Ultimate Reality

7.22.20 Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings!

Pastor Jay

Making a Positive Difference

7.15.20 Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

Lift Up Your Eyes

7.08.20 Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

A Reason to Celebrate July 4th, 2020

7.02.20 Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Destined for the Throne” by Paul E. Billheimer

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

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

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

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

Thankful for you,

Pastor Jay

The Court of First Resort

6.25.20 Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings,
Pastor Jay

The First Step

6.18.20 Leave a comment

In his new and best selling book “Fortitude”, U.S. Congressman from Texas and former Navy Seal, Dan Crenshaw devotes an entire chapter to what he calls “be still.”

It’s a simple extension of a tactical acrostic SLLS, pronounced sills. It stands for four very simple disciplines: Stop, Look, Listen and Smell.

In brief summary it is one of the ways that soldiers in combat environments are taught to access their circumstances before taking action. This could take place when inserted into hostile territory, when on patrol, or even when they are in a defensive position.

Crenshaw, however, makes this keen observation:

“SLLS is a patrolling tactic. But I attribute far more meaning to the term than simple tactical procedure. For our purposes, it is a mindset to live by. It is a reminder to literally be still. Don’t overreact, don’t let your emotions drive your action, think before you act.”

In the ongoing complexity of our cultural situation, particularly here in America, with the previously mentioned three layered crises that we are simultaneously managing: the COVID-19 pandemic, the effort to restore our fragile economy, and our current racial dialogue. It seems that the simple practice of learning to “be still” before we react would be very wise indeed.

In the book of Psalms, after several verses declaring the mighty power and magnificent presence of God as sovereign ruler over the circumstances of the earth, the writer says in verse 10 of chapter 46: “Be still and know that I am God….” There are two things that happen when we take this exhortation seriously and act on it.

First, if we choose to be still and reflect on who God is, on His character, on His promises, on His presence by His Spirit in our lives there is an immediate sense that whatever we’re facing God has it under control. In Psalm 46:11 it says:

“The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”

We are prone to go down some paths that we may regret if we lose sight of the fact that God is in control and that He will undertake on our behalf, provided we are wiling to wait on Him and not take things into our own hands. Most of the more regrettable decisions I’ve made in small and large situations took place when I did not think I had time to be still, but needed to react. Acting out of emotion is almost always the beginning of an un-beneficial outcome.

Second, when I take the time to be still it presents the opportunity for my own mind to clear and for my own heart to be open to what the Lord would lead me to do rather than reacting with my own human emotion. In reading Proverbs 15 two days ago I noted a list of ways that God imparts wisdom and what The Passion Translation calls “revelation knowledge” to those of us who are walking in faith. I strongly encourage you to read the entire chapter for yourself but here are just a few samples of what you will find:

  • stay focused on the positive and choose to be cheerful
  • stay calm and trust that God engineers everything, even the details of our lives
  • humility of the heart is what the Lord sees
  • accept correction and the wisdom it brings

There’s so much more that should be discussed here, but perhaps this will be enough to encourage you to consider this simple but profound first step: learn to be still before the Lord as you encounter every new or unexpected circumstance, verbal exchange, confrontation, stressful moment or seemingly irrational act. You will quickly come to terms with the fact that you probably cannot solve the issue on your own, but the God in whom you have placed your trust is more than able to give you insight, wisdom, power and strength to be a voice of reason and reconciliation in troubled times.

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

“What is Going On?”

6.11.20 Leave a comment

For the past two weeks I’ve been asked the question numerous times, “What is going on in our country?” Even if one tries to disconnect from the 24/7 news cycle it seems unavoidable to not be made aware that we are in a crisis time in our nation’s history.

In the last 3 1/2 months we have been hit by a trifecta of enormous proportions. First was the onset of the covid-19 pandemic which caught most of our nation off-guard and unprepared and has now affected every state in the Union and led to over 110,000 deaths and growing nationwide. Second, the actions taken to “slow the spread” of the virus as deemed most effective by our scientific community was to go into the state of lock-down which was embraced by over 80% of the states of our country. This has led to the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression of the 1930’s with nearly 30 million people out of work and tens of thousands of businesses closing their doors, likely, forever.

Finally, in just the past two weeks, criminal behavior on the part of a police officer caught on camera against a black American has rekindled the deepest anger and hurt in the hearts of many in our nation about the grave injustice of racism. This has led to national outpourings of protest and demand for change in America, along with a predictable amount of opportunism for those who wish to hijack the real issue for their own social or political agendas.

Any one of these three major waves would have been enough to set the country back for the entire year, but taken together it’s unquestionable that we are in one of the most disturbing and disruptive and difficult moments in our lifetimes. Some will call it a kairos moment for America because it carries the possibility of opportunity, and judgement, both for our great nation and for America’s significance in the world.

Rather than an attempt to destroy the history of our country as some more radical elements are seeking to do, there is an urgent need for national conversation about what really matters to maintain true freedom in America; to affirm the pillars as well as to correct the problems of the past in order to bring about a political, civic, and spiritual renewal of America’s covenant of freedom.

When in my own assessment of these things I feel inadequate to know where to start I am comforted by the fact that the place where our true hope lies as believers in Jesus Christ is in God’s sovereign rule in our hearts and His unconditional promise to hear our prayers.

And though this text of scripture is frequently brought out on a National Day of Prayer or some other moment of national recognition it has never been more essential than now.

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14

I appeal to every one of you who read this blog post to meditate on this verse and recognize that this is the posture of repentance first that must begin within the church of Jesus, the body of Christ, because God has entrusted in the church the power to influence nations through answered prayer. All of redemptive history from Abraham to the present day is filled with illustrations of God’s people who, faced with overwhelming odds against them, or impossible circumstances around them, overcame these obstacles by the power of God so that His purpose would be fulfilled.

Friends, it is absolutely true that what is promised here is desperately needed in this day in our nation. We need for God to “hear from heaven, forgive our sin, and heal our land.”

This is not simply an individual practice of prayer, but something that I would ask every person of leadership influence to share with their fellow believers, small groups, ministries, local churches and even in their places of business or service whenever appropriate. This kind of prayer is more than institutional, it’s heartfelt and it is for all people beginning with our own lives, our families and everyone with whom we have a faith based relatioship.

There is so much more to be said, but just to begin by reaffirming this one principle helps answer the question, “What can I do about what’s happening in our country?”

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

Forgetting Our Founding Fathers

6.04.20 Leave a comment

One of the reasons why the people of Israel have remained an identifiable nation for over 3000 years, even when they had no specific land mass as their country for most of those centuries, is because they new that God had established them with a covenant. A covenant is an unbreakable promise and in this case God promised to be their God and they would be His people. This covenant, struck at Mt. Sinai (Leviticus 19:1-2), was between Almighty God Himself and all the people of Israel. (Author Michael Walzer in his book, “In God’s Shadow,” calls it the first “almost democracy.”)

What should concern us all in these days is not the eschatological “end times” which would be far more devastating, global, and cosmic than what we are seeing in our country today; but it is the very real possibility that we will pass the tipping point of sustaining our calling as the largest running experiment in freedom that the world has ever seen.

Think about it. It’s not Canada, Brazil, China, India, Russia, Iran, France, Spain that represent freedom to the world. Whether we all want to acknowledge it or not it is the United States of America that represents the pioneer, precedent, and pattern for freedom itself and that’s why millions of people want to come here every year.

Our current crisis, however, has shown a spotlight on the fact that many Americans, particularly younger Americans under the age of 40 or so, have either forgotten or never really known what our Founding Fathers gave to us as a foundational understanding of the essence of what it means to be a covenantal society; in covenant under God and with one another.

The earliest settlers, the Puritans, 150 years before the Constitution, declared that the covenant was at the heart of their purpose for coming here, and those who eventually did seek to define this form of government by framing the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the Constitution in 1787 were very clear that it was all about personal liberty and corporate character.

In covenantalism, relationships matter more than regimes, people more than the state. In fact the reality of community was of central concern to the Founding Fathers because they knew that the character of the state follows the quality of the relationships of the people who comprise it.

All the people who are demanding “change” or calling for an end to police brutality or racism or other forms of injustice of any kind have not offered any constructive ways to make that happen. None.

It’s been widely noted that there is no clear voice rising up in the midst of these chaotic times (the physical pandemic, economic suffering, and civil outrage and uncivil violence). No voice to bring the nation together.

We have no Martin Luther King, Jr., bringing his iconic “I Have A Dream” speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963, which addressed a quarter of a million people. Though deeply disturbed by the inequality that he had seen so dramatically widespread throughout the American culture as it related to “colored American lives,” still made reference to his understanding of the revelation given to our Founding Fathers in the documents that established us as a nation. He said these words:

“In a sense we have come to our Nation’s Capitol to cash a check. When the architects of our great republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.

This note was a promise that all men, yes black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. “

Dr. King went on to speak forcefully about the need for change and the absolute obligation that America “not default on it’s promissory note in so far as her citizens of color are concerned .”

But Dr. King also recognized that violence (rioting, looting, and attacking authority) was not the answer. He wrote,

“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. In fact, violence merely increases hate… returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

As the spokesperson of the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a Baptist pastor, recognized the essential building blocks of our nations’s freedom. He did not forget the Founding Fathers nor their undeniable genius in the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights that have given this nation nearly 250 years of incredible blessing and prosperity.

We may not have that same inspirational voice in these days, but its incumbent on us all to ask the question, “What will we substitute for those foundational documents that have been the envy of nations of the world to build a ‘better future’?” Those who wish to destroy the foundations upon which America was built can only offer one alternative and that is the supremacy of the “state.” No longer will personal liberties be most secured, but the perceived “benefit of the state” will determine how resources are distributed, property is held, and individual expression of all kinds are controlled.

That is not the America that will be the beacon of hope and light for the world. That is not the America that will make life better for all of it’s citizens. That is simply how this grand experiment of freedom will come to an end. Let us pray together that that does not happen.

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

“Give Us Eyes To See”

5.29.20 Leave a comment

When Jesus announced the introduction of His public ministry in Luke 4:18 He says,

“He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind….”

Though this proclamation is often interpreted literally as healing of physical blindness, I believe it’s also meant to reflect the ability to “see” and “interpret” the times it which we live. The euphemism that we often hear, “turning a blind eye” indicates that things are transpiring that we don’t want to see, recognize or acknowledge. We don’t want to get involved or we don’t want to consider the implications of what a particular action might be.

I would submit to you that the current circumstances in our nation would require every serious Christ follower to ask of the Lord to open their eyes to see what is really going on and their ears to hear what is really being said, not for just their own well being, but for the very future of this great nation.

One of the difficulties of raising this topic is that it is very easily cast into political commentary rather than a fundamentally spiritual issue and that is a mistake. Although there are enormous political dynamics that are taking place within our nation that exacerbate our current conversations, the true issue of what’s happening is a fundamental divide in the spiritual foundation upon which our nation was established by the early settlers and founding fathers.

If you think things are unsettled and even worse, increasingly divided in America, you are not overreacting. As historian and theologian Os Guinness writes in his book, “Last Call for Liberty”,

“The United States is facing a heaving sea of problems at home: hollowed-out beliefs and weakened ethics; declining trust in institutions and leaders; self-enriching elites; cancerous racism; paved-for-play and dirt bag politics; politicized criminal justice; crony capitalism; blinkered higher education; collapsed civic education; biased main stream press; journalistic collusion with political interest; politicized corporations; decaying infrastructures; crippling national debt; a surveillance state spying on it’s own citizens; porous borders; a demographic time bomb; failing inner-cities that are the equivalent of states elsewhere; fracturous cultural warring; a toxic madness of gossip, supposition, cynicism, and conspiracy theories; … and now a deadly attempt by both left and right to undermine each other’s legitimacy as American and democratic.”

Any honest evaluation of our current situation in America would acknowledge that most of these are true, if not all of them, and that they are more pervasively wide-spread and less debated than ever before. Guiness’s conclusion is clear that “American society is more divided – politically, economically, racially, ideologically, culturally, and religiously – than at any time since it’s house was divided and nearly fell in the Civil War. “

Perhaps it’s been a consequence of the imposed “shelter at home” orders that the covid-19 pandemic has imposed upon millions of us over the last 10+ weeks that have cleared some time and bandwidth in our thinking to consider such things, or perhaps it’s been the inability of the nation to even rally around our common and core values in the face of the pandemic and revert, once again, to partisan politics rather than public interest that has caused many of us to seriously question “What is going on?”

For those who would make this divide all about President Donald Trump, let me submit to you that he is not the cause of what is happening in our nation’s collective psyche. Rather, he is the effect of what was already nearing a boiling point four years ago prior to the 2016 election. Mr. Trump is not the cause nor is he the answer to the nation’s problems. Rather, I would submit that it’s a much deeper issue that has to do with the spiritual and individual actions of the 330 million of us who are called American citizens.

Whether we fully understand it or not, we have been blessed with a form of government of our citizens that has only been seen a handful of times in the history of the world. It is called a covenantal society, that is, societies that are linked by choice and binding agreement rather than legal contracts, force-able hierarchical authority or simple organic, ancestral blood relationships.

There is so much to say about the power and brilliance of a covenantal society that it will need to be pursued at another time, but let it be said that this is the only form of government that gives it’s citizens the free choice to determine who will be given the authority to lead them based on their individual vote of support and sustained by a profoundly moral and not power based authority structure.

There is a reason why free societies in the course of world history have rarely lasted more than a couple hundred years. The ability to pass on these values from one generation to the next requires a profound level of commitment to reaffirm those initial values while continuing to address the inequalities or inadequacies of how such covenants are being lived out (such as seen in the recent morally unacceptable and racially incendiary incident in Minneapolis) while continuing to hold firmly to the fact that government is not supreme, but individuals are in a covenantal society.

As we approach our primary elections next Tuesday, let’s agree to pray together for wisdom from above to cast our votes for those who we believe understand the essence of these covenantal values that find their foundational expression all the way back in God’s first covenant with the Jews following the exodus 3000 years ago. It’s no mistake that the greatest civilization in world history has emerged out of those fundamental principles.

Praying that our eyes will be open,

Pastor Jay

Two Stories

5.22.20 Leave a comment

Perhaps I should begin this post by acknowledging that I don’t think I was prepared to confront the reality that this coronavirus pandemic might be something that could literally change the way we live for months or even years to come.

In just the last 9 weeks we have seen our nation go through a series of conflicting and very difficult circumstances that seem to be increasingly polarizing and unfortunately, not even being able to sense where “the end” of all of it’s implications might be.

It’s clear to me that the situation is affecting everyone in some way, and some people much more than others. For some it is lost moments of celebration or connection or perhaps inconvenience; but for others, it’s meant the loss of a relationship forever, the loss of livelihood or even the ability to provide food for one’s family and again, with no real end in sight.

I had two very different experiences in the last 24 hours. Last evening, for the first time in 9 weeks, our family who currently live in the Pittsburgh area including our daughter, Amy and our son, David, and their spouses and children all got together with Carol and me to celebrate our son’s birthday; something we probably would not have been able to do even a week ago according to the “guidelines.”

However, from the moment the door to their home opened and the children gathered together it was a non-stop experience of laughter, story-telling, sharing good food and celebrating a birthday… something everyone still loves to do. It was a joyful three hours that was more profoundly satisfying and refreshing to my soul than I had even imagined. It underscored for me just how much I had missed those moments of shared love and appreciation, laughter and life that is part of God’s plan for families everywhere.

On the other side of the emotional spectrum was a very transparent exchange that I had with a long-time friend who confided in me that he was coming face to face with the fact that he was becoming depressed. The prolonged period of sheltering-in-place (and for him, it is a new place in a different part of the country), the inability to nurture new relationships and just the sense of a lack of direction was creating anxiety that led to sleeplessness and other recognizable early symptoms of depression.

We shared some emails and then a conversation which gave me the opportunity to at least encourage him in a few specific ways to not let this riptide of negative circumstance put him under water, no matter what. Thankfully, as a man of faith and someone who’s dealt with difficult situations before I believe the Lord will pull him through, but I felt very deeply how much these circumstances had brought him down.

You probably have similar stories, maybe much more profound on either side of the spectrum, the reality is that now, as much as I can ever recall, we really need to daily revisit our confidence in the character of God and His promises to us, and our identity as sons and daughters of God as well as His purpose for us.

Thankfully, we can make choices every day that can reinforce the absolute truth that God is sovereign and in control and loves us more than we can imagine, knows what we’re going through, and will never fail us or forsake us.

And if things are going well for you, be thankful, and be intentionally on the lookout for chances to share some of that grace with another person, another friend or family who may be feeling the weight of these difficult times and really needs your words of hope and care.

Blessings,
Pastor Jay