light of the hope of God’s love in us.

Just the other night at our weekly home group, we had an amazing time of affirming the hope and promises that the love of God brings into our life.  In reading through a portion of Psalm 34 we were reminded that the worldly sources of pleasure will always disappoint us, but the presence of God remains the source of ever increasing light and love within us.

“Worship in awe and wonder, all of you who have been made holy!

For all who fear Him will feast with plenty.

Even the strong and the wealthy grow weak and hungry,

but those who passionately pursue the Lord will never lack any good thing.”  Psalm 34:9-10

During our meeting, most everyone in the circle shared a particular way in which darkness was seeking to gain a foothold in something that they cared about in their lives.  In a couple cases it was physical and in some others it was relational.  Some 30 minutes into this time of sharing I couldn’t help but make a comment to the whole group about the power that we were experiencing as a group of believers who were choosing to declare light and love in the face of darkness and pain.  During the course of that evening we worshiped together and were reminded that at times the Lord brought “rain” out of the dark clouds in order to cleanse, refresh and renew dry and lifeless hearts.

It was a bit of a paradox.  On the one hand, clouds and darkness can sometimes stifle the promises of love and deliverance that are around us.  On the other hand, those same clouds can become the source of a cleansing and renewing rain that is often referred to in scripture as the beginning of new blessing from the Lord!

What I believe the Lord wants us to know is that making time on a daily basis to worship Him and be reminded of His love and presence will enable us to always overcome the clouds and darkness that would bring discouragement and despair into our lives.  Remember the promise of scripture in Psalm 34:17:

“Yet when holy lovers of God cry out

to Him with all their hearts,

the Lord will hear them and come to

rescue them

from all their troubles.”

If you’re having a dark day, come to the Lord and worship Him.  Cry out to Him and tell Him of your desire to worship Him and He will provide the deliverance of His light and salvation to renew your joy and the certain confidence of the unfailing and unchanging love of God that controls your life.

Blessings,
Pastor Jay