Restraining Impulse, Embracing Grace

10.22.20 Leave a comment

In the current climate of almost daily confrontations with words of division, unusual declarations, limiting of personal freedoms, etc., etc., there’s a part in most every one of us that wants to react with our impulse. Impulse is not necessarily right or wrong, but it is more a trait of our natural life than our spiritual identity. If we choose to act on every impulse, more often than not we end up regretting our comments or actions because they don’t reflect the deepest part of our heart and convictions.

When I read about a prominent spiritual leader taking a position that I find contradictory to what I believe are biblical values, my impulse is to immediately try to express my disagreement or perhaps disappointment directly with that individual. (At a much more mundane level, it’s the same thing that causes us to honk our car horns or shake our fist if somebody sneaks in and grabs the parking spot we’ve been waiting for.)

We’re accustomed to seeing impulse in a small child, they simply have not grown up to the place of making reasoned decisions, but over time it becomes disastrous in a man or a woman.

Perhaps one of the most dramatic illustrations of this was the actions of Moses in Exodus 2:11 & ff. When he saw the oppression of his people and felt certain that he was called to be a deliverer he acted in impulsive indignation and started to right their wrongs. He took the life of the oppressor and then tried to hide his violent act. The Lord did not allow this to stand and it took Moses 40 years of quiet separation in the dessert to feed sheep and learn to commune with God.

I pray that nothing so harsh would ever befall any of us, but remember that God had enormous plans of multi-millennial redemptive significance. (His ultimate actions to deliver the people from the slavery of Egypt were the foreshadowing of Jesus delivering us from the slavery of our sin.)

Rather than act in impulse, we need to pray and to covet the possibility that our first reactions and responses to circumstances and situations can be that of the grace of God. Grace is not the exoneration of immoral or unethical or improper behavior; rather, it is recognizing that God alone has the power to change the heart of the people who are engaged in such practices. It’s the grace of God that would cause us to pray for the people that we see who are trafficking in narratives that are based on lies or manipulations of information, whether they be personal, political or even spiritual.

When we have matured to the place where our natural response is not one of impulse, but one of recognizing that the key to understanding what’s going on in any situation is to really know and discern the truth behind what is being said and not simply the sanitized version that may be controlled in such a way as to advance a particular narrative.

The truth is a very powerful and liberating gift from God. Jesus said in John 8:32 that “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” He was certainly speaking of His own identity and the freedom that knowing Him personally brings to our lives, but He was also referencing the fact that truth comes from God and anything that distorts or manipulates or disguises the truth is only for evil intent and always results in negative consequences.

It is by grace that we open the pipeline to flowing in the wisdom of truth in every circumstance. When we have a sense of what God’s truth is we are able to respond not out of natural impulse, but out of a sense of humility and immediate intercessory prayer for that individual, that institution, organization or entity to be set free from the deception under which they have fallen. This is a much more powerful way to correct the abuse that such deception brings about. This is how people are set free from bondage and blindness and it is the most powerful way that we can make a difference in every circumstance of our daily lives.

So as you go through your day, resist the temptation to act on your first impulse; rather, whisper a prayer for God’s grace to reveal to you the truth about that particular situation and that will set you free as well as all of those around you.

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

Remembering Priority One

10.16.20 Leave a comment

In these days of intense concern about personal health, economic balance if not survival, limitations on some of our personal freedoms and most especially a very divided nation concerning the upcoming political elections it’s easy to lose sight of our number one focus as followers of Christ.

Even though there is absolutely nothing inappropriate about bringing those specific concerns to the throne of God and having the wisdom to leave them there day by day, none of these represent what we are primarily called to do. When Jesus looked at His disciples at the close of His 40 days of post-resurrection appearances and teaching, He was very clear that their responsibility was to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and I am with you always until the end of the age.”

Jesus did not call His disciples to correct the faults of a specific culture, government or nation; He didn’t call us primarily to address the woes of communication and disparity that exist in every culture, or the suffering and even violence that’s existent in our own nation let alone more underdeveloped lands. His primary focus was making disciples.

There are two ways that must remain in the forefront of our motivation and our actions in order to fulfill this great commission. One lies in the previous verse where Jesus claims that “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to Me.” In other words, we have been given a blank check from God Himself to provide whatever resources are needed in order to fulfill this commission. The basis of our appeal is not the needs of those who are lost or who openly reject Christ, it’s not to create enterprises that somehow God will later come along and bless, it’s the Lord Himself as the supreme authority and absolute sovereign Lord over our lives and those that He seeks to have us influence for His kingdom. In other words, ‘go out on the revelation of who I am; teach and preach out of the living experience of Me’ and that will be sufficient to meet the needs and change the hearts of those who are lost and bring them to a saving knowledge of Christ.

The second and often the most ignored is that the primary work of anyone who is seeking to fulfill this commission and to stay focused on what really matters to the heart of God is the key of prayer; not work, not common sense, not political involvement, not education or smoothly run programs. This is not to say that any of those pursuits are invalid, but it is to say that they are not to be our primary focus.

Over the last months I’ve seen the prayer thermometer heating up in the life of our church family at North Way Christian Community. The reward of such a focus spills out into everything from receiving God’s favor in those pursuits that follow prayer as well as opening opportunities that had not previously existed to expand the kingdom of God and open doors, fruitful doors, of opportunity to meet the needs of others and the hearts of others to hear the gospel message and understand that all true reconciliation, blessing and hope come only through a vital relationship with Jesus Himself.

Although some of our prayer times have been directly focused towards the needs of our nation in this national election season, I’m constantly reminded that in the eyes of Jesus, He sees a world that needs His redeeming life, and not just a nation. Even though it’s difficult to keep this perspective in mind when so much seems to be at stake in our local affairs and our national priorities, it’s somewhat comforting if not reassuring to know that Jesus sees all that and that He will sovereignly rule over the outcome if we with diligence, importunity and focus, continue to pray for His will to be done, for His kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven, of which certainly includes this part of the earth but also the many other lands where oppression, tension, disagreement and even persecution and suffering are much worse than we see here.

So as you go through your weekend and into your next week of activity, be reminded that you have the authority of Jesus imparted to you to be His ambassador wherever you go and to keep prayer as your primary point of contact that preserves your relationship with the Lord so that you hear His still small voice leading you to the specific place and in the specific situations where you can exercise that authority to bring about the true, the highest objective of our calling: to make disciples of all nations!

Blessings,
Pastor Jay

Prayer is Surging

10.08.20 Leave a comment

It’s undeniable. In almost every place where I am able to have an exchange with other folks who I know to be believers, the conversation almost always comes around to the issue of what’s happening in prayer in these days.

Although much of the prayer may have been initially sparked by the invasion of the covid virus, the now interminably long period of reduced activity within our local churches, along with the daily media jolt of bad news, has created an alarm bell in the hearts of many people.

I’m hearing of prayer groups that are meeting regularly in homes where people feel safe and open to pour out their hearts to the Lord, I’m hearing of prayer gatherings at local churches that have multiplied over the past months, and most especially I’m hearing of the positive use of technology to bring scores if not hundreds of people together on a frequent if not daily basis just to pray!

The dual spectacle on the Washington Mall on September 26 of Franklin Graham’s “Prayer for the Nation” and “the return” gave viewers an opportunity to see crowds praying in mass for our nation, our government, our leaders, our churches, and our people.

As inspiring as those images were and as powerful as some of those moments of prayer truly were, they honestly pale in comparison when measured against what’s happening in tens of thousands of locations all over this country and even other parts of the world.

What’s equally inspiring to me is not just the fact that people are meeting to pray, but it’s also the content, the focus, the passion in these prayers that is something that I’ve not personally seen in a long time. It’s as though the Holy Spirit is alerting us to just how important prayer is in these specific days, not unlike many similar moments in the redemptive history of the children of Israel and the establishing of the early church. People were always praying in those days, but at certain times and in specific situations there was an intensity to prayer that was noticeable because of the potential for set-backs, defeats and persecution; or on the other hand, the opportunity for great victory or a move of the Holy Spirit such as we witness at Pentecost in Acts chapter 2.

It’s fair to say that both of these motivations seem to be at work in the hearts of people today. On the one hand, many are sensing the urgency of the intervention of God in both personal and national circumstances in order to bring about release, healing, and deliverance; while at the same time there is a growing sense of anticipation that God is using these times of trial and testing to prepare us for an authentic season of spiritual awakening that will touch the lives of countless numbers of people in our nation and in other parts of the world. These are no small matters and warrant the kind of importunity that does not let go of God until breakthrough becomes reality.

If you’re reading this and not part of a local church where regular prayer is happening I urge you to go online and find a church where people are meeting to pray. In most cases it doesn’t matter if you are a member of that church or not. People are always welcome at prayer meetings!

If you’re part of North Way’s network of churches, check your local campus for prayer meeting times and know that we are meeting regularly at 1:00 p.m. on Thursday afternoons for at least the next 30 days. (The experience of praying every morning at 7:00 a.m. on the “Upper Zoom” call will end on October 9th, but other similar opportunities may well occur so please stay tuned.)

Finally, I want to celebrate the unity that is experienced when people from 9-92 are joined together in prayer from all over our area and even some other states. There is remarkable appreciation for the perspectives, personality and passion that each person brings when we pray together!

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

Beware of the Caves

9.17.20 Leave a comment

The Bible has numerous references to caves as hiding places, occasionally a place of refuge, and in some places, a final resting place. In today’s culture, it is not difficult to draw parallels between the somewhat imposed and somewhat default posture of many sincere people, including believers, who have made decisions to stay in their homes rather than venture out for little if any meaningful interaction with people or culture.

One story about the danger of hiding in caves that got my attention is in the book of Joshua, chapter 10. The five kings of the Amorites, who were forces opposed to Joshua and the Israelites, joined forces and moved all their troops into positions against Gibeon (the Gibeonites were free men but had been called to serve Joshua because they had tried to deceive him and his leaders in Chapter 9).

Joshua took his army to Gibeon where the Lord gave him favor and they took the armies of the Amorites by surprise, threw them into confusion and gave them a great victory at Gibeon.

Joshua 10:16-18 says, “Now the five kings had fled and hidden in the cave at Makkedah.  When Joshua was told that the five kings had been found hiding in the cave at Makkedah,  he said, ‘Roll large rocks up to the mouth of the cave, and post some men there to guard it.'”

What these five kings did by hiding in a cave from what appeared to be an overwhelming force, was to actually throw themselves into a prison when Joshua rolled a stone in front of the cave.

Whether we know it or not, and consciously we probably don’t know it, but when we choose to try to hide ourselves from circumstances beyond our own controlled worlds and lock ourselves away from others, our caves subtly but in reality become “prisons” that seem to hold us away from our vitally important relationships, opportunities and interactions. If we sequester ourselves for too long, we cease to be in touch with the needs of others, we begin to cut back if not eliminate our self-care such as regular exercise and most important, our spiritual development including vital personal connections, worship, and the great blessing of making a difference in our communities.

None of us believed that when we went into our homes that they might turn into a “prison” of sorts. I would venture to say that most of us didn’t believe that six months after lock-downs were initiated that even now many are afraid to re-engage in public places despite the fact that said lock-downs have recently been declared “unconstitutional” in our state of Pennsylvania. Now, though wise and thoughtful response to the potential dangers of the lingering covid virus is called for, we are going to have to face the choice of whether we stay in our homes or begin to re-engage the world which is calling us out and back into some level of connection and encouragement.

In the Old Testament account in Joshua 10 the final destiny of the five kings paints a grim picture. Having defeated their armies, Joshua brought the five kings out of the cave, had them killed and after declaring them as an example of what God would do to their enemies, threw their dead bodies back ‘into the cave where they’d been hiding and covered the mouth of the cave with large rocks, which are there to this day.’ Joshua 10:27

Although graphic and not pleasant to consider, I think the spiritual point of this is that if we choose to stay in the cave long enough it becomes a prison and if that goes beyond all reasonable duration, the prison can become a grave where things that we care about can no longer live.

Fear has a way of taking the life out of everything that matters. Fear that drives us into caves and keeps us there is the enemy of our possibilities and is the opposite of the hopefulness that God always intends for everything in our lives. We can go into caves of hiding from things other than the covid virus; it can be past hurts, it can be broken dreams or failed relationships, but to stay hidden in a cave that becomes a prison it can ultimately become a place where relationships die, possibilities end, and hopelessness consumes us. Loved ones, that is never the will of God in any area of our lives, and not the place where He wants us to stay.

It takes but a small step of courage to come out of our caves and begin to re-engage those people whom we find edifying, those places where we have found hope and support and encouragement in the past and begin to even become part of the answer to the issues that surround us instead of staying in the shadows and ignoring them. I know some people who are choosing to get engaged in cultural issues in their communities because for too long, they’ve chosen to stay away from conflict and/or criticism and metaphorically to hide from the possibility of being hurt or marginalized. They have determined that it’s time to come out and be bold and by the grace and power of God to take a stand for what really matters to them where their children go to school or where they live and interact regularly with family and friends.

That is the way of life and that is the way that God intended for us to live. We are meant to be beacons of light to a dark world, not hidden away in a cave never to be seen.

Blessings,
Pastor Jay

Defeating Discouragement

9.11.20 Leave a comment

Although all of us seem to have our “good days” and “bad days,” there’s one very dangerous trap that we must avoid at all costs if we are to walk in the blessing of God. The enemy’s favorite weapon to use against those who would seek to honor the Lord with their life, their decisions and their devotion, is discouragement.

There are multiple warnings about discouragement in scripture, but none is more clear than what the Lord said to Joshua as he was about to embark on the leadership of the children of Israel out of bondage after the death of Moses. Joshua 1:9 reads, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified, do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Discouragement often begins with a small disappointment, whether that be something that is said casually or intentionally by another family member or friend; or something more tangible like loss of a client or perhaps a poor performance on a test in school, or whatever it might be. But real discouragement sets in when we have a series of these things and it appears that no matter what we try to do, we continue to come up against an obstacle that won’t move and we get discouraged.

Discouragement is an attitude that prohibits faith from arising in your soul to believe that the promises of God are true. Discouragement is based on a lie that God doesn’t care and that what’s happening to you is outside of His control when scripture clearly says the opposite. Romans 8:28 declares that “God works all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.”

Not only does discouragement affect us at a personal level and, in many ways, paralyzes our ability to maintain a spirit of expectation and confidence that God will meet our needs and provide for us according to His perfect plan and abundant resources, but it also affects us at a corporate level.

It’s my sense right now that there’s quite a high level of discouragement in our nation. People are discouraged because there seems to be a rising tide of negativity that’s acting out not just in political rhetoric but in violence and intimidation in our public square and in many cities across the country, including right here in Pittsburgh. I’ve heard more people say in the past few weeks that they’re getting weary of this battle against the covid-19 virus, but even more so the way that this crisis has been used politically to pit Americans one against another based on a play for power in our government.

However, fear and discouragement go hand in hand. Fear is the sense that something hurtful or even destructive will happen to us and discouragement is the sense that we can’t do anything about it. However, it is very clear in scripture that we have been given authority over a spirit of discouragement and along with that, the power to declare our faith in God’s promises over anything that would bring fear into our lives.

Jesus said in John 16:33,”I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have tribulation (trouble, persecutions, stress) but take heart! (or be encouraged!) for I have overcome the world!”

There are two specific ways in which we can fight discouragement. One is to continually spend some time bringing focus to our relationship with Jesus, spending time in His presence and allowing His word to permeate our mind as well as our hearts. To not do this is to deprive your spirit of the very nourishment that it needs to fight these battles.

The second thing is to spend time with others who you know will be supportive of you in whatever circumstance you face and will likely be able to bring words of encouragement, edification, and exhortation. (1 Corinthians 14:3) for the very situations that you’re in. (I have personally experienced this a number of times in just the past few weeks in various small groups and prayer gatherings of which I’ve been a part.)

Don’t underestimate the power of discouragement or ignore it’s ability to rob you of God’s best. Instead, hear the Lord speaking His life to you and encouraging you to be “strong and courageous, not terrified nor discouraged” and you’ll begin to see the shift in your attitude that will bring about the release of God’s blessing and power in every area of your life!

Stay strong loved ones!

Pastor Jay

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