Final Instructions before…   Leave a comment

At New Life Christian Fellowship in Pacifica we begin each year with 21days of Prayer and Fasting. During this time we are encouraged to find ways to set things aside and find time to focus on things that God might want to impress upon us for the new year. Often the sacrifices that release the most time to spend with God are related to media, no TV or Social media! However, fasting from food in some way has the additional element of allowing real hunger to remind us of our need to hunger after God.

During this time it can be helpful to find something new to read or meditate upon. This year one of the things I decided to do was to read very slowly and meditate on John Ch 14-17 as these where Jesus’s final conversations with his closest friends before his death, “Final instructions before…” He is preparing them to found the church following his ascension. I am particularly trying to focus on what it must have been like to actually be there and listen to Jesus talk. What did they understand? What did He hope they would understand.?

The first passage I spent time thinking about was Ch 14:1-5 and I noticed that, first, Jesus reassures them and encourages them to trust him. Then He says something that must have been pretty mysterious to them. It seems he must have realized that they would need that trust to accept those things they did not really understand yet. When He stated that they “knew where He was going” I think I would have had said as Thomas did ” we have no idea where you are going so how can we know the way?“, (v5). As I thought about it for a while I could not help wondering what were the things that Jesus had taught them that made Him say v4 ” you know the way to where I am going‘? Did they miss them or just misunderstand them?

So for me, this was a good reminder often there are aspects of our walk with Jesus that are mysterious and we need simply to trust Him. It also made me want to take some time to contemplate lessons I have learned in my walk with Jesus and ask if there are parts of those lessons that have still more significance for the future. For that day I stopped my meditation there and made some notes in my journal knowing there was more to come in these pivotal chapters.

Do you have any thoughts on this passage or are you reading anything specific during these 21days that you would like to share?

Posted January 20, 2020 by jolm15 in Uncategorized

I have a confession to make!   Leave a comment

When I recently preached on Psalm 32 I was really struck by the significance of confession in the life of a Christian. For many, the word is significantly misunderstood and simply carries the implication of focussing on what we have done wrong and ‘fessing up! The images from the Catholic faith of wooden closets with little windows through which you recount your deepest dark secrets are not I suggest very helpful.

So what does the word mean? Well, at its simplest, it means to acknowledge or confront and can be used in both positive and negative contexts. In his epistle, John urges us to confess our sin but Paul in Romans similarly encourages us to confess that Jesus is Lord (Romans 10:9)*. James, however, suggests that we confess our sin to one another (James 5:16). Given all these different uses of the word in scripture I believe it warrants us looking more carefully at what this should mean for us.

Each of the uses above suggests a different response. The acknowledgment [confession] of having done something wrong, according to David, results in not the burden of shame and guilt but the freedom of forgiveness (Ps 32:5). The confession of Jesus as Lord brings salvation (Rom 10:9) and James tells us that confession of sin to one another results in the prayer support (James 5:16)

In his book “Breathing Under Water” Richard Rohr looks at the parallels between the gospel and the twelve-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous. When he comes to Step 5, Admit to God, to ourselves and another human being the exact nature of our wrongs” makes some really powerful observations:

” Any good therapist will tell you, you cannot heal what you do not acknowledge, and what you do not acknowledge will remain in control of you from within, festering and destroying you and those around you”

“When human beings” admit” to one another” the exact nature of their wrongs” we invariably have a human and humanizing encounter that deeply enriches both sides”

So it seems that a fresh and broader look at the concept of confession as “confrontation” or “acknowledgment” can bring us rather and discouragement and depression a wonderful sense of release and freedom. Those who attend liturgical churches are often taken through the routine of confession during each service. Perhaps those of us not familiar with such practices might benefit from thinking about somehow adopting not simply the practice of confession but consider what might be called a confessional lifestyle and then bask in the blessing of Ps 32:2 the joy of lives “lived in complete honesty”

*The KJV actually uses the word “confess”, other versions use “openly declare”

Posted January 14, 2020 by jolm15 in Uncategorized

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Taking NO for an answer   1 comment

I have always been told that when we pray we can expect one of three answers, Yes No or wait. Now “yes” is always acceptable, “wait” is just about tolerable but “no”… !! As a consequence when I read (1Sam 7) the account of David and his plans to build a temple I always wonder what it felt like when God said “no” to him?

The king was in one of the most successful phases of his reign almost everything was going well. He had united the nation and defeated the Philistines who had been the bane of the nation’s life for years. He had established Jerusalem as his capital city and King Hiram of Tyre had sent laborers and materials to build him a palace.

At last, there was peace for the nation and as the king relaxes in his palace, he realizes that The Ark of the Covenant that God had given them as a focus for worship was in a tent. Immediately he resolves to rectify the situation and build a temple ( 1Sam 7:2). Wisely David consults his prophetic adviser Nathan who encourages him ( 1Sam 7:3). But then God speaks to Nathan “Whoa not so fast! Did you ask Me before telling David to go ahead; I have other plans for who will build the temple.” So God instructs the prophet to go back to David and tell him that contrary to what he said earlier he was not to build the temple that job was assigned to his son, Solomon.

I often wonder how that must have felt? “Hey, God, I wanted to do something good for you, look at my life so far I have been obedient, I have been patient I’ve done it all right surely its ok to do this. In fact, I am not sure why I asked Nathan in the first place after all its a no brainer, build a temple I will just go do it!”

But no, David does something I think is really remarkable (2 Sm 7:18) he goes and sits before the Lord and prays. He humbly accepts the plans that God has for the temple and gives thanks God for all the promises He made. And more than that, the king actively sets aside abundant resources for Solomon to use when he does build the temple.

So when you pray do you contemplate that God’s answer may be no? Do you realize that when the answer is no it is not because God does not want to bless you? When God answers no He has something better in mind, HIs plan is so much bigger than ours. Are we willing to sit quietly before God as David did? And as Jesus did in the garden of Gethsemane, will you surrender to the answer your Father gives?

Posted January 4, 2020 by jolm15 in Christian Living

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Outrage and Hope   1 comment

Recently I was scrolling through Facebook (often dangerous) and came upon an article that shocked me to the core. Actually I was so outraged that I had to at least try to investigate if the information was  an example of the notorious”fake news”. So for reasons that I trust will become apparent I am resisting the urge to provide you with a link to the article so you can be outraged as well. Suffice it to say that article recounted how one of our news stations broadcast an investigative report on how Iceland has succeeded in almost completely eliminating Downs Syndrome from their population.On the face of it an interesting story until as the story unfolds it becomes apparent that the report is celebrates and praises an achievement that has been brought about by aborting any pregnancies that have the slightest chance of being Down Syndrome children.

Now I confess that to a limited extent this is personal to me. I have friends who have Downs Syndrome children and without exception they are wonderful human beings and the world would unquestionably be poorer without them. While making unique and productive contributions to their communities, they spread  joy and love in ways few others are able to parallel. However as I thought about this further I became dissatisfied with the idea that I could merely join the chorus of protest and outrage. As a follower of Jesus I have so often regretted that all we seem able to do is join the chorus when, if we really believe that Jesus is the hope for the world we should be able to find away to proclaim hope with an equally loud and passionate voice.

By God’s grace in this particular situation I believe I found a way to do just that. One of the most compelling podcasts I listen to comes from an organization simply named Q*  Its founder, Gabe Lyons, and his wife Rebekah have a Downs syndrome child themselves, and in a recent edition interviewed an wonderful lady, Heather Avis. Heather has adopted two of these amazing children. She tells a story of joy and hope that provides a powerful repost to anyone who considers  the elimination of such people is anything to be celebrated. So I enthusiastically provide links both to this conversation and to her book ” The Lucky Ones.”

One final thought, I am wondering if the sharing of hope should not be a priority in my thinking whenever I consider responding to the vast range of tragedies and outrages that litter our news media from home and abroad. If, as a Christian, I believe that Jesus is the answer and that He is enough then it is that hope which is the unique and powerful contribution we can offer, in humility, to these conversations. Otherwise we simply join the rhetoric that fuels the anger that so often brings yet more tragedy… What do you think?

*Q is an organization that facilitates wide-ranging conversations about the most challenging issues of our day. It is probably the most stimulating podcast I listen to and is guaranteed to challenge you to think differently!

Delighting!!   Leave a comment

In studying Psalm 1 recently I was struck by two words in particular. David tells us that joy (happiness, blessing) comes from “delighting” and mediating on the law. Now of course the law for him was the Torah, the first five books of the bible and in all honesty at first glance there does not seem a lot of fuel for delight. Genesis and Exodus are great stories but after that we are in deep trouble… or are we?

A little investigation reveals the delight is a word with rather deeper and stronger meaning than might at first appear. Merriam Webster defines it as “something that makes you very happy; something that gives you deep satisfaction”  So maybe the significance of David putting “delight” in the same verse at “meditation” is important. 

Meditation is a word that carries a considerable amount of cultural baggage. It is associated with all forms of mysticism. Our yearning for instant gratification resists anything that demands time, which none of us have! However Merriam Webster again helps us by defining the word a little more clearly; ”to focus one’s thought on: reflect or ponder over”

What might happen then if we took a few minutes to ponder the first five books of the bible.  If we asked why they were written, and to whom. Minimal research would reveal that one of their principle purposes was simply that the nation of Israel might know the God who had chosen them. What sort of a God was He and what did it mean to be nation? 

Getting to know someone really does give me delight. Learning to appreciate their distinctive qualities and grow to love them for who they are. But doing this requires the investment of time. How many people have you come to know deeply through passing conversations in the gym or the super market? 

The secret of delighting in God’s word then comes from knowing God Taking time to reflect on and ponder over scripture. I wonder what “deep satisfaction” is there waiting for us if we will risk the experiment by carving out some time in our calendar to “reflect and ponder.”  Could it be the “delight” of getting get to know our Heavenly Father better?

Gloating   2 comments

One of the things that has been bothering me as I observe or increasingly divided communities is the way that every action and every comment seems to require a slew of equal and opposite reactions. The tragedy, as I see it, is this seems to be leaking (may be pouring) into the way in which we as followers of Jesus respond to things. The net result is a frightening outpouring of self-righteousness and , yes, I am sure that I am as guilty of this as anyone. I am increasingly challenged by the need to ask myself before I speak, tweet, message or communicate in any way does what I am about to say and how I am about to say it reflect the character of Christ? Is this the way Jesus would have spoken? Jesus was both relentlessly clear and relentlessly compassionate. Every word he said was crafted with His Father (John 12:49)

I am using Tim Kellers book ” The Songs of Jesus in my daily devotions this year and this mornings reading just underlined what I have been think so I though i would share it with you

Psalm 35: 19– 28. 19 Do not let those gloat over me who are my enemies without cause; do not let those who hate me without reason maliciously wink the eye. 20 They do not speak peaceably, but devise false accusations against those who live quietly in the land. 21 They sneer at me and say, “Aha! Aha! With our own eyes we have seen it.” 22 LORD, you have seen this; be not silent. Do not be far from me, Lord. 23 Awake, and rise to my defense! Contend for me, my God and Lord. 24 Vindicate me in your righteousness, LORD my God; do not let them gloat over me. 25 Do not let them think, “Aha, just what we wanted!” or say, “We have swallowed him up.” 26 May all who gloat over my distress be put to shame and confusion; may all who exalt themselves over me be clothed with shame and disgrace. 27 May those who delight in my vindication shout for joy and gladness; may they always say, “The LORD be exalted, who delights in the well-being of his servant.” 28 My tongue will speak of your righteousness, your praises all day long.

GLOATING. One of the great spiritual dangers of persecution is that it can make you self-righteous. You feel noble and superior because of your unjust victimization. Here David asks God to prevent his enemies from gloating over him, yet he does not gloat in return. To be happy over bad things that happen to others is called schadenfreude. David commits himself to rejoicing in God’s justice and greatness (verse 28) rather than his own moral superiority. While many bemoan the incivility that technology has made easy and anonymous, the cause is really the human heart that wants to fire back a defensive attack. Don’t try to pay back but leave it to God, who alone knows what people deserve (verses 23– 24.) Let God be your vindicator; one day all will be known.

Keller, Timothy; Keller, Kathy (2015-11-10). The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms (p. 69). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Its over…well almost!   Leave a comment

The Chicago Cubs have won the world series, the British , or at least the English, have decided to leave the European Union and by the time you read this the United Staes will have a new president (or almost have one!). Each of these events was preceded by endless  analysis, discussion, prediction and persuasive rhetoric. In some cases the conversation was excited and enthusiastic, and in others harsh and vitriolic, but in every case the current state of technology rendered the quantity unprecedented. In each case the results were unknown until those last few decisive hours and in some cases the result totally unexpected, but they are over!

Almost everywhere except perhaps Chicago, the sporting event that was billed as “changing the face of baseball” is long gone and we are lost in the customary deluge of current sporting analysis. The UK is slowly but surely working out the way forward and out of Europe without destroying any more relationships than necessary and The US will learn to deal with a new president, who ever receives the requisite number of votes. The world both locally and nationally will move on and learn to live with the consequences large and small.

At New Life we have been ” Imagining Heaven” together for the past few weeks and it struck me how different a reality this presents us with as followers of Jesus. The plan of God is still the same and has never changed . We know the result! Revelation 21 excites me more every time I read it . The choice is clear and everyone of us gets to make that choice for ourselves. We do not need to decide whose opinion or analysis is the most persuasive, or wait for the declaration of the majority decision . Our part in God’s unchanging plan is crucial, eternally crucial, simply to decide if we will choose to love and follow our Creator and then take every opportunity He gives to encourage everyone we know to understand what is at stake, make their own choice.

When God declares the plan concluded, our choices will become eternal. We will not simply learn to live with a result, we will either experience the unspeakable joy of love, light and  life in the world God created in the way He intended or experience what it really means to choose a life without God.  I have never felt the urgency of finding ways to share the certainty of that”result” more than I do now. How about you?