Archive for March, 2008

31
Mar
08

Father’s son/uncle’s nephew

Wow….things sure do change. When I was a kid I had no idea what the Internet was, and I was still clueless what the big fuss was all about when a computer geek student of mine introduced me to something called e-mail. That was 11 years ago, and now I can barely survive 24 hours without the Internet. 

Yesterday I got another sign that the times they are a-changing, as Bob Dylan sang it, when I saw that my nine year old nephew Christian had got himself a blog! Actually he’ll only be nine in 15 days, but I’m sure he won’t mind that I present him as being nine already.Let’s just say that Christian is very much his father’s son when it comes to all this stuff with computers, computer games, etc. I’m sure he already knows more about all of that stuff than uncle Torben will ever do. And now he has a blog that you can check out at www.riisjensen.dk/christian Unfortunately for most of you blog readers it’s in Danish, but I’ll be happy to translate the first entry which approximately goes like this in English: “March 29 I was at a badminton tournament. It was fun since I came in first, second and third in the under-9 division. My mom was there a few times and watched. I got a t-shirt, a wallet, and a towel. That was that Friday. The end.

He most definitely is his father’s son, but the mere fact that he writes about sports in his first blog makes his uncle proud. He is also very much his uncle’s nephew, since I can assure you, dear blog reader, that his father by no means has any interest in sports of any kind..! 🙂

Welcome in cyberspace, Christian! 

Torben 

28
Mar
08

A sense of wonder

This week’s quote comes from the ancient church father Gregory of Nyssa who said this interesting and deep sentence that has been challenging me ever since I read it a few months ago. He said:

Concepts create idols, only wonder grasps anything
 
Some readers might be thinking “bum, bum…..I have no clue what this fella is talking about..”. Let me try to unpack it a little bit though not too much, because then I haven’t understood the wisdom of the quote either….
 
The idea is, as far as I can see, that far too often we end up making idols out of the different ideas we find important. We tend to explain things so much and write books (and series of books) so that the idea ends up disappearing in the midst of it. An example could be love. Who can explain love between two human beings? It’s a mystery, it’s a wonder, and yet scores of authors and song writers have tried to explain love, and the sentence “I love you” have been watered down because it’s used about anything from a favorite color to a spouse. The wonder of love disappears if you try to put it in a formula. The same thing applies to grace. If you think you have figured out God’s grace, you are destroying the mystery and the wonder of it. God’s grace towards us is truly Amazing Grace
  
When I meet people who are madly in love with Jesus, and I’ve had the privilege of meeting a few of those, I am instantly attracted to them and to Jesus. They can’t explain what’s so awesome about Jesus, but on the other hand they can’t stop talking about him. They are in awe of Jesus. They see the wonder, the mystery, the miracle of Jesus. They want to capture it, but they know they can’t, so they just share freely what they see of Jesus while always wanting to see and experience more. That’s wonder. That’s understanding that the greatest things in life can’t and shouldn’t be put in a formula.
 
I have been challenged by this quote because as a teacher I’m always tempted to make concepts out of the things I’m excited about. This last year has been so much about Identity in Christ for me. I have learned some about it, and I want to learn more about this mystery that a union took place between Christ and me. That Christ is in me, and I am in him. It’s a mystery, it’s something to wonder about. And yet, it’s tempting to put it in a formula, write it down to some simple sentences, write some books on “10 steps to understand your identity in Christ” – but the minute I do that, I have misunderstood the mystery of my Identity in Christ! I am heading towards making an idol out of something that was never meant to be able to be explained so it would make complete sense with my mind. It’s a matter of revelation (Ephesians 1:17), and it’s all dependent on God! 
 
I hope and pray that I won’t lose my sense of wonder when it comes to thinking about my identity in Christ. I hope I will continue to be in awe and to celebrate the wonderful mystery of Christ in me. 
 
What makes you, dear reader, wonder? What do you stand in awe of?
 
Torben – have a lovely weekend! 
28
Mar
08

Keith

Last Sunday Jeannette and I were playing Keith Green songs for pretty much 10 hours straight, and I have had his wonderful songs in my head and heart ever since. Whenever I feel drawn towards mediocrity, compromising my faith, giving up on God, myself and other people I put on Keith’s songs, and I’m drawn back to a life of passion, excitement, expectation and wonder. I have already written about him in this blog entry, but it seems appropriate to point to some of the youtubevideos with this influential young man.

I so wish that there were more like Keith. I never met him, and yet I miss him, and I’m looking forward to seeing him some day. Even though it was impossible to capture Keith’s energy and passion in a studio, I thought I would point to “I can’t wait to get to heaven” as the video I’ve chosen. I love this song about the wonderful eternity that awaits us who are God’s children. Unfortunately there are few songs being made today about life on the new earth with God, though I do also love Mercy Me’s “I can only imagine” As Keith put it: “God created this world in just six days, and now he has been working on heaven for 2000 years. So this is like living in a garbage can compared to what it’s gonna be like up there”  🙂                                      

Here are some more links to wonderful Keith songs: Asleep in the light,  Your love broke through  and an old live recording of Soften your heart. If you don’t know Keith Green’s story, I recommend searching for The Keith Green Story on youtube and watch the seven clips from a DVD about Keith and his life, but I also recommend the wonderful book about Keith’s life with the extremely fitting title “No Compromise” (I still haven’t made it through that book without tears in my eyes). Unfortunately the book is out of print right now, but you should pre-order it for yourself and have it to read during the long August evenings when it becomes available again 🙂                                                                                                                                

Torben – who survived his medical check up at the Clinic for Oil-Refining Industry of Ukraine. I now have my doctor’s word for that I’m healthy enough to get a visa to the United States!    

26
Mar
08

Honesty and laments

Honesty is a hard attribute to find when we all want to seem like we’ve got it all figured out” Lifehouse sing in their song Trying.    

Honesty…..transparency…..being real…..openness…..vulnerability……All these words are very popular words in the churches of 2008. And Hallelujah that there is a growing awareness of the importance of being honest, transparent, real, open and vulnerable! It’s much to prefer from closing down everything, shoveling everything under the carpet, keeping up appearances, having a straight religious face and other similar alternatives, but there is still much confusion about what these things mean.                                                

Over the years I’ve met many young people who claim to be real and honest and who unfortunately get respect from other people for being so. You know the types, I’m sure. Often they’re categorized by being very honest and real especially about all the negative things they see in others and in their church, missions organization, etc. Very rarely do they have anything positive or constructive to say. They seem to be convinced that the Spiritual gift of discernment can be boiled down to noticing what’s wrong with everybody else and then talking to all other people about somebody’s issues or problems. They don’t have much interest in changing, because as they say “I am just the way I am” (which probably has to be my least favorite statement from a Christian’s mouth. A Christian who claims to have the Spirit of the living God in him….!). They rarely learn anything, because they’re convinced that they know most things already and really should be teaching the world. They don’t take responsibility for how they affect other people, they seem to think that they can do whatever they feel like and other people need to change if they don’t like it. They like to hide behind their hurts which have made them the way they are today. Often they claim that they have been healed of their problems, so I’m the one who have a problem if I still claim that they’re hurting….                                                                           

In my four years working with discipleship training I have met quite a few people who match the description above. They have many different skin colors and passports, so it’s not a problem that can be nailed down to one country or a certain part of the world.                                                             

It’s true that God wants us to be honest, open, vulnerable, real and transparent. No doubt about that. A true disciple rests in who he or she is in God and has no problem sharing about defeats, shortcomings, weaknesses as well as victories, gifts and strengths. He is a broken cup, and he knows it. No pretenses are necessary. He is broken, he knows he is and will always be and he trusts God to be the one living and loving through him.                                                                             

My Mac-dictionary tells me that to lament is to: express grief, sorrow, disappointment, regret, complaints or frustrations. I have been thinking about laments these last days since Saturday where I met up with my wife Jeannette’s Bible School group and read through the two books of Samuel. What stood out to me was king David and his life. So full of so many problems. He was on the run from Saul who wanted to kill him for 8-10 years hiding in the wilderness. Where did David get the strength from to not take matters into his own hand and kill Saul on the different occasions where he had the chance? A Bible teacher I heard yesterday suggested that we need to look to David’s Psalms of lament to find the answer.                                                                             

David used the Psalms of lament to vent to God, to get his hatred, frustrations, anger, feelings of loneliness, etc. out. He was not afraid to invite God into all his feelings and thoughts both the good, the bad and the really ugly (look at for example Psalm 109 if you want to see some ugly-looking feelings). The Psalms of lament was David’s journal. He was writing directly to God, telling him exactly how he felt, and then he left it to God to act the way he chose to be best. I love this approach. I love that we see this brutal honesty in David’s prayer life, which I’m convinced is one of the main reasons David had the wonderful title a man after God’s own heart. How could an adulterer and a murderer be a man after God’s own heart? He could because he was brutally honest, real and never afraid to face the consequences of his actions. He knew how to ask for forgiveness. He didn’t hide his sin, minimize it or tried to explain it away or blame others. He took responsibility for his own wrongdoings. David laments openly to God. He doesn’t hide a single emotion or thought, but he always comes back to who he knows God to be. He always comes back to the truth, and this is something our generation of young people trying to be honest can learn a lot from.    

Too many (young) Christians, including myself often (!), are good at the first part of sharing feelings and thoughts no matter how ugly they look, but we also have to acknowledge the good things in our lives. We have to learn to come back to the giver of life and focus on who he is and point to him as the ultimate solution to our problems and other peoples’ problems.                           

“I have a really bad day. I am so irritated at this person who keeps hurting me with spiteful comments. I feel like taking matters into my own hands and seek some kind of revenge, but I bring the situation to you, God. I want to punish him and fight back, but I offer him to you. And I acknowledge that you’re much wiser than me and you know what’s best for him and for me”.                                                                                  

I have learned to love journaling, but if you saw many of my entries you probably wouldn’t want to spend much time around me or get to know me more. It’s often not pretty. It’s messy. It’s raw. It’s unedited. It’s real emotions. And I offer it all to God. I offer my good-looking days and my bad-looking days. I offer the days where I judge myself to have failed and the days where I feel like a success. That’s real, honest, transparent, vulnerable relationship. Nothing hidden. I offer it all to God, and I trust that he will continue to work out his life in me. I hope to become better at resting in God and who he is and not be so prone to anger, irritation, loneliness, self-hatred, etc. But I trust that God knows what he is doing. I trust that his timing is perfect. And I trust that as long as I cling to him and continue to stay real with him and obey him and go where he wants me to go everything is going to be okay.                                                                    

Openness without hope of more and better life is not Christian openness. Honesty that doesn’t acknowledge that I am the way I am today, but I trust that God will change me over time more into who he has called me to be, is not real honesty. Being real is always being real about both the things we like and the things we dislike in our lives not one or the other.                                               

These were a bunch of somewhat scattered thoughts. And I offer them to you, dear blog reader, to make some kind of sense out of if possible 🙂                                                                                               

Torben – who is somewhat nervous about his medical check up this Friday at the Clinic for Oil-Refining Industry of Ukraine…..did they understand that I’m a person and not a car?

21
Mar
08

Finished!

Happy Good Friday! Or “long Friday” as it’s called in Scandinavia. And a long Friday it was for Jesus many years ago. But also good. The outcome was good. The outcome of Christ being obedient to the point of dying on the cross for sins he had not committed is the greatest miracle of all times. It changed everything. We gained access to the holy and perfect God. And in Christ when you accept his perfect sacrifice for you, see previous blog entry, you and I are perfect, holy and pure.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 
Thank you, Jesus! Thanks for the Wonderful Cross. Thank you that you going to that cross changed everything and changed me. Help me to never forget your cross and what you did for me and the freedom you bought for me there!                                                                                                                                                                               
O the wonderful cross, o the wonderful cross bids me come and die and find that I may truly live. O the wonderful cross, o the wonderful cross all who gather here by grace draw near and bless your name”                                                                                                                                                                                     
IT IS FINISHED!! (John 19:30)                                                                                                                                                                  
Happy Easter!
Torben                                                                                                                                                                                           
….It’s Easter, and I’ll just throw in another youtubevideo with a wonderful Easter song! Here is Newsong’s Arise My Love:
19
Mar
08

In

I’ve been re-reading Philip Yancey’s book on prayer called “Prayer (does it make any difference?)” these last days, and that in itself has been good for me. I enjoy reading a book that talks honestly about prayer. A book that doesn’t pretend that prayer is easy or always fun or satisfying. A book that talks about both the valleys and the mountain tops in (my) prayer life. As always it’s refreshing how real Philip Yancey is when he tackles a question of faith. I sure wish there were more authors like him..!

Anyway, this is not about telling you, dear reader, how great an author Mr. Yancey is, but it’s about a little comment  he makes in the Prayer-book. He has been looking through the New Testament and observes that we find the two little words “in Christ” 164 times in the New Testament. 164 times is a lot and it seems fair to conclude that we’re looking at one of the main themes, if not the main theme of the New Testament.

When I accept Christ as my Lord and Savior I become a part of  Christ’s family and Christ moves into me and a wonderful exchange happens: he gets my life with the good, the bad and the ugly and I get his life with all the righteousness, love and life that I don’t have in my old self. I am now IN CHRIST and all he has is mine and he is capable of doing everything through me that I struggle so much to do in myself. 
It’s a wonder, it’s a mystery, and it’s the truth. I am in Christ. “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me“, Paul tells us in Galatians 2:20. I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. I am in Christ just the way I am. I am perfect in Christ. Nothing I’ll ever do, say or think can keep me away from who I am in Christ. I am in him, and the journey of discipleship is about God revealing to me what this mystery means. I can’t fathom it, explain it and often times I don’t believe it, but it remains the truth. I have been crucified with Christ. I am dead. I now live in Christ. I am in him and he is in me. A mysterious union took place. I have been blessed enough for God to unpack little bits of what this mystery means to me in my life, and I long to see more. 

But this is the (hidden) message of Easter. Easter isn’t “just” about forgiveness of sin and Jesus taking the penalty that I deserved. Easter is about life, even though that in itself is obviously fantastic beyond words! Easter is also about the exchange between Christ and me. Easter is about me sharing in everything Christ is and has. Easter is about Christ’s resurrection power living in me now (Ephesians 1: 19-20). Christ is alive in his people, in his children, in his broken cups. Let’s celebrate that Christ is in  you and me. Let’s ponder the miracle of the Cross. Let’s ask God to reveal the mystery of the Cross. Let’s stay at the Christ and hear Christ pronounce not only forgiveness of sins to us, but also the possibility of resurrection, of life, of hope, of peace, of joy, of power because he himself, the crucified and risen Lord of Lords chooses to live in fragile, weak and failing human beings such as me. 

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

Torben – Happy Easter! 🙂  

15
Mar
08

Broken I run to You

This song is closely related to the blog entry that I  just wrote called Thoughts from the journey. We are broken, and we run to our only hope: “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27)


What a wonderful piece of truth that we can run to Christ just the way we are. 

Torben 

15
Mar
08

Thoughts from the journey

The Discipleship Training School is over here in Kiev. The two outreach teams came back from Uzhgorod in Western Ukraine and Georgia (the country not the state) and we had a great week of debrief together as one school again. We were celebrating all the wonderful things God had done in the students and staff and through them during the past three months of outreach, and we took time to remember some of all the revelations God has been gracious enough to give us over the last six months that the whole DTS lasted. 

It was a wonderful week. I love hearing about what God has done in us and through us. Our theme for this DTS has been the same as the title for this blog: we’re broken cups! We’re perfect in Christ. Our spirits are perfect. But we’re broken. We make mistakes, we misunderstand God and people, we’ve been hurt by people and circumstances, our flesh and Satan attacks us and limits us. We’re broken AND God loves us just the way we are. God can speak to and through people who are broken and who are aware of their brokenness. 

We have focused on honesty, real honesty, not religious keeping up appearances-honesty, but the kind where you know who you are with the good, the bad and the real ugly, and you’re done pretending. You can look at yourself and say: this is who I am and I’m loved by my Father just the way I am, so I renounce the desire to judge myself and to pretend that I’m something I’m not! I don’t have to defend or promote myself, I choose to rest in my Father and let him love, life and forgive through me in my brokenness. 

A couple of the verses we kept coming back to over the last six months were (of course!) from the wonderful Gospel of John. “Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires? Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:28-29). Jesus gets a wonderful opportunity to tell everybody all the things they need to do as Christians, but instead of giving a long list including quiet time, witnessing, Bible study, mercy ministry, choir practices, reading Christian books, going to the lost, etc. he just says: THE ONLY WORK YOU NEED TO DO IS TO BELIEVE IN ME! That’s it! Nothing more, nothing less. This simple message is revolutionizing my life. It sounds too good to be true. It doesn’t sound right. “But….surely Jesus….there must be more we need to do….surely Jesus you didn’t mean this like that, you must mean we believe and then we do all the other things…..” I have heard many Christians protesting against this simple truth expressed in Jesus’ answer. But this is it. This is the essence of the Gospel. All I need to do is to believe, to remain in Christ (John 15), to simply hang loose in him as a grape on the vine. I do nothing to grow, to serve, to love, to live, to change myself or my neighbor, Christ does it all through me! It’s all about Christ doing all through me. It’s never about me pulling it together. It’s never about how much devotion I have. It’s about me surrendering, as a broken cup and let Jesus love and live through me just the way I am: “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him” (John 7:38).

Jesus wants to flow through me. He gives his living water to me and gives me life, but what was true for the Israelites in the Old Testament that they were blessed to be a blessing (Genesis 12:2-3), the same is true for me. I’m blessed by Jesus’ life and living water (John 4:13-14), but since I’m broken cup, I can’t contain the water, and it spills out to people around me. That’s how Jesus is changing the world. Through his children, through his broken cups. So stop thinking that you need to patch yourself up and go and buy more band-aids, or more string or duck tape to fix yourself. Stop listening to the lies of the world, and unfortunately much of the 2008-Church that you need to fix yourself. You need some self-help books (potentially with a little Christian twist and some Bible verses thrown in to make it appear spiritual…) and follow the formula and then your life will work. 

Your life will never “work”. You and I are broken, and we always will be on this side of the new earth. And it’s not a problem. It’s freeing. I can be who I am. I can allow God to work through me just the way I am. I can experience his forgiveness and friendship without having to try to stitch fig leaves together to try to cover my nakedness, failure and shame. I can embrace other people just the way they are when I see them with Christ’s love: “To love a person means to see him the way God intended him to be“, Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote. (And I will allow Dostoevsky’s wonderful quote to be quote of the week 🙂 )

Hmm…is this turning into a longer sermon? Maybe, but I felt like giving a little insight into what I have focused on these last six months with my wonderful staff from Ukraine, USA and Russia and my beautiful and unique students from Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, Germany and the USA. We started out the school by choosing Ephesians 1:17 “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you  may know him better“. And God has been good to all of us. He has revealed himself. We’re further in our journey with him than six months ago. We know more about who God is and who we are in him, and we have experienced more of the true experience of freedom that ALWAYS come when we encounter the Truth (John 14:6 and John 8:32).

I stand in awe of the fact that God can use me. I stand in awe of his forgiveness and the fact that he delights in me as his broken cup. I am amazed that he doesn’t cut me off when I fail him over and over again. I am amazed that even when I feel that I should be farther down the journey with him, that I really should understand more of who he is, and I really should trust him more, he doesn’t shame or reject me. He loves me. He reminds me of who he is and everything he has done for me. He reminds me that as far as the east is from the west he has cast away my sins, my weaknesses, my lack of trust, my unbelief and everything else that hinders me from experiencing life in him.

What a wonderful journey we’re on. And how great it is that none of us are walking alone. He is always there with me, even when I feel alone, abandoned and misunderstood. Thank you, Father.

Torben – did I mention that the Gospel of John is my favorite book in the Bible?:-) 

08
Mar
08

Doubt and trust

This week I have struggled a lot with trust. I do trust God, but this week I’ve seen different areas in my life where my trust in God and who he is is not strong, and where lies from Satan and my flesh determine what I really believe when the door is closed and I’m all alone with my thoughts. I know that God has taught me many things about who he is and who I am in him, and I know that I’ve been growing in my trust in him these past few years, but I see, once again, how many steps I still have to take. I am so grateful that God doesn’t cast me away when it’s more doubt and unbelief that I allow to run my heart than trust in him. I am so grateful that Jesus never tells anybody to take a hike when we struggle to put our trust 100% in him. 

This week’s quote is again from Frederick Buechner whom Philip Yancey quotes in Reaching For The Invisible God.

Without somehow destroying me in the process, how could God reveal himself in a way that would leave no room for doubt? If there were no room for doubt, there would be no room for me

What a deep truth. The more I learn about God, the more I see how important brutal honesty is to him. He is not interested in my religious statements of faith where I act and talk as if everything in my relationship with God is easy and straightforward. He wants the truth. The honest truth. And the truth is that all of us doubt God at some level. Some have a more straightforward, childlike faith and find it easy in most cases to trust God. Others, and I count myself in this group, have seen hundreds of signs of God’s goodness to humankind as a whole, to friends and family and to ourselves, but we still struggle to trust God completely with our deepest desires, longings and dreams. I know that God is good. I know that God loves me, but these days I struggle to trust that God will provide all the little miracles we need for me to get my visa to stay in the United States the next three years, and for Jeannette to get into a university, and for us to get a cheap (free!) car, etc. I know that God can make all of this happen without breaking much sweat. And I’ve seen countless times how he has come through for me, but still my faith is little these days. My flesh yells that I’m all alone, and God won’t help me. It’s days like these where you (if you can recognize yourself in any of these ramblings…) and I need to hold on to what we know to be true about God. 

I know that I know that I know that I know that I’m God’s son, and I know that he is working out everything for me so I’ll grow and look more like Jesus. I know that he will provide everything we need, and I know that if this crazy plan of Jeannette and I moving to America this summer really is his will, he’ll make sure: that the post people of USA, Denmark and Ukraine do their job so we’ll get our many different documents on time, that the embassy people in Kiev are nice and quick in their processing, that the State of Georgia accepts Jeannette into a college and provide her with enough scholarships to pay for her studies, and he’ll make sure we get a cool, little, cheap car! God is the good guy! 🙂

Torben – still trusting, but thankful that God allows me to doubt and question him! 

08
Mar
08

Never been unloved

 
This week has been a bad one. I’ve been stressed, irritated, filled with self-pity and self-irritation. It has not been a pretty sight what has been going on inside of me, and what has come out of my mouth this week. Many of my choices have been poor, and I have been questioning whether I’ve really learned as much with God this last year that I say I have. God in his great mercy quietly reminded me of this Michael W. Smith-song, and I’m thankful for that.

But even I can see the sacrifice you made for me to show that I have never been unloved. It’s because of you, and all that you went through I know that I have never been unloved” 

Torben – “Not because of who I am, but because of what You’ve done. Not because of what I’ve done, but because of who You are” – Lord, teach me to remember this simple, yet hard to accept piece of truth that my belovedness as your son is not based on me or anything I do or don’t do, it’s all based on who you are, and what you’ve done for me! 




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