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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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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?

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

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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

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A Culture of Offense   1 comment

No, this has nothing to do with football or any other sport for that matter. These thoughts came to me as I read an article about cinema’s (movie theatres) in England banning a commercial, prepared by the Church of England. In the short clip a number of different people participate in a recitation of the Lord’s prayer. The commercial, which was scheduled to have played before the new Star wars movie, received the approval of every regulatory body during its production. Nevertheless, I learned from an article in Britain’s Daily Mail that, at the last minute, the permission was withdrawn on the basis that ” it might offend some people.”  The ban has prompted a cacophony of protest from every quarter, including from none other than Richard Dawkins, declaring the action to be ridiculous. But their actions are perfectly consistent with, what seems to be, our rampant culture of offense. One state university has proposed a resolution the every student has the right not to be offended. But where does all this end? It matters very little whether it is a cup in Starbucks or a cross on Mount Davidson some believe they have the right to declare offense and as a consequence have the offending item removed. Often the christian community are active participants as we wave banners and shout our protest at some movie or other media pontification.   But isn’t a significant amount of what we now define as “offense”  what we used to call disagreement or even dislike?  Has anyone ever suggested that it was even desirable to “like” or “agree” with everyone and everything?  I am not for one moment suggesting that there are not situations when it is right to express offense and ask or even demand change. But shouldn’t this be limited to occasions when an individual, their faith, race or culture is insulted or in some way denigrated?  We cannot permit each other to take offense at a persons right to be who they are,  have their beliefs and express them.  If we continue to permit people to suggest they have a right protest offense at anything that they see or hear that reflects a belief other than their own I suggest we are on the way to a society that will eventually be entirely devoid of meaning. Perhaps it is that very trend in our culture that we should take every opportunity, not to be offended by, but to resist in every way we can.