Archive for the ‘theology’ Tag

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.

Essential?   Leave a comment

In our Zoom hang out after church on Sunday we were sharing how hard it is for some of us to stay at home and feel like we are doing nothing while some are having to work harder than ever. They’re having to encounter real danger as part of their daily routine. This would have been unthinkable just a few weeks ago let alone when they filled out their application. In the course of the conversation it was pointed out that the reality is, staying at home is, in itself, making a real contribution to stemming the tide of this virus.

As I thought about this later in the day it reminded me of the command God, through Moses, gave to the Israelites as they left Egypt. Confronted with the Red Sea in front of them and an advancing Egyptian army behind them God says “Don’t be afraid, just stand still and watch the Lord rescue you today” Exodus 14:13. In the Psalms, we are urged to “Be still and know that I am God.” The truth is, it’s the “being still” and “standing still” that is so difficult and make us feel that we are not contributing.

Could it be that being and staying still is one of the lessons that we are able to learn by experience as we stay at home? The interesting thing is that I often overlook the rest of Psalm 46:10. It goes on to say “ I will be honored in every nation.” Surely the implication is that if we are not still, we run the risk of getting in the way of His being “honored among the nations.” If the Israelites had decided to take action they would certainly have obstructed the plans that God had for their deliverance. And it was the news of that deliverance that spread among the nations and brought Him honor and glory.

Those of us who play our part by staying at home have the opportunity to understand the “being still” is a crucial part of “knowing He is God” It is just an opportunity to observe. It is by being still when we are told to do so, that we are actively allowing Him to run the universe. Sometimes He asks us to participate, on other occasions he simply asks us to stay out of the way. So to those who are currently staying out of the way, thank you for doing your essential job so well!

Outrage and Hope   1 comment

Recently I was scrolling through Facebook (often dangerous) and came upon an article that shocked me to the core. Actually I was so outraged that I had to at least try to investigate if the information was  an example of the notorious”fake news”. So for reasons that I trust will become apparent I am resisting the urge to provide you with a link to the article so you can be outraged as well. Suffice it to say that article recounted how one of our news stations broadcast an investigative report on how Iceland has succeeded in almost completely eliminating Downs Syndrome from their population.On the face of it an interesting story until as the story unfolds it becomes apparent that the report is celebrates and praises an achievement that has been brought about by aborting any pregnancies that have the slightest chance of being Down Syndrome children.

Now I confess that to a limited extent this is personal to me. I have friends who have Downs Syndrome children and without exception they are wonderful human beings and the world would unquestionably be poorer without them. While making unique and productive contributions to their communities, they spread  joy and love in ways few others are able to parallel. However as I thought about this further I became dissatisfied with the idea that I could merely join the chorus of protest and outrage. As a follower of Jesus I have so often regretted that all we seem able to do is join the chorus when, if we really believe that Jesus is the hope for the world we should be able to find away to proclaim hope with an equally loud and passionate voice.

By God’s grace in this particular situation I believe I found a way to do just that. One of the most compelling podcasts I listen to comes from an organization simply named Q*  Its founder, Gabe Lyons, and his wife Rebekah have a Downs syndrome child themselves, and in a recent edition interviewed an wonderful lady, Heather Avis. Heather has adopted two of these amazing children. She tells a story of joy and hope that provides a powerful repost to anyone who considers  the elimination of such people is anything to be celebrated. So I enthusiastically provide links both to this conversation and to her book ” The Lucky Ones.”

One final thought, I am wondering if the sharing of hope should not be a priority in my thinking whenever I consider responding to the vast range of tragedies and outrages that litter our news media from home and abroad. If, as a Christian, I believe that Jesus is the answer and that He is enough then it is that hope which is the unique and powerful contribution we can offer, in humility, to these conversations. Otherwise we simply join the rhetoric that fuels the anger that so often brings yet more tragedy… What do you think?

*Q is an organization that facilitates wide-ranging conversations about the most challenging issues of our day. It is probably the most stimulating podcast I listen to and is guaranteed to challenge you to think differently!

Delighting!!   Leave a comment

In studying Psalm 1 recently I was struck by two words in particular. David tells us that joy (happiness, blessing) comes from “delighting” and mediating on the law. Now of course the law for him was the Torah, the first five books of the bible and in all honesty at first glance there does not seem a lot of fuel for delight. Genesis and Exodus are great stories but after that we are in deep trouble… or are we?

A little investigation reveals the delight is a word with rather deeper and stronger meaning than might at first appear. Merriam Webster defines it as “something that makes you very happy; something that gives you deep satisfaction”  So maybe the significance of David putting “delight” in the same verse at “meditation” is important. 

Meditation is a word that carries a considerable amount of cultural baggage. It is associated with all forms of mysticism. Our yearning for instant gratification resists anything that demands time, which none of us have! However Merriam Webster again helps us by defining the word a little more clearly; ”to focus one’s thought on: reflect or ponder over”

What might happen then if we took a few minutes to ponder the first five books of the bible.  If we asked why they were written, and to whom. Minimal research would reveal that one of their principle purposes was simply that the nation of Israel might know the God who had chosen them. What sort of a God was He and what did it mean to be nation? 

Getting to know someone really does give me delight. Learning to appreciate their distinctive qualities and grow to love them for who they are. But doing this requires the investment of time. How many people have you come to know deeply through passing conversations in the gym or the super market? 

The secret of delighting in God’s word then comes from knowing God Taking time to reflect on and ponder over scripture. I wonder what “deep satisfaction” is there waiting for us if we will risk the experiment by carving out some time in our calendar to “reflect and ponder.”  Could it be the “delight” of getting get to know our Heavenly Father better?

Its over…well almost!   Leave a comment

The Chicago Cubs have won the world series, the British , or at least the English, have decided to leave the European Union and by the time you read this the United Staes will have a new president (or almost have one!). Each of these events was preceded by endless  analysis, discussion, prediction and persuasive rhetoric. In some cases the conversation was excited and enthusiastic, and in others harsh and vitriolic, but in every case the current state of technology rendered the quantity unprecedented. In each case the results were unknown until those last few decisive hours and in some cases the result totally unexpected, but they are over!

Almost everywhere except perhaps Chicago, the sporting event that was billed as “changing the face of baseball” is long gone and we are lost in the customary deluge of current sporting analysis. The UK is slowly but surely working out the way forward and out of Europe without destroying any more relationships than necessary and The US will learn to deal with a new president, who ever receives the requisite number of votes. The world both locally and nationally will move on and learn to live with the consequences large and small.

At New Life we have been ” Imagining Heaven” together for the past few weeks and it struck me how different a reality this presents us with as followers of Jesus. The plan of God is still the same and has never changed . We know the result! Revelation 21 excites me more every time I read it . The choice is clear and everyone of us gets to make that choice for ourselves. We do not need to decide whose opinion or analysis is the most persuasive, or wait for the declaration of the majority decision . Our part in God’s unchanging plan is crucial, eternally crucial, simply to decide if we will choose to love and follow our Creator and then take every opportunity He gives to encourage everyone we know to understand what is at stake, make their own choice.

When God declares the plan concluded, our choices will become eternal. We will not simply learn to live with a result, we will either experience the unspeakable joy of love, light and  life in the world God created in the way He intended or experience what it really means to choose a life without God.  I have never felt the urgency of finding ways to share the certainty of that”result” more than I do now. How about you?

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?


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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Unique and Interesting Theological Volume   Leave a comment

url        Micheal Bird’s new volume “Evangelical Theology” promises to provide a unique and exciting contribution to the ever increasing multitudes of volumes written on the subject. Perhaps this uniqueness is best expressed in the final section of Part 1 of the book he suggests that we might consider

“… the goal of theology is not simply drawing up a list of propositions, but for us to engage in a performance of the divine drama and to experience the transformation of our imaginations so the we can know God better’

For many, both those who are academically inclined and those who are not, the clear understanding of the reasons for “doing theology” are difficult to articulate. In the opening section of this book the author does a masterful job of engaging these difficult and complex issues without either dumbing them down or rendering them outside the scope of a regular reader. He helps his readers in understanding the concept of Prolegomena by explaining “it ordinarily addresses questions like “Is there a God to be known? and How do we know God?” and then tells us  “it is a bit like a shopping mall sign that says, you are here”.

He further makes the case for a specific “Evangelical Theology” holding the gospel as its central it is “ the rule of faith for evangelicals” . A clear definition of the gospel follows along with defense of the necessity of systematic theology despite his admission that it is a fallible attempt to systematize the central tenets of the Christian faith.

The section on the sources of theology  is a robust defense of his contention that tradition, nature ,experience and even culture can and should be allowed to inform our study of theology while retaining the centrality of Scripture.

I certainly look forward to exploring this volume further an expect it to yield a great deal of stimulating thinking.

Posted November 23, 2013 by jolm15 in Uncategorized

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Relationship Re-Defined   Leave a comment

When He was on the way to the cross Jesus clearly envisaged a totally fresh approach to relationship for the future when he “comforted” his disciples.

I will talk to the Father, and he’ll provide you another Friend so that you will always have someone with you. This Friend is the Spirit of Truth. The godless world can’t take him in because it doesn’t have eyes to see him, doesn’t know what to look for. But you know him already because he has been staying with you, and will even be in you…The Friend, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send at my request, will make everything plain to you. He will remind you of all the things I have told you.  John 14:16-17,26 MSG

At first glance this does not seem comforting at all. Actually it seems entirely incomprehensible! Our relationships are dependent on our auditory and visual senses. However, neither eyes nor ears seem to have a significant role in the relational developments Jesus shares with his closest friends . But He clearly implies this “new” relationship will be better than their current experience of having Jesus physically present with them most of the time. How can this be? Centuries later we are still grappling for the answer.

And then there are the times He gives us a hint. Lying on a hospital bed waiting for surgery to remove my melanoma Maggie said to me that she had really sensed powerfully that these verses from Isaiah 43 were for us on that day; we read them out loud together and prayed them through.

Surgery completed and news of the melanoma having spread to my lymph nodes, I called my mother in the UK to give her the news. Within an hour she called back and said that as she was praying for us a passage from Isaiah came strongly to her mind. Yes it was the same verses from Isaiah 43:1-3a.

But now, O Jacob, listen to the LORD who created you.

O Israel, the one who formed you says,

“Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you.

I have called you by name; you are mine.

When you go through deep waters,

I will be with you.

When you go through rivers of difficulty,

you will not drown.

When you walk through the fire of oppression,

you will not be burned up;

the flames will not consume you.

For I am the LORD, your God,

the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

Did we “hear God or “see” him? No.  Did He speak? Most certainly yes, and He made a point of reassuring us of that fact through my mother.

I am very aware that I have barely touched the reality and the mystery of this relationship that God has designed for me. However the amazing thing is that because it is not dependent on sight nor sound it can be real for each of us at the same time and all the time, regardless of our location! So let’s not give up asking Him to teach us how to experience the fullness of this new way of relating. Don’t you think, if Jesus says its better, ultimately it must be?

Posted March 23, 2013 by jolm15 in Uncategorized

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I might be wrong…   Leave a comment

… and I am certainly not willing to consider Charles Barkley’s caveat  “…but I doubt it!” Yet again I have reason to be grateful to the IVP Book club!  A little while ago my selection included a copy of “Invitations from God” by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun. I did not pick it up at first but, at the recommendation of a friend, Maggie purloined my copy and began to read it. Pretty soon she was regaling me with quotes and finally insisting that I “really needed to read” this particular chapter. The title of the chapter “ An Invitation to Admit that I Might be Wrong.” I confess a little reluctance even though her recommendations are nearly always very worthwhile. However she was right and, you’ve guessed it, I was wrong!

As I mentioned during the sermon on Sunday I have now read this particular section of the book two or three times and I am ashamed to tell how many times I have recognized my own resistance in the pages. It strikes me how crucial this attitude is, not just for me, but how helpful it would have been for those who encountered Jesus during his three years of ministry. How often He tried to explain to them that He was not ignoring or abusing the law but fulfilling it. However their minds were made up and they were not willing to admit they might be wrong. Tragically our society today is riddled with people of all faiths and creeds (as well as none) who are similarly unwilling. The creationists who will give little credence to the discoveries of the research scientist and the biologist who will countenance any explanation of observed phenomena other than the existence of a supreme creator. But does that mean everything is optional and belief in truth is to be discouraged. I do not think so. A life in which we are unable to reach convictions and live by them would, in my opinion be colorless, confusing and perpetuate insecurity. Calhoun very helpfully explains it like this

This doesn’t mean we can’t know truth. It simply means we cannot be certain that our take on truth is absolute or that our judgments about others are absolutely right.

It is, however, our attitude that changes when we accept this invitation. We approach others with openness and receptivity that can only enhance and enable our witness for Jesus. We will find that we participate in conversations by really listening to others rather than using half an ear while our mind assembles the next facet of our irrefutable (of course!!) argument. One of the most challenging quotes from the chapter is the following:

The type of humility that admits you are wrong when you know you are wrong is confession. The humility that admits you might be wrong when you’re pretty sure you’re right is maturity. Without both types of humility, we become rigid and unteachable. Without both types of humility, relationships flounder and implode.

So the challenge for us is to locate those subjects upon which, for one reason or another, we are unwilling to consider the idea that we MIGHT be wrong and as the author encourages us, “Seek humility which acknowledges the limits of my knowing…” and “Seek teachability, which allows me to keep on growing and changing.”


Posted February 15, 2012 by jolm15 in Uncategorized

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