“Give Us Eyes To See”

5.29.20 Leave a comment

When Jesus announced the introduction of His public ministry in Luke 4:18 He says,

“He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind….”

Though this proclamation is often interpreted literally as healing of physical blindness, I believe it’s also meant to reflect the ability to “see” and “interpret” the times it which we live. The euphemism that we often hear, “turning a blind eye” indicates that things are transpiring that we don’t want to see, recognize or acknowledge. We don’t want to get involved or we don’t want to consider the implications of what a particular action might be.

I would submit to you that the current circumstances in our nation would require every serious Christ follower to ask of the Lord to open their eyes to see what is really going on and their ears to hear what is really being said, not for just their own well being, but for the very future of this great nation.

One of the difficulties of raising this topic is that it is very easily cast into political commentary rather than a fundamentally spiritual issue and that is a mistake. Although there are enormous political dynamics that are taking place within our nation that exacerbate our current conversations, the true issue of what’s happening is a fundamental divide in the spiritual foundation upon which our nation was established by the early settlers and founding fathers.

If you think things are unsettled and even worse, increasingly divided in America, you are not overreacting. As historian and theologian Os Guinness writes in his book, “Last Call for Liberty”,

“The United States is facing a heaving sea of problems at home: hollowed-out beliefs and weakened ethics; declining trust in institutions and leaders; self-enriching elites; cancerous racism; paved-for-play and dirt bag politics; politicized criminal justice; crony capitalism; blinkered higher education; collapsed civic education; biased main stream press; journalistic collusion with political interest; politicized corporations; decaying infrastructures; crippling national debt; a surveillance state spying on it’s own citizens; porous borders; a demographic time bomb; failing inner-cities that are the equivalent of states elsewhere; fracturous cultural warring; a toxic madness of gossip, supposition, cynicism, and conspiracy theories; … and now a deadly attempt by both left and right to undermine each other’s legitimacy as American and democratic.”

Any honest evaluation of our current situation in America would acknowledge that most of these are true, if not all of them, and that they are more pervasively wide-spread and less debated than ever before. Guiness’s conclusion is clear that “American society is more divided – politically, economically, racially, ideologically, culturally, and religiously – than at any time since it’s house was divided and nearly fell in the Civil War. “

Perhaps it’s been a consequence of the imposed “shelter at home” orders that the covid-19 pandemic has imposed upon millions of us over the last 10+ weeks that have cleared some time and bandwidth in our thinking to consider such things, or perhaps it’s been the inability of the nation to even rally around our common and core values in the face of the pandemic and revert, once again, to partisan politics rather than public interest that has caused many of us to seriously question “What is going on?”

For those who would make this divide all about President Donald Trump, let me submit to you that he is not the cause of what is happening in our nation’s collective psyche. Rather, he is the effect of what was already nearing a boiling point four years ago prior to the 2016 election. Mr. Trump is not the cause nor is he the answer to the nation’s problems. Rather, I would submit that it’s a much deeper issue that has to do with the spiritual and individual actions of the 330 million of us who are called American citizens.

Whether we fully understand it or not, we have been blessed with a form of government of our citizens that has only been seen a handful of times in the history of the world. It is called a covenantal society, that is, societies that are linked by choice and binding agreement rather than legal contracts, force-able hierarchical authority or simple organic, ancestral blood relationships.

There is so much to say about the power and brilliance of a covenantal society that it will need to be pursued at another time, but let it be said that this is the only form of government that gives it’s citizens the free choice to determine who will be given the authority to lead them based on their individual vote of support and sustained by a profoundly moral and not power based authority structure.

There is a reason why free societies in the course of world history have rarely lasted more than a couple hundred years. The ability to pass on these values from one generation to the next requires a profound level of commitment to reaffirm those initial values while continuing to address the inequalities or inadequacies of how such covenants are being lived out (such as seen in the recent morally unacceptable and racially incendiary incident in Minneapolis) while continuing to hold firmly to the fact that government is not supreme, but individuals are in a covenantal society.

As we approach our primary elections next Tuesday, let’s agree to pray together for wisdom from above to cast our votes for those who we believe understand the essence of these covenantal values that find their foundational expression all the way back in God’s first covenant with the Jews following the exodus 3000 years ago. It’s no mistake that the greatest civilization in world history has emerged out of those fundamental principles.

Praying that our eyes will be open,

Pastor Jay

Two Stories

5.22.20 Leave a comment

Perhaps I should begin this post by acknowledging that I don’t think I was prepared to confront the reality that this coronavirus pandemic might be something that could literally change the way we live for months or even years to come.

In just the last 9 weeks we have seen our nation go through a series of conflicting and very difficult circumstances that seem to be increasingly polarizing and unfortunately, not even being able to sense where “the end” of all of it’s implications might be.

It’s clear to me that the situation is affecting everyone in some way, and some people much more than others. For some it is lost moments of celebration or connection or perhaps inconvenience; but for others, it’s meant the loss of a relationship forever, the loss of livelihood or even the ability to provide food for one’s family and again, with no real end in sight.

I had two very different experiences in the last 24 hours. Last evening, for the first time in 9 weeks, our family who currently live in the Pittsburgh area including our daughter, Amy and our son, David, and their spouses and children all got together with Carol and me to celebrate our son’s birthday; something we probably would not have been able to do even a week ago according to the “guidelines.”

However, from the moment the door to their home opened and the children gathered together it was a non-stop experience of laughter, story-telling, sharing good food and celebrating a birthday… something everyone still loves to do. It was a joyful three hours that was more profoundly satisfying and refreshing to my soul than I had even imagined. It underscored for me just how much I had missed those moments of shared love and appreciation, laughter and life that is part of God’s plan for families everywhere.

On the other side of the emotional spectrum was a very transparent exchange that I had with a long-time friend who confided in me that he was coming face to face with the fact that he was becoming depressed. The prolonged period of sheltering-in-place (and for him, it is a new place in a different part of the country), the inability to nurture new relationships and just the sense of a lack of direction was creating anxiety that led to sleeplessness and other recognizable early symptoms of depression.

We shared some emails and then a conversation which gave me the opportunity to at least encourage him in a few specific ways to not let this riptide of negative circumstance put him under water, no matter what. Thankfully, as a man of faith and someone who’s dealt with difficult situations before I believe the Lord will pull him through, but I felt very deeply how much these circumstances had brought him down.

You probably have similar stories, maybe much more profound on either side of the spectrum, the reality is that now, as much as I can ever recall, we really need to daily revisit our confidence in the character of God and His promises to us, and our identity as sons and daughters of God as well as His purpose for us.

Thankfully, we can make choices every day that can reinforce the absolute truth that God is sovereign and in control and loves us more than we can imagine, knows what we’re going through, and will never fail us or forsake us.

And if things are going well for you, be thankful, and be intentionally on the lookout for chances to share some of that grace with another person, another friend or family who may be feeling the weight of these difficult times and really needs your words of hope and care.

Blessings,
Pastor Jay

We All Need Wisdom

5.15.20 Leave a comment

In a significant number of conversations that I had this week, it’s becoming increasingly clear to me that what many of us are searching for in these days of uncertainty, hardship, suffering and loss as well as confusion and lack of clarity about the future; that one thing is wisdom.  In The Passion Translation Proverbs 8:3-6 says it this way:

“I’m calling to you, sons of Adam, yes, and to you daughters as well.   Listen to me and you will be prudent and wise.  For even the foolish and feeble can receive an understanding heart that will change their inner being.  The meaning of my words will release within you revelation for you to reign in life.  My lyrics will empower you to live by what is right.”

If there’s one thing that seems out of reach right now it’s the idea of “reigning in life” when in so many ways important things in our lives have been either significantly inhibited or in some cases eliminated.

However, let us not fall into the lie of the evil one who would make us think we are helpless to do anything about the circumstances in which we find ourselves.  I’m not, in any way, minimizing some of the blessings that have been experienced in this time of being told to stay in our homes and limit our contact with others.  Many of us have discovered new ways of communing with God that are revolutionizing our spiritual sensitivity and our passion for intercessory prayer.

It’s not too far out of reach for us to believe that possibly this could be the very brightest hour for the believing church to experience greater influence and fruitfulness than we’ve seen in a very long time.  Perhaps, like Esther of the Old Testament, we were born for such a time as this.  As we spend time with the Lord and understand what His kingdom design would be for our particular situation, whether it be in our home, neighborhood, workplace or the very front lines of addressing our serious health and economic needs, we can understand what the Lord would desire in that realm and seek to bring the wisdom of God’s ways into that situation.

If heaven is our model, we are designed by God to invade and fix the problems here on earth as part of our “priesthood of all believers” mandate.

Some of us are called to influence our government which seems to be especially contentious in this time in our history.  Not only is intercessory prayer our primary means of influencing people in authority over us, but with the wisdom of God we can learn how to embrace those authorities as they appropriately administer godly guidelines without limiting or in some way even violating our freedom and ability to follow Jesus in every detail of our lives.  (By the way, that is how we should interpret true freedom of religion.)

Another area where great wisdom is needed is in how we relate to our family members.  For some of us, that is an every day challenge because of the compulsory need to be together almost all the time.   On more occasions than I would like to admit, I’ve found an inability to be as patient and gracious as I have every reason to be with the ones that I love the most.

For others, family members may represent a direct challenge to your fundamental values and you find yourself frustrated at your inability to have sincere and honoring conversations about controversial topics such as the tremendously difficult issue of limiting the virus while opening up the economy.

There are also many of us who have young family members who need to see unconditional love and patience modeled by mom and dad in a way that taxes their abilities while requiring a certain level of accountability for each of their children.

The wonderful thing is that God promises grace in all of this and the key to doing it successfully is seeking wisdom.  Remember wisdom is the most precious thing that God can give us in times like this.  It’s why the writer of Proverbs also says “above all things seek wisdom” and in so doing you will learn to reign in life and will ultimately see this challenge as one of the most wonderful seasons of spiritual growth that you’ve ever known.

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

 

Finding Purpose in the Pandemic

5.07.20 Leave a comment

As most of us are now reaching our 50th day of “voluntary lock down” or as some prefer to call it. stay at home orders,” I’ve been trying to process the value of what we have been called to go through as a corporate society.  It’s  not just the isolation of staying at home with or without a certain set of duties to fulfill, it’s also the very uncomfortable social dynamics that have developed, particularly in the last 3 or 4 weeks of the state government’s position of the mandatory use of face masks entering any facilities for any kind of goods or services.

Just a couple days ago I was picking up a take-out order at a local Chinese restaurant, with my mask and gloves on as ordered, and heading to my car.  As I stepped out of the door of the restaurant a woman was heading toward that same building with her mask on and other “protective gear” and not only did she intentionally go well out of her way to avoid me but at the same time she made very awkward eye contact, which sent the unmistakable message that she was ‘uncomfortable’ at the least and ‘threatened’ at the worst by my presence.

Doubtless, all of you have had similar experience whether they be at gas stations, grocery stores, pharmacies, and the infrequent stops at what are considered ‘essential businesses’.

It would be foolish to compare these kind of awkward and testing moments with the kind of daily hardships, risks and sacrifices being made by our front line health care professionals and those who support them.  Those folks are in the direct line of fire of covid-19, but they seem to be demonstrating a certain sense of community and actual meaning throughout their shared experience of sacrifice and potential suffering.

Perhaps this is what James (the half brother of Jesus) wrote in his introduction to his short epistle.  In James 1:2-4 he writes:

“My fellow believers, when it seems as though you are facing nothing but difficulties see it as an invaluable opportunity to experience the greatest joy that you can!  For you know that when your faith is tested it stirs up power within you to endure all things.  And then as your endurance grows even stronger it will release perfection into every part of your being until there is nothing missing and nothing lacking.”

I suppose if there’s one undeniably redemptive purpose in going through this pandemic and the layers of sacrifice and suffering it is causing, it has to do with God’s design in the matter of suffering, or as James would call it “trials” or “difficulties”.

In Hebrews 2:10 the Bible says, “In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through suffering.”

The Greek word there for “perfect” has to do not with sinlessness, but with completeness.  In other words, there are some things in life that are simply not attained without some measure of willful sacrifice and suffering.

As former Navy Seal and now U.S. congressman from Texas, Dan Crenshaw, says in his fine new book “Fortitude” “In difficulty, in adversity, in meaningful suffering — there is transformation.  That transformation is one of confidence and mental fortitude” (these are) “some of life’s finest instructors.”

If I assess my life with any objectivity before the full impact of covid-19 became a reality, I would say that like many other Americans and especially followers of Christ, my life was remarkably comfortable, relational, full of activity and not lacking in most every desirable experience from wonderful food to outdoor activities and most especially unlimited moments of shared community with fellow believers in worship, prayer, ministry and study.

Now that most all of that has been affected, and quite a bit of it severely limited, I’ve had to intentionally work at seeing the value of what it is that we are most all being called to go through.

Thankfully, scripture is not silent about the benefits of trials, difficulty and suffering.  James states it clearly when he says, “when your faith is tested it stirs up power within you to endure all things.” James 1:3.  Isn’t it a great thing to know what we are capable of doing from the power of God within us when actually called upon to do so in circumstances that would normally be considered difficult or even undesirable.

James goes on to complete the thought when he says, “then as your endurance grows even stronger it will release perfection into every part of your being until there is nothing missing and nothing lacking.” James 1:4   If we are spared of any grave consequences from this pandemic, one thing for certain we can all learn from it and that is how to access the power of God to grow our capacity to endure such tests, and as that endurance grows it releases ‘perfection to every part of our being’ which is, if you think about it, an incredible gift.

Looking back on my considerable number of experiences in life the ones that brought about the most transformation and lasting change were the ones that came with the greatest amount of difficulty.  That is a strange paradox to the mind that has been proven experientially and relationally in countless stories from ancient history right up to the present day.

Most of us would not consider ourselves “heroes” in the sense the term is being used today, but one thing that we may all lay access to is to embrace the trials, difficulties and sufferings of these current circumstances in such a way that perhaps only we would know just how heroically we have grown through suffering to greater son-ship.

Blessings in Jesus,

Pastor Jay

The Power to Make a Difference

4.30.20 1 Comment

As the weeks of our “stay at home lock-down orders” continue on, I’m wondering how many of us feel increasingly powerless to make any sort of difference in the situations in which we find ourselves.

No matter where you get your information, it’s all pretty much saying the same thing, that we should continue to obey the guidelines that have been given to us by…  and then some expert, scientist, leader or politician has his or her name or the organization that they represent as being the basis of this on-going action.

What makes it increasingly difficult to understand is that it seems that most honest questions about the “why” of such orders are seen as a threat to the well-being of the rest of society in general and we are now discovering that certain very influential people in social media and other spheres of information are choosing to take down comments which they feel are potentially harmful.

In our society, where freedom of speech is one of our essential guarantees in the Bill of Rights, such action is understood as censorship and should be viewed with very serious concern and boldly rejected in every available forum.

However, with the ongoing layers of control that have been imposed upon so many of us, whether it be the lock-down orders, the absence of our employment opportunities, responsibility of home schooling our children or potentially caring for our parents or grandparents, it can become a bit overwhelming at times and we wonder what difference we can really make.  Are we destined to be told what to do for the next who knows how many weeks or months or maybe even years if no solution for the covid virus is established?

The key posture to find peace in the midst of this storm of uncertainty and growing sense of lack of control, is to recognize that in the kingdom of God your sphere of influence is not what you see, hear, read or are “guided” to do in your daily activities.  If we reduce our influence to what the media is doing, elections, commentary and even executive guidelines, we disgrace the One who promised us that He would “never leave us or forsake us.” (Hebrews 13:5)

There is an undeniably real political spirit that’s at work seeking to divide our nation, but it is the same spirit of which Jesus warned us in Mark 8 when he said to, “Be careful of the leaven of Herod.”

This political system is very real, but it is seriously inferior to the kingdom of God.

What I have to continue to remind myself is that the covenant of His abiding presence makes it possible for us to live with great, even transformational, influence.   Think of it this way, the presence of God is the supreme value of His world and it must affect ours as well.

We may not be in positions of authority or have labels that give us power to make dictates or other imposed guidelines, but we never lose our influence to permeate the world around us with the love, grace and hope that the life of Jesus brings.  Kingdom influence in every realm of society is greater than any political, informational or even expert opinion when directed by the Holy Spirit.  (How many of us can remember a time when someone with far greater credentials than we have told us something was going to happen with our careers, our finances, our health or our relationships; but God had other plans and His influence prevailed?!)

So if in these days you are occasionally feeling, as I am, a bit overwhelmed by the seeming lack of power to change things, do not underestimate the power of prayer and the influence that you have to change everything that’s happening around us, for indeed, God is working “all things together for good to those who love him and are called according to His purpose,” even things as seemingly difficult or devastating as the coronavirus, the economic meltdown and the uncertainty of what our country and world will look like one year from now.

When we see it through kingdom eyes, we see it with the hope that it will be not just the way it was, but greatly changed for the glory of God!

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

Perspective

4.23.20 Leave a comment

In these very uncertain and dramatically pervasive times of the world wide pandemic, we need to be reminded on a daily basis of what God promises to those who trust Him.

One of the things that many people tend to do in these days is to download as much “information” as they can by reading various websites, listening to podcasts, watching trusted media broadcasts and a few published news outlets that are still reliable.

There’s nothing wrong with having this information and having it updated regularly as, to be candid, so much of what we thought we knew about the situation keeps on changing.

Add to the devastating consequences of the illness and mortality associated with the virus itself, there is now an increasingly urgent sense that unless our economy begins to rebound soon, we are on the precipice of what could be the worst economic collapse in our lifetimes.  (O ne of the reasons for this is that its not just our great nation that is facing these challenges, it is most of the civilized world as we know it.)

If all we do is to download mountains of information about the circumstances we are pretty much assuring ourselves of a loss of perspective.  In the very kindest of terms, most of this information has not been very promising and it is at best confusing even to those who might wish for some sort of clear path of recovery, both physically and economically and perhaps most of all, a timeline for both of these.  However, as of now, we have none of the above.

If we describe this circumstance as a sense of “darkness,” or at least I believe we could all agree it’s a very deep shade of grey, it then requires us to begin to evaluate our situation through a lens of “realism.”   There are things that we know and there are things that we don’t know.  Some claim that we “know” that our national lock-down has somehow flattened the curve of the spread of the virus.  But there are differing opinions about just how effective these actions have been and there’s certainly disagreement about the cost of such actions not just in the economics of life but in the relational, psychological, and emotional lives of millions of people.

This is where the whole matter of our source of ultimate truth is absolutely critical.

In re-reading the Easter story this past week I recalled again and again that Jesus reminded His disciples that He had told them repeatedly about the prophetic scriptures that spoke of His necessary suffering and death for the fulfillment of his mission of the redemption of mankind.   In many unexpected ways He would appear to the disciples, either as a group, as a pair walking on the road to Emmaus, or even individually, with one primary message:  “these things have been spoken about in the scriptures for hundreds and hundreds of years prior to my fulfilling them.  Believe my promises, receive the revelation of what has been spoken and you will overcome your fear and doubt.”

I read just this morning about the triumph of our faith in circumstances such as we find ourselves.  Psalm 112:7-8 says:

“They will not live in fear or dread of what may come, for their hearts are firm, ever secure in their faith.  Steady and strong, they will not be afraid, but will calmly face their every foe until they all go down in defeat.”  

Such declarations as this, promises from God’s word, inspire praise and gratitude from the heart.  They change the focus from the problem to the promise and the promise fills us with hope that God is in control and that our lives are not subject strictly to circumstances and information that is beyond our control.  This becomes an incredibly strong foundation upon which to build our daily routine and should greatly affect our attitudes and our abilities to influence others in a positive way.

In the end, gratitude and confidence builds perspective.  Perspective is an overarching understanding of what is really going on and who is really in control of the most important things of life.

We can learn perspective just through living our lives and seeing how God has delivered us through many other difficult and seemingly hopeless situations.  However, we can also gain perspective by meditating on the word of God and receiving revelation knowledge of what the promises of God mean to us today.   In fact for most of us, this would be the best way I know of remaining victorious in a time when others may be struggling with fear, uncertainty and even desperation.

The Lord has shown us a better way!

Blessings,
Pastor Jay

The Core of the Church

4.16.20 1 Comment

It was just over 39 years ago when North Way Christian Community had it’s first “small group” meeting in the basement of Jay & Sue Dawson who lived in Gibsonia in the North Hills.  A group of nine men and the ones who were married with their spouses met consistently for several weeks and then invited anyone who was interested in learning more about what North Way Christian Community would be about to attend an information meeting at the (then named) North Way Mall at the corner of Route 19 and Peebles Road.

Out of that meeting of about 90 people, 75 of them said they were willing to commit to a “home group” to meet on a weekly basis to form the foundation of our new church which had no official start up date at that time.

The critical message in that first gathering was that we were going to be very intentional about meeting consistently in small groups, or as we called them “home groups,” so that we could learn first hand the benefit of meeting in circles rather than in pews.

This may sound like a small thing but it has not been the normal experience of most church going believers  let alone those who simply attend church on special occasions.  Meeting in a circle implies that you’re going to engage a little more personally, face to face, eye to eye, and heart to heart and not just simply listen as a few people lead in worship, pray, or preach a message.

This critical foundation stone was not widely embraced in most church circles in 1981.  Frankly, we were incredibly blessed that half of the people who were interested in what North Way Christian Community was going to be about were willing to take the risk of getting into a group before the church even had a public worship service!

Some 6 weeks later we did have our first public gathering on March 31, 1981.  Astonishingly, close to 250 people showed up for that first worship service, though some were clearly there just to wish us well and check us out.  The second week our attendance was still will over 200 and another 40 people joined in our home group ministry as our brand new start up church began to meet weekly for worship at what was then called “The Bradley House” restaurant in Wexford.

Think of it this way, we had nearly 100 people meeting in groups of the church with slightly more than 200 in weekly attendance.  This was an incredible message for a start up church but one that resonated with those in attendance as they began to realize that North Way was not an ordinary church where people were only politely friendly and came once a week to be “fed the Word”, but it was truly a community where people were learning to value and care and serve and love one another.

Now fast forward 39 years later almost to the day, when we have been attacked across our nation and around the world with the most severe pandemic outbreak in over 100 years.  It’s not necessary for me to elaborate on the effects of this pandemic in our nation.  As I write to you now over 600,000 people in the U.S. have tested positive for covid-19 and some 26,000+ have perished as a result or complications of having the virus.

The social and relational impact of the virus has been even more extensive in its scope.  Businesses, schools, every imaginable gathering place for recreation, personal services and most every identifiable business has closed by virtue of government lock-down orders which were designed to “slow the spread” of the corona virus.

There is some debate about whether or not such extreme measures were necessary, but one thing it has lead us to do is to realize that true community can still take place, a true connection with God and His people and purposes is still available to us by means of the technology that we have today and the wise and steady leadership of our pastoral team and elders at North Way at all of it’s locations.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that our home group meeting which was Tuesday evening was one of those meetings which had more revealing conversations, more open sharing, more sincere prayer and more meaningful expressions of faith and trust in the face of fear and doubt as anything I could imagine.

After we concluded our meeting, it occurred to me that God was so wise in calling us to establish ourselves as a church of people committed to one another in small groups nearly 40 years ago because He knew things like this were possible in our fallen world.  Though God did not cause the virus or send it to punish His people, he’s provided a way for us to be sustained and cared for throughout this crisis and beyond.

If you happen to be reading this post, you should be in a small group at North Way or your own local church because it will sustain you when other means of connecting have been taken away.  (Virtual small groups are being formed as even you receive this and all you need to do is go to northway.org and scroll down to Virtual Small Groups to get connected.

In the weeks ahead I sense we’ll have more and more testimonies of what God is doing in our lives  as we meet in these groups even though we may find ourselves finally on the downward side of this bell curve of the virus sooner rather than later.  I know this because I already see the fruit that is being born in our group and I know that this is not an isolated case; many others are sharing the same stories with me and other members of our leadership team.

This is what North Way was born to do and the Holy Spirit continues to lead us in this, our real time of need, which I find incredibly encouraging and hopeful.

Blessings in Jesus,

Pastor Jay

P.S.  You’re invited to join Pastor Dave D’Angelo and Pastor Jay for a ‘Fireside Chat’ today, April 16th, at 5:00 P.M. at go.northway.org/live

Love this Easter!

4.09.20 1 Comment

A long time family friend emailed us this week and said “I couldn’t help but notice that all the frivolous things around Easter  – – chocolate bunnies, Easter egg hunts, and Easter clothing sales are not even being mentioned.  This year, Easter is about Jesus!”

It’s an interesting and perceptive observation. In times of crisis what is really important should become our focus … and it inevitably does, especially when there is no clear answer.  That has certainly been the case for this global pandemic.

Another observation I’ve made is that the virus and it’s associated actions; shuttered businesses, statewide lock-downs with stay at home orders, school closings and all the rest, have affected people very differently.  This is something we would do well to continue to keep in mind.

In my neighborhood, there are several senior households and those folks are only seen in their own yards now and then, exchanging friendly greetings and a wave.  A few of our neighbors have younger families and they are far more active; playing outside, kids and adults riding bikes and laughing having fun together, with little or no interruption of what would be ‘normal’.

A couple of our other neighbors have had a few people over for family or social gatherings and are often going out and staying on the move from trips to the strip district to some outdoor cookouts and sporting events.

I don’t fault any of the above.  It’s just clear that some are experiencing much greater limitation than others, and that is certainly something that is true nationally as well.

My greatest concern is for our senior population who are, medically speaking, most susceptible to the virus with potentially serious side effects.

But there are many seniors, thousands upon thousands, who are suffering a different sort of pain.  This is the pain of isolation and loneliness.  Most all senior care homes forbid visitors.  Even senior living facilities, which are supposed to be simply apartments and are popping up everywhere, have very strict policies about who can come in and go out and what is appropriate contact.  Imagine not being allowed to leave your apartment or even have a meaningful physical exchange for 6 weeks or more ?  That can be devastating even if you’re young and healthy.

These people need our love to be expressed, our communication to be regular and caring and always with a note of hopefulness that they will make it through …  and hopefully soon.

I’m also deeply concerned for the many thousands of people who face very uncertain futures if our economy, the source of their livelihood, remains shut down after April 30.   I know successful business people who are facing a mountain of issues if nothing changes, let alone people who have been surviving week by week even when the economy was booming.

To these and the scores of others that we could identify, what is our hope?  Among many scriptures that speak to us perhaps none is more appropriate and powerful than when Paul says in Romans 8:

“What shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”  Romans 8:35 & 37

In other words, the experiences of life, whether they be terrible, trying, or just monotonous, are impotent to touch the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We do well to start every day with an affirmation of God’s love for us.  He knows what we need and promises to provide it according to Matthew 6:33.  Continue to seek Him first, His presence and His righteousness, and He promises that “all these things (that we need) will be added unto us.”

These are indeed trying times.  However we must remain positive and expectant because we also believe that when peoples lives are upended their hearts are also broken open and then a place for the gospel, the good news of Jesus    and His unfailing love, can find fertile soil upon which to grow a wonderful new and transformed heart for God.

Blessings and Happy Easter!

Pastor Jay

The Key to Effective Personal Prayer

4.01.20 Leave a comment

One of the most common reasons we have for not feeling good about our personal prayer lives is simply this:  “I just don’t have the time to pray.”  Well, for most of us, (though not all) that excuse has been remedied for the next month!  Not only do we have time to pray, we also have a compelling reason to pray which quite honestly was not really on our minds just 30 days ago.

The covid-19 virus is effecting everybody; most all of us directly.  However, what can we do to “supercharge” our prayers so that we sense they are effective; changing lives and circumstances?

Effective prayer is not formulaic, it’s not repetitive or found in a book somewhere.  Rather it is heart to heart direct communication with the God of the universe.  Let me suggest how to prepare your heart, to build your faith, to pray effectively, and then to act accordingly.

  1.  Begin with praise!  Effective prayer always starts with the person, the nature, the character of God.  Jesus taught us to pray this way “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed (praise be) be your name.  (Matthew 6:9)  The more clearly we see and understand the nature of God, the more of His spiritual presence you sense in these times, the more confident you become in His love and care for you.  As part of your praise time, you can read His word, proclaim His promises in the word, you remember His faithfulness,  and you sense the depths of His love relationship with you … yes, you.  (If this is not a natural or easy thing to do for you, I highly recommend using one of the great resources available to us through the worship music that is readily available on many platforms.  My home church, North Way Christian Community, recently did a series of praise and worship songs which are available at North Way Christian Community on YouTube.)
  2.  God inhabits the praise of His people and thereby causes faith to rise!.  Faith is simply the confidence that God will provide what you need according to His plan, purpose and will for your life which is always good.  (Romans 8:28)   Without faith, our prayers will not be effective; but with faith all things are possible!  (Mark 11:22-24)   Praise is the catalyst to our faith which comes as we spend time in His presence — it is a direct result of being with Him.
  3. Now, with a heart full of love and faith pray specifically for those people, circumstances and concerns on your mind and heart.  Name names!  Ask in detail!  Oswald Chambers in the reading for April 1st says this,  “Begin with the circumstances we are in — our  homes, our business, our country, the present crisis as it touches us and others — are these things crushing us?”  I’m not sure how something written almost a hundred years ago could be more relevant!  But he goes on to warn us not to “let them squeeze out your praise because it is the source of faith that catalyzes effective prayer.”
  4. Finally, don’t give up on your prayers until you know that God has answered.  For reasons that we cannot explain, some prayers are answered immediately and some take a significant amount of time.  (See Luke 18:1-8)  Pray until you have peace that the matters you have prayed about have been settled.

Friends, there is so much more.  Perhaps we should look at the matter of spiritual warfare next time.  We can see how to exercise the authority of God over spiritual powers as secured for us through Christ’s victory on the cross.  Next week, Easter week, is the perfect time to do that!  For today — just pray effectively!

Blessings,
Pastor Jay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Together In The Storm

3.25.20 Leave a comment

Last evening, our North Way home group experienced our first “virtual meeting” as 13 of us gathered together around our computer screens and shared what the Lord seems to be speaking to and doing through each one of us.

It may a bit difficult to understand, but somewhere along the way what was a bit awkward and somewhat unfamiliar to those of us who are  not technologically gifted, it became very evident that the Spirit of the Lord was in that gathering according to His promise that when “two or more of you are gathered together I am there  in the midst of them.”  Matt. 18:20

If there was one thing that emerged out of our 90 minute virtual gathering, it was that this current pandemic situation has affected all of us quite differently .  Some have been burdened with additional duties of care and concern for other loved ones, some have suffered significant personal disruptions and circumstantial upheaval that was entirely unexpected.

On the other hand, there were a number of us who were able to share that this time of “voluntary isolation” has provided a wonderful on ramp into the presence of God because we have had unhurried and uninterrupted time to be with the Lord on a daily basis.  Out of that time of communion, the Lord has opened opportunities to share with others and express love, care and compassion for neighbors, friends and even strangers.

We understand that we must go through this storm together.  It is affecting everyone of us in a different way, but make no mistake that it is affecting every one of us.  On the one hand, that seems like an overwhelming challenge, but on the other hand it is also a galvanizing truth that provides incredible opportunities to let the life of the Lord flow though you to others in need as you tend to your own heart and soul.

If there would be one point of focus that I would offer to every one of you who may turn to this post for encouragement on a regular basis, it is simply this:  when you go through the storms of life, even ferocious storms such as this one, remember who is in the “boat” with you, even the Lord Jesus Himself!

In 3 of the 4 gospels the very familiar story of Jesus crossing the Sea of Galilee with the disciples they encounter what is called a “furious squall” so that waves broke over the boat and it was nearly swamped.  The contrast in the life of Jesus and the disciples is notable:  He was asleep on a cushion in the stern of the boat, but the disciples were terrified and fearful that they were about to drown.

This is a picture for me that there is nothing that we face in life, no storm, no upheaval, no virus, no financial crisis that upsets the Lord Jesus.  He is metaphorically “asleep in the stern” of our small ships of life because He knows His authority and is fully confident that there is no power, no authority, no circumstance, no evil, plague, or need that will overwhelm His ability to overcome it.

What is key for us to remember is that though we may lack that level of faith, He is in the boat with us and is not going to let us perish.  If anything, He is allowing us the opportunity to exercise our faith and to speak to those demonstrations of the winds of destruction and to speak to them with authority, specifically identifying them and calling them into submission to the higher authority, the name that is above every name, the name of Jesus!

The disciples wondered if Jesus really cared about them and would He allow them to drown in the midst of these circumstances.   When He rose up spoke directly to the storms and the waves and said “Quiet!, be still!” the wind died down and it was completely calm.  Mark 4:39

Jesus then turned to His disciples and said, “Why are you so afraid?  Do you still have no faith?”

Fear is something that most everyone must confront.  Is there an element of fear in our lives that is threatening to swamp our craft, our vessel of life and if so, what can you do to rise up and confidently weather the storm, and even bring it to a halt?  The answer lies in the awareness of the one who is in that vessel with you and the one who has imparted to you His very faith to take authority over every circumstance that seems to be overwhelming to you.  The apostle Paul later says, “The life I now live I  live by the faith of the Son of God.” (Gal. 2:20)  That is the life of the son of God in us is the source of the faith, the grace that we need to overcome every circumstance, every storm, every evil design by our adversary.

So let me remind you in these days of uncertainty and even turmoil, you are not alone in your vessel of life.  Hopefully, you are in that craft with others of like-minded faith such as we experienced last evening, and certainly with family and a few select friends who share your confidence in our Savior who has defeated every power of the evil one by His undeniable triumph on the cross. (Col 2:15)

So when you’re feeling overwhelmed, perhaps even fearful that you won’t be able to sustain this much longer, turn to the one who is in that vessel of life with you and He will rise up and He will speak perhaps through you or someone near to you or even Himself and cause you to see that He is in control.  He is the Lord of all of life, even that which seems so daunting and uncertain.

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

I want to share with you just a few ways that I am living out these days with a new sense of focus and expectation in my next post which will be just days away.  God bless!