onsdag 2 augusti 2017

Tillbaka till verkligheten

Klockan är 17:07 en onsdag eftermiddag och det är första veckan tillbaka efter semestern. Dock sitter jag fortfarande kvar i Sverige och jobbar eftersom vi inte har ett boende i Norge förrän om två veckor.

Det känns lite konstigt att "gå till jobbet" efter nästan ett halvår som tjänstledig och semesterfirande. Känner mig verkligen redo och utvilad till att göra en insats, att jobba på. Samtidigt finns där också en känsla som dyker upp hos varje frikyrkopastor varje augusti. Nu, alltså denna hösten, ska vi frälsa världen/staden/bygden där vi jobbar. Vilka program skall vi ha för att locka människor? Hur kan vi bli fler medlemmar? Vad ska, eller bör, predikas?

Denna hösten, min 10:e som pastor, är jag inte lika upptagen av att försöka "frälsa världen" som jag brukar. Kanske beror det på att jag inte är så bra på att frälsa världen. Kanske beror det på att det inte är en sund inställning (att försöka frälsa världen) eller så särskilt Biblisk. Är det upp till oss att frälsa världen?

Jag har tänkt att använda den här bloggen lite mer regelbundet i höst. Dels för att reflektera över aktuella ämnen men också för att diskutera olika ämnen utifrån Bibeln och kyrkans historiska teologi. Jag tror det kommer att bli bra.

Tills dess,

söndag 28 maj 2017

Spiritual insight #3

Living in Nepal has been a time of reflection and rest amid attempts of putting thoughts into writing (a book that is sloowly coming together) and as such I have garned some insights into my own spiritual life as well as what I consider spiritual insights in general. By no means are they novel or ground-breaking but they are thoughts at least I think hold some value.

The first one was that Jesus is, and has to be, elusive.
The second one was the absolute need for holding on to Christianity's claim to objective truth and reality and being able to know it.

The third insight is that when it comes to faith according to Christianity there is no such thing as cause-effect in the general way we normally understand cause and effect to work.

Make no mistake, most of what we do in our daily lives and most of what we consider to be real or true is based on the relationship of cause and effect. We consider it, whatever it is, to be real or true if it can be proven through a cause-effect test, even if we don't understand the relationship (perhaps especially when we don't understand the relationship).
For instance, most of you don't know anything useful about microwaves but you do know that they can make cold stuff warm through the use of a microwave oven. Are microwaves real? Sure, we can see the effect of them.
Is love real? Sure, that feeling inside could be indigestion but it seems to be caused by the girl/guy you walk by every day in the office. Love is real because we understand and feel its effects. Nothing makes us do more crazy stuff than love.

Here in Nepal it's all about cause and effect, but rather effect and cause. As far as I can tell the entire Hindu religion is built on this idea of being able to create (desirable) effects by doing certain causes, or rituals. It's called Puja.
Since it is a manmade religion it can't accurately predict what the different causes will have for effect. That is why there are so many rituals and rites. When they build a school they do certain rituals, causes, for the desired effect of a safe and good future for the school. However, if/when trouble arises the reasoning goes that another cause, or ritual, is needed for a good effect. This goes on ad nauseum.

However, when it comes to God and the Christian faith it is different.

There is nothing we can do (a cause) that will create a certain effect, save for the act/cause of repenting and believing in Jesus Christ which will cause the effect of salvation. We can't make God do anything.
We can't be good enough.
Smart enough.
Holy enough.
Hurt enough.
Broken enough.
Strong enough.
Pray enough.
Read our Bibles enough.
Go to church enough.
Love enough.

To make God do what we want.

No, there is no ritual or rite we can perform to get the effect we want. Period.

Think about it. You are completely powerless to make God do what you want or get what you want no matter how good or great or loving or kind or wonderful of an effect you are seeking. That's a little discomforting.

Perhaps you already knew all this. Perhaps you already live your faith in Christ as if being completely dependant upon "His will be done". All the time.
But I don't think so. I think you, like so many others, try to be a good Christian by seeking good outcomes/effects by doing certain things/causes. For example, how often haven't we sought a good outcome/effect by asking as many as we can to pray for something...as if God would listen and answer and give us what we want if we have enough people praying. No.

However, at this point perhaps a Bible verse comes to your mind. "..and he will give you the desires of your heart". Doesn't that seem to indicate that there is something we can do do get what we want, like a good hindu?

No, there isn't. Here's the deal.
Those verses always tell us that we first have to:
"Delight in Him"
"Commit our way to the lord, trust Him and He will act"
"Be still before the lord and wait for him"

A Christian can't make God do anything based on a ritual or deed or rite. All he can do is to "trust" or "delight"in God or "be still and wait for the Lord". This is because our God is personal and not some power or essence. Only persons can delight or trust or believe.
This is also the meaning of Jesus's words "Whatever you ask in my name I will give you" and why so many people include those words "In your[Jesus] name, Amen" in their prayers. However, to just include those words do nothing and amasses to something very similar to a hindu's mantra.

The words by Jesus "- In my name" mean that we should pray according to him and who he is...and this can't be done if we don't first delight in him, commit to/believe in him and wait for him.
To get what I want doesn't exist for a Christian. To get what God wants does. Sometimes they are the same thing, sometimes not, but no matter what it is always because of who he is and what he wants, not because of some fancy ritual or rite or deed I cooked up.

And that is spiritual insight #3.

onsdag 24 maj 2017

Spiritual lessons from Nepal #2

Being surrounded by pantheistic pagans is surprisingly like being surrounded by secular swedes. Both groups are subjectivists, relativists and pragmatists. In normal speak, they believe in whatever feels right to them as long as it works and doesn't hurt people. A Nepali would talk about Karma and gods and Moksha and Samsara and a legion of legends from time immemorial. A Swede would talk about Science and Human rights and the Goodness of Humankind and Equality.
But in the end the result is the same. There is no objective truth or right/wrong. There is "whatever works" instead of "whatever is true/good/right". I find it very strange indeed that this isn't seen as a mild case of insanity considering that "whatever works" means different things for different people.

For a hindu, there can be no objective anything since god/Brahma is everything and thus, everything is true or good or right...or not. It's all subjectively up to you. For a swede, there is nothing outside humankind to offer an objective understanding of truth/goodness/rightness.Thus, it is what is currently agreed upon or fashionable or legal. It's all subjective/up to you.

Thus, my spiritual lesson #2 is the absolute necessity of holding on to an objective reality that is outside of humankind and also distinct from everything else, i.e. a supernatural God. In Christianity God is not everything although God is everywhere. He (gender neutral usage here for my Swedish friends :)) is the only logical and possible source for an objective "value system" or more simply put, God is the only possible source for something being actually and truly and universially and eternally true, good or right.

This would all be fancy philosophical fun, but nothing more, if our world didn't display some sort of familiarity with an objective reality. If people in Nepal, or Sweden, had no concept of an objective reality of right/wrong, good/bad or true/false then Christianity has no message to proclaim.
However, Swedes and Nepalese do in fact have a very acute and innate sense of a reality of objective values that they keep bumping up against every day. They rely on it every day even as their philosophical foundations have no support for it.

An example:
People in Sweden and Nepal argue and debate and fight about these things all the time. They call things and people and events "evil" or "wrong" or false" without realizing that, according to their own beliefs, they are only expressing their own opinions. When faced with this "discrepancy" they either just shake their heads as if caught in a dilemma they don't care to figure out OR they try to explain it away. Usually it has to do with the severity of the issue or how great the majority is that supports their belief.

But this is a fatal flaw.

Forgive me for this rather "heady" talk about how I have learned, or re-learned, the importance of objective truth. It isn't even something that most people, in my experience, care about...as long as whatever people are doing "works", whatever that means.

But, the fatal flaw of a subjective system always comes crashing down when people are the most vulnerable and that makes it all the more devious. When something bad happens people always remember that evil is real; that wrong isn't that hard to recognize; that truth is easily found.
But by then it is usually too late. This is why people swamp churches with flowers after tragedies but never darken said churches' doorsteps. It is too difficult to make the connection between objective truth=God in the midst of tragedy and trauma...so the moment is lost and people go back to trying to make sense of life without God, the sad de facto reailty for most people today (at least in Scandinavia). Those moments when their entire being aligned with God's reality of objectivity are gone and a sense of confusion or lostness follows.

So, I have been reminded that even though people don't care about objective truth it is something valuable and precious that we/I need to hold on to. The alternative is not good nor healthy. Without it our world becomes either a thick applesauce of pantheistic mush-values or an arid and arrogant theater-act by powerhungry narcissists. With it our world can find something to hold on to.

The hidden premise here is that I assume that people can actually find out what this objective reality is. The temptation can be that we elevate whatever we believe to objective truth...which is dumb. This is why the message of Christianity in proclaiming Jesus is so crucial. We/I believe and preach a God that is both objectively true and good and right AND that we can know this objectively reality in and through Jesus who came to show us and tell us about it.

At the end of the day, reality for you and me is not without borders (Nepal) or confined to humankind (Sweden). It is Jesus Christ as revealed by His Spirit in the Bible and through His church eternal...and it is good and true and right and worth remembering and holding on to...especially when surrounded by pagans or atheists.

lördag 20 maj 2017

Spiritual lessons from Nepal - #1

Lots of people come to Nepal for spiritual insight and as my time here is winding down I want to take some time to reflect on what spiritual insights I have learned/gleaned while living here in Pokhara.

First of all, I doubt that most people who come here seek spiritual depth within the riches of classic Christianity. There is ample proof that the so-called Eastern religions are much more alluring to my fellow pilgrims. It seems reasonable to me that there is some wisdom in those religions (after all, people here are not stupid) but I have to confess that they seem to offer a very "random success" faith, by which I mean that it is a religion that is a posterioi (after the fact). It seems to be based on random chance and trying many different things to appease very needy and fickly gods who seem very distant and moody. Why would their supreme god, Shiva, need to meditate, for example?
I did have a conversation today with a hindu guy, trying to learn about this oh-so-prevelant religion in Nepal. All I basically learned was that a) if it makes you happy, it is good karma so do it, and b) what is real is whatever I believe. Interesting discussion for sure, but it sounded like the modern western values of individualism, relativism and subjectivism with a bunch of weird myths thrown in for traditional value.

However, my time here has included many instances and lots of time seeking the Triune God of Christianity. No surprise there. The first "thing" that comes to mind when I reflect on my search for a deeper communion with God is that Jesus is elusive.

Let's cut to the chase, shall we? Christianity offers a tremendous deal to the world. The deal is that the almighty creator God of the universe not only cares about us and loves us but that we can also have a personal relationship with Him through His Spirit and the life/death/resurrection of his only begotten son Jesus...through faith, by grace.

In essence, Christianity argues that the most amazing thing imaginable (and that every religion seeks) is readily available to anyone. For free. Without doing anything but simply believing/trusting Jesus. That should sound suspicious to you because it is the only exception ever to the popular truism that "there is no such thing as a free lunch." I think Christians could do well pausing for a minute and ponder the utter "weirdness" of the offer Christianity proclaims because if it doesn't sound crazy to us we're doing something wrong.

Although there isn't a catch there is something that Christianity (us pastors) often don't talk about and that is that all this, while true, is hard to grasp, or find, or live. Why? Because this Jesus guy who is at the center of it all is elusive. It seems that way to me, at least.
As I have spent time in the Bible or doing devotions or praying or reflected on God or simply lived here I have found that Jesus is rather hard to find, or connect with or "go deeper" with. True, it could be that my spiritual state is not right or where it should be and that is why I find him elusive. Or it could be that I have some sin in my life that blocks my spiritual vision/communion (there is no fellowship between light and darkness) and he hides from me not so much because of Him but because of what I have put in the way. Or it could be that I haven't tried hard enough and that since all good relationships involve effort and time I should just try harder...and by that I mean I should have prayed more, or read my Bible more or gone to church more, etc..

To be honest, I think there is probably some truth in all of the above. I am not as spiritually mature and holy and Christ-like as I should be by now. I do have some sins in my life that needlessly are allowed to dwell within my heart and hinder Jesus' and my communion. I surely could have tried harder at reading my Bible or praying or whatever.

This is where it is very common to see the  "Grace flag" hoisted and saluted.Grace covers my spiritual immaturity. Grace covers my sins. Grace covers my shortcomings. But that is not Biblical grace.
Grace is not spiritual affirmative action, giving me extra spiritual points because I am immature, sinful or lazy. Grace, God's unilateral action towards me because of his love and holiness, is more like Him raising me up and enabling me to stand and take action. Making someone lame walk; not patting a lame on the back. I believe that Grace doesn't leave me a person full of immaturity, sin and/or laziness but enables me to become someone who is spiritually mature, free from sin and diligent. A real and full human being.

But this is only part of the question of Jesus's elusiveness. Because while I believe it is true that I am partly to blame I also believe that his elusiveness is intended on his part.
It stands to reason that an almighty, all-knowing and good God who wants to be with us would make it obvious and easy for us to find him. It makes sense because he would have to power to do it, would know how to do it and would love to do it. So what do I mean when I say that his elusiveness, or hiddenness, is part of who he is?

I have realized that Jesus is elusive because he wants to be found by people who want to truly find him. Sounds normal, right?
But think about it. If what Jesus wants is a relationship with us AND he is God almighty AND if he didn't hide himself...would anybody have a true choice in the matter or would it just be an overwhelming and overpowering "have to" instead of a free choice on our part? A poor analogy would be if a love sick but immature and silly 16-year old boy, pining for a relationship, was approched by a swimsuit clad Heidi Klum on a beach, gesturing for him to come over and join her on her blanket. Would he truly have a free choice? No.

To find Jesus we have to be willing to search for him and desire to find him for who he is. Not what he can do for us. Not for a ticket to Heaven. Not because it is what our parents want or because of anything else but Jesus himself. Any other way and we would not end up with a relationship but more like those people in the Bible who kept following Jesus so they could see more miracles but completely missed who he was (God) and walked away. This happened a lot in Scripture. Lots of people found Jesus geographically, but very few found him "relationally" or personally. Why? Because they didn't really have an interest in finding the man/God Jesus but only the exterior "trimmings".
So, knowing that he is over-powering and overwhelming, He hides from us, out of love, so that when grace enables us to escape our corrupt inclinations and limitations and temptations, we will be able to truly search for the real and living Jesus...and then we will find him.
In my experience here, this is hard, mainly because there are so many things that influence us, derail us, tempt us and mold us into beings that will do lots of things but that.

So the lesson is this. If I am honest with myself and I truly want to develop a true and real and deep relationship with Jesus I have to a) train myself to think and feel that this pursuit is better/worth more than all those things that get in my way, and b) that I have to depend on his grace to enable me to get up, focus on things above and get on with my pursuit.

An elusive Jesus is hiding in plain sight for those who truly want to find him.

Did you see the leopard?

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.