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

Pass It On

6.30.17 Leave a comment

Along with the incredible blessing that children are to a family, they also come into the world full of potential and promise that parents and grandparents are responsible to cultivate.

As parents, that responsibility is constantly on your mind as your children grow up in plain sight nearly each and every day of their formative years.  As grandparents, according to proximity and other factors, you  may or may  not see your grandchildren regularly.  However, if you do have that blessing scripture is clear that you, too, have a responsibility to “pass it along to the next generation” (Psalm 78:4).

One of the key discoveries in passing along our spiritual heritage to our grandchildren is to try to identify with something that your grandchildren find interesting.  Carol and I are blessed with eight grandkids (currently), seven of whom live close by.  We’re starting to see things that interest them such as art, reading, music and a number of sporting activities.  However, there’s one gene that runs through my side of the family and it’s a passion for all things automotive.

I remember so distinctly that I wanted to drive a car at age 12 and my Dad recognized that he wouldn’t find any rest until he “scratched that itch” for me.  Most of you reading this won’t remember the first go kart but the better ones were called “track-rabbits”.  They were simple machines made of steel with no suspension, four hard rubber tires, and a small lawn mower engine for power.

I can still remember very clearly the day that my Dad took me into the garage and pulled the cover off the “jack-rabbit” that he had managed to put together in his spare time without me knowing about it.  I remember even more clearly the thrill of driving that machine on remote neighborhood streets at speeds up to 15 or 18 miles per hour!  I was hooked.

Fast forward now some fifty five years or so.  One of my grandsons, Jack, has had clear evidence of the “automotive gene” for the last couple of years.  It started slowly but has been picking up momentum as he reads everything he can get his hands on, goes to car shows, talks to owners and drivers and spends a solid portion of his free time with some incredible video games that we had never see back in the day.

Well, today I made good on a promise to Jack by taking him to a relatively new, state of the art, go kart track about 20 miles from his home in Cranberry.  I thought that his best shot at getting some good time behind the wheel would be in the mid-week, and in the mid-afternoon.  Today was that day and it was something to watch.

The folks who were running the track that day were all friendly and helpful.  To my surprise, they offered hardly any instruction except to not push the gas and the brake at the same time…which you’d only do if you were confused!

After Jack put on the required helmet, headpiece, neck brace and fire resistant jacket, he hopped into the 10 hp go kart for his first ride. (As the commercial says, these are not your granddaddies go karts…!)  Capable of 45 mph in the straight-away, on a .83 mile track, Jack had his very first experience in actually driving a machine near or at its limits in curves and on the straight-aways.

His first session had a couple of hiccups as he learned how much speed he could carry into a turn and where turning too quickly could cause your kart to do a neat little spin.  However, once he mastered those few unique characteristics, he really got into it.

In the second session, the young guy in charge of overseeing the track that day, commented that Jack’s lap times were “really good” and below that of many more experienced drivers that he had seen over the months he’d worked there.  Honestly, it wasn’t a surprise to me.  Jack used all of the things he had learned on the video games, read in the magazines, and from extended conversations with – yes, his grandfather among others, and poured all of that into making “speed”.

After the two sessions, which weren’t really long in terms of time but were quite challenging in terms of concentration, the elements, and a sense of always wanting to go faster,  Jack was both exhilarated… and a bit exhausted.  When the track manager gave Jack the printouts of his lap times and he saw where he shaved off nearly 20 seconds from when he started to when he finished, his smile went from ear to ear.

We talked all the way home about things he had learned and perhaps more significantly, ways he could work going forward to be able to spend more time learning the karts in preparation for his real dream which is to go on the big track with a serious automobile.

In short, this was a half a day together that I think Jack will remember for a long, long time.  “Yes, but what spiritual value did it have?” some of you may be asking.  I’m not sure I know authoritatively how to answer that but my hunch is that when I sit down with Jack and talk about the books we’re reading together and the scriptures that we study together, he’ll be a bit more open and a lot more communicative because he knows we have one other “special interest” that we share in great detail.  As one of the very first contemporary Christian songs I ever learned said so powerfully, “that’s how it is with God’s love, once you experience it… you want to pass it on”.  We pass it on over pizza, we pass it on in reading a book together, and we pass it on on the racetrack with go karts…and of life.

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

A Man of Sorrows

6.28.17 Leave a comment

Hardly a week goes by without someone notifying me that a member of our church, a friend from another congregation or ministry or a family member, whether personal or otherwise related, has come into a very difficult time.

As much as we would all like to think that being in Christ somehow insulates us from the sorrows and sufferings of the world, that just isn’t so.  In all of those contacts that I described, when we get a little bit past the surface of the issue, there inevitably seems to be the question of “why” did God allow this?

Rest assured, I’m not going to give you the answer to that question because I don’t think it’s in the realm of human understanding to know and fully explain the things that God does and does not allow.  However, there is something rather profound and even profitable if we begin to see these situations as one of the most powerful ways that God brings about growth in faith and character in every one of our lives.

Sorrow is one of the biggest facts in life; and so we do well to avoid the trap of blaming God rather than leaning into Him in these times.

It’s fair to say that in my many relationships with sincere people over the years, success generally does not deepen our trust or our character.  It tends to make us think more of ourselves and how well we are doing.  Likewise, if we simply acknowledge the sorrow or sufferings without leaning into it, we generally fall into spiritual stagnation.

No, the only way to turn sorrow into something productive in our lives is by accepting the fact that God ordained such things to fulfill His purpose in us.   Isaiah 53 provides very compelling evidence that sorrow and suffering are part of what God allows even in the most spiritual or godly people that we know.  Why do I say that?  Because Isaiah 53 in a prophetic proclamation concerning Jesus calls Him “a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.” (Isaiah 53:3a)

Isaiah 53:10 goes even farther and says that “Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer…” but in the end things actually come out better than before “after the suffering of His soul, He will see the light of life, and be satisfied….” (Isaiah 53:11a)

I would never pray for sorrow and suffering to come to my life, or anyone else’s for that matter.  However, something transformational takes place on the inside of us if we choose to embrace the Lord through these times rather than question Him.  Jesus himself acknowledges the purpose in these times when He says

“Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say?”  ‘Father, save me from this hour’?  No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.  Father, glorify your name!”  John 12:27-28a NIV

Because the sorrowing and suffering of Jesus is so powerfully described and detailed in the gospels, we come to understand that the purpose of His sorrow and suffering was to provide a pathway of redemption for all the human race.  Now, that can be a rather generalized benefit that we see or we can bring it right down to our own personal salvation.  That’s when the sorrow and suffering of Jesus really matters the most to us:  we can become members of His eternal family by acknowledging the work of Christ on our behalf and with humility and gratitude acknowledge His deep love for us that compelled Him to go through the most profound suffering and sorrow of any human being.

I do know that when I’m in conversation with someone who has had their share of suffering and sorrow, it doesn’t take long to recognize that there is something rather comforting and reassuring in just “who” they are.  They listen.  They empathize and they almost always lift you up because they do understand what you are going through in your time of sorrow or suffering.

In fact, once you have learned this powerful principle of spiritual growth, God is more likely to use you to help others when they face a similar season in their own lives.  In the end, I’m exceedingly grateful and encouraged by the fact that the One that I am called to trust in my times of difficulty has Himself suffered more than I could ever imagine.  That is why we can all find amazing comfort and strength by leaning upon Him in those times in our life.  It’s the only way to fully become the ambassador that God wants us to be in a hurting world.

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

Three Simple Phrases – Part 2

6.21.17 Leave a comment

In my last post, I detailed three simple phrases that I shared with the young couple in my message to them on their wedding day.  These phrases were “Thank you,” “forgive me” and “I will.”  Quite a number of you responded that you, too, had discovered the power of these simple expressions when sustained by the will to enact them.

However, the really powerful moment for many at the wedding ceremony and candidly, for myself, was what I shared with the couple as a closing thought.  Like so many of my messages over the years, this was not something that I had thought about for weeks in advance; rather, it came to me after I thought I’d finished this message and just hours before the ceremony.

This is what God put on my heart.  Those same three phrases constitute something deep and unmistakable every time I see a cross.  Whether it be on the top of a church steeple or on the side of a hill along the Turnpike or simply in a church sanctuary,  those are the three responses that the cross evokes.

“Thank you” God for loving me so much that you sent your Son to live and to die for me.  His sacrifice gives meaning to my life and hope for my eternity.

“Forgive me” for the many times that I sin consciously and unconsciously by choosing my own will and often my own ways rather than the clear leading of your Spirit and wisdom of your Word.

“I will” by the power of the Spirit within me seek to walk so much closer to you than I ever have in times past.  I will commit myself in this moment for this day to honor you with my life and to seek your Kingdom and your righteousness above all other things.

There’s so much more that could be said.  However, in that moment I recognize that what has become an all too common symbol for many in our culture sits at the very intersection of love and destiny in our lives.  The same response to the love of God as seen on the cross is also the enablement to live a life of love in the most intimate relationship of our lives with our spouse.

Coincidence?  I don’t think so.  In ways that we are all still discovering, Jesus came to show us not just how to have our sins forgiven and find eternal life, but even more, how to live this life in the fullness of His perfect love.

Blessings,
Pastor Jay

Three simple phrases

6.16.17 Leave a comment

One of the temptations that most pastors need to avoid is that of “over-complicating” matters of faith.

The Apostle Paul spoke directly to this when he said in 1 Corinthians 2:4 “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith would not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.”

Over the past four decades I’ve had the privilege of officiating approximately 400 weddings.  It is one of the great blessings of the pastoral call.  You share in a day and specifically a moment that will be etched in the memory of the couple and their families forever.

My goal at every wedding is to simply share with the couple something simple and memorable that just may be of some benefit to them as they seek to live out their vows in the years ahead.  In a wedding that I was privileged to officiate for a family member the Lord gave me three simple two-word phrases that I’ve read read in different places but more importantly, endeavored to live out in my own marriage.  Those three two-word phrases may seem uninspired or simply too pedestrian to really matter, but that’s not the case.  In fact, they are three of the most powerful phrases any couple could ever practice.

The first is simply the two words that express gratitude: “Thank you.”  I can’t tell you how many couples will share with me in private conversation that they feel a lack of appreciation from their spouse.  More often than not it’s perceived as being taken for granted or, that the spouse doesn’t really understand what it takes for them to fulfill their responsibilities.  Thank you is a simple thing to say but if it’s done with sincerity and, this is important, specificity… it can be very powerful.

The second phrase is incredibly important because it can spare you long months or even years of deeply held hurt and pain.  The simple phrase “forgive me” when offered with sincerity and humility cracks through a wall of words that have created a barrier of animosity between a couple.  Notice that it’s not the words “I’m sorry…” which are far too common in our culture.  Rather, “forgive me”  expresses a deeper understanding of one’s responsibility for what took place and…implicitly asks for a response from the person that’s been hurt. I can’t tell you how many times these two words have broken through years of disappointment and heartache.

Finally, the last two words apply an action that you purpose to initiate.  The words “I will” indicate that you are going to something to change a circumstance.  “I will” indicates that you know that you can make a difference by initiating an action and in so doing demonstrate that you care about the person that you love.  It’s important that those words be expressed before an act is requested.  In other words, initiating before being asked adds a great deal of significance to that specific action.

Think about these three simple phrases, “thank you”, “forgive me”, and “I will”,  and ask yourself which one of these is most needed in your marriage or most intimate relationship.  This would make a great conversation starter for any couple seeking to grow closer in their communication.

Next week, I’ll share with you how the Holy Spirit links these three simple phrases to an even more profound experience in my life.

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

Dignity

5.31.17 Leave a comment

We’ve had some beautiful days this Spring, although there has been plenty of rain as well.  None-the-less, being able to be outdoors enjoying the beauty of God’s creative design is a gift that is difficult to overstate.

As I take my bike rides through North Park several days a week, I begin to notice the little things that serve to remind me of God’s design in nature.

Spring is the time when many of God’s creatures multiply.  Just today on a rather long straight away near the north end of North Park lake, two ducks and their incredibly cute ducklings were walking in a straight line across the road – duckling, duck, duckling, duck … and they were in no hurry.  In fact, cars were stopped in both directions as the ducklings set a very deliberate pace to get across the road.

When the grand transition was complete I couldn’t help but notice that most every driver in the line had a smile on their face and not the normal horn blowing, fist pounding reaction to a delay.

And as undeniably cute as that foursome of birds were, they don’t even come close to the level of dignity that we place on human lives.

I wonder sometimes if the media overload to which we are exposed every day tends to have a dulling effect on our recognition of the dignity of every human being.  It’s the simple fact that we were created in the image of God that confers this dignity upon us.  Simply put, dignity is worth that has no substitute.  It was the philosopher Immanuel Kant who defined dignity as “something for which you have no substitute.”  Most things have a price:  that’s the value that you can exchange for that particular item or service.  If you have the money, you can buy the coat or the ring.  One reason that we still have laws that say you cannot sell human beings is because they have dignity.  Insightful writers such as C.S. Lewis in his book “The Weight of Glory” and Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his classic “Life Together” talk about this dignity.  This irreplaceable value that we have.

One of the best ways I know to treat people with whom I may differ in a God pleasing way is to see them with dignity, whether I agree with them or not.  This is also the heart of the message that we take to the oppressed peoples of our nation and of the world who may have lost any sense of dignity because of hardship in their lives.

We should, at every opportunity, confer dignity on others and remind them that they are valuable in the eyes of God and therefore that they matter to us as well.

It seems to me that every place that a believer in Christ happens to go, he or she should make a point of looking for ways to confirm the innate value in others.  Our culture has found numerable ways of putting people down.

It’s commonplace in most every human encounter for people to size one another up and make some sort of superficial determination about how they would position themselves with respect to someone else.  People look for a way to get an advantage, to be controlling and somehow express their own superiority.

This is what leads to the seemingly endless cacophony of criticism, negativity and judgement that literally fills our airwaves 24 hours a day in everything from politics to playing baseball.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with competition or the challenge of seeking to win accolades for achievement except when such activities can only be gained by the diminishing of someone else, the destruction of their dignity.

This is a very profound topic but my purpose in bringing it up is simply to remind us that we’ve been given an incredible position in God’s order of things.  We bear His image and therefore are persons of dignity.  Every other expression of creation is praiseworthy, but none of them come close to the pinnacle of God’s design and destiny in every human being.

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

The Way of Wisdom

5.24.17 Leave a comment

I’ve been giving a lot of thought recently to how we approach a life of wisdom.  If there’s one thing that’s true about all of us, we either live by default… or by design.  If we don’t choose to walk in the ways of the Lord, our lives simply drift off into the shoals of disaster.

In a recent study of Psalm 1 I began to see this either/or choice very clearly.  the psalmist begins by describing what the “blessed man” does not do:

“does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.” (Psalm 1:1)

There is not really enough space in this post to talk about sources of input in any depth, but I would encourage all of us to consider what these three specific sources in verse 1 might be.

We may be surprised that these are not necessarily the flashing red lights of evil that so many of us identified with “sin” as we were growing up in church.  The counsel of the wicked is really more about acting on the ways of the world as we see them paraded before us in every day sources such as our common media; and even in the way people simply talk about things.

None of them consider that we are eternal beings with a destiny that God has established from the foundation of the earth.  We have something much higher and greater to fix our minds upon.

That’s why verse two begins:  “but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night.” (Psalm 1:2)

It’s no surprise that when we choose the ways of the Lord and determine to receive the input of life from His word, the outcome is clear:

“whatever he does prospers.”  (Psalm 1:3b)

None of us have this down to simple formulas, but every one of us  can recognize the importance of establishing some pattern of prioritizing for the way of wisdom in our lives.  In the end, the gift of God is that everything in our life will prosper.

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

 

 

Every Day Disciples

5.19.17 Leave a comment

One of the questions that I seem to wrestle with more than most any other has to do with the essence of being a disciple of Jesus.  It’s one thing to say that we “believe in Jesus,” and by that we’re referring to His divinity, incarnation and sacrifice for our sins as affirmed by His resurrection.

Believing that is key to our salvation but does not make us a disciple, a follower of Christ.  However, that’s where things begin to get a little bit murky for a lot of people.  Some have tried to clear a path and have given us extensive guidebooks and pathways to discipleship.  However, most any way that you seek to define the essence of being a disciple you have to talk about what it means to live for Him, to walk with Him, to follow Him on a day by day basis.

That this is not necessarily an easy thing to figure out is made clear by Jesus when he says in Matthew 11:25-26:

“I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.  Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.”

What I hope to explore in the next several weeks in this space is the very inviting but not clearly understood invitation from Jesus when He says,

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

I don’t intend to step on any toes here but I want  to say that in my experience over the years and even recently I have found that most avid proponents of a life of discipleship seem to over complicate the issue.  In fact, in some ways, they make it nearly impossible to understand what is involved and to recognize whether or not you are succeeding in your journey.

What if God isn’t parsing every detail of your life to determine how you’re doing on a given day?  What if being a disciple is not measured by your response to every driving incident or frustration at the local shopping mall?  In the Message paraphrase of the first quote of Jesus in Matthew 11, Eugene Peterson uses language that resonates with me and most everyone I share it.

“Are you tired?  Worn out?  Burned out on religion?  Come to me.  Get away with me and you will recover your life.  I’ll show you how to take a real rest.  Walk with me and work with me — watch how I do it.  Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.

There’s something extremely appealing about the possibility of living a life that’s pleasing to Jesus but is “unforced” and is fueled by the “rhythms of grace.”  (In the very next sentence he goes on to say, “I won’t lay anything heavy or ill fitting on you.  Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”)

I don’t need to look around and point out the weaknesses of others on this issue.  I just need to look in the mirror and recognize that I’m still learning this simple, but essential practice.

Over the next few weeks I’d like to share a few things that I’ve discovered in my recent studies.  Perhaps it will encourage you, as it has me, to know that the Lord is much more understanding of our struggles than we might be of ourselves.  It’s not that He doesn’t care, it’s just simply the recognition that He’s a God of love and grace, not of rules and regulations.

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

Our Purpose… For Today

5.12.17 Leave a comment

Many years ago, just after I had completed my seminary training, I came across a little book entitled “Destined For the Throne.”  The author was a man of high integrity, but of very low profile.  In fact, this was the first book that he published and I believe he was near 75 years of age when he completed the manuscript.

However,  that little book forever changed how I perceive the purpose of my life.  As one rather well known Bible teacher commented in his recommendation:

“This book challenged me to see the church in all her glory:  where we have originated, where we are going in God’s eternal purposes.  It ties intercession into the why of our existence.  I was left with a desire to be who I am in Christ.”  Malcolm Smith

As I look back over the past four decades it seems impossible to me that so much time has transpired and yet I feel I have only begun to understand the full implications of the thesis of that little book.

Fast forward to just last month when I read words of another author who restated the same conviction in very simple and memorable language.  In his reflections on the purpose of life, Dallas Willard wrote that we are “in training for reigning.”  Indeed, his conviction was essentially the same as what Dr. Billheimer had proposed years ago.

The purpose of our lives is to prepare us to reign with Christ Jesus throughout all of eternity.  Although the exact nature of this assignment is still unclear, it has something to do with the New Heaven and the New Earth that the Lord promised to establish at the end of the age and it is very clear this is both a physical and spiritual reality.

The “training” that we are called to has everything to do with our relationship with Christ.  It has to do with learning to pray in such a way as to know the heart of God and come into agreement with Him concerning whatever He puts on your own heart and mind.  That simple and intimate prayer then leads us to a life of full obedience and a genuine delight in being an ambassador for Christ wherever we go.

This past week, two of my dear friends had been confronted with the very difficult reality that someone that they care for deeply, in one case a friend and in another case a family member, are facing the possibility of this life coming to a close.

What does one say to a person that brings comfort and assurance and even hope in the face of life’s greatest uncertainty?  Well, if a life’s been centered on learning to serve God and to partner with Him in the things that matter to Him, then it is not difficult to simply say that this life is just “the end of the beginning” and not the end of all that matters.

Thankfully, Jesus has made that relationship so amazingly within reach that a simple prayer of surrender can bring us into a place of preparing for an eternal future of reigning with Him.  However, for those of us who may have been blessed with such a knowledge of God for many years, we have had the opportunity to be greatly prepared for an amazing destiny of reigning alongside of Jesus for eternity!

On this Mother’s Day weekend, I’m particularly thankful for the incredible influence my Mom had on leading our entire family to discover a personal relationship with Christ and not simply just a religion with His name on it.  Her devotion to the Lord grew in passion and intensity over the years and I know that her prayers for all of us in the family helped to guide our steps and lead us all into the place of discovering God’s purpose for our lives each and every day.

So thank you, Mom, for planting the seeds and watering them and being them to help see the harvest that God’s grace has brought.   I have no doubt that you are now reigning with the Lord and one day we will all understand more perfectly how God worked His plan for each of our lives because we made ourselves available to Him.

That’s my purpose for today … to continue to train in order to reign.

Blessings,
Pastor Jay