mandag 27. oktober 2008

Moving to new pastures

This is the last time we move!  At least for a many, many years!
This is what we said to each other, my wife and I, two years ago, as we moved into the house we had bought.  Yeah, sure!

As I write this, I sit in a completely empty house, except for a telephone and a computer. Last Friday a moving company took all our belongings to our new home, about ten kilometers from here.  The reason we make the move this time, is that I have got a new position in the local church here in Os, just south of Bergen (Norway), and the house comes with the job.  

Most pastors in the Church of Norway are obliged to live in a parsonage.  About half of them think of it as a blessing, and the rest think it is a curse.  As for me, I was happy to sell our house. Not because I didn't like it here.  It's a lovely, quiet place in the countryside, near the sea and far away from the noise of the city.  But it was also a financial burden.  With an increasing interest rate and a a worldwide financial crisis, we realised that we had to sell one of our two houses anyway, and were quite happy to keep the other one, which is older and much cheaper.

In january I leave Bergen International Church to begin as a curate in Os. There are sixteen thousand parishioners in this rural municipality, with an annual growth of about 500 people.  We are three regular pastors here.  We have two main churches plus a few places where we hold services from time to time.  Apart from the ordinary things, like Sunday services, funerals and weddings, my main responsibility will be youth ministry.  Thankfully, I'm not alone in this ministry, as there are around two hundred confirmants to deal with each year. 

Even though I look forward to start my new job, I know that I'm going to miss BIC.  It's been seven great years! I've made many friends there, I've seen young people grow more confident in their faith, and I've seen people find Jesus and being saved, which is the greatest thing a pastor can experience.  My prayer to God is that the years ahead will be just as meaningful.

lørdag 16. august 2008

A new baby in the family?


“You must be born again”.
This is what Jesus told Nicodemus, the Jewish leader who had come to him at night to talk with him. We find the story in the gospel of John, chapter 3. We sometimes use the term “born again” in the sense of being a bit fanatic, like a “born-again football fan” or a Christian who is a bit over-enthusiastic about his faith. But what does Jesus really mean when he says that “no-one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” and that “no-one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit”?
Just as a baby can’t decide to make his own entrance into the world, but has to be born by his mother, in the same way you can’t understand anything about God unless God reveals it to you. You can’t decide to become a spiritual person. God has to do something with you. He has to make you into a new creation. This is what we call the new birth.

God is the father of everything he has created. God created us to be one human family. But because of the fall and rebellion of the first human beings, we no longer have that father-child relationship he intended for us. We must be born again into the new family of God that Jesus Christ started. The world-wide church, in all her varieties and denominations, is the family of God. We are born into this family when we are “born of water and the Spirit”. The Holy Spirit gives birth to our faith in Jesus Christ, and baptism confirms and seals this new birth by the symbolic cleansing with water.

Taking care of the baby
Can you imagine a hospital where the children are born, and then they are carried out through the hospital doors and put down on the street, and the nurses say, ‘bye bye, take good care of yourself!’? Of course you can’t.

Well, just as we need to take care of a newborn baby, we need to take care of each other as well, especially when there is a new spiritual birth in the family. We must make sure that the new child of God is breathing properly, that he or she gets the right nourishment, and is learning to walk.

For the next few weeks we are going to look at these practical things together here in Bergen International Church. So whether you feel like a newborn baby or you care for some new believers, I believe it is going to be fruitful for us to see what the Bible teaches us about these things. For the breathing of the child can be compared to prayer, the nourishment is the word of God, and learning to walk has to do with learning what God wants for our life.

tirsdag 5. august 2008

Windsurfing

This is not me. I just wish it were!
Well, I have been windsurfing this summer, but I have almost been more under water than on top of the waves.
Still, I love those moments when the force of the wind gets me going, when I get the feel of it and when I can lean back and just let myself be blown across the bay.

Life can be a bit like windsurfing. It takes a lot of effort to learn how to balance on top of that shaky board, and you fall into the water quite a lot before you get the hang of it. But once you learn how to master the sail, it is not your own power that moves you forward. It is the strong wind of God.


Picture: FreeFoto.com

onsdag 16. juli 2008

God's Dream for Europe

I'm enjoying a long summer holiday this year. Have already spent two weeks, then worked for a week during the NMS (Norwegian Missionary Society) General Assembly in Bergen, and have now resumed my leisurely life for another few weeks. It is good to be able to take one day at a time without having to prepare a sermon all the time, although I do enjoy my work!

Last week in Bergen was good. We were around two thousand people - from all across Norway and with many International guests - gathered for the General Assembly, under the headline "God's Dream". I was responsible for a small gathering for those involved in mission in Europe. Two of the BIC members came and presented our church and the Chinese fellowship. Together with missionaries in Paris, London, Estonia and other places we are doing our part in making God's dream for Europe come true.

fredag 23. mai 2008

Rest in peace, dad!


My father died yesterday. What a great way to go! It was a very peaceful, though emotional experience for us who were gathered around his hospital bed. He was always so strong, and now we watched him as he grew weaker for every hour. We all just hoped he would stay alive until my sister returned from a journey abroad. He seamed to hear us, as we told him to hang in just a few more hours, and two hours after she arrived, his spirit gradually left him.


Father was ready to go. He has always had a secure faith in Jesus Christ, knowing that his grace is enough to carry him to God. His faith and his joyful attitude influenced all of us, even the nurses in the hospital ward. Two days before he died he received Holy Communion for the last time, administered by the hospital chaplain. Yesterday we recited Bible texts to him as he lay with his eyes closed, but we knew he could hear us. And five minutes before he drew his last breaths we sang a hymn to him.


Mother is alone now, but she has a large family, and in Jesus she has a friend who never fails.

søndag 11. mai 2008

Where is the outpouring?

Where is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit? In my ordination as a pastor more than sixteen years ago, we asked for the Spirit to fill me and equip me for the pastoral ministry. I often feel the signs of the presence of the Spirit are few and rare, and I long for a fresh outpouring of living water into the church where I serve.

The last month many Christians have looked to the "Florida outpouring" and they ask if this is the beginning of a new, great revival. The preacher in the centre of the revival, Todd Bentley from Canada, with his tattoos and his piercings, is not the typical image of an American TV evangelist. (See video clip) He has introduced some rather interesting new vocabulary, like "bam!" and "boom!", which is probably not going to be taken into the Lutheran liturgy.

The question is - for those of us who manage to look beyond the cultural expressions that we are not comfortable with - if it is God who is doing this, or if it is only a show. When I look at the TV broadcasts and listen to what he tells us about his past and how he has been led into the ministry, I must say that he seems honest. He seems to be driven by a strong urge to be in the presence of God and to experience his glory, and to pass this on to the people he preaches to. And when you see and hear the testimonies of the people who are being healed from all kinds of diseases and infirmities, you can't help but feel the joy.

The Holy Spirit comes in many different ways. Not only in the "bam!" and the "boom!" He comes with the still voice that creates faith where there used to be unbelief, and he comes to the small gatherings, not only the big celebrations. He certainly does. But... Our greatest danger is if we become complacent and say that we don't need any new outpouring. And to be honest, most Lutheran worship services could need some blasts to wake us up from our deep slumber.

I have had a good Pentecost this year. In the Chinese worship service on Pentecost Eve we invited the Holy Spirit to come. Nothing dramatic happened, but the whole congregation came forward to receive prayers, some tears were falling, and we felt His presence among us. It has been wonderful to see how the Lord has built up this small congregation year by year and how he is equipping the new believers with his gifts.

søndag 13. april 2008

A step in the right direction for the church


The political parties in the Norwegian parliament, the "Storting", have agreed to give the church more independence. This is a step in the right direction, but there is still a long way to go. According to the agreement, the church will still be a state church, but the state will no longer appoint bishops and deans.


Not yet, by the way. We have to wait until 2012. But then of course this isn't a long time, when you remember that we have had some sort of a state church in Norway since AD 1024, when the church was officially established at Moster, a couple of hours' drive south of Bergen.


There's a condition to the agreement too: The church must be "more democratic". What does this mean? It means that more of the church members must be involved in the election processes. Today only 3-4 percent of the members actually vote in the church elections. In other words: The politicians want those who are not active in church to elect its leaders. Today, 82,9 % of the people are members of the church through their baptism, but how many of these people are believers? It is obvious that the majority of the politicians include this condition because they want the church to continue to develop in a more liberal direction. They want to make sure that the active church goers will be unable to elect leaders who still belive in the Bible and dare to teach what it says.


Anyway, I'm glad the politicians finally have agreed on a change. It is far from the best solution, but still a step in the right direction.




lørdag 29. mars 2008

Fitna - the movie

I have just watched the controversial film made by the Dutch right-wing politician Geert Wilders. ”Fitna” is an Arabic word that can mean strife, upheaval or civil war. With the combination of Qur’an quotations and images it creates the impression that Islam is a religion of terror and violence, and naturally it has caused a lot of reactions.

While the film claims to portrait Islam, in reality it only portrays a particular stream within Islam, a stream that has many names: Fundamentalism, islamism, extremism among others. There are as many sides to Islam as there are sides to the Christian civilisation. If we say that it is this violent kind of Islam that is the real Islam, we say the same as the islamists themselves, those who claim to be the only true Muslims.

Muslims can do the same to us if they want – and many do. The image most Muslims have of Christianity is a religion that occupies their countries, bombs their cities and kills their children. The ”Christian” countries are societies that permit immorality of all kinds and that are doomed to destruction.

”Do to others what you would have them do to you”, our Lord taught his disciples. If we want Muslims to speak truthfully about us, we need to be truthful when we speak about Muslims. Showing a one-sided picture is not being truthful. Muslims and Christians live side by side in many countries of the world. We must do all we can to live peacefully with each other. The movie ”Fitna” does not help create an atmosphere of peace.

On the other hand – Muslims who respond with treaths and violence to this film, only confirm the one-sided image people in the West have of Islam and Muslims – that Islam is a religion of violence and hatred. Muslim leaders in Norway have responded wisely to the film – condemning it as insulting and divisive, but denouncing violent responses.

mandag 24. mars 2008

The journey goes on

Yesterday we had a good celebration of Easter in Bergen International Church. Here is a summary of my talk:

The last few weeks we’ve been on a “Journey to Jerusalem” with Jesus and his disciples. We’ve followed our Lord on his way to Jerusalem, where he was arrested, tortured, crucified and buried in the tomb. The journey ended in Jerusalem – or so they thought.

In our gospel reading (John 20:1-18), we heard about Mary Magdalene, who was the first to discover the empty tomb and the first to see the risen Lord. She too had been on the journey to Jerusalem with the other disciples. She must have been sure her journey had come to an end there, but now her journey went on as she ran back to the disciples to tell her story. And she probably continued to tell her story the rest of her life.

The same happened to the other disciples. The journey didn’t end in Jerusalem, but went on. The other reading we heard today was from Acts 10, where Peter speaks to Cornelius. After the persecution that broke out in Jerusalem following the stoning of Stephen, the disciples were spread around the country. Peter was one of those who travelled around, preaching the gospel to the Jews. His vision before his encounter with the Roman officer Cornelius convinced him that the gospel should be shared with the Gentiles too. For Peter, the journey went on all the way to Rome, where he served as the first bishop before he ended his life crucified upside down. All the other apostles too, except John, were killed as martyrs. For them too the journey didn’t end in Jerusalem – it went on from there. Tradition tells us that they travelled in different directions as they preached the gospel.

How about us? What about our journey? Each of us has our own spiritual journey to travel. The first goal in this journey is Jerusalem. There you must first come to the cross, where you can take off all your burdens. Then you stay in Jerusalem another three days, until Easter morning, when you come to see the empty tomb. At the tomb you rejoice with Mary and Peter and John when you realise that Jesus is no longer there.
And you receive a new assignment. Jerusalem is no longer your goal, but your starting point.
And your new goal is the world. The whole world. Starting with where you are right now.
The journey goes on.

Some of you will travel home soon, after you have ended your assignment here in Norway.
Some of us have left Norway to bring the gospel to another country. Some of you have come to stay here in Norway, bringing the gospel to us. Whover you are, wherever you go, our assignment is the same as for the apostles: To be witnesses of the cross and the empty tomb, just as Peter said to Cornelius when he preached: He said that Jesus had ordered the apostles “to preach everywhere and testify that Jesus is the one appointed by God to be the judge of all – the living and the dead. He is the one all the prophets testified about, saying that everyone who believes in him will have their sins forgiven through his name.”

torsdag 28. februar 2008

A heart for the Muslim world

To all who are interested in sharing the Gospel with Muslims, I can recommend the E-zine St. Francis Magazine, published by Arab Vision and Interserve. Their approach is serious, clearly Evangelical, and very sensitive. Here is an extract of how they present themselves:

"Yes, we do have our own opinions on many matters, but we also believe
in the shared wisdom of the whole Church and whole mission community; so
let's continue to read, and talk, and disagree on some things, and agree on the
one thing: The Gospel of Jesus Christ (as historically understood)
must be presented to Arab Muslims so that they have a real
chance to become followers of Jesus Christ."

Go to St. Francis Magazine here.

søndag 24. februar 2008

A Man's World?

Jesus chose twelve men to follow him, and it is probably true that the church has been dominated by men for many centuries. But where are the men today? Many churches have increasing difficulties in reaching the men. An interesting article in the UK based Christianity Magazine adresses the issue. Typically, the link has been sent to me by a woman...
Read more.

søndag 27. januar 2008

Journey to Jerusalem


I've waited eagerly for the arrival of the books I ordered for Lent this year. From the reviews, "Journey to Jerusalem", by David Winter, seemed to me to be a good choice, but I couldn't be sure, so I called the bookshop "Manna House" in Perth, since we have a girl in our church with contacts there. Derek, the manager, recommended the book.
When I look quickly through the book, I am happy with the choice, and look forward to begin the journey together with Bergen International Church from Ash Wednesday - which is on the 6th of February this year.
I will use the Sunday texts as a resource for my preaching, and one of the cell groups will take up the discussion questions during the week.
I had intended to introduce the book in church today, but I've been at home with fever since Thursday afternoon. Luckily Lillian-Rose suggested to me that they could take care of the worship service for me, so I could relax. It's a great congregation!

torsdag 10. januar 2008

Cell based church

In our church - Bergen International Church - we've always had a vision to be a cell based church, but we've struggled with it. How can the cells become more than just another activity?
To all who are interested in the issue of cell church, I can recommend an Anglican website: http://www.anglicancelluk.org/

On Sunday we will do yet another attempt to promote the cells, and hopefully manage to get so many newcomers that one of the existing cells can become two - at least.

A couple of years ago we decided to increase the frequency of our worship services from bimonthly to every Sunday. Being a small church with an average of fifty attendants, is this too much? Would it be better to return to a rythm of fewer worship services and focus more on the cells as the basic meeting place?

torsdag 3. januar 2008

Happy New Year?

The New Year has seen a lot of violence and despair in some countries, especially Pakistan and Kenya. We cry with those who feel desperate and hopeless in this situation, and pray that God will restore piece and freedom to the people everywhere. It seems fitting to me to quote one of the songs we sang in Bergen International Church on Christmas Day – Days of Elijah, by Robin Mark:

These are the days of Elijah,
declaring the word of the Lord.
And these are the days of Your servant Moses,
righteousness being restored.
And though these are days of great trial,
of famine and darkness and sword,
still we are a voice in the desert crying
‘prepare ye the way of the Lord’

Behold He comes riding on the clouds,
shining like the sun at the trumpet call,
lift your voice, it’s the year of jubilee,
out of Zion’s hill salvation comes!

These are the days of Ezekiel,
The dry bones becoming as flesh;
And these are the days of Your servant David,
Rebuilding the temple of praise.
These are the days of the harvest,
The fields are as white in the world,
And we are the labourers in the vineyard,
Declaring the word of the Lord.

We also know that the Lord has a better future for the world, and we have an important part to play in this future. The Lord comes, and we are called to declare this to the world, no matter what happens around us. May the year 2008 be a year when we declare the word of the Lord everywhere.