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Themes From the Book of Lamentations for the Fall Holy Days

How this oft-overlooked book can highlight themes of Trumpets and Atonement

I can count on one hand the number of sermons I’ve heard on the book of Lamentations.  I could maybe even count them on one *finger* (and I had to search for it).

While Lamentations never directly mentions either the feasts of Trumpets or Atonement, its themes are unmistakably linked to the themes of both holy days, and the fall holy day season overall in God’s plan for mankind.

What are those themes?  Complete destruction and anguish from God’s wrath as His promised judgment comes, mourning and confession of sin, and acknowledgement of God’s righteousness in that judgment.  Humility and asking for mercy while recognizing that it’s undeserved.

And harder to find, but definitely present, is hope in God’s faithfulness and mercy, and ultimately reconciliation through His promises of a coming restoration.

These holy days occur in the seventh month (seven being a number of completeness).  Chapters 1, 2, and 4 are written in acrostics, one for each letter of the alphabet and signifying the completeness and totality of God’s wrath and the destruction of Jerusalem.

What is the book of Lamentations about?

Lamentations is one of the five scrolls comprising “The Writings” in the Old Testament.  It mourns the destruction of the first temple, the “funeral of a city”, and foreshadows the destruction of the second temple and Jerusalem in 70 AD.

The Jews recite the book on Tisha b’Av, called the “dark fast” to commemorate the destruction of the temple.  Tisha b’Av is seen as a fast without hope (dark) in contrast to the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) which they see as a “white fast” due to the hope embedded.

It’s generally accepted that the book of Lamentations was written by the prophet Jeremiah due to both internal and external evidence, but the author is never named in the text.  The fairly dramatic, evocative language certainly seems to fit with the book of Jeremiah though.

Much of Lamentations goes into excruciating detail about the consequences of Jerusalem’s repeated rebellions against God, and paints a terrifying picture of His promised wrath.  It is punishment with purpose, prophesied beforehand again and again to turn them from it.

It is an expression of grief and sadness, a detailed account of tragedy, and a denunciation of the sins of His people.  The book moves us through tragedy and sorrow toward a confident hope in God’s ultimate salvation of His (and all) people.

In our culture today we tend to close our eyes to suffering, grit our teeth through it, or try and ignore it in favor of looking forward to a better time.  Lamentations, instead, wallows in it.  Lamentations surrounds you in Jeremiah’s grief over Jerusalem’s destruction, in the suffering of God’s people.

Is Lamentations relevant to God’s people today?

In a word, yes.

The book of Lamentations is written to encompass Jerusalem and the nation of Judah, the remainder of God’s people at the time.  It should serve as a very sobering warning to us as His people today.

Jerusalem rebelled against God, and for centuries God warned that the judgment He promised for their sins would come.  When the wrath of His judgment finally comes upon Jerusalem, the book of Lamentations doesn’t question the reason or justice of God’s actions, but rather asks for His mercy.

The end-time application of the book is focused on Jerusalem as well. Because of this, it fits more naturally into the fall holy days and what the world will experience during end-time events, and the book’s themes very much tie into this.

While Lamentations has seen its first and second fulfillments, like most major prophecies in the bible there is a future and final one at the end time.  So although it’s focused on Jerusalem, it IS written to God’s people, and that alone makes it important for us to pay it some attention.

We know that all scripture is given by God and is good for instruction and to equip His people (II Tim. 3:16).  So what should we take from this book?  I submit that there are clear messages to God’s firstfruits, warnings that if heeded today can keep us from the terrible future reality that is laid out in the book.

Occupying Your God-Given Space:  Humility in a Self-Esteem World

What first comes to mind when you think of humility?

Is it a dejected stance?  Minimizing your role in something?  Or maybe a timid attitude, avoiding eye contact and feeling inferior?

In today’s self-obsessed society, humility gets a bad rap.  And that’s partially just due to the nature of the society we live in, but it’s also because humility is deeply misunderstood.

I’d never given this topic particular thought until I landed on this devotional in my bible app, and something clicked for me.

“Have you ever been humbled by nature? Have you ever walked through a field of tulips or watched a sunset and been reminded of how incredibly awesome God is and how small you are by comparison?  It’s humbling.  The Hebrew word anavah is what we translate as “humility”, but the literal definition of anavah is to occupy your God-given space in the world—not to overestimate yourself or your abilities, and to not underestimate them either.” (quoted from the devotional on YouVersion/Bible.com)

This really brought humility to life in a way that I’d never considered before, and caused me to want to dig even further into humility in the bible.  Note, the original devotion uses “avanah”, but throughout my research I can only find it spelled “anavah” from the root anav, so that’s what I’m using throughout this study because I think it was just a typo.

There are several Hebrew words that can be translated as “humble” or “humility”.  This one comes from the root anav, which denotes a condition of character—depending on God due to internal, spiritual orientation rather than external factors.  The root of this word also indicates that relying on God is a choice, not merely because you physically have to.

Humility and meekness are closely related, but I’m not getting into meekness here because it’s a big study in its own right, and one I intend on doing.  They come from the same root word and the two are sometimes used interchangeably in the bible, but there are some nuances in meaning that are worth exploring.  To my mind, meekness is more expressed toward others, whereas humility is more inward—how you think about and see yourself.  But they’re two sides of the same coin.

Humility in the bible 

As is always the truth, we can learn a lot about the word itself and God’s attitude toward humility (and anavah in particular) by looking at how it’s used in the holy scriptures.

Anavah (H6038) is strongly associated with the fear of the Lord throughout the Old Testament, and seen as something that comes from wisdom and leads to honor.

The Analogy of Sin as a Virus…and Repentance as Radical Transformation

A while back I was reading “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”, a non-fiction book about a particular moment in the history of medical ethics, scientific discovery, and race.  I ran across this sentence and for whatever reason it stuck in the back of my mind.

“Viruses reproduce by injecting bits of their genetic material into a living cell, essentially reprogramming the cell so it reproduces the virus instead of itself.” ~ The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

A picture of Satan trying to do exactly that came to mind, and the more I thought on it, a virus seemed to be a fairly apt analogy to sin’s effect on us.  But once I started researching it a little more, I found that the analogy of sin as a virus was way closer than I originally thought.  So this study explores some of those shared characteristics.

There are two things that probably need stated before we dig in here:  I am not a scientist, and this analogy is not perfect.  All analogies start to fall apart when you dig *too* deeply regardless, but since I’m not a scientist that may be especially true here.

The other thing that feels like it must be stated is that, unlike actual viruses which attack us through no fault of our own, we are complicit when it comes to sin.  It is our hearts that are “desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:9; Prov. 14:12).  So though Satan certainly attacks us and helps us along, we should not read this analogy as one in which we play a passive victim role.

Regardless, I think this is interesting and valuable food for thought.

The analogy of sin as a virus

“…through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men” (Rom. 5:12)

It’s important to understand a few things about viruses that start to give our analogy to Satan and sin greater depth.

Viruses come in all shapes and sizes, from the common cold to HIV.  The viruses themselves are all invisible, but with some it’s easy to see and diagnose the symptoms, and with others the host is a silent carrier with no outward symptoms.

Similarly, sins and their consequences take many different forms.  Some are overt and public (murder, theft), but more often they are not readily apparent to us or the people around us.  Many are subtle…a bit of anger, some work gossip to pass the time, too much time and attention spent on material things.  But when left alone, they continue to multiply…like the “little leaven that leavens the whole lump” (I Cor. 5:6).

Passover Themes: The Wine

Recently I found some of my notes from keeping the Passover as a small group a few years ago.  Rather than the very formal and consistent script that many of the corporate COGs use for Passover, the smaller groups often have a more interactive meeting where multiple people share speaking roles. 

This post is adapted from my notes when I presented the Passover wine meaning portion of the ceremony one year.  While a bit more perfunctory than many studies on the site, these are good themes to re-visit as we prepare for the Passover every year, and may be helpful for those keeping it in small, interactive groups.

If you want to download my speaking notes for your Passover night meeting, you can do so here:  Passover Night Service: The Wine

Themes of Keeping the Passover:  The Wine

We know that every single one of us has sinned, and so fall short of the glory of God.  And we know that the penalty for that sin is death (Rom. 3:23, 6:23).

God told the Israelites that the blood of the many sacrifices He required was to help make atonement for them, saying “For the life of the flesh is in the blood…for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul” (Lev. 17:11).

Prior to Christ coming to earth and giving His life for our sins, for Israel to keep the Passover entailed the slaughter of thousands of lambs as a symbol of this need for cleansing.  But in Hebrews, Paul makes it clear that it’s not possible for the blood of animals to actually take away sins (Heb. 10:4).

Instead, Jesus Christ—God in the flesh—came as our eternal High Priest to make this atonement for us.

“Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God

And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission” (Heb. 9:12-15, 22)

That word translated “remission” means freedom, pardon, forgiveness, or liberty.  As our kinsman-redeemer, Christ purchased us with His blood, freeing us from the debt (death) that we owed and from our bondage to sin.

He was able to pay the price for our sins, and transfer ownership of us from Satan (the ruler of this world) to the God family ONLY because He didn’t owe the same debt.  He was perfect and blameless, never having committed even a single sin.

“But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct…knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as a lamb without blemish and without spot” (I Pet. 1:15, 18-19)

As our Passover Lamb, only Christ was qualified to make this sacrifice.  This redemption out of sin makes possible our eternal salvation, and opens the door for our future roles in God’s kingdom.

Stand Still and Wait: Worldly Solutions vs. Waiting on God (Musings on Faith Series)

“You will not need to fight in this battle.  Position yourselves, stand still and see the salvation of the Lord, who is with you” (II Chron. 20:17)

Do you trust God?

This isn’t a trick question, and our gut response is “Yes, of course!”  But it’s actually a more complicated question (and answer) than it appears at face value, isn’t it?

We don’t have God literally talking to us every day, telling us what’s on His mind and what plans He has for us that day.  We want to involve Him in our decisions and understand His will, but it’s not always clear how involved He is in day-to-day details.

Does He want a say in every decision we make?  How much does He care about the daily “small stuff” versus the big picture?  Does He expect us to solve most of our own problems, or does He reward those who ask Him for help in every small issue?

More questions than answers, right…??  What I wanted to dig into in this study is how we approach “problem solving”, through the lens of some examples in the bible.  Do think about waiting on God and trusting that He has things under control, or do we seek out worldly, human solutions?

This is one of those studies that’s intended more to share thoughts and spur your own thinking, rather than provide a specific point of view or “how to”.  I’d consider it a combination of pointing out what can happen when we try to solve problems our own way and on our own timetable, and a meditation on the balance between relying on God and abdicating responsibility for our lives and decisions.  This is a longer one, but only because there are a number of examples provided for context.

“Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord…”

A lot of these questions ultimately boil down to trusting in God’s timing and approach rather than giving in to human reasoning, impatience, and impulsivity.

But that requires us to believe that God knows each of us personally, that He is in control, knows what we want (and need), and wants the absolute best for us.

And I think that last bit (that He wants the best for us) is actually much harder than it sounds to truly grasp.  It *sounds* completely logical, but when you’re in the middle of something and don’t see a good solution or understand why it’s happening, or when you want something so badly and don’t get it, that belief is a difficult thing to maintain.

There are many parts of the bible where God’s advice is effectively “be patient”.  Many times His people were told to stand still and wait for Him to act on their behalf.  Sometimes that was a literal physical command to stand there, but sometimes it referred more to their emotional state—just stop, don’t let your emotions run around like Chicken Little screaming “the sky is falling!”.

This is a topic I’ve been musing on for some time.  It’s not clear-cut, and there is almost never an easy answer when we’re right in the middle of a situation.  When something happens, what is your first instinct?  Where do you look for solutions?  How do you go about making decisions?

So I thought it would be good to show some examples from the bible of people who didn’t trust in God and figured out their own solutions (and how that turned out).  Then because I’m not all Debby Downer, I wanted to showcase some great examples of people who did wait, and looked to God to accomplish His purpose in His time.

And of course—because it’s me—I have some thoughts on practical applications for our own modern lives at the end for us to consider.

Worldly solutions to (real or perceived) problems

First we’ll look at some examples of when people decided to find their own solutions to problems that were either real, or that they perceived to be real.

It’s kind of sad how easy it is to think of examples for both of these areas…but to be fair, the bible is written for our instruction, so it stands to reason that there are a lot of cautionary tales in there.  Most of these are well-known stories, so I’m just going to highlight the important points rather than tell you the whole story.

These examples pretty much boil down to:  Do you trust God to take care of you and help solve your problems?

FOMO:  How To Derail Your Relationship With God

Or, the key to unhappiness…

We usually put the best of ourselves and our lives out on social media.  We talk about how amazing our spouse is, how cute our kids are, personal accomplishments, a delicious meal we cooked (or ordered), stunning vacation pictures.  And none of this is necessarily wrong—most people wouldn’t like to follow people who are super negative or just plain boring all of the time.

But we also know that what we’re showing are the most exciting bits of our life, our personal “highlight reel”.  That the mundane, overwhelming, and embarrassing parts of our life aren’t public.

We rarely trumpet that we’re stuck in traffic, sitting in a meeting, vegging on the couch, rocking a colicky baby in the middle of the night, the disaster of a kitchen after cooking, seething after an argument with your spouse, having to discipline your kid in the middle of a crowded grocery store, feeling like a failure because you messed up at work.

Though this is the majority of most people’s day, most of us don’t post about these things.  And the funny thing is, we know this about ourselves.  But our brains are a mysterious thing.  Somehow we can then look at everyone else’s social media life and forget that it is also a carefully curated museum of the best of their lives as well.  And in forgetting, we allow feelings of discontent to nestle into our brains and hearts.

A couple things happen as a result of this.  First, we tend to be concerned with making our lives *appear* amazing or glamorous.  And second, we tend to look at other people’s lives from the outside and unintentionally use that as a measuring stick for ourselves.

Living that FOMO life

There’s a condition that’s endemic to today’s technology-obsessed society.  It’s been dubbed “FOMO”—the “fear of missing out”.  And while FOMO has become slang that the younger generation casually drop in conversation for fun, it’s actually a much more pervasive aspect of our human nature that’s amplified by technology, and has the potential to derail our faith.

As Far As East From the West:  The Second Atonement Goat

All of the holy days picture the steps God is taking to reconcile mankind to Himself, and the Day of Atonement is in many ways the culmination of that.  Atonement is a mirror of the Passover, when Christ’s sacrifice is applied to the entire world rather than just a select group of God’s firstfruits.

According to Jewish tradition, the Day of Atonement was when Adam and Eve, at the serpent’s urging, ate of the forbidden fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  If that is the case (and it makes sense), then this day marks both the exact moment that mankind was separated from God, and fittingly pictures the restoring of that connection.

One aspect of the Day of Atonement that God gave Israel was the ceremony of the two goats.  It involves a high priest made symbolically sinless by a separate sin offering, taking two unblemished young goats as a sin offering for the people.  After Aaron cast lots for the two goats, the one chosen “for the Lord” was killed and its blood used to pay the price of the nation’s sins.  The other goat had the nation’s sins laid on it and was led out into the wilderness and left there.

This is not a ceremony that is often talked about or studied in-depth.  For many decades, most of the churches of God have taught that the second goat, who is sent into the wilderness after having the sins of the congregation placed on him, symbolizes Satan.  The theory was that this represented Satan’s culpability in mankind’s downfall and the sin that permeates this world, and that the goat taken into the wilderness symbolizes Satan being bound in Revelation 20.

This interpretation, though, is not consistent with what the bible tells us in this particular passage, nor is it consistent with what we read throughout the rest of the bible regarding the sacrificial system, the role of Jesus Christ, and our personal accountability for our sins.

In this study we’re going to go through what both of the goats picture in God’s plan.  I know it seems somewhat distant and esoteric, but stay with me—I promise this is actually going somewhere real and weighty and relevant to us today.

Two goats, one unblemished sin offering

We see first that the high priest could only come into the Holy of Holies one time a year, and he first had to offer a sin offering for himself, wash himself, and put on special garments.  This was because the sin offering could only be accomplished by a sinless high priest, picturing Jesus Christ (Hebrews 9 and 10 cover this in-depth).

After the high priest had performed the sacrifice for his own sins, he then started the rest of the ceremony:

“And he shall take from the congregation of the children of Israel two kids of the goats as a sin offering, and one ram as a burnt offering…then Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats: one lot for the Lord and the other lot for the azazel [goat of departure]” (Lev. 16:5)

The first thing that Leviticus 16:5 tells us is that both goats are for a sin offering—each is a distinct necessary element and together they constituted a single sin offering.  They could not be complete or accepted separately.  This was a unique requirement since most sin offerings were only one animal, and it signals to us that God was accomplishing something additional in this ritual beyond just payment for sin.

Studying Psalm 20:4 – Our Heart’s Desire and Accomplishing Our Plans

I ran across a verse in my daily bible reading that, while familiar, I’d never really considered carefully.  It’s short and lyrical, something you’d see printed on someone’s wall or in a greeting card, or even recited at a wedding.  Let’s look at the verse:

“May He grant you according to your heart’s desire, and fulfill all your purpose” (Psalm 20:4, NKJV)

It’s easy to skim this and think, “that’s lovely!” then keep moving.  But if taken at face value it would be easy to miss the verse’s intent—full of both promise and warning. 

Oftentimes, the words themselves can provide rich information, but the Hebrew words used in this verse are fairly run-of-the-mill and used all over the Old Testament.  They don’t appear to provide any additional insight, being quite broad and able to be interpreted a number of ways based on context.

Let’s look instead at the two separate pieces of Psalm 20:4.  My goal here isn’t an exhaustive study, but rather just highlighting a few deeper things to ponder.

“May He grant you according to your heart’s desire…”

When the bible talks about the heart, it doesn’t just mean our emotions or feelings like we often think of today.  Instead it’s truly the core of who a person is.  And so when this verse talks about our “heart’s desire,” it’s not talking about every single thing we’ve ever wanted in life, every wish and fleeting craving.

It’s referring to our deepest desires and motivations, the thoughts that drive us, the things which occupy our minds.  It’s who we are at our rawest.  Jesus is very clear that the desires of our heart will be reflected in how we talk and act, and will be reflective of where our priorities in life lie (Matt. 12:34, 6:21).

The verse asks that God grant His people their desires…but we also know from Jeremiah that the heart is deceitful and “desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:9).  This feels like a worrying contradiction.  So what are we to do with this?

There’s another translation for Psalm 20:4 that a few bibles use, where it says, “May He grant you according to your heart”.  I quite like this translation, because it indicates a little bit more of the double-edged sword that this verse implies—if your heart isn’t right, what you get will not be right either.  It implies that you should be careful what you wish for (or subconsciously focus on), because you just might get it.

Eyes on the Horizon:  Navigating this Life

“Let your eyes look straight ahead, and your eyelids look right before you.  Ponder the path of your feet, and let all your ways be established” ~ Prov. 4:25-26

A while back, I had the chance to spend a few days sailing off the coast of Sweden.  It was an idyllic off-the-grid weekend, and we had the opportunity to act as first mates to the boat’s captain, Patrik.

The first time I took my turn at the wheel, he gave me a point far out on the horizon to aim for (a tiny white speck that ended up being a lighthouse) and then sat back to chill.  I steered for a while, but increasingly found myself staring intently at the small GPS screen, which had two lines—the one he’d charted and the one we were currently on.

Navigating this Life - example GPS from the boat

I was laser-focused, trying to keep our direction completely aligned with the course he had charted, making tiny adjustments, struggling to turn the right way and guess how the boat would react to the waves and wind.  The result was me zig-zagging through the water rather than smooth, straight sailing.  When he realized what I was doing, he corrected me.

“Don’t look down, look at the horizon.  That point I gave you out there, that is your goal—navigate by that.  Yes, look down every so often to check for rocks and obstacles, but down there shouldn’t be your focus.”

Perils while navigating this life

Why does this story stick with me, even a few years later?

First, it immediately brought to mind the statement in Hebrews 11 about how the faithful of God through the ages were focused on the promises they saw “afar off,” remaining intent on that vision of the future no matter what threatened them in the present.

Secondly, it made me consider the needs and impact of the immediate vs. the eternal, and how we should be balancing the two while navigating this life.  Make no mistake, we’re meant to actually live our time on this earth, which means we do have to give attention to “right now”.

But it’s also easy to get caught up in the daily grind, with all the negativity, what’s going wrong (or right), not understanding the direction of things or why things happen.  And if we spend too much time thinking about the immediate, it can cause us—ultimately—to lose sight of the eternal.  We’ll zig-zag through life, wasting energy and ending up slowly but surely off-course.

A Practical Approach to Worry & Anxiety in the Bible

Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow. ~ Swedish proverb

Worry.  Anxiety.  There are a lot of different words that can describe these types of feelings.  I tend to differentiate in that worries are specific—a presentation at work going poorly, a friend being offended by what I said—while I think of anxiety as a more generalized feeling of dread or fear.  That’s not necessarily scientific, just how my brain tends to separate them.  Personally, I’m more prone to the latter.  And while I wouldn’t consider myself a worrier, I do struggle with this on occasion—pretty much everyone does at some point.

There is a famous quote that says, “Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.”  Intuitively we know that being anxious all the time isn’t healthy, and yet often it seems like we can’t help ourselves.

I thought it would be worth digging into the topics of worry and anxiety in the bible, to see how we should approach them—are we dealing with a true innate personality trait, or something we can and should overcome?  And then we’ll dive into some practical ways to apply this in our lives.

Read next:  Eyes on the Horizon: Tips For Navigating This Life

What does the bible say about worry and anxiety?

Actually, quite a lot.

Here are a handful of verses that get right to the heart of the bible’s take on worry and anxiety:

  • “Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression, but a good word makes it glad” (Prov. 12:25)
  • “In the multitude of my anxieties within me, Your comforts delight my soul” (Ps. 94:19)
  • “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on” (Matt. 6:25-34)
  • “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27)
  • “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7)
  • “Cast your burden on the Lord, and He shall sustain you; He shall never permit the righteous to be moved [shaken]” (Ps. 55:22)
  • “And Jesus answered and said to her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her’” (Luke 10:41-42)
  • “I sought the Lord, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears” (Ps. 34:4)
  • “For what has man for all his labor, and for the anxious striving for which they labor under the sun?” (Eccl. 2:22; NIV)
  • “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties” (Ps. 139:23, NIV)

And these don’t even count the 100 or so times that we are commanded to “be not afraid” or “fear not”.   God clearly sees these topics as relevant to His people and worth addressing.

Read next:  Fear & Love Can’t Coexist (Musings on Faith)

How does worry affect us?

The word typically translated as worry or anxious in the New Testament is merimnao (G3309), and it simply means “to be anxious about”.  It’s translated “worry” in the New King James mostly, while the King James tends to prefer “take no thought for” or “do not care for”.  This word is what’s used in some of the more well-known verses on this subject, such as Matthew 6 and Philippians 4.  Let’s dig into that (lengthy) passage in Matthew for starters:

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