Archive for April, 2009

29
Apr
09

Why is my burden not light?

I believe that one of the most frustrating Scriptures in the whole Bible for many Christians is from Matthew 11:28-30 where Jesus says this:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon me and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light

bullock_yokes

Many Christians certainly are not carrying easy burdens or feel that being yoked together with Jesus makes their lives easy. A yoke is a thing you put between two animals, for instance oxen, to make sure that they work closely together. Jesus uses the illustration of a yoke to say that when we are abiding in him (John 15), and we’re allowing him to do his work with us and through us, our lives are easy. They are not burdensome and hard. Circumstances may be difficult, but there is a promise of peace and joy and a life where stress is not controlling us that Jesus holds in front of us.

Jesus’ secret

How do we get to that place where we can experience what Jesus talked about? If we look through a few Scriptures we see that Jesus’ secret was fairly simple, but very profound nonetheless: he knew exactly who he was! When you know who you are in Christ, you can experience the very same peace and easy life as Christ did even when circumstances are difficult and people may misunderstand or ridicule you. Philippians 2:5-8 talks about Jesus’ attitude of humility in this way: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” Jesus was the perfect example of humility as he, the everlasting God and creator of everything laid down his deity and became a man totally dependent on his Father in heaven. Christ was as dependent on his Father in Heaven as we are today. He needed to hear who he really was. This took place at Jesus’ baptism, which preceded any ministry Jesus did: “When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased“. We all need to hear this voice call us the Beloved. We all need to hear that God is well pleased with us. We all need to know that we are loved just the way we are, not the way we could or should be or the way we hope to become some day. 

Rest and calling

Jesus started his ministry knowing who he was. He was the Son of God, and he knew that his Father was well pleased with him. He knew where to get his strength and comfort from, and he knew that no matter what situation he would be faced with, he would never be in a place or with people that his Father didn’t want him to encounter. This was a place of safety and confidence. When you know who you truly are, you have nothing to be afraid of. It doesn’t matter what happens to you, you can trust that nothing comes your way that your Father in Heaven hasn’t got good purposes in. And you can rest in the fact that God truly knows what’s best for you and me. Jesus knew his mission on earth and proclaimed it in this way quoting the book of Isaiah from the Old Testament: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19) When you know who you are, you’re ready to step into the particular mission God has for you. God has a calling on your life. There is something unique that God wants to do through you. And when you know who you are, you can rest in your calling no matter how scary that calling may look like. I have seen this in my own life where I know the rest I have begun to feel these past few years regarding the calling from God to lead and teach that he gave me almost six years ago. You can read more about that in my blog entry about God’s detours

rest

Listen to what God tells you to do

Jesus was functioning like a human being while he was here on this earth. He lived in complete dependency of his Father, and he knew that he needed to connect with his Father on a regular basis to be up for all the challenges life here brought him. Hebrews 4:12 talks about that Jesus was tempted in every way just like any other man. Of course the only difference was that he never gave into these temptations and sinned against his Father. He chose perfect obedience to his Father, and he chose to always listen to what his Father was telling him to do, thus modeling for us how we are to live if we want to experience the abundant life, and the peace and rest that Jesus promised his followers: “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does” (John 5:19). Imagine that Jesus could be so surrendered to his Father that he could say that he did nothing by himself. We can live like this as well. When we know who we are in Christ, and we learn to recognize the voice of our Shepherd (John 10) who calls us by our new name, we can learn to be more and more dependent on him. We can learn to wait on him, and ask him to be the one guiding us into the good deeds which he has prepared for us to walk in (Ephesians 2:10), and we can come to the place in our walk with God where we can pray like Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane where his fear of being tortured and killed was overcome by his willingness to trust and obey his Father’s will for him: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42)

When you know that nothing in the kingdom of God is ever dependent on your abilities, strengths, weaknesses or anything that originates in you and your own strength. When you know that the life of a disciple is a life where it’s okay to admit your neediness, it’s okay to admit that you’re weak in yourself, you are free to abide and rest in Christ and accept that apart from Christ you can produce nothing of lasting, eternal value (John 15:5), and you can allow him to do his work through you. When that happens your burden is easy and your life is light. You don’t have to worry and be filled with fear about the future or even about today, because you grow in understanding that God knows best, and that he will take you to the places you need to go to in order to experience more of what is already yours. You’re already a co-heir with Christ to all the heavenly blessings, and when you rest in him, you can experience that no task is too hard for you, because success in the kingdom of God is never dependent on you and your abilities.

I have enjoyed learning more about resting in God. I have experienced more of this lightness and ease of the life of a Christian. I used to think it was terribly hard, and quite frankly I thought that Jesus was lying when he talked about this rest in the verse I began this blog entry with. Or at least I thought that this rest was only available for other people. Not for me. I thank God that he has showed me more of how a life surrendered to him looks like. And I thank God that he is not done teaching me.

Blessings, Torben

28
Apr
09

The kingdom of God is breaking through

I have tons of blog entries bobbling around in my head. Now I just need to take the time to actually sit down and put into words what’s in there these weeks. I think I’ll start out with an entry about something that may sound mysterious, hard to grasp and maybe even a bit unreal to a lot of people: the kingdom of God.

Jesus spoke a lot more about the kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven than he talked about sin and salvation. Jesus came to proclaim the kingdom of God. And today, 2000 years after Jesus went back to Heaven, we see this kingdom changing people from within. It’s an invisible kingdom to those who haven’t had their eyes opened by the Holy Spirit. It doesn’t look powerful, but it is by far the most powerful kingdom ever to have existed, and it’s the only kingdom that will never ever be defeated and replaced by another kingdom.

Last night I had the privilege of attending a banquet event hosted by Grace Ministries International‘s International department. During the evening we focused on what God has been doing in the nation of Hungary through the years of focusing on identity and life in Christ based teaching and counseling. We looked at the nation of Hungary with its heavy history of defeats and loses, and saw how so many Hungarians have a slave/victim mentality partly due to the history of the nation, but we also celebrated how God is setting people free to know and live from who they really are in him. From Hungary the really good news has spread to Croatia, Romania, Ukraine, Moldova and other nations, and it was exciting to see the unstoppable power of the gospel of freedom and life in Jesus Christ.

The kingdom of God is real. It’s a kingdom of people surrendered to the king in the kingdom, Jesus Christ. All the soldiers are wounded, broken people. And when we are wounded and broken we can be used fully when Jesus is doing the work through us. I loved hearing the testimony of how the ministry and the ministers in Hungary had to go through the valley of the shadow of death of coming to the end of themselves and realizing that the ministry was not important, and they as ministers were not important, the kingdom of God and what God was wanting to do were the truly important things! This season of difficult circumstances, loneliness and frustration brought the ministry out on the side of life where the ministry is now in a place of being surrendered to God and God is starting to use the ministry in mighty ways to change the lives of the people who come in contact with Grace Ministries Budapest.

I loved being in an atmosphere of celebrating what God is doing. God is at work constantly,and his kingdom is breaking through all over this world. We may experience times of financial downfall, various life threatening diseases and much turmoil all over the world, but God’s kingdom is breaking through. And the kingdom of God, as Paul put it in Romans 14:17 is about “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit“. Wherever people are set free to live a life of knowing who they are in Christ (knowing their righteousness), and knowing the true peace and joy despite circumstances that are results of knowing who God really is and knowing who you are as a child of God the kingdom of God is being manifested.

We celebrated the kingdom of God last night, and I enjoyed being reminded of the tremendous power this kingdom has. It’s a kingdom of truth, joy, peace, excitement, relationships, depth, freedom and all other things that are truly important to all people at all times. It’s a universal kingdom, and the message of the kingdom is relevant for every single person on this planet. I love the fact that real truth, the truth only to be found in Jesus Christ who is the Truth (John 14:6), is 100% universal and life giving to all people. In a day and age where the Satanic lies voiced in the postmodern idea that all things are relative, and you can’t know for sure that something is the truth is going forth and leaving a trail of frustrated, lonely, confused, judgmental and angry people behind it, it was wonderful to celebrate the truth of the Truth! And it was wonderful to be reminded that none of Satan’s lies that so many people buy into will stand against the kingdom of God! There is no match here. Jesus is the Victor already, and his kingdom is breaking through all over this earth.

Torben – who found this wonderful song of celebrating who God is by Chris Tomlin. It’s called “Famous One”

15
Apr
09

When pain hits us (bitterness or brokenness)

foggymountain

This morning I opened my inbox and saw a couple of emails from some friends of mine. Both of them were expressing tremendous pain and sorrow. One is potentially losing yet another baby after she already had a miscarriage last year. The other one was talking about how his marriage is falling apart. Not because my friend wants it to happen, but because his spouse has decided that their marriage is over. 

These are situations from the hard reality of life. I have been thinking about what I can tell my two friends that will comfort them, potentially change or fix their situation or at least find something I can do for them. But the truth is I can do nothing. I can’t say magic words that will fix the pain they’re in. I can’t tell them that things will be different tomorrow, because I don’t know that they will. I can’t tell them that I know how they feel, because I don’t, and even if I did that still wouldn’t eradicate their pain. And I can’t do anything that will make my one friend not lose her baby, and my other friend not lose his marriage. I am incapable of making a difference.

All I can do in these situations where reality hits me hard in the face is to remember that Jesus (unfortunately) never promised that life would be easy for his followers. Both of my friends are believers who have put their trust and hope in Jesus. But that doesn’t mean that they or I don’t face pain and potentially devastating circumstances. The truth is that life is hard. The truth is that none of us are immune to the intense pressures of life. The truth is that we can’t protect ourselves or save ourselves or others out of the rough circumstances of life.

I know that the truth from God’s Word is that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8 :28) or as Eugene Peterson translates the same verse in The Message: “we can be sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good“. God is conforming us to be more like Christ (Romans 8 :29). He is in the process of using the rough circumstances in my friends’ lives and turn it into something that bring them closer to him and closer to who they are called to be in God. That’s the truth. But right now that truth is probably not what either of them want to hear. The truth never changes, but it’s so important that we don’t slam each other with the truth and short circuit the process of pain, grief, brokenness and clinging to God that’s going on.

So I think I will do what Job’s friends did so well in the first many chapters of the book of Job. I will shut up. I will spare my friends for my wisdom. I will tell my friends that I am praying for them. I will remind them that God is good and his plans for them are good, even though it all looks like crap right now. But I won’t give them advice. I won’t tell them what they should be feeling. I won’t accuse them of not trusting God enough since they’re so full of feelings of despair.

I will remind them that God is big enough to handle all our emotions no matter how terrible and sacrilegious the feelings may feel. Yell, kick, scream, curse, blame, attack….do whatever you have to do. And maybe I will remind them of my favorite quote by Philip Yancey: “God can handle blame, anger and even willful disobedience. One thing, however, blocks relationship: indifference“. Whatever my friends do, feel, think, I will encourage them to not be indifferent, to not shut their hearts down. It’s tempting to do when pain is all we see, but experience has taught me that every difficult circumstance takes us to the intersection where we have two roads to choose from. One is called bitterness. Many walk it; misery loves and attracts company. There is no life and no hope on that road. These people are dying from within, because bitterness is a disease that spreads like cancer to every part of our being and it’s even contagious and attacks other people as well. The other road is called brokenness. It’s the road less traveled. It’s a road of humility. But there is hope, peace and joy available in the midst of suffering. It’s the road of life. I will pray that Christ will give them the strength to choose the road of of brokenness, and I will remind them that Christ is the good shepherd who is leading us through the valley of death (Psalm 23:4).

Torben – who will pray that my friends “will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand” (Philippians 4:7)

15
Apr
09

Being needy

Easter was a wonderful time of celebration of the life, hope and victory that Jesus’ death and resurrection bring. I enjoyed worshipping in church and I was overwhelmed by the feeling that is so familiar to me: “I am not worthy of you, Jesus, but I can’t live without you” and Jesus’ answer was: “You are worthy of me! I have made you worthy!”. Many tears of joy were cried during this Easter time. How incredible that Jesus loves me just the way I am. Not the way I should be or the way I wish I were. He loves me with all the good in me, but also the bad and the ugly that so often entangle me. When I find myself in the pit of self-pity, self-hatred, loneliness and fear Christ meets me there. He doesn’t condemn me or yell at me. He shows me himself. He shows me that I am loved. He shows me that he is pleased with me. He runs to me and throws his arms around me and celebrates that I am with him. He reminded me that despite the setbacks I feel when I fall again and again, he is changing me. I am in a different and much better place than I was two years ago. He reminded me that what David describes so well in Psalm 40 is also my testimony. He has given me a new song to sing. I am singing a song of love, hope and joy that I simply didn’t know just a few years back.

“I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord” (Psalm 40:1-3)

And he reminded me of the way David ends this Psalm in verse 17: 

“Yet I am poor and needy, may the Lord think of me. You are my help and my deliverer; O my God, do not delay”

It’s okay to be poor and needy. It’s good to be poor in spirit as Jesus calls it in Matthew 5:3. To be poor in spirit is to not trust in myself or in other people. To be poor in spirit is to accept the fact that we can only put our trust in God. He is the Rock that David and myself and so many others have found to be solid. That Rock never moves no matter how rough the circumstances or our inner turmoil may seem. He is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).

This gospel of poverty in spirit is countercultural to the extreme! In society today it’s all about being strong, being capable, being able, being powerful, being beautiful, being sexy, being everything in myself! I pray that the gospel of the strength of weakness may change this world more and more. We need to embrace our limitations as human beings. I praise God that he has showed me my limitations. For three decades I was living primarily in my own strength. I was the rock I built my life on. It was all about what I could do and could be. I praise God that he took me on the journey of brokenness where I have seen and continue to see that I can’t create the life I hope to experience. Every single person on Planet Earth is looking for love, acceptance, worth, significance and security. Most people try to find it in themselves, in other people or in dead religion. I thank God that he has revealed that it’s only in his son, Jesus Christ, that love, acceptance, worth, significance and security is to be found. He is the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6). He is the only way to everything we hope for and dream about, he is the only truth that sets people free, and he is the only life that’s worth living. And he is offering himself to you and me today.

All he is asking us to admit is our neediness. He is not asking you to clean up your act or to pull yourselves up by the bootstraps. He is not asking for you to punish yourself for your wrong thoughts and actions. He is just asking you to come to him just the way you are. Do I dare to stand in Gods presence just the way I am? Or only just the way I should be (full of excuses)? Or only just the way I will be (making promises to God that I’m not capable of keeping anyway)?

Blessings, Torben 

Mercy Me’s powerful song Bring The Rain:

12
Apr
09

Everything hinges on Christ’s resurrection

Hallelujah! It’s Easter morning! Jesus Christ, Son of God and Savior of the world, is risen from the dead! He is alive! He is alive in all his children who believe in him and have put all their hope and trust in him!

Everything in the Christian faith hinges on the truth that Jesus rose from the dead. Without the resurrection, Jesus was just some man with some good ideas who died like everybody else. His resurrection is the final proof that he was who he said he was: God’s son!

christrio

Hear what Paul writes in 1. Corinthinans chapter 15 where he makes it very clear that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the single most important event in human history:

“If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world” (16-19)

Paul makes it crystal clear. We are pathetic, to be pitied and ridiculed if Christ did not rise from the dead. If he didn’t, we will not be able to be raised from the dead either. And then all believers who have put their trust in Christ are completely lost and all of us believers who are still alive today are still caught in our sins and are eternally lost!

But…and thank God there is a huge but:

But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died. So you see, just as death came into the world through a man (Adam), now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man (Jesus)” (20-21)

and in verses 3-8 Paul explains the historical and well-documented fact of Christ’s resurrection to show the believers in Corinth back then, and all who are questioning Jesus’ resurrection today that we don’t believe in a figment of our imagination. Jesus’ resurrection is well-documented and a fact that is not up for debate if you dare to take history seriously.

“I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him”

Jesus Christ is alive! He is alive and he makes all things new. There is hope, life, purpose, joy, love, passion, excitement and peace to be found in Jesus Christ! He lives inside of me and millions of other believers, and he is changing this world one person at a time! 

How thankful I am that I know the living God! He is not dead. He is not lying in some grave that I can go on a pilgrimage to. He is alive and he lives in me. And his love is changing me!

Hallelujah! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

Easter blessings, Torben – here is the beautiful song called Easter Song by Keith Green

11
Apr
09

The foolishness of the Cross of Christ

cross

It’s Good Friday today. Or Long Friday as we call it in Danish. And both names are appropriate. It was the longest day in Jesus’ life, but it was also good, because he knew that this was the purpose he had come to fulfill. He knew that without him going to the cross, we could never be able to be with God today and forevermore. 

I embrace the foolishness of the cross! I love the cross! I am with Paul who said that he would only preach Christ, and Christ crucified! The cross is foolishness to all who don’t believe. “What’s the point of that cross? What’s the relevance? What kind of a king hangs naked and dying on a tree? What kind of person builds his or her life on somebody else dying for them thousands of years ago?

The questions are many and Christ on the cross is ridiculed and mocked today as well as he was two thousands year ago on the hill outside of Jerusalem. 

1. Corinthians 1:18-25: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate’. Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength

Let me paraphrase verse 22: “Religious people (Jews) demand signs, wonders and miracles and a king that is powerful and never dies, and intellectual postmodern people (Greeks) demand logical explanations and arguments that they deem reasonable, but we (Christians) preach Christ crucified“. That’s my message! The man hanging on the Cross is the hope for you and me and all of us. It’s the hope for the cynical, depressed, self-obsessed man who hates all religions. It’s the hope for the Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or Atheist who worships versions of God that do not have life and only lead to misery and bondage. It’s the hope for the successful businessman, actor, sports super star or whoever makes the front pages. It’s the hope for the tired, lonely, abused and crying. It’s the hope for all of us!

Isaiah 53:6 describe the condition of all of us before we encounter Christ: “We all, like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to HIS OWN WAY“. That’s how we come into this world. Confused. Turning our own way. Lost to try to make life work through our own resources and strength. But we can’t create the abundant life we’re looking for. We must come to a place of meeting Christ as he is hanging on the cross with open wounds. There is healing there. There is healing for every single wound you have on your soul and on your body. There is healing for abuse, rape, self-hatred, whatever the problem may be, however life has pierced you. There is hope. Isaiah 53:5: “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, AND BY HIS WOUNDS WE ARE HEALED

By his wounds we are healed. But we must come to Jesus Christ the way we are with our wounds open and bleeding. We must admit that we can’t fix ourselves. That life based on our own resources and trying to suck life out of other people never satisfies. We must not cover the wounds up with our band-aids of self-improvement, religion, minimizing, excusing, accusing, blame shifting or whatever your particular brand of band-aid is called. By his wounds we are healed when his wounds meet our wounds. Then he cleans your wound, binds it up and takes you to new places of life where those wounds don’t determine who you are anymore.

But the cross of Christ will remain foolishness to those who trust in themselves. Those who build their own kingdoms focused on themselves and their strength of achievements, physical beauty or personality gifts. Those who want to climb up the ladder of religion trying to impress their god. Those who just cannot accept that everything has already been done. You don’t have to do anything to be good enough or bad enough to be a part of Jesus’ kingdom. The grace of God means that there is nothing you can do to make God love you less, and there is nothing you can do to make God love you more! God loves you just the way you are including the good, the bad and the really ugly in you!

I bow at your cross, Jesus Christ! I embrace your cross as the place where I received life in you. I embrace the fact that many men and women will mock and ridicule me for putting all my trust and hope in you! But I stand here just the way I am. Naked with my strengths, weaknesses, revelations, questions, accusations and everything else. And I see you look at me from your cross and you tell me: “You are loved just the way you are! I will always love you! It is finished!

Happy Good Friday!

Torben – who has found two wonderful Easter songs to listen to these days as I contemplate what Christ did on the cross.

First Stuart Towend’s modern classic “How Deep The Father’s Love For Us”

and secondly “By His Wounds” based on Isaiah 53




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