CHURCH LIFE/ENGLISH Once back in the nineties I was heading up a Sunday School for kids in my local church. It wasn’t going to last but despite the obstacles I instead ended up in mission around the globe.
Once back in the nineties I was heading up a Sunday School for kids in my local church. I recruited a considerable team of volunteers and we started out with prayer and intercession for an extended time before launching the new Sunday Night School Children’s Ministry.
Church had always had a Sunday School on Sunday mornings but the old man in charge had just retired. Besides, almost no kids attended anymore. Church’s main service was on Sunday nights.
Now, heading into our first season there was some opposition from people who thought we should go on doing what church had always done. Sunday School was for Sunday mornings. Kids or no kids.
We still finally managed to get a hesitant thumbs up for Sunday nights and even more people started coming to the main service. They dropped their kids off with us and continued upstairs for an uninterrupted service.
HOWEVER, THINGS DIDN’T FARE WELL for long before we received a serious complaint. The parents of two kids maintained that one of my co-workers had been teaching a ghost story instead of the Bible and now they were too scared to go to sleep. The parents didn’t know how to calm them down at bedtime. The ghost in question? Yes, you guessed it. The Holy Ghost.
(For readers making out the point that we’re Norwegian speakers in Norway, you’re of course right. The parents in question apparently had claimed that my co-worker literally taught about ‘Den hemmelige ånd’—The Secret Ghost—not ‘Den hellige ånd’—The Holy Ghost. The kids opined that such a ghost was quite scary. Besides, the parents apparently didn’t know how or want to explain some Biblical facts to their children. In my opinion, the kids probably had heard about The Holy Ghost for the first time in Sunday School and got confused.)
One of the elders called me on behalf of the Board and demanded a correction. I, however, defended my co-worker. The Holy Ghost being quite central to the Bible meant that we should not be blamed for parents choosing to let their kids grow up on ghost stories, thus getting scared and misunderstanding The Holy Ghost, mistaking Him for some secret genie. The particular elder charged with bringing the matter to my attention, however, begged to disagree and wanted me to seriously consider how I might have erred in my ways. My co-worker also would have to leave so that the parents didn’t. I reneged. My co-worker should stay. Well, the elder said, then I would have to go, too.
Story made short, we both left. Shortly after the rest of the Sunday School team also had quit. It certainly did not help that we were bring called names and accused of abandoning our ministry.
SUNDAY SCHOOL DID NOT immediately pick up again afterwards, as no new teacher dared apply. The elders apparently were too scary. It took a couple of years before Sunday School was fully back up and running and then, they indeed had to settle for Sunday nights. People were not going to bring their children in on Sunday mornings and come back for main service in the early evening.
Children’s Praise and Ministry, however, was forever off the table in that church and Sunday School went back to caretaking, playhouse and colouring books.
I myself, instead of being benched for the immediate future, left church shortly after this incident in order to help out with a church plant in the neighbouring town. I spent the next three years doing that while also attending seminary and obtaining a bachelors degree in theology (which I again extended later). Shortly after completing my degree wifey and I left to take up missionary work in Colombia.
ANY MORAL TO THIS STORY? Not so much. But, if people stand in the way of the ministry you’re called to conduct you’d better find a way to bypass them. The Kingdom of God is always in short supply of workers so you shouldn’t have to be stuck in storage until a ripe old age just because someone says so. The first disciples started witnessing on the very same day of their conversion (see John 1:40-42). So had I done, back in the early eighties.
«The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.»
—Jesus to the disciples (Luke 10:2).
IMPORTANT NOTE: I’m not against tithing when done as a choice of your own free will, showing a covenant of good conscience toward God. I’m against enslaving generous people for the benefit of any particular preacher. Jesus preached giving and good deeds to the needy as opposed to a taxing tithe applied to all and only the inhabitants of the ancient indepedent state of Israel. You may read up on the topic in my currently developing series TEN ON TITHING. In Norwegian only, unfortunately. You could attempt to treat yourself with Google Translate, however. Please keep me posted on the translations if you do.
I got to speak with Harry’s mom in the spring of 1984. Yes, he’s the one who got married last Saturday to the sparkling Meghan Markle. Because my mother-in-law tends to bring this up whenever we gather as a family, you might as well get the story firsthand from me.
I was parked, more or less, with a rather bashed-up knee and crutches at the Fornebu Airport in Oslo. The rest of my family—well, what was to become family later on—was heading for France for another family wedding. I just happened to join in on the first leg to the airport. With my one good leg.
At the center of the departure hall—remember the days when those were open access?—a large area suddenly was closed off. A red carpet got rolled out and I found myself stuck between the crowd and the cordoned-off area. The two persons who were to become my wife and mi-law were guarding me.
Then, several straight men in military regalia hurried by. Then again, the Crown Prince and Princess of Norway—Harald and Sonja—rushed by. Like, wow.
Finally, the famed lady Di—Princess Diana of Wales, came rambling by. The Princess of Great Britain. Suddenly, she halted on the spot and calmly strolled over towards me. She took my hand, said hi in a very royal manner and took her time to chat me up. She really wanted to know how I had broken my leg. Oh no, so it wasn’t from chasing the girls, was it? He he, politely.
Later on I have managed to figure out that lady Di was actually carrying a very tiny Harry, the younger one. Prince Henry Charles Albert David, or, as I said, Harry, between friends and paparazzi.
Last Saturday lady Di’s younger offspring got to stroll down the red carpet himself. Prince Harry got married.
I never heard nor saw him or lady Meghan live because my «mission» last Saturday was so much more important. In my opinion. I went to see a seriously ill friend—one of my new ones—at the Norwegian Cancer Teaching Hospital “Radiumhospitalet” in Oslo. Sick friends, wether old or new, will always trump—triumph—any royal wedding. Every day of the year.
The sermon, however, was smashingly good.
Another friend of mine is the vicar at the parish of Røros and a former travel companion to Israel and Palestine. He tipped me off about the sermon when he published it on his Facebook later that night. Harald Hauge did not use too many words:
«And thus sounded the Gospel.»
Thus sounded the Good News, indeed.
After having read up on the sermon I decided to dump my own sermon for Monday. This stuff was so much better. I’ll share a little piece with you here. This is, arguably, the best news in the world this Pentecost.
The Power of Love
Jesus of Nazareth on one occasion was asked by a lawyer to sum up the essence of the teachings of Moses, and he went back and he reached back into the Hebrew scriptures, to Deuteronomy and Leviticus, and Jesus said: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbour as yourself.”
Hey you, all you good Norwegian atheists out there, that one’s for you. You know who I’m talking about. You, who love to cite the Old Testament and prove to us Christians of late what is really our opinion. This American bishop, Michael Curry, just cited Jesus. And Jesus, well, he just repeated the very same words from these apparently very horrible books of the Old Testament. And what did Jesus read from these books?
«Love your neighbour as yourself.»
The bishop continued to show us how love has the power to change, before he went on to remind all us Pharisees and preachers what the core value of our story is:
“If you cannot preach like Peter,
And you cannot pray like Paul,
You just tell the love of Jesus,
How he died to save us all.”
This way of love, it is the way of life. They [the slaves of Antebellum South] got it! (The Bishop himself has ancestry in the South, so he could in fact say this without having to face the opinion police after the fact.)
He died to save us all. He didn’t die for anything he could get out of it. Jesus did not get an honorary doctorate for dying. He didn’t… he wasn’t getting anything out of it. He gave up his life, he sacrificed his life, for the good of others, for the good of the other, for the wellbeing of the world… for us.
That’s what love is. Love is not selfish and self-centred.»
That’s how this Bishop served the Gospel.
It’s one of the better sermons I’ve heard in years. It was from the heart, by the heart and, for the heart.
There you go, then. I dumped my own strenuously prepared sermon in favour of this. This was—is—so much better.
John Spencer is not Diana Spencer’s less known brother. Even though my mother-in-law is quite proud of the fact that her son-in-law actually spoke to Lady Di, I myself am more proud of the fact that I know John. Sort of.
Last week-end I had the privilege of working with John Spencer. His next book is right around the corner and you should look forward to it. Concluding this post you may preview not one, but three, of his last «parables».
So last week-end I had the pleasure of working with John Spencer. No, I am not talking about long deceased Lady Diana Spencer’s little known, and also dead, brother. Quite the contrary, I am talking about the very much alive, hilarious and hysterically funny John, speaker and author who probably lives in England. He has written several books, both for the benefit of the soul (to use my other-in-laws’ classication), and some titles of other varieties.
As a follow-up to the series of parables that did not exactly receive a standing ovation from Jesus, his next book will be published within the next few weeks. I read the script and handed back some serious and well-opinionated input. Some parts will be changed, I’m sure. Some parts will be left behind. It is also quite possible that I will help John with a translation, as his Norwegian is quite horrible.
To be honest, this work of charity is what mostly resembles my way back to some normalcy. After several years of disease and one not insignificant brain injury, it has been great being able to get started again. Thanks to John for that opportunity.
There are plenty of Christians who think it’s unreasonable to make fun of God, as they say.
I would therefore like to state the following;
John Spencer does not make fun of God!
For my own part, I have to add that a God who does not tolerate humour — a God with no sense of humour whatsoever — is far worse than the lot of atheists and militant humanists who keep skulking around. God without a sense of humour, well, that speaks lots more of the preacher than of God himself. God is quite a funny guy. His most famous joke is, after all, that He created (us) humans.
Jesus shows a clear sense of humour in his own preaching. Don’t you believe it? Well, I’ll write about it in the coming weeks. I have already collected several examples.
Not exactly the parables of Jesus
The point of rewriting the parables is to make people think twice about the stories we have heard ever so often without really listening to them. The «Not the parables» series is therefore not about making fun of the gospel, even though the style is clearly satirical.
John himself wrote me on Saturday when I was wondering how far I could go when translating. (You must understand that my respect for the man is somewhere in the vicinity of borderline reverence, him being a published author and all, me a verifiable brain damaged nobody, that’s why).
«It’s not a problem at all — I’m very happy for questions, thoughts and feedback. I haven’t got an ego to feed — I just wanted to create something that blessed people — made them laugh and think.»
And — in Norwegian — for those of you English readers not being John but still curious about my language;
«Ikke noe problem, ikke i det hele tatt. Jeg er veldig glad for spørsmål, ideer og tilbakemeldinger. Jeg har ikke noe ego å fore. Jeg ville bare lage noe som velsigner folk, som får dem til å le og tenke.»
John Spencer also runs a blog and several pages on Facebook and Twitter. You can follow him and his congregation of anons exchanging ideas. It is sometimes quite lively. Sometimes.
His blog is located at John Spencer Writes. You may click your way through to his pages on Facebook and Twitter.
I am happy to share with you three — 3 — re-written parables in order to make you think twice. They are all from the upcoming «More Not the Parables of Jesus» by John Spencer.
I have received written permission to do a translation. Since, however, you are obviously an English reader, I will not. Translate, that is.
The Pearl of Great Price
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a man who discovered the most valuable pearl in the world.
As he felt no other pearl compared to it, he felt it was his moral obligation to go around telling everyone else that their pearls were rubbish.
— Not quite the Gospel according to Matthew 13:44-46.
The Good Samaritan 2
“There once was a man travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho who was attacked by robbers. They beat him, stripped him of his clothes and money then left him lying half dead beside the road.
Luckily, a priest happened to be going down the same road. But when he saw the man he crossed to the other side and walked past him. So too, a Levite came by. He also crossed to the other side to avoid the man.
Then a Samaritan came upon the man and saw how the previous two Jews had ignored the man. He shouted at them, ‘You selfish people! That’s typical of you Jews!’ He then carried on his way.
Which of these three would you say was a neighbour to the man attacked by robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who shouted at the others.”
Jesus replied, “Go and do likewise.”
— Not quite the Gospel according to Luke 10:30-37.
The Lost Sheep 2
What do you think?
If a man has one hundred sheep and loses one of them, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go searching for it until he finds it? And when he finds it, doesn’t he begrudgingly fling it over his shoulders to carry home, whilst giving it a stern lecture the whole way back? And won’t he bring that incident up whenever that sheep does anything foolish in the future?
I tell you, in the same way, your Father in heaven will berate you and constantly bring up your past sins.
— Not quite the Gospel according to Luke 15:4-7.
I got up to your room at eight in the morning where you were with Lisa.
I was allowed by both to conduct a prayer and twice you confirmed, John, that prayer with a handshake. Your voice was gone. Soon after, you lost consciousness but now you were calm.
Then you died peacefully last night with your closest around you. I talked to Lisa a little while ago and she told me that you woke up again a short while yesterday and said goodbye to some of your closest friends.
John experienced grace at last. We are now allowed to believe that the angels of God carried John all the way to heaven. From our prayer on Tuesday morning, calm was above him.
We who still live will mourn but also rejoice in his traveling home.
Finally, I remember John Arne the day he knocked on my door fifteen months ago. I have that same, aggressive beast of an Alien inside my body that he had, and the priest was on sick visit. Then John Arne said,
— You are not dead yet, Victor!
That day I turned. Doctors do by no means call me healed. Only on Tuesday morning, right after my visit, I got another infusion. Now I’m feeling ill because of the cure. And ill, because I miss you.
Originally published on the Melanoma Patient Network Europe (MNPE) closed Facebook group.