The Message of Hope

10.18.18 Leave a comment

Over the past number of weeks, several people with whom I have close relationships have been diagnosed with very serious illnesses including cancer, heart disease and Parkinson’s.    With such diagnoses, the initial response must always be one of empathy and care.  Committing to be with people through whatever treatment they may embrace is an important way to express concern and support.

Moreover, the primary thing that I have found most people quicken to is the promise of hope that we offer regardless of any diagnosis or situation.  Hope immediately transforms anxiety into peace and fear into faith.

The Apostle Paul says it this way in Romans 15:13, “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

The reason we can declare the promise of hope regardless of the diagnosis or the situation is that wherever Jesus is, the power of God is available to work in and through others to naturally or supernaturally bring healing, restoration and recovery.

In the simple words of a small portion of the Lord’s Prayer, we say “thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it in heaven”.  We know that in heaven there is no sickness, there is no affliction or disease.  Consequently, we can pray confidently for that to be the case here on the earth.

The most common mistake that most people make when it comes to praying for healing is they tend to base their prayers on their own personal experience or history rather than on what God has promised in His word.  Even those who have embraced the theology which believes that “the age of miracles has ceased” are able to explain the promises of scripture.  Put no limitations on what God can do in response to belief in prayer.  Jesus directly pronounced that we would do “even greater things” than he did when he walked among us.

Make no mistake that the person who enters any situation with a message of hope brings an immediate power to bear in any situation.  People who may be despairing begin to suddenly find circumstances change and what was once thought to be an impossibility begins to take place within their circumstance.

This is not an attempt to somehow overlook the fact that not every prayer is answered.  However, it is to take strong stand that the very first response out of every believer to any situation should be that of the possibility that the power that raised Jesus from the dead is at work in and through all of us who believe in his name and that because of that all things are possible, because of that there is always hope. Take that message into every situation that you may confront in the coming days and weeks.

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

Developing Faith

10.10.18 Leave a comment

Over the past few months I’ve had several challenging and what I would call significant conversations about the process of growing in our faith throughout our spiritual journey.  There’s no question that faith is something that pleases God (Hebrews 11:6), but it is also a quality of our lives that can be exercised much like our physical bodies and various muscles and organs.

For whatever reason, there are quite a few sincere followers of Christ who are really confused when it comes to this matter of faith.  They see it simply as something that you “get from God when the time comes” and don’t think much else about it.  It’s not uncommon to hear someone quote the verse that says “if you have faith the size of a mustard seed” you can do anything.  This does not mean that our journey of faith should simply end with a mustard seed portion as our goal.

In fact, Jesus chastised the disciples on occasion when they displayed little faith, not as punishment but as encouragement to learn to believe God in ever increasing ways as we journey through this life.

In a very recent conversation, one good friend commented to me that ‘it’s very difficult if you’ve not been aware of how faith works in your life to believe God when the crisis hits you unexpectedly and personally’.  He’s right.  We should continually be exercising our faith and believing God day to day for the provision, healing, courage, the various fruits and gifts of the Spirit to be active in our life, so that when we face an unforeseen and difficult challenge we are prepared to face it.

If you recall in the life of David, his confidence in addressing the overwhelming powerful opponent of Goliath, who was literally holding the armies of Israel at bay and threatening to destroy them, was a result of his cultivating faith in his life.   He mentions how he overcame the lion and the bear and perhaps other creatures and or challenges in the wild so that the same God who gave him victory with those lesser things would surely give him victory with this seemingly impossible giant.

In the past year, I’ve been examining my own daily faith practices.  I try to make a point every day of putting my faith to the test in a particular area and then evaluate week by week how I’m doing in believing God for his provisions, guidance, break through and victory.  I wish I could say that I had nothing but unbroken steps of ever increasing faith, but that’s not the case.  Rather, I’ve discovered that when you set out to grow in faith you inevitably must face risk, and risk inherently has an element of failure to it.  The fear of failure may be our greatest impediment to growing in faith.

But I’ve discovered that real life requires of me a willingness to try and perhaps fail and then try again.  Even though I have to acknowledge times where I’ve not seen the outcome for which I was believing, I want to more enthusiastically say that I’ve also become much more confident in my prayers and in the possibility that I will see answers to things that may have intimidated me in previous times.

I don’t want to make this sound like a calculated strategy as much as a relational and prayerful commitment I’m learning to make in this season of my journey.  All around me there are people who are battling serious illnesses, relational heartbreak and many other unwanted obstacles.  In my own life, I continue to battle with rather chronic back pain and associated physical limitations.  However, the day that I just give up believing and stop praying with faith would literally be the day that I succumb to the lies of the evil one.

In fact, rather than feel defeated in some of these larger areas of need, I find myself remaining thankful for the hope that’s within me and ever increasing in my hunger to see fulfilled what God has promised as part of my identity as one of His sons.

I can’ t begin to understand it with my mind, but there’s no debating the fact that Jesus said “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.  He will do even greater things than these, because I’m going to the Father.” (John 14:12)

Although I’m certainly not there yet, I’m blessed and honored to be surrounded with like-minded believers who are reaching out to God for demonstrations of those ‘greater things’ promised by Jesus and received by faith.

Blessings!

Pastor Jay

FInding Peace That Lasts

10.04.18 Leave a comment

If there’s one thing of an internal nature that is to characterize our lives it is the presence of … peace.

Interestingly, most of us are inclined to define peace in terms of the absence of something else.  Peace is the absence of war, the absence of conflict, the absence of arguments, even the absence of distractions.

In our walk with God, we’d do very well to recognize that fundamentally peace is not the absence of something, but the presence of Someone.  It is not accidental or insignificant that one of the prophetic names given to the coming Messiah by Isaiah the prophet is exactly that: “the Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6b).  Peace is actually found in a person.  His name is Jesus… the Prince of Peace.

One of the primary reasons we are looking at this incredibly significant, but often undervalued quality, is that it is not found in the lives of most believers, let alone those who really have no relationship with God.

For many, the idea of peace is “getting away from whatever it is you’re doing and finding a beach someplace where no one else can find you. ” While I am in no way diminishing the need for such moments that time on a secluded beach may offer, it is meant to be vastly more accessible every day of our lives!

In fact, peace should be the home page of our every day, every circumstance, every relational moment that we have.

The presence of peace was why Jesus was able to sleep soundly in the back of a small boat while his disciples were fighting against a raging storm.  So vastly powerful is His supernatural peace that when the disciples awakened Jesus, that Jesus commanded the storm to end by declaring “peace, be still!”  (Mark 4:39).  This expression was so extraordinary that the disciples “were terrified and asked each other, ‘who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him?’”

Perhaps the first thing we need to acknowledge is that the loss of peace begins by believing our fears, inadequacies, and uncertainties more than the clear and unconditional promise of God “Thou will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed (focused) on him.”  (Isaiah 26:3)

What I am discovering is that I have surrendered my peace much too easily in every waking moment.  Instead of seeing peace as something that is mine to enjoy when circumstances allow it or nothing else is going on, I need to see peace as the “default position” of my consciousness.  In other words, I want to be able to walk through my day moment by moment, exchange after exchange, input after input, and know that I’m moving with the presence of peace.  Jesus indicates that it was the disciples (perhaps unknowingly) succumbing to fear of the power of the storm that broke their awareness of the presence of peace that was right there in the boat with them.

The more I’ve come to think about this in recent times, the more I recognize that all of my interactions are driven by faith or fear.  If they’re driven by faith and the promise of God, I won’t believe the lie that fear wants to impose upon me and therefore my peace will not be broken.

This indeed affects every area of our lives.  It’s an intensely practical truth when you get down to examining your day-to-day experiences.   Whenever a circumstance, decision or even a person causes me to react out of fear then I know right away that I need to step back, re-establish my focus on the presence of God (through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit) and get back to that incredible place of peace in my innermost being.  It’s not unreasonable to say that the length of time from when I react, thereby losing my peace, to when I repent and thereby re-establish my awareness of His presence, is a very measurable parameter of my maturity in the Lord.  The shorter that gap, the closer I am to living the way that reflects the presence of Jesus in my life.   The longer the gap, the more likely I am to lose the sense of His presence and blessing.

Perhaps the best way to establish every day in the fullness of God’s peace is to include in your prayer time the words of Philippians 4:4-7:      

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness[a] be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

I know that in this short amount of time I may be raising more questions than I’m answering.  I’d like to follow this up with at least one more post on this site about the simplicity and significance of this amazing presence called God’s peace.  This would do so much to bring order, blessing and joy not just in our lives, but through our lives to everyone that we encounter.  That’s peace that endures.

Blessings!

Pastor Jay

Thy Kingdom Come

9.28.18 Leave a comment

The imperfection of our democratic system of government was on full display for millions of Americans to watch and evaluate over the past twenty-four hours, if not the past six weeks or so.   Despite nine hours of riveting testimony from the accused and his accuser, it became evident that we were no closer to knowing with certainty what took place some 35 plus years ago, somewhere at an unknown place and an unknown time in the summer of 1982.

Although the final outcome on the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh is still undecided, what is undeniable is that both “sides” on this nomination are deeply committed to their perspective and are very unlikely to change now that both “witnesses” have testified. (Of course, this does not include the handful of ‘undecided’ Senators who must choose when the vote is called for by the Senate Majority Leader).

What all of these proceedings has reminded me of is that we as a people are not yet at a place where the kingdom of God is in full control.  The kingdom of God is simply the place where the effects of Jesus’ lordship are demonstrated over the broken issues of life.

Although we may not always associate that rule with life as we know it, there’s much evidence that the kingdom of God is already present where his people declare his lordship and surrender to his will and purpose.  This was the seminal message of Jesus when he walked on the planet, incarnated in the flesh two thousand years ago.  When Jesus launched his ministry, his message was simple and clear: The kingdom of Heaven is at hand (Matt. 4:17).  In other words, life as it will be for all of eternity has now invaded our life as we have known it for the previous thousands of years.

As a consequence, what we are called to do is study the life and ministry of Jesus and recognize in everything that he said, did and demonstrated we were seeing what it will be like in the kingdom of God.  In every circumstance and in every personal interaction, Jesus demonstrated the righteousness, peace and joy that will forever mark the kingdom of God.  There will be no sickness, disease, sorrow, pain, suffering, oppression or warfare in the future kingdom; the one that Jesus demonstrated for us.

However, the balancing truth which must be immediately invoked is that the kingdom of God is “already, but not yet fully realized”.  That is to say, we see glimpses of kingdom rule throughout our lives and in our nation and around the world, but we do not yet see where God’s kingdom, that is God’s rule, has been fully realized.  Thus, it has been our conviction for centuries that the kingdom of God is “already, but not yet”.  We see glimpses of it and certain manifestations of it, but there remains clear evidence that it is not yet fully present anywhere in our existence.

In the kingdom of God, the truth will always be evident, and no one will ever have to wonder “what really happened”.  Nothing will be hidden, nothing will be unknown when the Kingdom of God is fully present.  This is no small observation.  In fact, this is the foundation and basis of the hope that resides in everyone who seeks to follow Christ and believes that the day will come when the Kingdom of God is fully revealed and in place.

If we are to live in this “land in-between”, it is necessary that we participate with God in the revelation of what it looks like when God’s kingdom rules.  God did not create us as robots who would have everything worked out in advance according to what He wanted, and for that all of us should be profoundly humbled and grateful.  It becomes our responsibility to demonstrate life in the kingdom of God wherever we go and with whomever we relate.

Admittedly, there seems to be many areas where we would like to see God’s kingdom be more clearly manifested and yet it has not yet come to pass.  For many of us, we have accepted the fact that we live in a tension between the kingdom of Heaven being “ already … but not yet”.  We live within those dots … but sometimes we’re able to bring Kingdom rule into a situation and see it visibly or knowingly manifested right before our eyes.  On other occasions, we may seek such a demonstration, but have not been able to see things happen as we had believed or prayed it would.

Two things, in conclusion.  First, we must never allow the fact that we don’t quite yet have unlimited access to the kingdom of God in every circumstance as an excuse to not pray for that kingdom life to be manifest in every opportunity that we are given.  The lack of answers to prayer or the apparent lack of demonstration of God’s rule is not an excuse to disregard our responsibility to partner with the Holy Spirit in seeing those manifestations.  We need to continue to pray for people to be healed, for relationships to be restored, for truth to be known.

Second, we must begin to learn to accept and even embrace the mystery of this dynamic tension.  It’s actually in these times that we are privileged to be growing in our relationship with God and our trust in His sovereign hand directing and fulfilling His will and purposes.

If the kingdom of God was fully realized, we would have no doubt about truth telling and or motivations in something as significant as selecting an individual to serve on our court.  (in fact, when God’s kingdom is fully present, there won’t be any need for courts because we’ll all be in the presence of the Judge of all the universe!)

In the meantime, it is our responsibility to pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven” in general terms throughout our daily journey and then to act on those prayers when specifically led to call forth God’s rule over an individual, a family, a group, a church or even a nation.  It’s what it means to partner with God and to be a co-laborer in His mission of redeeming the earth for His glory.

Blessings!

Pastor Jay

Evidence of the Kingdom

9.19.18 Leave a comment

In our world with the informational overload that bombards us every hour of the day, every day of  the week, it is not difficult to sometimes feel overwhelmed by our calling to live for Christ in this present day culture.

One of the ways that I have found to be most important for me to remain focused and Spirit-led is by remembering the simple things that are the essence of God’s will in my life.

One of those are the words of the simple prayer that Jesus gave to His disciples as a pattern whereby they might truly learn to pray.

“Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.  Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  Matthew 6:9-11

Let’s pause right there for now.

Two of the absolutely invaluable ways to know if I have set my spiritual compass in the direction God has for me on any particular day is to thoughtfully and reflectively pray these few verses.

We begin with the reaffirmation of our identity as a child of God when we say “Our Father who art in heaven.”

One of the most powerful issues that I recognize as under attack in our culture is the foundation of our true identity.  In our society people strive to be known by their heritage, national or racial distinctives, abilities and achievements, titles and status symbols, etc., etc.  (By the way, when all those things get thrown into the blender, which is known as ‘social media’, this creates a conundrum for people who are trying to identify something of substance.)

It doesn’t help things that the almost universal accessibility of media compounds this issue by elevating almost every inane or even destructive comment into some sort of ‘viral event’ that rarely warrants our attention. Rather than spend any time dismantling the shallowness of all of these pursuits of false identity, I find great substance and even reassurance to know that I can call our sovereign God and Creator “my Father” and to know that His rule is firmly established in His presence in heaven.

We then go on to pray that His name be hallowed, or worshiped, which is another whole teaching worthy of a series of messages.  Suffice it to say that worship is what enables us to access the presence of God here on earth as we will one day know it in it’s fullness when we are in heaven.  What an awesome thought!

The second principle that guides our lives day by day is found in the next expression of the Lord’s prayer:

“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

Let there be no doubt that the mission that Jesus gave to every one of His followers was the summons to “bring the kingdom of God from heaven here to earth in the way that we live our lives.”

There are many implications of this, but let me just touch on one for today.  In the past few weeks I have shared experiences with a number of people that have caused some times of confusion, heartache and perhaps even some tears and doubt.  I have lived long enough to know that I do not have easy answers to life’s more complicated issues.  No one should be foolish enough to believe that there is a simple answer to every one of life’s complicated questions.

However, the mandate that we’ve been given is that what has been taken from us here on the earth, the wholeness, the peace, the wellness, the blessing and even the plan of God should be restored back to the earth because that’s the prayer that Jesus taught!  It is not God’s will that we simply accept confusion, heartache, sickness and oppression.  No, in fact, the evidence that God is present is that those things are eventually removed and displaced by the glory of God’s kingdom.

It is true that we don’t necessarily see immediate response to every one of our prayers; but the kingdom of God is sometimes brought in by force (see Matthew 13) but in the end, it is the presence of God’s peace, wholeness, freedom and love that assure us that we are about the business of God in our daily lives.

These are not simply vague generalities, but very specific qualities that can be measured within the lives and circumstances of every day people.

What’s even more important is that I believe the battle for the evidence of the presence of God is reaching new levels that engage every one of us to find our spiritual cutting edge.

We’ll endeavor to do more of that in the weeks ahead.

Blessings,
Pastor Jay

 

 

“It’s Not a Formula…”

9.07.18 2 Comments

Hardly a day goes by without my having a conversation with someone who has been “waiting on the Lord” for some sort of answer to prayer, guidance or provision.

Just the recognition that others who we may perceive as being even more spiritual than we are (really?!), seems to immediately help us to accept our circumstance as something other than God’s neglect.

It is truly fascinating to see how quickly we move from expressive praise and thanksgiving to the Lord who answers our prayer, all the way to the other side of the spectrum where we literally begin to doubt if God is listening at all.

Recently, I’ve been reading a book about King David, one of the most prominent figures in all of the Bible.  It’s a bit strange that David is well known for his many achievements (defeating Goliath and breaking the bondage of fear to the Philistines, his great skill as a poet and musician, as well as his rather overwhelming skill as a warrior for Israel).  When we see that long list of accomplishments, it’s hard to imagine that this is the same man who sinned so dramatically.  He was an adulterer, a murderer, a mercenary and not a good role model for a father.

None-the-less, he is described in scripture as “a man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22) and as the most influential king in the history of Israel.

What is rarely understood about David were the long periods of time between the moments God made a declaration or promise over his life to when they came to pass (such as when Samuel anointed him to be the next king of Israel in 1 Samuel 16:12 to when he literally took the throne many, many years later).

What we do in those seasons of waiting for God to act on His promises is very revealing.  When we begin to perceive God’s promises to us, whether in scripture or through a messenger from the Lord, as “rights,” we are in danger.  We begin to believe that such things are owed to us by God or our “right” that we have been granted.  This attitude actually seems to delay the fulfillment of the promise even more.  I know many sincere believers who have mistaken the promises of God for something that is “owed” to them by God.  When good hearted people begin to claim promises and even demand that they be released by God, they are overlooking one very important dimension.  Everything that we receive and are given by God  did not come to pass because of some formula that God established, rather all such answers and provisions are more about our relationship with the sovereign God who does work all things together for our good. (Romans 8:28)

I feel encouraged today to speak specifically to those of you who might be in a position of waiting on God to fulfill a promise that you believe he made alive to your heart many weeks, months or even years ago.  For whatever reason, the fulfillment of that promise is yet to happen.  (I can relate to those kinds of circumstances when speaking about healing for my lower back condition and the significant limitations it places on my life.)

However, my responsibility in this time is to continue to worship and praise the Lord for being my friend, my ever present help in time of need and the one who, because of His character, “will never fail me nor forsake me.” (Hebrews 13:5)

It is that very posture that enables some people to actually grow more in love with God and more confident of His presence in their lives than those who seem to find answers to prayer around every corner on the journey of life.

Remember that even the Lord Jesus did not see the fulfillment of His request to be spared the suffering and death of the crucifixion; but as a result, purchased eternal freedom for all who put their trust in Jesus and what He did for us.

The bottom line is to understand that if God is saying “not yet” to one of His promises, that’s because something far more significant and satisfying is being worked out in the hidden places of His eternal kingdom.  Ours is not a faith of formulas, it is a faith of relationships.

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

Life’s Greatest Mystery

8.29.18 4 Comments

Just about three weeks ago I found myself lamenting the loss of one of my college fraternity brothers who passed on after a rather lengthy battle with cancer.  The friend with whom I was talking was also in the same fraternity and was undoubtedly one of my closest relationships during those four very formational years in my journey toward maturity.

We commented back and forth about how difficult it must be for people to face the inevitable end of life if the question of their eternal destiny has not been settled; or if there are more questions than there are answers.  We both agreed that we should have been a bit more supportive of our friend when we had the opportunity to do so.

So imagine my shock when I received a phone call last Thursday evening with the news that my dear college friend with whom I had just been chatting about life and death matters suffered a heart attack and died in his sleep without any warning whatsoever.

With the first fraternity brother, I felt a sense of sadness and also a measure of responsibility to engage others who are willing to understand the essence of the gospel, the good news of what Jesus promised for us if we simply acknowledge our need for Him and desire to  really know Him.

With my close friend’s passing, it’s been a combination of reflecting on the wonderful times together and yet a deep sense that there is so much more for us to discover in the love of Christ.

The great hope of the gospel message is that the necessary transition from this life to the next takes us through this “tunnel of uncertainty” where all we can do is to draw close and trust in The One who has gone before us knowing that the scripture is true that “if we die with Him, we shall surely live with Him.” (Romans 6:5)  Although my friend Dave lived hundreds of miles away I know he was living a very full and productive life after an exceptional business career and more important, a faithful commitment in marriage for nearly 50 years and a family of  children and a number of grandchildren here and on the way.

One of the “strange ironies” of our friendship in these last few years has been that Dave was a regular visitor to this very space.  He would often send me an email response to one of my blogs and on occasion he would either ask a follow up question or suggest an alternative interpretation of the things that were shared.  I really liked that quality about Dave.  He was hungry to know more about God’s will and purpose for his life, but not willing to simply accept everything that came down the highway without carefully examining it against the backdrop of his own personal faith and his very relational approach to life.

It’s not an exaggeration for me to say that I’ve known few people in my life who were as engaging, caring and just plain fun to be with as Dave.  During his college years he was never bound by Greek symbols of fraternity life nor by economic or any other superficial characteristic of other individuals.

However, I also knew Dave to be someone that was not afraid to nudge me a little bit when he felt I was not reaching my maximum potential in my studies, sports or other pursuits that were unique to those days.

I witnessed Dave’s faith growing rather dramatically as he and his incredibly lovely wife, Debbie, faced an aggressive battle with cancer in which they have prevailed by the grace of God.  In some way that I don’t fully understand, I think the conversations that Dave and Debbie had to have regarding life’s eternal questions during Debbie’s illness prepared him (and her) for this unexpected and, in my view, premature end to this chapter in his life.  Both Dave and Debbie were able to speak freely about how to die well and in anticipation of what God has for us on the other side.

So Carol and I will be traveling this week to visit with the family, attend a memorial service where hundreds of others will join together to celebrate the life of a very positive, encouraging and loving human being, Mr. David H. Stovall.  Best of all, we will celebrate his memorial service knowing that our next reunion will not be at our 50 year graduating class get together next May, but somewhere in God’s unspeakably glorious eternal dwellings.  See you later, my friend.

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

Seeing the Significance

8.23.18 Leave a comment

One of the most common short comings that cause many of us to stumble in our spiritual journey is to miss the significance of certain events in our lives.  In an age when we are bombarded with so many reports from so many different sources, we sometimes fail to register when an event in our lives is meant to reveal something of God’s will, plan and purpose for us.

There’s a story that appears in all four gospel accounts of Jesus feeding the 5,000.  (It’s fair to say that when something was noted by all four authors of the gospels, you might want to take special note!)

In Mark’s version Jesus has been teaching a large crowd of people for quite some time in what is described as a “solitary place.” (Mark 16:32)  When it comes time to release the crowd, the disciples note that the people have not eaten and that they really needed to get on their way (vs. 36).   Instead, Jesus answered them “You give them something to eat.”  As most of us remember, the disciples found a little boy with 5 loaves of bread and two fish and they brought this tiny pittance of a resource into the presence of Jesus for the crowd of 5,000 men, plus women and children, all of whom are hungry and ready to eat!

In Mark’s account, Jesus simply gives thanks to heaven and then begins to break the loaves and starts to pile them into the baskets for the disciples to distribute.  In what must have been a truly incomprehensible miracle, the disciples baskets never ran out of loaves and fish until everyone is fed (vs. 42) and 12 baskets full of bread and fish are picked up (vs. 4).

What occurs next is the prime message on my heart today.  Verse 45 of Mark 6 says that:

“Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida while He dismissed the crowd.  After leaving them, He went up on a mountainside to pray.

When evening came, the boat was in the middle of the lake and he was alone on land.  He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them.”

We now have a small boat populated by 12 exhausted disciples who are “straining at the oars” and not making enough progress to cross the lake to the other side.  Mark recounts that this was true, in part, “because the wind was against them.”  Mark 6:48

Are there times in your spiritual journey that you feel like you’ve been obedient to the Lord and despite pouring yourself out in service or in obedience to the directive of the Lord, you are “straining at the oars” of life and in fact there seems to be something holding you back (“the wind was against them”)?

It is not uncommon for me to feel that when I’m doing something in response to what the Lord has directed, I feel things should go smoothly because this is what He, in fact, wanted me to do.  When He allows things like other circumstances to begin to make my obedience difficult, if not impossible, I begin to question whether or not I heard Him correctly and perhaps even worse, whether or not He cares about my situation.

It’s in those very moments, however, when we need to recognize the significance of what we have been experiencing in the Lord.  Remember that just a few hours earlier the disciples had seen an amazing, inexplicable miracle of God’s provision for their lives.  Now, here they are facing some obstacles in the next part of their journey, wondering why it is so difficult.

You may remember that in this story just a little later on, Jesus begins to walk on the lake and soon overtakes the disciples and is about to pass them (vs. 48b).  When the disciples cried out in fear, Jesus said to them, “Take courage!  It is I.  Don’t be afraid.”

Note that as soon as Jesus climbed into the boat, the wind died down.  It goes on to say

“They were completely amazed, because they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.”

Some careful  reflection on these words of scripture reveal the all too common experience of not fully recognizing the significance of God’s seminal moments in our lives.  When the Lord has answered prayer, when God has given favor or demonstrated His intervention in other areas of our life, we do very well to take note of such moments and to mark them as beacons of faith for all that life may still throw at you.

Rather than understanding the feeding of the 5,000 simply in terms of the physical miracle, the scripture says that their “hearts were hardened” which means that they did not understand the spiritual significance of what  Jesus had done.

What Jesus wanted them to know was not that He was just the giver of bread, but He, Himself, was The bread of life.  He wanted them to recognize that His presence was sufficient for them to overcome any circumstance that may be an obstacle to the fulfillment of His purposes for them.

I must confess that far too often I move on from one request to another in my spiritual journey without simply reflecting on what God has been doing in my life and in the posture of a believing heart, trust Him to take care of whatever it is that I’m facing now.

The disciples were “completely amazed” because Jesus presence in their boat caused the opposing wind to die down.  Note that that was not described as a lack of understanding, but rather, a hardness of the heart.  And so it is with everything that has to do with our experience of faith.  If our hearts are hardened, that is, closed off toward the possibility of what God wants to do, experiences will come and go.  What we need to do is to ponder and even reflect on what each experience is meant to teach us about who God is and what He is willing to do on our behalf.

It’s difficult for me to fault the disciples in all of this because they were already weary and had been in need of rest for some time.  I know just how hard it is to be spiritually open and sensitive when I am physically maxed out and exhausted.

However, those are often times the very moments when God will reveal Himself most powerfully because we know we don’t have it in us to do so.  These are the moments of great spiritual significance that can shape us, not just in the circumstance, but for the rest of our lives.

Throughout every day, ask the Holy Spirit to help you to “see the significance’ of what God is doing in your life and you are much more likely to build upon the experiences and even the miracles of God’s presence and provision in your every day, extraordinary life!

Blessings,
Pastor Jay

When the Answer is “No”

8.16.18 Leave a comment

There’s little question that everyone of us face situations from time to time where we believe that God is leading us in a certain way but when we move in that direction, the doors close, and it seems that we must have missed the leading of God.

Over the past number of months I’ve been involved in a specific situation where no matter what steps I took to bring what I thought was God’s desired outcome, at the end of every process the answer seemed to be “no.”

These can be very difficult moments, especially when we believe that what we’re seeking to do would honor God and also serve to promote the health of the church and the growth of the gospel.

However, these same kinds of trials have to do with personal challenges.  Recall when Paul was afflicted with the thorn in the flesh in 2 Corinthians 12 and despite three impassioned pleas that the Lord would remove the thorn, His answer each time was “no.”

What is your personal “thorn” that you believe God would want to remove so that you might be more effective for Him, or more fulfilled in what you’re doing, or more fruitful as a follower of Christ?

What we too easily fail to see when we hear those “nos” from the Lord is that God has something else, in fact something better for us on the other side of His “no.”  For Paul’s thorn in the flesh it was the fact that His grace was sufficient and that something more life-changing and powerful than the removal of the thorn would be experienced by Paul’s awareness of God’s empowering grace.

In a wonderful story in Acts 16 we see Paul on a mission to visit churches that had been established in his previous missionary journey and for some inexplicable reason Acts 16:6 says that “they were kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia.  And when they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.”

As a consequence of those two apparent “nos” Paul ended up in the city of Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of the district of Macedonia (Acts 16:12).

What Paul could not have known is that the “no” from the Lord about his desire to preach in Asia and Bithynia, resulted in him bringing the gospel to the first city in the Western World.  If we want to think about it in these terms, perhaps we are sharing these truths today because Paul did not give up when God said “no” but knew that God had something better if he simply obeyed.

When we experience a “no” from God about our plans, it’s because God has a greater purpose for us when He says yes!

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

 

Prepared for the Spontaneous

8.09.18 Leave a comment

One of the more frequent conversations that I have with sincere believers, and especially those who are seeking to serve God on a day to day basis is around the issue of ‘how do I initiate those connections’?

Although I’m very much a proponent of living life on purpose and planning our daily lives in order to fulfill our calling and destiny, I’m also very much aware that the Lord has “spontaneous connections”  nearly every single dayfor which I’m to be prepared.

One does not need to go out and knock on doors or stop people in public places and share the gospel with them in order to have meaningful ministry  moments.  In fact, if anything, those approaches generally create as much confusion as they do revelation.

Rather, I find that if I pray every morning for God to keep me alert to those people that He’s bringing across my path that hardly a day goes by without some opportunity to make a significant contribution into the life of another person.  (This is not a comment about any of my gifts or abilities, but it is a recognition that the Lord desires to use His people in their everyday, here and there, in and out lifestyles.)

In just the past few days I have had three such encounters.  I received an email from a friend in another church who was having some serious difficulties in fulfilling their personal ministry role and wondered if I would be available to pray with them while they’re trying to sort out some things.  What was born out of that exchange was an opportunity to pray but much more than than, to bring God’s word to light and to allow life giving ministry from the Spirit to be shared with that good friend and a number of her colleagues.

Just today I had another such encounter.  I stopped to see a person that I visit on a monthly basis and knew within a minute of simply chatting that something very upsetting had taken place.  As time went on I discovered that another employee had left the organization last week and done so in a way that was somewhat confusing and disappointing.  This had caused a considerable amount of heartache for my friend and opened the door for me to share some of the more personal and hopeful scriptures that promise God’s presence in a time of difficulty and division.  Later in the day when I forwarded on some of these resources I received a very sincere word of appreciation and felt a personal sense of blessing that the Lord had heard my prayer for today and allowed me to be used in this very simple and non-dramatic fashion.

One final exchange took place when the Lord had me meet a young man who was representing a service company that was offering a new level of insect and pest control.  As we talked about the service the company provided we also talked a bit about how he was in this job and it wasn’t long before it became clear that he was a believer that was preparing for his final year of college before heading into the ministry.  It wasn’t a difficult transition to talk about my journey from college through the Marine Corps and ultimately into full time ministry and I could see that the common experiences that we’d had in our college years provided great encouragement for him to believe that the Lord would lead his steps as he moved forward.

So what I’m saying in these three simple vignettes from my own life is that I believe that every day God brings people across our path who need either a listening ear or a sensitive word of encouragement from the Lord.  It may be more profound than that but in my experience that’s where profound things begin… with just a willingness to be used by God in every situation.

Being prepared for the spontaneous is simply a matter of sensitivity.  When you don’t make every conversation about yourself and you’re listening to what the Lord is saying, He will use you in ways that are meaningful to others and a great blessing to you.  It’s part of being a Kingdom person!

Blessings,
Pastor Jay

P.S.   If you have a recent illustration of being used by the Lord in response to a prompting of His Spirit, I would very much enjoy reading about it..!