An Uncommon Gift

9.04.20 Leave a comment

One of the hidden blessings of this difficult season that we are all navigating in our culture and our individual lives, is that many are finding that the Lord is not withholding His precious gifts to us. Last week we looked at the gift of “refreshment and rest” in Matthew 11:28-30. Jesus described Himself as the “oasis” on our journey.

In another very descriptive passage Jesus says that “All you thirsty ones, come to me! Come to me and drink! Believe in me so that rivers of living water will burst out from within you, flowing from your innermost being, just like the scripture says!” John 7:37-38

In these times when many of us need spiritual refreshing or just a sense of encouragement and uplifting that will sustain us through the weight of extended periods of disconnectedness, the absence of worship experiences, moments of spontaneous interaction with family and friends, and so many other things that are part of our everyday normal practice, it seems that these blessings will be for us to sustain ourselves.

In some cases, this may be the very thing that is most needed in your life for that moment and perhaps for a season. However, take note of the fact that the Lord says that these ‘living waters will burst forth from you, flowing from your innermost being…’ which is a picture of us pouring out the very blessings we’ve received from the grace of God in our lives. It’s a sign of significant spiritual growth when the blessings that you personally receive from the Lord you freely pour out to others rather than simply enjoy them for yourself. Even though it seems counter-intuitive, God’s highest purpose in pouring blessing into your life is not for you to simply enjoy it, but for you to become a vessel of sharing that blessing with others!

If we think about it, in less stressful times when you experienced a blessing of a powerful concert of worship or gathering of believers to share fellowship or strong scriptural teaching, you were very likely to share that blessing with others. In fact, it meant more to you that someone else would come along with you than for you simply to go by yourself.

The fact is that the blessings that you are receiving in your personal times with the Lord, or if you are blessed to be with groups of others that are stopping at the “oasis” of Jesus life and discovering the “rivers of living water,” are most fulfilling if you openly share them with others.

One of the things that I used to find somewhat disconcerting was that when we would have consistently powerful gatherings for worship and/or ministry I would see very similar faces, people that I knew quite well, who would come and take their favorite spot week after week but rarely would I see anybody new coming with them. They would come to be refreshed and they would come to enjoy the presence of God and His spiritual life being poured out, but didn’t feel that inner compelling to bring someone else along who might benefit equally if not more so from such an experience.

There are opportunities for prayer, small group gatherings and in some cases indoor and outdoor assemblies where people are finding the refreshing of the Spirit of God. If you are blessed to be part of such gatherings, then I would appeal to you to follow the example of Mary of Bethany, who broke the box of precious ointment and poured it on Jesus’ head as a sacrifice of her love for Him and what He had done for her. Even though she was chastised by the disciples as being wasteful, she was commended by Jesus for her extravagant act of devotion, and her story was forever immortalized in scripture. (Luke 7:36-50)

Perhaps now, more than ever before, it’s time to break open that flow of life and to cease craving it for ourselves and seek to spill it out to others all around us who may be even more desperate for God’s peace, power and presence than we can even imagine. Give the uncommon gift of spiritual blessing.

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

A Place of Rest

8.26.20 Leave a comment

In several recent conversations, I’ve heard a pretty broad cross section of people describing just how wearisome and complicated their lives have become over the past few months, and especially as we now head into the school season and increased responsibilities for many families. Unquestionably, the lingering issues of covid 19 have contributed greatly to the daily burdens of most people and made what used to be relatively simple and somewhat straightforward practices, such as grocery shopping or visiting with family, complicated and often a difficult exercise.

There has also been additional stress for those in businesses who have been trying to sustain their livelihood and many more are facing the possibility of future job cuts and other loss of income if severe regulations are not somewhat relaxed in the near future.

The absence of being able to meet freely in our churches has taken away one of the lifelines of encouragement and support for many people and in additional ways, limitations on support group meetings and other fellowship gatherings has also added to our personal burdens.

That’s why the words of Jesus in Matthew 11:28 are so important in times like this. Jesus knew what we would face in life and how circumstances can many times become wearisome and even on occasion too heavy to bear. That’s where Jesus said these simple words, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” The Passion Translation adds to our understanding as it translates this verse, “I will refresh your life, I will give you rest, I am your oasis on this journey.”

That is the literal interpretation of the word in the Aramaic or spoken Greek language of the day. That is the physical image that people would get when Jesus said these words to them.

But this is not simply a matter of pausing in your day and acknowledging your need for God’s help. Jesus is a bit more specific in Matthew 11:29. He says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” That is translated in The Passion Translation as, “Simply join your life with mine, learn my ways, and you will discover I am gentle and easy to please… you will find rest and refreshment in me.”

See, the answer here to our sense of weariness, struggle, and inadequacy is not “an answer,” not a simple way out, but rather it is finding life in close friendship with Jesus!

The image of being yoked, which is the word that we see used here most often, is not as common to us today as the phrase “simply join your life with mine,” but the meaning is the same. What happens with our problems, our burdens and our weariness is that when we’re joined in life with Jesus and learning from Him, we begin to trade our self-consciousness for Christ-consciousness. It’s not that our burdens and difficulties suddenly vanish, but we do find a different source of strength, a refreshing of the soul and ultimately the spirit, and oftentimes even the physical and mental sharpening that relieves the burden that we’ve been unable to carry.

What also happens if we take these simple steps is that the reality of God’s sovereignty in our lives begins to become more clear to us. God promises to “work all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose,” and in point of fact, we begin to see the burdens and the daily routines not as obstacles, but as potential pipelines of the strength of God at work in our lives. Just the realization that God is at work in these things can turn difficult days into times of outright celebration because we recognize that God has never left us alone and is in fact making us stronger as we press through whatever is in our path.

The simple secret to this is to come to Jesus as He invites you to do and begin to praise Him in the middle of whatever it is you’re facing. Praise has the power to break down strongholds, to release limitations and to change circumstances that we cannot imagine. When we come to Jesus and begin to let His life flow through us, praise comes from us that we didn’t even know existed and it becomes a mighty weapon that releases the power of God to carry us through whatever it is that we might be facing.

In these challenging days, friends, hear the inviting words of Jesus saying, “Come to me. I am your oasis on this journey.”

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

How To Stay Strong

8.14.20 Leave a comment

In a recent local newscast there was a montage of clips of brief interviews with “the people on the street” in downtown Pittsburgh and in the Strip District. There were about 10 or more folks who commented on how they were handling the current, ongoing issues with the pandemic. The title of this segment was “Covid Fatigue.” Every person they interviewed conceded that life was becoming increasingly difficult, that communications were often awkward and stifled, and that just the freedom to move about and do enjoyable things that make life more fulfilling and provide a sense of refreshment are increasingly absent. They were all really tired of it.

As we look at things today, not just here locally but around the nation, it’s clear that there’s no precise end in sight to this situation. However, there is a very clear pathway through discouragement, anxiety, frustration and fear for every person who has faith in Christ and is trusting God in the midst of what is happening.

One of the things that I have learned over these many years is that our enemy seeks to effectively distract us from the cornerstone revelation upon which we can build our attitude every day. That revelation is simply this: God is good! If we can be distracted from that truth then the circumstances around us seem to be able to pull us under the waves now and then and eventually we begin to gasp for the “fresh air of the Spirit,” which is essential to remain victorious.

Remembering that the Lord has seen all of this coming and He has prepared a way for us to get through it, makes a huge difference in our response to such difficulties.

Because God is good and because you also know that you have identity and purpose because of His presence in your life then you’ll be prepared to stand in all that the Lord is working out in you through these challenges and difficulties. This is in no way diminishing the fact that such things are real, it’s just choosing to place the sovereignty of God over the power of circumstance. Think about that statement because it’s true; nothing goes to waste for the child of God. The Apostle Paul said it this way: “All things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

In the Old Testament, Joseph discovered this. As he was discovering his destiny, he saw that God’s plans and purposes had a momentum and power that outweighed the evil plans of his brothers. He summarized it in his final meeting with them when he said, “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.” (Genesis 50:20)

The brothers had evil plans and they affected Joseph’s life profoundly, but in the end the superior reality was that their plans couldn’t cancel out God’s purposes for him. In fact, it was those evil intentions that became the very tools that God used to bring Joseph into his place of authority and the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise to him.

If you think carefully through this truth, it may apply to something unrelated to Covid such as your own physical circumstance or perhaps a relational strain that is wearing you down, but never doubt God’s goodness. We live in a world that is still influenced by the effects of sin and therefore we have things take place in our lives that don’t seem to make sense to us, and yet we can affirm with great confidence that God is in control and that His plans for us are good – and this very special word, that “no weapon formed against us will prosper!” (Isaiah 54:17)

These are truths that we must renew to our own heart each and every day. Fighting a battle like this in difficult times requires moments of daily strengthening and the occasional support of others who share our same posture of faith and confidence in the purposes and promises of God for our lives!

We will prevail over this test and trial, and many others in our lives, if we seek to do what King David of old did at one of the lowest moments of his life as revealed in depth in 1 Samuel 30:6; “David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.”

Blessings!

Pastor Jay

The Antidote to Fear

8.07.20 Leave a comment

Just a few days ago, I read several insightful articles in the Wall Street Journal concerning the current mindset that is so pervasive in our present-day culture in America. In my opinion, one of the most penetrating opinions was by an associate professor from UCLA named Dr. Ladapo whose column “Fear and Loathing in Covid America” pulled back the veil that is covering over the sources of the pervasive unrest and fear that seems to be crippling a return to normalcy in our nation.

“Public panic and media scorn are shutting down important debates about how to tackle the virus.” Dr. Ladapo

This is not a denial of the reality that we are still coming to terms with a widespread virus that has affected the lives of nearly everyone in America and is reportedly responsible for the death of about 160,000 Americans over the past 6 months. This is very real and is worthy of a united effort to come to some strategic agreement about how we can overcome the virus without destroying “livelihoods and futures, increasing poverty and domestic violence, or sacrifices to children’s education and emotional well being.”

What I’ve noticed personally is more focused on what is happening within the culture of the church in America and particularly the “big C” Church here in the Pittsburgh area. Though many churches have made efforts to “regather” over the past few months, the reinstatement of strict limitations by our state and county government officials, though supposedly not directly affecting churches, indirectly affects the mindset of people who might otherwise be excited to return to public gatherings with approved protocols.

Let me be clear that I have had some wonderful experiences with virtual gatherings in small groups and even an occasional larger Zoom call with a hundred or more people involved. But honestly, these quickly wane in terms of the emotional dynamic that is only truly experienced when you are sharing some space with another group of people in the flesh.

In several gatherings in which I’ve participated in the past two months, despite all appropriate safety measures being taken, there was a sense of caution and even “distance”. (I don’t mean social distance but emotional distance.) This has had a chilling effect on the anticipated benefits of being together in the presence of God and with one another in order to give much needed support, encouragement and even scriptural and prophetic edification for many who are experiencing relational, financial or other very real consequences of our current circumstances.

Just last evening, a small group of friends who have desired to offer an opportunity for believers to gather, and to bring along friends, family members or co-workers that might need some support and strengthening in these times, had it’s first opportunity to meet. The event was held at a local retreat center that’s reasonably accessible to most of the North Hills area. Based on numerous conversations with members of the core group and responses to my own invitations, our expectations were pretty high that we would have a strong turnout. The weather, which is a determining factor in any outdoor event, was ideal and our team did a marvelous job in handling logistics and providing the essential elements for a wonderful evening together. Indeed, that is what we experienced… it was a wonderful time of outdoor praise and worship, a strong and authentic testimony, a brief message about the presence and power that the Spirit of Jesus brings to us, and a time of ministry. Those who attended the evening were almost universal in their affirmation that the Lord really met with us and the time was blessed with God’s favor.

The only confusing and rather telling dynamic that was missing was a significant number of the people who said that they would be coming and/or bringing someone along with them. It may have been some unforeseen last minute interruptions, but my sense is that it has more to do with the spirit of fear. Fear can enter in as soon as people think about any risk involved with coming in contact with other people that they may not know, even in what is widely seen as a safe, outdoor, abundantly spacious area where you could be completely by yourself if you so desired.

At some point, every believer has to make the decision whether their participation in life sustaining and spirit building gatherings will begin to be once again a part of their lives.

The only real antidote to fear is faith. Repeatedly, even from the lips of Jesus, we see that fear can overwhelm faith and cause God’s best for our lives to be short circuited. (See Matthew 14:22-31)

It’s not too late for us to act in unity, but unless we resolve to do so it may be quite a long time and at an unimaginable cost that we will remain on the sidelines of fulfilling God’s purposes in this critical time in our nation’s history.

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

A 50 Year Discovery

7.31.20 Leave a comment

Forgive me for taking the liberty to share a very personal moment with many of you that read this page on a weekly basis.

Last Saturday, July 25 at 7:00 p.m., Carol and I shared a wonderful celebration of 50 years of marriage to one another — and as my friend Dr. Kevin Leman used to ask “50 years in a row?” — Yes!

Because of the very strange circumstances in which we find ourselves in the Summer of 2020 whatever plans we had to share this grace-gift of love with our extended family, our friends and our dear church were necessarily put on hold. It just wasn’t workable, except for one piece of the plan that we did manage to fulfill: that was spending most of a full week together with our three children, their beloved spouses and 10 beautiful grandchildren (17 years to 7 months old)!

There were many moments of laughter, of sharing, of adventure on hikes and alpine slides! (And lots of time preparing, eating and cleaning up food — tons of food!)

Somehow, the absence of opportunities to share with others, made the times we had with our family exceedingly precious and meaningful. Just the thought of the potential of those 16 other lives that Carol and I have had the privilege of loving and influencing in faith, character, values and purpose was deeply moving.

In Ephesians 5, the Apostle Paul talks about marriage as a “great and sacred mystery”; an analogy of the love of Christ for His church. In the very same way we cannot fully understand with our minds how Christ can love the church so unconditionally, so faithfully, so intimately despite her flaws, failures and imperfections, so it is with a marriage between a man and a woman.

When asked, “What made your marriage work?” (this is especially poignant when we share that we’d only known each other for two full months before I left the little town where we met in Lexington, Virginia, to go to Quantico for Officer Candidate School exactly two months to the day of our ‘first date’!) we’ve discovered that the only honest answer that we can give is that ‘we don’t know what we did, we just knew that we were the right one for each other’. (Something our parents weren’t as convinced about as we were at the time!)

Perhaps this goes back all the way to the very first “marriage” in the Bible between Adam and Eve. Even though all of creation had been finished and Adam had gone as far as naming all the animals and creatures of the earth that he could discover, it was not until he saw what God had prepared for him that he said,

“Finally! Bone of my bone,

flesh of my flesh!

Name her Woman

for she was made for man.” Genesis 2:23 (TLB)

Have you ever asked yourself how Adam knew that Eve was the right one for him? They didn’t really date or have time to build a relationship, they just knew that God had created them for one another.

I should point out that we did know that we shared a mutual love for Jesus, His people and His purpose for our lives. Although we didn’t have may interests in common, we both enjoyed being together in whatever really mattered to the other. In those two brief months that we were together, Carol shared with me in the volunteer youth ministry I had begun at a local Presbyterian church and I could see in her the latent potential she had to love others with an interest, compassion and sensitivity that I so appreciated and greatly needed. At the same time, perhaps I gave to Carol something of an opportunity to express her love for God with others in a way that had been limited prior to those months together.

We’ve often said that we wouldn’t recommend the accelerated timeline that we had to choose in order to be together in marriage. We did recognize that if we didn’t get married in the summer of 1970, it was likely that we may not have the opportunity to do so at some later time. Her teaching career was taking a different direction and my military service was somewhat unclear. It was just what we needed to do in order to allow the grace of God to begin to fully blossom in our life together.

And so I can say with humility and thanksgiving that these have been 50 years of discovering what it means to love someone the way that Christ loved His church. The undeniable reality is that I have a very long way to go to come even close to that level of service, care and intimacy; but the wonderful news is that we now start the next chapter of this incredible journey together.

I recognize that some of you will be reading this who may not have the opportunity to share your life with another in such a way, or that perhaps your marriage didn’t work out as you had hoped. Let me be clear that that in no way limits your ability to know and love Jesus and to grow in your revelation knowledge of His love for you. That’s why He has made you part of His body, the Church, and will always be available, anticipating and celebrating your moments together.

As the Apostle Paul said, it is a mystery and one that we can’t fully understand with our mind but we can discover and experience forever in our spirits.

Blessings!

Pastor Jay

Ultimate Reality

7.22.20 Leave a comment

Last evening, I made a bit of a confession to my home group that I was becoming a bit discouraged by the seemingly endless flow of negativity, restrictions and fear that have re-emerged once again with regard to the current pandemic.

Like many of you, just a few weeks ago we all felt that we were in an improving situation with the number of cases declining and hospitalizations and reported deaths in our general geographic area on a marked decline. This was also true in many other parts of the country but then seemingly overnight the reports reversed direction as increased testing revealed significant spikes in positive covid-19 test results in many areas where it wasn’t expected such as the very warm climates of Florida, Texas and Arizona along with Southern California.

Soon those numbers began to creep up in many other states, but not nearly as dramatically as the four that I mentioned. Here in Southwestern Pennsylvania, Allegheny County saw a moderate “spike” in positive tests, though hospitalizations and deaths remained low.

The net result of all of this negativity has been a clamping down once again on normal human interaction in everything from businesses re-opening, to restaurants finally serving customers once again and now even to heated debates about whether or not schools will re-open and just recently strict limitations being imposed once again on houses of worship throughout our community.

The sum total of these combined elements, and especially the way they are reported continually in any kind of media to which you might refer, is the inescapable sense that fear is gripping the minds and hearts of many, many people. Many will deny that this is driving their actions, but when you peel bake their rationalizations somewhere near the foundation of it all is the fear that this virus will potentially devastate their life in one way or another. Whether they see themselves at personal risk or in some cases, even worse, that they might unknowingly infect someone that they love or care about which does nothing more than cause them to retreat even further from meaningful human interaction.

Having a normal conversation with a neighbor, friend or co-worker, let alone strangers, is very awkward if not impossible. Most exchanges are superficial at best and leave little or no room to genuinely connect with other people at a meaningful and honest emotional level.

The unfortunate part is that the science of all this continues to evolve but in every study that is currently published there’s very little data to corroborate the relatively extreme measures that are being advocated and in many cases imposed by our government officials. In today’s Wall Street Journal which referenced a national and even global assessment of the mortality rate of the covid-19 virus all the statistics say it’s between .5 and 1%. That means if you do test positive you have a 99% chance of recovering from the virus, and that most everyone who does succumb to it has some sort of significant co-morbidity. For whatever reason, the media rarely tells us these statistics and that the people that we should be most concerned about and most careful with and compassionate toward are the very elderly who might already have compromised immune systems. (The median age of coronavirus decedents in Italy was 80, and they died with a median of nearly three co-morbidities, such as heart disease and diabetes.)

It’s also evident that the potential implications of increased lock-downs and children not returning in the fall could be absolutely devastating to the psychological and emotional health of our families as well as the financial stability of our economy and therefore our people.

I’ll intentionally not comment on the added fear that has been ginned up by the cultural explosions of “peaceful protests” turned violent, destructive and once again, fear producing outbreaks nationwide. People are leaving large cities by the droves and it’s widely predicted that New York City, Minneapolis, Los Angeles among numerous other cities may never fully recover from the exodus that these actions have caused.

All of this needs to be juxtaposed against one of the fundamental principles throughout all of scripture and particularly the New Testament. Jesus speaks so clearly in so many different circumstances that the over-ruling posture against fear is that of faith, whether in corporate settings such as Matthew 8:26 where the disciples are in a boat with Jesus as a violent storm comes up and they begin to sink, waking Jesus out of desperation where He says, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” to the reports in three gospels of Jesus Himself touching a leprous man, a man with a highly infectious deadly disease, saying that He’s willing to face the prospect of death in order to bring about healing. (Mark 1:40, Luke 5:12-14) In perhaps the most dramatic confrontation of so-called “facts” and the reality of the power of “faith,” Jesus is told of the death of the ruler Jairus’ daughter in Luke 8:50 when he says specifically to this synagogue ruler, “Don’t be afraid, just believe and she will be healed.”

No way am I making a case for disregard about treating this national health emergency with respect and wisdom. However, I am stating that we all need to be examining our own motives and determining if we are responding to circumstances out of fear … or are we trusting in the Word of God and the faith that it speaks to each and every situation. In the end, the ultimate reality of life is not in circumstance, but in what God’s word promises to be true and makes alive to our heart by faith.

Blessings!

Pastor Jay

Making a Positive Difference

7.15.20 Leave a comment

Over the past several weeks I’ve noticed more and more stories about companies, small groups, and even individuals who are doing something to make a difference in overcoming this health crisis we are in and the ripples of societal conflict it is causing.

Just today, I read of a company in Moon Township that was challenged by a much larger manufacturing company to join with them in creating covid-19 test kits to reach the ever growing demand for virus testing around the nation. The challenge put forth was that this company was to produce 200,000 tests per week… a daunting number to be sure. Even though they hired a dozen full time employees they’re still only one quarter of the way toward their goal. However, they interviewed three or four different people, most of them college students, who when asked why when they took the job said, “We feel like it’s better to make a difference than simply to sit by on the sidelines at such an important time.”

Secular wisdom is full of simple quotes that say something similar. Things such as “You never change your life until you step out of your comfort zone; change begins at the end of your comfort zone.” (Roy T. Bennett)

However, I needn’t find more motivation than I do in our scriptures which repeatedly challenge us to discover change by taking a risk and doing something that God would lead you to do that would stretch your normal interactions, practices and even priorities.

Every one of the early disciples was changed because they encountered Jesus in something in the authority of His teaching, the display of power in His life, and the overwhelming sense of His love caused them to leave whatever they were doing and to follow Him in His three year journey in ministry on the earth. (Luke 5:4-11)

Many times change only happens when we take some sort of step in a direction that we need to go. We don’t like the repetitive cycles of disappointment, discouragement and defeat in which we find ourselves; whether that be with relationships, our physical condition or our spiritual vitality (among many others).

In some cases, it is God who initiates the change by confronting us with such a dramatic revelation or understanding of who He is that the choice is straightforward and compelling. That’s why one of the greatest persecutors of Christians was dramatically converted when God appeared to him as a bright light on the road to Emmaus not long after the resurrection of Jesus. (Acts 9:1-19)

In this season of continued uncertainty what is God calling you to change? It’s not enough just to “curse the darkness,” you must take a step to “shine the light” and be a positive instrument of change in your own life first, and then with others.

  1. You may want to connect with just one other person and share the desire you have to see change and then be willing to hold yourself accountable to them on a regular basis. This simple act of submitting yourself to a trusted friend can launch you into a dramatic experience that has significant impact on your life.
  2. You may want to join a small group of people who are either praying for or working toward some sort of positive change in the church, the community or in the culture. It doesn’t take a lot of searching to find these opportunities as they are more prolific than ever because of the limitations on larger and more organized public ministries.
  3. If you know of such opportunities, make it your mission to invite someone who may be sitting on the sidelines right now because they are just waiting to be asked. Remember the transformational power of one simple invitation when Philip said to his brother Nathaniel about the person of Jesus, “Come and see….” John 1:46

It’s time for positive change to become our focus each and every day rather than the constant barrage of negative reporting and widespread dis-affection with our culture. You can be part of God’s provision and solution to the dilemma of man.

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

Lift Up Your Eyes

7.08.20 Leave a comment

Over the past week, our sense of anticipation that we were perhaps on the downside of the implications of the covid-19 outbreak and all of it’s ancillary implications such as the economic fallout, the personal restrictions, the uncertainty regarding school openings and a myriad of other very significant issues has once again fallen into what seems to be the “black hole” of uncertainty.

Reportedly the spike in cases varies from state to state, but fortunately the death rate remains low across the board, although that’s not the primary story in most outlets. What we do know is that this pause in our recovery has some pretty critical implications on the overall psyche of the average american and has led to a lot of postponements, cancellations, frustration and disappointment. More events are being cancelled, airline reservations have dropped significantly, get-togethers for weddings, graduations, vacations and the like have all seemed to fall victim to this on-going battle against a virus which we don’t seem to fully understand and cannot seem to fully control.

However, a close friend made a rather profound analogy at a recent home group gathering as we were talking about the response to these rather negative and difficult circumstances. Rather than seeing ourselves as being limited to random projections of the extent of the virus and how long it may be around as we wait for vaccines and/or protocols that may limit the virus in natural terms, there is also another possibility.

If something that we knew virtually nothing about five months ago and those who did know anything about it assured us that it would not have any impact on our culture, let alone the rest of the world, could bring such widespread fear, suffering, confusion, uncertainty and catastrophic loss around the world why should we believe that that is the only thing that could happen quickly and dramatically. What if God would chose to unleash His supernatural power to overrule these circumstances and consequences?

One of the spiritual principles that has guided my worldview for four decades is that there is a spiritual realm that we cannot see and is not just real, but controlling of the natural realm in which we live. Anyone who believes in prayer knows that such things are real and countless stories, as well as biblical accounts, through the millennia add evidence to this assertion which only hardened agnostics or atheists would deny.

If we are caught up in the wave of negativity and uncertainty surrounding this current moment, we are taking our eyes off the promises and power of God and what He could choose to do by simply speaking a word in the unseen realm which would unleash the wisdom, knowledge, strategies and resources to turn this entire situation completely around, and might certainly do so in less time than it took in the natural realm for the virus to spread around the world!

In chapter 5 of John’s gospel, there’s a story of a paralyzed man who was brought to the pool of Bethesda where he waited for some sort of mystical stirring of the waters of the pool which apparently led to one person being healed of whatever their disease might be if they were the first to enter the pool. However, because of his disability, he had not been that person for 38 years and one can only imagine the sense of hopelessness and despondency in which he must have lived.

However, in that same story, Jesus walks into the crowd of hundreds and looks at the man and says, “Do you truly long to be healed?” When the man explains his dilemma about being unable to make it to the pool in time, at that very moment Jesus said to him in John 5:8, “Stand up! Pick up your sleeping mat and you will walk!” Immediately he stood up — he was healed! So he rolled up his mat and walked again.

38 years of disappointment, frustration and hopelessness was erased in one moment of encounter with Jesus. Similar miracles on a much grander scale are recorded throughout scripture but they all seem to be linked to a word from the Lord which is either part of a sovereign intervention, or a response to earnest prayer by an individual, groups or people, or an entire nation.

Many of us believe that what is happening right now around our nation is a movement of prayer which is not necessarily publicized or well known, but is quietly growing in all kinds of private and unseen places by those calling upon God to “forgive our sin and heal our land.”

What impacted me about what is shared is that often times we see this as perhaps a long road to recovery when in fact, if what got us into this situation in the natural realm took just five months, a word from God could reverse the entire circumstance in a much shorter period of time than anyone has ever imagined. The hand of God is not limited by our human agencies and one word from the throne of God can reverse a mountain of circumstance, suffering and loss in a very short period of time.

Let’s lift our eyes up to the big picture, a place where we see God and not circumstances and where we believe His word and not just what we hear constantly bombarding us in the daily news cycle. We will not be disappointed.

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

A Reason to Celebrate July 4th, 2020

7.02.20 Leave a comment

As I write these words, we are just two days away from the annual celebration of our independence as a nation as established on July 4, 1776. In normal times, the 4th of July was always seen as a remembrance of the great gift of being in a free country, a place where freedom to live a life where personal expression, choice and responsibility have created the most wonderful and sought after democracy in the world. If there was one day in the year when Americans paused to acknowledge the whole idea of patriotism and the sacrifices that went into securing and sustaining our liberties, it was always this day, the 4th of July. Families and friends gathered everywhere to celebrate, the flag was widely displayed and honored as a symbol of it and fireworks were majestically filling the skies at night watched by millions and millions of people who share this gift of freedom.

However, in America on this 4th of July, 2020, these are not normal times. Almost everywhere we look, there are reminders of the widespread sense of uncertainty and even fear because of the unseen enemy of covid-19, the hardships brought upon so many because of the economic fall-out, the tearing down of many of the symbols and statues that have chronicled our less than perfect but none-the-less important reminders of our journey toward freedom, and sadly, the unending and almost oppressing political divisions within our government and it’s people.

It would be very easy to slip into a posture of negativity and almost withdrawal into the so called “safety of life safety of isolation” to escape such things, but even then the messages are inescapable if you have access to any kind of media (which we all do in abundance). But what I have found to be uplifting to my heart and soul as well as essential to sustaining a positive and optimistic attitude in the midst of all this is the study and reaffirmation of what I know to be true according to the reliable wisdom of God’s word and my lifetime of experience and trusting that word over the circumstances of my life.

This all begins with a reaffirmation of the certainty that we have that our God is, in fact, sovereign and in control of all that takes place throughout the earth. He is not off in some distant part of the universe watching disinterestedly what is taking place in our nation and our personal lives. That’s why 1 Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your cares upon Him for he cares for you.” Psalm 24:1 says, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” There are hundreds of other scriptures that reassert and reaffirm this global and yet personal engagement that our God has with the world He created and the people that He’s called forth to know and live for Him.

There’s one other thing that I take to heart as a pro-active way to stay engaged in the events that are going on around us which may lead to actions, but simply a prayerful exercise can make a difference. If one’s cosmology; that is the meaning and purpose of all things, is based on biblical revelation not simply some homologation of philosophy, science, anthropology and strictly human theories, then one is drawn to the possibility of such powerful statements as this:

“All the blessings of peace and tranquility, without which there can be no stable social order and no civilization as we know it, are the result of the gospel. And the true church is the custodian of that gospel. Therefore, the true church is not only the central and fundamental but also the vital institution upon which every other structure — social, political, and governmental — depends. Without the moral and spiritual light shed abroad by the Word of God through the church, there would be no favorable climate for business and commerce or enlightening cultural, educational, and social activities. Without the knowledge of and reverence for God, there can be no orderly and efficient functioning of government.”

“Destined for the Throne” by Paul E. Billheimer

Perhaps that is why George Washington, our first president and considered the father of our nation, boldly proclaimed, “It is impossible rightly to govern the world without God and the Bible.”

Perhaps this is why even George Washington’s statue has come under assault. Perhaps the forces that are seeking to reek their hostility and negativity throughout our nation also have no place for God or His word in the future that they envision. I really don’t know.

However, that does not diminish my freedom to celebrate boldly what I believe to be true and why I believe God has shown such favor to our nation through so many years of pursuing this long and unending journey to establishing a free society of “liberty and justice for all.” We are not there yet and we have changes that must be made, but for this 4th of July, I intend to celebrate where we have come from and by the grace of God, what we may change and strive to improve for our children and grandchildren and all future generations.

May God bless you this July 4th, and may God bless America!

Thankful for you,

Pastor Jay

The Court of First Resort

6.25.20 Leave a comment

In many places around this nation there is an unseen awakening taking place. It’s unseen because it’s happening in homes, on thousands of virtual gathering spaces, in some churches that have remained open and even in outdoor venues. It is an awakening to prayer which is the very first step toward bringing hope, forgiveness and reconciliation into the tumultuous situation that we face in these current times in our great nation.

The call for dialogue and conversation around steps that can be taken to heal the wounds that are carried by many in our culture; and to pursue the path of a more profound belief in the founding proclamation that these United States would be a place of “liberty and justice for all” will make only marginal gains, if at all, without addressing the heart issues of every person whom God loves and calls us to love as well.

In a recent “protest” radical demonstrators pulled down a statue of George Washington, surrounded it with the American flag and set it on fire. Yet what I see when I consider the incredible courage, leadership and wisdom of the “Father of our Nation” is not a man to be defamed but one to be venerated as a model of what it means to seek God and His will, strength, compassion and love in every moment of life. George Washington was a man of prayer and just to give you a more personal glimpse into how deep this well of communion with God was in our first president’s life, here’s an excerpt from just one day in George Washington’s prayer journal. (“George Washington the Christian” by William J. Johnson, New York: Abingdon Press, 1919.)

“I humbly beseech Thee to be merciful to me in the free pardon of my sins for the sake of Thy dear Son, my only Savior, Jesus Christ, who came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance; be pleased to renew my nature and write Thy laws upon my heart, and help me to live, righteously, soberly, and godly in this evil world; make me humble, meek, patient and contented, and work in me the grace of Thy Holy Spirit. Bless our rulers in church and state. Help all in affliction or adversity – give them patience and a sanctified use of their affliction, and in Thy good time deliverance from them; forgive my enemies, take me unto Thy protection this day, keep me in perfect peace, which I ask in the name and for the sake of Jesus.”

There are many things that we can do as God’s people and as the church of Jesus Christ in these days, but every other action should come after we pray. Prayer is our first priority and the only one that we know God will honor and infuse with His power to bring about change, lasting change in our hearts and in our land.

It’s not carried in any of the media sources that most people would ever see, but in the very place where George Floyd perished nearly one month ago, a revival is breaking out in the streets of Minneapolis. A band of believers began with constant around the clock prayer for the brokenness in that community soon after Mr Floyd’s death. After some time, the Lord prompted a number of those same people to begin to take the message of hope and begin to share it with individuals who are gathering every day at that location. It was not long before many scores and now hundreds of people have come to have an encounter with Jesus, be baptized and begin a journey of healing and reconciliation as sons and daughters of God, with no higher standing of any kind to be granted by our cultural norms.

That is why I’m so encouraged to know that these pockets of prayer that I mentioned earlier are happening in thousands of locations around the nation. It was John Wesley who said: “God will do nothing but in answer to prayer.” S. D. Gordon early in the last century said: “The greatest thing anyone can do for God and for man is to pray. Prayer is striking the winning blow… the Service is gathering up the results.”

My encouragement is that if you hear of such prayer gatherings, why not take a step of faith and get involved. Many of these gatherings are spontaneous but open to anyone who cares to participate, whether in person or virtually. Some are well organized and others simply gather together for a set amount of time and allow the Lord to lead the direction of the gathering, often through scripture, personal leadings or prophetic guidance. George Washington like many others who God used to establish the foundation for this great nation knew they were imperfect men. But they also recognized that the grace of God was sufficient to deliver them from the power of sin and to use them in ways that far exceeded their human abilities.

Our nation needs an awakening of that same humility, repentance, renewal and reconciliation if we are to move forward in this wonderful land that we have been given to live our one and only lives. Let’s answer that call as the first place we go to seek change.

Blessings,
Pastor Jay