The Blessing of a Smooth Transition

1.07.20 Leave a comment

One of the most significant and indeed profound disciplines of our great country has been the consistent unity and order that has surrounded almost every transfer of primary (presidential) leadership in our nation.

Despite seasons of heated political rhetoric that seemed impossible to overcome, every 4-8 years our entire nation witnesses the pomp and circumstance of a smooth transition of power from one outgoing leader to another incoming president who may extend his predecessors political agenda or introduce an entirely new one.

In the church world, the matter of “succession” has become much more critical with the rise of non-denominational churches throughout the country.  Through many decades denominational churches had a very clear process by which pastors were prepared and then in time were assigned positions of primary leadership; sometimes early on if it was a small congregation, and sometimes quite a bit later if it was a large church in a growing suburban or urban area.

This past weekend the members and friends of North Way Christian community experienced one of those treasured moments of a smooth transition of leadership from the second generation leader to now the third generation leader, only the second time there’s been a transition in 39 years.

For those who were privileged to attend one of the services at the Wexford campus or even at one of the five other campuses in the Greater Pittsburgh Area, there was something very special about these moments.

It was a major achievement for the elders of North Way Christian Community and all it’s campuses to appoint a transition team and to do the diligence of almost a year’s worth of prayerful evaluation and investigation as to who God was preparing to take on the responsibility of this growing church movement.

Pastor Scott Stevens, who took on the challenge of leading North Way into it’s second season of leadership 8 1/2 years ago said with great clarity and conviction that he knew this calling for him was to be an 8-10 year commitment.  Scott capably and faithfully fulfilled that commitment and recognizing that his season was coming to a close initiated the process that was culminated approximately 15 months later.

The transition team enthusiastically recommended Pastor Dave D’Angelo who had joined the North Way team about 3 1/2 years ago as in ideal candidate for a lead pastor.  Dave brings a slightly different skill set and giftedness than either Pastor Scott or this pastor provided the church family.

Most clearly, Pastor Dave also brings the energy and passion of being a younger man who simply has the strength, endurance and focus that effectively leading a growing ministry often requires.

However, the real beauty of this transition was not so much the three lead pastors who were on the platform together this past weekend, but rather it was the very clearly declared and affirmed focus of the great leader of the church, the Lord Jesus, who was most honored in those gatherings.  As Pastor Dave very humbly declared, “If we make this transition about the hand-off from one man to another, it’s much too small.  Our eyes need to be on the presence of Jesus and His headship over His body, the church, which we celebrate this day.”

The response from those folks with whom I had the privilege of interacting after each service was unanimously positive.  Some, such as Grant Smith,  who have journeyed with us for the entire life of the church, knew just how miraculous this God-honoring and celebratory event really was.

Those who are newer to the life of North Way will come to see that the honoring of leadership at all levels is absolutely essential to the ongoing fulfillment of our vision and mission as a church in the Greater Pittsburgh area and far beyond, and many other expressions of ministry and world missions.  In our ever changing culture, there are doubtless going to be new challenges and opportunities for our church to continue to declare the life changing love and grace of the Lord Jesus who is alone the answer to the deepest longings of every heart.  However, having witnessed now our second very orderly and powerfully demonstrated transition of leadership, I have a great anticipation for what the future holds for us all.  As Pastor Scott shared, we have gone from a long pioneering phase, to a necessary establishment phase, and are now prepared for what we believe will be the multiplication phase of the ministry of Jesus through North Way Christian Community.

Blessings

Pastor Jay

Simple Strategies for 2020

1.02.20 Leave a comment

If you’re like me, I’ve read dozens of blog posts, articles and emails reminding me of the obvious connection between the year 2020… and having clarity of vision for the New Year.

I’ll confess that in many years past I’ve started the New Year with what I thought was a clear vision, but as time went on I lacked the fundamental disciplines to pursue that vision; or at least to the degree that I believe God had desired for me.

My desire for all of you who might read this post is to share with you a couple of very simple and probably even basic understandings that renewed my anticipation for this new year and spoke to my heart.  I also want to say right out of the gate that much of this inspiration comes from The Passion Translation Bible which I highly recommend to anyone who has fallen into a bit of a rut in terms of Bible reading and the anticipation of hearing God speak to your heart through His word.

As I approached January 1 with an open heart and very open schedule, I was deeply moved by the two chapters of the Old Testament that I’ve read more than any other over my nearly 50 years of walking with Jesus.  That would be Psalm 1… and Proverbs 1!

In Psalm 1, probably written by David, we find these opening exclamations of what God promises to those who passionately pursue Him.

What delight comes to the one who follows God’s ways!
 His pleasure and passion is remaining true to the Word of “I Am,”
meditating day and night in the true revelation of light.

Just a word of commentary here.  I pretty regularly read the Word of God, mostly on a daily basis, but I was struck by the two words “pleasure and passion” and had to concede that I was very far from “meditating day and night in the true revelation of light.”  If there is one clear curse of this technological generation it’s the inundation that we have of information technology that distracts us, sometimes totally, from the Word of God.

He will be standing firm like a flourishing tree
planted by God’s design,
deeply rooted by the brooks of bliss,
bearing fruit in every season of his life.
He is never dry, never fainting,
ever blessed, ever prosperous.”

One of the words I most commonly use as I close any correspondence with someone that I know is the word “blessings.”  However, this scripture underscored in my own heart how the source of such blessing is linked back to the word of God and making a priority of becoming passionate about it.

I was also drawn to the language of promise where God says “bearing fruit in every season of his life.”  Let’s be honest with each other and say that the farther along we seem to be in our spiritual journey, the more we are prone to ask ourself the question “is our fruit bearing season over?”  Not according to this scripture!  How many of us would yearn to be “never dry, never fainting, ever blessed, ever prosperous”?!

The second strategy that came alive to my spirit in the past couple of days is from Proverbs 1 which is all about wisdom.  Although there are many verses preceding verse 5 of Proverbs 1, it was the first one to really impact me.

For the wise, these proverbs will make you even wiser,
and for those with discernment,
you will be able to acquire brilliant strategies for leadership.”

The how to of this is in verse 7:

How then does a man gain the essence of wisdom?
We cross the threshold of true knowledge
when we live in obedient devotion to God.”

What struck me in Proverbs 1 was that wisdom comes from God’s word but also it is found in everyday life!  Just listen to these two verses.  Proverbs 1:20-21  “Wisdom’s praises are sung in the streets and celebrated far and wide.  Yet wisdom’s song is not always heard in the halls of higher learning.  But in the hustle and bustle of every day life.”

And also, Proverbs 1:23b “Don’t you know that I’m ready to pour out my spirit of wisdom upon you and bring you to the revelation of my words that will make your heart wise?”

And so my simple strategies are simply to renew my passion to not just read God’s word, but reflect on it, not just in the morning but throughout the day, and even when I take my rest.  The promised blessing of this simple discipline far exceeds anything I could possibly imagine for myself.

Second, my desire for wisdom, choosing God’s way in every situation, is something I’m going to anticipate that He will illuminate for me throughout my daily routine.  In the “hustle and bustle of every day life” I’ll be able to hear God speak to my heart His words of wisdom and guidance.

I won’t make an apology for the simplicity of these two insights.  I know that many of you have already discovered these for yourself.  However, there’s something inspiring about renewing our commitment to living wholeheartedly devoted to the Lord and to the leading of His Spirit and thereby prospering in the things of God throughout a brand new decade!

Blessings and Wisdom,

Pastor Jay

 

The Gift of Grace

12.18.19 Leave a comment

What is it about the Christmas season and our propensity for relational stress and even conflict?  In a recent “cookie exchange” with a group of women Carol shared that every single family represented by that small circle of 7 or 8 women was dealing with some kind of ongoing, rather significant relational conflict.  In every case it was with someone in their immediate family including spouses, children and grandchildren.

Over coffee last week with the Director of North Way Counseling Services, I was not shocked to hear this but still very saddened.  Every single counselor associated with North Way Counseling Services has a full docket of counseling appointments and a number of them will get very little time off between now and the New Year.  The Director went on to say that these appointments share not small little matters of “miscommunication” but rather life altering and rather complex relational meltdowns.

For that reason, I’ve been blessed over the last couple of weeks to be drawn to one very clear characteristic of the Savior that was born on Christmas day.  In John 1:14 the Bible says:

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” 

I heard one message just recently where the teaching pastor called grace the “necessary lubrication for the smooth operation of relationships.”

It’s a bit of a crude analogy, but it certainly does fit what most of us are living out day be day, especially in this season.  The structure of our family and close relationships is fairly clear, although even that is sometimes cause for conflict.

But for the sake of our focus today, let’s operate in the understanding that we’re talking about families and close friends that are not suffering from profound fractures or a complete family re-organization.

We’re talking about people that we know, interact with, care about and would often say deeply love,  but just can’t get along with.  The common response to these kinds of relational conflicts is to simply say something like “I’ll just keep my mouth shut and the problem will go away” … or … “they’re never going to deal with it so I’m not going to let it pull me down”… or something such as that where we somehow abandon all hope of reconciling the relationship and moving toward the kind of peace, joy and love that is so profoundly celebrated in this Christmas season.

I was struck in my reading today in Hebrews 12 in The Passion Translation which says in verse 14-15:

“In every relationship be swift to choose peace over competition and to run swiftly toward holiness, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord.  Watch over each other to make sure that no one misses the revelation of God’s grace.  And make sure no one lives with a root of bitterness sprouting within them which will only cause trouble and poison the hearts of many.”

That really helps me.  If I can see the situation, the specific relationship with which I’m struggling, as being in part a lack of the “revelation of God’s grace” I can see that it’s not something that I have to do as much as it is something I have to share.  The reason why the Lord Jesus came “full of grace and truth” is because He knew that’s exactly what we would need in order to flourish in our daily relationships with people for whom we care a great deal.

That same grace is available to every one of us in this very moment if we simply stop, lay down our arguments and defensiveness, and ask God for the grace to love the individual or family with whom we are having such difficulties.  Remember, grace is from the Greek word “charis” which means a gift and it is not something that we earn from God nor is it something that people earn from us.  It must be freely given and candidly, in our human relationships, it can only come by the overflow of the grace of God which we have received in Jesus whom we celebrate in this wonderful season.

Ask God to make your Christmas relationships full of “grace and truth.”

Christmas agape’,

Pastor Jay

The Treasures of Christmas

12.13.19 Leave a comment

Christmas is less than two weeks away and we haven’t really had our first snowfall yet.  None-the-less, I’m still very much anticipating those small things that very often become the “treasures” of Christmas.

At times we are all susceptible to being swept up in the busyness of the season or the commercialization of Christmas gift giving, and yet underneath all that there are some very special traditions and moments that for many of us become part of the real fabric of a true Christmas celebration.

A number of these have to do with our children.  Many of our churches have Christmas plays or musicals where children display their enthusiasm as well as their budding musical talents to the pleasure of Moms and Dads, Grandparents and family members.  When we hear of all the tragedies that have happened in our schools over the past decade or so, how wonderful it is that these same schools can have concerts, plays and even demonstrations of care and generosity for those in need in their community.

Another treasure that I have come to anticipate is the rich heritage that dates back many decades and yet is as modern as some of today’s biggest and brightest celebrities.  Have you ever noticed that nearly every well known or aspiring national artist produces a Christmas album?!  It may have nothing to do with their personal convictions, but they have tapped in to something that they know to be true; there are millions upon millions of people who love Christmas music.

In part, it’s because we choose to only play these beautiful songs for a month or so in the Christmas season that they seem to be “new” every year, but for most of us it wouldn’t be Christmas without Christmas Carols, “The Christmas Song,” or “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.”  These and many others are indeed some of our Christmas treasures.

But most of all, the deepest treasures of Christmas always come back to the relationships in our lives that sometimes go uncelebrated throughout the year but find a very special priority in the Christmas season.  I know that for our family we have loved ones that we wish we could see regularly but it’s only at Christmas that we make a priority of being together, updating one another on what’s happening in our lives and sharing the blessings of God’s love and grace throughout the year.  (It’s also a time when you might want to extend yourself to a friend or a neighbor who perhaps doesn’t have the opportunity to be with family.  There are many lonely people who would love to have  a conversation with you this Christmas season.)

To think that these and perhaps scores of other traditions and celebrations, some very elaborate and professional and some very simple and profound, have all emerged from the most miraculous and wonderful gift that has ever been given:  Jesus, the Son of God, come to earth, born in the flesh to His mother Mary through the divine work of His heavenly Father.

So make time this Christmas to recognize these treasures and celebrate them.  Keep in mind that half of our world doesn’t really understand or even acknowledge Christmas.  The very fact that this is such a part of our life and culture is yet another reason to bow in humble thanksgiving to the fact that God’s chosen you to embrace His love, His gifts, and His treasures in this Christmas season.

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

The Profound Hope of Christmas

12.06.19 Leave a comment

Christmas is a little less than 3 weeks away.  So many of the joyful sounds, sights and sales of Christmas are everywhere around us!  I have loved this season all of my life because of the fact that even people who are doubtful if not outright skeptical about God, cannot help but acknowledge the profound impact of the Incarnation of the Son of God into mankind.  Jesus became flesh and dwelt among us with the soul mission in mind to make a way for every person on the planet to become a member of God’s family, to know God as a very real Father, and to anticipate the idea of spending eternity in His indescribable glory which He has prepared for us.

None-the-less, all of these wonderful concepts and promises are occasionally interrupted by the reality that life in this world goes on with it’s many challenges, sorrows, pain and even loss that is an inescapable part of our fallen condition.

Just two weeks ago I was extremely honored to be part of a memorial service to celebrate the life of a North Way member, Doris Allison.  I’ve known Doris and her amazing husband, Jim Schlaegle, for 30 years.  I had the privilege of marrying them 28 years ago.

A little over three years ago Doris, who was always energetic and in good physical condition and health, was attacked by pancreatic cancer which remains one of the most difficult strains that modern medicine has to confront.

For these past three plus years Doris has lived a life of love, faith, and unyielding confidence that her Savior was also her Healer.   I must confess that I was one of many hundreds of people that prayed with Doris and believed with Doris that our God was going to intervene and bring “total healing” to her body despite the almost impossible odds necessarily given to her by medical professionals.

Doris’ body was eventually overrun with the disease and yet her confident, bold, and joyful spirit stayed focused and planted on the promises of God and her ultimate destiny with Him.

This is where all of the external celebrations and traditions of Christmas pale in comparison to the real purpose of this day that we celebrate.  They pale because Jesus came to the earth, God became man in order that all of man might be redeemed through faith in Him.  The Bible is extraordinarily clear that when we breathe our last here on the earth we  who trust in Jesus will be joined with Him and the “great cloud of witnesses” that are mentioned in Hebrews chapter 12.

The profound hope of Christmas is that Jesus came in the flesh not just to teach us how to live with one another, not just to demonstrate His power of nature, circumstance and most certainly all of our physical challenges.  No, He ultimately came that we might have eternal life.  “Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us that we may be called the sons of God.”  John 1:12

This space does not allow me to even begin to detail the incredible ways that God used Doris’ life and even her final celebration to affect hundreds if not thousands of people with her continual expression of love and care for everyone that she met; never feeling sorry for herself but choosing to care about others in the time that God gave her on this earth.

The Christ of Christmas becomes the source of our living hope that one day all who do trust in Christ for forgiveness of sins and resurrection of their bodies will be united together to experience what God had planned for humanity from the foundations of the earth.

You probably won’t find that much of an explanation on any Christmas card but please let it be part of every meaningful conversation that you have in these final weeks leading to that glorious Christmas day.

Amazed by His grace!

Pastor Jay

Giving Thanks

11.27.19 Leave a comment

Tomorrow, our nation will pause from it’s daily routines and most of it’s responsibilities for the appointed purpose of thanksgiving.

The first official presidential proclamation issued in America was George Washington’s 1789 Thanksgiving message to the people of the United States.  He recommended:

“… that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country….”

For the past 230 years Thanksgiving has been recognized in our nation.  Just as Abraham Lincoln faced monumental challenges during the Civil War and yet implored the people to give thanks to God that He might “heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and union.”

Thankfully, our nation is not facing that kind of violent struggle that it faced in the 1860’s, but there’s no doubt that there is an unsettled spirit that seems to be trying to divide our nation around values, distinctives, wealth, race, and most obviously, politics.  If one is looking for a way to become negative and find fault with our country just turn on most any cable news channel as well as some of the major networks anytime during the day and you’ll hear criticisms and constant wrangling that is simply unproductive at best and intentionally destructive at worst.

Instead, why not take a break from the news cycles for this next week and spend a little time each day focusing on the simple truth of scripture which says:

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made known to God.”  Philippians 4:6

My recommendation is that you find specific things for which to thank God for each of the next seven days.  Search your heart and ask God for those seven provisions, blessings, gifts, and relationships that mean the most to you and spend not just 30 seconds but 10 minutes every day thanking God for the gift of life and the many ways that God expresses His love through His gifts to you.

The key in this is to make time, even just a few minutes, to share with someone else; ideally a family member, how this simple practice of intentionally ‘giving thanks’ affected you.   You may surprise yourself with the shift in your own heart from what’s ‘wrong’ to what’s ‘right’ about your life, your family, your church and even your country!

This may not sound like much, but if you do something like this simple exercise, and especially if you take the time to record a few notes of what God brings to your mind, you’ll be amazed at what a blessing you will be to the people with whom you share your more personal discoveries.  Do this until Christmas and it will be transformative!

Finally, if things should align to do so, why not go around the table before you serve the Thanksgiving meal and ask each person who is willing, to do what scripture says and “give thanks to the Lord and recount His wonderful deeds.”  Psalm 9:1

Thanksgiving blessings to all,

Pastor Jay

Each of our family members takes a feather and writes a word or two about what they’re thankful for.  The turkey takes on a whole new meaning. The grandkids really love it!

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Our “Big” Problems vs. Our “Big” God

11.15.19 Leave a comment

One thing that has not changed very much at all over the past couple of decades is the reluctance that many people have to pray for God to do something life changing, whether it be in our own lives or that of a friend, family member or even a stranger vs. not praying at all.

What is it that keeps us from not praying prayers of healing, deliverance or even salvation when we know with nearly 100% certainty that these are all things that God promises to do in answer to our prayer throughout scripture?

Not too long ago, I knew the Lord had spoken a word to my heart about giving an invitation at the close of a message that I had been asked to bring on a particular weekend.  This was something that I had been accustomed to doing for many years when I was preaching regularly, so it was not at all out of my comfort zone.

However, when the actual time came for the invitation at the Saturday evening service and at the Sunday 9:15 service in Wexford I found myself rationalizing my way out of giving the invitation.  I won’t complicate this by telling you in any detail what was going on in my mind except to say that I somehow didn’t feel that the circumstances were “right” to give an invitation at that moment and so I simply chose to allow my concern to overpower my conviction.

That’s difficult and humbling for me to confess even though it’s been a few months since it happened.  On the other hand, I can think of multiple other occasions since then when I have likewise evaluated a particular problem that I was facing, or more often, that someone I cared about was facing, and instead of believing God’s promises as clearly spelled out in His Word that He has both the desire and the power to address those problems, I somehow did not act on how I believe God was prompting me.

It’s not actually disobedience in the defiant category but it certainly is negligence in allowing my problem to be bigger than my confidence in the size of my God.

If this is something that you struggle with you’re not alone.  Because many of our problems are so on-going, and the ones that are the most difficult are usually the ones that have been around the longest, it’s not unusual that our “big” problems are unconsciously overwhelming of our faith in the power of our “big” (remember the meaning of the word sovereign which is literally ‘over all things’) God.

Finally, in the third service of that weekend that I mentioned above, I realized that I had one more attempt that God was granting me to chose to obey His leading in my life – His prompting to my heart, or to simply write it off as not being the right time to do so.

Thankfully, I remember vividly that when I moved out of my message and into the invitation it flowed very simply and easily from my heart to others and the Holy Spirit did exactly what God had promised He would do.  In that one service alone somewhere between 12 and 15 people openly acknowledged their desire to receive Christ as their Lord and Savior, the One who forgives our sin and brings us the hope of eternal life.

After all this was past, I was rejoicing on the one hand that there was significant fruit that was evident when I had obeyed the Lord; but I will also say that it was somewhat limited because I knew that I had missed two opportunities to do the same for others in the earlier services.  That was an opportunity I will never have again with that same group of people.

I want to encourage you to chose to believe in the greatness of God toward you and the promises of God to meet your every need so that whenever you’re called upon to pray for someone else or even for yourself, don’t even hesitate to declare what God has said in His word as being true for your loved one or for yourself.  Do so before the enemy has time to talk you out of it and somehow make you think that your problem is bigger than your God.

In a simple but very powerful verse which I find myself quoting all the time no matter what the problem or obstacle that I’m facing I believe that “I can do all things through the God who strengthens me.”  Phil. 4:13

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

 

The Paradox of Suffering – Part 2

10.25.19 Leave a comment

Just recently, our home group experienced a special evening of prayer where we spent an unusually long time opening our hearts to God in worship, calling out to Him for others in intercession, and then spending considerable time bringing our own needs to Him in honest confession and acknowledgement of our need.

At one point, and I believe it was during the time of intercession, the question of God’s sovereignty came up as we prayed.  The scope of the consequence of our view of God’s sovereignty is enormous.  For some, it’s a very narrow view which is inclined to believe that God simply pulls the strings and manipulates the events of our lives as if we were some sort of lifeless marionette which God controlled completely.  This view is obviously very limiting, if not deterministic and seems to imply that everything in life happens as dictated by God.  There’s a course and a plan that He has in mind and nothing will change it.  God is at work and we are just passive observers on the journey.

There’s something about the reality of suffering and loss which forces us to look carefully at this conviction.  If this is truly what sovereignty is then it’s very difficult to understand God as a loving being who wants our best and who cares intimately about everything that happens to us.  (See Matthew 6:25-32)

People that I have come to know who have navigated their way though loss whether physical, relational, emotional or personal, are the ones who understand that God’s sovereignty encompasses all of life, that is, not simply the tragic experiences but how we respond to them in a redemptive way.

In a sense, belief in God’s sovereignty can actually give us a sense of security knowing that God is in control, but also allows us the responsibility of exercising our freedom to make wise choices and to remain faithful to Him despite our lack of understanding of circumstances around us.  In effect, it assures that God is in control, even transcendent, without cancelling out the role we have been given to choose to trust Him.

A close seminary friend of mine has written about this paradox in a profound and deeply compelling book entitled “A Grace Disguised” where he details his own journey through the loss of his mother, wife and a daughter in one horrific traffic accident caused by a drunk driver a number of years ago.  In the end, Jerry has come to see life differently because of the accident and has chosen to allow God to enlarge his soul through the process of grief and loss rather than to pull away and give up on the one source of hope, which is the presence of God in all things, which is where he and his remaining family could find peace.

In the end, that’s what I would encourage anyone who is going through a time of profound suffering or loss to consider.  We can’t promise that God rules all things in a way that we would desire, but we do know the promise is certain that the Lord our God will never leave us or forsake us and that in His presence we find peace.  It is peace in the midst of suffering that ultimately conquers the loss and sustains the hope that will carry us into eternity.

Blessings,
Pastor Jay

The Paradox of Suffering

10.17.19 Leave a comment

It would be very unrealistic to say that I’m going to provide anyone with a satisfactory answer as to why even very mature and committed believers go through the experience of human suffering at some point in their lives.  In fact, it’s not unrealistic to say that some of the most mature people in their faith are people who have had to endure more than their “fair share” of suffering.

For whatever reason, I was reflecting over the last 9 months and realized that many of my closer friends, as well as a number of relationships I have through our local church, have all gone through some of life’s most difficult suffering in just this past 9 months.

That’s why I approached our small group Bible study in the “Rooted” curriculum which was on the topic of “Where is God in the Midst of Suffering?”

The more reading and preparation I did for this week’s study a somewhat different perspective began to take shape in my understanding of the experience of suffering and to some degree the “why” we all seem to go though it and not just once in our lives in most cases.

Unquestionably, the most common and understandable response to the experience of suffering, whether it be physically, relationally, emotionally or even spiritually, is to seek to find answers as to why God does not seem to hear our prayer and in some way relieve us from the sufferings that we are having to endure.  In other words, suffering happens to us and we expect that God will deliver us from these painful and often debilitating experiences.

It’s perfectly reasonable to believe that that is something God wants to do as the life of Jesus, as recorded in the four Gospels, is replete with illustrations of how Jesus seemed to be drawn to suffering people and without exception would do what was necessary for people to experience the healing, restoration, deliverance or forgiveness necessary for the suffering to be removed.

That’s why it’s always an appropriate thing to pray for the Lord to heal, renew or restore us in times of suffering.  However, there also seems to be one other critically important thing that we often overlook in a season of suffering.  The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 5:3-5

“Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance character; and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint us because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.”

Yes, it’s absolutely accurate to say that positive things take place within our lives as a result of suffering!  It’s the same reason why James declared

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.”

It’s not that we are rejoicing or thanking God for suffering; that would be an irrational response to something that is painful and even potentially damaging in our lives.  It is, however, appropriate to say that God will use the very specific experiences of suffering to do positive work in our lives; that He will actually benefit us in some way through the suffering experience.

This is the paradox that the experience of suffering provides for us.  On the one hand, it can be the most painful and difficult time or season of our lives, but on the other hand, as we go through the experience with our eyes on God and our heart open to His presence through praise and worship, the Word and fellowship, we actually experience the transformation of our character to be more like Christ.  Is it too much of a leap to say that suffering is one of the necessary experiences that we must go through because the world into which we were born is a fallen one and sin still has influence on our lives even though the Lord has provided ultimate victory and triumph over sin and it’s consequences.

Studying these and many other scriptures and reading a number of things along the way has brought me to a renewed conviction that suffering is actually a redemptive experience in our lives.  In other words, suffering is a way in which the character of Jesus that has been imparted to us through faith in Christ and His work on the cross is increasingly revealed as we endure suffering in these seasons of our lives.

My intent is to speak into this proposition a little more in my next installment on the “why” of suffering.

So be encouraged, dear friend, if you are in one of those seasons.  God has not left you there alone and you are not suffering without a redemptive and beneficial purpose.

Blessings,
Pastor Jay

 

 

The Lord Knows What You Need

10.04.19 Leave a comment

When it comes to “big decisions” in our lives, most of us would acknowledge that we want to have some sort of leading from God, whether scriptural, circumstantial or prophetic, that enables us to move forward with the confidence that God is with us.

Just recently I had a “big decision” situation in my life, but it did not concern a decision that I had made but one that one of my sons had been praying about for some time.

I do know that some readers may think that asking God for a “confirmation” reveals a lack of faith, and in some cases that may be so, but scripture does reveal that the Lord will answer that prayer.  Remember Gideon when he was called by God to defeat the Midianites so that the people of Israel would be free from their seven years of oppression.  That’s when Gideon had his very well known “fleece” test. (Judges 6)

If you want to see a similar situation in the New Testament, look at Peter when he was standing in the boat and wanted to be sure that it was Jesus who was walking on the water near them when he said “Lord, if it’s you, Peter replied, tell me to come to you on the water.”  “Come,” He said.  (Matthew 14:28)

In my situation, this was a family member who had made a very big decision about a job opportunity in an entirely different part of the country.  It is a good position, but it’s also pretty far from the rest of our extended family.

This past weekend we were visiting Jon & Jenny and their family, getting acquainted with their new surroundings and the position that he had accepted.

Although many of the circumstances were affirming, and I really had no reason to doubt that this was the right decision, in my heart I was asking the Lord for some further confirmation just so I could release them and know that God had His hand upon them.

On Sunday morning we went to a worship service together at a very vibrant and healthy congregation that meets in a newer facility not far from where my kids and their family have recently moved.

The service was very good from start to finish and I felt a growing sense of confidence that if this was not the right place, it was certainly a good option and indicated that there would be other churches in the area that are alive in Christ.

What happened at the very end of the service is something I won’t soon forget.  The pastor closed his message with an invitation to receive Christ (something I’ve done in my ministry for the past 40 years).  He then asked everyone to stand and he introduced someone who apparently comes to the church twice a year for an extended time of ministry and coaching.  There was no bulletin with names and I somehow didn’t hear this brother’s full name.

He came to the microphone and shared a powerful word from the Lord which seemed to be a fitting and encouraging close to the whole service.  Then the pastor received the microphone back and said, “We thank God for Pastor Joe Ewen and times of ministry that he shares with us.”

Suddenly I realized that I just heard from an anointed brother in Christ who has visited North Way multiple times and has received a number of mission prayer teams in his church and hometown in the nation of Scotland.

As you might imagine, it was just too strong of a connection for me to interpret as a simple “coincidence.”  This was the Lord’s way of communicating to me that His hand was outstretched toward my son and his family and their steps were being guided by Him.  I was very moved by the whole experience and went forward and shared with Pastor Joe Ewen about my son and his family and how they were new to that area and were looking for a church.  He gladly embraced them and promised to make an effort to help them get to know the ministry of that particular church and what other opportunities might be out there.

I will look back on that moment as a seminal moment when God went “above and beyond” the normal way of confirming His will and sending to me one of His messengers whose very presence was a confirmation that the Lord knew exactly where they were and that He would be with them in all the steps they were about to take.

What an amazingly personal and faithful God we have!

Blessings,
Pastor Jay