Avoiding the Pitfalls

1.22.21 Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wishing you a good 2021.”

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

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

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

Sincere blessings,

Pastor Jay

And In Other News…

1.15.21 Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings,
Pastor Jay

The Hope of a New Year

1.05.21 Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

The Christmas Spirit

12.18.20 Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas!

Pastor Jay

The Right Time for Christmas

12.09.20 Leave a comment

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

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

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

The Bible says,

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

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

1.  God has a timetable for everything that happens.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas Blessings,

Pastor Jay

Thanksgiving Day 2020

11.25.20 Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

Thanksgiving blessings,

Pastor Jay

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

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