Apprenticeship   Leave a comment

I know I have not written for quite some time. This is, at least partly, because I don’t want to burden those kind enough to read my musings with anything that does not seem to have real importance (at least to me!!). I am writing today because I believe that at New Life we have just begun one of the most important preaching series since I became pastor some sixteen years ago. When COV!D -19 broke upon us and we were unable to meet together in church I was convinced at a very early stage that this was going to result in a profound and much-needed change in the church. This was not to cast any unnecessary aspersions on the past but to recognize what many have said: “What got you here will not get you where you are going.” Since that time many of my prayers have been focused on the request that the Father show us what that change was to look like and how we could join Him in bringing the change about.

I am certainly still on that prayerful path but I do believe that coming to a deeper and richer understanding of what it means to be an apprentice (disciple) of Jesus is foundational to us moving forward. In last Sunday’s sermon I shared this quote from Ronald Rolheiser which I think summarizes the challenge before us

We’ve always found it easiest to ignore the truth as long as we never stop moving. In the fall of humanity, we mastered the art of hurry. “And so we end up as good people, but as people who are not very deep: not bad, just busy; not immoral, just distracted; not lacking in soul, just preoccupied; not disdaining depth, just never doing the things to get us there,”                                                                           Ronald Rolheiser. 

When we read how Jesus invited a ramshackle group to follow him and think about how that invitation applies to us, do we really understand the journey that He invited them, and now us, to begin? In his book “Invitation to a Journey” Robert Mulholland says this:

I do not know what your perception of Christian discipleship might be, but much contemporary Christian spirituality tends to view the spiritual life as a static possession rather than a dynamic and ever-developing growth toward wholeness in the image of Christ. 

Robert Mulholland

As we study this together ( and we have only just begun) we are seeing that Jesus’ invitation to follow is motivated by His unconditional love for us but as with all invitations we are free to decline. The invitation to follow is rooted in the remarkable Jewish education system. This link takes you to some brilliant teaching on what it meant to be a disciple in Jesus’s day. I encourage you to take the time to listen because it will open your eyes as it did mine to what it meant when we said yes to following Jesus.

However, this is a journey that will last a lifetime. How do we begin? When we have taken the first step of recognizing our sin (the decision to decide for ourselves what is right or wrong) and have accepted the forgiveness purchased for us by Jesus on the cross we must begin to be with Jesus and get to know him. Here is an exercise that you might try to begin the process of getting to know him

Think about your closest friend or spouse and ask yourself how did I get to know them. Try and detail the process as far as you are able and preferably write it down. Then ask how your life of walking with Jesus compares to this and what has helped/hindered you from getting to know Him. Come up with one thing you might do now to help get to know Him better. To make this stick share it with someone you trust and ask them to keep you accountable.

Processing Pain   3 comments

I am aware that I have not written for a long time and I honestly think there are many reasons for that, some I understand and others I don’t yet. One is the doubt that I can adequately put into words some of the things that are on my heart. The struggle to engage my own pain and heartache over all that has transpired, alongside the devastating effects on our church community, has at least been part of my reluctance to write.

 Our church has just taken our traditional 21 days to pray and fast over the coming year. Our focus has been learning to lament, to confront pain and sorrow not in a casual way, moving on to the next thing as soon as possible, but by staying in the difficult places longer than is comfortable. This often allows God to show us things in the pain that we maybe have not seen before. Some of these may prompt us to repent or others may give us a new understanding of God’s call on us or love for us. One of the painful things God has shown us is where our relationships as a community have not been what we had hoped and our commitment to each other, more fragile than we knew. We are learning that the painful and difficult experiences that we skip past and put under the carpet, create unseen obstacles to commitment in community.

As I have pondered and lamented these realities and shared them with others, there has been growing conviction that God wants to take us deeper in our relationship with Him and each other; that God is asking us to engage with conflict and do the hard work of working through our difficulties as a family. We do this in the hope that we might find healing rather than division. This will, in turn, enable us to model this for the deeply divided community in which we have been planted.

Over recent months two things have been said to me multiple times in one form or another. They have stuck in my mind returning over and over to haunt me. One is “ I am getting all I need from…” and the other is  “I don’t like… so I am not going to engage with it.” As I have pondered these approaches it has struck me how much they represent our culture’s intensely individualistic approach to our faith. In them, I see how they have significantly weakened our communities of faith.  Is it only what “I need” as an individual that decides how I participate in the body of Christ? Might it not be this is simply a time when I need to give in order that the faith of others might be strengthened? If I don’t “like this” maybe I need to look at why, or possibly “this” is something I have learned in the past, and now is my chance to share and encourage others. rather than always expecting to receive. 

The deepening and strengthening of our church community will only happen when each of us is deeply and passionately concerned with the welfare of each member; when our walk with Jesus together is as important as our personal walk with Him. Exactly how does this happen and what does a church look like that reflects these priorities? I don’t know but I am committed to seeking the Father’s face together and working with every other member of the church family to find out. 

Posted January 22, 2022 by jolm15 in Uncategorized

Lest we Forget   5 comments

I know I have not written for some while and maybe what follows goes some way to explaining why. As Maggie has been working with her 6th grade students in preparation for returning to some form of in-person teaching, she has been encouraging them to write down their experiences of the past year to make sure they do not forget. As I sat in quiet this morning with my journal open I thought that maybe I should do the same. This is what resulted: 

I remember that the initial shock of beginning “shelter in place” was in some ways exciting. We launched into new and previously unknown territory with problems to solve and strategies to develop. For our church, our previously limited online presence became the main event. We worked as a team praying, thinking and planning. We learned from our mistakes and were all engaged in the challenges of helping one another. How could we respond to the needs of our community and maintain some connectivity? We learned to do church in a different way and asked ourselves what is God doing, what can we learn? Personally I began to appreciate the focus that came with working at home. I really enjoyed being with Maggie everyday as she grappled with the challenges of online teaching. 

Soon it became clear that the end of these strange times was not coming anytime soon. Phrases like “the new normal” appeared in articles and news bulletins along with “unprecedented.” and “unheard of!” At the same time as the appearance of this new language, cracks began to become evident in relationships. The inability to see each other face to face allowed those cracks to widen as differences of opinion and ideas emerged. Echo chambers formed as we found ways to talk with people that agreed with us and avoid those with whom we differed.

Little did we know that just ahead of us were two events that would again make significant changes to our cultural and social landscape. On May 25th the news of the tragic killing of George Floyd flooded the news outlets. Over the next weeks this brought to the surface fresh and necessary attention to the racism that infects our nation. However, rather than causing us to come together in the face of injustice it simply provided another forum for differences in life experiences, let alone opinions and perspectives. The cracks multiplied and became wider as the rhetoric in social media became louder and more combative.Then of course on the horizon, approaching rapidly, was the perfect storm of an election in a nation already as politically divided as at any time in recent history

As the year progressed, divisions and isolation increased. Along with them, some underlying questions seemed to become more and more prevalent “What about me?” Why is nobody listening to me?” We continued to search for people who think like us, so we can feel safe. But all the time culture and community became more and more divided, and as a consequence significantly more unsafe for everyone!

Now, as we approach the prospect of a much wider re-opening, we must face a new challenge. How will we deal with the bridges that have been broken and the cracks that have become so wide? Will we, like Adam and Eve at the dawn of creation, look around for someone to blame and hence simply reinforce the brokenness we are all experiencing.

Oh the other hand could we take a different and admittedly more difficult approach. Could we grasp humility in both hands, emerge from our echo chambers, and take the initiative to say sorry for the part we have played in divisions. Might we, in turn, forgive those who we believe have wronged and hurt us. As a consequence could we participate in the active healing of our community?

I know for me right now, I am tired and discouraged. I am struggling to find the excitement and anticipation of planning again for what will be new. I am realizing that soon I will be at home alone without Maggie in the other room (except of course I will have Maisey, our four month old boxer puppy!) I am recognizing the relationships with many that I valued and love are deeply changed. Can I find the energy to think, write, inspire and anticipate all that God is going to do?

I believe the answer, for me at least, is yes. I know that God is still on the throne, He still has a plan and He is still working it out. I believe that although it will be extraordinarily difficult at times, if I can humble myself, we can do this together. We can learn to love each other, while listening to and seeking to understand our differences. If we accept this challenge when the next crisis occurs, and it will, we will be better equipped and stronger to face it together and show the world what it really means to follow Jesus.

It’s our Anniversary!!   4 comments

Today is my 14th Wedding anniversary so I trust you will permit me a rather personal post. I am incredibly grateful to have been married to this lady for the past fourteen years and to hope for many more. She has truly revealed to me what the scripture means when it says “more than you could ask or imagine”

I expressed a little of this in a Facebook post this morning but here is where my joy is tinged with sadness. She will not see that post (unless I show it to her). Why? Because she has closed her Facebook account . Like so many others, the inability of so many to resist the temptation to post angry and divisive material has caused her to conclude that it is mentally healthier for her to close her account. 

That choice is hers and hers alone of course, but it make me sad that Maggie, and so many like her, are prevented from enjoying the positive aspects of Facebook and the like by those who seem unable to refrain from anger and meanness. 

This makes me wonder, has anyone ever had their mind changed by a Facebook post? Has any one “seen the light” because a post revealed to them how wrong they were? Maybe a very few but my observation indicates that the responses to such posts take two forms. First there are the admiring affirmations and then the equally angry arguments. So why post at all? Was it just to bask in the warmth of people agreeing with you? I have even seen people include in their post “if you disagree with me feel free to unfriend me” or even “ please unfriend me” so I guess that post was made for the soft cushion of affirmation alone. If, however, the purpose was to invite the angry arguments that so often ensue, I am even more mystified.

I recently learned of a similar app that has become a home for those who want to express with passion, opinions representing one side of the aisle. I can but hope that a similar site will be created so those wishing to share similarly passionate views from the other side of the aisle can do so. Then both groups can have their needs met on these sites leaving  Facebook for the rest of us to celebrate, communicate and encourage one another, enjoying the blessing that social media can provide us.

Posted November 10, 2020 by jolm15 in Uncategorized

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Dilemmas   3 comments

It’s the morning after election day and, at the time of writing, we still have no idea who will live in the White House for the next four years. A number of things have however become very clear. Firstly, whoever ends up winning will preside over a nation so deeply and toxically divided that one wonders if healing is even possible. Secondly, around fifty percent of the nation will find themselves with a government that they have already condemned in the strongest terms. Every election results in one group of people being deeply disappointed and finding themselves wondering how we can survive the next four years. How will they tolerate being governed by people who have such different ideas about how to solve the nation’s problems? But this time it seems different, the condemnation that has been poured out by each side on each other has included, in many instances, writing people off as morally reprehensible.

I was reading in Jeremiah this morning an incident that occurred when Isreal was taken into exile in Babylon. Representatives of the leaders left in Jerusalem came and asked the prophet to seek God for direction at what they should do next. (Jeremiah 42:5-6) The leaders commit themselves to act on God’s instructions said “whether pleasant or unpleasant.”  After ten days the prophet comes back with God’s message (Jeremiah 42:9-12). He tells them to go and settle among the pagan and Godless people of Babylon. This answer was, of course, morally repugnant. Their choice, trust God and His word through the prophet despite the nature of the guidance, or decide that they knew better and ignore what God had said. Sadly (Jeremiah 43:2) they chose the latter and it did not work out well for them.

When the counts, recounts and legal battles are over, it seems to me that one half of our nation will be presented with a very similar dilemma. Someone, who they have judged, not simply wrong, but as morally indefensible will have been elected to form a government for the next four years. The choice they have, either accept that God is still on the throne and the people have spoken.  Their task must now be to commit to pray for the incoming government. The alternative is to conclude that God is no longer in control, his plan has failed and He has made a dreadful mistake.

Whichever choice you make if you are a follower of Jesus, you find yourself with another dilemma. You are surrounded by people that you don’t just believe are wrong but whom you have publicly judged to be bad people with motives that belong in the gutter. I confess I struggle to understand how in our churches and small groups we are going to be able to repair and forgive those judgments and avoid retreating to enclaves of people who simply agree with each other. How then will we be able to fulfill Jesus’s command that we be united and known for our love for each other?

Posted November 5, 2020 by jolm15 in Uncategorized

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What’s Next?   2 comments

I don’t suppose many pastors could say that one of the first sermons they preached was on the prophecy of Haggai. However, I can! I do not remember what prompted the sermon but it was certainly before I became a pastor and so must have been when I was invited to speak on behalf of one of the organizations I worked for before going to seminary. As a consequence, I have always valued this short book whose two chapters only take up two pages of my Bible.

Recently I was reminded of the book and as I turned its pages, once again it struck me that it had some important things to say to us today. Haggai speaks into the life of Israel after the exile and the collapse of the Babylonian empire. The people are just returning to the land. The Bible Project video summarizes the prophet’s message in four parts. First, he asks the people to consider whether it is right that they should give priority to refurbishing their own houses rather than rebuilding the temple. When the people take this criticism to heart, they can’t help but feel that their work on the temple is a poor shadow of its former beauty. The final two parts exhort the people to remember the covenant and be faithful. Lastly, the prophet articulates a vision for God’s eternal kingdom.

It is the first two parts that piqued my imagination. Of course, the church has not been sent into exile,  but COVID 19 has interrupted our customary lives in such a way that it feels a little like it. As I listen to conversations about the future, a recurrent theme is the re-creation of what we had.  I fear that is strangely parallel to Haggai 1:2-4. We are saying, “how can we rebuild what we enjoyed, the way things were before?” Could it be that God wants to ask why we are so preoccupied with rebuilding what we were comfortable with when His plans for the church have barely progressed beyond a building site? ( not quite ruins but close!) ” What if your inherited imagination of what the church should be is dying while the Spirit is stirring something new” Tim Soerens “ Everywhere you Look- -Discovering the Church Right Where You Are”

When the people turn their focus on the temple they soon get discouraged that their efforts at restoration to its former glory are a dismal failure.  God, however, responds with the most glorious and exciting words of encouragement.

“For this is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies says: In just a little while I will again shake the heavens and the earth, the oceans and the dry land. I will shake all the nations, and the treasures of all the nations will be brought to this Temple. I will fill this place with glory, says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. The future glory of this Temple will be greater than its past glory, says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. And in this place I will bring peace. I, the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, have spoken!” Haggai 2:6-9

God says, I am not leading you back to what was, I am leading you forward to what will be . He does not say the past had “no glory”, but His plans for the future are for “greater glory.” 

So let’s remember that we serve a God who wants us to follow Him to eternity. The way He wants the church to look “next” may be different than the past and some ways may not seem as “good” to us as we enjoyed in the past. However, His ways are not our ways and He calls us to be faithful, trusting Him for the glorious eternity He has planned for us. So let’s reach together for His plans because He promises “to fill this place with glory”!

Posted October 1, 2020 by jolm15 in Uncategorized

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The Great Divide(s)   1 comment

The relentless message we receive from the media is that we, in the US, are more divided than ever before in the history of the nation. We are divided over politics, morals, race, ethics, social policy… and the list goes on. And yet for those of us who claim to be Christians and who look to the scriptures for guidance, we are called to seek and value unity above all else (John 17:9-24). 

The upcoming election threatens to amplify and exacerbate our divisions. Do we have anything to offer that will demonstrate how unity can be cherished in the midst of differences in opinion and conviction?

My recent reading and listening has uncovered some really wonderful thinking that has been done on this subject and I want to share some of them with you.  They offer real help and hope in places where I often feel helpless and hopeless and are greatly influencing my thinking and communication right now. 

Firstly two books, both address the challenges with real life illustrations and practical suggestions 

Compassion and Conviction – The AND CAMPAIGN’S guide to Civic Engagement“ 

“Mobilizing Hope – Faith inspired activism for a Post Civil Rights Generation 

In January of this year Andy Stanley the Pastor of North Point Community Church gave a series of messages entitled “ Talking Points” which provide a great framework for riding out the storm together!

If you are concerned, as I am, that the church should do all we can to provide a clear and unmistakable witness in these times, that we can demonstrate that relationship and civility can be preserved, then I encourage you to read and listen widely. Engage with people you think you will disagree with as well as those who will make you feel comfortable. But don’t let it end there, talk (not text text or social media!) about these ideas with your friends, especially those with whom you think you might disagree.  Have these conversations not in order to change their minds but to understand one another better. (I know that, given the present restrictions, that is difficult but it can be done and it is worth it!)

One final thing I urge brothers and sisters in Christ I urge, regardless of what you hear on social media, or some else tells you, don’t allow a perception or assumption to divide you from each other. Take the time to listen and learn from each other. If I had a dime for every time I have heard the words” Oh I never thought of it that way” in the past few months I would be a rich man!!  

Posted September 8, 2020 by jolm15 in Uncategorized

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What Price Will We Pay for Unity?   1 comment

I have never been more aware of the presence of diversity of every sort in our small congregation. It brings me great joy and I believe it is a gift from God and represents an unprecedented opportunity at this moment in history. 

At the same time I have never been more aware of the divisions and potential divisions that this diversity is surfacing amongst us. I see people not coming to the family table or even leaving the table because they find the conversations difficult and that deeply saddens me.

I want to make one more attempt to call you all back to the table. Why? Because the one thing that Jesus prayed for as He approached the cross was “ that they might be one.” He did not pray that we would all agree or see things the same way but that we would be united . In other words that we would remain at the family table because our love for one another is more important than agreeing with each other.

I recently listened to these two instagram posts that express very powerfully the pain that comes when the unity of the family table is disrupted. PLEASE LISTEN TO THEM!

Now please  ask yourself, what ever emotions were aroused by what you heard, am I willing to take the risk of staying at the table with my family.  I am willing to wrestle with the differences in opinion amongst us, confident that we are all trying to be fully devoted followers of Jesus. To do this not to have my mind changed but so that we can understand each other better. 

How can you do this? You can join a Race to Equality conversation, take the risk of contributing even if you think some might disagree with you. If you don’t feel able to do that call me, an elder or a member of the Race to Equality Team and have an open and honest conversation. (I deeply appreciate those who have already done this and had conversations with me)  

At this moment the issue on the top of the table is racism, closely followed by the issues raised by COVID 19. But approaching rapidly and ominously is the election in November. The decision we all face is will we let any or all of these divide us. Will we let them drive us to leave the family table because some of our family see things differently than we do. Or will we stay, accept the struggle and discomfort because we want to be part of the answer to Jesus prayer that we would be one.

I wanted to close with this Fourfold Franciscan Blessing that just seems so appropriate for us right now :

May God bless you with a restless discomfort
about easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships,
so that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart.

May God bless you with holy anger at injustice, oppression,
and exploitation of people, so that you may tirelessly work for
justice, freedom, and peace among all people.

May God bless you with the gift of tears to shed with those who suffer
from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish, so that you may
reach out your hand to comfort them and transform their pain into joy.

May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that
you really CAN make a difference in this world, so that you are able,
with God’s grace, to do what others claim cannot be done.

How good it is to center down   1 comment

I have not written for while mostly because the relentless cacophony of opinions and perspectives that assault us on every subject under the sun has been somewhat overwhelming.

I have been reading ” Mobilizing Hope – Faith Inspired Activism for a Post Civil Rights Generation” by Adam Taylor* and I came across this wonderful devotion from Howard Thurman’s “Meditations of the Heart” that I thought I would share with you:


How good it is to center down!

The streets of our minds seethe with endless traffic;

Our spirits resound with clashings, with noisy silences,

While something deep within hungers and thirsts for the still moment

    and the resting lull.

With full intensity we seek, ere the quiet passes, a fresh sense

    of order in our living;

A direction, a strong sure purpose that will structure our confusion

    and bring meaning in our chaos.

We look at ourselves in this waiting moment –

    the kinds of people we are.

The questions persist:  what are we doing with our lives? –

    what are the motives that order our days?

What is the end of our doings?

Where are we trying to go?

Where do we put the emphasis and where are our values focused?

For what end do we make sacrifices?

Where is my treasure and what do I love most in life?

What do I hate most in life and to what am I true?

Over and over the questions beat in upon the waiting moment.

As we listen, floating up through all the jangling echoes of our turbulence,

   there is a sound of another kind –

A deeper note which only the stillness of the heart makes clear.

It moves directly to the core of our being.  

Our questions are answered,

Our spirits refreshed, and we move back into the traffic of our daily round

With the peace of the Eternal in our step.

How good it is to center down!

Howard Thurman

*( By the way this book has one of the best chapters on Racial Reconciliation and Racial Justice I have read)


Is it Politics?   4 comments

Ever since becoming a pastor I relentlessly resisted  the introduction of party politics to the church in any form and I have not moved from that conviction. However recent events have caused  me to think carefully about exactly what this means.

Recently as I was preparing a sermon I read once again the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37). I was prompted to give particular consideration to the “Levite” and the “Temple assistant” that “passed by on the other side”. In all likelihood, their decisions were significantly influenced by the fact that, if they had chosen to cross over and help, they would have been rendered ritually unclean which would have been extraordinarily inconvenient. So they chose to leave the injured man to be someone else’s problem. (This link will take you to the sermon I mention and the relevant section is at timestamp 1:00:45)

As I contemplated this I realized that this had, albeit in a rather different context, been true of me. There have been times when rather than take the risk of being perceived as “political,” I have kept quiet on issues, that if I am to “do what Jesus did” I should not keep silent. 

There are issues that can be termed “political” that if we are to be faithful followers of Jesus must not be seen that way. Reading the gospels makes it so clear that Jesus was passionate about the treatment of the poor and oppressed. His compassion was expressed both in His words and his actions. So if we are to follow Him faithfully we can do no less 

A while ago a march of protest was held here in Pacifica following the tragic death of George Floyd, an action that our own Police Chief described as “reprehensible.” The underlying issue was the need to demand changes to the patterns of systematic racism that are deeply embedded in our culture, so deeply embedded that many of us are only just becoming aware of their existence. I believe that by marching together I was able to stand in solidarity with those who have suffered from those injustices.

I was convicted that I should join that march because injustice is not an issue of party politics. Issues of justice and righteousness are issues that as a follower of Jesus I cannot keep silent about. I was also convicted I should not keep silent on such issues in the future. There were some who were troubled by my participation. I am grateful to those who gave me the chance to explain my thinking. However, I recognize that by being prepared to take a stand I will take the risk of being classified as “unclean” and aligning myself (and hence by implication our church)  with some political perspective or other. However, I believe that risk is one I must take.   

As the pastor of New Life Christian Fellowship, I will continue to resist any attempt to bring party politics in any form into the church family. However, we will try to have the courage to speak out against patterns of injustice wherever and whenever they surface. We will recognize that there will be differences of opinion about many issues amongst us but we will do everything we can to respect one another and keep “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”.