Category Archives: Church

Greatest Muslim nation on earth wonders what happens; Christianity grows like never before!

Indonesia, a nation with over 215 million Muslim believers that total 13% of the total Muslim world population is in for a surprise! Unprecedented growth among Christians with an Evangelical and Pentecostal identity puzzles the nation. In Indonesia it is a disgrace and a dangerous act to convert to Christianity from a Muslim background. People who are converts are experiencing different kinds of persecution within the extended family, but also within society.  Exact figures are hard to gather but a recent report estimates that 10% of Indonesians are Christians. A figure many Christian leaders believe is too low.

Some interesting facts?

  • In the early 1960s there were no Evangelical churches in Temanggung, where the soccer-field revival took place; now there are more than 40.
  • In the capital Jakarta, newly built mega churches send steeples into the sky
  • Other Christians worship at unofficial churches based in hotels and malls, where Sunday services rival shopping as a popular weekend activity
  • Asia’s tallest statue of Jesus Christ, built in 2007, presides over Manado city in eastern Indonesia, while Indonesian cable TV beams 24-hour Christian channels.

Time magazine reports: “What is it about Evangelical Christianity that has so resonated in Indonesia? As in many other crowded, developing-world countries where a person can feel lost in a teeming slum, the concept of individual salvation is a powerful one. At the same time, the attempted hijacking of Muslim theology by a small band of homegrown terrorists who have killed hundreds of Indonesians in recent years has led some to question their nation’s majority faith. So, too, has the general trend toward a more conservative Islam that has given rise to hundreds of religiously inspired bylaws, from caning for beer-drinking to enforced dress codes for women. Not everyone, though, is celebrating Christianity’s boom. Some Muslims view the faith as an unwanted foreign influence, even though Islam, too, is an imported religion”.

I am excited about this recent development and it gives hope to us who have not been part of such sweeping moves of God in our nations. If God can do it in strongholds of Islam, He can AND will move here as well!

John

Report: Christianity Growing in Indonesia – World – CBN News – Christian News 24-7 – CBN.com.

“Take this city, a city should be shining on a hill” U2- Stockholm

One of my favorite songs is the beautiful song of U2 from the album “How to dismantle an atomic bomb”. At the end of the song Bono’s lyrics say: Take this city, a city should be shining on a hill
. Take this city
, if it be your will.” These words relate to the Gospel of Matthew 5:14“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden”.

As I am thinking about these words and what it takes to be shining in the world… Bono answers that question too as he sings: Yahweh, Yahweh
. Always pain before a child is born. Yahweh, tell me now
. Why the dark before the dawn?

There is always pain in birth. There is always darkness before light. I have this picture in my heart that becomes stronger and stronger as I think and pray about my dear city Stockholm that in so many ways seems to be overcome by darkness.

The picture I have is that of planet earth as it was still unformed, Gen 1:2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters…

If you and I had been there would we have noticed the presence of the Spirit of God? Would we have noticed that He was hovering over the waters? What was He doing there? How long did this go on? From our history and from the Bible we know that the Holy Spirit prepares the ways of God… In the same way as the Spirit was preparing the still unformed and dark earth, God is preparing our city, Stockholm which seems to be empty of His presence (at times)… yet I know that when the time has come God will speak as He did in the beginning: Gen 1:3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light!

Also in our days God is preparing Stockholm by His Spirit, at times we hardly notice it… there is so much work done in hiding, yet when the time has come He will speak with such authority, such hope, such grace that people will turn to Him, acknowledging Him and knowing Him. I see that day in my heart. While there is still pain, while there is still darkness… I am waiting for that day!

There are people in our city overcome by pain and darkness… let’s pray and tell them that soon there will be birth, soon there will be light… as God speaks again words too wonderful to imagine… as young and old turn to Jesus and be transformed!

That’s the Way I see it (in faith!)

John

For the lyrics of “Yahweh” by U2 click here!

Äntligen klarspråk – Finally some clarity!

The article in Christian Daily Dagen was a refreshing perspective on the “to be or not to be” question on membership in the local church. Of course there are many viewpoints on this issue. Membership as it has been applied within the Swedish context for many years now is a farce! People who have been away from the church for many years want to “stå kvar” (remain) on the membership list. It is a little cynical to use that expression “stå kvar i matrikel” literally means: “remain standing in the membership roll” remain standing without any movement… status quo in other words!

Many of them don’t want to disconnect themselves from the church although there is no intention to get closer (deeper) involved. It is like cutting the umbilical cord… a painful reality that is needed for children to start growing outside the womb and which is needed for many of our “members-in-name-only” as well!

In that sense I really agree that there is no reason for us to start applying a membership practice in our churches UNLESS we give a new meaning to the word and the context AND implement it differently. Erwin McManus from Mosaic Church in Los Angeles uses terms as voluntary staff to describe that which we in New Life Stockholm and Gothenburg consider members (as in Michael kyrkan in Uppsala).

The fact is that the praxis of churches in the way they view membership and its implementations has been lame; we have kept people on our membership lists just because they desired so, instead of telling people; “because you are not with us, you are not with us anymore!” – we have compromised and adjusted to people’s sentimental desires to “belong” because this was the church they once were baptized/married, got saved…

An interesting observation of true fellowship in the Bible (derived from the Greek word “Koinonia”, mentioned 19 times in the NT) is the fact that true fellowship is identifying together as a group or church, with Jesus and His desire to doing the will of the Father. With other words all fellowship where the focus is not on doing the will of the Father is no true “Koinonia”/fellowship! With that as basis, many haven’t belonged for a long, long time!

I believe in a low threshold for visitors and anyone who wants to come to the church; all are welcome in most of the meeting places in the church; including cell groups, training, worship services, Bible study occasions… BUT we should have a higher threshold/expectation for those who want to be members where we have to agree on theological stands, vision, values and praxis. For a number of years we have worked with this in mind in New Life and it adds to the clarity of what the community of believers is called to be and do. Many non-Christians come to our churches and different congregations and they don’t have a problem with this clarity… but many who have their roots in the Free Church traditions have their issues with it… My response? “Please grow up and get over it!”

That’s the Way I see it!

John

Stress among Christians and in Christian ministry

“Spiritual demands can create stress”. Was the name of an article in the Christian Daily here in Sweden.

Tommy Dahlman discovered that the Church is not a sanctuary from stress… Tommy tells us that there are many reasons why we experience stress, it is not only related to the hours that we work… He addresses that one of the reasons is the sense that we have to be available and in touch with our world around us at al times.

What I find interesting is the element of stress also among leaders in the church; research done in North America describe the following facts of people in ministry: Most Protestant pastors make their greatest impact in a church between the 5th and 14th years of their pastorate in that location. Yet, the average length of a pastorate is less than five years. Other facts:

• 70% of pastors do not have a close friend, confidant, or mentor.

• 50% – 60% of church planters close the plant and the effort dies.

• 90% say their Bible School/Seminary Training did not prepare them for what they face day-to-day in the church.

• Only 10% finish the race and reach age 65 as a pastor.

• Two-thirds say their congregation has been in conflict in the past 2 years.

• 80% of pastors’ spouses with their spouse would choose another profession.

• Nationally 1,500 pastors leave the ministry each month due to burnout, moral failure, or conflict in the church. That’s 18,000 per year!

• 1 out of every 4 of those who left reported they were motivated by conflict with the denomination or a “belief that church headquarters was not supportive.”

• 50% of those who begin in the ministry leave after their first pastorate in less than 5 years never to return to ministry though they felt called.

I know stress since I live with it to some capacity on a daily basis. I don’t know if one can live without the trials of stress, stress is experienced in many different ways, in responsibilities, assignments, relationships, social circumstances, and finances, in connection to our perception of us and so many more situations and dimensions.

And what about the demands of Jesus as he calls us to leave everything behind and follow Him… Following Jesus implies a certain degree of stress as He challenges us to be changed in His image… the whole process of sanctification can be experienced as a stress related development. Every change I am exposed to is in its essence a possible stress factor in my life.

For Christians there is yet another dimension of stress: and that is the fight in the spiritual world… when becoming a Christian one leaves the “kingdom of darkness” behind and becomes part of the Kingdom of light (or God). The Bible tells us that there is a constant battle going on as our enemy Satan will try to do everything possible to kill, quench and destroy us. The spiritual warfare is real and claims its toll. The problem is that many Christians and leaders in the West are not aware of this warfare thus being unprepared and unprotected against it.

Another aspect that I want to call our attention to is the fact that we are people with many passions. Too many passions! Following Jesus is learning to becoming men and women with few passions in life. Passions demand loyalty, time, resources, attention and energy… The fact that so many are burned out and are “stressed to death” can also be found in the fact that we have too many passions. Be a person with few passions and your life will be less stressed.

Personally I don’t think stress is the problem, the problem is what we do with it! Tommy Dahlman suggests some great remedies to help relieve the stress; he mentions: Live in peace with God and each other, don’t compare yourself to others, have deep relations, be open and transparent…

The earlier mentioned research among leaders showed that support, empathy and teams are lifelines in ministry and to keep your sanity. However, I guess that we will always battle with stress and its consequences. Since the fall of humankind conflict is a part of life (see article on conflict and leadership), conflict within, among and over creation and us. The challenge is to learn to “give our conflict, struggles, trials, stress and challenges to God” which, at times, is easier said than done… I am still in the school of life trying to throw myself into the hands of my master!

That’s the Way I see it!

John

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is doing it again! And Richard Dawkins is on her side! – Battling fundamentalistic Islam

A friend of mine sent me his weekly letter where he addressed “the remarkable twist of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, darling of the liberal crowd, a modern day hero in Richard Dawkins’ book, is now appealing to Christian churches to wage a propaganda battle against Islam by starting new Christian schools, sending Christian volunteers into city neighborhoods and spreading the Christian message!”

Today we have again an article in SVD on the Muslim extremists, we speak about the need of dialogue and understanding each other.  Some years ago, our own Dick Erixon wrote in “Nyliberalen” that he considered Ayaan Ayaan Hirsi Ali as the worldest foremost debater especially in regards to the question of the survival of Western “Civilization” (notice the quotation marks!) – and how to deal with fundamentalist Islam in a free society. In August 29, 2005 Ayaan Hirsi Ali was awarded the annual Democracy Prize of the Swedish Liberal People’s Party “for her courageous work for democracy, human rights and women’s rights.” She received the prize at a ceremony at the Swedish Riksdag from the party leader Lars Leijonborg.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali was born Ayaan Hirsi Magan 13 November 1969 in Mogadishu, Somalia is a Dutch intellectual, feminist activist, writer, and politician. She is the estranged daughter of the late Somali scholar, politician, and revolutionary opposition leader Hirsi Magan Isse. She is a prominent critic of Islam, and her screenplay for Theo Van Gogh’s movie “Submission” led to death threats. Through the worldwide spread of this instance she became know to a wide international audience. Since van Gogh’s assassination by a Muslim extremist in 2004, she has lived in seclusion under the protection of Dutch authorities.

When she was eight, her family left Somalia for Saudi Arabia, then Ethiopia, and eventually settled in Kenya. She sought and obtained political asylum in the Netherlands in 1992, under circumstances that later became the center of a political controversy. In 2003 she was elected a member of the House of Representatives (the lower house of the Dutch parliament), representing the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD).

In 2005, she was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

Now she is doing it again!

Let me quote from my friend’s letter: In her new book, Nomad, she continues her campaign against radical Islam. She is presently in Holland promoting her book, which quotes arch-atheist Dawkins on the cover saying: ‘This woman is a major hero of our times.’

Solution

Europe is sleepwalking towards its downfall, she warns, a cultural, ideological and political downfall; because churches neglected the immigrant ghettos. But there is a solution, she suggests. Mobilize the churches again! If Saudi-Arabia can invest millions in Koran schools and religious propaganda, why not the Catholic Church, with all its wealth and millions of faithful followers? She says that churches could be active in Muslim communities and offer there the same services that radical Muslims now do, by building schools, hospitals and civic centers, and doing the same civilizing work they did in Africa during the colonization period. 

Now, is there any white person who could get away with saying that?! Westerners have looked on for too long while Muslim scholars won souls, she continues. Churches of all persuasions must enter the competition of systematic religious propaganda with Islam, to curb its growth. Churches should revive such Christian institutions as schools, Christian volunteers in urban neighborhoods, and the spreading of the Christian message!

The West is losing the propaganda war, she says, and the Church can help Muslims assimilate. Motivating immigrants to adopt Western values has been neglected for too long. European leaders–including church leaders–have for decades neglected to take the newcomers into their flock.

“It’s maybe paradoxical to call in the church, while advocates of the enlightenment always fought the Vatican,” writes Hirsi Ali, “but Christianity has changed and the Church has become a much more tolerant institution.” (Dawkins may be reading her books, but she doesn’t seem to be reading his!)

Choice Muslims don’t need to give up their faith to assimilate, she allows. They can pray, keep Ramadan and other Islamic practices.  But they need to give up the social-political side like Jihad, Sharia, the oppression of women, intolerance against homosexuality or those born Muslims but who want something else. “That is a choice. Immigration is a choice. Nobody forced them to come here. Everybody came here willingly.” “In my opinion,” she was reported as saying, “many Muslims are searching for a God that answers to the description of the Christian God. Instead they are being given Allah.” Those Muslims who want to believe in a Creator and eternal life should choose for Jesus as their spiritual leader, she suggests.

The new approach of Ayaan Hirsi Ali to stop the “Radical Muslimization process” will without a doubt call forth many responses and reactions from both Muslims and secular people. She offers an alternative, the only alternative, to a challenge that has been left unchallenged for years because of its political un-correctness. The fact that Ayaan Hirsi Ali sees no other way out in spite of her anti-religious foundational stand makes one wonder whether she is starting to see light in the tunnel. (Of course could one wonder about her discernment in regards to earlier Christian missions and the present liberal stand of many churches, but what the heck, she is at least daring to speak out as usual!) She does need protection, so pray for her because many snakes will be rattled out from the fundamentalistic nest trying to bite her!

John

Positive trend of EFK and New Life Stockholm…but

According to the Christian Daily Dagen and my friend Stefan there has been a positive trend in the development of the EFK denomination. There has been some numeral growth from 31 283 membes to 31 616 and baptisms from 514 to 586 in comparison to the previous year. New Life Stockholm, the church where I am one of the pastors was mentioned too; 800 visitors during our worship services on Sundays…

Here I need to give a rectification: we do have approx. 800 visitors to our worship services but these are held at different times and days; our Ethiopian service is held on Saturdays at 16.00, our main Swe/Eng worship meetings Sundays at 10 & 12.30, the Mongolian meeting at 12.15, the Russian meeting at 15.30 and the French/Swe meeting at 15.30. Just to avoid any misunderstandings if people wonder; I was there, but where were the other 799?

Welcome anyway!

John

Missionary work in Sweden, 1883

I have come across an interesting newspaper article from the New York Times from December 10, 1883 addressing the need for missionaries to Sweden. Here is a copy of the article which I found very interesting!

Nothing seems to have changed!

John

Jonas Gardell: human-affirming sliced gospel pieces

My friend, colleague and co-founder of the Stockholm2020 network Stefan Swärd has “found” the time to write an interesting article on the Jonas Gardell phenomenon. I must say that also Stefan at times is a little too focused on Jonas as does the rest of our Christian minority. Also Marcus Birro has a lot to say about his experiences with Jonas’ program and his view on what Gardell is trying to do. I agree we should stop whining about Gardell and start living out the Gospel of Jesus Christ; the Gospel of the Cross (with a capital C). The tremendous overflow of opinions on mister Gardell, his praxis, his beliefs or should I say heresies (?), including this one, yet another opinion… all of this is a symbol of something else…

I believe it is the consequence of a lack of a solid view on what the Church is all about and what the Church is called to do.  Swedish Christianity and this includes the Free Churches are prone to shifting their views and praxis with every new book people read and every new conference that leaders participate in. With the lack of awareness of our mission (Missio Dei) and the continuation of the Jesus’ mission in our world through us, His body, we give room for others to enter the arena with messages that tickle the ears of people and please people’s appetites. Jonas knows what to present and knows what people want to hear and gets every point across as an wide-open media highway is prepared for him to present his politically correct views in a very smart and enhancing way.

If we would only “do God’s will”, by living out the tremendous presence of God and the fruit of Kingdom in our lives, the surge for “Gardell-like-theology” would be quenched as people would look for real and life transforming encounters with God instead of human-affirming sliced gospel pieces wrought in brokenness and rebellion.

That’s the Way I see it!

John

Don’t leave anyone behind! – On Oikos evangelism

Much has been said and written about evangelism, Dagen and many others have their opinion about evangelism in Sweden in 2010 (here, here, here, here). One of the aspects of church is not only the involvement in the new community of believers through a new life in Jesus Christ. There is an aspect that so many people forget… and that is the involvement and care for the old network of family and friends. In our church (New Life Stockholm) we have seen whole groups of people turn to Jesus because we try to consider the fact that people belong to networks and are more than just individuals “whose souls have to become saved”.

Leaving behind

Don’t leave anyone behind is not a theological statement; I want to create an awareness that faith in Christ Jesus without a doubt has a dimension where we have to leave something behind; when Jesus says “follow me” there is literally a step which requires us to leave something else.

Bringing along

At the same time, as we will shortly see in the scriptures that we will read, there is a dimension of engagement and involvement with those who are non-Christians, whether family, friends, colleges, classmates.

The NT describes many situations where we find the implementation of this dimension of Christian faith.

  • Faith is not only a personal matter, although it has to start with a personal decision.
  • Faith is also a community matter.
  • The problem today is that we have privatized faith and separated faith from daily life, basic daily decisions and behavior.
  • Faith is not private; faith is community and has a direct consequence for we way we make decisions, create values and it directs the way we behave and the direction we go.

It is an unquestionable fact in the Bible that those people who find faith in Jesus in Christ influence other people around them as a direct consequence of their newly found faith. Let’s read some Scriptures…

Lydia’s Conversion in Philippi

Acts 16: 11From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day on to Neapolis. 12From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.

13On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. 14One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. 15 When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.

25About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose. 27The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

29The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

31They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” 32Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 33At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized. 34The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole family.

In verses 15 & 31, 32 we get some important information, in both cases with Lydia and with the jailor we read about the fact that their households had come to believe and were baptized along with them.

The Oikos

The word which we have translated into “households” comes from the Greek word Oikos. In other scriptures, for example in Acts 10 verses 24 & 27 we read that this Oikos is more than just a family, or traditional household as we know it.

The Oikos represented the basic social unit by which the early church grew, spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ, the risen Lord.

Michael Green, “Evangelism in the Early Church”, confirms that “the (oikos) family understood in this broad way, as consisting of blood relations, slaves, clients and friends, was one of the strongholds of Graeco-Roman society.

We can see what an Oikos meant to the early church.

  • An oikos was the fundamental and natural unit of society, and consisted of one’s sphere of influence-his/her family, friends, and extended to acquaintances, neighbors, slaves and employees.
  • And equally important, the early church spread through oikoses-circles of influence and relationships. The first church didn’t have mass campaigns for evangelism.

Bringing along our Oikoses in relationship to God is the God-given and God-created means for naturally sharing our SUPERNATURAL message.

  • The early church spread as people within the Oikoses saw how people were transformed, how people turned from their sins, how broken people were restored, how broken relationships were mended and how hopelessness turned to hope!
  • In the early church, it was the restoration of balance, the restitution of wrongs, and the fragrance of an attractive new life that drew so many to the new Oikos that God was forming. (God’s church is also called Oikos – a new Oikos where people find a new home).

Don’t leave anyone behind! In the Scriptures, which we just read we identify how, God is not only dealing with individuals, but with whole groups, Oikoses. Summary: The apostle Paul and his small group of people were together involved in these encounters.

What can we learn:

  • Don’t go alone; you belong to a group of people who share the same faith; open your old Oikos to brothers and sisters who can help you to touch their lives with the Good News!
  • Be active, not passive. It is a deliberate choice.
  • “Begin to speak” — people must hear the Word of God.
  • When one person accepts Jesus as Savior, ask him if he/she would like to have you help them share the Good News with their Oikos!
  • The new Christian’s credibility with them opens the door for God’s love!

Thank God – fewer theologists available in the future!

I really thank God for the potential development, which is taking place in our theological institutions at the universities of Lund, Göteborg, Umeå, Gävle and Uppsala. Dagen reported about the new report from Högskoleverket and the reaction of ”employers” in regard to this development.

In an earlier blog I have addressed the tremendous problems with ”professional hirelings” in contrast to the people who have embraced a calling from God.

I am convinced that many of the educational institutions and especially the universities, have not only contributed but also initiated the tremendous secularization of the Church. To even regard theology as one among many other professions is an abomination before God and it shows how little respect and reference there is for God and His calling.

The basis of a calling of God is a life in obedience to God, to His Word and a life style that reflects willingness to followership of Jesus. That men and women can be educated and released into ministry as pastors and priests without having a confession of faith is like releasing a flock of wolves among the few sheep that are left in out churches. That’s exactly what is happening today.

The apostle Paul warned for such practices as he had called the elders of the church of Ephesus to him; Acts 20: 28-31 Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. 29I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31So be on your guard!

Too many sheep are spiritually slaughtered in our churches because of lack of discernment and lack of spiritual life in the lives of so-called spiritual leaders. It’s about time that men and women rise up who are hungry for God, willing to be trained and educated but have the maturity and courage to refrain from adjusting to that which is offered in secular institutions. It needs new educational programs and a new perspective on what a calling is all about!

This recent development might show afterwards to be a blessing in disguise as new initiatives will be taken by people, filled with the Holy Spirit and sold to Jesus!

That’s the Way I see it! What do you see?

John