Seasons Change

3.23.21 Leave a comment

If you’ve been in Pittsburgh for the past few months you know what a tough winter we had but now we’re seeing the clear change of seasons into springtime. Not only are the first signs of buds on some of the plants coming forth but birds are busily building their nests and the first sign of things turning green is becoming evident.

In addition to that, Spring literally became a calendar event last Sunday!

One of the things that is often misunderstood or even overlooked in the scriptures is just how significant the entire concept of understanding the “law of sowing and reaping” is that we find throughout scripture

Seedtime and harvest is how God created the earth and every seed is created to reproduce according to its kind. In every seed there exists the potential for infinite harvest.

Jesus even referenced this eternal principle in Mark 4:26-29 which you should definitely check out in your Bible. He said this is even how the kingdom of God, the spiritual kingdom, operates and so we should take note of this spiritual law as we seek to walk out our faith.

Did you know that even our redemption is a function of our sowing and reaping. Jesus was the Seed who had to fall into the earth and die that He might bring forth many more like Himself… that is you and me!

“Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.” John 12:24

That is Jesus talking about His own death which was soon to come and how as a result, “much grain,” that is many sons and daughters would be harvested that bear His image.

Peter reinforces this same spiritual law of seedtime and harvest when he says:

“Having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, to the word of God which lives and abides forever.” 1 Peter 1:23

What we may be hesitant to fully grasp is just how detailed the Lord is with this principle in virtually every area of our lives. What we feed on is the fuel of our lives. Our bodies feed on food, our minds feed on information, and our souls feed on relationships and emotions and events. However, our spirits must feed on the word of God which is His Spirit.

“Your words were found, and I ate them, and your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart….” Jeremiah 15:16

Without trying to oversimplify this, it may be a very healthy exercise to determine which kind of “food” is most important to you? The answer will reveal a lot about your present health and your future destiny.

Those who simply focus on good eating, that is natural food, will talk about it, think about it, crave it and live their lives around it. Look at the incredible exposure of the health food industry over the last decade or two; some people are literally obsessed with what they eat.

The same is true of those who feed on information and will fill their minds with all the latest news on whatever subject interests them and on whatever of the multitude of platforms they can now receive it. There are some people that literally get depressed when they don’t have enough hours of “screen time” to digest their necessary portion about other people, about events, about trends and a myriad of other relatively unimportant things.

That’s living from a part of the soul, and if they don’t have emotional control and happy relationships, they struggle in life.

That’s not at all to say that we shouldn’t have some interest in what we feed ourselves and what we put into our minds and allow time for both of those pursuits. But my experience is that very few people spend even a similar amount of time, much less a greater amount of time feeding on the spiritual side of what they have been given to live by and that is on the word of God. It was Jesus who said, “Man shall not live on bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Only His words can satisfy and give us the strength and wisdom above the corruption in the world today.

I don’t mean this in any sort of condemnatory fashion, but if your focus and passion isn’t on God’s word and the life of His Spirit in you, you will never be truly satisfied. Those other areas like food and information and relationships, etc., will begin to dominate your life and eventually leave you stressed and unfulfilled.

A spirit that is nourished on God’s word on a regular basis will produce life (abundant life!) and peace. This is what Jesus meant when He said

“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me and I in Him, bears much fruit, for without Me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

Abiding in Him is a form of sowing His life into ours. Strong spiritual food affects every other part of our existence; our mental health, our emotional health, our relational health and even our physical health.

As we move rather steadily into the blossoming season of Spring, let it be a daily reminder as you see the fruit of seedtime and harvest that every one of us has an opportunity in every single day to sow into our spirit life through God’s word, worship, and listening to His voice in obedience and communing with Him. If we do that as a priority, our lives will bear great fruit and bring much glory to God, which is what He intended when He established this law that has ruled on this earth ever since the first days He created it.

Spring blessings!

Pastor Jay

How Does God Display His Greatness?

3.03.21 Leave a comment

Just a couple weeks ago, Carol and I were blessed to visit our son and his wife and four children who were spending several weeks in Florida and had room for us to come down for about a week. It was a great break in the middle of the “polar vortex” that was going on all around us when we left.

The second evening we were there we took a ride over to the gulf side to watch the sunset over the western shore. It’s nearly impossible to describe what a contrast that was to where we had been just 36 hours before that! As the sun gently slipped toward the horizon and eventually disappeared behind that straight horizon line, the people on the beach who were there to watch raised up a significant level of applause. Perhaps they were celebrating it’s beauty, perhaps they were acknowledging that there is still order in our world even when there seems to be so many things that aren’t under control.

I was more interested in the response of the grandchildren that were there. The four year old twins just continued to chase the surf up and down and look for shells and so on and hardly noticed the sunset. The seven year old watched and turned and said to Carol, “I thought it would make some kind of sizzle when it hit the water”… and the ten year old mentioned how pretty it was but didn’t seem to be too moved. As we were walking back across the beach toward our car, she picked up a couple handfuls of sand and I saw a moment where I could interject something that perhaps she hadn’t understood before.

“Ellie,” I said, “do you know that scientists today and astronomers specifically tell us that there are more stars in the universe that we know than there are grains of sand on all the beaches on our planet earth?” She said, “Wait, what?” So I repeated it again and encouraged her just to let the sand filter through her fingers. She thought pensively about this for ten seconds or so and then blurted out, “Wow! Like, I can’t even wrap my head around that.” That led to a rather interesting conversation about other things that we know about God that we “can’t wrap our heads around” like the fact that He was never created but always here.

The fact is that we can’t wrap our heads around numbers like that. I knew that was an accurate statement from doing a little study on it seven or eight years ago which you can easily google or find on some other platform. In truth, however, when I reconfirmed my research I realized I was a little bit off. More recent studies show that there are about 70 septillion stars, or 70 with 24 zeros after that.

However, simple numbers like that can’t compare with walking through the sand on one beach in one tiny little part of the earth and realizing what our scientists are telling us. In fact, by the way, latest statistics would confirm that there are 10,000 stars per grain of sand?! There is no way to fully comprehend this. So why does God make such an incredibly unimaginable statement about His power that even our scientists have to concede?

Perhaps it’s because God wants to give us a visible and measurable sense of perspective of His vastness, His greatness and His potential capability.

In Psalm 139 the scripture reveals the three most powerful but intangible aspects of God’s character that we must learn to embrace. Our God is omniscient, that is He knows everything that there is to know about what’s going on with our lives in every moment of every day throughout the entire known world. Second, our God is omnipresent which means that we will find Him wherever we go, that we can never hide from Him, and that He will never lose us or lose track of where we need to be. The third is His omnipotence which in verses 13-18 He describes in detail not by describing the armies and the powers of the world that He’s defeated but rather by pointing out how He personally forms and shapes us in our mother’s womb and is involved in the very act of creation of our own lives down to every intimate detail.

This has a great deal of meaning when it comes to whether one is pro-life or not… but it is the gold standard of God’s level of involvement in the creation of human life.

So I want to encourage you as you may be facing situations where you don’t know what to do, remember that God is all-knowing. If you’re feeling lost and somewhat unclear about where you are to be, God is omnipresent and if you listen for Him He will guide your steps to that specific place where He’ll be there waiting for you. And finally, if you’re feeling underpowered, unable to accomplish what you feel needs to be done or simply overwhelmed by circumstances in life, there’s nothing that God cannot do for each and every one of us.

The sun may not sizzle when it meets the horizon line in the ocean, but most assuredly as the stars appear in the heavens, keeping in mind that on a clear night we can only see between 6,000-7,000 stars in our galaxy, God has made a statement about how great He is and how inconceivably knowing, present and powerful He is. And yet at the same time He loves you and me with the love that is every bit as immeasurable as the heavens above. He is, indeed, an Almighty and all loving Heavenly Father.

Blessings,
Pastor Jay

Discerning the Times

2.05.21 Leave a comment

In just a little over two weeks since the inauguration of President Joe Biden and his new administration, it is increasingly clear that the divide in our nation is not on the way to “unity and healing” that he proposed. In fact I dare say that our American republic is suffering it’s gravest crisis since the Civil War. We seem to be moving into a season where it is no longer ‘politics as usual’, but an era of political warfare where our enemies are not foreign adversaries, but are fellow citizens.

This is not an overstatement and is symbolized most clearly by the installation of high strength fencing and razor wire along with somewhere between 5000-10000 National Guard troops surrounding our nation’s capital. In what might have seemed like the cartoon parody even a decade ago, is now a daily reminder of just how divided we have become.

Although my primary focus in this space is to remind us of the sovereignty of God and the focus of our spiritual center, it is not a time to be ignorant of the forces that are at work to further divide and perhaps eventually destroy our country, which so many of us still believe God has plans and purpose for this great nation. The fact that there remains a substantial base of tens of millions of committed followers of Christ in this country cannot be dismissed or overlooked by the disregard or even obvious disinterest in our spiritual heritage in most forms of media, education and now even in government.

Just one year ago in contemplating the 2020 elections I recognized that some of the values that we hold most dear and quote most often in America such as freedom of expression, of thought, worship and gathering seem to be slowly slipping out of our national consciousness, along came the Covid-19 pandemic which did nothing but to further isolate and polarize us as a nation at a time when it seems it could get no worse. Now, one year later, we’ve all discovered that it did get much worse and that the long term consequences of this past year are just beginning to be understood, let alone addressed.

What we seem to be losing almost as if it’s the consequence of some sort of collective purging of our minds and souls is our individuality and what it means to be a nation of individual freedoms though diverse, can still function as one. Thus the phrase on much of our currency “e pluribus unum.”

Instead it seems that we are increasingly being classified by identity politics and viewed, polled, analyzed and lumped together as members of groups with no personal differentiation rather than as individuals.

This sort of post-modern relativism is added to the mix of groupings which gives rise to different truths for different tribes: feminist truths, homosexual truths, black truths, Hispanic truths, millennial truths, Left and Right truths, media truths, and on and on we go.

It seems that each group sees the world in it’s own way, so much so that even family members who have known each other for decades, now find it difficult to talk about what’s happening in our nation with any sense of civility or concern about our relationships to one another.

When we fail to be able to communicate with people with whom we have an established bond of love and commitment or at least a relational connection that has endured for years if not decades, our individual perspective becomes more important than our collective identity and we eventually cease to be “one nation, under God.”

If one studies Western history, it’s plain that tribalism, sectarianism, and suspicion are common responses to the apparent failure of politics to guide public life.

Here is a current push to rethink once again our immigration policies which will only contribute to the further disintegration of our American identity. If we value unity as a nation then we need to welcome our immigrants into our borders and expect them to embrace and integrate into our American ideals rather than taking their own cultures and going their own way with little or no understanding of how they can relate to their new country and to each other.

It seems that the heart of true liberalism is an eye for the identity and freedom of each individual person and the content of their character, regardless of their membership in any group or tribe. However, all of this is still possible while embracing the values of freedom and liberty as brilliantly articulated in our Constitution and Bill of Rights.

If nothing else, my encouragement to all who may be thinking about these matters is to pray fervently for our leaders and those in authority as commanded by God’s Word in Romans 13. We are also in need of being reminded that our greatest strength as believers in Christ is our ability to “love our enemies” which is often times much easier to say than it is to do. However, we are not given an option to do anything else.

May the Lord grant us grace, revelation and strength as we continue to take a stand and seek to bring healing and unity to our land.

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

Shifting Our Focus

1.29.21 Leave a comment

Just recently, I was asked to lead a season of prayer over a group of staff members and leadership who were gathered together for a very brief but important time of focusing on the year ahead. These were the women (and at least one man!) who are responsible for the Women’s Choice Network, a pro-life organization that has been serving our Pittsburgh community for nearly 35 years.

As the Director of the ministry was outlining the implications of the unfiltered and unapologetic far-left executive orders that would immediately impact at least eight critical areas of women’s care and the choice to carry a baby full of potential and destiny into their place in this world.

Even though the picture that was being painted was quite bleak in both it’s breadth and it’s depth of de-constructing the existing pro-life safeguards which had been championed by the previous administration, I noticed an interesting and tangible energy and even strength rising up in the people in attendance. You see, when faced with a seemingly impossible challenge which no human strength or strategy can directly overcome, we must shift our focus to what the Holy Spirit promises that He can do in such seemingly hopeless circumstances because all authority in heaven and earth has been given to the Son Jesus who ministers through this same Holy Spirit.

This same principle is true whether it be for ministry, personal challenges, the direction of our government or elected officials at every level; and even in things such as competition, sports, career or educational choices and family relationships.

What happened over the next 30-45 minutes or so, was deeply encouraging to everyone who was there to participate. When we affirm that we are powerless on our own to overcome the obstacles before us and yet we are not willing to surrender to those forces but rather to trust God to see us through them, it ignites something of hope and possibility in the human heart.

If the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead, overcoming the absolute worst defeat anyone could imagine, then what is possible through us who live by that same Spirit? (Romans 8:11)

This is not to say that the days ahead are going to be free from opposition, setbacks and spiritual warfare; as has been true for the people of God for the last four plus millenia as described in scripture. However, for those who hold closely to the promises of God in His word, the support and encouragement of a group or team of believers around you and most important, the daily and fresh anointing of the Holy Spirit and His presence in every circumstance, the message is clear: you will prevail!

I left the time that night aware of the courage and risk taking that these people were stepping into, but I was also more aware of their deep confidence in God based on His history of covering them in years past and most especially on His promise never to fail or forsake them.

Whatever you might be facing, please take these thoughts to heart and the example of this small but very committed band of believers who are laying down their lives for the lives of the unborn and the people who are profoundly intertwined with them.

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

Avoiding the Pitfalls

1.22.21 Leave a comment

One of the unforeseen consequences of the final few weeks of the Trump presidency and the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States has been the rather harsh and sometimes dismissive reaction from friends and even family members who supported Mr. Biden and most of the democratic candidates.

I’ve had a handful of friends that have simply stopped communicating and most unsettling were a few family members who communicated, but did so with a rather critical tone wondering “How could we possibly have even considered supporting Mr. Trump?”

It’s not often that I get involved in political matters to the point where they become problematic with my close relationships, and to be honest, I didn’t really see this coming. However, I also found it difficult to respond briefly and was frustrated at my inability to concisely express why I held my positions and to do so without flipping the page and pointing out the most obvious shortcomings and flaws of the alternative candidates and positions on everything from moral values to hypocrisy that was so underplayed by the media but obvious to anyone who looked below the surface on issues such as “civil unrest” and governmental mandates and policies.

I took a studied look at my brother Glenn’s response to one such dear family member and realized how he had avoided the pitfalls that I hadn’t, and I submit them here for those of you who might just need to have a couple of unemotional, yet surgically precise reasons why you may have held differing opinions to your friends and/or loved ones. Here’s his response.

“Good morning…, out of respect for you, I am responding to your email regarding the election. You asked how I could support former President Trump.

The answer is really quite simple. I take a biblical view on elections and candidates. Neither Mr. Trump nor Mr. Biden were very good candidates. However, Mr. Trump was pro-life and pro-Israel and he demonstrated this during the four years he was in office. Mr. Biden and the democrats are pro-abortion and are either pro-Palestine or do not actively support Israel.

The Bible says God hates those who shed innocent blood and there’s no doubt that killing the unborn is an abomination before Him that will not go unpunished. America is in deep trouble with God if we do not repent and change our ways, and soon.

Beyond this, the Bible says that God will bless those who bless Israel and curse those who curse Israel. Israel is the apple of God’s eye and supporting them helps to keep us in God’s favor. I want a president who openly supports Israel.

There are other points I could make, but just these two are enough. (Because they represent eternal truth as revealed in God’s Word.)

Wishing you a good 2021.”

My family member responded to this explanation quite positively. I sense that the key is to eliminate the emotional hot button issues and events of the past few years, and especially the past months, that inevitably lead to rather extreme reactions no matter how well articulated or defensible they may seem to you.

My prayer for our new president and his administration is that they will find success in bringing some measure of unity and reconciliation amongst all Americans, and they must do so with their actions, not just their words. If they’re able to do that, then perhaps the Lord will “open our souls instead of hardening our hearts” as our new president encouraged all Americans to do in his inaugural address.

In succeeding weeks let’s all recommit ourselves to humbly and with repentance come before the Lord on behalf of our nation and call upon the mercy of God that we might reclaim our place in redemptive history.

Sincere blessings,

Pastor Jay

And In Other News…

1.15.21 Leave a comment

With all that’s going on in the political world in these days, let alone the ongoing pandemic news which seems to change daily, I wanted to take an opportunity to give you something uplifting and potentially very encouraging to celebrate with us.

This coming Tuesday, 1/21/21, we will be officially releasing the culmination of a three year project recounting in some detail how the Lord moved in the hearts of approximately nine couples some 40 years ago this very month to launch a new church in the North Hills of Pittsburgh.

At the time, we had no idea of the blessing that would be upon our efforts and the cumulative impact of what God has done through the ministry of North Way Christian Community. It’s a particular blessing to me that the primary author of the book, Alexander Hettinger, is a member of North Way Oakland, and the publisher, Paul Spencer likewise has attended North Way Oakland for nearly 10 years. 16 different people contributed to the text of the book and told the stories of scores of others that have been touched by the Lord in some personal way through the lives and ministry of our church family.

Lead Pastor, Dave D’Angelo, did an excellent 30 plus minute video interview of Alex and me which will be broadcast on 1/21/21 at northway.org/live or North Way Christian Community on You Tube. We go into quite a bit more detail in that interview about how the book came into being, what we hope it will mean to the lives of not just our members but many others who read it, and most important, how we know without a shadow of a doubt that the Lord has been in this entire experience from day one!

We’ve attached a press release from our publisher, Paul Spencer, who gives you a few more details and explains just how we worked together in order to fulfill this vision and put it into the hands of every North Way family and anyone who may desire a copy for friends and other family members. By the way, the book will be available through all bookstores such as Barnes & Noble, Riverstone Books and most any independent bookseller. It’s also available on Amazon, but it’s important when you ask for the book to use the full title, “12121: The Story of North Way Christian Community”

My prayer is that the Lord will stir many people as they read these page to believe that God has placed dreams and ideas in each of their lives that He wants to fulfill and that nothing is impossible when we are willing to step out and risk the security of what we have been used to doing in life and partner with others in community in order to experience the power of the Holy Spirit to bring it to pass. It’s not just a story about one church and it’s history, it’s also meant to be an encouragement to every other work the Lord has purposed to build His kingdom.

Blessings,
Pastor Jay

The Hope of a New Year

1.05.21 Leave a comment

On March 1st of 2020, Carol and I flew out to Tucson, Arizona, for a much anticipated two week stay in the small city that we have come to really enjoy even though we don’t travel there as frequently as we used to.

Those two weeks were unusually sunny and quite mild and afforded us many opportunities to be outside together, whether hiking, biking, or just walking around and enjoying the natural beauty of Southern Arizona.

On March 15th we flew back home to Pittsburgh and were advised to have some sort of face covering and even some gloves when we travelled on the airplane through Dallas.

Within the next 48 hours we felt like we had been dropped down onto another planet. We had left the place of openness and sunshine, respect for personal space, but no overt sense of crisis or fear.

By March 18th, just three days later, things were beginning to close up throughout our state, almost every form of human contact was under scrutiny from shopping in a grocery store, to going to school, to even how we were told we could worship our God together.

Our corona task force at the highest level challenged us to spend two weeks in very restrictive social patterns in order to “flatten the curve of the spread of the virus.”

As we all know, that two weeks became another six weeks which then seemed to rise and fall throughout the summer with spikes here and there and yet virtually the same level of restrictiveness imposed throughout our culture in every area of life.

The last two months have been as painful as any of the previous eight months in terms of the implications, and on top of all that has been going on with regards to the pandemic, our nation has been embroiled in the most contentious ideological, racial, cultural and political divide that I can ever remember.

However, we have all been compelled to readjust our expectations for how we connect socially and spiritually as well as fulfilling our daily responsibilities and fundamental roles whether they be of parenting, working, schooling, worshiping, sports and a long list of other practices that were unrestricted less than a year ago.

And though many people came to the end of 2020 with long laments of the things that they had lost during this unexpected and underestimated pandemic, let alone the contentious and constant drone of deep division and outright hate with regards to many of our fellow Americans and their positions on the issues mentioned before, I see a bit of a silver lining coming out of this year and moving into 2021.

First, I’m fairly certain that many of us will never take for granted what it means to be completely free to engage with other people in natural and unrestricted ways, especially our closest and dearest family members, the people that we have been blessed to know and love on a close personal basis. The very thought of being able to share Thanksgiving or Christmas together as a family will be more profoundly appreciated going forward than it ever has been in the past.

Worshiping together without concern of infecting others or being infected by them and enjoying the simple pleasure of having an in-depth conversation and really connecting at the heart level, unimpeded by “social distancing” or “face coverings,” will be cherished like never before.

Second, perhaps we have all come to the place in our nation’s ongoing experiment in covenantal democracy to recognize just how fragile it really is. The idea that everything that we have held close and dear and valued so much could be literally broken apart in a matter of weeks or months is not longer some Orwellian novel, but a very real fact of life that we all recognize could become a national experience in literally “a blink of an eye” in terms of our national timeline.

Third, I’ve also discovered in the midst of all the things that we could not do, we found ways to continue to purse the things that we really value such as praying together, sharing together, serving together and growing together using technology and other forms of communication that heretofore had never really been that important to the life of most believers. In some sense, many of us have learned to identify with churches of nations that have great restrictions on their exercise of their freedom of religion simply because we had to battle through limitations never before imposed upon us. This truly will change how we see our freedoms going forward.

Finally, I want to mention how I’m going into the New Year. By every account, even though there are some predictions of extended gloom and doom on the pandemic side of things and also some uncertainty with regards to our national values and relationships, I believe it’s time that we see the New Year through a more optimistic lens.

Especially for those of us who know the assurance of the sovereignty of God and His love for us, we need to recognize that throughout scripture every time of challenge, testing or even isolation was always finite. At some point, “in the fullness of time” God changes things and sets captives free, delivers the faithful from oppression, pulls the warriors out of apparent defeat and sends His Son to deliver us from the most deadly of all pandemics, our sin nature.

It’s time for us as believers to lift up our head and recognize that our salvation is drawing near. We should move into the New Year with expectation and hope and do everything possible to share with others that we are not bound by past struggles, but we are free to believe for God’s deliverance and breakthrough in every area of our lives, from our personal well-being, to our family and dearest friends, our fellow believers and certainly the neighbors and other folks that we have learned to care about in our lives. It is not longer fear, but freedom that we have in our sights!

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

The Christmas Spirit

12.18.20 Leave a comment

Over the past 10 days or so, I’ve been blessed to see God move in a way that I’ve found to be both inspiring and challenging.

On December 7th, we had a few subcontractors show up to do some remodeling work in our home that we had been anticipating for quite a while.

As you might expect, it wasn’t long before some conversations began to transpire between the workers and Carol and me regarding a little bit about ourselves, our background and what we have given our lives to over the past many years. Normally, when I share that I am a pastor it can have one of two responses: either people are interested and ask further questions, or they just say okay… nice to know, and that’s the end of the conversation.

In this case, the head of the crew didn’t say a whole lot until several hours later when he said “I wonder if I could ask you a few questions about the Bible?” He had questions about whether or not the Bible could be trusted and if it was the “work of men” or actually something “given by God.” This led to a couple of interesting conversations but essentially revealed that though he was interested in the Bible, he had never really understood what he was reading and had not been encouraged to do so in his church upbringing days a couple of decades earlier.

That evening, I sent my new friend home with a very readable version of the Bible in more contemporary language and challenged him to simply start by reading it in a version that he could understand, beginning with the gospel of Matthew.

I came to find out that this young man was the father of one 18 month old boy and had serious questions about God Himself and what it meant to know Him because this was something he had not understood as he was growing up.

Over the next couple days, and these were not long extensive conversations but 10 or 15 minutes little “sidebar” exchanges as he was working while managing the rest of the team. What did come out was how very difficult a life he had had growing up and the many mistakes he felt he had made as a young person, which only began to get corrected when his father, who had separated from his mother, had him move into his home and provided a little structure. Following that season, he went into military service for a few years and that added a great deal of discipline and structure to his life which had been missing, but no real deep spiritual values.

After the military, he returned to Pittsburgh and had some unresolved issues of his own, but at the same time grew increasingly passionate about helping young people in the city who had been been like him in earlier years; somewhat wild and unrestrained and getting in and out of trouble lots of different times.

He gave himself for almost seven years to engaging with these students, meeting with those who were suffering from addiction problems and trying his best to relate hope to them despite the fact that he was still wrestling with his own issues.

It took a few years for him to come to grips with his own inconsistencies and acknowledge his own vulnerability to the very things that he was trying to help other young people to stay away from. He took the step of going into an AA program that once again helped provide him with a very clear pathway to becoming free from addictive habits and once again restore his integrity between what he said to others and what he did for himself. This was a huge step and began to soften his heart toward something more.

In an undeniable way, I know the Lord sent him to our house for this project when it could have been someone entirely different. We have continued to have conversations even since the job has been completed and I believe we will continue to do so as he discovers the true, personal God as revealed in Jesus, his higher power.

However, I saw something break open in his heart when he asked me directly over the weekend if I knew of any family in the city of Pittsburgh that could use some help and a blessing at Christmas time. He told me that he didn’t have a lot of money but he would ask some of his coworkers to help and wanted to make Christmas special for someone who was truly in need. (He mentioned that he knew what it was like to have nothing and to be living in other people’s homes for a season in his life and how much he missed that Christmas blessing that everyone wants to share.)

With the encouragement and specific help from Bryan McCabe and some of his LAMP connections, we identified a family consisting of a single mom who cleans offices 10 hours a day and supports five children on her own. She identified some simple things that each of her children were dreaming about for Christmas.

My new friend undertook to talk to his business co-workers and some other friends and are now on schedule to meet the needs of each one of the children and have an added blessing of a generous gift to the mother herself to help to continue to navigate through the hardship of not having a home or a place of their own.

To see his excitement about making a difference in one family and to recognize that it’s just a part of how this blessing will affect the lives of a very needy family striving to stay together in these difficult days has captured the spirit of Christmas for me in a very personal and inspiring way.

My new friend wants no credit and really doesn’t even want the mom to know anything about him except that he cares about her and her five children. He wants the thanks and the glory to go to God and for this woman and her family to know that they are loved.

It’s been a wonderful thing to watch unfold and I’m so thankful for everyone who’s helped to make it come to pass.

Never underestimate how one connection can grow into a life-changing event!

Merry Christmas!

Pastor Jay

The Right Time for Christmas

12.09.20 Leave a comment

One of the important details about the Christmas story that often gets overlooked is just how specific the Father was in the timing of sending His Son.  God’s timetable is all over the Christmas story. 

When we see this clearly in terms of the birth of Jesus 2000 years ago, it helps to bring some confidence and clarity about God’s timing concerning everything… even in this most challenging year.

God had been announcing to the world for centuries that He was going to send a savior.  Prophecies about that abound in the Old Testament.  But God waited for over 1,000 years until just the right time to send His Son.  We really don’t know why He didn’t send Him sooner… He is simply sovereign over the timing of everything.

The Bible says,

“But when the right time came, God sent His Son, born of a woman, subject to the law.  God sent Him to buy freedom for us  who were slaves to the law, so that He could adopt us as His very own children.  And because we are His children, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, ‘Abba, Father.'”  (Galatians 4:4-7 NLT)

These are incredibly important verses of scripture. They reveal to us that:

1.  God has a timetable for everything that happens.

We don’t know why God sent Jesus when He did, but we know it was the right time to do what He wanted to do.  The same is true when it comes to God intervening in our lives for things which we know He’s promised us , but we have yet to see fulfilled.  A delay does not mean “no” it may simply mean “not yet.”

2.  God does not tell us all the details in advance. 

Think of it this way.  If we knew when things we to happen in our lives, we would get overwhelmed with trying to manage all the other decisions around when we knew God was going to intervene.  That would not work out well for us.  Ecclesiastes 3:11 says this:  “God has given them a desire to know the future.  He does everything just right and on time but people can never completely understand what He is doing.”

I’m sure the Lord wants to reveal to us as much as our faith will allow, but not so much that we will somehow abuse that knowledge or try to somehow deflect the negative that may be part of our journey.

The most important reason is that God wants us to learn to trust Him.  He always acts out of love for us and wants us to simply grown in our daily trust of His sovereign grace in our lives.

3.  The Lord is never in a hurry, and He’s never late. 

Have you ever noticed that about the ministry of Jesus in the gospels?  It never says that He “hurried off to Galilee” and that when He seemed to be “late” (such as with answering the prayer of Mary and Martha for Him to come and save their brother Lazarus in John 11).  It’s always so that something more dynamic and powerful can happen.

I know that in these days it seems like God may not be answering our prayers in the timetable that we set, but I’m completely confident that we will have breakthrough and that our prayers will be answered “in the fullness of time.”

Remember the perspective that God has concerning our timetable.  2 Peter 3:8 says, “Do not forget this one thing, dear friends:  With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” NIV

I’d like to share just a couple more insights that these verses bring about the depth of God’s timing and love for us.  These are especially relevant in this Advent season.

Christmas Blessings,

Pastor Jay

Thanksgiving Day 2020

11.25.20 Leave a comment

It may seem somewhat counterintuitive to focus on giving thanks just when the on-going challenges of the covid-19 pandemic seem to be pummeling our nation once again.

However, I think the healthiest way to view this Thanksgiving is to see it within the context of the entire year. We might very well miss the importance of gratitude if we focus simply on what’s happening in our lives just on this particular weekend.

Here are my five specific points of thanksgiving for this day as we come toward the close of this entire year.

  1. Despite the ravages of the pandemic, God has provided for us! With all due compassion and care for the many thousands, if not millions of people, who have been directly affected by the pandemic, and especially those who’ve been isolated or even worse, have lost loved ones, God has been faithful. By that I mean that at this point in the year all signs are positive that we are close to having effective vaccines for national distribution within weeks, along with a number of effectual therapies that greatly reduce mortality rates. In addition, most all of us were able to continue to eat and take care of our basic needs throughout these difficult months, which was a true blessing from God when so many of our systems and services were under great stress.
  2. We are ending our year in relative peace. Yes, there were times throughout 2020 when conflicts, protests and riots were splashed across our headlines and screens for weeks and months at a time. Once again, with due concern and compassion for those who suffered the loss of their businesses and/or incomes throughout these difficult months, we are closing the year in a state of relative peace both nationally and without a doubt, internationally. He is our peace! (Ephesians 2:14)
  3. Our future is brightening for economic recovery. This has undoubtedly been the most difficult economic cycle in my lifetime and included many weeks when no one was certain if, let alone when, we might recover. Though some sectors of our economy are still suffering and face another wave of restrictions, there’s no question that the economic horizon is brightening. The Lord is Jehovah Rophe, our Provider. In mid-March, who could have imagined that our best economic indicators would reach an all time high just eight months later?!
  4. We give thanks for God’s sovereign and unwavering faithfulness. Even though a number of us have had times of wondering just where things were going to go with regards to our national dialogue and the over-all wellbeing of our nation, it’s been the hand of God that has provided optimism and hope in our previous three acknowledgements. This isn’t the work of some human plan of recovery or some strategic and unified decision making. This is the favor of God in answer to the prayers of His people.
  5. The Lord is worthy of our thanks and praise, but also of our humility and penitence. Throughout the trials of this past year, God has provided deliverances and blessings when we were often at the very end of our own devices. For that we give Him great praise and thanksgiving! At the same time, however, we must turn to Him with humble hearts and ask for forgiveness for our national disregard for His worthiness and presence in the fabric of our national identity. Both thanksgiving and repentance are appropriate in this 2020 year of great challenge.
  6. I would encourage you to ponder these five items and close with a prayer for the Lord to bring healing to the wounds of our nation and to restore the brokenhearted and all those who have suffered through this lamentable season and to bring us back into a time of peace, harmony and revival in our land.

Thanksgiving blessings,

Pastor Jay

P.S. If you want an additional perspective on just how significant these principles are, please read the attached proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln of October 3, 1863. It was the most divided time in our nation’s history and yet all the things that we have affirmed here, he publicly declared 160 years ago.