Posts Tagged ‘john

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

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23
Apr
08

Friend of God

I have had this song in my head the past couple of days. What a wonder it is that God calls ME his friend! Me…..fragile, doubtful, fearful, self-righteous, self-pitying, crazy, unstable me….God is perfect in his being, in all his ways and he chooses to call me his friend. Just like he did with Abraham who believed God and God credited it to him as righteousness and called him his FRIEND (James 2:23). I have my righteousness in God. Christ is my righteousness, and I’m God’s friend. Jesus put it this way to all his disciples: “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last” (John 15:15-16).

Christ wants to change this world through his disciples, through his friends, and it all happens because of him not because of us and what we can pull together in ourselves. Jesus calling his disciples friends comes in the same passage in John 15 where Jesus explains how life, growth, and everything else in the kingdom of God takes place. He does it all. He does it through his children, through his friends. And all we are called to do is to REMAIN IN HIM and bear fruit – fruit that will last! He is the vine, he is the power, he is the the source of life in us, he brings forth life in us and through us. We are his broken cups, but we are his friends!

I love the story of Peter meeting Jesus after Jesus’ resurrection (John, chapter 21). Peter had deserted Jesus and had denied that he ever knew him. Jesus is on the beach, and calls out to Peter and the other disciples who are out in their boats fishing (they probably figured that they had to get started with their normal pre-encountering-Jesus-jobs). Peter immediately jumps in the water and swims to the shore. And Jesus doesn’t meet him with a “what have you done, Peter….I’m so disappointed with you”, instead he meets Peter with a “let’s have breakfast”. He is being Peter’s friend and after their beach breakfast he reinstates Peter as the disciple he had chosen as the leader of the first church. No condemnation. No “now I know that I can’t ever trust you”. Jesus and Peter both know that Peter is broken. That he will be known as one of the disciples who deserted Jesus. And that’s one of the good reasons for appointing Peter to be the leader of the church. Because he is broken. Peter doesn’t have the same faith in himself and in his strengths and abilities anymore, and others won’t look to him as being perfect in all his ways. But Peter is Jesus’ friend, and Jesus knows that Peter will remain in Jesus and get all his strength from him and Jesus can start building his Church through his broken and humble friend. 

Torben – who wants to learn much more about what it means for me to be God’s friend. It’s a mind blowing mystery, but I trust that God will continue to reveal and unpack it for me

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?:-) 




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