söndag 23 april 2017

The (hopefully) only post on the state of the United Methodist church

Considering the size of the Methodist church in Scandinavia I wonder if anybody cares about what happens to it, except for the few people who currently call it their ecclesial home. Of course, this only applies to Norway, Denmark, Finland and the Baltic states. There is no Methodist church in Sweden. But no matter which country you consider it is a small church with hundreds, not thousands, in attendance every Sunday.
But since I am a pastor in the Methodist church (of Norway) it concerns me and there is currently a lot going on in the worldwide Methodist church, so here are my thoughts on the matter.
If you don't care about the Methodist church, or this particular debate that concerns every single church in the world, you can stop reading now.

As you might imagine, the Methodist church is in the middle of a very common but traumatic and dramatic struggle for its survival. It seems as if lots of Norwegians and Danes and Finns and Balts go on and live their lives just fine without darkening the doorsteps of our churches. I have grown up in the Methodist church and all my life I have heard of how people are getting more "spiritual" and less "religious"...or how there is a "re-christianiazation" happening...all the while our church has lost more members and influence and "steam", if you would. Most of the Methodists I know are tired and not a little confused as to how this downward trend can be reversed. Not everybody, to be sure, but many...myself included.
Scandinavia is the least Christian area of the western (if not the enitre) world and the secular pressure to keep religion private (as if that was possible) combined with a host of philosophical and relational opposition makes it very, very difficult to preach and teach and live Jesus Christ, not to mention that the main church in these countries is usually an uber-liberal former statechurch with massive influence and huge media exposure but usually without an evangelical flair...to say the least.

In this harsh spiritual climate there is a church called the Methodist church...and she is struggling mightily. She might not make it. She might disappear. So you would think that most efforts and money and time and prayer and work would be focused on how to reach people with the Good News of Jesus Christ and how to convert more/new people so they would (want to) become members and thus save the church from extinction. You would think...

...but it is not. The Methodist church is currently fighting a brutal civil war over whether or not its own Discipline and Beliefs are actually true and real and important or if they are not. I'm (of course) talking about homosexuality. Currently, the United Methodist church does not consider homosexual practice "compatible with Christian doctrine"...i.e. sinful. It has been democratically decided for over 40 years and yet it is the issue that takes almost all of our time and effort these days. Lots of people think that our current belief is wrong and harmful and should be changed. We spend a lot more time on this issue any other issue, including trying to figure out how we can get our "natives" converted.This issue hovers like a dark cloud over everything the church does and we simply don't know what will happen when the rain finally falls. Will it split the church in two or wash her clean?

Some people, the vocal minority, argue that this is a matter so important that no matter how it affects the church it has to be resolved along progressive lines, i.e. full inclusion of LBQTGI people and conmensurate actions and behaviors. It is all about, they say, that "God is love" and how "Nobody is incompatible with God" and that we should "do no harm" and so on.
The majority argues that the Bible is clear and that homosexual practice is sinful in the eyes of God and can not be condoned or approved of. God is loving and holy and just and some things and some behaviors and some actions and some thoughts are sinful and wrong and under the wrath/judgement of God. End of story.

However, the matter has gone far beyond reasonable debate and hostility, open defiance and deep distrust are now everywhere, even to the point of being unable to share Communion together. It has come to the point where those who write public letters for the Progressive side and those who write letters for the Evangelical side sound like they're talking about two different religions, Gods and beliefs. It is all the same words but radically different understandings. When Progressives and Evangelicals talk about, for example, the "love of God" they say the same things but mean very different things. Most important doctrines fall under this definition and it is becoming very clear that the United Methodist church (as she is officially called) is very, very divided.

This, my friends, is a tragedy of historical proportions and no pious wordplays or "think positive and let's spin this" will work. It's a disaster and I don't think it is going to get any better anytime soon. It's going to get worse.

It's currently about the church's supreme court and its upcoming vote. It will soon vote on whether an openly lesbian woman and pastor living with another woman in "marriage" can be elected bishop. This will be decided by the end of April and it will, either way it goes, start the inevitable. There are no winners here because no matter what the vote is the "losing" side will have had enough.

Sidebar: I suspect that the election of a lesbian bishop was a "Hail Mary" attempt by the progressive side of the church. They knew the election would force a vote in the Judicial Council and they knew that since the General Conference would never vote "Progressively" on this matter this was their only chance. A "yes" vote by the Council would buy them some time, and momentum, going into the next General Conference (or special conference). It seems to me that the election was an attempt to figure out how to be able to "negotiate from a position of strength". I could be wrong.

If the Council votes "yes, she can stay." the Evangelical side of the church will have had enough. Schism will become a reality, period.
If the council votes "no, she has to go." the Progressive side of the church will be in an uproar and, with few options left, start looking towards some sort of "amicable split".

No matter how you look at it, the court's ruling will thus set in motion the dissolution of the UMC as we know it. This, however, aligns rather well with what the church's commission on "A Way Forward" has been alluding to. This commission is working on finding a way forward in the midst of this whole debate AND they have alluded to allowing more regional leeway and independence. In other words, let churches or conferences or jurisdictions decide what they want on a range of issues, perhaps all of them save for "Jesus is Lord" and other givens.
Again, good-bye to the UMC as one church and hello to "lots of churches/conferences that are loosely connected in some vague sense while at the same time doing and believing what we want".

I left Sweden and moved to Norway because I think that is an inadequate and poor way of being a church. Trust me, lots of things happen when you switch out connectionalism (what the UMC is now) to congregationalism (lots of congregations holding vastly different views but being joined by the lowest common denominator) and most of them are bad, in my opinion.

I really wish there was some solution to all of this that could heal our divisions and allow the UMC to regain her former glory, unity and strength...that would allow us to be One church in belief and practice. God is a God of hope but in this case I just don't see it.

Do you?

söndag 16 april 2017

What does it mean that Jesus rose from the dead...if you think about it?

My grandmother told me many times of her visit to the Holy Land with my grandfather. Not a woman of emotion and drama I remember how she vividly told me of their visit to the "Garden Tomb" and how she turned around to leave and saw a sign above the opening that read "He is not here, he is risen"...and shivered with emotion of those heavy words in that place.

They are heavy words indeed because we don't really have a way of understanding them. To be sure, we understand the syntax, grammar and letters, but I don't think we truly feel what they mean. I mean, what does it mean that a man rose from the dead? It is not entirely clear by itself, besides being very cool.

I think that is the first thing we should do when we consider Easter Sunday. Simply consider how cool it is that a man rose from the dead. Not analyze it. Not study it. Not trying to figure it out...but simply stand in awe and realize how huge it is without any deeper thought.

Second, we should consider that the man had claimed to be God...but that immediately muddies the waters because it adds enormous complexity to our moment of awe and wonder. A resurrection in itself is a massive event to take in...how much more so if we add God to the mix?

Of course, who else but God can rise from the dead, right? Well, the Bible tells us of 8 people who were dead and came back to life. Some in the old testament and some in the new (my "favorite" is Eutychus, the guy who fell asleep because Paul preached too long, and too boring I guess, and fell out a window and died.). All in all, the resurrection of Jesus wasn't the first one and not the most dramatic one either. That price would go to Lazarus, whom Jesus raised to life so publically that the Pharisées decided to kill him again(!). Resurrections were rare, but not unheard of.

So why had my grandmother of few emotional outbursts become so taken with the words "He is not here, he is risen"?

There are many correct theological answers to that question.
That Jesus had claimed to be God and rising from the dead sort of proves that.
That Jesus raised himself without anybody raising him.
That Jesus coming back from the grave meant that nothing would ever be the same.

Lazarus never had any disciples. Never founded a church. Never became a king or a religious leader. Why not? Surely he had a lot to say to people who fear death and suffering and wonder if there is an afterlife, right?
Eutychus didn't get any followers either or start a movement.
Paul probably got resurrected (after he was left for dead when he was stoned) and didn't start a church have disciples (as a matter of fact, he chastised the Christians in Corinth for thinking along those ways).

I think the difference was that for Jesus the Resurrection became the capstone, the summary and the validation of everything he had ever said or done before it happened. It was as if people, i.e. the disciples, had heard him say and do many crazy cool things in the past, among them the craziest being that he was God himself, and that now, post-resurrection, that little coin dropped.
I don't think they thought he was actually God until they saw him alive and well that Sunday afternoon. Prophet? Sure. A man sent by God? Sure. The "servant" from the prophet Isaiah? Yep.

But God?

That didn't dawn on them until post-resurrection...and it dawned on them like the light of a million suns in the darkest of days. This guy is God? Wow! Surreal, but nice (to quote Notthing Hill).

I think you and I need a little time to get past our ideas and notions and "we know how this story goes" before we can comprehend it.

If then, after we consider the evidence (which is solid and clear) come to the conclusion that Jesus was and is in fact God...well, that should make a whole heck of an impact, shouldn't it? Kind of like what it did to my grandmother...make us shiver with an overwhelming emotion that God is Jesus and he is alive!

torsdag 13 april 2017

God is not love

Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.” - Dostojevsky

It is Easter and everybody living in the post-Christian west is forced to at least hear the word and perhaps for a fleeting moment consider why they get time off work or what all the fuss is about. Well, there isn't actually that much fuss. There are feeble attempts to make it a "normal" holiday with bunnies and eggs and, in Sweden, pickled herring (yum!), but compared to Christmas I would argue that Easter doesn't get much secular attention. How could it?

But let's assume that some people have been exposed to the Christian faith. What kind of faith would that be, I wonder? I don't think I am way off if I claim that it is a faith mainly or solely concerned with some variation on the theme that "God is love". I can't tell you how many times I have heard this phrase from people with anything from a very shallow faith to a very deep faith. It pops up everywhere, from deep theological debates to Twitter-wars.
Of course, this is all very understandable. Who can have anything against a God that is love? Love is, after all, what all of us want and many of us struggle to find. It is our deepest desire (that we can control). It permeates everything from the highest to the lowest. We know it can't be bought and we know that it is all we need.

First of all, however, let's make something very clear. The Bible does say that God is love. However, that doesn't mean that "Love is God". Do you see how that is important? If not, ponder it for a moment and it'll come to you.

Second, even though the Bible does say that God is love, I am saying that He isn't. No, I am not stupid or full of myself. Here is my point:

When the Bible says that "God is love" it doesn't say what you think it says because the word "love" doesn't mean what you think it means. We all have a skewed understanding of eternal things, like love, because we are fallen. Further, nothing that we experience or think about or do is the same as it is with God simply because we use the same word. Basically, though there are similarities between what we call "good", for example, and what God calls "good", they are not identical.

BUT, this is not some fancy interpretive dance on my part to get rid of some Scripture that I don't like. I know that many people believe that evangelical Christians like myself are love-less and cold and all about Law and Order. That is neither true nor my point here.

Let's examine the facts, shall we?

What is love?

Let's see, in almost every single movie we see love is about sex. How long does it take for the actors who fall in love to have sex? It's usually the next scene after they kiss. I can't think of a movie where love didn't turn into sex within seconds, 50 Shades and all that. Maybe you can, but they are the exception.
Second, how many songs have you heard recently that included love and not more or less obvious innuendo to sex? Right, neither have I. There is even a song about sex being "taken to church", imagine that.
Third, what is all advertisement about (that has anything to do with love)? Sex or the intent to produce the desire for sex. I could go on.

This is not some atypical Christian rant about how sex is everywhere and we need to throw out our televisions and computers. I am simple stating that all of us have been indoctrinated that love equals sex...which is neither true nor good.
But God is not sex. So, when we hear the words "...but God is love!" or (the more neutral) "God is love." we must realize that what the Bible says (through John) is that God is NOT sex or has anything to do with sex as something identical with love. To say that "God is love" and then assume that one can partake of all kinds of sexual activities is just dumb.

To continue, if we can move on to the next point, I would like to point out that in the Biblical context love is not a feeling. This is harder to process because surely love is a feeling, right?
True, love has to do with feelings. I feel something that I call "love" when I see my wife or my kids (or if I tap into my American side: when I see chocolate, steaks, pro-football or anything in between :)). You also feel something when you see someone you love or talk to them or make love to them. Feelings, it seems, are very important to our understanding of "love"...but feelings aren't love. We are commanded by Jesus to love our enemies, for example. Do you think he meant that we should feel loving towards them? Clearly, no.
The Bible is not saying that our feelings of love is the same thing as love. In fact, in the one place where it says that God is love it doesn't say anything about feelings at all. At. All.

So, what does all of this mean? It means that we, you and I, must make a little extra effort to understand exactly how God is love. It doesn't involve sex and it doesn't involve feelings.
What then?

I think we should avoid some hot-potato topics for now and move on to what the Bible actually means when it says that "God is love".

What the Bible (in John chapter 4) says about God is that he is "agape"...which is Greek for love. Well, one of saying "love". It is not primarily a feeling or even an action based on a feeling, such as erotic love. It is not primarily a friendship love. It is not primarily an altruistic love. It is something new.

Agape is a love that, as the context for the passage in the Bible makes clear, is primarily a choice and something that creates worth in the receipient (It is also how we can understand that God is Trinity, but we'll leave that one for now). It is, as the Bible says, that Jesus died on the cross for the propitiation (to regain the good-will of God) for our sins. In short, to make things right between God and us. By being torture and murdered and dying. For our sins.

"God is love" is the Cross.

"God is love" doesn't mean that your or my understanding of what love is, is God. That is a fatal mistake and wrong thinking.
"God is love" doesn't mean that whatever we think is loving or "a loving relationship" is God or of God. (For example, I know of a man who truly believes that he loves little boys and girls. Clearly, this isn't God.)
"God is love" doesn't mean that God is loving feelings or some sort.

God is not that kind of love.

God is, as we should expect, a different kind of love. Something that we could see traces of and feel glimmers of in what we usually consider love BUT that is at the same time altogether different. This is one reason why the secular world doesn't get Easter and tells us to buy things nobody needs. It doesn't get love (for all its infatuation with it). It doesn't get love that hangs, literally, on a cross battered and bruised. It doesn't get that "love" involves sacrifice and death...does it? Shouldn't "love" mean flowers and unicorns and puppies?

No, it doesn't.

"In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another."
1 John 4:10-11.

Of course, God is love.
Just a different love.

Now, let's take a moment and ponder how this understanding of "God is love" impacts us. Tomorrow is Good Friday, after all.

måndag 10 april 2017

Don't waste a tragedy

Only a believer in God can claim that there are absolutes since if there is no God everything that we believe is just people believing stuff. Evil, for instance, is just what some people think is evil. It's all opinions. Since most swedes are not believers most swedes can not believe in absolutes and therefore can only offer opinions.

Then tragedy strikes, such as a horrible terror act, and all of a sudden people talk about absolutes as if they exist. Of course, most people do this all the time without realizing that they can't (since they don't believe in God), but tragedy makes it so much more obvious.
I once had a friend who was a staunch non-believer. he realized that only a believer can believe in absolutes, to the point that Hitler wasn't evil, only wrong according to my friend's opinion. However, one day his friend's grandfather was brutally assaulted in his apartment and he called the act "evil". I pointed out his error a little later and he denied that he had ever called the assault evil.

Which is weirder? To not call something "evil" evil or to deny doing so?

When swedes jettisoned their ancient religion of Christianity they didn't really think it through. It just sort of happened as if it would have little to no consequence. When life is good what need is there for God? I mean, it's not like atheistic humanism has anything enticing to offer, is it? Here is the truth (that we proclaim without proof)...that there is no truth. Just opinions and whatever you make of life. You don't really matter. Comparatively, you are nothing. There is no God. There is no purpose to your life, except survival (and hollow comforts and pleasures). There is no such thing as good and evil, right and wrong, just what the majority currently decides (which means those in power).

Yeah, and these people call themselves free. Some freedom. The worst sales-pitch in history...unless you subtly tell people that no God=do whatever you want, without the dire consequences.

But my point is, what do people do when almost all vestiges of true Christianity are gone and there is obvious evil happening? How do people deal with absolute and objective truth about evil (and good, for that matter) when all such categories are gone? When an entire country has decided that right and wrong and good and evil are all relative attributes, not objective realities, then how do they process senseless evil?

Ok, so they gather for "love manifestations". Hold speeches about unity and We shall overcome and put flowers on the ground. Change a profile picture on Facebook. Good things, to be sure, but do they work?

No, they don't because they don't deal with the reality of evil, properly understood. They are reactions, not actions; bandaids, not cures. Driving a truck into a crowd and killing children is evil, pure and simple. That man is going to Hell unless he repents and turns to Christ, which is unlikely but preferable. It is not a matter of poverty or lack of education or hopelessness or poor parenting or any other such thing. The crux of the matter is that an adult male (or two) decided, out of their own free will, to murder innocent people. Period.

That is evil.
That is sinful.
That is damnable.

The only thing for people to do when faced with such a reality is to realize that there is good and evil, right and wrong. Their innate tendency to claim that the terror attack actually is evil points that out. That truth in turn points to God, the only source for objective truth and good/evil, right/wrong.

I repeat, godless people can not talk coherently about absolutes, such as good/evil or right/wrong. They don't, can't, talk like that because to them it's all people's opinions. Only a believer in a supernatural Creator God can do that because only a supernatural Creator God who is outside our reality can step in and say this is right, this is wrong, etc..

Therefore, let's not waste a tragedy with only flowers and Facebook pictures. Let's find a way for people to productively turn this horrible moment of clarity (into the reality of objective truth) into a possibility that they may be able to find the source of objective truth, Jesus, and be saved.

After all, this is Holy Week.
This is the week when a horrible act of state-sponsored terror murdered an innocent man to instill fear in a nation and hope to extinguish all hope.
We who believe in a risen Christ will do well to help our neighbors to not only see the reality of evil but also the empty tomb of a good God.

måndag 27 mars 2017

God is an aquired taste

I think God is an aquired taste.

Today I saw the biggest idol yet while living in Nepal. It was a huge snake with many heads (and a long tail). I truly don't get idols, espeically snake ones, but that is not very surprising, is it? (I also don't get why they put most of their idols behind a locked gate. Wouldn't stealing an idol be terrible Karma and send you down the "evolutionary" ladder?). I guess that they at best remind people that there is something beyond smartphones and semi-funny Youtube videos. At worst, they lead people astray to eternal damnation.

It seems as if God and the thirst for God is everywhere here in Nepal. You don't have to convince a Nepali that there is a spiritual side to life, which is nice because that is half-way there, but since Hinduism is a pantheistic religion it sort of makes God, or religion, a little bland. It's like the American (bless their hearts!) obsession with having Everything. Right. Now!
In Sweden we have a pastry sort-of thing that is only available between New Year and Easter.
Everybody loves them but you can't get them in June. Had it been in America you could've had them 24/7/365...home-delivered for $2,99. But then it loses its charm.
The point being that if you have something that is always around you and is always available it becomes less special, less important and less valuable. Nobody treasures trips to Wal-Mart and I wonder how special the garden temples and gods are around here when everything is kind of holy and "special".

Well, I'm not Nepali so I don't know the answer to that question but I do know that I have a book that is called "When God is gone everything is holy". I bought it based on the title alone and I found it very sad. Not "sad" as in "I don't like it" but sad because it tried so hard to make "year-around Semlas" a good thing, knowing deep down that it doesn't work. Everything is not  holy when God is gone because the very definition of holy is something that is ontologically different from "everything" that isn't God.

The Christian God, who by default is not a pantheistic God, is an aquired taste. He is not like the stuff we know and see all around us. He is someone who time and again surprises us humans with just how different he is. This makes sense to me because it is a clear indication that God is God and not an invention of man. Sometimes really smart non-believers argue that God is a human invention, for example Freud who said something to the extent that God is a fabrication of innate human desires and urges...a universal cute and kind grandfather figure in the sky to help us with our problems and love us no matter what. For the record, that is never how the Bible talks about God.

The main reason for God being an aquired taste is thus that he is not like anything we are used to. "Everything" is not God and therefore God is not something that we have aquired a taste for here down on earth in our earthly little lives. Another way of putting it is:
We are sinners. I know, how old-fashioned and depressing, but wait(!), being a sinner expalins why we don't run into the arms of God and hug Him forever. We don't like the "taste" of God because God is simply so different from us and everything we are used to. By default we now run the other way. We seek to fulfill ourselves and become "all we can be" without God. Who's that working out for us, you ask? Read the paper...

That is the most basic understanding of "sin"...that it is the antonym of "holy". God is like a semla that we haven't had for a really long time. We have forgotten what God "tastes" like and so we hold back. Sit at home. Seek to quench our thirst for the divine semla with substitutes. Sin, as per the description, is a desire for anything other than God, the divine semla. It's the ultimate mistake, the final confusion...to dance around a golden calf when God is just up the mountain. Rather a mute statue of finest gold instead of a Holy God on a burning mountain talking to you.

But all is not lost. Like the fragrance of a delicious pastry wafting through the air, we can find traces of God everywhere. We can aquire a taste for God. He hasn't closed the Heavenly bakery. In fact, God must be part American because His word seems to indicate that we can have Him 24/7/365. He has not left himself without a witness, a scent (like Paul calls Christians) if you will, among the perfumes of humanity that are designed to cover up the stench of our sins. It's called grace and it is the Holy Spirit who visits us with this most precious delight.

Easter is upon us. Smell God's grace in his sacrifice of love on the cross for us, sinners, and aquire a taste of His goodness and holiness.

onsdag 22 mars 2017

Being rich (for once) in Nepal...can a rich person be saved?

Well, of course, but hear me out.

Living in Nepal has brought the rich-poor divide into the open. When I lived in Norway there were plenty of times when I didn't know if I had enough money in my account to pay for the groceries I had just put on the conveyor belt at the supermarket. Here, money isn't an issue. At all. Ever. I make 20 times more money than the average Nepali.

So I have been thinking about something that I realized back in Norway. Jesus said one time that it is "impossible" for the rich to get saved. Something about a camel and sewing equipment. Only with great difficulty can they be saved, presumably because their wealth made their focus remain on money and self-sufficiency.

So is that why rich western (and particularly northern Europeans) don't care about salvation and why the churches (well, those that still try) struggle to preach and reach people with a message of salvation? I mean, by Jesus standards everybody (more or less) is rich nowadays, right? So perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that our fellow Swedes and Norwegians and Danes don't get seek salvation. It's a divinely established truth that it is really hard for a rich person to be saved and since everybody is rich...voilá, we have empty pews. (John Wesley wondered this as well, that when poor people got saved their lives got better through education and vocation which inevitbly led to a lessening of religious fervor). We try something else instead, like gospelchoirs or language classes for immigrants (all good things but not salvific things).

I have never been poor so I should, perhaps, have some insights into this dilemma since I am in fact "saved"...but I don't know. I actually don't think it is about the money. I think it is about self-sufficiency. A rich person believes that he or she can handle life no matter what because that is how I feel when I am here in Nepal. I can handle any problem imaginable with a quick visit to the ATM.  My friends here in Nepal don't have that luxury. The smallest problem is a rally big thing to them, usually a problem with no solution but to "suck it up" and move on.
For them, a salvation free of charge into a life of holiness and love sounds like a pretty good deal...even if it comes with that outdated condition with it that we "discipleship". A following. A giving up of authority and self-rule. To a poor person it makes sense and even feels good to give up self-reliance and self-sufficiency for some grace and salvation and a promise to be taken care of. It can't get much worse, can it?
For a rich person, it sounds "fishy", as if we wonder if it's worth it and if God can do a better job than we can about giving us a good life. I mean, why risk giving up control when control has served us well so far? Self-sufficiency.

The irony is, of course, that it is people who are more like me, who are rich and don't really feel crappy and low and worthless and poor, that are said to be in danger of missing out on the whole thing...even though we rarely struggle with God. We feel like it is the most natural thing in the world that God should love us and forgive us. After all, why not? We/they are not bad people and, without bragging, pretty decent guys and gals.

But we are wrong. It is the poor, and the poor in spirit, that are blessed and who will get the Kingdom of God.
But it doesn't seem like it, does it? Doesn't it seem as if it is the people who have it all together who are more likely to get saved? Doesn't it seem as if the rich are "blessed by God", as we so often tell them?

I wonder.

But if it is true that "poor" is the better way to be if we want to meet God and enter his kingdom, what does that mean in practice? What does it mean for me here in Nepal? When I go back to Norway? I don't know, but I have a feeling that it has to do with an attitude more than my bank account. My bank account can be a hindrance to what I attitude I choose, but I think the big struggle is not how much money I make, or don't make. I think the key is whether we think that we can make the most of this world (and the next) on our own or not. Self-sufficiency.

Perhaps this is something you have already figured out.
Perhaps you always knew that self-sufficiency is the main culprit in why we have empty pews in churches.
Perhaps you alrady figured out that self-sufficiency is why people flock to churches when disasters happen...for once, people realize that they are not self-sufficient...until a few days later when it's all forgotten.

But I think it is a good idea to instill in my head that I am not self-sufficient and that I live in a reality where such ideas are not only delusional but also dangerous. If nothing else, I have little stone idols everywhere to remind me that although those idols themselves are worthless they represent a reality that I for sure can claim to be self-sufficient in. There are more things in the world that what we can handle, all the time, and it is by God's grace that your and my "everyday" go as well as they do.

Blessed are those who know that their spirits are poor and those whose bank accounts don't block their view of our utter dependence upon Jesus Christ, our Sustainer.

fredag 10 mars 2017

Those clear moments

I remember a class in seminary where the teacher drew a line on the whiteboard, marked off the extreme edges and then asked students to put an X on the line between the two extremes and back up their answer. For instance, the question would be predestination and the left extreme would state that everything is predestined to happen the way it does and the right extreme would state that everything is random chance. As a student, you would then put your X and explain why. I loved that class!

One of those questions was "When can a person be saved?" and it really made us think. Is it all the time or only at certain times? Is God always willing and ready to save? Is man always able to be saved, even Himmler in the camps on a Tuesday? Can we save ourselves by calling on God when we want to or do we need God's grace to even know that we need salvation?
It is not an easy question but I remember that most of us agreed that day that God is always ready to save but that we are not AND that therefore there exists "windows of salvation" in people's lives when the grace from God is able to find us, as wind through an open window, as it were. Most of the time we have the window shut.

I call those moments "clear" moments when we open our spiritual windows, by God's grace. I consider it such that it is me with my volition who chooses to open the window but it is God who enables my volition to see why I should.
In my experience I find that most people have relatively few "clear" moments. There is a lot of intellectual and spiritual haze and most of the time also a lot of distractions. When you consider that the only thing separating you from the wind of God's Spirit is, at all times, just a few "millimeters" of "window pane". Those distractions and the spiritual haze that is so prevelant in these days are what I call that window pane, shielding us from the power of God for good and for bad. Mostly for bad.

Today I stood watching the rain fall here in Pokhara outside my window. It was the first time it had rained here since we came here in January so it was just a little mesmerizing, or unusual, to see water fall vertically...and as I stood there watching out of my window I had a "clear" moment. Not a moment to be saved but a moment when I could feel the Spirit of God blowing his gentle breeze over my Spirit. Nothing mystical, just a "clearing" if you would.
Perhaps it had something to do with that the power had gone out, the internet router was dead, there was a nationwide strike so no taxis or shops were open and I had just finished reading my book. In other words, no distractions were available. Just me and some rain outside my window.

The clarity brought a message with it. The message was: the joy of the Lord is better. I know, it sounds super spiritual and like God spoke audibly or wrote something with fire on the wall. That's not the case. It was just clarity...for once.

It's like that worship song that sings that the love of God is the air that they breathe and you think, "- Really? The very air that you breathe?"...and you dismiss it as poetry. Well, what if it isn't? What if some people actually live like that? What then? Would you like to have that kind of life? Faith? Love?

There, at that window, I caught a glimpse of it. Later in the everning I remembered that such spiritual clarity usually involves something intimidating. Well, it is intimidating to the natural self, or the "old man" as Scripture calls it. It is a relinguishing. It is a change of heart. It is a different way to live.
All grand statements, to be sure, but they all begin in the insignificant, the smal and the irrelevant aspects of life. The question is, is holiness (becoming like Christ) and living as if Christ is the very air that I breathe worth it? It would certainly change a lot, wouldn't it?

So, is it worth it? There, at the window this morning, the word was better. Now, at the window in the evening, the question is...yes or no?

måndag 6 mars 2017

Further impressions from Nepal

Life in Nepal is lived in spurts.

There are normal days of school and chores and there are days of visiting the Mother Theresa nuns and singing to old people, riding scooters along the Fewa Lake or visiting the Ghurka museum trying to navigate Nepali traffic in the same tiny scooters.
Some days we go on photo safaris, trying to learn how to see the world from a different angle. Other days we don't leave the apartment at all.
Some days we book white water rafting trips or ziplining events, other days we eat noodles and eggs.

However, it is the stuff that happens under the surface, unseen, that we are interested in the most. That is why we are here...to connect with that current of the Holy Spirit that blows where she wants and includes anyone interested in going.
I have to admit, it is a long way back to the point on the path of holiness that I sort of left a while back...or perhaps not left but at least decided to to travel (at least, it seems long). Found myself a nice little reststop and sat down, finding and enjoying distractions of all kinds of different sizes and colors and shapes.
Of course, that is not true, at least not in the sense of enjoying them. In reality, the path of holiness with God is the ultimate "enjoyment". It is the distractions that are un-joyful. No one feels joy on Facebook or Twitter. Smart or clever, perhaps, but not joyful.

The "under the surface" stuff also happens in spurts, unfortunately. Where do you start if you want to find your way back to the path of holiness? Or if you want to find it in the first place? Are you even on it?

For me, the path is found to begin with prayer and Scripture and talking with my wife about spiritual things. On prayer...
I 've noticed this thing about prayer. There are two different kinds, useless and effective. Have you noticed the difference? Can you tell when you pray a useless prayer or an effective prayer? I kind of can.

Tonight my youngest son told me that the reason he wants someone to stay with him when he goes to bed is that he is a little scared of "the bad angels" that we have told him/warned him about. The spiritually ignorant and Biblically illiterate dismiss demons as fiction but the true Christian know better...and of course, they are scary to a young boy (or anyone else, for that matter!).

So I told him that Jesus is stronger and that angels prevent the demons from hurting us. I prayed to Jesus for protection and thanked him for winning over the devil and for "being stronger". As I prayed, I realized that I meant it, like really. Embarrassing, I know, but sometimes that is how it is.
A wise monk was once asked "How long do you pray for?". He answered "- For 5 minutes, but it takes me 15 minutes to get there." There is wisdom there.

So I will pray prayers I mean and decide to mean them before I pray them. We'll see how that goes.

There is much to tell from our time here in Nepal, such as the "Festival of colors" this Sunday, but that is for the next post.

Until then.

fredag 24 februari 2017

Day 49 - Exploding sugar canes

Tonight is Matashivamatri, a Hindu festival honoring the god Shiva. I'm not sure what it involves except that Shauds, Hindu holy, men smoke weed in the temples and that the women cook a lot of food AND that they light bonfires and throw sugar canes in the fires. This makes them "explode", which is the backdrop for tonight's activities of drinking tea and watching a movie...or something. That, and intoxicated men roaming the streets :)

Today is almost exactly 1/3 of our time in Nepal, 49 days. It seems like a very long time and it seems like we've done and seen A LOT. February is otherwise kind of a slow month here. It's very hazy and cloudy so the trekking and the mountain stuff and sights are not possible. Most days we don't see the mountains at all. Think smog in Beijing, except it's not pollution as much as it is dust. We haven't had rain in months and there is a lot of dust and sand flying around. Not bad enough to notice, just bad enough to not being able to see the mountains or go trekking (or something similar).
Trekking, by the way, is surprisingly expensive at $200 for a five hour trek just around the hills where we live. What?

We are making progress on our goals here in Nepal. As some of you know this trip wasn't all about doing work with our Family Home. It was also, and perhaps mostly, a time for Laurie and I to take some time to get a new (and fresher) perspective on things/life/God. Being an evangelical pastor's family in the United Methodist Church in Scandinavia is no easy feat. It is hard. It is lonely. It is easy to forget where we are coming from and where we are going. It is easy to lose sight of Christ. It is easy to become discouraged and frustrated and cynical. To some extent I think we had done all that.
So, our goal is to get back to our roots and find our purpose and catch up with our Savior once more. Ironically, we are doing it in one of the most pagan countries on earth.

I have started reading again...a sure sign that I am doing better spiritually. My first book, "Union with Christ" is being read slowly. My second, "Simply Jesus" got finished yesterday. That on was written by NT. Wright, a theologian/superstar...and I disagree with him. I am exegeting Scripture for fun (weird, I know) and to get to know its Author more. 2 Corintians is an interesting book to study.

Our days here are pretty uneventful for now. We homeschool Sam and David. We bike around town. We go to church (this past Sunday we tried a "homechurch" that was connected with something called "Calvary Chapel" out of the US and had a service in English. It was good to sing songs we knew and hear the Word.
We try to find fun little adventures for the boys and to teach them about why we are here, why people here do things differently and to ponder why people here seem so happy (without the modern trappings of XBox, HD movies and Gb/s internet).

That is all for today. Continue to pray for us and thanks for reading!

onsdag 15 februari 2017

A reflection on Jesus from Nepal

As I write this I am reminded of many things.

I am surrounded by at least 3 Hindu "garden" temples and every morning they wake me up with their "wake up my Hindu god" ritual. The chants from some festival down by the lake reaches my ears, omomomomomomomomom and I see little snake statues on my walks through town to remind me that "yep, this ain't Kansas".

I get comments on my Facebook wall from a prominent and loud uber-progessive Methodist back home in Norway who demands that the leadership of the church takes action against Franklin Graham (because he among other things supported Trump) and whoever speaks up for the Church's official policy and agenda...and he is not alone but nor is he met with silence.
The United Methodist church is rife with bitter and polarized fighting and it is getting worse by the day. The fight for its own survival is a disaster in typical slow-motion-Methodist fashion...and the masses are not reached with the "repent and believe" Gospel we are supposed to share. Instead, people wait for special commissions and special conferences. Sigh...

I have good Christians friends who cheer the election and presidency of Trump; who fill my Facebook wall with comments and articles about how finally things are going to be alright.

Here I am, in Pokhara Nepal, and yet the troubles of the world reach me (well, when the Internet is working).

Why am I here?

To hear the voice of God. To get re-aquainted with Jesus on a deeper lever. To find my way. To deal with the emotional and theological and ecclesiological (church-y) aspects of being a part of the United Methodist church, first in Sweden (but that branch collapsed) and now in Norway, facing an almost unprecedented crisis stemming from a worldwide struggle of orthodoxy vs. progressivism. The outcome is most uncertain.

Don't worry, most pastors you know desire to do this and most of them struggle with getting deep and personal with Christ in the middle of sermon writing and meetings and whatever else they do on a weekly basis. Most of them desire to surrender more of their lives to Christ and drop most everything else. Some even do it.
But I am gonna try to do it here...in the middle of the most pagan country on earth while bombarded by the most secular and/or divisive social media on earth (western media) while belonging to, and serving, a denomination that is fighting a civil war. What are the odds?

Well, I have found that the physical distance from my own employment has given me both the time and capacity to see and think clearer than in a long time and I sense the fog lifting slowly...the haze of uncertainty, the gridlock of frustration and the weight of unknown-but-likely failure.
Here, where I have to look very carefully to see, or even hear Christ, do I find that I am again willing and interested in doing what it takes to do just that.
Here, where Christ is hidden, do I find that I am looking more intently.
Here, where Christ seems silent, I can actually sense that I could hear him better.
The verse comes to me, draw near to me and I will draw near to you.

Beyond the clichés and the platitudes, who is Jesus to me? To you? How well do I know him? How well do you? How close have we "drawn" ourselves to Him? Do we know how? Do I need anything else besides him? Am I and am I doing what he wants? Am I following or leading him along?

It is a relief to not have to think as a pastor but as a person, for once. I suspect only pastors will understand this but it is true. An example, in the paragraph above I included "To you?" and "How well do you?"...that is pastor talk. Always a sermon application popping up. Always other people inside my own musings and "thinkings". Always at the ready.
But I don't think that is wise and that I just did it goes to show that I need this time to find my own Jesus more clearly and deeply than I have in a while.

Among the Hindu temples, the chanting and the spiritual darkness that few of you even believe exists at all, I will do this and I will succeed. God always seeks me and Scripture is clear, there is a way that is His and he wants me to walk it with him and behind him.
My adversary the devil is here as well, but not as the shock-and-awe type that we thought he was (if you think he is real at all, of course, though you should). He dims the lights. He cautions us that God is best kept at a distance, if at all. He feeds us indiffernce and we eat our doom. He reasons. He mellows us. He speaks so quietly that we can't hear him...but for those quiet whispers of "-be content with a little religion or a little faith in God's existence somewhere in Heaven".
He is one of the two reasons I/we don't search and find Christ with all of our being, all the time. The other reason is our own sin-infested souls, searching for pleasures and distractions or whatever to keep me from Scripture, Prayer and Surrender.

A long time ago Jesus found me and brought me home. Then he took me for a walk and I have followed Him for a long time. I think I slowed my pace and "smelled the roses" and lost him around a bend in the road somewhere. I am still on the road but distracted and just slow.
I like the thought of him rushing back to find me but I hesitate. I wonder if it isn't more likely that he is calling for me to catch up. There is crucial work to be done and I don't think he is as interested in runing after stragglers as he is finding lost souls to put back on his road. His voice, in this analogy the Holy Spirit, will call me to follow in multiple and strange ways...will I take this opportunity to listen?

Hear ye who have ears.