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Gospel for Goats
The Augustinian Flaw
Derailed Western Theology
Choice of Love
A Night to Remember
It is true. One single sermon can really change your whole life. That is exactly what happened to me about three years ago. I was preaching.
Quite unexpectedly, God gave me a whole new vision on the Gospel of Jesus, the very truth I had already confessed for over thirty years as a Christian. It was as if my eyes were opened for the first time in decades.
Is it possible to be a Christian and not to see the gospel? Read this and find out for yourself.
Soon after that day, my dear wife Johanna and I knew the time had come to write our first book. Children of God is a testimony of God’s love and faithfulness as He looked after our family in Canada back in the 1990s. It is a call to child-like reliance on Jesus.
Returning to Grace maintains the same basic approach, focusing on the atonement in Christ. Johanna’s input has again been most invaluable in this second work.
I have written this little book with a resolute conviction of the truth God has revealed, and yet with the full awareness of the restrictions of human comprehension. As with every teaching we read or hear, we should ask God to confirm that which is really of Him, for it is His wisdom we must rely on.
Striving to be as concise and easy to read as possible, Returning to Grace is by no means trying to present itself as a proper, full-fledged doctrinal tree, with all its branches and leaves fully grown. Rather, my prayer is that it would prove to be a good seed, capable of producing a good and favorable crop in your life, through the testimony and work of the Holy Spirit.
I wish you the blessing and love of our Father, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.
I praise you, Father,
Lord of heaven and earth,
because you have hidden these things
from the wise and learned,
and revealed them to little children.
Yes, Father, for this is what
you were pleased to do.
It was not like I didn’t know what to say. After all, preparing a sermon for the Good Friday service was not supposed to be too difficult. Everyone in the congregation would be familiar with the theme, to say the least. All the Bible passages were about the crucifixion of Christ. Wasn’t the atonement through the sacrifice of Jesus the cornerstone of Christianity as a whole?
But still, I couldn’t help it. My prayer was the same as it had always been during all my years in the ministry.
“Father, give me the words and thoughts from your heart…”
Had I said my prayer out loud, it would have probably sounded more spiritual than it was. Truth was, this sincere prayer of mine was often born out of insecurity. Although I had studied for many years to become a pastor, I had never had the slightest desire to give public speeches. Even as a student, whenever there had been more than just a few people gathered, I had instead kept my mouth shut.
With a personality trait like that, I figured it did not make much sense to dream of a full-time ministry. But I couldn’t let it go. It was more than a dream for me, it was my calling.
No, standing before a multitude of people and struggling to deliver a sermon was definitely no dream. It was more like a nightmare.
But I would never forget my first few weeks as an ordained minister. Just as I had anticipated, the greatest challenge was preaching. But as I knew for sure I would not be able to make it on my own, I didn’t even give it a try—not on my own strength or wisdom.
“Give me your words and thoughts…” That was my prayer every time I stood up to preach. And God really did answer that simple plea. As a matter of fact, it was surprisingly easy to follow the lead of the Holy Spirit, at first. It was not until later on, as I became a bit more accustomed to preaching, that it turned much more difficult. The thing is, the more I thought I knew, the harder I tried—and the more tensed up I became. And because of all that striving, I would sometimes forget to breathe properly during a speech.
I can assure you it really does change the atmosphere when the minister passes out in a worship service. Or at a funeral.
However, those early days helped me to stay focused. I kept on listening to the Lord and gradually remembered to breathe too. My sole desire was to proclaim the Word of God. But I can still recall the big Bible at the altar of my second church, in Canada. It was opened so that Isaiah 55 was staring right at me every time I was about to preach.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9)
How could I be sure I wasn’t just relying on my own understanding? No matter how much I hated that Bible passage confronting me again and again, I couldn't make myself turn the page.
Now, twenty-five years and several churches after my ordination, I still couldn’t break away from those verses. Even as I was preparing for this Good Friday service, I could only pray to God to speak His thoughts to me and through me once more.
The Friday morning dawned, looking ‘good’ at least, promising another sunny day. The Bible lessons had not offered any big surprises. But as I decided to read through the texts one more time, my eyes became affixed to Hebrews chapter 10, verses 12-14. Referring to Jesus it declared:
But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool.
For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.
Obviously, I had read the passage numerous times over the years. This time, however, I was drawn to the meaning of the words in a whole new way. The historical nature of the one-time sacrifice of Jesus began to unfold before my eyes. It was just like looking at a side-by-side comparison between the Old and the New Covenant. I was perplexed.
How come I had not seen it before?
I stood at the pulpit and watched the audience. The church was packed because of the Easter Conference at the picturesque lakeside setting of Vivamo Retreat Center in southern Finland. As I was reading the Gospel Lesson aloud I felt an urgency I had seldom experienced before a speech. The message was burning in my heart.
I began the sermon with a few sentences on the fallen state of all humanity, how every man, woman and child in the world has this natural, ongoing tendency for straying from the ways of God and not following Him. Then I continued with a brief narration on God’s desire to renew the original relationship with His creation.
I spoke about God’s attempts to draw His people back to Him in the Old Testament, how he gave the Israelites the law to remind them of His ways, so that they would not get lost forever. How He decided to provide His people a way of repentance through shedding the blood of sacrificial goats and lambs as a confession of sins.