One Faithful Servant

2.21.18 Leave a comment

By the time most of you read this post, you will have heard the news that Rev. Billy Graham passed away this morning at his North Carolina home at the age of 99.

There will be a multitude of these reports that will describe in detail the amazing accomplishments of this incredibly devoted servant of Jesus who preached in most nations of the world and held scores of crusades over the decades here in America.

However, it was his strong and passionate voice over the radio and then ultimately the emergence of TeleVision as the primary medium which Dr. Graham found his way into millions of households in our nation and around the world.

One personal story that I would like to share with you is about Dr. Graham’s influence on my family and me at a very significant time in my life.

In the late 1950’s our family relocated from the city of Pittsburgh to the little town of Beaver, which in those days was nearly a one hour drive.  My parents were very committed to visiting their parents on a weekly basis.  Every Sunday afternoon we would drive into the city right after church and visit relatives in the Hazelwood and Bellevue communities. It’s just what we did… No questions asked.

However, I have a vivid memory of the long ride home every Sunday evening.  My parents seemed to plan our exit from the city around the time that Dr. Graham’s national radio broadcast came on the air. For nearly an hour every Sunday evening, we would listen to George Beverly Shea, the crusade orchestra and choir, and most important, Dr. Graham’s gospel message.  Even as an adolescent I found his messages easy to understand and somehow very relevant to my life.  I had the experience that many people share with me from time to time using words like “I felt he was speaking just to me“.

There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that those messages prepared my heart to receive Jesus as an early teenager when we attended a small outdoor crusade somewhere around 1960-61.  It wasn’t with Billy Graham, but it was the same gospel message and I remember very clearly responding, confessing my sins and going forward to begin my relationship with Christ.

If I remember the story correctly, my mom had received Christ just before that experience and my father later at another Billy Graham Crusade in Pittsburgh in 1968.  I wonder how many countless thousands of others could share similar kinds of stories  about the influence of one faithful servant of the Lord who somehow managed to avoid the snares of the ministry to faithfully preach the word “in season and out of season“ leading millions to know Jesus.

As a result of Dr. Graham’s influence on my family and me, I counted it as one of the great honors of my ministry to serve on the executive committee of Dr. Graham’s last crusade in Pittsburgh in 1993.  Even in his later years, he was still able to draw the largest crowds of any evangelist or minister before or since his visit here.

The attached photo of Carol and me with Billy Graham in 1993 reminded me of the unmistakable sense that I had when we met – that this man was indeed humbled to be so powerfully used by God, and very authentically encouraging to those of us who were so greatly affected by his life and ministry.

 

 

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And though our nation and our world will not be the same without him; they have been greatly changed because of the ministry of the gospel of Jesus through him, one faithful servant.  For that, we should all give thanks and praise to God!

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

Beyond Our Grief

2.16.18 Leave a comment

For the past couple of days, anyone in our nation who learned of the unimaginable mass shooting of 17 high school students in Parkland, Florida has been grieving about this senseless loss of life.

Thankfully, people of faith are doing what they can to comfort those who were directly affected and many are having conversations with others throughout our land about the cause of such an atrocity (and the number of others that have taken place in the past few years).

There is no simple answer to be offered in such a complex and indescribably evil act.  In these days immediately following such a tragedy, our focus should be on comfort and the tiny ray of hope that the presence of God through people of faith bring into such a situation.

It’s not surprising that it didn’t take long for politicians to jump on their panacea of choice.  For some it’s legislation dealing with gun control and for others the need to act on existing legislation dealing with mental illness.

There’s little debate that the young man responsible for this act was deeply troubled and revealed multiple warning signs that he was capable of doing something unthinkable.  How our law enforcement and other agencies failed to respond to those warning signs is a worthwhile point of investigation.

However, it doesn’t come close to answering the deeper and underlying question which has to be gnawing in the souls of anyone who has now witnessed similar events on an increasingly frequent time line.

It would be incomplete for anyone to offer a solution, but one observation that I cannot help but make is the fact that in this situation, and apparently in a few others that have preceded it, it’s not what the perpetrator possessed in terms of firearms or weapons; it’s what he did not possess in terms of a family or credible social network that could have offered support, direction and perhaps even intervention if need be.

When some individuals in the media immediately call for additional armed guards to be placed in all of our nation’s schools, doesn’t it raise the question that needs to be addressed before such a step is taken and that is, what has happened in our society that has led us into such an irrational place?

It’s not as simple as somehow tying it to taking prayer out of our public schools, which happened back in 1963.  It is, however, the responsibility of caring people in our society to ask “What can we do to restore the respect for life, peace and human dignity?”

These are questions that warrant thoughtful and even prayerful examination. However, in this immediate aftermath our primary responsibility is to pray for and remember the hundreds of people who have been directly affected by this most recent tragedy.

For most of the nation, the time will come to take some sort of action, but for now caring people will recognize in a Florida school is not a headline, but an matter of consoling those who have broken hearts.

It’s hearts, not headlines, that really should be our first priority; and from that, constructive and hopefully transformational dialogue and action can be taken.

Grieving with God,

Pastor Jay

The Facts of Life

2.07.18 Leave a comment

Over the past 10 days or so, I have come face to face with the reality that good people die every single day.  In fact, the latest statistics confirm that about 7,000 people die every single day in the United states and well over a quarter of a million, worldwide,

Of course, these are only statistics until they become a reality for someone that you know and in particular, when someone that you care about passes away.

In the past 10 days a close friend in the Lord lost his elderly mother, my daughter and her family lost their next door neighbor and a classmate of mine from college died just 2 days ago.

When a person lives a long life, the reality of their final breath is no less sorrowful, but it’s much easier to accept as part of the actuality of the limitations of their body.

In the case of my daughter’s neighbor, she was only in her mid 50’s and, up until 16 months ago, full of life and seemingly looking forward to many more years with her husband and daughter as well as her extended family.

As much as there are many things about the issues that we have to confront when someone dies, there are also some incredibly important truths that we might be prompted to revisit.  In one sense, though I’m never thankful for someone’s loss, I try to never fail to ask God what He would remind me to consider about the parameters of life and how I might be living in these years to bring the maximum glory to His name as I continue on my journey to life’s ultimate destination.

One of the inescapable conclusions that I’ve drawn after years of dealing with people who lose loved ones is just how adept we have become as a cullture at keeping the reality of the certainty of death out of our conversations and even our own conscious thinking.  It’s not that we’re living in denial it’s simply that we are choosing to delay any meaningful investigation into what we expect will happen when this life comes to an end; let alone, how we might best prepare for that inevitability.

One thing I’ve discovered is that people who are confronted with a terminal diagnosis, as well as their loved ones, have a sudden and almost insatiable interest in the afterlife.  They readily admit that they know very little about how to prepare for what most certainly will take place unless God should intervene and extend their years.

It’s also quite common that these same people, and they more often than not are very good people, tend to live under a fear of death.  That’s one of the reasons why the words of Hebrews 2:14-15 are so powerful when they say that (Jesus came) “so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death — that is, the devil — and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.

One of the great joys that can take place when honest people begin to search what God has said about this life and the next is that they discover that they can have a measure of certainty about their eternal destiny.  In fact, the Apostle John writes in his epistle 1 John 5:13 “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”  We can know for sure that we have eternal life.  We can know for sure that we will go to heaven when we die.  It would seem to me that every thinking person ought to at least consider the claims of Christ and His word about such profound and otherwise unsearchable matters.

The other wonderful thing that happens when lives come to an end is that an outpouring of love often seems to accompany these otherwise sad and difficult seasons.  Family members come together, stories that have been held close to the heart make their way into the conversations of friends and family members as the character and virtue of the one who has passed become the center of conversation.  It’s not unusual to hear laughter break out as one friend tells another about a story which accurately reveals a quality or characteristic of that loved one which everyone knew and only now so openly affirmed.

“The facts of life” are that our lives are indeed “fleeting.”  In fact, the psalmist, King David, says “You have made my days a mere hand-breath; the span of my years is as nothing before you.  Each man’s life is but a breath.”  Psalm 39:5

However, that breath for most of us can be 50 or 70 or 90 years long, which means that God has given us plenty of time to understand His plans for us and how we might best prepare for our eternal destiny when He promises that “If we have been united with Him like this in His death, we will be united with Him in His resurrection.”  Romans 6:5

Think on these things, dear friends, and encourage one another with words of eternal hope!

Blessings,
Pastor Jay

When You Plant a Seed

1.26.18 Leave a comment

One of the great blessings in life is to discover that a seed of hope, of faith, of encouragement or of truth rarely reveals its outcome until  much later than we might think.

Because we live in such an “instant” culture where Google can generate 3 1/2 million responses to one inquiry in .27 seconds, we may tend to think that a seed that we plant here or there in the life of someone else somehow failed to take root because we don’t see an overnight change.

However, wise seed planters understand that the Lord our God is the only one who can determine how long some seeds may lay dormant.

Just recently I had one such experience.  I was speaking at a local event here in Pittsburgh, sharing some lessons learned in my spiritual journey with a group with whom I am just becoming acquainted.

Before we were seated, a young man came up to me who looked familiar but  I wasn’t able to recall how I remembered this very polite and professional looking young man.

He went on to remind me of his name and briefly recounted a story that had completely left my memory banks.  Several years ago, this same young man was a college student in our area who was visiting North Way on a fairly regular basis but was having difficulty in reconciling some of his questions about God with an internal sense that something was missing in his life.

He reminded me of a book that I was pleased to give him.  The book was written by a pastor and theologian for whom I have a great deal of respect by the name of Tim Keller.  His book, “The Reason For God” is an excellent tool to pass along to someone who is sincerely seeking to understand how God works in individual lives in a way that recognizes the fact that thinking people have very sincere questions such as, “Is there just one true religion?” or “How could a good God allow suffering?” etc.

This was a number of years ago so I’ll be candid and say I don’t recall that we made a follow up appointment or if we simply said that when this guy finished the book he would contact me.  What I did discover at this very recent event was that the Spirit of God used the wisdom of that book along with the searching heart of an honest seeker to bring him to personal faith in Christ.  His face was visibly expressive of the inner joy that he had discovered as he had been growing in relationship with the Savior.

He went on to tell me that he had recently taken a new position with a very well known consulting firm in our area and was putting down his roots in this Christian organization along with his local church.

What a great moment that was for me!  In all honesty, I had simply done what any well intended follower of Jesus would do for someone who had sincere questions.  I did my best to answer them but also recognized that there were other resources that might be helpful in guiding him into the light of faith.

We had little time on that day to share what other things are going on in his life (I do hope to be able to circle around and connect with him in the coming weeks) however, that exchange was such a vivid reminder to me that everyone of us who is willing to invest in another life, even if it’s just for a conversation, let alone a friendship that covers weeks, months or even years of exchanges, these seeds that we plant do not return void.

“So is my word that goes out from my mouth:  it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”   Isaiah 55:11

I came away from that exchange rejoicing in what God had done in the life of one particular person.  I was also nudged by the Holy Spirit, once again, to never stop sowing seeds into the lives of others.  I’m not sure if this is unique to me, but I too often find it to be “easier” to think that someone else will take up that opportunity even when I know the Lord is clearly opening the door.

Seed planting is for everyone.  It can be done in a myriad of ways but almost always comes about when we follow the promptings of God’s Spirit and act on them in a personal exchange.  These are the times, those are the people, that one day reappear in our lives to recount the way that God led them on their spiritual journey to discover their purpose in life and their eternal destiny in God’s kingdom.

So keep planting those seeds, friends.  Every time you have the opportunity, do so with sensitivity, strength and love; then allow God to cause that seed to take route and grow into a wonderful, healthy follower of the Lord!

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

 

 

Spiritual Special Forces

1.19.18 Leave a comment

Last evening, I watched the first airing of the film “12 Strong” based on a true story that occurred beginning on Oct. 19, 2001 as a “first response” to the unforgettable terror attack on September 11, 2001.

The 5th Special Forces Group is one of the most decorated active duty United States Army Special Forces Groups in the U.S. Armed Forces.

The Special Forces Group had been a part of the United States military structure since World War II, though the 5th SFG was formally constituted on April 15, 1960.  They had conducted strategic and select missions from the Vietnam War through the late Cold War, Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, etc.   Because of the highly classified nature of their operations, the public never really heard about and therefore could not appreciate the courage, effectiveness and heroism displayed by these men in times of warfare.

“12 Strong” is the story of the deployment of the 5th SGA to Afghanistan barely 6 weeks after our nation endured it’s most tragic and shocking attack on the mainland from an outside enemy.

The movie is very well done (produced by Jerry Bruckheimer) and is not for the faint of heart.  It follows the calling up and rapid deployment of a 12 man team named “Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) 595.”  These 12 men were air-lifted behind enemy lines in Afghanistan, a place where none of them had been before, to serve alongside the Afghan forces that were seeking to oust the Taliban from controlling their country.

I don’t want to give away the story, but I will say that whether you read the book “12 Strong:  The Declassified True Story of the Horse Soldiers” or see the movie, the gallantry of these men in the face of extreme obstacles is truly inspiring.  What’s more, ODA 595 completed it’s mission in a little over three weeks time, which no one thought was possible.

At the conclusion of the movie during the rolling of the credits, it’s mentioned that due to the “classified nature of these operations” these men simply do not get any recognition for their incredible service to our country.  They are content with knowing that they made a remarkable difference in the war of those who were committed to destroying our society and those who wished to preserve the freedoms of which we have been so blessed.

Seeing that paragraph in the credits caught  my attention.  The balance of the evening and this morning I’ve been reflecting on just how true that same description would be of those men and women who understand the nature of focused prayer, intercession, and what we have termed “spiritual warfare”.   These are people who understand that what takes place in the unseen realms through prayer and other disciplines, literally affects the outcome of all of our efforts in the visible, or “seen” realm in which we live.

It is equally true that these prayer warriors receive little if any recognition but find fulfillment in the knowledge that they have made an incredible contribution to establishing the Kingdom of God in difficult and even deadly places and circumstances in our lives.

I wonder if more of us understood how this kind of prayer works and were also able to identify others who wished to be “deployed” in the realm of spiritual warfare, would many more believers step up and get involved?

Through the decades of the ministry that God has allowed me to share, I’ve seen and experienced with my own eyes and heart the difference that strategic prayer and spiritual warfare makes in the establishment and life-changing effectiveness of day-to-day ministries that are all around us.

We will often hear that prayer is important, but not many people see it as the “court of first resort”;  or in other words, what someone must do before others may be physically sent in to establish a ministry or make a difference in a particularly difficult situation.

There’s so much that could be said about this, but in this opening installment on this topic, I want to affirm my agreement with those who are convinced of the necessity of “special forces prayer” and also express my heartfelt gratitude to the many hundreds of you who have been faithfully fulfilling this calling, not just in my local church situation here in Pittsburgh, but in places all around the nation and the world.

I’ll comment on this early again next week and give the specific illustrations of how this actually works.  For today, just consider how much of a difference we all could make if just a few more of us took this assignment more seriously.  Read Ephesians 6 over the next few days and then be prepared to look a little more deeply at how this kind of ministry works.  The really good news is that if you are a believer in Christ, you are already qualified to be part of the “Spiritual Special Forces.”  It is the tip of the spear in ministry throughout the world.

Blessings,
Pastor Jay

 

Our Spiritual Blessing

1.12.18 Leave a comment

A couple of nights ago, our small group gathered together as is our weekly custom, to study God’s Word and share our spiritual journeys over the past week.  There was a certain element of anticipation as we anticipated that most everyone in the group would be in attendance.

Over the past 35 years, I have grown in my conviction that a balanced spiritual walk requires both a large corporate experience and a more intimate small group experience on a regular , ideally weekly, basis.  (This pattern was set forth clearly in the early church in Acts 2:44-48)

And though this group is much like a number of the others that we have shared over the years, one of the unique characteristics of the 12 or so members is that everyone seems to have  a real passion to go on in a more intimate walk with Christ.  That is to say, we’re not gathering to share knowledge and/or prayer requests, we’re coming to know Jesus more deeply and everything else seems to grow out of that conviction.

There’s also a wonderful balance in this group of theological perspectives and experiences so that we’re not all the same, nor do we all covet or desire the exact same experiences of God’s presence.  We respect one another and actually seek to learn from one another in those matters, but it’s never a requirement for us to go on together.  A little dynamic tension is good for strengthening the body.

One other element of our weekly gatherings is a time of worship.  Even though most of the current small group resources do not encourage corporate singing and worship, that’s just not been the case with us. One of our members faithfully prays about and comes to the meeting with a couple of choruses and the digital recordings of those songs and we just sing along.  However, we don’t just sing… we often will pause and pray, speak our praise and worship, and whenever possible, wait on the Lord and the awareness of His presence in our little group.  When we do that with sensitivity and openness, He never fails to meet us.

We read through a very challenging passage in Ephesians 2:10-19 and talked for a while about the essence of the Apostle Paul’s themes in those verses.  However, what seemed to grab our attention was a bit of a carry over from the previous week from verse 10 – that “we are God’s workmanship, created for the good works that He has already prepared for us.”   Eph. 2:10

The world takes little notice of Christians who live a “private faith” or fail to give expression to their love for God.  We know that we have a limited time to make an eternal difference and as a group, we want to help one another to do that.

We determined that the best way forward was to continue on the path of studying God’s Word, but to invest more of our time in praying for God to show us how to give expression to those “good works that He’s prepared for us” as mentioned in Eph 2:10.  Please understand, every small group meeting begins and ends with prayer, but we’re talking about spending some substantial quality time in prayer together, where we don’t come with a list of requests and/or needs, but we come to wait on Him and to openly express our hunger for Him with a willingness to listen to one another’s prayers and to discern what God might be saying to us.

By the end of our evening meeting there was a clear concensus that we had landed on the right direction for the next gathering.  It’s pretty awesome when a group comes together with expectation and leaves that same meeting with an even greater expectation for the next week!

I’ve come to the conclusion (or perhaps revelation) that healthy small group life is like the “spiritual bloodstream” for the life of the Holy Spirit to be transmitted throughout the Body of Christ.  If you think about it, using the biblical analogy of the Body of Christ as Paul referred to us in 1 Corinthians 12, small group allows us to carry the nutrients, insights, gifts and blessings throughout our body to one another.

Small Groups can never replace a personal time of devotion with the Lord.  Neither will they have the same dynamic of a corporate time of extended worship and strong biblical teaching.  However, they provide a context in which the life that the Lord is shaping in us can be shared in the most intimate of ways with other people that can grow in their love and intimacy with our Savior.

I feel extraordinarily blessed to have discovered this so many years ago and even more, to know that nearly 4 decades later these gatherings are no less attractive and essential as they were in the founding days of North Way Christian Community.

Blessings,
Pastor Jay

 

Stepping Out in the New Year

1.03.18 Leave a comment

For many, this is the week that we begin to act on the inner sense that some things need to change in our lives.  The whole idea of New Year’s resolutions is that a new year provides a base line for starting some new disciplines, practices or commitments that will somehow improve the quality of your life.

Although my experience that most New Year’s “resolutions” are likely to fail, it almost always come down to the source of our strength for those perceived areas of need.

If it’s simply my own “will” deciding that I need to behave, think or act differently, it won’t last very long.

However, if the source of my strength for those same changes is the indwelling Spirit of God, then a huge reservoir of hope begins to open in my heart.

One of the most important areas of need that I perceive throughout the body of Christ (and in my own life) is the certainty that I am fulfilling God’s call on my life and in some way making a difference in the lives of people around me.  To be really honest about it, even though most of us would agree that this is a worthwhile pursuit, defining what that objective might be is much more difficult.

However, the Lord has spoken to that issue in our lives as well.  In Hebrews 11:8 we discover that Abraham… “obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.”  Think of the magnitude of that statement.  Abraham was a wealthy and secure land owner with no need to change anything in his life for his own satisfaction.  However, when God spoke to him (and all changes of eternal value begin with a word from God) Abraham (Abram) left everything he had accumulated and went on an adventure of faith, “even though he did not know where he was going.”

The core message of this reference is that we are to step out when we know that God has spoken to us, even though we may not be able to describe fully where we are going.  For those of us who may be passionate about detailed strategic planning, this verse can be very unsettling.  Why would we even dream about leaving security and stability for something that we cannot even define or describe?

What this action reveals is that Abraham trusted God more than his own need for a clear road map of the future.  If we believe that God has called us to something different, something more, something of eternal consequence, we must act even if we’re not sure what the outcome may ultimately be.

The result of such actions of faith are an ever increasing confidence in the person of Jesus in your life.

If you have to know what the ultimate destination of your faith journey is to be, it’s unlikely that God will ever show you.  God does not usually define for us what He’s going to do; He simply reveals to us Who He is as we take our steps of faith.

37 years ago, when I met with the first 8 other men who formed the initial leadership team of North Way Christian Community, it is not an overstatement to say that we had no idea where God was ultimately taking us.  I could not define for them or myself what this new church would look like, how it would function or even where it would be located.  I just “knew” that God was calling me out from what I had been doing for the previous 10+ years and into something that was significantly different.

I remember very well that my father made a special trip over to visit with me to remind me of the responsibilities that I had to care for my wife and 3 young children and for the 4+ years of specific education and preparation that I had invested to stay somewhere on the path that I had been walking.

I couldn’t offer my dad any reassuring details about our destination, but I was able to speak with a certain level of confidence that I knew that God had spoken to us and that I really had to obey His calling to “go out” from where I had been.

It’s likely that many of you who are reading this post feel the same need for some sort of refocusing or perhaps a total redirection of your life journey.  My counsel to you in this early new year is that:

  1. Wait on God so that you know that you’ve heard His word to you.  “The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and they are life.”  John 6:63
  2. Begin by acting on the word.  I can’t tell you what this may mean for you, but it is a specific step of obedience.  It may be small at first, but if it’s from God, it will eventually require a level of sacrifice and uncertainty.  These are the very things that bless the heart of God because they are an expression of our ultimate trust in Him and not ourselves!

There were numerous times over the following years when we were called to take steps of faith and obedience, not knowing the final destination.  However, it was those same steps that brought the blessing of God upon our work and established our church and allowed authentic Christian community to  grow, not just here in the North Hills but throughout our city.

I’m thankful that this New Year also brings an opportunity for new adventure.  I pray you will not draw back if that destination is unclear.  Rather, lean more fully on Jesus and you will discover the blessings of a life of faith which are more precious than all the gold and silver this world can offer.

Blessed New Year!

Pastor Jay

When God Speaks…

12.15.17 Leave a comment

In these final two weeks before Christmas, I want to bring our attention to a perspective on Christmas that is often overlooked or just simply misunderstood.  If we go all the way back to the first chapter of the first book of the Bible, Genesis 1, we soon discover that God brought everything that we can see, measure and understand into being out of an infinite universe of “nothingness” simply by “speaking.”

Genesis 1:3  says “And God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light.”  And on and on it goes.  For us, as human beings, no one has ever discovered the power to create something… from nothing, let alone by simply “speaking” it into being.

When God spoke, billions of galaxies were born and set into place.  Stars burned the heavens, and planets, in perfect order, began orbiting their suns.  We know  that the words of God  have incredible, immeasurable and unlimited power.  However, when it came down to the pinnacle of His creation – men and women created in the image of God, God also spoke in a mysteriously complex way that forever changed the possibilities of human existence. Created so that mankind, men and women, might have the possibility of eternal fellowship with this almighty, powerful and all holy God.  God spoke once again.  The gospel of John vs 1:1-14 clearly declare the connection between God speaking and the possibility of human beings being redeemed by God for all of eternity.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  John 1:1

It’s helpful to know that the Greek word that is translated “the Word” is the word logos which has a multitude of translations and implications.

In Greek philosophy, the Word was the principle of reason that governed the world.  In the Hebrew of scripture, the Word was an agent of creation (Psalm 33:6), the source of God’s message to His people through the prophets (Hosea 1:2) and His law, His standard of holiness (Psalm 119:11)

And so John, who was the disciple who was closest to the heart of Jesus, makes the astonishing statement that

“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.  We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (NIV)

If we step back just a moment and consider this statement, it helps our limited intellectual understanding to acknowledge that the same God who “spoke the universe into being” also spoke to the people He had created by incarnating His very being into a fully human form.  For the first time ever, in any religion, the God who is acknowledged as the one who created everything that is also chooses to reveal Himself in human form so that we might understand what God is really like.  As Jesus lovingly responded to Phillip’s passionate request

“Philip said, ‘Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.’

Jesus answered: ‘Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time?  Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.'”  John 14:8-9

One of the reasons why the incarnation is the bedrock upon which our entire Christian faith is built, is that not only did God “speak” about who He is and what He does; His Word, that is, His very essence, “became flesh and made His dwelling among us.”  John 1:14a

It’s not unusual for people to  ask this pastor something about the question of “What does God look like?”  Putting it another way, “What is God like and how would you describe Him to me?”  My answer is always the same and fairly appreciated when I first offer it to them.  I would say something such as “Look at the life of Jesus, how He lived during the 33+ years that He was on this planet and especially upon the final days of His life with us when He chose to give up this life (in order to pay for the penalty of all of our sin and our very sin nature); He did so by dying on a cross for no wrongdoing, but simply because He acknowledged that He literally was “God in the flesh.”  It’s interesting to me that in the introduction of John’s gospel in the Life Application Study Bible the original audience is defined as: “new Christians and searching non-Christians.”  The other 3 gospels were written to, “the Christians in Rome”(Mark), and “the Gentiles”(Luke).  Only John’s gospel is written to a much wider audience that is broadly defined as “new Christians and searching non-Christians.”

Interestingly enough, though the Christmas story as we have come to know and love it so well only appears in  Matthew and Luke, not Mark or John, and only John is seen as being directly targeted to “new Christians and searching non-Christians.”

Over 90% of John is unique to his gospel.  John does not contain the genealogy or any record of Jesus birth, childhood or temptation, etc., etc.  It does, however, contain the clearest amount of detail with reference to Jesus suffering, crucifixion and most certainly his resurrection from the dead.

I try to give this overview to simply encourage this one discipline over the remaining 10 days before Christmas and that is this:  “What is God saying to you about this time in your life and how might He intervene to bring about a seemingly impossible resolution or transformation?

For me, that’s really what I am choosing to do this Christmas.  It’s not that I won’t deeply appreciate the Christmas so try as presented in the other gospels.  There’s something so beautifully simple and profound that I never tire of reading it, hearing it, and experiencing my memories of it.

However, I believe this year God is wanting to speak His Word in my life in specific ways so that I might know and experience the same power that flung the galaxies into existence, the stars and the planets in their perfect orbits, the wonder of the physical creation all around me which is undeniably as beautiful as it is complex, and yet what I feel I need the most is for His Word to speak into my life situation.

Let me ask you directly.  What would that circumstance or situation be for you?    What relationship, what limitation, what physical or emotional pain or heartache are you experiencing, or what personal dream or aspiration do you hold that will only come to pass if God speaks and brings that much needed breakthrough into your life?  What does that look like?  How would you know if it happened?

You see, that’s what makes the Christmas story so incredibly relevant.  It’s not just the miraculous power of God that comes to the earth as a beautiful and perfect infant in the flesh who lives and moved among us for 33+years; only to die for our sins and be resurrected three days later to show that the Heavenly Father accepted and approved of the Son’s actions on our behalf which contain in them the hope of eternal life in the presence of God now and forever more.

Yes, as unspeakably wonderful and glorious as that is; for many of us there are real life personal struggles and limitations that may keep us from fully knowing and experiencing the love, joy and peace that only God’s  presence can bring to our lives not just at Christmas, but every day of the year.

Yes, God spoke at Christmas and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, the Word in the flesh full of grace and truth.

That same God continues to speak living words into the hearts and lives of everyone that seeks to hear His voice.

Christmas blessings,

Pastor Jay

 

Football and Faith

12.06.17 Leave a comment

In case you’re not a fan of the National Football League, you may have missed a very frightening and revealing moment in the Monday night game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cincinnati Bengals.

In the ninth play of the game, Steelers inside linebacker Ryan Shazier made what appeared to be a fairly routine tackle of a Cincinnati running back.  However, the jarring collision took place at just the wrong angle so that Shazier’s neck was compressed causing unknown and potentially serious injury.

In the next seconds, Shazier moved his left arm into the middle of his back and then rolled over with his legs immobile on the turf.

The next 10-15 minutes were, as one journalist wrote, not just scary, but terrifying” because of the prospect of an injury that could change Shazier’s life forever.

It was clear that players on both teams were jolted by this potentially devastating injury.  The game went on, but the Steelers seemed to be playing in some sort of unfocused frame of mind.  What began to trickle in as the game went on and most especially after the game was the outpouring of concern and specifically a non-stop flow of one word of unusual importance.  In today’s culture of social media, individuals can freely express their thoughts, feelings and intentions and nearly 3/4ths of all of the tweets and comments that were received in the hours following this difficult moment mentioned the word prayer.

That prayer was mentioned in so many of these tweets and comments is very revealing, especially when you look at the names of the people that expressed their concern in this way.  Here are just a few of them:

young lion @ryanshazier, God is able.  Thoughts and prayers are with you and Steeler nation.  Ray Lewis

Prayers and love to @ryanshazier and his family!  Praying God’s healing hand on him!  Love you 50, get better soon!  Big Ben 7 (Ben Rothlisberger)

Prayers for @ryanshazier.  Mohamed Sanu Sr.

Prayers up for @ryanshazier.  God got you bro.  Jordan Howard

Prayers up fo r@ryanshazier.  Jalen Ramsey

Want to say prayers up for my dawg ryan shazier.  Man, we are all praying for you. God has a plan.  Juju Smith-Shuster

Nothing but prayers for Shazier.  Jerome Bettis

Praying for you bro @ryanshazier.  Khalil Mack

Prayed for my bro shazier!!! Please be good!! Jay Ajyi

In the following hours athletes from every sport including Andrew McCutchen, Sidney Crosby as well as coaches and team executives conveyed not just their support, but their prayers for someone that was quite possibly in a very desperate situation.

After reflecting on this for the last day or so, I couldn’t help but be reminded of a similar gut a thousand times more intense reaction form Americans following the 9-11 attacks some 16 years ago.  The following week the churches of our nation had the highest weekend attendance in decades.

It seems that when we face the unthinkable and uncontrollable issues of life we default back to the one source of hope and strength that has guided our nation for nearly 300 years.  Perhaps the Psalmist says it best in 121:

“I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from?  My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.”  Psalm 121:1-2

Just last evening, coach Mike Tomlin of the Steelers commented that Shazier was in a very good “spiritual place” with his family and loved ones.

This isn’t just a fascinating commentary on the true foundations of our journey in life, its a reminder, that we never know when circumstances are going to require us to call upon a strength, a comfort and a hope that only a source outside of ourselves can possibly bring… and that is the God of heaven and earth.

Its encouraging to know that many of these players make time to cultivate their faith week in and week out, as well as those in  management, ownership and a thousand other disciplines in athletics, business, politics and medicine, etc.  However, wouldn’t it be encouraging if that recognition was celebrated a bit more frequently in the good times and not just referenced in the times of potential tragedy.

Our prayers do go up for Ryan Shazier and his family.  However, they should also  be raised up every single day for those that we care about and love, as well as those who have been given positions and responsibility to lead our nation and our culture into a future where only God’s grace, mercy and strength will see us through.

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

 

Preparing For A New Harvest

12.01.17 Leave a comment

Last evening, I attended the final “core team leaders meeting” at the soon to be launched Beaver Valley Campus of North Way Christian Community.

I can’t begin to express how meaningful this new venture is from my perspective.  Very few people who will attend this new campus, which is located directly across the Beaver River from the town of Beaver, but now physically in Rochester, PA, will know its significance to me.

Beaver is the town where I grew up as a child and my parents lived for over 50 years.  Its fair to say that even though there are a number of good churches in the area with very dedicated and gifted pastors and leaders, I am sure that there is a great need and desire for a ministry like North Way to serve the people in these communities that have been largely overlooked in the economic renaissance of the last generation.

As it turns out , there is now a massive investment going into an oil and gas refinement facility that will create thousands of jobs and bring in many new people to the Beaver valley in the next 2-10 years.

In that regard, North Way is literally at the tip of the spear having been able to be established before the wave of new people begins to crest and all of the benefits of a growing economy and increased investment in a region can transform it form an area that struggles to a place where people want to live, work and play.

I want to commend Pastor Scott Stevens and all of the members of the team, both volunteer and paid, who were able to see the potential for a thriving church in this area and further, to make the necessary investment to accommodate families and young single adults from all around the region.

Everything about last night’s experience gave me great encouragement to believe that God has something very special for this campus and the people of the Beaver Valley.  I know for a fact that many  hundreds, if not thousands, of people have been praying for the Lord to bring a spirit of renewal into the faith community in that general area.  It’s been a while since something substantial, fresh and very biblically authentic has come to this area.

In the few moments that I had to share, though I hadn’t planned on mentioning it, I did remind the 200-300 folks that were present that my mother worked in that exact space for quite a number of years when the Kaufmann’s Department Store owned the property.  On a number of occasions I would meet her there or go out from there to get something to eat.

I know that my Mom would be blessed beyond words to know that the very place that she had worked (part time) for quite a number of years has now become the physical location where our church will be established to reach out into all the surrounding communities with the love and hope of the gospel of Jesus.

I hope that many of you will join with me to be praying for the Beaver Valley Campus of North Way.  Their faith and expectation is very high, and now the nuts and bolts of “allowing it to happen” must take shape.

I left last night with the undeniable awareness that something that had never even crossed my mind as a possibility up until 5 years ago, has now literally become a reality.

It’s a great lesson for me that God is always working behind the scenes in ways that we can’t imagine.  We should never stop praying for God to do what seems impossible!

Blessings,
Pastor Jay