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

Recalculating the Target

5.03.17 Leave a comment

For most of us, we live our natural lives, our physical lives, with the general knowledge that our “best years” are  somewhere north of the middle of our existence.  Perhaps you have seen it as the time after your children have left home and started their own life journeys, but you’re healthy enough and financially stable enough to do a number of things that you were unable to do in your “intense responsibility” stage.  (To be clear, for some people this season may not occur until their 60’s because of unexpected challenges and the difficulties of life.)

It’s not my intent to discuss the natural or physical life, but rather what we would define as our “primary target” for our spiritual lives? I can’t ever recall having a conversation with an adult who believes they hit their spiritual peak in their late 40’s or early 50’s.  Rather, many people with whom I’ve had this conversation say that they anticipate that their later years will be the most spiritually fruitful and rewarding.  The reason they give for this conviction is that they feel they’ll have more time, energy and opportunity to invest in the things of the Kingdom of God rather than the simple sustenance of the natural life.

However, now that I’ve had the privilege of journeying through those highly anticipated later years, I would have to say that I don’t see a greater level of spiritual intensity or focus in that age range as I might have hoped.  Life gets complicated, health issues seem to occur more frequently than we had hoped, and then there’s the issue of caring for parents who are going through very difficult and often prolonged health struggles that may be life and death related.

This has led me to reconsider with renewed openness Paul’s exhortation to the Colossians when he says:

“Since, then, you’ve been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”  Colossians 3:1-2

There’s not too much about these couple of verses that is difficult to understand.  Paul uses simple language to exhort the believers in the church of Colossae to set their hearts and minds on the things that are “above” … and “not on earthly things.”  The implications of these straight-forward exhortations are significant.  It’s fair to say that a reasonable interpretation is that the target of our best energies in life, no matter what our age might be, should always be on Christ and the things that are above!  There’s absolutely no room in Paul’s theology to say that we would do well to focus on this life now and set our “spiritual target” for when we might have more free time in our 50’s and 60’s.  Have you ever met anyone that believed that they had reached the pinnacle of their spiritual transformation when they were in their 30’s or 40’s?  I doubt it.  Instead, most people believe they’re more likely to hit that pinnacle a little later in life.

I’m still praying my way through this, but I see two clear applications of this that apply to all of us.

First, no matter where we are in the continuum of life, our hearts and minds should be set on Christ and the eternal agenda that He has established for us.  The message paraphrase puts it this way:

“So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it.  Pursue the things over which Christ presides.  Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you.  Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ – that’s where the action is.  See things from His perspective.”

This may sound very unrealistic to someone who is starting a new business or is trying to manage a growing household of young children, etc., etc., but Paul doesn’t allow room for any of these things to displace the priority of keeping our eyes on Christ and the things that are above.  (In point of fact, we could argue that when we do put those things first, all the other matters which we believe are so important seem to fall into place.  See Matthew 6:33 – “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you.”)

Second, our spiritual formation target is no longer the prime of our lives or the empty nest years that we so eagerly anticipate.  I would argue that the pinnacle of our spiritual formation should be right up to the very day before we cross the threshold from this life to the next.

I can’t find a single reason why our spiritual growth and formation should not continue to progress every single day until we depart from this earth.  That is what I would call a wonderful plan for our lives and, if accomplished, a life well lived.  Such a life, a good life, will inevitably lead to what Dallas Willard calls “a good death.”  That is, the transition from this life to the next is not marked by fear, dread and uncertainty; but rather, by a holy anticipation of something for which your heart and mind have longed for over many years.

I invite you to join with me and recalculate your spiritual target.

Blessings,
Pastor Jay

 

The Allure of Transformation

4.26.17 Leave a comment

If there’s one observation that I believe most all of us would affirm it is that change does not come easily for any of us.  Candidly, I’m speaking about all kinds of change from what we eat to how we sleep, how we respond under pressure to how we spend our free time.

When we choose to focus this rather universal acknowledgement on our spiritual lives, I believe that the challenge compounds itself because there is not that much clear teaching on the subject, nor sadly, many others with whom we might relate that could serve as role models.

Rarely do I have a conversation in these days where this topic of “spiritual transformation” or “continued spiritual growth” does not become part of the exchange.

For those of us who have been true recipients of the amazing grace of God that forgives our sins and brings us into personal relationship with God the Father through Christ the Son, you are likely to know exactly what I’m talking about.  For those of you who aren’t that far in your spiritual journey, this will still make sense to you because even if you’re not spiritually convinced, you are aware of the need for the power to change in some area of your life.

For many years it’s fair to say that I was lazy about pursuing my understanding about what exactly did happen when someone passed out of this life into the next one.  It’s only on very rare occasions that we hear a message about this topic other than at a funeral or memorial service.  Consequently, most of us have heard enough about the amazing grace of God that forgives our sins and “washes us white as snow” that we believe that following our last breath in these physical, earthly, bodies, we awaken in the presence of Christ in the glorious heaven whose description defies our imagination, let alone our ability to describe it.

“No eye has seen,

no ear has heard,

nor no mind has conceived

what God has prepared for those who love Him.”  I Corinthians 2:9

We’re not sure how this works but the majority of us believe that the full work of Christ in our lives will come to it’s complete and indescribable perfection the moment that we open our eyes in heaven.

The Apostle Paul seems to hint in this direction when he says, “Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in this body we are away from the Lord.”

However, the danger in this sort of “God takes care of it all in the end” belief is what USC philosophy professor and highly acclaimed Christian author Dallas Willard calls the “cosmic car-wash” conviction.  In other words, we don’t know exactly how it works, but the moment we die we are scrubbed clean and made perfect and then somehow assigned our place in the heavenly realms forever and ever.

It doesn’t take a lot of deep thinking to see that this position might offer a very reasonable excuse not to worry much about your spiritual growth because God’s going to take care of everything at the end, no matter what you have or have not done.  That’s not to say that people willfully sin and believe that God will forgive it all.  “By no means” the Apostle Paul warns of this sort of behavior.  Romans 6:1-2

Just these few thoughts along with many others that I’ve contemplated over the past few weeks has unlocked a place of significant need for greater understanding while at the same time infusing my life with fresh hope that there is incredible purposefulness for all of us, no matter where we are in our spiritual journey in this present life.

Over the next few postings, I want to open our minds to think of the possibility that spiritual formation continues following our last day on this earth even though we may be correctly understanding that we are in heaven!

In other words, even though we have been made perfect by the cleansing power of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins, we are not yet complete in our transformation and that what we do in the years that we have left on this earth may significantly impact what happens to us when we enter the next, and let’s be clear, eternal season of our lives.

This is not a hidden message about the possibility of purgatory or some place where we somehow work our way into a better status.  It does have to do with the possibility that the Lord continues His work in transforming us, as bringing about the change that we have found so difficult and challenging in this life, to it’s full completion as God has always intended for it to be.

My hope is that you will find these thoughts intriguing enough to nudge yourself into a little deeper study on spiritual formation and perhaps even more specifically, what happens to us in the next realm and what can we do to prepare for heaven in a way that has amazing consequences both in this life and the next.

Let’s begin by being thankful that in this matter of transformation and our heavenly existence, God is “no respecter of persons” and that anyone who hungers to be more like Christ will find the grace to do so.

Blessings in Jesus,

Pastor Jay

“It Ends In Zero”

4.19.17 Leave a comment

Just a few days ago, I was finishing a bike ride in North Park and entered into a brief conversation with a pastor friend that I’ve known for quite some time.  When he asked me if anything “big” was going on in my life, I had to mention the fact that in just a few days I will be celebrating a big birthday.  He responded back, “Is it one that ends in zero?”  At that, we both shared a hearty laugh recognizing that he was about to have a similar birthday, just a decade earlier than mine.  I wasn’t sure if I would even bring up the occasion of this birthday, but as I think about it, it seems to be one of those seminal moments that is worth at least some comment.

When I’ve been asked how I feel about turning 70, I’m reminded of something that Julia Roberts recently said in an interview when she turned 50.  Her response to the question was “Well, considering the alternative, I guess it’s not too bad.”

This led me to considerable reflection about “the alternative” and what one thinks about as you know that your life (as are all earthly lives) is finite, limited.  I may disappoint some of my friends with this statement, but it is certainly honest to say that I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about “the alternative,” that is, my life in heaven with God.  Like so many others that I know, I’ve embraced the idea that none of us really knows what happens after we die, but if we have had the incredible gift of forgiveness of sins by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, then we understand heaven to be a place of eternal fulfillment, awe and majesty.

However, more recently, I’ve been given reason to consider the reality of my perception of heaven and what my life on this earth has to do with that experience.  To make this more relevant, as I contemplate the next season of my life, what should be my priority given the fact that my formal responsibilities will be more limited and thus my personal time, more accessible?

One of the disciplines of the past season of my life was to understand the process of spiritual formation more deeply and to ask the questions of how it is that we continue to change, grow and become more Christ-like throughout our lives.  This has been a rewarding study as I’ve come to realize that there’s much more for all of us to understand and embrace about continued spiritual growth than we may have previously understood.

Most recently, I’ve been challenged by the thoughts of one of the giants of spiritual formation of my lifetime, Dallas Willard, who shared his thoughts with theologian and professor Gary Black in a wonderful book called “Preparing for Heaven.”  In these pages, I’ve found that many of the unanswerable questions that all of us ask about life after death and what heaven is like and so on, have been given a significantly different interpretation.

What if how we lived our lives as believers in Christ determined what heaven would be like for us immediately after we died?  I know that the picture that we are most often given is that the moment that we die, we are immediately transported into the presence of Christ and everything is changed into this unspeakably glorious “eternal life” which far exceeds anything that we could even think or imagine. (I Corinthians 2:10)

But what if spiritual formation is something that happens in this life and simply continues when we pass from this body into our eternal one?  Clearly there are some things that will be immediate and everlasting such as our awareness of being with God (as Jesus specifically said to the thief crucified next to Him).  However, the Apostle Paul gave ample room for transformation to continue to take place until “the end of the age” when all things would be made new and the eternal body that we will be given will reach it’s final state. (1 Corinthians 15)

There’s way too much in all of this to try to do justice to it in one simple blog post.   What needs to be underscored is that I’m entering into this next decade not feeling like I’ve accomplished all that needs to happen in my life; but rather eagerly anticipating the process of spiritual formation focusing on my own character and the significant work of godliness and Christ-likeness that needs to continue to develop in my life if I’m to more fully “be like Jesus.”

What makes all this so intriguing to me is that I know that in this season I’ve been blessed with the incredible gift of a loving and supportive family that continues to uphold me despite their awareness of my shortcomings.  This is also true of my dear friends and colleagues in the ministry that have maintained friendship for four decades or more while working closely together.

This kind of love is the ideal environment in which spiritual formation can be pursued.  Without a context of forgiveness, love and acceptance, the steps of spiritual formation can seem self-centered or perhaps even selfish unless they are understood as a means whereby we can be changed to love others the way that Christ loves us.

What’s most exciting about all this is that there’s no time table or deadlines on this process.  By the grace of God, this can continue to happen until such time that the Lord sees fit to continue the work in the place that He has prepared for me, and you.  (John 14:3)

I look forward to continuing the journey to be more like Jesus… along with all of you.

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

Easter… the End of Fear!

4.12.17 Leave a comment

Back in the early days of the first century church, the Apostle Paul faced skepticism and doubt about the reality of the resurrection in many of the areas where he was establishing churches.  None-the-less, Paul never backed down one inch from the indisputable and absolutely essential fact of the resurrection of Jesus.

“If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.  And if Christ hasn’t been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”  I Corinthians 15:13&14

A few verses later Paul goes on to say,

“If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.”  I Corinthians 15:19

Over the past year I’ve had a couple of occasions to be with people who  were facing the reality that their physical bodies were failing.  As the inevitability of this reality became increasingly apparent, there was a choice to be made between fear and faith.  In fact, it really isn’t a choice if you have no basis for your faith.  Fear begins to dominate your thinking as you recognize you are helpless to do anything to prevent the end of the only life you have known.

But the message that I bring in everyone of those situations is not one of choosing faith, it’s one of accepting love.  I will often read 1 John 4:7-18.  In these verses the essential nature  or character of God is declared to be love. “God is love.  Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.”  (1 John 4:16b)  This moves the focus of one’s failures, shortcomings, doubts and even sins over to the reality that God’s love is greater than all of those.  When people stop striving to be good enough to be accepted by God, they begin to get a taste for the depths of His incredible love which was most clearly demonstrated on the cross, but validated by the resurrection.

That is why John declares in 1 John 4:18, “There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.”

And so, what every one of us can choose to celebrate this Easter is the end of the control of fear in our lives.  Yes, we are all guilty of sin, and we all know it.  We are all deserving of punishment and we know that as well.  However, on the cross Jesus paid the penalty for every single sin of  humankind and most important to you and me is that he paid for every one of our sins.  Therefore, punishment has been fully paid and is the reason why the cross is so profound for every person to contemplate.

However, if it has all ended there, then we would have no way of knowing if the wrath of God against sin; the punishment of God against our failures, had been satisfied.  That’s where Easter, that’s where the resurrection becomes the eternal declaration of the plan of God fulfilled for every one of us.

The resurrection of Jesus, the glorious reality that He overcame death was a visible and tangible way that mankind could know that the Father had accepted the Son’s sacrifice and that death was no longer a punishment that we needed to bear.  Jesus paid the price and God the Father accepted His sacrifice declaring the Son’s victory with a glorious resurrection and 40 days of appearances and interactions with His followers throughout Jerusalem and surrounding areas.

So it is that we can say that Easter spells the end of the control of fear in our lives.  The reason why the Number One commandment of scripture is “Do not fear” is because fear’s ultimate weapon, the fear of death, and eternal separation from God, has been forever silenced by the cross and resurrection should provide the peace that we need to face any circumstance that life may bring our way with the confidence that the “same power that raised Jesus from the dead dwells in our mortal bodies.”  (Romans 8:11)

The application of this is profound, not just for those that may be facing the reality of end of life decisions.  It is also the secret of living a day-to-day victorious life over the efforts of our adversary to keep us under the lies and deception of fear.

Back to Paul’s exhortation to the church at Corinth, he writes,

“Where, O death is your victory?  Where, O death is your sting?  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is law.  But thanks be to God!  He gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  (I Corinthians 15:55-57)

Indeed, Easter… is the end of fear!

Blessings,
Pastor Jay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why the Cross?

4.06.17 Leave a comment

Last evening in our weekly home group, we spent a time in worship around the powerful and profound song by Michael W. Smith: “Above All.”  Written more than 10 years ago, this chorus continues as one of the most beloved and popular pieces in churches everywhere, especially in the Easter season.  (*see below) “Above All”

Last evening, one line jumped out at me that I had not seen in this light before.  The chorus says “Crucified, laid behind a stone, You lived to die, rejected and alone.”  The phrase “You lived to die” caused  me to think back more than 20 years ago when I first came to terms with the fact that the whole meaning of the birth and incarnation of Jesus is the cross.  Jesus became flesh in order that we might be redeemed from sin.  That was the purpose in His coming.  It was not so that He could demonstrate His power over nature or His ability to rule the earth in some demonstration of divinity.

We see a hint of this kind of sacrificial motivation when we recognize the heroism of our first responders who often go into a deadly situation in order to rescue those who may be trapped inside.  They realize that their purpose for being is to be willing to die in order to save others.

What Jesus did, however, so transcends our human illustration that we can barely understand it.  Scripture says that, “He became sin” so that you and I might inherit eternal life.

In a seemingly paradoxical way, the cross reveals the nature of God, the gateway whereby any person can enter into union with God.

What I pray we allow to penetrate into our conscious thought in this Easter season is just how great the heart of God truly is that He would “live to die.”  The only reason that you and I can hope for forgiveness, communion with God and the promise of eternal life is because  He was willing to leave the glory of heaven, to take on our flesh, and to die for our sin.

Before we ever begin to celebrate the resurrection, we must embrace the profound transaction of the cross.

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

* P.S.  The video accompanying the link to “Above All” contains graphic scenes from “The Passion of The Christ.”  If you find that too disturbing, just listen to the music.

Discerning God’s Will

3.30.17 Leave a comment

Not long ago, a brother in Christ that I’ve known for probably 20 years, approached me with a pretty simple request.  He was facing a decision of consequence in his life and wanted to know if I’d be willing to meet with him to discuss the matter.

When he asked me the question of my willingness, he urged me to take some time to pray about it and not feel any pressure.  However, in the same moments that he asked me the question about sitting down and talking about whatever this impending decision was, I knew right away that it was something that I should and could do for my friend.

Even though I immediately responded affirmatively, he implored me to pray about it and be sure and then get back to him just to confirm that it was what God wanted me to do.

To be sure, there are many times in our spiritual journey where we can’t say with absolute conviction that we should or should not do something.  In those times, we are very wise to not make a hurried decision based simply on circumstance or previous history.

However, there are times when we can almost “over-spiritualize” basic decisions.

In one of my favorite stories that demonstrates the compassion of Christ for hurting people I’m drawn to Matthew 8:5-13 which is subtitled “the Faith of the Centurion.”  In that circumstance, a Roman soldier, a man with authority over 100 other men, came to Jesus in the town of Capernaum and asked of Jesus “Lord, he said, my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering.”  (Matt. 8:6 NIV)  Notice Jesus response which was not preceded by any deliberation, intercession or fasting.  Jesus immediately says,

“I will go and heal him.”  (Matt 8:7)

What was the source of the confidence that Jesus had that this was a request that He was supposed to fulfill without even having to pray about it?  In fact, in view of His other responses when He would place the well being of the Jewish people before those who were non-Jews.  How could He be so certain to make this instantaneous and strong assertion:  “I will go and heal him.”

The answer lies in the intimacy of His relationship with His Heavenly father.  Jesus simply knew what the Father wanted Him to do so that His “natural” responses were always in alignment with the will of God.  This is what is meant when Jesus says in other references “I and the Father are one.”  (John 10:30)

And so it is with our relationship with Jesus.  The closer and more intimate that relationship, the less time we need to seek His face concerning decisions that we make.  Oswald Chambers, my favorite devotional writer, says it this way.

“When you’re rightly related to God, it is a life of freedom and liberty and delight, you are God’s will, and all your common sense decisions are His will for you unless He checks.”

So, even though I knew it was God’s will for me to meet with my friend concerning this decision, in order to honor his wishes I waited a couple days and still had complete peace about meeting.  I did tell my friend that that’s all the time I needed to know that that’s what God wanted me to do, but once he gave me the details of his decision, that’s when I may not be as confident about knowing God’s will and would therefore need some additional time to pray, read scripture and just wait on the Lord.

I love the freedom that God intends for us to enjoy.  The very possibility that my “natural decisions” would be aligned with what God would want is an incredible, mind boggling, privilege.  It is something that I never seek to use in any way that would appear to inflate my importance; rather it’s something that I have come to understand after more than 40 years of walking with Him.

In contrast to that, I’m also involved with another person that I don’t know that well and they’re personal circumstance is extremely serious.  Although I certainly know what I want to see the Lord do to bring healing to this individual, I can’t say that I have the confidence of certainty that it is God’s will to heal this person in this moment.  Therefore, my open prayers, with this person and others who may be in the room at the same time, is always  a very honest acknowledgement that I believe the Lord wants this person healed, but I don’t claim to have the certainty of faith that knows it’s going to happen in the way that I, and many others, would like to see it take place.  My posture there is to continue to seek the Lord on behalf of this person.  I am praying daily to know what the Father wants me to do in light of the seriousness of the situation with this friend.

What I have come to discover about these kinds of prayers is that they aren’t so much about getting God to do something; rather these kinds of prayers are so that I may get to know God better and as a consequence be able to speak His will with His authority into every situation.  I am certainly not at that level, but I continue to ask God to take me to that place so that I might be a much more effective servant of His kingdom and a much more intimate friend of God who knows His will without even struggling to discern it.

Blessings!

Pastor Jay

 

 

Preparation For Life

3.21.17 Leave a comment

Over the past couple of days and, to a lesser degree, the past several weeks, I’ve been listening to the confirmation hearings for Judge Neil Gorsuch who has been nominated by President Trump to fill the seat vacated when Judge Anthonin Scalia passed away rather unexpectedly over a year ago.  He died 13 months ago.

Just listening to the detailed answers to rather complex questions, one of the qualities that Mr. Gorsuch that is unmistakable has been his willingness to learn from other judges that have preceded him about the constitutional role and ideological posture that should characterize a Supreme Court Justice (and, therefore, anyone who sits in the position of applying the rule of law in a constitutional democracy).

One of the things that I noted early in this exhaustive interviewing process is that Judge Gorsuch greatly valued men and women who have preceded him in this position of serving on the highest level of legal authority in our democracy.

In other words, it’s not simply his stellar academic qualifications, or his ten years of hearing appeals  cases from the District 10 circuit, it’s learning from the character, convictions and values that should define a person who is being considered for this life-long appointment.

Though I know very little about the training process for those in such rarefied judicial air, it’s very clear to me that Judge Gorsuch understood and embraced the idea of mentorship.

This is a term that gets used quite frequently by Christian leaders when they are seeking to explain how they learned or were trained to serve in their capacity as a pastor or spiritual leader of any kind.

However, it’s not often that I hear of Christian leaders who can quickly and decisively indicate that they have had influential mentors in their life who have helped to shape them in terms of their personal character, leadership in ministry and perhaps most important, their daily relationship with Jesus.

The efficacy of such relationships is significant because it is always helpful to know someone at a personal level who has walked a similar pathway of faith and obedience and has proven him or herself to be very capable, if not truly exceptional.

It’s not my intent in this post to review some of my important mentors, but I do reflect back over the past 50+ years and realize that the influence of these mentors was literally life changing for me.  Everyone learns differently, but I think it’s fair to say that most everyone learns more quickly when they have a specific individual who can comment on their perception of various situations and circumstances that they’re “mentee” might be facing.

The Apostle Paul makes this principle abundantly clear when he says in 1 Corinthians 11:1 “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ.”  In this straightforward expression, it is important to note that Paul recognized that he might, perhaps, make inappropriate choices along the way, though it would not be appropriate to simply say “follow me” the way Jesus said it without any other qualification.  Why was Jesus able to say that?

The answer to that should be apparent to most of us:  Jesus was fully God and fully man and therefore every decision that He made, every action that He took, and every word that He spoke was appropriate and worth emulating because He alone was  God in the flesh.

My word of encouragement to all of us today is to take some time to reflect on where you are right now in your spiritual journey and whether of not you have a person or persons that you consider to be your “mentors.”  If that reflection brings you to the conclusion that there really isn’t anybody that you could identify as a mentor right now, I would strongly urge you to begin to pray and ask God to lead you to someone who would be willing to fulfill that role in your life for a set amount of time.  Please keep in mind that not everyone that you might consider to be your mentor will have the capacity to make that commitment to you.  Realistically, a true mentoring relationship takes time and almost every highly respected person likely has his or her own set of duties and obligations that may limit them from committing time to you even though they may desire to do so.  (If you need more help in thoughtfully understanding this process, I can recommend John Maxwell’s book “Mentoring 101,” and more recently published “With” by Alvin Reid and George Robinson.)

Two thoughts in closing.  First, if you’re a mature and experienced follower of Christ, you may still desire to continue to grow through a mentoring relationship (see the example of John Ortberg and his recently deceased mentor Dallas Willard) but, you may find that your  own spiritual growth is most affected by making yourself available to someone who approaches you with humility and a hunger for spiritual growth.   Second, if you are a younger person it’s absolutely incumbent upon you to consider this often referenced but rarely enacted discipline that could literally shape your life in arguably the most profound of ways.  In other words, don’t let your current level of “urgency” keep you from what may turn out to be the most important investment you could make.   If Judge Neil Gorsuch gets through these grueling days of answering questions and receives an appointment to the United States Supreme Court, you’ll know that he assumes that position  in some degree, even to a large part, because of his understanding of the importance of mentoring.

Blessings!

Pastor Jay