Monday, August 25, 2014

History in Perspective

I have visited the Reformation from the top to the bottom.  Sweden is the northernmost country of the Reformation.  Spain is the southernmost.  On the way we flew over the French Alps and they were beautiful and covered with snow but I didn't get much about the Reformation from that.  As I gazed over the great plains of Mercia I imagined the great battles between Christians and Moors that took place in the 15th century.  It reminded me of the coming Armageddon.

It is amazing how you can better grasp history by actually being in these places and touching the graves of the Reformers and standing on historical spots where great things happened.

The 1500s were a time of tremendous upheaval in the Church.  More than any other time in history this was when Christianity prepared to touch the whole world in Christ.  Western Civilization was formed on the Reformation and the Counter Reformation.

At the time Columbus and other explorers were headed around the world to claim the world for Christ (check it out and see the purpose of the explorations).  I could understand why Columbus would like to escape from the heat of  sunny Spain but the Caribbean isn't much better.  From Spain to Sweden there was a great emergence of Christian triumphalism.  From the Spanish cities to Swedish cities I saw it was a tremendous and sudden time of  increase in wealth.  These churches and cities, which still remain to this day, proclaim the centrality of Christ.  In Sweden you can hardly go anywhere without seeing grand buildings dedicated to Christ's glory.  In Spain there are Christian statues and plaques and crosses everywhere you go.  In Sweden  I spoke with a City planning expert and he complained that even to this day the law is that no building shall be built higher than the nearest church.   In both Spain and Sweden bells still call people to prayer.

One thing that stands out about this time is the emergence of powerful, great Christian leaders in government who worked with the church to insure the people under their realm worshiped and served THE SAME GOD.  I don't know if Spain is as Catholic as it was then (I saw evangelical billboards on the main highways) but it is hard to find anything but Lutheran churches in Sweden.  In fact you did not join the Lutheran church, you automatically were a member unless you openly proclaimed you wanted out.

The 16th century was a time the Holy Roman Empire broke into nation states, each with their own churches.  It was a great blow to the authority of one Catholic Church and the authority of the Pope.  Yet as Northern Europe was lost, the Roman Church made great gains in the new world.  They stole their gold and taught the conquered people the Hail Mary.  And from Britain great crowds of Christians who were unsatisfied with the Church of England left to begin a New England with puritan zeal.

Today I spoke with the captain of a ship who knew a lot about the history of the Swedish Church all the way from St. Ansgar (who brought Christianity to Sweden in the 800s to the Peterson brothers, Olaf and his brother Laurent who in 1520 translated the Bible into Swedish and began public education in Sweden (why? to teach them how to be better followers of Christ).  This captain proudly told me that Sweden was the most nonreligious country in the world today.  I told him he was wrong, religion is only living out what you believe so Sweden is as religious as any other country.  We all have our religion.  In fact that is the problem with today, there are so many choices they cannot all be right. Too many choices does not guarantee wise or true choices.   In fact Jesus Christ proclaims there is only one true way, truth and life and nobody goes to the Father but by Him.

Alfonso the Wise and Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain knew this, Gustav Vasa, King of Sweden knew this.  They had the power, authority and motivation to insist their subjects followed Christ as one nation.  Today we have so many choices that most people make no choice at all but go with the flow, even if that flow is a sewer leading to hell.  During the 15th century Christians disagreed on the authority of the Pope, the bible, tradition and sacraments.  But even through all the mess and corruption and heresy and untidiness of the 1500s we are still living in the golden glow of what these wise leaders did.

That ship's captain asked me who I thought who was best to lead America in the coming years.  I said "I know of no one who is any good."  We don't have Alfonso's and Isabella's and Vasa's among us today.  But maybe God is raising another batch of Christian leaders in our children today.   May it be so Lord.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Spain reconquered for Christ

      I am back in Sweden after a week in Southern Spain.  It was very, very hot and sunny in Spain and in Stockholm there is a bit of a nip in the air. It is strange to go from struggling in Spanish to struggling in Swedish.
     My friends have taken me on a practically non stop car run around Southern Spain.   Yesterday I was in Lorca.  This area was one of the last reconquered for Christianity.    It seems that Spain from the 8th to the 16th Century was facing what we are facing today.  A militant Islam was determined to conquer the world and almost succeeded in Spain.  It took nearly 600 years to stop Islam and reconquer Spain for Christ.
        I could not believe how beautiful Lorca is.   It is surrounded by mountains and castles and Ancient Roman and Carthaginian towns.  I saw so many ancient buildings and Roman forums and beautiful city walls.  To get there from Mercia we had to cross a big mountain.  The roads were double way and not yet as wide as one lane in America.  So if you met anyone coming the other way you were in a pickle.  There were no guard rails and you could look straight down to your doom if you were not careful.  From bare volcanic lands as we arose in the mountains the landscape became all a strange kind of pine tree.  They smelled beautiful.   We got lost and as my friends were trying to figure the way I stood there with a huge vista seeing out into the Mediterranean sea it was dazzling as I thought "This is where Jonah was headed, this was where Paul the Apostle preached, this was where so much of early Christianity took place."  We passed a very old boarding college that was in ruins and ancient houses that were also in ruins.   And in the higher elevation the air was cool and the wind through the pine trees sang the most beautiful melodies.  I wanted to stay up there but my friends were hungry for lunch.  As we headed down we saw the most beautiful huge lake that was so turquoise we longed to swim in it.
     We arrived in Lorca and it was like stepping back in time.  Actually times, there was the Carthage time, the Roman time, the Christian time, the Moorish time and the reChristian time.  Two years ago there was a big earthquake and many of the beautiful old baroque buildings were damaged.  A huge old church lost its steeple.  One very ancient church had the roof cave in.  They were still trying to restore the buildings.  We drove up another mountain to the Castle of King Alfonso el Sabio.  He was a great Spanish king of the 12th century who had a great Christian influence.  He set up laws which helped the farmers and wrote hymns for the church.   His castle sticking out in glowing rock from the top of the mountain was awe inspiring.  We parked and went into the castle but a girl greeted us saying we had to pay 16 Euros each to get into the castle and enclosed ancient town.  My friends thought that they should pay them for enduring a history lesson and declined.  So we walked around the walls till we came to a 4 star hotel and went inside.  The air was perfumed and it had a very fancy rest room.  From there we got up on the walls and it was astonishing to think that I was standing where King Alfonso el Sabio stood.
        Going down into the city of Baroque Lorca was horrendous.  The city had streets that you almost could put your hand and foot out and touch both sides as buildings were built so close together.  We stopped at a very ancient church building that had the stone roof caved in from the earthquake.  I wanted to go in and see the inside but it didn't look like a wise idea.  I closed my eyes continuing on those streets thinking we were going to hit a car or a house but we didn't.  We saw many beautiful baroque buildings and churches with statues everywhere and as I said many were cracked and missing pieces and had nets around them to keep them from falling a part.  I saw one huge closed cathedral with a statue of St. Patricio greeting people outside.  This is the same St. Patrick that took Christianity to Ireland.
     Lorca during the middle ages was a very dangerous place to be as it was right in between the Christian Murcia and the Moslem Kingdom of Granada.  No wonder there were so many forts and castles, the Moors wanted what Al Queda wants today - for Christians to convert or die.  It took until 1450 for Christianity to reconquer the rest of Spain and then King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella supported Columbus' sailing to the new world.
    What a joy it was to be there even with a huge headache from the hot sun.  To actually stand where these earth shaking events took place.  I saw the plains where great wars between Christianity and Islam took place.  I could almost understand why after all that tension and fighting the Catholics ordered a cleansing of Spain for Christ.   I saw so many beautiful churches and towers and heard their bells proclaiming the time to pray.  Of course when humans try to do God's work we always mess up.  I couldn't get over how all these churches are dedicated to Maria and her statues are everywhere.  But on top of many hills are simple but huge crosses that proclaim that Spain belongs to Jesus Christ.   And I look forward to that day of Romans 14 when" It is written: "'As surely as I live,' says the Lord, 'every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.'" and Romans 2 "that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth".  I live for that day.
     Well, I never expected to go to Spain but I did and I saw a whole lot of it.  The Mediterranean sea was so crystal clear and warm we went to many beaches to swim and it was a pleasure to look out across it and imagine seeing the first Christians arrive and preach.  I wondered if it was that hot and sunny in Israel in those days but can imagine it was since Peter took a good Spanish siesta on the roof of a house before being sent to Cornelius and making the first Gentile converts.  
     Now I have to shift gears and get back to the Reformation in Sweden.  I will be headed up to Uppsala where the same time Christians struggled to reconquer Spain the Swedish Christians were struggling to reform the corruptions of the medieval church.   I will see the huge Viking graveyard of old Swedish paganism being overshadowed by the cross of Christ.  That shadow has grown thin today but great things will be happening as Christ works here

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Christianity in Spain and an example for Americans

The Inquisition
I am sitting on the balcony of my friend’s amazingly beautiful condo in Alecante, Spain.   The weather is wonderful, sunny, in the 70s.  I am looking out at a big lake, some more condos and from one side is the Mediterranean sea, on the other you can see far off the city of Valencia and then the mountains.  Alecante is a good place to be on my study leave.  It is an ancient city 4000 years old.   In the bible this place is called Tarshish.  Jonah was fleeing here when God told him to go and preach the Gospel to Nineveh.  In the AD time this was a Christian city, then the Moslems Arabs came and then Ferdinand and Isabella won this city back for Christianity.  To ensure that it would stay Christian they drove out anyone they had any doubts was a Christian.  The Moslems went, the Jews were forced to leave, and the Protestants which many of them still call “The Heretics” were forced to leave.   Those who tried to stay behind were tortured and killed.  Yesterday night at 10 and 11 pm we were walking around town and a huge festival was going on for Nuestra Dama de la Luz “Our Lady of the Light”  It was wonderful seeing hundreds and hundreds of Spaniards eating, playing , talking.  They were very gay.   But this area is not happy.  Spain has a 50% unemployment rate especially among young adults just starting.  They are very happy to have the Swedes, the Brits and the Germans here to serve.  The beaches are amazing, the water is clean and warm and it is a wonderful place to be.
        I read that when the Inquisition was finished and Alecante was purely Catholic the place fell apart.  All the skilled people, the merchants, the jewelers, the employers were gone.   It fell into a slump that is still being felt today.  Outside the foreign areas it looks like Mexico, broken buildings, burned ground, trash, graphiti.  I am sure those festival goers, if they prayed at all, prayed for happier times here among the faithful to “Our Lady of the Light”.
      I have often wondered how it would be if Christians in America were in control and forced those around us to confess the faith or leave.  The Puritans did this in New England.  Pennsylvania became a haven for what were called “Dissenters” those who disagreed with Puritan doctrine.  William Penn, the Quaker, welcomed them in. 
      Today the Moslem fanatics are going further than the Inquisition did.  Not only do they want you to be like them or flee or die, they want to do this to the world.  It is submit to our god on our terms or you are dead.  The hypocrisy of being better than thou, of persecution, of murder, of theft and a thousand other sins against god that they are doing is ignored.
      God only ordained one inquisition.  He told Joshua to take the land for the children of Israel. It was strict, no plundering, benefiting on their sorrow, just judgment that the Holy Land belonged to the people God had made a promise to in Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. There was never another time this was permitted.  God wants us to live among unbelievers and provide an example,  God wanted His children to live, work, talk and love unbelievers in the hope they are prodigals whose hearts of stone would be touched by the love of God and turned into living flesh.  We are not to gloat, persecute or cast out.   We are to love, teach and reach in their company for the truth.
     How do we do this?  In Alecante they have huge paintings of Our Lady of the Light everywhere in the Fiesta.  But I didn’t see anyone praying.  I saw a lot of eating tapas and paella.  I saw children being enticed to buy Godzilla and rainbow making toys.   I was wondering why so much fuss about “Our Lady” and no mention that  I could see of Jesus Christ, her son, OUR LORD.
      The Inquisition went further than saying “convert or leave”.  There were many inquisitions and the latter ones took Jewish, Muslim and heretic (that’s us) converts to Catholism and accused them of not being converted enough.  These were professing Christians but that wasn’t enough.  They didn’t look, talk or were Catholic enough for their taste.
       When I was in Karlstad with Michel he was pleased that I was a pastor.  But he said in his view a huge problem in our world today is fragmented Christians who fight, argue and hate one another because they don’t look, talk or are Protestant enough to our taste.   He says for Christ’s Church to move forward we must have essentials but the nonessentials we must overlook.   The pagan world around us looks and laughs at us because we fight one another because of how we celebrate baptism or communion or which reformer our forefathers followed or how we feel God’s house of worship should look or what music we sing to.  There are more important callings our Lord is calling us to.  And this is to be like leaven in bread, to be amongst people and lovingly lead them to Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.
       In Sweden the State Church has been captured by ungodly leftists.   The faithful seem to be very few and they don’t know how to reach those whose knee will not willingly bow to the LORD in loving gratitude for life, for blessings and for the promise of eternal life.  In fact the church looks like it is in full retreat.  Michel said that the victory of the ungodly is to call sharing our condition and our Savior with children child abuse.  The King of Sweden, the titular head of the state church is silent and not much of a Christian example at all.  In America it seems our churches have become clubs where you learn how to enjoy Christianized rock, how to better your finances and raise happier children.  The church today seems to cater to people wanting to please themselves instead of bowing in love the one true God of heaven and earth. 
        Here I divert to what I believe Calvin and the reformed faith would have us do.  Education, pursuing real truth from its source, the Word of God that has stood for thousands of years as the pillar of civilization and faith.  It is as old as Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, David, the prophets and the fulfillment of all truth in Christ’s miraculous birth, holy life, atoning death, bodily resurrection, Assention and promise to return at the end.  In the meantime what did Christ tell us to do?  To love Him above everything and our neighbor as ourself, to proclaim the way, truth and life.  To not get sidetracked by riches and things that perish.   Christ calls us to go out and make disciples of all nations, to baptize and to teach all that He commanded.

      There you have the hope of the Church in the world.  Right here is our focus and goal.  Right here is our mission plan and the focus of our worship and stewardship and evangelism.  I can imagine those Dominican friars frying those that didn’t look, talk or fit in to the way they thought Catholics should do.  I can imagine a coming time when maybe we will be challenged to bow to Allah or die.  It happened before it is happening again.  How does Jesus respond?  In Matthew we read Jesus saying “Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.'"    Let’s live as wheat, smell like wheat, look like wheat and love the weeds until they become wheat.   Then let the Lord do His “inquisition”.  Christ is the only one who knows how to do it right

PS - I am writing this from the balcony in full Spanish sunlight which is very bright and hot.  Please excuse any mispellings occured,  I can't see to correct.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Some results from the Reformation

How the Reformation brought the world prosperity and poverty?
           In my travels through Sweden one thing that stands out very clearly is that Sweden is a very rich country.  You don’t see old cars.   All the appliances are new.  They eat very well.  Prices are very high but people don’t seem to have trouble paying.  Yesterday evening I was walking my friend’s dog through the King’s garden and there is a restaurant called Osaxan.  It is a simple restaurant by the archipelago.  I heard English, an American coming out complaining “I paid $200 for that little meal and not even a bottle of wine?”  Style is well-promoted in ultra modern, all the furniture, the walls, the curtains are white.  The buildings are ancient but they are modernized.   In all the harbors are very luxurious boats and in the countryside are very luxurious summer houses.  What brought this great wealth to Sweden and to Europe and Western Civilization as a whole?   Most attribute it to the reformation.
            At the time of the Reformation much of Europe was owned by the church.  In Sweden I have seen many beautiful and huge churches, Bishop’s palaces and cloisters and lands in Sweden that were once owned by the Roman church.  When the reformation came all of this passed into the hands of the kings and wealth spread downwards.  In addition to the power and riches of the Roman church they funneled money into Rome to build churches there.  The building of St. Peters in Rome was one of the straws that broke the camel’s back.  Martin Luther saw how very poor people were tricked into giving what little money they had to get their loved ones out of purgatory.  Common people were serfs (working on someone else’s land for their benefit) and there was not much prospect of improving their lot.  In fact they were tied to the ground and stuck where they were.  They were considered not of equal worth with the higher stratus.  Sweden was a poor country and only the upper classes could get an education and get ahead.  There was a saying “You don’t marry below your class”. 
            The reformation changed this as people began to look to the Bible for who they were and how to live.  The bible teaches that ALL have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.  In a positive way this means that all people are created equal.  There is not blue blood and trash blood, only God given blood.  Not only this; the bible says that in Christ we all have access to God directly. We don’t need special human mediators to save us.  The bible also says that when we die then comes the judgment.  But God judges us on our relationship to Him and our neighbor, not on keeping manmade laws.  We are judged as to whether we stand on our own or are saved by the blood of Christ.  The bible tells us that there is only one mediator between God and man and that is not a priest, but Christ Jesus alone.  It is very true that the Bible is a dangerous book; it threatens the world, the flesh and the devil.
            The reformation changed the social world, the political world and the religious world.  One of the results was nationalism.  Instead of one Holy Roman Empire people identified themselves as Swedish, English and German.  Instead of being under the pope they were under their king.  Not only did the Reformation change the world to Protestant, it also changed the Roman church as Catholics saw the prosperity of the Protestants and began demanding change of their own.  The reformation shaped Western culture.
            I read one article from the Catholic side that said the Protestant Reformation brought two evils into the world - “Capitalism” and the other “Socialism”.  A connection was formed between economics and religion.   This is clearly seen in what became known as “The Protestant Work Ethic.”  Before, you worked to make your master rich because it was your lot in life.  And human beings became resentful-- many worked as little as they could.  Among Calvinists, people began seeing themselves as equal to anyone, even to the king and worked to get ahead.  It was this that produced the middle class.  Not only did you work well, you worked for God and did the best you could trying to improve yourself .  When something got in your way you immigrated.  Millions of people left Europe to find a better life in America.  America was a vacuum cleaner for people seeking to worship God freely and equally, improving your lot in life and being as good as anyone else.  This was economic as well as religious and social.  There was a demand for a just wage, a just working situation and a fair chance to get ahead.  Unfortunately this led to a separation between the temporal and the eternal and many took the Christian principles of the reformation and not only dethroned the pope but dethroned God and made themselves god.  Man became his own self-centered master.  Instead of us living for God, God was to live for us.  Prosperity was seen as a reward and poverty was seen as a punishment and a disgrace.  The accumulation of wealth became an end in itself and to hell with those who couldn’t keep up.  Instead of looking at life from a view of serving God it became a view of serving yourself, making yourself rich and happy and exploiting the world for personal gain.  The supernatural became a threat to focusing on exploiting the natural.
As the fruits of the reformation - independence, freedom and prosperity flowed on some well doers sought ways to make secular churches where people of different religions or no religion could come together and prosper more.  One professor I read said that in place of churches clubs, fellowships, conferences, lodges and other organizations took the place of church.  At the head of these groups was not the God of the Bible but the god of money and public respectability.  Their temple or house of worship was not the church but their place of business.  They take pride on being richer, smarter, and more popular than others.
Socialism was a reaction to this.  It also focuses on the equality of all people but it sees an equality based on the low rather than the high.  If someone has more than you take it, tax it and bring them down to your level.  Sweden had a socialist revolution in the 1930s and still to this day there is an attempt to bring people down.  There is even a Swedish word for it “lagom” which means something like “ordinary” or “adequate” but it is used as a positive, not negative word.   Fortunately it doesn’t fit with the Swedish spirit.  Everything to them must be made well, of high quality.  The Swedes reach for it but are open to stop, look around and change.  Thus Socialists and Capitalists try to get along and reach for both goals of “lagom” and prosperity.  I listened to a debate on TV yesterday.  The Swedes are having a general election next month.  Right now the conservatives control the government but the Socialists and Communists (they now call themselves the “Left Party”) are fighting it out.  From left to right they are trying to come up with “lagom” and “prosperity”. 

Where is God in all this?  Unfortunately nowhere.  Sweden and the world today is living on the benefits of the reformation but without God.  That is like having a beautiful mansion and moving it off its foundation.    There seems to be very little struggle and fighting to restore the rights of Christ as King over society, as least not openly.  The concept of “Multiculturalism” will not permit it even to be spoken of in Sweden or in America.  But as times change it is worth looking into.  For without the God of Reformation prosperity cannot be maintained in the long run.  Christians should be struggling and fighting to restore the rights of Our Lord as King over society.  After all don’t we sing “This is my Father’s World!”  Do we really mean it?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

A meeting with the Director of Child Evangelism of Sweden

      God works in strange and wonderful ways.  I had been in contact with Child Evangelism Sweden because I had thought it would be nice to consider being a missionary here when I retire.  The director emailed me and invited me to visit him but he lived way over on the other side of Sweden close to the Norwegian border.  I thought I would not be able to see him.  But the friend I am staying with in Saltsjubaden told me he was going to Karlstad to look to buy an apartment for his son who is going to study there.  More than a coincidence?   Today I was in a car over 6 hours traveling through the most beautiful countryside.  Lots of pine trees and then farmsteads with fields of golden grain and bjorkar, those trees with the white bark, past many lakes.  We arrived in Karlsted and the director Of CEF met me and we drove another 15 minutes to go to his house.  He drove a little bus and I asked if it was CEF’s bus.  He said “No, I just have a lot of children.”  He has 7 children from 7 down.  We arrived at his house and I met all seven blond haired kids and what impressed me was their loving politeness in introducing themselves to me (not the babies but you know).  We sat down to dinner and the kids sang “Thank you Lord “ dinner song. 
     We spoke about Christianity in Sweden.  Here is what he said.  He grew up in a Communist/Socialist home, both his parents were against religion.  In college he was a communist but he realized how dead and empty communism is.  He remembered as a little child in public school how the teacher taught them a song about how Jesus loves us and he asked Jesus into his heart.  He then dedicated himself to reaching the children of Sweden.  His wife grew up in a Christian house.  He said that he loves the state Lutheran church but it is the worst enemy of Christianity.  He said to be a minister in the state church you don’t have to believe in Christ or the Bible, they don’t even ask if you do.  But you must believe in Feminism and Abortion and Homosexuality and profess it publically to be ordained and you will be persecuted and rejected as a bad person if you don’t.  He said his Lutheran Church pulled out of the state church and believes all the things in the Lutheran Concord of the State Church that they don’t believe anymore.  He didn’t want to say they were “evangelical” because he says liberals here have captured that word and changed its meaning.

       He and his wife are artists who produce children’s programs, cartoons and video programs.  They have one small Christian TV channel in all of Sweden.  He has his own studio in their house and with computer animation and with music from his keyboard they produce Christian programming.  He says that there is no possibility of going into the public school or even the Swedish Christian schools where the bible isn't believed.  The authorities, including the Church of Sweden are against teaching the evangelical faith.  He says the state church thinks it is child abuse to say they are sinners in need of a Savior.  He says the key they want to teach children in school today is multiculturalism (except true Christian culture).  He says that he sees the only way to reach children for Christ in Sweden today is through the Internet because Swedish children spend hours and hours online.  He said Sweden has the strongest internet signals in all Europe.  Christians must produce quality internet games and programs designed for children because is the best way to reach them.  Sweden is so big and people are so spread out it is hard to get them together for Bible clubs.
    He said that children in Sweden are in crisis today because they are empty inside and looking for truth.  We have the knowledge of Christ and His Word that they need.  He also said that foreigners can do things in Sweden which Swedish Christians can't accomplish and encourages Americans to work and help CEF here.  He showed me some of the cartoons and animated programs he has produced are top notch.  I encouraged him to contact Moody Bible Institute in Chicago which is working on multimedia in Christian ministry and I have a Christian friend at Pixar who can also help him.
      After delicious Swedish coffee (He says Loftberg Coffee, produced in Karlstad, is the best and there is a rivalry between it and Gevalia).  After the interview we drove back to Stockholm.   I found out that now I am going to Spain for a week.   Uggggg - first I struggle to communicate in Swedish and now I must try to get by in Spanish.  Maybe I can contact some Spanish missionaries there.  If you know any let me know.  I will be in Alecante which is by Barcelona.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Why is the church disconnected from people today?

           I have been in Sweden for almost 2 weeks now.   I have stayed with friends in many towns and cities.  They have treated me royally.   I have gone out and walked the streets almost every day and gotten lost.  Yesterday I walked and walked around Stockholm looking for Kungliabiblioteket and spent over 7 hours walking.  Everywhere are beautiful buildings and cafes and butiks.  I gasp at how much everything costs like a little hot dog and fries at a stand on the street for $20.  But in my getting lost I have spoken in Swedish to many, many people.  The older people seem the friendliest, the younger ones give the best directions.  When I ask the older people how to get to “Adolf Fredrick Church” they shake their head and say “Poor man, it is such a long ways away from here.”   Another man said “You have a Swedish face but an American mouth (my accent in Swedish!).”  I have sat and prayed in beautiful churches from 1100s to 1700s.   I did get to speak with a very nice pastor in Lynkoping cathedral but at all the other churches you can’t find the pastor.  I wrote to three of them with email asking for interviews but they ignored me.   So from what I see the church is DISTANT from the common people and foreigners.  The pastor comes out, does the service and is gone, don’t bother him (or her).   At the back of each church is a desk with a receptionist.  That person is just there to make sure nothing is stolen and sells history books.  It is clear that for most people visiting a church is like visiting a museum.  The church is even apologetic about being Christian.  I read the church newspaper with a picture of a proud pastor showing that he wears blue jeans and is “HIP”.  Does he speak about Christ?  No, about his hobbies.   There are many Moslems moving to Sweden.  Does the church (which once demanded every inhabitant be a Swedish Lutheran unless you actively pull away) have a plan to evangelize these Moslems to receive Christ?  NO, I heard a Swedish pastor say “We have our traditions (religion) and they have theirs and as we embrace their traditions we are enriched.”  Uh, huh! I understand – you are saying you don’t have much confidence in your faith that without Christ you are lost. 
       It used to be that the Swedish church and state were connected and pastors and maintenance of churches were paid for by the state.  This connection gave the state power to control the pastors.  They gave these pastors the job of tracking people’s births and baptisms, marriages and deaths.  But about 10 years ago that ceased and the church had to turn all of their records over to the state who is now taking charge.  The state also cut way back on money support and it is becoming very difficult to maintain these beautiful historical jewels in Sweden’s crown.  And the older people say “I remember how the church and pastors were once very much respected but not today.”  When I asked people on the street where this church or that church is, they look at me strangely as if to ask “Why would you want to go to a church?”  The older people know where the churches are but the younger ones increasingly do not.
       Now after all that let me tell you my (and others) opinion as to why people are disconnected from the church all over the world today.  It is true that in Sweden and in England and other places the Reformation was used by politicians and others to take all the rich church lands away from the Roman Church.  The Roman church was “filthy” rich and powerful, a plum worth picking.  The void between church and people caused a demand to take away the church's riches and power.  The Reformation propelled the church into the community to teach anxious people the bible in their own language and give them moral direction.  But as people grew richer and richer, especially in our time, here is what happened.  First people said 1.  There is a god but I am god. 2.   I don’t need the bible to judge me; I am my own independent judge.  3.  My riches prove that I am in control.  4.  If there is God He wants me to be happy and satisfied getting what I want.  4.  When things go bad it is God’s fault because He didn’t give me what I think is reasonable and fair.  5.  God is here to serve me.
           The church is very confused about all this.  Here are important questions that we are confused about.  1.  Is the church a building?  2.  Is the church activities? Or 3.  Is the church a mission to serve poor people? 4.  Or is it something else?   Luther, Calvin and Zwingli answered these questions by directing us to ask “What does the Bible say?”  But in our day of instant access, sound bites and quick, simple quips people reply “It is too hard to understand the bible” (anyway it is an old, outdated book that promotes social injustice).  The church itself cannot answer these questions because many leaders in the church feel guilty about the bible and lust after the world themselves.  They are trying to reimagine the church to survive, play the game and fit in.  But the world laughs at us like we are a dog that licks your hand and wants to be petted.  Youth especially see this hypocrisy and run from their salvation to what?  You know, entertainment, immorality and trying to live up to what is popular in their peer culture.  They also believe “If there is a god He wants us to be nice and have a good time.”  In other words “If there is a god His job is to keep us happy.”
       It isn’t new.  I sat in Adolf Frederick church and there are three huge things that vie for your attention.  There is the enormous, pulpit way up in the air at a dizzying height, crowned with its own ornate roof where for 600 years the pastor looked down on the people and spoke God’s Word.   Then in front of the church is the huge altar with its big rail and table and a huge, strangely Arian, Swedish looking Christ with no beard rising to heaven and on top are marble clouds and the Father receiving His Son.  But to the right of the pulpit is another monument.  It is a figure of a globe with an angel taking a cover off the world as if exposing truth and above that the figure of Rene Descartes and his tombstone. It is like its own altar.   This famous French philosopher was living in Sweden as a tutor to Queen Christina.  It is said that he was used to staying in bed until noon.  Queen Christina demanded he come and teach her at 5am in the morning.   He caught pneumonia and died and was buried in the churchyard.  But because he was a Catholic they put him in the part of the cemetery for unbaptized infants.  A few years later the French came and dug him up and took him back to France.  But his monument, celebrating his taking the blinders off the world in enlightenment is still proudly on display next to the altar to the risen Christ.
         Now why such a huge altar to Descartes, this French Catholic, mathematician and philosopher? His philosophy changed western thinking changing the source of worship from Almighty God to enlightened man.  It was some 300 years ago but we are still eating his fruit which has grown rotten and is being replaced with things like Jihad, Hollywood and Wall Street?  He and other “enlightened” thinkers shifted our focus from God to “We are gods with power to control our own destiny.”  Instead of following God’s Word, the Bible we follow “what works in the short term”.  We are privileged in being in the generation which sees that this philosophy has a rotten, empty core.  Like the Reformation we are in a time of flux and questioning.  Western culture is exactly like being on the Titantic, it is going down in the seas of multiculturalism and people are scrambling for seats on nonexistent lifeboats.  So the “enlightened” church and popular culture entertain us as the ship goes down.
      Here is what the church is not prepared to face now.  How do you steer people back to the authoritative, inspired Word of God that teaches us with uncompromising truth (despite so called experts finding fault with it) without looking like the Jihadists?  Reasonable people look at extremists and say “No thanks”.  Today people look at the church and wonder how the church fits into their quest for pleasure, entertainment and being their own authority.  But it doesn’t work, it doesn’t fit, it isn’t nice.  When the church plays the game “Let’s be cool” it never works because we will never be cool and we do such a horrible job at it from a worldly view we are embarrassing.  Wearing blue jeans, playing guitars, banging drums, having coffee clubs and discussion groups on how to get what you want will not work.  And the world has a weapon they pull out when we ask them to turn to a loving God.   I am tired of being asked “Where was God in the holocaust?” Of course if you answer “God was there and it was part of His plan to let an evil, Satan inspired man and nation try to destroy His chosen people” they will look at you like you are a monster.  But isn’t this exactly why Jonah fled to Tarshish and Assyria took Israel and Babylon took Judah into captivity?  We are so infected with the pleasure principle that to think that God would do such a thing is unimaginable.   But the prophets said it was God’s judgment on a people who turned their backs on Him and their neighbor and that it would work for good.  The promise God made to Abraham for a Savior would be kept and we would be given hearts of living flesh instead of dead stone.  Jesus promised that His Spirit would lead us into all truth.
        What we will be judged for today is how we are using our “hearts of living flesh” to do God’s will today.  And first we must overcome the poison in our churches and in our hearts that says 1.  I am a god,  2.  I am my own judge.  3.  God wants me to be happy and pleased. 4.  If I am not pleased then I will hate God and make Him unhappy.    Luther, Calvin and Zwingli’s advice is still the best “What does the Bible say?”

        My solution for the church today is to know and be confident of the truth that there is no other way than Jesus Christ, no other Word than God’s Word and no other will but God’s Will.  In Luther’s time the King of Sweden embraced it and Sweden followed.  In Scotland Knox embraced it and Scotland followed.  In England King Henry XIII embraced it (out of convenience and conviction) and the Westminster divines embraced it and England followed (for a time).  In our world today the church has no great king or earthly leader ready to get behind.  But we have God’s Word to hold onto until He comes.  That’s my solution.  Unswerving confidence in God’s Word and Will and the Holy Spirit to inspire and lead us while we are on this increasingly spotted world.  And we must be un-apologizing and embarrassed about being out of step with the modern world.  The modern world is going to hell but Gods children will live with Him.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Greetings from Stockholm, Sweden

I am sitting in Nacka Bibliotech in Saltsjubaden, outside of Stockholm.  I am here on a Study Leave to study the Reformation in Sweden.  You might ask "You could stay home and go to the library!"  But I am here not so much to read but I am here to see and to touch and to smell Christianity in Another Culture.  And Sweden was not only a participant in the reformation it was the Savior of the Reformation in the Thirty Years war when Gustav Adolphus led the Swedish army into Germany and prevented the Roman Catholics from reconquering all of Europé.

I lived in Sweden in the early 1970s when I was a student at Stockholms University and while here I lived with a family and taught them English and drove them to tennis matches and other places.  Sweden has Always left an indelible mark on me.  So when I stepped off the plane and breathed the salt air I felt very much at home.  Then I said "What did I get myself into?"  I had asked the boys I taught in 1971 if I could stay with them and they were very enthusiastic "You come, big brother, and we take care of you."   So I have stayed in Stockholm, Saltsjubaden and Linköping and also in
Majfjärd way out in the country on the Baltic Sea.

The first hour after I arrived the wife of my friend walked me around central Stockholm and showed me Three huge churches with a lot of history.  They were from middle ages and they played large parts in the Reformation when Olaf Petri translated the bible into Swedish in 1520s. Since 900 ad when Sweden embraced Christianity the Church has meant Everything to Swedish people.  There were many huge monasteries and klosters for nuns.  Every village and town and city began building churches and the church was the biggest, the tallest and the richest place in town.  The Roman Catholic church owned most of the land and was enormously wealthy.  A lot of that wealth flowed to Rome.   When the Reformation came in King Gustav Wasa's time these properties were seized by the King and instead of being a Roman Church it became the Swedish church.  Instead of the focus being on rituals, people began reading the bible in their own language and forming society and individual lives around it.

        At that time King Christian of Denmark, after a big war, conquered Sweden and Norway and a big massacre took place of Swedish nobility and priests in Stockholm despite being promised clemency from King Christian.  In outrage, Gustav Wasa of Sweden lead an army to Stockholm following the Stockholm Bloodbath and in winning became King.  This took place where I was walking in a Banquet hall and church still standing.  Inside the church they had display cases with the actual caskets of these people and beautiful gold and silver used in worship at this time.  I actually waked on some of these people as many were buried under the church floor and saw their images engraved as their tombstones were the floor.  You could even smell the Reformation in the air of the churches where you can imagine what happened as the reformation took these Roman churches and in an instant they became Swedish churches.

        Strange to say the churches remained the same.  Same windows, statues, paintings, altars, even communion cups and baptism bowls.  Martin Luther was not like John Calvin.  Luther felt that "if it isn't against the bible let it be" where John Calvin in France and Switzerland and later in Scotland and Ireland felt "if it isn't in the Bible throw it out!" What this means is that the very history and churches and pews and altars can go back all the way to 900ad.   So far I have been in at least 10 churches and cathedrals from the 1100's and touched these early Christians, or at least their gravestones.  I have smelled their dust and seen the smoke of burning candles over a thousand years old.  I was in Linkoping cathedral yesterday and a pastor took me around and showed me the holes where they shot arrows and muskets out in their many wars.  He showed me secret doors where they could hide in invasions.  He even wanted to take me up to the top of the Cathedral tower which is as tall as a skyscraper but he said to get to the top you have to climb ladders and I might fall off and die.

         Of course I am not here just to see buildings.  A church is only a kiss to God from each generation that builds it.  But the church is people and in Sweden there are huge, beautiful churches literally everywhere but not as many people.  I am here to find out why and how the Swedish church is trying to turn this around.  I will write again when I get this figured out

                                 Don Hurray, på studerbesök I Sverige