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 Nevertheless, I learned from an article in Britain’s Daily Mail that, at the last minute, the permission was withdrawn on the basis that ” it might offend some people.”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.

Seeing Beyond Politics?   Leave a comment

A great deal of ink has already been spilt on the current refugee situation by authors more eloquent and qualified than me. However it has struck me in reading  the positions of so many of our politicians and pundits that they really should not surprise us. Surely they are just what we would expect from a culture that has  firmly concluded that there is no God, faith is futile, and that reason and logic are the governing factors. I am not for one second suggesting that it is only those with faith who are committed to reaching out to the desperate and displaced but rather that, without faith, there is little in the framework of logic and reason to cause them to do so. The pursuit of logic and reason drives one inexorably to enlightened self interest which, fueled by fear, causes us to do anything we can to protect ourselves. Hence we hear impassioned proclamations of the need to keep away from us anyone or anything that might cause us harm and that to do so is the only responsible course of action.

My struggle however is with those who profess a life of faith and yet espouse a position that reflects this  fear rather than compassion. For those of faith, there is a God who voluntarily placed himself in danger, paying the ultimate price just to provide hope for all those, through the ages, who have routinely rejected Him.  A God who promises to protect and provide for us regardless of our circumstances. He calls us to follow him in reaching out unconditionally to those who are lost and helpless, offering them hope just as he has done for us. The challenge and responsibility for those who follow Jesus is so clearly set out in the article from Relevant Magazine and, of course, there is no logical reason to act this way. But how can we not reach out in love when we have ourselves received such amazing, selfless and unconditional love?

How is it then that we see such selfless sacrifice in  both those with and without faith? Could it be that there is, in each of us, whether or not we recognize it, a little of “the image of the invisible God” (Genesis1:27) and this results in a reflection of His character. It is my prayer that we will all, whether or not we acknowledge that”image” within us will continue to ignore the politics of reason and logic and open our doors and hearts unconditionally to those who so desperately need it

Posted November 20, 2015 by jolm15 in Uncategorized

Is it just joking?   Leave a comment

Halloween ? Should we or shouldn’t we? Some will rise to decry any observation of our second biggest commercial holiday, others will join my grandson in explaining to me “its just joking”…as he looked at the scary decorations for the celebration! I also heard from a mother, out for a walk in their neighborhood with their toddler. She saw the various decorations for Halloween appearing in peoples yards. Amongst them were a selection of heads impaled on sticks and similar gory offerings. I just wonder, she remarked, if these are appropriate given the activities of ISIS around the world, that have received so much recent publicity. A couple of years ago I wrote this to suggest some ways as to how we might think through our approach and I share it once again this year and I hope you might find it helpful.

As a pastor, how should I answer those members of my church family who receive a range of messages from, instructions to avoid the celebrations at all cost to just enjoy an innocent time of fun for children. Realizing that I grew up far closer to the scene of the origination of the festival, one that began literally thousands of years ago, I can see that my perspective may be different than those of my adopted home here in the USA. So I decided to do a little research to ensure that when I offered my opinion, I was able to support my feelings with fact.

Two resources proved to be very helpful, the first an excellent article on the website History.com and the second an blogpost from Jim Daly, both seem to set out balanced and helpful information to help frame the approach we should have as Christians.

I concluded  that both ends of the spectrum would benefit from some thoughtful adjustment of their polemic. For those preaching a message of doom and destruction on to participants, should note the unique evolution of the festival here in the United States so helpfully set out in the historical article.

“By the 1920s and 1930s, Halloween had become a secular, but community-
centered holiday, with parades and town-wide parties as the featured entertainment.
Despite the best efforts of many schools and communities, vandalism began to plague
Halloween celebrations in many communities during this time. By the 1950s, town
leaders had successfully limited vandalism and Halloween had evolved into a holiday
directed mainly at the young. Due to the high numbers of young children during the
fifties baby boom, parties moved from town civic centers into the classroom or home,
where they could be more easily accommodated. Between 1920 and 1950, the
centuries-old practice of trick-or-treating was also revived. Trick-or-treating was a
relatively inexpensive way for an entire community to share the Halloween celebration”.

To oppose with such vehemence what has become a community festival centered on small children risks obstructing the Christian message of the value of community. However it is undeniable that, albeit distant, the historical background of the festival has clear links with evil and the practice of dark and demonic religion. It is clear that although many children are dressed in cute and wonderful costumes, some appear as characters such as witches and other representations of death and destruction. These unavoidably point back to the dangerous aspects of the holidayʼs history and run the
risk of making an unhealthy connection between evil and fun. The scripture warns us that the evil one is at his most dangerous when he “masquerades as an angel of light” ( 2 Cor 11:14). For us to detract from the enormous danger of such things must be avoided at all costs.

Jim Daly warns us, in addition, of the growing danger of the glorification of violence in our culture.

Christian or not, it is high time to turn away from the dark, gory and horror-filled side of
the holiday. Itʼs always been time, but the confluence of culture and recent current
events raises this matter to a new level.

There is absolutely nothing entertaining or redeeming about hatchet wielding villains
parading in costume or front-lawn displays featuring blood spattered body parts.

My suggestion therefore that, along with everything we do as Christians, we take the time to ask ourselves a couple of questions. Would I be happy for Jesus to accompany us on our trick or treating expedition dressed the way we are ? If Jesus was to visit our home tonight would I be happy for Him to encounter the decorations in my front yard? The answer to those questions and others like them will help ensure that we have a uniquely Christian approach to the holiday and one which will may give us the chance to share truth with our friends.

Posted October 13, 2015 by jolm15 in Uncategorized

Opinions!   Leave a comment

” Your opinion matters” or so I am told by all sorts of people who want me to fill in surveys or answer questions. But does it, really, and if so who to and why? As election season gets closer and closer  the question will be asked more and more often. Of course to those looking for your vote or seeking to obtain it, your opinion is very important. Opinions are very important to those who want to sell us things, whether or not we want or need them. Consequently my opinion actually only  matters to those who want  something from me (except perhaps my close friends and family). Since our society is littered with people wanting others to buy, vote, or something similar, it is easy to get a false sense of the importance our opinions! This is exacerbated as our culture  gives increasing priority to the rights of the individual and  is decreasingly  interested in truth. Ah, there you have it, truth, not your truth , my truth or any similar oxymoron, simply truth. The problem is that truth has, by definition, to be independent of any individual’s or group’s opinion.

If we really mean  “you are entitled to your opinion”  or that “your opinion matters” it must be said without the unspoken caveat that agreement with me is a pre-requisite. To require such agreement implies that “my opinion” has been exalted to the realm of truth. Politics is one of the best examples of this. Most thinking people have a broadly similar picture of the problems we face, but when it comes solutions, there are as many opinions as there are people. When our favorite sports team is losing, every fan has an opinion as to what the coach should do to solve the problems.  In each case the opinions are sincerely held and supported by their own selection of evidence. When we are able to identify what are “opinions” and hold them as such, some of our most vitriolic arguments lose much of their bitterness. Does this means these opinions have no value?  Certainly not, because it is  by listening, respectfully, to what other people think that we learn (and maybe even change!)

As a Christian, recognizing the difference between opinion and truth is of great importance. Dr Albert Mohler has articulated what he calls “Tier One Issues.” These are  matters held to be truths fundamental to our Christian faith. They include such things as such as the divinity of Jesus, along with his death and resurrection The fact that salvation  is by faith alone in the redemption made available by that death and resurrection is truth we hold not to be subject in any way to opinions. This is the gospel!  Other issues such as, the gifts of the spirit,  baptismal practice and such, are subject to different opinions over biblical interpretation. Respect for such differences means that they should not be used to question  the validity of another’s faith.

So do our opinions matter? Of course, because  by listening to each others perspectives we learn and grow. It is however important  to remember when sharing  opinions, that ours have the same value as anyone else’s, whether in politics sport, religion or any other subject.  However when it comes to what we hold to be truth, we must be able to explain why we hold them to be truth, not yours, mine, or indeed anyone else’s, simply truth that can be absolutely depended upon!

Posted September 19, 2015 by jolm15 in Uncategorized

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Zebra Bag?   Leave a comment

What is “The Zebra bag”? Recently I was asked why my blog had such a strange name and I realized that an increasing number of people associated with New Life Christian Fellowship, let alone others, had no idea how the name  originated. It was suggested that I record the story for perpetuity. So here it is!  In 2005 I was invited to become the interim pastor at Vista del Mar Baptist Church in Pacifica. I accepted, and on my first visit to preach I was informed that one of the features of their Sunday morning service was a “children’s talk”. I was not used to preparing such things and thought them (children’s messages) to be a residue of the dark ages.  I resolved to phase them out as soon as possible! However, I was unable to do this immediately so I gave some thought to how I might fulfill the requirement, at least initially. I came up with the idea to call the children forward. gather them in a circle around me while I sat on the floor and a shared an object lesson. In order to keep the object from view, until I was ready to use it I would put it in a bag with a picture of a zebra on it that I had brought back form a trip to South Africa.

zebra_lovers_art_gifts_bag-149043790282943828You have probably guessed, that became known as ” the zebra bag” (which I pronounced in the correct English Ze-bra rather than Zeeeeeebra!). Well the bag, my pronunciation, and the object lessons, took on a life of their own. Far from being phased out they became a much loved and anticipated feature of our services for a number of years! Through them I formed some of my most precious relationships with children  in our church family, who are now of course, teenagers and young adults!

It was also these conversations that God used to fulfill dream of mine that our church would be one that children felt was for them and not just a place their parents dragged them to reluctantly each weekend. It also taught me a salutary lesson that I should be careful and prayerful before  resolving to anything phase things out. I think (hope!) God was smiling as He impressed on me, somewhat emphatically, that He would decide these things, not me!  So when I began this blog “from the Zebra Bag” was a natural title. As the church grew and those children grew older the children’s conversations became less frequent and , far from rejoicing, I was reluctant to see them quietly cease to be part of our Sunday celebrations.

The bag itself was somehow was lost without trace but the stories that came from those conversations will remain part of New Life tradition for ever! So if you are part of NLCF or come and visit us you might ask one of our high school seniors to tell you a story of ” the zebra bag’!!

Posted September 11, 2015 by jolm15 in Uncategorized

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A Real Book   Leave a comment

Some times I just like to have a old fashioned book in my hands! I do believe You Version to be one of the greatest gifts that the Body of Christ has received in the recent past. His word is “a lamp unto our feet and light unto our path” to have it readily available on all our mobile devices is an inestimable blessing. However I have to be honest there are occasions when I still love to turn pages and my daily devotional is one of those times. Recently I have been using a devotional book     41uIkC0wdNL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_entitled  “Through the Bible, Through the Year.” This volume is a selection of writings from  the late John Stott.

Sometime ago I wrote that when The Father took John Stott home to be with him we lost one of the most remarkable Biblical expositors  of our generation. However Dr Stott was not just a scholar, but also a pastor with a supreme ability to make the most complex Biblical concepts crystal clear. One example to which I refer often is his masterful explanation of Jesus death on the cross for us  in ” The Cross of Christ”

“The concept of salvation may be said then to lie at the heart of both sin and salvation. For the essence of sin is man substituting himself for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting Himself for man. Man asserts himself against God and puts himself where only God deserves to be; God  sacrifices Himself for man and puts Himself where only man should be. Man claims prerogatives that belong to God alone and God accepts penalties which belong to man alone”

In this devotional volume,“Through the Bible, Through the Year.” you have the chance to feed on this supreme wisdom day after day. In a single page and few verses each day he unfolds the big story of scripture in a wonderful way and the portion set for each day is brief enough to make it easy to catch up if you get behind. One reason for sharing this now is that he follows a calendar that begins in Genesis next week. The book is laid out in such a way that you can begin at anytime, but to start at the beginning has a certain logic to it! So if you are looking for a real book with pages to turn during a daily devotion, this one will not disappoint I guarantee it!

Growing Hope   Leave a comment

imgres       Family movie night at New Life yesterday and we saw a really interesting movie ” Where Hope Grows.”  (in the course of this blog I may stray into “spoiler” territory if and when I do so I will proceed this with the word SPOILER and you should stop reading at that point to avoid information that might spoil the movie for you). This is the latest offering from such movies as Courageous and Fireproof. Calvin Thompson is a single father living with his seventeen year old daughter Kate. He was a major league baseball player until his lack of performance resulted in him being kicked off the team . Since then his life has spiralled out of control, fueled largely by the contents of a bottle. At his local supermarket he meets a young man with Downs Syndrome who takes pride in his nick-name -Produce and, of course, he is responsible for the fruit and vegetable displays in the store. The movie chronicles the relationship between Calvin and this grocery store employee, Produce as they become friends and their lives become intertwined. SPOILER

 

The movie begins by revealing a number of lives largely devoid of hope. Calvin with no hope of any direction, Katie without hope of any change in her father, and Produce with no hope of becoming employee of the month! Calvin sees in Produce, however, an uncanny ability to remain cheerful and positive in any situation and in the end asks Produce what his secret is.  Produce never articulates any details but in time asks Calvin if he will give him a lift to church and suggests he might come in. Inevitably Calvin declines choosing rather to join his friend on the golf course. During their round his best friend confronts him as a loser detailing his lack of purpose since leaving the major leagues . Calvin’s violent response leads him into a freefall drunken binge resulting in him lying, passed out on baseball field having missed an interview for a job. As the story proceeds Calvin tentatively approaches Alcoholics Anonymous and things begin to change.

I won’t disclose any more but there are a number of notable aspects of the story. Produce gives a powerful picture of unconditional love as only a person with downs syndrome can. Anyone who has been in contact with one of these wonderful people will inevitably be engulfed in their effortless and irrepressible affection and cheerfulness. For Produce hugs are the order of the day and, as he engages Calvin in unconditional friendship it is hard to avoid being reminded of the unconditional love we are offered in Jesus. When he was asked his secret I wondered, is there anything in my life as a follower of Jesus that would prompt that  question of me?

The movie ends not with a death-bed conversion or dramatic life changes (although the end is not what I expected!) but rather in a place where all those who had no hope at the beginning of the story are granted a glimmer of that hope. Kate has her father back, and Calvin has a job. It would seem they have joined Produce at church so we see the seeds of faith beginning to sprout! Yes there is hope for Produce too, but if you want to know about that you will have to see the movie!

Posted August 29, 2015 by jolm15 in Movies

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