Thanksgiving Day 2020

11.25.20 Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

Thanksgiving blessings,

Pastor Jay

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

Greater Revelation

11.18.20 Leave a comment

In these very uncertain and often discouraging times that we are in, especially as we move toward Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year, many are praying for a revelation of what God wants us to be expecting in the days ahead.

I’m not speaking about some sort of prophetic revelation for the nationwide or global church, but simply for decisions that affect your life and the lives of people that you love.

For example, our family had to make the difficult decision of not being able to join all together this Thanksgiving day with part of our close family that lives in Texas; a trip that we had been anticipating for many months. When it came time to make that decision I prayed for agreement amidst our immediate family members and, thankfully, the Lord granted us that gift. Unity comes with clear revelation.

I’ve discovered over many years that there’s a direct correlation between God’s revelation of Himself and the condition of my character, not just what God’s promises may be. Although there are thousands of wonderful promises in God’s word, we cannot seem to reach out and receive them until step by step, through obedience to the nudgings of the Spirit we understand the nature of God.

Perhaps one of the best illustrations of this principle is found in the story of Abraham and his son Isaac. I know it’s familiar but it’s worth re-reading, perhaps in a different translation. Abraham had been exemplary in faith and patience in waiting for the promise of God to give him a son and a future lineage of descendants that would become a great nation. (Romans 4:18) For his acts of obedience when he wandered out into a land that he did not know and waited on God for 25 years for the fulfillment of this promise he is considered one of the heroes of the faith. (Hebrews 11:8-12)

But in order to appreciate how Abraham received this promise we have to make note of the fact that he learned obedience through the years as he waited on God and chose to trust His leadings and promptings even though he didn’t really understand them. The pinnacle of this story is when he is called in Genesis 22 to make the sacrifice of his only son, the son whom he believed to be the fulfillment of God’s promise.

God called Abraham to go to Mt. Moriah just north of Jerusalem and to prepare a place to offer his son as a sacrifice. In Genesis 22:1-18 you can read this story for yourself.

Imagine Abraham’s internal battle to trust God when he was climbing the mountain with his son to make the sacrifice, even while Isaac was carrying the very logs upon his shoulders upon which the sacrifice would be prepared. Listen to the deep emotion in this exchange between Isaac the son and Abraham his father.

“Father,” Isaac asked, “we have the wood and the flint to make the fire, but where’s the lamb for the sacrifice?” “God will see to it my son,” Abraham replied. And they went on. When they arrived at the place where God had told Abraham to go, he built an altar and placed the wood in order, ready for the fire, and then tied Isaac and laid him on the altar over the wood. And Abraham took the knife and lifted it up to plunge it into his son, to slay him.

At that moment the Angel of God shouted to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Yes, Lord!” he answered. “Lay down the knife; don’t hurt the lad in any way,” the Angel said, “for I know that God is first in your life — you have not withheld even your beloved son from me.”

Then Abraham noticed a ram caught by its horns in a bush so he took the ram and sacrificed it, instead of his son, as a burnt offering on the altar. Abraham named the place “Jehovah provides” — and it still goes by that name to this day.

Then the Angel of the Lord called again to Abraham from heaven. “I, the Lord, have sworn by myself that because you have obeyed me and have not held even your beloved son from me, I will bless you with incredible blessings and multiply your descendants into countless thousands and millions, like the stars above you in the sky, and like the sands along the seashore. They will conquer their enemies, and your offspring will be a blessing to all the nations of the earth — all because you’ve obeyed me.”

How did Abraham rise to the place in his trust in God where he was literally about to sacrifice his only son who was the fulfillment of the promise God had given him 25 years prior to this? It was through steps of obedience day after day, month after month, year after year where Abraham’s character was shaped, tested and deepened by God through Abraham’s daily decisions of obedience.

Obedience is the practical application of our faith which enables us to receive the promises of God. When we hear the nudge of the Holy Spirit and obey; when He says “come,” I simply come and when He says “let go” I let go; when He says trust in me in this matter, I do trust. In the big moments that we face, God’s revelation of Himself is determined by my character… not just by His promises.

It’s important to note that our steps of obedience pave the way to God pouring out abundant fulfillment of His promises, far beyond the sacrifice we may feel along the way. It’s not saying that our obedience earns the promises, simply that they are a demonstration to God that we are earnest and desirous of trusting Him no matter what.

So in this challenging and rather difficult time that we are in, why not make a renewed prayer of being sensitive to His Spirit and obeying His leadings so that the promises of God will come alive in you and cause abundant blessing to pour through your life and over to others who also may need your encouragement, strength and love as we demonstrate to ourselves and to those around us that our Lord does love us and is in control of our lives.

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

The Antidote

11.12.20 Leave a comment

Over the past months, and especially the past couple of weeks, there has been no shortage of difficult, negative and discouraging news, particularly regarding the pandemic, but also with respect to the divide in our nation.

Some of us have the discipline to simply not take stock of outward circumstances in the morning and some have even told me they just don’t listen to broadcasts, reports or read anything on line or on their smart phones throughout the day. Candidly, I think that’s the small minority of our population.

However, the trap that I believe we must avoid at all costs is to fall into the snare of seeing life through dark lenses. Increasing numbers of covid 19 cases that are reported constantly, the complicating and sometimes difficult implications of these rising numbers for our students, families and relationships, let alone some of our livelihoods and the ever present “threat” of more restrictions being imposed upon our lives once again can lead us all into a sense of discouragement, doubt and even depression.

I heard one couple that I respect a great deal recently share that they’ve “gone beyond covid fatigue” and are just looking for some way to escape the relational, emotional and physical toll this situation has brought upon them.

Add to all this inevitable pandemic fall-out, there’s little doubt that the same pernicious virus has played into our national, statewide and even local elections. According to the Washington Post 101.9million people voted before November 3rd this year! Although early voting and absentee voting is generally well documented and clearly verified, mail-in ballots have significantly fewer restrictions and are clearly the cause of the greatest amount of uncertainty and even doubt around the final election results in most all of the key swing states and in a number of very important races beyond the presidency.

If we mix all that together the stress upon our daily lives can be significant. The covid surges and the implications that it brings are most widely felt because it hits everybody of all ages, and particularly our younger people and elderly people who are greatly restricted and in many cases can’t leave their homes if they should be quarantined for any reason.

There are a significant number of people that are altering their Thanksgiving Day plans and some overly controlling governors are issuing restrictions that no more than 10 people can meet in a home for Thanksgiving!

After a wave of recent adjustments and cancellations, I found myself beginning to slip into that fog of frustration and a bit of negativity. It was then that the Lord reminded me of a very simple but profound couple of verses which provide the antidote to most all of the potential negative impact of the situation. Here it is:

“Rejoice always; pray constantly; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” I Thessalonians 5:16-18

This exhortation comes as Paul is encouraging the Thessalonians how to live their lives in the midst of a culture that was not receptive to their message and to believers who were new in this revolutionary gospel lifestyle.

When you couple this simple and easily memorized triad of scriptures, it really does give you a place to turn when circumstances begin to overwhelm or at the very least seem to wear you down in your daily journey. In fact, when you couple this with Romans 8:28 where the same author, the Apostle Paul, reminds the believers that “God works all things together for God for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose” it should really present a double-walled resistance to falling victim in our spirit to the circumstantial fall-out of the pandemic and associated issues.

There’s no better time to demonstrate the wisdom of giving thanks than in this Thanksgiving season! Why not use these next couple of weeks leading up to Thanksgiving as a test run to see if in fact having these three short verses in Thessalonians as your counterpunch to the widespread negativity bears substantial fruit in changing your attitude from one of feeling under it all to one who is living over it all! “For this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”

Thankful to share with you,

Pastor Jay

An Oasis Moment

11.06.20 Leave a comment

When we hear the word “oasis” we normally tend to associate it with a lush green patch of vegetation and perhaps even some trees because of a very direct and concentrated water supply in a very dry and difficult terrain. For people who are desperately thirsty or perhaps weakened by their journey, an oasis can literally mean the difference between life and death. (Can you think of at least one movie where you’ve seen that experience take place?)

Last evening, a relatively small group of believers from several different churches gathered together for an evening which we have come to call Encounter. This gathering was started the first week of August when it was clear that many people were hungry for some opportunity to be together to encounter God and others in an environment that was deemed “medically safe,” but not terribly restrictive.

Last evening we had one such gathering and without being overly dramatic, in just the way that the Holy Spirit pulled together the necessary parts of this gathering and the direction that He took, it proved to be an oasis moment for most everyone that attended. We had an excellent worship leader who brought us into the presence of the Lord and I know that many found refreshment in that part of the experience. However, here was the interesting part.

For most of these gatherings, although several members of the leadership team help to make this happen, I normally have the final responsibility of providing some teaching or finding another person to teach and almost always a current testimony from someone who attends or is in some way related to a regular attender.

However, as of election day, Tuesday, I had neither a teacher or a testimony and I was earnestly asking the Lord what to do. The only leading that I received from the Spirit was that God wanted to demonstrate His healing mercy and power in our lives.

I’m not at all bashful about teaching on this subject, but I sensed the Lord wanted more than just an exposition of scripture. He wanted to do something dynamic.

The next day I called one friend who I know has a demonstrated gift in the area of healing and often receives guidance from the Holy Spirit about specific conditions and situations. The next morning he responded very kindly but with regrets that he already had a commitment for Thursday night and couldn’t make it. (Now, what is your plan Lord? This gathering is eight hours away?!) I followed the only nudge that I sensed from the Lord and that was to call a long time friend and partner in the ministry, Kent Addams, whose primary source of income is working on all kinds of transportation; most especially racing motorcycles and automobile repair and even total rebuilds. Kent can do it all.

I sent Kent a similar message as I had to that of my other friend and he promptly responded that he was also engaged for the evening and couldn’t make it. Not five minutes later I received another message from Kent saying that he prayed about it and felt the Lord really wanted him to be part of the gathering. He simply asked for more than just a few minutes to share his story. (He did not know that I was more than delighted to give him both the teaching segment and the testimony segment so that I could simply oversee things and listen.)

To cut to the chase, the Lord used Kent in a mighty way to affirm the current and accessible ministry of the Holy Spirit to bring about healing and renewal and restoration of broken bones, serious illnesses, long term disfigurement and even some very unusual and complex situations that he would have no way of knowing or understanding other than “the Lord showed me this.”

The very best part of the evening was that Kent was not just there to tell what he was doing but to share with us all that God indeed wanted to use every one of us in some way to be a vessel of healing and perhaps other gifts of the Spirit throughout our daily routines. Kent said with clarity and conviction that we too easily settle for what we’re used to and pretty soon find ourselves unwilling or unable to step out in faith when we need to.

After he shared his testimony and some scriptures that supported his basic premises, he challenged everyone in the room to be willing to pray for others and that set off an extremely dynamic time of refreshment.

Seeing people who may have been hurting with their own issues praying for others to be healed was dynamic; but then to see others turn and pray with them and to realize that it didn’t take one up front person to be the instrument of God’s healing power was like discovering an oasis in the dessert.

Even more, for those 90 minutes I found myself completely free from the non-stop and rather intense political coverage associated with our current election, and all that really mattered was that I was with God’s people and enjoying God’s presence and discovering God’s power in ways that perhaps I had known in the past, but have allowed to become less urgent in my day-to-day life.

In the end, I came home refreshed and excited and incredibly thankful for the unbelievable way that God supplied everything we needed from a sound system that really worked and was graciously donated by one of our attenders, wonderful worship and an incredibly dynamic and hope-filled testimony and challenge to trust God that He is alive today and wants to flow life to us and through us to others. It was my oasis moment and I pray that each of you might have one even more dynamic for your life as well.

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

The Light of Men

10.30.20 Leave a comment

In an effort to describe the dynamic tension in which we find ourselves in this season of national and even global fear and uncertainty, perhaps the best biblical language I can land on is that of “light and darkness.”

The rise of covid-19 “cases,” not just in parts of our country but in Europe, Eastern European countries such as Poland and Russia, along with India and so many other places, has caused there to be a very noticeable uptick in anxiety and predictions of a “dark winter” which is meant to be descriptive of potential sickness, isolation, and overall despair.

This gets down into the very nitty-gritty of our lives when our own state Health Secretary cannot mandate but strongly encourages us to celebrate the “holidays,” (Halloween? Is that a holiday?) Thanksgiving, and even Christmas and New Year’s with our own nuclear family and no one else. I watched her make the announcement.

This theme of darkness is woven throughout most of the campaign rhetoric for our national election and even some state and local races. Somehow, we are led to believe that the only way to be “safe” is to cut ourselves off from everyone else who might bring some companionship, some joy, some love, hope and laughter into our lives. May it never come down to something that we are no longer “allowed” to do!

I cannot help but contrast that with the message that I read about the life of Jesus. It says in John’s gospel 1:4, “In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it.”

When one determines to see the “light” in every situation, it’s not a denial that darkness exists, but it is a statement that you will not let darkness consume your life or let it become the determining factor in what you do with your closest relationships and most cherished and even sacred relationships and values.

All of life carries a certain measure of risk. None of us will get into our cars today and drive somewhere without some risk of being involved in an accident or even injured unexpectedly and undeservedly by a careless driver or an unforeseen obstacle in the road, etc., etc. (This happened to one of my friends just yesterday.) However, the choice to take that risk in order to pursue some other desirable experience, relationship, or even necessary exchange such as a doctor’s visit, is something that we all cherish the right to decide.

Just yesterday, about 40 of us met for an hour of intercessory prayer for our nation and the upcoming elections, and though we practiced the “safety protocols” required by the state and encouraged by our church, we spent a glorious hour in prayer coming before the Light of Life and being encouraged to see that Light in the eyes of others and in the experience of God’s presence as we worshipped, read scripture and prayed for God’s will to be fulfilled as we’ve all been taught in the Lord’s Prayer (“thy kingdom come, thy will be done” Matthew 6:10).

As for the coming holidays (Halloween excepted), in over seven decades I’ve never spent Thanksgiving or Christmas totally isolated from my other family members. I don’t believe it makes good sense nor is it even medically defensible based on statistical evidence to stay away from people that you love and perhaps miss the opportunity to lift their spirits, create some memories together, to share expressions of love and perhaps even some intimate moments of reaffirming that the most important gifts that we have are literally “each other.” The nourishment to the core values of my being, my identity as a brother, father and grandfather to a few dozen people cannot be overcome by the darkness of fear that is being paraded before us on all levels of media on a daily basis.

Needless to say, the coming election throughout our nation has implications in this same dichotomy. I certainly understand that good people can see things differently but every one of us gets to chose who we believe best speaks for the Light of Life which the darkness has not been able to overcome. Let your light shine!

Blessings,
Pastor Jay

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