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

 

Starlite Car Cruise

9.08.17 Leave a comment

Last Friday we concluded 18 seasons of the Wexford Starlite Car Cruise.  Here is a copy of the letter we distributed to the thousands in attendance.  What started as a small, one time event, grew to touch over half a million lives during the 18 seasons.   As the prophet says: “despise not the day of small beginnings.” (Zec. 4:10)

In case you have missed the verbal announcements, I’m writing this open letter to all of the participants and spectators of the Wexford Starlite Car Cruise.

First, we want you to know that this was not an easy decision, but the Car Cruise leadership team as well as our very dedicated church Elders, have agreed that this is the time that we must bring things to an end.  It’s been becoming increasingly clear that a number of circumstances have led us to cross the finish line with a positive and thankful heart.

Therefore, we will make this evening a night of celebrating 18 amazing seasons of hosting car cruises (October 7, 2000 – September 1, 2017).  By the way, some “grand finale” t-shirts are available near the DJ booth if you want a one-time remembrance of the past 18 seasons.

The Wexford Starlite Car Cruise began as a once a year event at the encouragement of my father, Jack Passavant, who always enjoyed the collectible car culture.  In his final decade on this planet, he fully restored eleven different vehicles – from a LaFrance Fire Truck to a 1948 Chrysler Town and Country Convertible.  (The yellow ’46 convertible I’ve driven to every Cruise was the last car he restored before his unexpected passing in the Spring of 1999).

We started cautiously.  The first year we held the event one time on October 7, 2000, and the next year on the same date more or less.  The level of interest convinced us that this could potentially become a weekly event that folks from the community all around us would support.  In 2002, the Starlite Car Cruise became a weekly event, from the first weekend in May to the end of September.  After a few years of that grueling schedule, we knew that we needed to trim down the number of weekends into the current format that we’ve had for the past twelve years or so.

People often ask me what has made this car cruise such a successful event.  Here are just a few of the non-negotiable things that come to mind:

  • We would seek to honor God in how this event was run every single week. (That has everything to do with the positive environment that so many of you comment on every week).
  • We would welcome everyone with any car or vehicle that was in some way of “special interest”. That is why an older gentleman with a hand-made Duesenberg Cabriolet would gladly park right next to a brand new Chevrolet Corvette Z06.
  • Families would always be welcome, not just “car guys”. To this day, I’m really blessed when I see a dad and mom walking with two or three of their younger children, enjoying a night out together while right beside them would be a group of five or six ‘bikers’ in their leathers, club colors and maybe even shaved heads!

 

We are often asked “how much money does the church make off this every year?”  Let me be perfectly clear.  The answer is zero!  In our 18 years, we have never sold tickets to anyone in order to get in or accepted any kind of special donations for prime spots.  All of the costs were covered by the North Way church family and eventually even those were picked by a handful of regular sponsors.  The average donation on any given week from the Car Cruise participants was just $200.  My thanks to anyone and everyone who helped to support the Cruise financially or as a Car Cruise volunteer.

We want to thank North Way Christian Community, our home church, for providing such an incredible space; keeping their doors open to allow folks to take a much needed break on Friday nights, and supporting the event financially through the tithes and offerings of the people who worship there.   It’s just been the past five years when all of our revenue came from sponsors, vendors and some generous Car Cruise attenders.

We are deeply thankful for the respect, cooperation and carefulness shown by nearly every Cruiser and spectator so that in 18 seasons we never had any kind of serious injury which is quite astonishing when you consider the dynamics created when you have 1500 show cars and 7-10,000 individual participants (spectators) every Friday evening!

We celebrate the volunteer core of the Starlite.  These folks are among the most dedicated, hardworking and fun men and women that I’ve had the privilege of serving with in my 40 years of public ministry.  Long before anyone arrived (I mean 24 hours before!) and long after the last Cruiser left, these volunteers took care of business, covering an extensive list –from returning and replacing all of the equipment to doing their best to clean up the area just after thousands of people had gone home.  Interestingly, along the way, many of these men and women became best of friends.

Roger and Brenda Van Scoy deserve special appreciation for their tireless and sacrificial leadership over the past seven years.  I would like to name every single volunteer, but time and space do not permit me to do that.  If you see one of these team members this evening, please pass on a word of thanks to them.  We would have stopped years ago had these folks not made themselves available.

Many individuals helped in special ways, but the most regular voice that you heard week after week was that of DJ Denny Dutko who made this his “signature event” for almost every week of the past 18 seasons.

We also want to thank each and every one of you who came out with such consistency and helped out whenever and wherever you could.  In the end, it was the word of mouth endorsements that caused so many thousands of people to show up here each and every week.  This comment was one that I heard shared time and time again: “Dude, you just have to come out here and see this!”

Finally, though we never preached at a Car Cruise, I think many of you were getting a message in more subtle but very convincing ways.  Something in every one of you was drawn to the positive and accepting environment that always was reflected when the event was held under the umbrella of the love of God as demonstrated in His son Jesus and incarnated by His Spirit in everyone who believes in Him.

I do pray that everyone reading this will come to recognize that all good things, even good people, come to an end.  The only thing that lasts forever is relationship with God through His son Jesus:

“Now this is eternal life; that they may know you, the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”  John 17:3

Unlike our favorite cars, bikes or other vehicles, our lives do not get restored at the end.  No, our only good option is a decision every one of us has to uniquely make while we are still alive and that is, what do I do with Jesus?  If you are in any way unclear about your relationship with Him, then I invite you to attend any one of our services here or at our five other locations.  Give it a try for one month and you’ll soon know what I’m trying to describe here. In the end, when we cross the finish line, we don’t get restoration, but what we can get is infinitely better… an eternal resurrection!

With sincere appreciation and a deep seated confidence in God’s willingness to supply, we say to every one of you:  it’s been an amazing race.  We have now crossed the finish line.

Blessings!

Dr. Jay Passavant

Founding Pastor

 

“We Never Know…”

8.24.17 Leave a comment

Last evening, our struggling Pittsburgh Pirates faced off with the best team in all of Major League Baseball, the Los Angeles Dodgers.

All you need to know about the Dodgers is that they have a record of 89 wins and 36 losses and are on pace to becoming one of the greatest teams (in a single year) of all time.  Of course, they still hage a way to go but if they win 115 regular season games and the World Series, they will have an incredibly strong case to warrant that description.

However, something incredibly rare happened last evening.  Our struggling Pittsburgh Pirates, who are probably not going to make the playoffs, have a losing record and have already lost two games in this four game series with the LA Dodgers, had one incredible game.

In a very brief summary, the Dodger pitcher for the night, Rich Hill, had thrown a perfect game through 8 full innings.  In other words, 24 men had come to the plate and all 24 had been put out, whether by a play on defense or a strike-out.  There were no walks, hit batsmen, or errors of any kind.  However in the bottom of the 9th inning, the third baseman committed an error on a fairly routine ground ball, thus eliminating the possibility of a perfect game.  However, this same pitcher still had a bona fide no-hit baseball game.

On the other side, the Pirates starting pitcher of the evening, Trevor Williams, had a much less impressive game having allowed a number of hits, walking 4 batters and hitting another one.  However, Mr. Williams had not allowed a run to score and thus the game was tied at 0-0.  A Pirate relief pitcher came in for the 9th inning and managed to keep the game scoreless.

In the bottom of the 9th inning, the third baseman for Los Angeles misplayed a fairly routine ground ball and committed the first error of the night, thereby eliminating a “perfect game” (defined as 27 batters up and retired in a regulation 9 inning game).

In the top of the 10th, another Pirate reliever retired the side and that set up the most unlikely of finishes.

In the bottom of the 10th inning, with a no-hitter still within reach, the The Dodger manager elected to keep the starting pitcher in the game, the right call in my mind.  Then it happened.

Josh Harrison, the Pirate second baseman, hit the first pitch from Rich Hill over the left field wall, thereby scoring the game winning run and was called a walk-off home run.  (That is the name given to any hit where both teams “walk-off” after the hit either drives in or scores a run.)

So in the end, the Pirates made one hit in ten innings and that one hit was a home run which won the game for the Pirates 1-0 even though the Dodgers had played a better game by every measurement.

I hope you’ll forgive the rather lengthy explanation of what took place because there is a significant lesson to be learned.

It can happen in our spiritual lives, in our walk with Christ, that we can go for  a long long time without getting a hit (some act of God’s favor, answer to prayer or intervention of God’s grace to deliver, heal, provide or enable us to do something).

What I am guilty of and see in the lives of many other believers is that I am more likely to “give up” when almost nothing has happened despite weeks, months or even years of prayer and trusting God.  Be honest, now, and ask yourself “When our enemy seems to defeat us at every turn, do we usually give up on God?”  I’m not talking about a now and then kind of prayer but a major issue in our lives whether it be physical, relational or spiritual in nature.

I chatted with someone today that left the game in the 8th inning because he felt certain that the Dodgers would score a run and that the Pirates simply would not because of the dominance of the pitcher.  Therefore, he missed an historic moment.

The first batter up in the bottom of the 10th was Josh Harrison who hit a ball into the left field, going over the wall and back just a few rows in the stands, but enough to be out of the reach of the defender and to become a bona fide home run.

If it’s the first time in the history of Major League Baseball (over 130 years) that someone lost a no-hitter based on one single hit, a home run, by the opposing team in the bottom half of an inning.  The first time ever!

And though I’m inspired by the level of play and unyielding determination of both teams to become part of history, I’m most impressed that Josh Harrison specifically and the Pirate team in general didn’t give up even though they had been totally dominated for 9 straight innings.

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve spoken with people who prayed for several weeks or months and in some cases years but have not seen God come through and answer the prayer as they had hoped.  (I have great empathy with those folks as I have been praying for healing for my chronic back condition for 28 years ….)  That’s the thing about faith.  The Lord promises to answer our prayer but He never promises us when that will happen.  Unfortunately most of us lack the determination to continue to believe God when He seems so silent and removed for so long.  In my journey of being unable to get a “hit”  against the evil one in a particular area I become very tempted to listen to the voices that say that “it must not be God’s will” or some other way of explaining away God’s promises and His power.

It is honestly very easy for me to understand why people “give up” their battle  for healing, restoration, provision or whatever the need may be.  But as long as God gives breath to your lungs and the ability to live another day, don’t give up your stance, your posture of faith.  Your faith is pleasing to God (Hebrews 11:6) and you just never know what may happen and when God may do something inexplicably glorious in your life!  And by the way, God does promise that throughout your time of waiting, He will provide grace (the undeserved favor of God) to you during your long, long season of waiting.

Let me be perfectly clear.  There are some people who simply do not see their prayer answered in this lifetime.  Those dear folks may die with the promise yet to be fulfilled, but they also die having pleased God by maintaining a posture of faith, not giving up, throughout their entire lifetime.

Remember, however, there are also those stories like the one I just described.  Stories where it’s very late in the game and all indications are that you are inevitably going to lose; but God shows up and you “win” the most important battle of your life.

Sometimes God, just like baseball, is very difficult to fully understand.  However, He is to be fully trusted and obeyed because He is always faithful!

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

 

We Are Entitled to Hope

8.17.17 Leave a comment

One of the things that I have grown increasingly aware of in the past years has been the fact that I never meet a fellow human being, whether they be a believer or not, that is not struggling with at least one area of difficulty, confusion or disappointment in their lives.  Everyone is struggling with something that they have not yet been able to overcome.

It’s in those specific areas where those of us who are seeking to walk out our faith in Christ in daily life must not surrender our hope.  We are entitled to hope that God will sustain us through whatever we are facing because that is what His word promises us.  (“God works all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28)

If the need that we face is physical, there seem to be many more promises that we can hang on to that would say that physical healing is real.  The public ministry of Jesus overflows with abundant illustrations that the non-physical world rules or controls the physical realm, especially as it comes to how our physical bodies function.  Jesus did everything from lengthening and strengthening bones to opening blind eyes to raising people from the dead.

However, we don’t know as much about how Jesus works in those who are dealing with unseen obstacles or difficulties.  There are countless believers today who are battling on a daily basis with loneliness, disappointment, frustration and/or a sense of abandonment in their personal lives.  Some have children that have rebelled or perhaps become totally dependent upon parents.  Others have parents who have separated themselves and moved away at a time when they were needed most.  Some have critical job situations where rejection has become a way of life.  I could go on and on.

However, in all of these things we must never surrender the hope that we have in Christ Jesus.

He took our weaknesses and failures into consideration when He called us to become part of His family.  None of our struggles or even failures, weaknesses or disappointments come as a surprise to Him.  They are all pieces of the puzzle that the Lord promises to use to bring about the fullness of His character and life in each and every one of us.  This is the paradox of the Kingdom.

How do we find hope in those situations which have defied the best that medicine, therapy, counseling and treatment have failed to overcome?  The answer is not an easy one, but it is a faithful one.  One of the primary foundations of our hope is not just in knowing the person of Jesus, but in using the wonderful promises of His word that seem to speak to each and every situation in which we might find ourselves.

There are promises for those who are lonely, those who are  disappointed, those who cannot care for themselves and those who have experienced rejection and it’s pain to the heart.

For all these things and so many others, there are great and specific promises which require only a bit of resolve, a concordance and a Bible.  A brief 30 minute journey into the promises of God concerning the lack of financial resources reveal that there is no poverty in heaven and that God delights in blessing His children with everything they need; indeed, even more than enough as His name “El Shaddai” reveals.

We are designed to rule and reign in this life.  That is only possible if we cling to and proclaim His great and precious promises over every area of our lives.  We cannot succumb to the propensity that we have to evaluate our effectiveness based on what we see in and around us materially.  Just because circumstances don’t change right away, doesn’t mean that God is not at work.  (Jesus waited for days before He went to raise Lazarus from the dead!)

Hope that is based on the promises of God will not disappoint us.  When we act on those promises as lead by the Spirit, hope becomes faith and faith moves the hand of God on our behalf each and every time.

So for those who might be reading this article in a time of disappointment or even despair, be of good cheer!  Jesus knew that we would have tribulation but He said “I have overcome the world.”  John 16:33    Let your hope rise and become an anthem of praise that draws faith and releases power from within your spirit; not just for the future but for this very moment and this very situation.  Never surrender your privilege, your entitlement, of hope.

Blessings,
Pastor Jay

The One Gauge

8.03.17 Leave a comment

Being a “car guy,” I’ve come to know the interest and importance of the gauges on a dashboard.  Every car worth talking about doesn’t just have a speedometer, it has a tachometer, engine temperature light, oil pressure gauge, tire pressure monitoring indicators and on and on.  If you had to choose just one gauge, most car guys would say it’s the tachometer.  That’s the number of RPM the engine is turning, usually from 4500 to 9000 or more in the most sophisticated engines in today’s cars.

Last night in our home group, we delved into a topic that is not normally very high on the “most interesting” list of things to share in our lives.  The topic was the way to measure faith and our growth in the power of God in our lives.

Interestingly, we acknowledged that faith doesn’t come by looking for it inwardly.  It doesn’t come by measuring the accomplishments of our attempts to exercise it.  And most important, it doesn’t come because we try harder to have it.  Faith is the result of surrendering to the voice of God in our lives; in other words, obedience.

Obedience is not a topic that gets much airplay in sermons these days, nor in small group meetings where we share issues of our heart. And yet in the most explicit discourse of Jesus prior to His atoning sacrifice, the topic of obedience is woven through the text of John 14, 15 and 16.

In fact, obedience and our love of God are profoundly intertwined.  “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me.  He who loves me will be loved by my Father and I too will love him and show myself to him.”  John 14:21  “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.  My Father will love him, and will come to him and make our home with him.”  John 14:23

We acknowledged in our time of sharing that the danger is that we think of obedience in terms of the “strict keeping of the law” which so easily slips into a “works righteousness” mentality which brings nothing but spiritual frustration.  It actually shuts down our heart toward God.

No, the kind of obedience that we’re talking about is that of a father and son.  In fact Oswald Chambers says that “Obedience is only possible between equals.”  Think about that for a few minutes.  Jesus calls us to obey Him not as a requirement for acceptance, but as the fruit of our acceptance.  Because we are sons and daughters of God through Christ, we have a heart to obey the commands of Jesus. We often yearn for more revelation and growth in the truth and purposes of God in our lives.  However, these scriptures and numerous others make it clear that obedience holds the key to revelation and to power.  We so want to see God move and we cry out in earnest desire.  We search ourselves for anything that seems to block the flow of God’s life and power while we read tomes of writings or listen to scores of podcasts to build our faith when one simple act of obedience makes everything clear.  It’s the one thing that we have refused to do, it’s the one thing that God keeps putting His finger on  that keeps us from taking our next step of growth.

I don’t know what that is for you, but I certainly want to know what that is for me.  “To obey is better than sacrifice” the prophet Samuel said.  1 Samuel 15:22  All the sacrifices of prayer, serving, helping others, going to meetings, etc., mean very little if we simply refuse to obey.

I love the simplicity of that.  It makes our spiritual lives so much easier to understand.  That’s probably why I agree with Bill Johnson in his devotional “Experience the Impossible” when he says this:

“Having only one gauge on my dashboard, the heart to obey God gauge, makes this life of trust much easier.  By grace I can do this one.”

That’s the one gauge I’m going to pay attention to in the days and weeks ahead.  Obedience is not necessarily a long drawn-out experience.  Pay attention to that gauge and things may change dramatically and profoundly in your journey of dynamic faith.

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

 

Worship in Adversity

7.28.17 Leave a comment

For many years, I have stood with men and women with whom we have partnered in the nation of India.  For example, my relationship with Abraham and Molly Pothen goes back over 33 years, when I was first introduced to them by our missions director, Charlie Beck.

It was a very informal and unplanned connection, but it resulted in years of prayerful support including a number of visits to this amazing nation and the birth and growth of a substantial ministry which is now led by Abraham’s son Emmanuel and his wife Allison Pothen.  (Check out their website at influenceinternational.org.)  This longstanding  relationship and the substantial fruitfulness of the ministry (over 500 churches planted, mostly by pastors that were trained at the Doulos Bible College in the Kerala Province) could be in jeopardy.

Just recently I learned that 580 churches in India would be losing the support that they’ve been receiving from Compassion International because of a shift in government policy toward Christian ministries.

Since 2014, more than 11,000 non-governmental organizations working in India have lost permission to accept foreign money, part of a push to stop funding of activities that India’s government sees as “detrimental to the national interests.”

Despite exploring every possible alternative through Indian lawmakers and business people, it became clear that 50 years of support from Compassion to it’s partner churches and ministries would come to an end.

Because of the generosity of thousands of donors and a very effective connection with Christian leaders in India, tens of thousands of Indian children went to school, received healthcare, tutoring, food and a chance to learn about Jesus… leading to transformation of multiplied thousands in this incredibly complex nation.

I was moved by the response of the president and CEO of Compassion International, Jim Mellado, when he said,

“We refuse to be overcome with grief.  We are worshiping in the face of adversity.  We know we serve a God bigger than this obstacle.  The Church’s work will continue – even if it looks different than we had hoped.  And maybe, just maybe, we’ll be able to return one day to serve the precious children of India who are living in unimaginable poverty.  Until then, we pray.  And we praise.”

There are so many circumstances in our journey of faith that defy logical and satisfying answers to rather difficult and even profound questions.  However, one thing that should never change is that whatever we face, our best posture, our most appropriate response would be to praise Jesus whom we know has conquered every enemy and overcome every obstacle that we will ever face.

I’ll confess that things happen where I’m prone to focus more on the disappointment or confusion that I’m feeling rather than on the promises that I have endeavored to build my faith upon over the years.

Learning to respond with praise and worship when circumstances seem to be crumbling all around us is not  a “one and done” experience.  Rather, it’s something that we continue to learn over and over again during our journey.

Just recently I learned of a friend and also a family member who are in no way related, but both of whom have contracted very serious cancer.  These are good people and facing such a difficult battle, in both cases, seems to call into question the goodness of God for those who may somehow believe that everything that happens to us should be a blessing and not a battle.

In reality, this is simply not the case and this is born out extensively throughout the Bible and most particularly in the four gospels.  The early disciples and even the Lord Jesus Himself faced adversity, opposition and difficulties of all kinds despite the fact that theirs was a positive and powerful ministry to the people in and around the  nation of Israel.

It’s in wrestling with this seeming paradox, that God is in control of all things that concern us and therefore is worthy of our worship and praise no matter what, is right where God wants us to be.

In fact, I would submit that we grow more dramatically in our relationship with the Lord when we worship through adversity than any other time in our lives.

The church in India will survive the government’s latest dictates which seem to be targeting Christians as opponents rather than welcoming them as a stable and positive influence in the culture.  I’ve already seen positive fruit through the lives of the two people that I mentioned and expect to see much more in the weeks and months ahead.

So, loved one, whatever your circumstance; challenge, affliction or adversity, why not put down all of your devices and any other distractions and specifically worship the Lord because He is in control and He will care for you and even more, bring you through these difficulties with greater faith, hope and love.

Blessings,
Pastor Jay

 

 

Finding Hope

7.20.17 Leave a comment

One of the most widespread traps that I find believers (including myself) falling into has to do with maintaining our hope in uncertain times.  Let’s be honest.  Everyone of us will encounter challenging and even, at times, seemingly impossible circumstances.

A dear friend from the area who I’ve known for 20+ years recently received a very difficult diagnosis having to do with the “C” word.

When we hear of any kind of potentially destructive or even lethal circumstance, whether it be relational, financial or in this case, physical; that is the time that we most need to be reminded of the hope that we have in Christ.

I was reminded of this very personally earlier this week as I was carefully reading through Ephesians 1.  One of the most interesting parts of this incredibly inspiring epistle is that it was not written to address any specific heresy, error or difficulty in the church like so many other epistles do.  No, it was specifically written to elevate the confidence of the new church that was growing in strength and numbers in the city of Ephesus, a city in western Asia Minor (now Turkey).

As a result, what you find in the first three chapters are soaring words trying to find descriptive language of the magnitude of God’s glory, greatness and grace.

In the first chapter alone, there are numerous promises that are declared, including this one in Ephesians 1:18-20:

“I pray also that the eyes of  your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and His incomparably great power for us who believe.”

He goes on to describe that this is the same power that raised Christ from the dead, thus forever establishing a confidence that nothing, not even death, can separate us from the love, mercy and power of God.

The challenge that I find to be most difficult when we are in the midst of coping with difficult circumstances is that we fail to consider just how powerful God is and … that He promises to make this power available to us who believe!

I’ve come to simplify it in this way.  In the Old Testament, much of the journey of faith for the Israelites after their captivity in Egypt for hundreds of years, was to “the promised land.”  This was a specific place that God promised His people that would provide abundance for their lives and the resources to meet their  needs.  As you may recall, because of unbelief and even rebellion, they wandered around in the dessert for 40 years after their glorious deliverance from the Pharaoh of Egypt.

We, too, can find ourselves wandering around if we do not lay hold of the promises of God which are clearly presented as available to us according to the new covenant or New Testament writings.

For the ancient Israelites it was the promised land.  For those of us who are trusting Christ today … it’s not  a promised land, it’s the promises!  These promises are magnificent and cover virtually every area of life with an unqualified reassurance that the same power that was in Christ, that power which was “far above all rule and authority, and power and dominion and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come” (Eph. 1:21) is what is available to us to face the very same struggles, difficulties and even destructive circumstances.

I find two things that help empower me when I face these things in my daily life, just as you face things as well.

First, I remind myself of these glorious promises and let my mind and heart soak in the truth of them.  (There are some 6,000 promises stated in the scripture.)

The second thing is I ask a believing friend (or family member or church leader) to believe God with me for the fulfillment of these promises.  Yes, we have to humble ourselves enough to acknowledge that we’re facing difficulties that are causing us pain and suffering; maybe even creating a shadow of doubt over our lives.  “Where is God?” in these times, we ask.  “Why did this happen to me?” and many other personal and somewhat subjectively chosen questions they may be.  No, we need to get those things out of our mind and get back to declaring the promises of God over our lives.  We find that our minds begin to focus on what God can do, not the mess we are in.  It’s usually not very long before fear and doubt are swept up in hope and expectation which is the soil of faith that brings about the fulfillment of the promises which God has so freely given.

So wherever you are, whatever your situation, you are already in your promised land!  You already have the promises of God and your first step is to begin to read His word and meditate on His promises.  The second step is to simply have another friend join you so that you’re not standing alone in troubled seas.

This is the source of our hope and our hope is what fuels our faith and our faith is what moves the hand of God!

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

“Train to Reign”

7.06.17 Leave a comment

Any conversation around the idea of spiritual transformation will inevitably bring us to the question of “how” does this take place?  Becoming part of a vibrant, dynamic community of believers is certainly a wonderful component to experience and measure change in an through our lives.  Over the last couple decades the idea of having a spiritual mentor has also become popular.

However, there is no escaping that in the end the primary way that transformation takes place in and through us is by the practice of the spiritual disciplines.  In it’s simplest form, a discipline is an activity that we engage in to receive power.  This definition applies across the board from sports and physical pursuits all the way to our spiritual growth and effectiveness in the kingdom of God.  However, as soon as we inject the idea of discipline, and especially spiritual disciplines, most of us begin to shrink back in fear of a list of practices that we simply try to sustain only to find ourselves failing over and over again.  Eventually we hear the phrase spiritual discipline and think “that just isn’t for me.”

The stumbling block in this for most of us has to do with the idea that we believe that the spiritual disciplines are directly related to how hard we try to keep them.  Whether it’s reading the word, prayer, solitude, fasting or any of the other broadly accepted disciplines.  (See “The Spirit of the Disciplines” by Richard Foster)  In fact, I learned quite a while ago that my “trying” is pretty much a guarantee of my inadequacy.  In fact, I’m increasingly seeing that the spiritual disciplines are really pathways to receiving grace in every area of my life.  In that sense spiritual disciplines are  a fundamental way by which I can discover change; through them receive grace that leads to transformation.  The apostle Paul says “Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 2:1)  Peter says “Grow in the grace.” (2 Peter 3:18)

Why is it that we tend to think of grace only when it comes to having our sings forgiven and our standing in Christ affirmed?  Grace is every bit as essential to the believer as it is to the unbeliever.  The sooner we lay hold of this truth the more quickly our transformation will begin.

I love Dallas Willard’s comment on this when he says “The reality is that saints burn more grace than sinners ever could.  Saints burn grace like a 747 burns jet fuel.”

So the spiritual disciplines are there to help us tap into the grace that will lead us into a posture of learning to reign in Christ and His kingdom which is, or at least should be, the goal of every follower of Christ and the joy of all of us who call Him Lord.

Blessings,

Pastor Jay