Archive for the ‘Church life’ Tag

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?

 

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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.

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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Community Costs!   Leave a comment

The following is an extract from a blog (you can read the full text here). The opening describes a wonderful wedding where all aspects off the wedding were provided by the couples friends. Wonderful yes but not that unusual you might say. I agree but these thoughts that follow I believe really challenge us to think about the day to day practical meaning and cost of living the life described in Acts 4:32-35. So often when I read these verses I ask myself what would “everything in common” really look like today, I think this at least gives food for though in answering the question…

 …You see, it’s now one week on and our shoulders are still aching from the lifting and carrying of chairs, drinks, tables and amps. The photographer is still selecting and touching up photos for their album (not that the beautiful couple need it, of course). And, I would wager, that most people involved have found themselves still sneaking the odd yawn or tired glance at the clock in the last few days to see if it’s bedtime yet. 

Living in community sounds great! So Christians often look to Acts  and aspire to the type of living that “shared and sold possessions to give to anyone in need” or “had everything in common”. 

It sounds amazing, like a glimpse of heaven. Yet we often stop short. We blame the modern pace of life, or practical issues like work, family, the mortgage. We tell ourselves: “It’s a nice idea, but we probably need to re-contextualise it for a 21st century view of community”.

And yet, in reality, I wonder if it’s just too hard and we’re too scared to admit it.

When you share or sell possessions, you decide that those things you own aren’t yours anymore and you no longer own them. Skills and talents can be the same; they belong to everyone and are there to be shared. Being together means not being elsewhere – and that can be costly. It includes being present when you are together and not caught up in emails, social media or some other phone-based pursuit. Holding everything in common means letting go of some of your own pre-conceptions, firmly held ideas and ways of doing things. It also means taking time to listen, allowing others the chance to shape the direction of your community and help point to the future. 

And so we read Acts, longingly wishing there was just a way we could get there, and perhaps secretly hoping we never have to. Saving ourselves from the hard work, late nights, tough conversations, aching shoulders – all the tough stuff really living in community might cost us.

So what do you think, does that help to make it real and are we willing to count and pay the cost?

The above is taken from a  a multi author blog entitled “threads”

Posted October 10, 2014 by jolm15 in Uncategorized

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