Fresh Air

12.07.18 Leave a comment

In what has been a rather remarkable week, the airwaves of our nation have silenced their incessant criticism and negativity to honor the life and legacy of our 41st President.  In what I would call a rather remarkable testament to his life, men and women from all over the political spectrum, as well as other nationalities and other spiritual backgrounds, have all united to commend this gentle, humble and authentic man.

President Bush was asked about 10 years ago to talk about the greatest challenge he ever faced in life and how he overcame it.  I want to quote his handwritten letter in response to this question as I believe it holds some significant wisdom for any who would read it with an open heart.  As a man who openly professed his faith in Jesus Christ, I believe President George H. W. Bush would attribute this wisdom to the God in whom he believe.

“I cannot single out the one greatest challenge in my life.  I’ve had a lot of challenges and my advice to young people might be as follows:

  1. Don’t get down when your life takes a bad turn. Out of adversity comes challenges and often success.
  2. Don’t blame others for your setbacks.
  3. When things go well, always give credit to others.
  4. Don’t talk all the time.  Listen to your friends and mentors and learn from them.
  5. Don’t brag about yourself.  Let others point out your virtues, your strong points.
  6. Give someone else a hand.  When a friend is hurting, show that friend that you care.
  7. Nobody likes an overbearing big shot.
  8. As you succeed be kind to people.  thank those who help you along the way.
  9. Don’t be afraid to shed a tear when your heart is broken because a friend is hurting.
  10. Say your prayers!!

George Bush”

Although these may not be the most profound insights that have been acknowledged this week, I think they have been the most practical and widely applicable to us all.  Repeatedly, when friends of the president were asked about his most outstanding qualities, humility, kindness and generosity were almost always referred to as the most remarkable qualities of his life.

I encourage you to reflect on this list of 10 insights into successful living.  In fact, as we begin to focus our minds and hearts on a new year, why not think about making 2 or 3 of these your primary “character objectives” for the new year?

Indeed, George H.W. Bush was courageous, patriotic, sacrificial, intelligent, athletic, devoted to his family, respected by national and world leaders and yet… he would be the first to say that the source of all of these qualities, of all of these strengths, of all of this wisdom, was the love and grace of his Savior, the Lord Jesus.

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

Getting it Right at Christmas

11.30.18 Leave a comment

For most of us, one of the most common challenges of the Christmas season is figuring out what particular gift to give that special someone in your life who has most everything they need and wouldn’t reveal it if they had something they desired!  Nonetheless, we don’t hesitate to ask other family members what they think that ‘special someone’ would like to receive at Christmas.

I’d like to submit to you that there is something incredibly more important that we would do well to learn to articulate at Christmas time.  As you know, this season presents more opportunities to talk openly about our faith than any other time of the year.  (Easter time is a close second but because of the widespread commercialization of Christmas, many more people are aware of what it is that we  celebrate at Christmas).

Most of us have gotten beyond the smoke screen kinds of distractions such as ‘Santa is just another way to spell Satan…’.  It’s never a bad idea to explain that the original idea of giving gifts at Christmas time began with the story of the Wise Men who sought out the Lord Jesus (see Matthew 2:1-12).  It’s still an extremely powerful story, the impact of which we seem to celebrate without fail every Christmas season.

The one thing that we would do well to have very clear in our minds in order to be prepared to address common ‘Christmas heresy’ is this: in a recent survey of American Evangelical Christians (notice, this is not just about unchurched or unredeemed people), an astounding 73% of the people surveyed responded ‘strongly agree’ to the statement “Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God”.  At first glance, this may seem like a simple detail or perhaps a splitting of a ‘theological hair’, but nothing is further from the truth.  Even though this heresy was called out by the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD as being unacceptable, it reveals that many people have a distorted image of who God is.  They somehow still think of God not as a perfect, if mysterious, tripartite being of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,  but rather as a heavenly father figure, who brought a son into this fallen world that he might redeem those who believe in him, and then an even much more confused description of the Holy Spirit.

One of the reasons why a clear understanding of the true nature of the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit as co-equal members of the Godhead, is that it affirms in no uncertain terms that the being whose birth we celebrate at Christmas is in fact, and literally, God Himself!  To describe Jesus as “the first and greatest being created by God” is to immediately diminish his divinity and thereby eliminate the possibility of his perfect, sinless nature and in the end, God’s entire redemptive plan for mankind.

This is no small issue!  What was astonishing to me as I read this report is that such a high percentage of people ‘strongly agree’ with the description of Jesus as a created being and not as a co-equal member of the Godhead.  It’s fair to say that our human reasoning and the faculties of our intelligence are not capable of fully explaining the mystery of the Incarnation; that is, how could an infinite God limit himself in a finite human body?  It is one of those things that requires that ever so important and equally difficult to find gift of faith.  It cannot be proven by any archeological or scientific discovery, it has to be embraced by faith that God himself was fully present in His son Jesus through the miracle of the virgin birth over 2,000 years ago.

And so, if the opportunity presents itself in a conversation for someone to explain who they think Jesus is, give them the opportunity to respond to the question “is Jesus the first and greatest being created by God?” and see how they answer.  If this research study is accurate (and it was done by Lifeway Research and Ligonier Ministries) you have now been presented with an opportunity to simply and clearly explain that the reason why the birth of Jesus is the most significant event in human history is because almighty God chose to reveal himself in the person of a baby, born to a peasant couple in Israel, who went on to live a perfect life suffer death on a cross for the sin of mankind so that all who believe in Him might not perish but have eternal life.  This is the truth of Christmas!

Blessings!

Pastor Jay

The Good Fight of Faith

11.16.18 Leave a comment

One of the great lessons I’ve learned in reading the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), year after year is seeing how Jesus responded to a myriad of life’s great challenges, problems and opportunities.  In the three plus years for which we have detailed accounts of Jesus’ public ministry, he encountered people of every level of achievement, authority and influence.  He was also drawn to those who were physically afflicted and routinely confronted with demonic oppression when it was clearly evidenced in individual lives.

Pastor and author Bill Johnson says this about the life of Jesus: “He met every dark situation of lack, sin, torment and disease with a redemptive solution.  That is astounding!  He never made an excuse for the problem.  Nor did he allow the problem to remain.  He always settled the issue by demonstrating what the Father’s will looked like.”

I’m probably not going to go too far out on a limb to say that not many of us have reached a level of maturity where we could say the same is true of us.  Is it something that we desire?  Is it something that everyone of us would long for?   I would say most emphatically, yes!

In our world today we are still confronted with situations of profound physical challenge, complex relational dynamics and oftentimes the brokenness of sin, betrayal and even intentional abuse.  Add that to the fact the general atmosphere in which we live our daily lives is that of an ever present 24-hour news cycle which seems to find new ways of bombarding us with the inadequacies, disappointments and divisions that are rampant in our culture.

Make no mistake that these kinds of things can begin to be overwhelming to us.  Some people find the only way to deal with challenges, difficulties and negativity is to simply isolate themselves from others around them.  They keep to themselves and mind their own business and somehow feel like they’ll minimize the damage through isolation.

That’s not what we see in Jesus.  In fact, he made it his mission to seek out those who had need and to not just proclaim the freedom that came with the knowledge of his message and the power of his Spirit, but to make time to even deal with every individual who came to him with the smallest amount of faith.

That last comment is important.  In some circles just the idea of acknowledging that a problem exists or that a healing hasn’t taken place is seen as a denial of faith.  At times, we may be reluctant to admit that we’re struggling with temptation or with an inability to overcome a problem in our lives and we fear that we’ll be somehow marginalized as “not having faith.”

Rather, I would suggest that the way of Jesus is to freely acknowledge that a problem exists.  In fact, on more than one occasion Jesus asked people who came to him exactly what the problem was for which they were seeking relief.  “What do you want me to do for you he would ask?”  The fact that problems exist does not deny faith.  Dealing with them from God’s perspective is the way to find victory. True faith doesn’t deny a problem’s existence, it just refuses to give it a place of influence.

I find it incredibly encouraging that Jesus never once refused to grant a request because of someone’s ‘weak faith’ or ‘unbelief’.  The simple fact that they had enough faith to come to him caused Jesus to respond to their need and to reveal the Father’s promised provision.  On occasion he would address their lack of faith after a miracle so that they could go on into greater faith in their future.

I believe the issue of faith was of great importance to Jesus because he knew that it was the necessary posture in which to address the pain, negativity, disease, shortcomings and problems of life.  Faith is the answer to all those things and we can begin to exercise that dynamic measure of faith in our own lives every morning when our feet hit the floor.  Let the first words from our heart to our lips be “Lord Jesus, I’m trusting you for every need and challenge that I will face today.”  Jesus is searching for men and women with faith like that.

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

Family Blessings

11.09.18 Leave a comment

If there’s one desire that most every Christ follower I know share in common it is that their children would discover the personal love and purpose that Jesus has for each of them as they learn to walk by faith.

For those of us who have been called to full time ministry, it’s a particularly delicate balance to maintain.  It’s not uncommon at all to hear of children of pastors who have been somehow neglected by their ministry-focused father or even worse, unable to find any place of significance in their local church.

However, this yearning of every Christian parent is not something that we can control; we can only influence through our lifestyle, our prayer, love and the culture we create in our home.  One of the most challenging decisions that Carol and I ever made was to throw our lives into the birth of North Way Christian Community when our three children were only six, four, and two years old.  I vividly remember my father making a special trip from his home in Beaver to our home in Shaler to have a serious father/son conversation to probe if I had really considered the implications of what I was doing to my family.  I always remember with great appreciation that my Dad cared enough to challenge my assumptions.

In those early years, which any church planter can tell you, your time is consumed with all of the challenges of starting a ministry with literally no guaranteed resources, facilities or even a congregation, is quite a consuming task.  One of my greatest passions during those early years was that my family would not feel that I was in any way neglecting them for the sake of this new church.  The last thing that I wanted to do was for them to somehow perceive that the church was in between my love for them and for God.

Time and space will not begin to allow me to do justice the many specific opportunities that the Lord presented to me to demonstrate my priorities.  I want to be very clear that without the deep commitment and sacrificial partnership of my wife, Carol, I’m not sure the outcome would have been anywhere near as fulfilling as it has become.

I’m sure I’ve been reflecting on this because I received a text message just recently from a North Way pastor who joined the team in recent years.  Here’s what he said at the close of his message to me: “I got to meet Jonathan this week.  A really sharp guy!  It was neat to see the resemblance and legacy passed on to him that he’s picking up and carrying in new ways!”

At its core, those are two of the most desirable qualities that I could hope that my children reflected: “the resemblance and the legacy passed on to him.”  As with all of our children, they’re living out these qualities in ‘new ways’ which is to be fully expected.

Perhaps more than anything else, we take great encouragement from seeing that our parenting investment seems to be bearing great fruits in the lives of all three of our kids as they invest their resources, time and heart into their young and growing families.  It’s a joy and privilege as well as a humbling gift to see their nine little ones beginning to discover God’s love and purpose for their lives as well.

To all of you who are parents or grandparents, let these words encourage you that you need not be anywhere near perfect in fulfilling these roles.  We certainly were not.  The great news is that God’s grace is very powerful to restore those places where our human weakness may have brought disappointment.  The key posture is to keep those kids as a focus of your prayer and your thoughts and even your actions every single day.

Blessed to part of His family,

Pastor Jay

Explaining Evil

11.01.18 Leave a comment

Over the past few days, our entire city and most especially the neighborhood of Squirrel Hill, has been dealing with the shock of the killing of 11 innocent lives while inside the Tree of Life temple on the Jewish day of Shabbat (sabbath).

For the purposes of today, I only want to focus on one unexpected but important exchange I had with one of my grandson’s regarding this incident.

I asked Jack, who’s a seventh grader, what if anything was said about this terrible attack in his school or his church.  He shared that some things were said, but not with much detail. I then faced the decision about whether or not to drop the issue or try to, in some way, offer an attempt at explaining what might be behind such an awful event.

I began by saying there is no easy answer to the question of ‘why did this happen to these innocent people?’ However, the fact that there’s not a simple explanation does not exonerate us from doing our best to provide some sort of context and perhaps an historical, fact-based response.  To say nothing is to leave the door of understanding wide open to nearly every kind of exploitation including political ones that were very quick to be embraced by those with a personal or ideological agenda.  We shouldn’t let that happen.

My conversation with my grandson started with a willingness to acknowledge that there is indeed the presence of good and evil in our world which our Bibles talk about.  This evil is not just something in another part of the world but in our own nation, our own communities and even in our own hearts.  To obscure or minimize this truth is to leave the next generation without any kind of moral compass and therefore, more likely to be deceived and perhaps even destroyed by this evil reality.

“Jack”, I said, “God has a very real enemy in our world.  He’s called the Devil or Satan and Jesus himself acknowledged this repeatedly throughout the gospels.  One of the most profound examples of this is in the gospel of John 10:10 where Jesus says ‘the thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy;’ and that’s exactly what we see happening in this situation in our own city. An evil presence came into a place of worship and stole the peace, killed the people and sought to destroy faith in God.  That’s his goal, his objective.  Though he very often covers it with a mask of something much more appealing, if we take that bait make no mistake, we may lose all that we desire in this life and beyond.

I explained to Jack that the “thief”, the “evil one”, has always been at war with God and, in particular, with the people God chose to be His people – the people of Israel, the Jewish people.  Jack knew historical facts about the Holocaust, but I think it was a bit of a sobering reminder when I explained that just a few short years from when I was born, the Jewish people suffered unimaginable persecutions, violence, suffering and death – not by the thousands but by the millions –  and for no other reason than just being a member of the Jewish family of faith.  I reminded Jack that the shooter of the 17 people in the Tree of Life synagogue kept on declaring loudly and irrationally “all Jews must die.”  What had they done to this man?  Nothing in particular; they were just determined to be ‘unfit for life itself’ just because they were…Jews.

“Jack, this would seem so terrible, so impossibly beyond hope except for one other truth found in the same verse in our Bibles, John 10:10b; ‘I have come that they might have life and have it more abundantly.’”  I explained to Jack that the context of that verse made it clear that it was Jesus speaking to all Jewish people and those who believed in Him and His sacrificial death on the cross for their lives as well.

The most difficult part about all of this is trying to explain that something very real and tangible, that is the loss of life itself, is controlled by something equally real but not visible at all.  As difficult as that may be for us to understand with our minds, it’s an important principle to begin to explore even with young people.  The sooner they can discover that the true power of life is not in the things that we see and control, but in the things that are not seen and that greatly influence us, the more likely they are to understand how our world actually works.

All of us who call Pittsburgh our home should feel encouraged, blessed, and thankful for the overwhelming outpouring of love, the sharing of grief and mourning, and the many promises of support to all of those directly affected by this tragedy.  However, where do we find the strength to go on, the balm to heal wounds not just of the body but of the soul and perhaps most important, the power to overcome the evil that we have seen right here in our city?  The only power great enough to overcome this evil is not found in a legislative process, a patch on a uniform, or a proclamation such as ‘hate has no home here’.  As good as all these things may be, they lack the inherent power to make any change.

The power for true and lasting change comes from the same One who said just a few verses later in John 10:27-28; “my sheep listen to my voice; I know them, they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.”

That’s the promise of God’s eternal security.  Perhaps this verse in Acts 10:38 says it even more powerfully.  The Apostle Peter, the apostle to the Jews, states how “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the Devil, because God was with him.”

The only antidote to such unspeakable evil, is an unimaginable power, the power of sacrificial love of the son of God, who gave his life to rescue us from such horrible events.

God Bless!

Pastor Jay

The Incredible Importance of Relationship

10.25.18 Leave a comment

Not long ago, I had a very enjoyable lunch with a newer friend of mine here in our Pittsburgh area.  Our previous conversations had been quite positive and always mutually affirming, if mostly about superficial things.  On this occasion, we had enough time to really peel back some of the layers of conviction and experience that are the foundation of most all of our lives.

One of the most common stereotypical things that people  say when they discover you are called to be a pastor as a full time vocation is “I’m sure I’m not as ‘religious’ as you.”  To me, this is a wonderful opportunity to talk about the most important distinction that I believe we need to make with un-churched or nominally churched friends.

Without going into any sort of intense Biblical exegesis, I spent the next couple of minutes explaining to my friend that the fundamental difference I’ve discovered in my journey to know God is that it was not a religion, but a relationship.

As familiar as that distinction might be to many of you, I can say with great certainty that it is not clearly understood by a very high majority of people with whom I’ve interacted over the years.  The long legacy of denominational church affiliation, both Protestant and Catholic, is not unique to our region but certainly wide spread as that of a ‘practicing religion’.  People believe that it’s the things that they do with their church and in their behaviors (trying to be a fundamentally good person) that brings them into good standing with God.

When I have the opportunity to explain that what our loving God has done for us is to offer us a dynamic, living relationship with Him as Father God through His son Jesus, it is often a true revelation for most people.

The conversation then can begin to unpack the very simple but profound way by which we may have the assurance of this relationship.  In my experience, some people are ready at that very moment to start their relational journey toward God while others feel they need some additional information, resources or just time to consider this proposition.  I always go into those exchanges with the conviction that I will respond to the other persons request to the best of my ability for as long as it takes for them to clearly understand what God has said and whether or not they are ready to enter into this journey.

There’s also something in this paradigm of understanding for those of us who have had a relationship with Christ for many years but struggle from time to time to discover God’s will for their life or to make decisions that seem to be blessed by God regarding all kinds of personal and perhaps pivotal circumstances.  Far too often I find that believers in Christ have fallen into accepting some sort of explanation for the lack of answers to their prayers rather than to seek God until there’s a breakthrough.  That’s when misunderstandings about faith and theology become problematic.  The truth is that the answers to our prayer are almost always discovered in our relational journey with the Holy Spirit.  It’s not unusual for there to be some decisions which appear to be Biblically correct, but not approved by God.  For example, we know that God wants everyone to hear the good news of the gospel of Christ but sometimes what seem like very clear doors of opportunity get slammed in our face.

It’s taken me a long while, but what I’ve learned to embrace is that something may be Biblically correct but is not what God is saying to me in that particular moment.  (See something similar for the Apostle Paul in Acts 16:6 where it says they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia).

The same kind of ‘no’ or ‘not yet’ is often the answer that we may hear from God concerning other principles that we believe to be true in scripture such as healing, restoration, provision and purpose.  We know God is for all of those things, but He is not always under the control of our timeline.  It is only in the context of a relational journey that is filled by prayer, praise, and other spiritual disciplines that we can come to peace with the answers from God for that circumstance.

Whether it’s with good hearted seekers or dearly beloved family members in need, a relationship with God is the incredible dynamic that satisfies all such hungry hearts.

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

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