Author Archive

Outrage and Hope   Leave a 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?

Is Serving enough?   Leave a comment

At our church we are  beginning an extensive discussion of our values. This was prompted by a podcast from Craig Groeschel, along with the realization that 2017 will be our 10th birthday. This significant milestone provides a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the past and look to the future. Our observations of our church currently indicate that it is a  healthy and an interesting and exciting place, one where we can confidently invite others. However we recognize that we are, for the most part, “insiders” and so biased. In addition we lack clarity on the “why” of our current  perceived well being, hence the need to articulate, not just the values we would like to have, but more importantly the one others would identify in our activities and behaviors.

In the course of this discussion we listed ” service” as an important value. As I thought about this I wondered if “service” alone was sufficient to express our value. After all multitudes of people , people of faith and no faith would say that serving others and community involvement was important to them and for everyone service is often hard, inconvenient and even painful.

However if  we list “service” as a value for our church family perhaps we  need to dig a little deeper to describe the uniqueness of Christian service. As I pondered this I remembered that Jesus himself said the he came “not to be served but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45  This struck me in a new way with the emphasis on the first and last parts “not to be served” and “give his life …”. If we are to follow our Savior’s example then the special qualities of our service are not what, we do but how and why we do it. In seeking “ not to be served” and ” to give” we act solely in response to the amazing sacrifice of love made for us by Jesus. We do this joyfully and at the expense of our our own wants and desires because, once again, this was the pattern that He gave us.

This is important because it provides a distinct contrast to what Lyons and Kinnaman (Good Faith – Being a Christian when Society thinks you are Irrelevant and Extreme) describe as the “new morality of self fulfillment.” Tragically  the prevailing cultural values are leaking into the Christian community. Recent research indicates that more than 60% of “practicing Christians” agree  with statements that “the highest goals in life are to enjoy it as much a possible’ and ” to be fulfilled in life you should pursue the things you desire most.” Serving others can fall within either of these objectives. However as Christians we are called to serve because He served and sacrificed for us. To do so we must frequently and joyfully set aside our own desires. So how then should we express the value of service in a way that is uniquely applicable to followers of Jesus… any suggestions?

 

When you must choose!   1 comment

A while ago someone I respect asked me if, given my emphatically stated position on keeping politics out of the church,  I thought  a pastor had any responsibility  in advising their congregations on their involvement in the political process. This caused me to think very carefully over recent months and to read fairly widely on the subject of Christians in culture and the public square. The current electoral season has generated a rash of blogs, articles and podcasts on the subject and as a consequence I have reached the conclusion that I should share four principles  I believe are firmly based in scripture and that people might find helpful:

1 God is still in charge! Presidents, Prime Ministers, politicians, pastors and the rest of us come and go but God remains entirely and eternally in control. His plan remains unchanged, as it has through the ages, and nothing can deviate Him from its fulfillment.

2 The phrase ” lesser of two evils” is not found or implied anywhere in scripture (to my knowledge). The Bible is clear that all forms of evil come from the forces of darkness and are to be resisted Ephesians 6:10-12. James 4:7

3. The scripture is full of applicable principles and I trust you will search them prayerfully as you ponder these things. In this context I want to share just one:

Know, O people, the Lord has told you what is good,

and this is what he requires of you:

to do what is right, to love mercy,

and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8

4. The fact that someone comes to a different conclusion than you about the application of these, and other biblical principles, does not mean they are bad people neither does it call their relationship with Jesus into question. By God’s grace you will share heaven with many of them, and remember, when the time comes, we will stand before almighty God alone!

I am aware I have on many occasions expressed my relief at not having to make political choices since I am not s citizen. However I have no wish to use this as an excuse not to think and pray for each of you as you think and pray about the choices you must make. To finish I return to where I started, remember, in politics, as in every other aspect of life, God is still in charge and He always will be!

Posted May 11, 2016 by jolm15 in Uncategorized

Tagged with , , , ,

Doubt   1 comment

When responding to the recent tragedies in Paris the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, was asked if incidents like this caused him to doubt God. He replied ‘ Of course!” Shock! Horror! the most senior clergyman (pastor) in the Church of England admits to doubting God, how can this be? Well, guess what, Justin Welby along with every other bishop, church leader, pastor, or whatever term you prefer, is a human being just like every member of the churches they serve. The simple fact that, however strong our faith, we cannot prove the existence of The Almighty. His own word tells us thatmy [God] thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways”  Isaiah 55:8-9  This leaves us in a place where there is so much we do not and cannot know. However we are naturally and inexorably dragged into the place where we grapple for proof, understanding and logical explanations when they simply are not there. Is it surprising therefore that we are drawn to ask if God really does exist? Is that somehow wrong, especially for those who profess faith? Do those doubts and the painful wrestling with things that God does render us unbelievers?

I think not. One of the first books of the bible to be written was about a guy called Job who was on the receiving end of a series of events that would have caused anyone to doubt the existence of any God, let alone one who cared about him. To add insult to injury, he had friends who sensitively shared that really it was all his fault! Through all his battle and doubt about God’s behavior, Job refused to conclude that He did not exist. In the end God does not commend him for those doubts but with understanding and grace simply points out that He is indeed God and so by very definition will not be comprehensible to mere humans. However Jobs dogged refusal to surrender results in Gods blessing,  and the admonition of those friends that sought to undermine His faith. I have no doubt the the archbishop, while having the courage to share that he too has doubts at times, will similarly hang on tho his faith in an incomprehensible but truly amazing God.   And I trust that he has friends who, rather than discouraging him from faith, will stand beside him and encourage him. I pray that each of us also will have those who will walk through the dark times with us and build us up rather that cast us down.

Posted December 8, 2015 by jolm15 in Uncategorized

Tagged with , , , , , ,