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..!

Unexpected Inspiration

8.03.18 Leave a comment

In our journey of faith, rarely a day goes by that each one of us doesn’t need some sort of encouragement to help us maintain our spiritual momentum and Kingdom focus.

It’s not an overstatement to acknowledge that the enormous benefits and blessings of living in a free, open and abundantly blessed nation is an indescribable gift for every one of us.

(It’s not to say that there aren’t many other wonderful and even desirable nations in the world, but who can argue against the premise that this nation has been blessed by God in unimaginable ways that are admired and desired by countless millions around the planet.)

That being said, if you’re at all like me, every day seems to confront us with another type of challenge.  In fact, if there are no challenges or risks in your life; if every day is just simply another opportunity to indulge yourself, then you’re not living anywhere near your God-appointed destiny.  Make no mistake that God does have a plan for your life and the experience of that plan will require some measure of risk taking, sacrifice and surrender to put you in a position to receive the grace of God that’s appropriate for reaching your potential.

To that end, we are all greatly helped by finding others on this same faith journey who serve as models or examples to us.  If time and space allowed, I could share detailed descriptions of different individuals who have served to model a godly life and thereby influenced me to move forward in directions and opportunities that I would have completely missed otherwise.

The Apostle Paul is pretty candid about this.  He says to the church in Corinth in his epistle to those same Corinthians in chapter 11:1

“Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”

By any account, that is a very bold statement!  I don’t know many people who feel confident enough about their spiritual mettle to extend such an open invitation.  On the contrary, I would expect that a number of us would be concerned that there would be parts of our lives we would not want people to see let alone model in their own lives.

Perhaps one of the most overlooked and yet inspiring illustrations of Paul’s example of Christ honoring obedience occurs in the opening chapter of his epistle to the Philippians.

Philippians is knownn as the “epistle of joy” because of the number of times that Paul mentions joy and rejoicing in these four short chapters.  One would surmise that Paul was joyful because he’s now nearing the end of his earthly ministry and is probably enjoying the fruits of his years of labor and the many blessings that come with such a great resume’ as he had, let alone his personal and intimate relationship with Jesus.  Surely Paul was on an island somewhere enjoying his retirement years!

In fact, the circumstances could not be more radically different for the beloved apostle.  And yes, he is nearing the end of his ministry and yes, he has had enormous influence and a great number of followers; but he’s not on an island somewhere enjoying a peaceful life of ease.  Rather, he finds himself in the bowels of a Roman prison, widely understood as one of the more foul and miserable places to which anyone might be confined.  However, Paul was not just in a lonely jail cell; he was chained to a Roman guard so he did not even have the dignity of being able to eat, sleep or take care of himself with any privacy.

One would think that in such a desperate situation that Paul might be laboring with God and trying to understand what he had done to deserve being left in such circumstances.  One would understand if Paul was feeling abandoned by God and forgotten despite all that he had accomplished in his many years of service.

However, it’s very significant to recognize that in the midst of such deplorable circumstances and personal suffering and persecution, Paul cannot stop rejoicing!  In fact, Paul begins the letter by extolling his love for believers in Philippi and says “I always prays with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now…”  And then on and on he goes.

And in the next post I want to elaborate on some of the specific and very powerful examples Paul gives us in just the first chapter of this book.

For today, however, I want to close with a bit of a challenge for all of you who might be reading this particular post.  Would you take some time to simply take note of and acknowledge in specific the details of your current circumstances and what you find most challenging, most difficult, and perhaps most contrary to what you had hoped God would do in your life.

See it’s vitally important to be clear about the context of Paul’s clear and profound exhortations and the only way this will be of significant influence to you as it’s been to me is to be open and candid with yourself about the condition you are in.  It is very easy to generalize and sometimes even deny the details of your circumstances.  Some of us have been taught that even acknowledging that we are hurting is a sign of weakness or lack of faith.

However, the opposite is true.  It is only when we are willing to look at our lives as they really are that we can begin to allow the powerful and penetrating light of the hope of the gospel to invade our circumstance.

When you do take these moments, why not write down a brief summary of what you want to present to the Lord and then see how He may speak to you about those things as  we study the example of Paul and his incredible mature and inspiring life of faith.

Get ready to be really blessed!

Walking with you in real life…

Pastor Jay

The Waiting Years

7.26.18 Leave a comment

One of the most common experiences of every sincere person who is seeking to walk faithfully with the Lord is the seemingly universal experience of having to go through a season of “waiting” for the Lord to bring something to pass.

One of the more frequent and somewhat naïve observations that people share with me when they visit North Way Christian Community in Wexford for the first time is something like this: “God really blessed this church by giving you this piece of property right in the middle of all this development.  You’re surrounded with people, businesses and a genuine neighborhood feel”.

When time allows, I like to pull out a photograph of the property that we purchased in 1992 and which became the permanent home of North Way Christian Community when we completed our first major building in 1994.  To the surprise and sometimes astonishment of just about everyone, all they see in this aerial photograph is about thirteen acres of relatively cleared and seemingly flat land that had been the location of the Wexford Starlight Drive-in Theater.  There are no town homes, apartments or condominiums around that piece of ground; there are no businesses, banks or institutions of any kind anywhere near the piece of property.  There is no road behind the piece of land and, in fact, the jersey barrier on Route 19, does not even have an opening to turn into the piece of property that we had purchased.

Then, if given the opportunity, I’m able to share that this ideal location was a gigantic leap of faith by the leaders and congregation of North Way in 1992.  No one had foreseen, let alone predicted, that such an enormous amount of development would take place all around our little piece of ground.  In fact, it’s fair to say that because of North Way’s substantial investment and our physical presence in that neighborhood, many other businesses, residences and institutions (such as the Allegheny Health Network facility) all began to see the potential for this relatively small parcel of land in north Wexford.

But I also try to share with honest humility and detail is just how difficult it was to wait on the Lord to open the door to that piece of property.  Numerous times in our regular corporate prayer meetings and even more so in my private times of personal prayer, I believed that the Lord had clearly directed us to expect that He was going to provide a “home base” for our church in the Wexford area.  For a number of those years, many of us thought it was going to be in the original restaurant building that we rented from 1981-85 and then purchased and occupied from 1985-93.  For a number of years we tried to make that property work and also pursued the acquisition of surrounding parcels in order to add on to our building and expand parking in such a way as to make room for the growing number of people that were being led by the Lord to North Way.  And even though I had personally made 10 or more visits to the Starlight Drive in Theater property in the previous years, nothing looked like it was ever going to become available in that area, and especially that flat and very desirable piece of ground right on Route 19.

A lesson that applies to most all of us has something to do with when God seems to speak something that resonates deeply in your heart. You really believe the Lord has spoken a promise to you and you know that something significant is going to happen.  But then, as months and then eventually years go by, and nothing happens, we often begin to question whether or not we heard from God.  That’s when a thorough study of scripture reveals that almost every significant breakthrough from God goes through a time of difficult waiting before it comes to pass.  Abraham waited for decades to have his first naturally born son.  Moses waited for forty years in the desert before God called him out.  King David waited for well over twenty years before the prophecy of Samuel that he would become King of Israel would come to pass.  We could go on and on in the redemptive history of God’s people, both high profile and very hidden but great servants of our King!

So, the message that I hope to leave you with today is that if you find yourself in the middle of a time of waiting, rather than choosing to question God’s voice, choose to reaffirm the promise that you believe and in fact know in your heart that God gave to you.  What God normally does not give you is a timetable as to when that promise will come to pass.  However, for those who wait in a posture of faith and thankfulness, the Lord never disappoints as His presence becomes the down payment of His promise and eventually becomes more important than the promise itself.

Blessings to all of us who are waiting!

Pastor Jay

P.S. I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the one person that has taught me more about ‘waiting patiently’ than anyone else on the planet; my partner and friend for 48 years as of July 25th. You may know her as ‘Carol’…. a name I only use when my list of more affectionate appellations aren’t appropriate. Thank you for living patiently!!

The Power of God’s Promise

7.20.18 Leave a comment

One of the great needs of our day is for every one of us to recognize the God given promises that He has made alive in our spirit, whether through scripture, prayer or some specific act of ministry.

It’s one thing to say that the idea of the gospel of the kingdom of God is all about the promise of the reign of God in our lives which will rule for all of eternity.  However, it’s a much different thing to recognize that this same incredible power works to change our lives in the here and now of our daily existence.  This is exactly why we need to read God’s word and allow His promises to come alive in our hearts.

The specific promises of God bring a pathway for hope to arise in our hearts.  When circumstances seem to be robbing us of the love, joy and peace that we so desire in life, the promises of God serve as reminders that the Lord is in control of all of these things and that He will not allow any such difficulty to keep us from our assigned purpose and destiny in this life, as well as the life to come!

In 1 Samuel 15:23, the prophet Samuel is lamenting for King Saul and the fact that he has “sinned and violated the Lord’s command and been rejected as King by the Lord.”  But in the midst of his mourning for Saul, the Lord speaks to Samuel and tells him to go to the house of Jesse as one of his sons is going to be anointed to be the next king of Israel.

It’s a very dramatic way in which Samuel leaves no doubt that David was to be the king and that his anointing would confirm that promise.   Jesse had seven sons that passed before Samuel, but the Lord had not chosen any of them despite their appearance and experience.  When the youngest of Jesse sons, David, was brought forth, the Lord immediately said to Samuel “rise and anoint him; he is the one.”

It’s hard to imagine that as a teenage boy David could even begin to fully fathom what God was saying about his life and his place as a leader of the nation of Israel.  He continued on in his shepherding duties and then not long after this moment with Samuel he find himself on the battlefield facing the defiant and imposing giant Goliath, who seemed capable of single handedly paralyzing the army of Israel.

Though there is no direct reference to it, is it not likely that David is aware of the manifest destiny that is on his life according the prophet Samuel and therefore, though all he knows is how to protect sheep using his hands and a sling shot, the hand of God is with him and he will bring defeat and death to this enemy to God’s people.

The promise of God is the source of hope and the soil of faith is hope believed.

We all know how this amazing story unfolds in 1 Samuel 17 and how David’s undeniable and dramatic victory causes Saul great jealousy rather than great joy.  The young David goes on for quite some time, some years in fact, refusing to reject the Lord’s anointed king and choosing, rather, to have the Lord fulfill his promise in his time and in his way.

There’s a great lesson in that for all of us.  When we receive the promise of God and when hope begins to rise in our hearts we do well to wait on the Lord to bring His promise to fulfillment. On more than one occasion in my journey I’ve been tempted to “help the Lord move ahead with His plans for me as He has promised” when in fact He really doesn’t need or desire my help at all!

Our responsibility is to take the time to hear from God and lay hold of His promises for specific moments and situations in our lives.  As these promises come alive, hope will begin to take shape in our heart and out of the soil of that hope faith will grow so that in God’s perfect timing He will bring to pass the fulfillment of His promise in our life.  This should bring us great joy and anticipation no matter what obstacles we might face.  The fertile soil of our hope today is the birthplace of the faith that receives the blessing tomorrow!

Be encouraged!

Pastor Jay

A Grandfather’s Gift

7.12.18 Leave a comment

Last evening was one of those rare and unforgettable times when two generations shared a mutual interest and fascination together.

My closer friends know that I’ve enjoyed just about all things “automobile” for the last 55 years!  My grandfather sold cars near the end of his working career, and my dad restored 11 relatively rare and unusual cars from the mid-twentieth century, one of which I still proudly drive in the summer months.  (A 1946 Plymouth convertible, Special Edition)

Now, my 13 year old grandson Jack has locked into the world of high performance cars, most especially the “supercars” that are speckled throughout our city and around the nation and even the world.  (These are exotic cars built by Ferrari, McLaren, Lamborghini, Porsche, BMW, Ford, Chevrolet and Dodge that have captured the world’s attention.  Many of them have taken race track technology down to the street level and built cars that we could not have imagined even one generation ago in terms of speed, power, handling, and technology.)

So, it made perfect sense that last evening we would go together to the mid-way point of the week of festivities known as the Pittsburgh Vintage Gran Prix.  This event that was started in 1988 has a charity fund raiser for children and families with autistic challenges has raised over $5,000,000 for this worthy cause in the last 30 years.  It culminates with a highly anticipated street race through Schenley Park, made up primarily of vintage older cars that are specially prepared for such an event.

Last evenings event was held at the parking area closest to Heinz Field and approximately 200 showcase cars were parked along Art Rooney Avenue and up on the walkways near one of the main entrances to the field.  There were close to 200 showcase cars and well over 3,000 people in attendance.

What really mattered for Jack and me was that we had nearly 3 hours to closely examine some of the most exotic, rare and beautiful cars ever made that are still driving the streets of our city today!  Many of the owners of these vehicles were more than happy to tell some of their stories and how they had preserved or restored older cars or acquired a newer one through some personal set of circumstances.  It certainly made the evening more enjoyable that the weather was nearly perfect at 80 degrees with warm sunshine and a gentle breeze.  As in most of these events, the patrons were all pleasant and a very few, if any, were personally “over their limit” or acting inconsiderately.

What I realized about half way through the evening was that these are the kind of special connections that grandfathers can have with their grandchildren because they have a bit more time and show an interest in what their young guy or gal seems to care about.  Jack and I talked the whole time and on more than one occasion made some wild speculations as to how he might one day have a vehicle like one of these to bring to the show!

It was an added blessing to be able to see a number of friends who share this same interest with me and introduce them to Jack as the “next generation of car guys”!

(I’ll confess that I’m a little better at these things as my grandchildren move into their teenage years. Carol seems to do much better with them as babies, little ones and early learners.  She has that gift!)

The only thing that I noted last night was that I don’t remember seeing any other teenagers in or around the entire show.  I’m sure some were there, but very few, and it made me appreciate even more the special bond that the Lord is allowing me to share with a couple of my grandsons… and 7 more younger ones (boys and girls) that are still climbing toward their teenage years.

Jack and I are finishing up our study of “Seven Men: and the Secret of Their Greatness” by Eric Metaxes.  Undoubtedly the content of that book is much more profound than the story of any automobile.  However, the study of those more important things seems to go even more smoothly when balanced by an experience like last night which was just something special that I don’t think we’ll ever forget.

Parents and grandparents, I commend you and urge you to continue to make any investment in those young lives for as long as you can.

Blessings,
Pastor Jay

How Faith Grows

7.06.18 Leave a comment

Just last weekend, I had the opportunity to learn something new about the operation of faith in our lives.

Following one of the North Way worship services at one of our campuses, a brother in the Lord that I have known for many years asked if he could have a few words with me.  We stepped apart from some of the crowd and he shared that he had a medical condition that was troubling to him and that his family doctor had recommended he see a specialist the following day.

There was no doubt in my mind that I was to pray for him for healing as I believe that is something that the Lord expects of his disciples when given the opportunity.

“You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.”  Acts 10:38

What was particularly intriguing to me about this request was that this brother and friend has been involved in praying for healing for hundreds of people over the past years of his spiritual journey.  It’s just something that he does, not in an official capacity, but as a follower of Jesus who is convinced that the power of God is available to those who seek Him no matter what their level of faith.

When I mentioned to my friend that he had seen the Lord do numerous miracles through the years, undeniable demonstrations of the Lord’s intervention in people’s lives and particularly in matters of physical healing, he shared something to the effect that ‘that’s why I believe the Lord is going to take care of whatever this particular problem might be.’

What I began to sense at that moment was that this brother in the Lord had simply been learning to walk in obedience and faith through many years of trial and error.  However, as a result of not giving in to his fears or the lack of success at every turn, his faith had grown and he was facing this situation with expectation and not fear.  Witnessing miracles always puts people in position to receive even more from the Lord.  The entire New Testament seems to confirm this fact.  The process seems to be clear… people increase in their belief because of miracles.

As we moved in to prayer I simply asked the Lord that not only would He heal this physical affliction, but that the doctors would even say that there’s really nothing there to be concerned about!

We prayed together and left that time trusting that the Lord would hear us.

About 24 hours later I was so blessed to receive the report, but not surprised, that the doctor gave a perfectly clear and logical explanation as to what this nondescript protrusion was all about and that it was of no consequence.

My heart was so thankful because the potential for something much more serious and difficult was certainly there.  However, the experience and simple faith of my friend and our confidence in God’s willingness to heal overruled the fear and brought us to a place of faith where we could literally pray for the answer that we specifically heard the doctor affirm!

Faith grows because we have the willingness to see God at work.  Jesus said in John 4:48 that “unless you people see signs and wonders, you simply will not believe.”  My normal interpretation of that passage has been that people would be defiant unless they were given proof.  I wonder if Jesus meant that “signs and wonders” are necessary to enable us to believe in faith for the miracles that we need to see.

Faith grows as we see miracles before us.  The  only way that we see those miracles is to continually ask the Lord for them.

What a great blessing to share in one simple expression of the faithfulness of God in matters of our physical and spiritual needs.

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

When We’re Feeling Alone

7.03.18 Leave a comment

Probably the most famous and dramatic of Israel’s prophets was the great Elijah.  Some of the highlights of his amazing ministry are captured in 1 Kings 17-19.

One of the striking things about Elijah’s prophetic ministry is that it’s expressed in huge and very sweeping events such as the prediction of the beginning and end of the three year drought as well as his dramatic encounter with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:16-40).

However, for some it’s the very personal miracle of Elijah and the widow at Zarephath in 1 Kings 17:7-24 that also reveals the uniqueness of Elijah’s ministry.  In that particular story Elijah is cared for by a widow and her son who are on the verge of death because of the drought and when asked to feed Elijah their last bit of flour and oil, they quietly obeyed and God fulfilled His promise that “the jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord gives rain in the land.”  (1 Kings 17:14)

What seems to come through these juxtaposed stories is that moments of significance and even great breakthrough are not the norm of every day living.  Rather, they are often the result of many days or even months of waiting on the Lord in relative obscurity and quiet until His timing is complete.

In many conversations that I have with friends who are walking by faith, in their honest moments they’ll share that they are in a time of “waiting on the Lord,” and that they are feeling somewhat isolated and even forgotten.  (If we’re honest with ourselves, there’s not one of us who are exempt from such feelings.  We may be in a “holding pattern” where we’re seeking to commune with God on a daily basis, but answers to prayer concerning significant issues related to loved ones, our mission or ministry in life or even our own needs seem to go without any clear direction or answer.

The encouragement that I drew from reading these few chapters of Elijah’s life came when I was reminded of his encounter with the Lord where, following a time of loneliness and even depression caused by the threats of Jezebel, Elijah went out to hear the Lord and nothing seemed to happen.  The Lord was not speaking in the earthquake that tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks, nor in the wind that roared through the land, nor in the fire that followed the earthquake.  No, the Lord was not speaking through any of these but rather through the “gentle whisper” after all of the dramatic events subsided.

I wonder if we approached our “quiet times” with the anticipation that the Lord desired to speak to us in those moments as much as or even more than He might in moments of great power, we may all see these times of “waiting” as being life-giving rather than long delays in our journey of faith.

In the end, it was Elijah’s close personal relationship with God that helped him carry the day and prevail over the elements, the false prophets and the wicked rulers because God was with him and he knew it.

Dear friend, God is with you, even though it may not feel like it and circumstances may not seem to reveal it.  His promise is His word and His assurance is the presence of His Holy Spirit in your life.

With these two realities as a daily experience that we can share intimately with God we would all be much more likely to live joyfully and peacefully knowing that God is at work even though we may not be permitted to see just how things will take place.

Remember to keep sowing seeds of faith during those more quiet times.  God is at work and He will reward your faithfulness just as He did Elijah the prophet.

Blessings!

Pastor Jay

P.S.  We’ll continue on the topic of healing in the next post later this week.

The Mystery of Healing

6.27.18 Leave a comment

Without question, one of the most difficult concepts to understand let alone apply in our lives, is that of the healing power of God.

In recent worship service at my home church, North Way Christian Community (Wexford Campus), our worship pastor led us through a very brief but powerful encounter with the Lord as  response to our corporate praise and worship.  (He used the reference of Psalm 22:3 which says “But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel,” (KJV) or in any other translations “Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.”

In other words, when God’s people wholeheartedly (even spontaneously) lift up their praise to God, the Lord promises to ‘inhabit’ or ‘to be enthroned’ in those moments!

Another very clear reference to the possibility of supernatural healing as related to a provision of Jesus dying on the cross is found in Isaiah 53:4-5

“Surely He took up our infirmities

and carried our sorrows,

yet we consider Him stricken by God,

smitten by Him, and afflicted.

But He was pierced for our transgressions,

He was crushed for our iniquities;

the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him,

and by His wounds we are healed.”

This same scripture is referenced by Peter in his epistle when he writes:

“He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” 1 Peter 2:24

One of the most common experiences of everyone we know is that they will, from time to time, confront sickness or disease in their physical bodies.  For some people, this is a battle that they wage for months and even years, while others only do so periodically and sometimes even rarely.

When I’m teaching on this topic or just asked to pray by someone who is struggling with sickness there seems to be a widespread lack of clarity about divine healing and how we can access this provision that seems to be directly referenced in scripture and certainly demonstrated in the ministry of Jesus in the gospels.

In plain English, I’ll often get asked the question “Why doesn’t God heal me?”  Another version of this is, “Why does God seem to heal some and not others?”  And yet another version is “Why did God allow me to be afflicted with this disease or sickness?”

There’s only one primary point I want to make in today’s blog.  Christian theologians and students of the Bible have disagreed for centuries about whether or not God heals today.  Many believe that the miraculous powers  of Jesus to heal our fleshly bodies left this earth when Jesus was resurrected. I want to be straightforward about my response to the position that healing ended when Jesus ascended back into heaven following His resurrection.  There are so many scriptures that clearly state that healing is available to us in the form of a spiritual gift (1 Corinthians 12:9) and specifically attributed to those in the office of “elders of the church,”  which ends by saying “and the prayer offered in faith, will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up.”  (James 5:14-15)

Many believers hold the position that on the cross  Jesus took all of our sins and sicknesses and that because of His atoning sacrifice, we can be free from all sin and sickness.

However, there are two things that are evident in every one of our lives.  Despite the fact that we believe Jesus died for our sins and that we are forgiven of our sins, we find that even though we may not want to, we still sin; we still fail to walk in obedience to the Lord or perhaps even willfully engage in something that we know is not what God wants for us.  Likewise, even though we may believe that Jesus died for our sicknesses, there are times that despite our best efforts and everything we might do to stay healthy, sickness can overtake us and cause considerable suffering and sorrow.

I’m making a point here that is fundamental to understanding the mystery of healing.  Because almost everyone who has come into a relationship with God the Father through His Son Jesus, believes that our sins have been forgiven; and yet, we still fall into the trap of sin from time to time.  Likewise, many of us believe that physical healing was provided for our bodies through what Jesus did for us on the cross, and yet we still find ourselves afflicted by sickness or disease.

The resolution of this may not be fully satisfying if you’re going through a struggle with sickness right now, but if you lay hold of it I think you will discover that there is great hopefulness in this promise.  The penalty for our sin has been paid, the price of our healing has been paid, and yet we do not continually experience the fullness of these two provisions in this earthly body.

We all believe that when the Kingdom of God is fully revealed, all sin, sickness and even death will be eliminated from our experience!  However, up until that time, we will battle these two enemies because it is part of the fallen world in which we live.  When Adam and Eve first sinned in Genesis, they opened the door to sin and sickness being an ongoing reality in this world.  However, when Jesus gave His life for us and suffered innocently on the cross, He made a provision for the power of God over sin and sickness that can be fully experienced when we are ultimately in His presence for all of eternity!

In essence, what we need to understand is that we are living in this temporary condition, when the Kingdom of Heaven is already here, (Matthew 4:17) but not yet in it’s total fullness.  When that day comes, the power of sin and sickness will be banished from our existence forever.

Consequently, our posture during this time of still living in this fallen world is to trust the promises of God for our forgiveness and our healing, and to always pray for the manifestation of both of those in our daily lives.  As our faith grows stronger through communion with God in prayer, worship, the Word, and fellowship we will increasingly experience the fulfillment of these promises in tangible ways.

Because I do not see people healed every time I pray for them in no way diminishes the promise of God’s Word and the testimony of the scriptures and of untold numbers of current day believers who have experienced the joy of having sins forgiven and the full manifestation of healing here and now. When we pray for one another for healing, sometimes God will act immediately and other times we will just be setting into motion the healing process.  Continuing to trust the Lord from when we pray our prayer to when the prayer is answered is the time that we demonstrate our faith in who Jesus was and what His Word declares very clearly that He accomplished for us.

There will always be an element of mystery around this matter of healing, but it in no way diminishes the truth of the promise that “By His wounds we are healed.”  1 Peter 2:25

We’ll look more at this topic in our next post.

Trusting with you,

Pastor Jay

 

Take Courage! – Part 2 (Unmasking Our Enemy)

6.21.18 Leave a comment

In my recent post of two days ago, we discovered that the most often command of scripture, the one repeated more than any other, is “Do not fear.”

Many of us might have thought that the face of our enemy, or the mask that the enemy wears, is one of evil or some sort of characature of the evil one as described in scripture.  (Keep in mind that even the Bible says that oftentimes “Satan appears as an angel of light’ which means that we would not recognize him as the evil being that he truly is.)

No, our enemy is fear, the opposite of faith and the most debilitating posture that can overwhelm any of us.  Fear can cripple us because we lose sight of God’s path and what He’s leading us to do..  Fear may come as an apparent revelation or some new information that calls into question the foundation of faith upon which we have been building our lives or our destiny.

Fear has so many other expressions that we could get bogged down in simply trying to identify them.  Suffice it to say that fear can blind us because it shrouds the goodness and glory of God in our lives.  Fear confuses us because it allows things that wee have known and trusted as being truth in our lives as perhaps seeming to be unattainable.

In the story that we were studying in Matthew chapter 14, vs. 22-33 we discover one of the most powerful teachings on how to overcome fear in all the Bible.  We ended our study on verse 27 where Jesus said to the disciples:  “Take courage!  It is I.  Do not be afraid.”

What follows that is generally seen as one of the most courageous and exemplary acts of faith that any of the disciples manifested during Jesus’ time on the earth.  It is when Peter replies to Jesus and says,

‘Lord, if it is you, tell me to come to you on the water.’  Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.  But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ (verse 28-30)

So much has been made of the fact that Peter alone was brave enough to put his faith on the line and take a step out of the boat in the midst of the storm in response to Jesus’ invitation to “come.” (verse 29) Indeed, it was an amazing and courageous act; but one that also would be understandable given Peter’s inclination to be the most outspoken and even daring of the disciples.

However, Peter’s courage began to crumble as he saw the wind (and the waves) and fear, our greatest enemy, began to overwhelm him..   At that moment, as Peter was slipping into the water (How in the world did that happen!?) he cried out and said “Lord, save me!”

The response of Jesus is powerful.  “Immediately Jesus reached out His hand and caught him. ‘You of little faith,’ He said, ‘Why do you doubt!'”

Much has been made about why Peter was courageous enough to step out but not strong enough to continue to walk with Jesus.  However, there’s one other very important fact that I believe is relevant to most all of us who may not immediately identify with the courage of Peter.

In verse 32 scripture reveals that “When they climbed in the boat, the wind died down.”  Please note that friends.  The miracle of Jesus as told in this version of the story is that He calmed the storm without even speaking to it.  Consequently, we can make an accurate application of this by saying that there are times in our lives when the storms may be raging and the difficulty surrounding us, but all we need to know is that Jesus is nearby and though we may not have the faith to go to Him, He has the love to come to us and in so doing He will bring His peace into any circumstance that we face.

Sometimes the greatest antidote to fear in our lives is the awareness of the presence of Jesus and the certainty that knows that with His presence comes His peace which is sufficient to address any issue, any struggle, any doubt, any inadequacy or struggle that we face.

Our greatest enemy may be fear, but our greatest strength is that Jesus promises to never fail us or forsake us; in fact, He’s ready to climb right into our situation in life and bring forth His peace.

Blessings,
Pastor Jay

 

Take Courage!

6.19.18 Leave a comment

If I were to pose a question to each of you, it would be simply this:  What is behind the most significant opposition or struggle that you face in your life today?

It may be that your life is full of opportunity and responsibility and you don’t think much about opposition or difficulty.  However, the more personal you become, the more aware you will be of what it is that you fear.

Let’s be clear that when we use the term fear, we’re not talking about the kind of emotional reaction that we have to scary circumstances.  Rather, we’re talking about the possibility that what we most need, what we hope for or dream about and perhaps what we want most out of life will not come to pass.

It should not surprise us that the number one command of scripture, the one that’s repeated more than any other, is simply this:  Do not fear.  We would think that it would be something that seems more spiritual like serve more, pray more, give more,  or even love more.

However, the Holy Spirit, the author of scripture, goes right to the heart of what keeps us from such things and that is simply fear.  It is a fear born not so much of our inability as much as it is our lack of revelation of who God truly is and perhaps even more important,  what He thinks of each of us.

In one of the most beloved stories in the gospels we see the disciples attempting to cross the Sea of Galilee in a boat as Jesus had commanded them.  Jesus sent them off and went up to the mountain to pray it says in Matthew 14:23, and though the boat made some progress, it was “buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.” (verse 24)

“During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake.  When the disciples saw Him walking on the lake, they were terrified.  ‘It’s a ghost,’ they said, and cried out in fear.

But Jesus said to them: ‘Take courage!  It is I.  Do not be afraid.'” (verse 27)

Many interpretations of this story have been expressed by Bible teachers and scholars over the years.

One analogy that seems to fit in my life is I see the boat as representative of my life’s journey in obedience to God across the ‘lake of life’ to a destination that represents His highest purpose and destiny for me.

But like so many others I find that crossing this lake is a challenge that taxes all of my resources.  There are many times when I feel the ‘wind and waves are against me.’

What is so instructive about this portion of the story is that when Jesus moves toward the boat walking on the disturbed waves of the lake, it is fear that prevents the disciples from embracing Him.  The very presence of God which is coming to them to provide strength and help to cross over the lake is rebuffed by the power of fear.

It is no surprise that Jesus directly speaks of that and says ‘Take courage!  It is I.  Do not be afraid.’ (verse 27)

For today’s reflection, spend a few moments asking the Lord where fear has possibly resisted the intervention of God in your life circumstances.  Think about where by virtue of difficulties that you can’t overcome, circumstances that don’t seem to change or opposition that seems too strong to overcome fear has halted your progress in the purposes of God.

Keep in mind that our first inclination is not to see this as fear but as discernment or perhaps even a willingness to accept something different than what you believe God had told you.

In our next study we’ll look at two responses to the presence of God and how both of them address this issue of fear.  For today, take heart simply in the words of Him who will never fail you or forsake you.  “Take courage!  It is I.  Do not be afraid.”

Blessings,
Pastor Jay