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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These books!   2 comments

As I began the series on The Paradox of Suffering last Sunday I mentioned that I might share here some of the books I have been reading in preparation for the series. That idea seemed to be greeted with enthusiasm so here it is! Needless to say, I have not read all of each of these books in the last few weeks but all have, over the years contributed to my thinking on this subject. (Please do add any others that have been helpful to you in the comment section and then share so others can benefit)

If God is Good- Faith in the midst of suffering and evil by Randy Alcorn https://www.amazon.com/dp/B002OK2OPS/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by Timothy Keller https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00C1N951O/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

Embodied Hope- a theological meditation on pain and suffering by Kelley M Kapic https://www.amazon.com/dp/B073H5JY6T/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

A Grief Observed by CS Lewis https://www.amazon.com/Grief-Observed-C-S-Lewis-ebook/dp/B002BXH5WU

Is God to Blame? -beyond pat answers to the problem of suffering by Gregory a Boyd https://www.amazon.com/dp/B001HL0EXE/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

Rewriting Your Broken Story- the power of an eternal perspective by Kenneth Boa 


Shaped by Suffering- how temporary hardships prepare us for our eternal home by Kenneth Boa https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07V4T9FFC/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

Surprised by Suffering by RC Sproul https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0038OMK9Y/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

Lament for a Son by Nicholas Wolterstorff https://www.amazon.com/dp/B001E96QOU/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

Joni -an unforgettable story by Joni Eareckson Tada


Disappointment with God- Three questions no one asks aloud by Philip Yancey https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00UF72CMC/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

Where is God when it Hurts by Philip Yancey 


Christianity and Suffering- African perspectives Rodney L Reed general editor https://www.amazon.com/dp/B079GVPFJX/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

Hearing Jesus Speak into your Sorrow by Nancy Guthrie https://www.amazon.com/Hearing-Jesus-Speak-into-Sorrow/dp/1414325487

A Grace Disguised-how the soul grows through loss by Gerald L Sittser https://www.amazon.com/dp/B001UFMUE8/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

When God Weeps -why our suffering matters to the Almighty by Joni Erickson Todda and Steven Estes https://www.amazon.com/dp/B003OYIA3I/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy – discovering the grace of lament by Mark Vroegop https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07JDDSSW9/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

Tracks of a Fellow Struggler -Living and Growing through Grief by John R. Claypool https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00295R60G/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

The Gift of Hard Things- finding grace in unexpected places by Mark Yaconelli https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01D8W6IZW/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

Hope Heals – A True story of Overwhelming Loss and overcoming Love by Katherine Wolf


What Does The Bible Say about Suffering -Brian Han Gregg


(If you consider purchasing any of these for yourself and you live in Pacifica, remember that Florey’s Books is a local store that very much needs our support at this time)

Posted April 21, 2020 by jolm15 in Uncategorized

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Unstructured Downtime   Leave a comment

I think I have mentioned a number of times in this blog that the most pressing issues for me and those finding a prominent place in my prayers surround the desire not to miss what God is teaching us through this pandemic. How will we resist the magnetic attraction to return to life as it was?

During the first week distance learning Maggie asked her classes a question. “What are you enjoying most about having to stay at home?” Far and away the most frequent answer was that they enjoyed “spending time with their family” Anyone who has been out for a walk cannot have avoided noticing the number of whole families out walking or bike riding together. Families are finding that they can enjoy doing simple things together not just occasionally but often. Children are experiencing who their parents are, maybe for the first time.

I can’t help but think that this pandemic is giving our culture an opportunity to radically review our parenting strategies.A chance to reconsider the time we actually spend giving our children our undivided attention (I am going to risk saying especially fathers). Is this a chance to rediscover the importance of what Chap Clerk in his powerful book “Hurt 2.0 – Inside the Mind of Today’s Teenagers” calls “ unstructured downtime”?

 A friend forwarded me this devotional which is part of a series on “ You Version – The Bible App,” what I consider one of the greatest tools given to the church in the modern era. Here the author, Mike Novotny, expresses these concerns so powerfully. I only wish I had learned these lessons earlier in my life. If you are a parent today it is never too late, don’t let this opportunity pass you by.

“Until the Coronavirus hit, I couldn’t recall a time that my family ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner together for an entire week. Neither could I remember seven straight days of Bible study and worship as a family. But Corona changed that. Thanks, Corona!

For decades, pastors and youth leaders have prayed for fathers and mothers to embrace their God-given calling as the primary way that the Holy Spirit would lead the next generation to Jesus. The apostle Paul wrote, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)

With our crazy-busy schedules, that rarely happens. With another weekend tournament, late nights at the office, and too many social commitments to keep, we hope that a few Sunday sermons and two years of youth group will do the trick for our kids’ faith. Sadly, as history has shown, the trick doesn’t work. Shortcuts don’t cut it in the kingdom of God.

But then came Corona. Seasons were canceled, social commitments were cut back, and life slowed down. The Sunday service pushed pause, and the youth group suspended all activities. Do you ever wonder if God was forcing our fathers’ hands and making our mothers step up and think about the eternal future of their precious kids?

If your life is anything like mine these days, you have an extra hour or two in your schedule. Leverage that time to “start children off on the way they should go,” (Proverbs 22:6). If you’re not a parent, share this message with a parent you know. Before life speeds up again, let’s remind one another that nothing matters more than people loving God with their whole hearts.

If Jesus uses a global pandemic to pass the baton of faith to the next generation, it will all be worth it.”

Gaslighting!   1 comment

It’s strange when somehow, over time, words take on totally new meanings. Who knew that being “sick” would become something to be desired and to be “lit” would be a compliment. This phenomenon struck again for me this week when a number of people posted an article on FaceBook entitled “Gaslighting. ” Much more significant, however, than the new meaning for the term, was the content of the article which I encourage you all to read.

Yesterday we heard the first reports of conversations between governors here on the West Coast about beginning to release the SIP restrictions. Of course, so much of me longs for the chance to kiss my grandchildren, hug the girls and be reunited face to face with our wonderful church family. I have missed their physical presence so much. 

However, no matter how hard I try, I cannot avoid a little voice inside that is screaming, “Not yet. I am not ready!” This has nothing to do with the the virus and I will rejoice with everyone as soon as the pain and bereavement of so many begins to subside. No, this is because I am already sensing the rumbling in the distance of a freight train that these circumstances have allowed us to step off. I am not sure if I have any idea how I can prevent myself getting back on that speeding train. 

My observation of the past few weeks has persuaded me that this freight train is, unbeknown to us all, hurtling towards oblivion. I believe we have been given an opportunity to step off the train, to see blue skies, experience our earth breathing and take some time to think about the things that really matter. There are reports that churches of all sizes are experiencing increased attendance, (“online” of course).  Could it be that our circumstances are causing people to wonder if we really control the universe as we thought?

I am praying with a greater degree of urgency than ever, that God will show us how to stop ourselves from getting back on the train. That He would give us the courage to resist the drive to re create a “normal”  that will only restore the frantic paced confusion of the past.

I recently had the privilege of hearing a message from Jill Briscoe a wonderful preacher, poet, disciple-maker and pastor’s wife. During the message she shares this poem about how God met her at a time when she needed Him most. I want to share it with you as I believe it holds some clues to where we each need to go as we search for these answers.  

I ran to the deep place where nobody goes and found Him waiting there.
“Where have you been?” He asked me.
“I’ve been in the shallow places where everyone lives,” I replied. 
I knew He knew. He just wanted me to admit I’d been too busy being busy. I’m running out…” I began.
“Of course,” He said. “I haven’t seen you in a while.”
He sat down on the steps of my soul in the Deep Place where nobody goes and smiled at me. Angels sang; a shaft of light chased away the shadows and brightened my daily day. I smiled back.        
 “I’m such a fool…”
“Shhh,” He said, putting His finger on my lips. 
He touched my hurried heart.
 Startled, it took a deep breath and skidded to a near stop. My spirit nestled in to nearness in the Deep Place where nobody goes. 
My soul spoke, then: He answered with words beyond music. Where on earth had I been while heaven waited? Such grace!

Posted April 14, 2020 by jolm15 in Uncategorized

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Can anything good come from…?   1 comment

When the disciple Nathaniel was informed that Jesus came from Nazareth he said, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” When we read through the Bible and we reach the third book of the Torah, we are tempted to say, “Can anything good come out of Leviticus?” And now there’s the Coronavirus, can anything good come from that?

At the end of the book of Leviticus, God gives Israel some clear instructions about the cultivation of the land that He was giving them. Those instructions included includes regular periods of rest for the land itself. (Lev 25:1-7). Every seven years it was to be allowed to lo lie fallow and not undergo cultivation. The principle of “sabbath” was to be applied to the earth as well as the people. These ideas have of course long past into disuse. Maybe we assumed that they were just more of the strange things that God asked the Israelites to do, but are of no importance to the present day.

It is interesting that Covid 19, while its effects are devastating for so many, has had some fascinating side effects. As a consequence of God permitting the unthinkable and the pause button being pressed for the whole of the planet, we hear that China has seen blue skies for the first time in many many years. Air quality measurements have changed dramatically. Just two examples of wider observations set out in this article in the New York Times;

In China and Italy, the air is now strikingly clean. Venice’s Grand Canal, normally fouled by boat traffic, is running clear. In Seattle, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Atlanta, the fog of pollution has lifted. Even global carbon emissions have fallen.

Perhaps, just as we are being given the opportunity to look carefully at the importance of rest, quiet and sabbath in our individual lives, God is also giving us a chance to recognize that the principles He gave to the Israelites for the care of the land are not so ancient and irrelevant after all.