No longer silent   Leave a comment

These are times when we must not keep silent! I am publishing this lament,  which I shared during our Sunday service this week because I believe these are issues on which we must persevere relentlessly until we see change. (If you prefer to see/ listen here is a link to this part of our Sunday service)

I feel greatly privileged to be the pastor of such a gloriously diverse church. However in recent days I have been challenged. Many of my closest friends are ethnically different from me and because I do life with them on a regular basis I have found it easy to overlook the fact that often they and their families experience life in a different way than I do. That although the news reports of lost lives that we have had recently in Minnesota and Georgia and incidents like the one in a park New York bring deep sorrow to me, they touch their lives in a far deeper and personal way. Although there is no way as a white male I can fully enter into their pain I want to find a way to stand with them. 

As a pastor in a place that is populated primarily with people like me who experience white privilege through accident of birth I have a strong sense that we should take some action to stand for what we believe and  stand in unity with all our brothers and sisters. Please resist any attempt to politicize what I am saying or respond in any way that does anything other than unify us in these difficult times.

Recently I have been learning about lament and so this morning I am going to lead us as  a church in a prayer of lament. We we see laments in many of the psalms and in other parts of scripture. We begin by turning towards God in our pain and not away and we cry our complaint to him. We follow that by begging Him to fulfill the promises He has made and finish by expressing our trust in Him as our only refuge and strength. 

Heavenly Father, we come to you in deep sorrow over recent events that cause some of our brothers and sisters to live in fear. events that seem to repeat themselves with such regularity that there is little time for recovery. Events that cause many of our friends deep grief, fear and sometimes isolation. It has been so easy for us to say this is not us. But it is us this is our country,  these are our communities and our people. We stand with the prophet Isaiah and confess “ we are a people of unclean lips. ( Is 6:5) Like Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane our souls are overwhelmed with pain. 

All of this comes when we are experiencing unprecedented chaos all over our world thousands are grieving the loss of loved ones and many more remain sick. All around us are those with passionate and diverse opinions about the way forward. Often they express these perspectives in ways that have an increasing tendency to divide rather than unite. Our minds are flooded with questions as to  why these things happen? How could you allow it ? Where are you, and have you forgotten us?

We plead with you Heavenly Father to forgive us for times when we have not spoken or acted when we should, and for those times we have said or done things we should not have.  Forgive us for the times we have not “learned to do good, we have not sought justice or helped the oppressed when we have failed to defend the cause of the orphans or to fight for the rights of widows.”( Is 1:17) Bring the judgement you promise. Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24)  Bring the healing and comfort you promise to those in deep sorrow and restore the years the locusts have eaten (Joel 2:25). Fulfill your promises to redeem and restore our devastated and broken world that we may experience the peace that passes all understanding you promised and the perfect unity you prescribed. As the Psalmist says “ send [us] a sign of your favor, then those who hate [us]] will be put to shame, for you O Lord help and comfort [us}.(Psalm 86:7)

Heavenly Father we know that despite what we see and feel You are our refuge a strength a very present help in trouble. We know you are King of Kings and Lord of Lords.   We know that even what the enemy plans for evil you turn it for our good and we long for your return in glory when you will wipe away every tear and until that day we ask that you will give us strength and courage to be your hands and feet to each other and the world around us. Show us how to stand for truth and justice while remembering that vengeance is yours and yours alone. We ask all this in the powerful and mighty name of our risen Lord Jesus 

Amen

A Matter of Choice   Leave a comment

A recent short car journey had me catch a snippet from an NPR program in their “ Hidden Brain” series. The episode was entitled “The Choices Before Us: Can Fewer Options Lead To Better Decisions?” In the few minutes that I listened, I heard someone living in East Berlin at the time the wall came down. She observed that after they got used to the excitement of a vastly increased number of consumer choices they began to notice the possibility that they were noticing a decrease in quality. Another contribution came from a lady whose parents met each other on their wedding night.  Although her friends always expressed their horror at such an idea she observed that her parents were happily married and gave their children a great family life. All this served to pose the question as to whether the assumption that the more options we have the better off we are may in fact not be true.

Each year our church begins the year with 21days of prayer and fasting as a way to spend some more focused time seeking God for His plans for the year to come. Many of the fasting practices involve choosing to reduce on the number of items on our meal tables or alternatives for entertainment and hence reducing our choices. Many share how beneficial this time is to their mental and physical health.

In his book “ A Celebration of Discipline” Richard Foster says that the practice of fasting reveals the things that control us. We quickly discover the things that are most difficult to surrender, and these are the things that subconsciously control our lives. 

One way to look at the challenge of SIP is that we have been forced to fast from many of our choices. We cannot have the range of shopping opportunities, we cannot choose from the same number of entertainment opportunities and the list goes on. We find this really hard, but as a friend of mine said recently in a zoom small group meeting “My suffering is direct result of my privilege.” If we did not have so many choices we would not find it so hard to do without them.

I wonder if the very fact that some people are finding blessing in the slower pace of life, and the increase in time with families, is at least an indirect result of the fewer choices we have as to how we spend our time. 

Many however they are not so fortunate. They did not have many choices in the first place and so perhaps they are experiencing fewer changes. Perhaps as we ponder how the decrease in the number of choices available to us has enriched our lives, we can consider how we can build on that enrichment. Also, might it be that if we did not have to take quite so much time making choices, we might be able to give more time to helping those who are really suffering without choices?

A Great Loss   Leave a comment

Earlier this week we lost one of the most influential figures in the Body of Christ. Dr Ravi Zacharias was a towering intellect and an amazing communicator. He had a seemingly encyclopedic memory for Scripture, quotations and poetry. When he stood up at the podium he instantly captured the attention of audiences all ages and sizes. He made his talks seem short regardless of how long he spoke and always left you wanting to hear more. 

I had the privilege of meeting him when I played a small part in the leadership of a conference in the UK when he came to speak. So far as I remember it was the first time a speaker had been scheduled to speak to the major gathering on two consecutive nights. Ravi delivered two messages on the Death of God. The first night he masterfully expounded the work of Friedrich Nietzsche. During that message he recited from beginning to end the lyric of “21st Century Schizoid Man” by King Crimson with the entire audience on the edge of their seats. He left us suspended in anticipation of the second night when he proclaimed a glorious message on the resurrection of Jesus declaring that God was not dead but very much alive. It left an indelible impression on me.

However, as amazing a preacher and teacher as he was, influencing hundreds and thousands for the gospel, this was not the most remarkable thing about Ravi Zacharias. For me the most compelling thing about this man was his gentleness, grace and compassion. He had an amazing ability to stand before a gathering of university students and take questions one after another. ( you can watch many of these sessions on YouTube). Often these questions were delivered by people who clearly felt they knew a lot more about the subject than he did. Every answer he gave was delivered in such a way as to make the questioner feel valued. He would reply clearly and fully and often say how much he would like to talk with the person later in the evening. His ability to engage people with whom he differed greatly with grace and respect while maintaining his unshakable convictions was a skill we are sorely in need of today.  

We are privileged that, in addition to his other skills, Dr Zacharias was a great writer and leaves us with a large number of books. Our technology provides us with the gift of many recordings of his messages and conversations. He leaves a thriving ministry of amazing young apologists to carry on the work he started.

Whatever you read or hear of Ravi Zacharias you cannot escape being challenged by his passion for the gospel of Jesus Christ. His first and only purpose was that people should encounter the living Lord Jesus, accept the amazing gift of salvation and live the rest of their lives in His service. We know that Ravi is now in the arms of the Savior He loved and served so faithfully and it remains for us to continue to proclaim that message.

Posted May 21, 2020 by jolm15 in Uncategorized

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Milk and Honey anyone?   1 comment

There seem to be two preeminent subjects in the social media airwaves right now. “Quarantine fatigue” as people get tired of social distancing and zoom meetings and that lack of so many things that we used to take for granted. Then there are the relentless “ reopening” conversations; what will it look, like when can we begin, what restrictions will we have to put up with.

Last Sunday I preached a sermon at New Life entitled “Pathways in Suffering.” As I sat and thought about the above, it suddenly dawned on me that perhaps I was missing my own point! When we experience suffering of any kind God has promised to walk with us in it and to walk in a direction, towards a destination. He does not promise to sit with us until we can get back to where we were, where it was comfortable, what we were used to.

I was reminded of the trap the Israelites fell in to as they were led out of Egypt. Egypt had been fine for a while. In fact God had taken them there to begin the work of building them into a nation. However, Egypt was not for ever and things got so intolerable that God sent Moses to deliver them. He promised that if they went with Moses He would take them to the promised land. He promised He would deal with the occupants of the land. There they were to fulfill their role as a prophetic people, showing the world what it looked like to walk in the ways of the Creator of the universe. 

The beginning part of the journey was, of course, very challenging and time and time again they complained to Moses that they wanted to go back to Egypt, back to what they knew. Finally they get to the borders of the land flowing with milk and honey and they send a group in to asses the land. They come back with a message that the land is indeed amazing, but the obstacles before them are just too great. There are however two men Joshua and Caleb, who while agreeing that the obstacles are great assert their confidence in God’s power to take them into the land. They are out voted and the consequence, 40 years in the desert!

 I sense that as we look to the future we are in real danger of, perhaps without realizing it, seeking to get back as close as possible to how things were. But the question the will not let me go is what is it God wants to lead us into? Having allowed the pause button to be pressed could it be that He has lead us, “out of Egypt” and now wants us to advance in to “ the promised land?” Could it be that He wants to restore the prophetic role of the church to our communities and to the world.

I realize it is of great importance to think of hand sanitizer, social distancing, and the like for the safety of everyone. But I don’t want to inadvertently allow attention to all the difficult practical aspects of reopening cause me to miss the exciting, mysterious, and new place that God wants to lead us into. I would really like to be a Caleb or Joshua and not end up in a desert, how about you? 

Posted May 14, 2020 by jolm15 in Uncategorized

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Hurry up!   Leave a comment

Some years ago I was reading with a small group in John Ortberg’s “ The Life you have Always Wanted.” In the book, he recounts a conversation he had with his mentor, the late Dallas Willard. Ortberg asked a question about how he might use a sabbatical to become more of what God intended him to be. After a thoughtful pause, Willard replied, “ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.” Subsequent to reading that segment I have read multiple accounts of the circumstances surrounding the conversation but the statement  “ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life” remains unchanged. Much has been written around this idea as a Google search will reveal and recently Jon-Mark Comer, a pastor for Portland Oregon has taken the statement and used it as a title for a new book to which Ortberg writes the foreword.

The challenge to be “unhurried” is one that has nagged me ever since that session with our small group all these years ago. I have eagerly read Alan Fadling’s books The Unhurried life and An UnHurried Leader, both of which I highly recommend, and I have begun Comers book with great anticipation and so far it has not disappointed. However, my progress toward the objective has seemed disappointingly slow. 

The current SIP has brought so many changes to our daily routines. Most of us, I suspect, have spent at least some time wondering what sort of people we will be when the virus is a thing of the past. In the course of one of these flights of fancy, I was suddenly conscious that one of the most noticeable differences for me was that I was actually no longer hurrying anywhere and it feels so good!

Earlier this week a friend forwarded me this video (only four minutes) entitled “ The Great Realization.” I wonder if part of this realization could be that our susceptibility to “the hurry virus” is every bit as dangerous as any other virus and that finding a way to avoid getting reinfected with it was also of the highest importance.

Will we succeed? Well, of course, the jury is still out but I certainly hope that when the future bedtime stories are told the recognition that hurry kills and the steps taken to deal with that reality will be one of the most notable achievements seen in 2020 hindsight. 

Posted May 6, 2020 by jolm15 in Uncategorized

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Busy?   1 comment

I remember hearing that the time when the most lies are told each week is the hour after church each Sunday. This is the time when we ask each other how we are doing and most of the time we reply “Fine” with complete disregard as to how we actually feel. When I also learned that to reply “ fine” when Maggie asked for an opinion on her appearance was the equivalent of somewhere between “awful” and “I don’t care” I realized this was a word I should think carefully before using.

Another word that I have been challenged to think carefully about is “busy”. A couple of years ago I resolved to try and eliminate it, particularly from my responses to inquiries as to my welfare. I observed that for many of us it was both an automatic reply and a device for reassuring ourselves and others that we are making a valuable contribution to the world. I realize the elimination of a word can be of little value it itself as it is not too hard to find synonyms and press them into use. If however we can use our efforts to avoid the word to prompt us think about why we are using it then perhaps it can make a real contribution to our way of life. I am not sure how well I have done in this process but reading these words from Eugene Peterson in my devotion his morning brought the idea to mind once again.

“I am busy because I am vain. I want to appear important. Significant. What better way than to be busy? The incredible hours, the crowded schedule, and heavy demands on my time are proof to myself and to all who will notice- that I am important. If I go into a doctor’s office and find there’s no one waiting, and see through a half-open door the doctor reading a book, I wonder if he’s any good. A good doctor will have people lined up waiting to see him; a good doctor will not have time to read a book, even if it’s a very good book. Although I grumble about waiting my turn in a busy doctor’s office, I am also impressed with his importance. Such experiences affect me. I live in a society in which crowded schedules and harassed conditions are evidence of importance. I want to be important, so I develop a crowded schedule and harassed conditions. When others notice, they acknowledge my significance and my vanity is fed.”

“I am busy because I am lazy. I indolently let others decide what I will do instead of resolutely deciding myself. It was a favorite theme of C S Lewis that only lazy people work hard. By lazily abdicating the essential work of deciding and directing, establishing values and setting goals, other people do it for us               Eugene Peterson “ The Contemplative Pastor

SIP has given us an unprecedented chance to review our busyness and the detrimental effect it has on our lives. I recently heard a discussion with a counselor, Cissy Gough, on Q media. She spoke about the current epidemic, not COVID 19, but of anxiety. She said that, with the advent of SIP, anxiety levels in children had, in many cases, decreased because they had more time at home to do things they enjoyed with their parents and families. They were under less pressure. 

Could this be because they and their parents were less busy? 

Of course the sources of “busy” in each of our lives are so varied. Demanding jobs are only one factor there is a plethora of entertainment, travel to games, music lessons and so many other activities that are piled on one after another. And then of course there is church and other community involvement. I could go on and of course many of those activities are wonderful and beneficial but if the cumulative effect is not so great…? So will we have the courage, not only to observe the potential effects of busyness that have become obvious as we SIP, but to actually take steps to reduce its domination of our lifestyle?

Posted May 2, 2020 by jolm15 in Uncategorized

It’s happening!   4 comments

Its happening! We are about six weeks into the SIP regulations designed to keep us safe. In the early weeks there was a remarkable sense of being together in this and the need to do all we could to encourage and support each other. 

Most of us were well aware that we entered this unique season a nation as divided as we ever have been in our history but did we catch a glimpse of what it might be like if we weren’t? I am not sure because our ability to yell at each other seems to be raising its ugly head once again. I read an article yesterday where two people expressed opinions about what the authorities should be doing next. One pleading a case that all the restrictions had been an overreaction and unless we opened up immediately our economy would collapse.  The other equally passionately begging government to safeguard people’s lives by keeping the regulations in place. Of course, both are entitled to hold and express their perspectives and which is right I certainly don’t know.

What concerns me as we see the divisions in our nation re-emerge is not the existence of differences that is in many ways healthy. It is that, once again, they are being expressed in increasingly ugly and hostile protests along with threats at rebellion or resistance. Even more concerning is the fact that the church in various forms has chosen to enter the fray. Their rhetoric is also one of entitlement and rights and my uneasiness is that I don’t see that in the life of Jesus or the words of scripture.

I am not saying for one moment that I know the answers but I think that if we do not want to return to our behaviors before God allowed the pause button to be pushed we need to think carefully before we protest our rights and entitlements. Before we join the yelling across whatever divide let’s take the time we have been given to ask ourselves some questions. Do we really believe that God is totally and completely in control? Do we depend on Him alone to provide and protect us? Do we believe our every word and action should bring glory to our Heavenly Father? If the answer is yes how should we then speak and act? Has God given us a chance to do differently? What should that look like? 

Posted April 28, 2020 by jolm15 in Uncategorized

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