Archive for October, 2008

29
Oct
08

“Unless grace can be misunderstood it’s not grace”

Some old preacher once said: “If you preach grace, and you don’t give people a chance to misunderstand grace and see it as a license to sin, you’re not preaching grace at all“. I agree with this provoking statement. Grace is shocking. Grace is shockingly all inclusive. Philip Yancey’s book What’s So Amazing About Grace is a must read for me each year since I continue to have much more to learn about grace. 

Grace is inexhaustible. Grace makes no sense. Grace is much more than God’s unmerited favor towards me. Grace is God’s power. Power to do everything in my life that he wants to. Grace makes me forgive. Grace makes me love. Grace gives me purpose. Grace carries me. Grace challenges me. Grace is a person, the person of Jesus Christ (John 1:17).

So often Jesus’ disciples chicken out when we talk about grace, and we don’t dare to serve it as shockingly raw and real and mind blowing as it really is. Maybe it’s pastors who don’t dare to teach pure grace from the pulpit, so they mix it with some laws, and some rules to make sure that they do some behavior modification of the flock. The sad truth is that grace mixed with law, even if it’s just a little bit of law isn’t grace. Law brings death. That’s what it was designed for. Grace, on the other hand, is pure. Grace sets free and brings life when we dare to extend it to each other free of charge with no secret price tags or hidden agendas attached. 

Grace saved a wretch like me, but so often I don’t dare to set other people free from my demands and my laws. So often we don’t trust the Holy Spirit that he’ll do his work in others the same way he is doing it in us. So often we think it needs to be the Holy Spirit + something I do/say/write. I fall into this trap from time to time. I am sad about the state of life of many people I know, and I long to see more life in their lives. Those desires are good and God given, and if I get a chance and an opening to speak words of truth and life, I’ll definitely do it, but it’s not my job to save or rescue anybody. And how arrogant it is to assume that the Holy Spirit isn’t strong enough to bring conviction and life without my help….

But really that’s what many pastors and church leaders think subconsciously. “What will happen if I only preach grace and refrain from telling people what they need to do…?”, “Will I get people to work in the different ministries, if I don’t shame them a little bit (a better question may be: does God really want ministries where people work because they feel ashamed if they don’t….?)?”, “Will anybody give money to the church if I don’t force them a little bit and make sure they understand that it’s their responsibility to make God’s work happen?”, “What about missions…..surely I have to inform people that it’s their fault, at least indirectly, that people are starving in Africa, and that millions perish every year without knowing Christ…”

All of these are examples of leaders thinking they need to “help” God, and unfortunately I’ve heard all those messages numerous times from various well meaning, but misguided pastors and leaders. They mean well, but it is still a twisted gospel and often it’s spiritual manipulation where God’s name is taken in vain. The idea is absurd. God doesn’t need anything. And he doesn’t need anybody. He is never depending on me to do anything. It’s never my responsibility alone to do anything in the kingdom of God. God is doing everything. Jesus is fulfilling his own great commission (Matthew 28:18-20) through willing, humbled, and surrendered believers where his life, love, forgiveness and grace can shine freely through. Jesus was once asked: “We want to do God’s work too, what must we do?”, and in stead of giving them a long list of do’s and don’ts Jesus replied with this simple sentence: “THE ONLY WORK GOD WANTS FROM YOU: BELIEVE IN THE ONE HE HAS SENT” (John 6:28-29). Surely….Jesus it can’t be that simple…? But it is. I challenge you to find one Scripture that contradicts this verse. You can’t find it. All Christ wants for us is for us to believe in him. And when we are surrendered to him and trust him, he will live his life through us. We are his broken cups where the living and freedom giving water can flow through. When we get to trust that the New Covenant is a reality, and we have been given new hearts as God promised in Ezekiel 36:26, we want to follow Christ’s leading and obey him and his will for us. 

So take the chance, all God’s children: preach grace freely! Share the freedom that God has given to his children! And trust that the Holy Spirit is strong enough to lead his children in righteous ways. If you truly know, understand and live in God’s grace, you won’t want to live a life of sin. So when we as believers find ourselves living far away from God and we end up in a place of mediocrity and trying to live as much as unbelievers as possible, it points to the fact that the wonder of grace has not caught root in our hearts. It simply points to the fact that we don’t truly know God and we don’t see who we are in him. When you see that you don’t experience life and peace with no hangovers, guilt, or shame, it’s a calling from God. He is calling you back to him and his grace. And his grace is available for all who want it, also for those who have completely misunderstood God’s grace and see it is a license to sin.

All that is gold does not glitter. Not all those who wander are lost” (J. R. R. Tolkien)

Here are a couple of grace songs. First Elvis Presley’s version of the classic Amazing Grace:

and then U2’s beautiful song Grace:

Blessings, Torben

23
Oct
08

Being stretched by God

As I continue to be stretched by God life is interesting. Many people end up on this blog searching for something related to questions like: “why is Christianity so boring?” or “why is it so boring to be a Christian?”. As I wrote in the blog entry Boring Christianity it certainly isn’t true that Christianity and being a Christian is boring if you’ve truly encountered Jesus Christ. Crazy, insane, challenging, frustrating, fun, awesome, thought provoking, sleep stealing maybe, but never boring!

These days it does feel a bit like I’m too little Nutella being spread on too much bread. It hurts. I feel the stretch. It doesn’t feel good, but I know that God is in an interesting process of stripping me of all the people, accomplishments, comforts, etc. I’ve held on to in my life that have kept me from him. He is digging up old wounds that I have tried to cover with ample doses of minimizing, rationalizing and trying to forget. It’s an ongoing process where he encounters me in the deep places of my heart, and points me towards more life in him. Some of the hurts have been covered up for decades, so it hurts when God opens them up again. But he knows that in order for me to experience freedom from the past and be set free to live life more fully in the present and in my future, it’s needed. And thank God that he is the one doing it. It’s not about me opening up chapters in my life story that I would prefer to forget. But it’s part of my surrender to God that I allow him and trust him to open up what needs to be opened up in my life book.

How safe it is in the midst of this process that I don’t have to struggle with feelings of guilt and shame. How thankful I am for the freedom I experience in God that I have no fears about the day I die, and I am not haunted by a feeling of not living up to God’s demands today. I am not guilty anymore. There is no condemnation for me. Ever. Never again. There never will be any condemnation. I love this simple song by Aaron Keyes that points to the liberating fact that I’m free in Christ!

Here is a little video where he tells about the song Not Guilty Anymore:

And here is a video with the song.

And here are the lyrics to Not Guilty Anymore

It doesn’t matter what you’ve done. It doesn’t matter where you’re coming from. It doesn’t matter where you’ve been. Hear me tell you: I forgive!

You’re not guilty anymore. You’re not filthy anymore. I love you, mercy is yours. You’re not broken anymore, you’re not captive anymore. I love you, mercy is yours.

Can you believe that this is true. Grace abundant I am giving you. It’s cleansing deeper than you know. All was paid for long ago.

You’re not guilty anymore. You’re not filthy anymore. I love you, mercy is yours. You’re not broken anymore, you’re not captive anymore. I love you, mercy is yours.

There is now therefore no condemnation for those who are in Jesus. You’re not guilty anymore. You’re not filthy anymore. I love you, mercy is yours. You’re not broken anymore, you’re not captive anymore. I love you, mercy is yours.

You are spotless. You are holy. You are faultless. You are whole. You are righteous. You are blameless. You are pardoned. You are mine.

Blessings, Torben

16
Oct
08

Liberating brokenness

Here is a wonderful quote by the American, Christian author and psychologist Larry Crabb about Brokenness. It’s from his book “The Pressure’s Off

You begin to enter the ‘New Way of the Spirit’ as you begin to feel the painful liberation of brokenness, not over the hurts in your life that you cannot relive, but over the pride in your life that you cannot eliminate. 

Brokenness is the path to freedom. When we see in ourselves things we wish were not there and realize we can do absolutely nothing to clean up the dirt we find, we enter into the liberating experience of brokenness

It’s so true what he says that the liberation of brokenness is painful, but it’s equally true that the the experience of brokenness is liberating! When I’m broken, I don’t have to strive and try harder. I can rest in God’s perfect will. And I get to experience freedom!

Romans 5:6 “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly”

Blessings, Torben – who is done blogging for today 🙂

16
Oct
08

Evidence of brokenness and surrender

I just wrote a blog about surrendering, and I thought it would be a good idea to help with some Bible verses to show what a life of surrender and brokenness looks like. If you haven’t seen the bankruptcy of your own efforts. If you haven’t seen that trying to find life and love in your own effort outside of God, you may find the idea of surrendering to God’s will somewhat hard to fathom or just irrelevant. Why would you surrender, if you think things are working pretty well for you? Maybe you need to ask God to reveal the total bankruptcy of your own efforts to create the life you’re hoping for? Here is a list with different Scriptures to look up to check if you’re living a life of brokenness, where you allow God to be God and yourself to be you.

 

EVIDENCE OF BROKENNESS

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17)

1.  All rights surrendered (Romans 12:1), (1. Corinthians 6:7), (Philippians 2:7)

2.  Willing to be rejected (Isaiah 53:3), (1. Corinthians 4: 11-13)

3.  Transparent – willing to share weakness (Psalm 32:5), (James 5:16)

4.  Vulnerable – willing to share failures (Psalm 32:5), (James 5:16)

5.  A sense of total inadequacy in self strength (2. Corinthians 3:5), (John 15:5)

6.  A sense of adequacy in Christ through his strength (2. Corinthians 3:6), (Philippians 4:13)

7.  Trusting God whatever – resting even with external turmoil (Proverbs 3:5-6), (Isaiah 30:15)

8.  Obedience out of love motive because I want to do, not because I have to (2. Corinthians 5:14a and 9:7)

9.  Recognizing the power in weakness (1. Corinthians 1:27), (2. Corinthians 12:10 and 13:4)

10.Willing to be weak (2. Corinthians 12:10 and 13:9), (Philippians 4:11)

11.Willing to fail (Luke 5:5)

12.A readiness to let others receive credit (Philippians 2: 5-8 )

13.Genuine humility (Philippians 2: 5-8 )

14.Placing value upon those who have little or no value to yourself (Romans 12:16), (1.Corinthians 8: 11-13), (1.Thessalonians 5:14)

15.A readiness to affirm (build up) others (1. Thessalonians 5:11)

16.Teachable (Judges 13:8), (Job 6:24 and 34:32), (Psalm 24:4-5)

17.Willing to be out of control (Galatians 2:20), (1.Peter 2:23 and 5:6)

18.Willing to be misunderstood (Hebrews 11:13-16 and 36-38 )

None of this is possible in our own strength. Very little of this may look desirable, but this is the life of a disciple who trusts God and gets to experience the life that’s truly worth living!

The key question to ask myself when I struggle with one or more of these points is always: why can’t I trust God in this area? What belief is it I have about God in this area? And remember it’s not about what you say on a sunny day or with your church friends. What you truly believe is what you believe when the door is closed and you’re all alone with your thoughts. 

Ask God to reveal why it’s hard for you to trust him. Ask God to reveal what lies you believe about him (“he is indifferent”, “he is distant”, “he doesn’t care about me, he is rough and tough”, “he likes to punish me”, etc.) or about yourself (“I’m unworthy”, “I’m just a lame and low sinner”, “I can’t experience abundant life, it’s only for all the other believers”, etc.). And ask God to show you the truth about who he is and who you are and ask him to make that your experienced reality. I’ve prayed these prayers, and God is in the process of replacing lies with truth, which causes me to dare to trust him more and more also with the intimate and hurt parts of my heart. And I get to taste and see that the Lord is good!

Blessings, Torben

16
Oct
08

Surrender or mediocrity

These last weeks have been a lot about surrender for me. God is asking me to surrender even more to him. God is asking me to trust him even more and to experience the abundant life that comes when we surrender to his love. “All to Jesus I surrender” we sing on Sundays, and then on Mondays we pick up our lives and try to make it happen on our own, and try to get our needs for love, acceptance, worth, significance and security met on our own.

What does it mean to surrender all to God? It means to stop trying to act as if I know better than God. When Adam ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil he ended up thinking that he was God. He knows best. And all of us who are related to Adam (and that includes all the earth’s 6.6 billion inhabitants!) think like that. I know best! God doesn’t know best. I will decide for myself. I’ll be the king of my world. I’ll make it all happen on my own. And I am alone. That’s the default setting that all humans are born with. Even the most innocent looking baby is born with this deeply ingrained in him. It’s all about me. And nobody is gonna help me.

When you accept Christ into your life, you are born again (John 3:1-17), you become a new creation (2. Corinthians 5:17). Your spirit is made alive and perfect. But we still have our flesh. We still have the residue of our old nature in us. And that, which the Bible calls flesh, will not surrender to God. Flesh within us will still cause us to walk according to it, so we end up in the miserable and life stealing existence that Paul describes so eloquently in Romans 7. When we are not surrendered. When we still feel like playing God and deciding for ourselves what’s “good” and “bad”. When we put God on trial and tell him how he should run the universe in general and my life in particular (like in the wonderful movie Bruce Almighty), we walk according to the flesh, and we experience death in our lives.

Romans 6:23 tells us “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord“. Many use this verse in an evangelism context, but the audience that Romans was written to was a group of believers in Rome. They were Christians already. The verse, therefore, does not address issues of salvation, but it’s about a life principle that is true everywhere at all times for everybody. If we chose to walk according to our flesh. If we choose to live in sin. If I choose to choose what I know to be wrong, what I know the Holy Spirit within me is reminding me is wrong and won’t bring life, it will bring death. Every time. Death is lack of life. Death is bad conscience. Death is mediocrity. If you’re a believer, Satan can’t snatch you of Jesus’ hand (John 10:28). But he will do what he can to make sure you don’t experience the abundant life that Jesus has for us (John 10:10), but instead you experience the boring, lifeless, mediocre and empty tread mill existence of so many believers who have not surrendered to God and instead try to get their needs met outside of him.

God has challenged me to surrender all to him. And God is very specific. To me it’s not too hard to lay down my felt right to a cool place to live, to possessions, money, financial security, etc. That may be hard for others to lay down. For me the big challenge for God is to lay down my felt right to be loved by other people, to be needed, to be treated as somebody special. I struggle with this. These past two years have been very lonely, and I’ve whined and complained to God. I’ve resisted what God has been trying to do in this area of my life. Now God is showing me that I’ve found love and acceptance in other people. I’ve felt loved when people sought me out for advice. I have loved being needed by friends and family members. And slowly God has taken that away from me the last couple of years. It has hurt. It still hurts. But I’m beginning to see that God is calling me to lay it down in front of him. I want to be a living sacrifice to God (Romans 12) that he can do with however he pleases. And that means a life of total surrender. That means a life where I allow him to be God and me to be me. This doesn’t mean that God won’t allow me to have friends who love me and whom I can love back. It just means that he doesn’t want to share first place in my life with anybody else. As I surrender to him, and experience him as life, I am free to healthy, godly relationships where I don’t try to get needs met in other people that only he can meet.

I have made the choice to follow God’s will for my life many years ago, but still there are areas where God is asking for a deeper commitment. He is asking me to live a life of humility and sacrifice the way Jesus did here on earth (Philippians 2). Jesus is inviting me into the fellowship of his sufferings that Paul talks about in Philippians 3:10. It’s a fellowship of dying to my own flesh and my own desires, and allowing him to be enough in all areas of my life.

So that’s what I’ve chosen. God is the one calling me and giving me the strength and courage to do this. And he is the one who will make the abundant life with him more of a reality in my life as I surrender to him, and trust that even when he takes things and people away from that have given me comfort, he does it because he sees it’s best for me, and because he knows how to shape and mold me more into the likeness of Jesus (Romans 8:28-29).

So here is the song that I’ve been singing a lot these last few weeks. There are tears and pain in singing it, but there is also joy, peace and life in a surrendered life. And I know that God knows what he is doing, even when I don’t understand or agree with it.

Torben – who realizes that surrendering completely to God is a process, and is glad that God doesn’t challenge me to more than he knows I’m ready to give him!

11
Oct
08

What a miss….

I’ve just started playing football (soccer that is) at amateur level for a local team, Hammer Heads, here in the Marietta, Georgia area. We’ve had big problems playing with a full team, but my dream is that one day we’ll actually be 11 players on our team at the same time… 🙂

I’ve played football my whole life pretty much since I could walk, and I’ve missed some fairly big chances in random games, but I’m not quite sure I’ve missed one like the one Chris Iwelumo missed today on his international debut for Scotland in a World Cup qualification game against Norway….Anybody who has ever played will feel with Chris Iwelumo after this one…And the game ended 0-0:

Torben 🙂

08
Oct
08

Counseling tip: “STOP IT!!” :-)

I’m in the process of learning about identity in Christ/exchanged life counseling and coaching, and let’s just say that the methods we’re learning are 100% different from the ones shown in this wonderful skit………..but it sure is funny!! 🙂

Torben




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