Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Wantonness of the Human Mind and Easter

         Wanton is a word you don't hear every day unless you can't spell and you think this is a Chinese soup.  With all the horrible things going on in our time, terrorism, wars, abuse, cruelty, immorality, and the extremism of false religions, it gets you wondering where all this wantonness (def. deliberate and unprovoked evil or immorality) comes from.  

       Someone who attempted to answer or at least describe human wantonness was Daniel Defoe who was born in 1660 and wrote over 500 books and pamphlets.  You might remember him writing such books as Robinson Crusoe and Molly Flanders.  I can remember reading the first as a child and never liking it.  I couldn't understand why Robinson couldn't be happy living alone; I didn't like his superior attitude with his "friend" Friday and didn't understand why he wanted to go back to wanton England.  Molly Flanders is a much more repulsive book and deeply disturbing description of the life of a girl born in prison, and using people who tried to use her for selfish benefit.  Molly’s greatest pride and achievement in life was stealing and immorality.  She birthed many children and threw them away like trash.  She had lust but not love except the love of money and a desire never to be a servant but to be of the upper classes.  She played into that whole Restoration lie about classism and the superiority of the upper classes and the dirtiness and inferiority of the lower classes.  What bothers me about both Robinson and Molly was Daniel Defoe picking their brains and finding dirt.  But then again Daniel even studied to be a Puritan Presbyterian minister and we believe in total depravity.  What is so scary is how a holy, perfect God can find anything to love in us.  Robinson Crusoe was very proud and superior.  Molly was her worst enemy making horrible decisions on purpose.  Even when Molly turned to God it seems she wanted to use God like she used people, for her own selfish benefit.  How could God return this dirt with the gold of His love?

            Daniel Defoe was the ancient equivalent of a psychologist who strives to understand how the human brain and spirit work.  Oftentimes this is because the psychologist is trying to work out his or her own troubled spirit and is on a quest to see if human sin is universal, understandable, and unchangeable. 

Daniel lived through amazingly troubled times.  He was born in London the same year the Puritan Commonwealth of England was dissolved (it fell apart after Oliver Cromwell died) and the Restoration of the Stuart Kings came about.   England went from Puritan so-called sterility to Restoration bawdiness as the pendulum swung the other way.  The powerful one day became the refugees the next.  What was in was now out.  Daniel’s father was a candle maker and a butcher (wonder what he made his candles out of ??)  When he was 5 years old he witnessed the great plague which killed 70,000 people and the next year the fire of London which destroyed every house on his street except his and a neighbors.  When Daniel was 7 he witnessed the Dutch fleet coming up the Themes in an attack.  When he was 10 his mother died. 

Daniel was sent away to Rev. James Fisher’s Boarding School in Surrey which was  a Presbyterian dissenter school.  He joined the failed Monmouth Rebellion which tried to bring down Catholic King James and became a spy for William of Orange.  Daniel married a woman with a very big dowry and distained the ministry to become a merchant.  He had troubles with debtors and was a part of some very dubious enterprises which exposed him to many bad characters.  He fled across Europe and Scotland.  He was put in the Pillory (you know that public shaming thing where you put your head and hands through wooden yokes and people would taunt you).  He was also in Newgate Prison where he met not only unsavory criminals but also unsavory upper class people who paid to go in and see prisoners like you would pay to go to the zoo.  Daniel took his mind filled with the most amazing debaucheries of nature and man and started writing against injustice.  He wrote about most everything political and psychological and made everyone angry at some point.  He only survived on the help of important friends.  Being a Presbyterian he became an advisor to the Church of Scotland but wrote his English friends that he was “privy to all their folly”.   In Scotland he lived in Glasgow and witnessed many treacheries as sinful man tried to get the upper hand on sinful man.   He moved back to England and his last work was a political treatise in 1726 on “The British Tradesman” which attempted to convince people that tradesmen are just as good as gentry.

            As I look at it Daniel’s books describe the bawdiness and wantonness of human sin of which we are all infected.  I find his works depressive and his happy endings contrived.  Unlike Charles Dickens who saw gold at the bottom of the dirty soul, Daniel just found more dirt.

            What does this have to do with Easter?  If you know your Bible you can see from creation on there is a deficit in human character.  What made Eve want that fruit when she could have every other fruit in the garden?  What makes me want to eat English muffins and French bread with lots of butter when I never hankered for it when I could eat it without getting sick?   What made Robinson Crusoe treat Friday as his civilizing creation and Molly Flanders treat people who could have loved her so badly?  It’s sin.  And through 4000 years of human existence it has not changed.  The only thing that is changed is God’s offer of salvation through His crucified and risen Son.  Jesus became the perfect man we cannot be to pay the price of our sin.  Jesus had all our temptations yet without sin.  Jesus knew the very people who needed Him most were those who sinned the greatest and died for them while those who reveled in their pride and self-righteousness were left to perish in their blindness.

            Daniel Defoe had more incredible experiences in his life and met more interesting people than we will ever meet.  He lived through many human tragedies and saw the worst in people.  In Robinson Crusoe he rejoiced when the pagan Friday became a Christian and a brother and saw Friday’s life change with power.  He knew that Jesus Christ died for all people and each was as wanton as the next in need of salvation.  He saw that Jesus Christ made us brothers and sisters in faith by rising from the grave and sent His Holy Spirit to lead us out of the bondage to sin and into holiness.

            As we remember why Jesus had to suffer on the cross and rise from the grave put on Defoe’s brain and see the depressive wantonness of humanity and remember that our only hope is for Jesus to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.  And let us rejoice because of Easter.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

What will be posted in the Ellwood City Ledger

Mountville Presbyterian Church
Perry Twp., Portersville, PA

  Since 1807 when Thomas Jefferson was President, Mountville Presbyterian Church has been reaching out to the world with the love and saving grace of Jesus Christ our Savior.  Our congregation began in the closing years of the 18thcentury when this land became safe from Indian attacks and Scots and Irish immigrants settled in this land and other settlers received land grants for their service in the Revolutionary War.

                Through our years as a church, pastors and elders have served the people of our area well.  For most of our history we have been a rural church supporting the faith of farm families.  These people were evangelistic in faith and Mountville became the root which sponsored many other congregations in the area.  Not only did they build well physically (it is said the current building is from 1820, greatly remodeled in 1840 and changed many times over the years as needs changed)  it has supported missions all over the world with members going themselves into the world, as written in our church history, “for God’s honor and the joy of His children.”

                Mountville church may seem old but it has always had a young heart especially for children.  In fact in 1957 it was a youth missionary group from around the country who converged at Mountville to remodel the whole building when a basement was dug out, plumbing added and the decorations of the 19th century were updated to the 20th

                Mountville is known as a church that loves children.  We faithfully honor the Lord and give joy to His children with an annual Vacation Bible school at which we have many children from Portersville all the way through Ellwood City and much beyond.  This year our Vacation Bible School will begin on Sunday, June 14th with a picnic dinner and end on Thursday, June 18th with a closing program.  We will be using Group’s “Everest – Conquering Challenges with God’s Mighty Power”.  If you want to enroll your children call 724-368-3385.   We also have Youth Group that meets regularly with bible learning and fun activities.  Our children’s sermons have the front of the church greatly crowded but we can always find room for many more kids because that is the heart of our church’s’ desire from oldest time “To honor God and to give joy to His children.”

                Our Mission team will be up in Grove City this Memorial Day weekend giving out coffee and cookies to tired travelers.   We have gone many places; in recent years we sent many of our members to Mexico to build houses for the very poor, to Jamaica to run a VBS, to Pinion, AZ reaching to the Navajo with a VBS and not only far away but we support the Carpenters Project in Ellwood City with food and workers.

                As members of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church denomination we are strongly working to lead Moslems to Christ having a mission in Fintonia, Sierra Leon where we opened a school, dug a well so girls could attend (instead of spending their days hauling water for their families) and are in the process of building a church building for the every expanding congregation who have given their lives to Jesus Christ.  We have been involved in Sierra Leon’s effort to help them in the Ebola Crisis.

                Each Lord’s Day we meet to glorify and enjoy our Heavenly Father in worship, hear about the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and go out in the Holy Spirit in our daily mission praising the one Triune God each hour of the day.  We would welcome you to come and join us as we go into our future with hope and joy until the Lord comes again.  We are located right off of RT 488 at 2795 Mountville Road, Portersville, Pa.  Our telephone is 724-368-1102

Sunday, February 15, 2015

What is moral? or Did God create good or just acknowledge good?

            WOW,  does this thought make your head hurt?    I get a brainy journal called "Theology Matters".  This publication is aimed at church leaders to examine things we may overlook or take for granted.  The latest edition is about morality.  I have to admit it is hard to walk through the fine details of philosophers who look at the minutest  concepts of the question.  But it has some very practical things that all living beings must examine every day.

             Just last night I watched a movie called "Painted Veil."  It takes place in the 1920's and is about a doctor who marries a woman just wanting to escape her parents who does not love him.  He immediately takes her to China where he is helping in a Cholera epidemic.  She has an affair and he labels her as a adulteress and wants to divorce her.  She doesn't want to go back to England and accepts his offer to go right into the heart of Cholera country with him.  There they are both stripped bare as two very unhappy people who don't know what love and happiness are and have no way to turn.  There is a Christian mission in town dealing with the orphans and the sick.  The wife volunteers, learns how ugly life is, does her part to help and then falls in love with her husband for his trying to help people.  Looking at what they accomplish is rather small.  She teaches orphans to sing, he gets the village to pipe their water in to stop drinking Cholera infected well and river water.  He gets Cholera and dies and his wife is left in China pregnant (not knowing who the father is) and goes home to England.  Do they find God?  Not so much.  They accept the good morality of the nuns but live as if God is not their cup of tea.  They become "good people" seemingly without God.  Or so it seems on the outside.  Ultimately that doctor's cholera-infected flesh turns to dust or Jesus rewards him for his "doing this for one of the least of these my brothers you did it for me."

         This morning I wake up to hear that Christians are now the most martyred people in the world and hundreds die in Islamic countries every day.  The terrorists think they are doing good in destroying Christians and infidels and making everyone bow to Allah.  The newscasters portray us as "Western heros" who don't go in for such barbaric evil stuff.  This week I came across a documentary about Hitler before the war.  If Hitler had died before WW2 broke out he would be considered a good hero by many.  He took downtrodden, starving, poor Germany and made it prosperous.  He put everyone back to work and established what he said was good morality and ideals.  He cleaned up the cities and established "authorities" who kept order and put down "riff-raff".  People loved him and sighed "If only he had stopped there."  He would be today's hero of the socialists and liberals, an example of being good without God.

         What is good, what is evil?  That journal examined the core "Did God create 'good' or does "good' exist outside of God?  This is a very important matter for it is at the root of all the struggles our world is going through today.  Is there one morality or many moralities that are valid because they are useful at the time or is "goodness" a  universal truth that doesn't change?

         Does goodness exist outside of God or independent of God?  This is a question that goes all the way back to the ancient Greeks.  It is a question of who defines what good is and how we should live.  Is goodness subjective or objective?  David Hume said that morality arises because humans are inherently social and feel "sympathy" toward our fellow beings.  Can you see what's behind Hume?  Mankind is basically good and we just need the right education, persuasion, etc to bring the goodness out of us as we learn to care.  The Bible, however, says that mankind is basically evil and we need God to make us good and we are so bad Christ had to come to atone for our evil on the cross.

            I know there are some holiness, or Methodists or whatever that disagree and more agree with Hume but even John Wesley could not attain the moral perfection that he preached was attainable in this life.  If you take an honest look at human history you will find on the big scale humans are basically selfish with traces of selflessness thrown in when it suits us.

        What is the basis of goodness?  Most define goodness as selflessness and evil as selfishness although there are also many who see selfishness as a virtue.  Is goodness doing things because they are right -- not because they are just right for me?  If not you can do many evil things and consider them good because they are good for me!
        Now comes the big question, can we be selfless without ultimately surrendering our selfishness to God who only is good and can teach us how to be good?  Relativists, atheists, agnostics, etc. all disagree saying  "We can be good without God."   Then goodness becomes something that feeds our egos and makes us better than other people.  This is probably why those old Greek statues have no arms, they broke as they patted themselves on the back.

        John Wesley, in his perfectionism mentality, did say that goodness comes into us as the Holy Spirit indwells us.  Then we will follow Christ who is perfectly good.  We are then good not to please ourselves but to please God.  We become selfless not in ourselves but as the Holy Spirit changes our hearts of rock to hearts of living flesh.

          I believe we cannot be good without God. We wouldn't even know what true goodness is without God.  Isaiah says "All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away".  We cannot achieve goodness on our own.  Like, Hitler, Jimmy Jones, David Karesh we will always come up very short as the "ego" overcomes in us the "theo",  Even the best, most moral, most good among us have clay feet. Consider how many evil people would be considered good if only they had stopped in time.   As we enter Lent let us examine how God became flesh in Jesus Christ to make us truly good thru His atonement.

By the way, I am writing this on Sunday morning and it is -7 degrees and we cancelled worship service this morning.  I am here waiting for anyone to call and ask "Is there worship today?"  My answer is "Yes but better worship at home until this blizzard ends."

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Why doesn't the world care about dying Christians?

            As I was looking for music for our Sunday worship service I came across a very vivid youtube video.  It was so graphic and heartbreaking it would not be appropriate for a worship service.  But it is very important for Christians to watch as we perceive where God wants us to go to stop the insanity of our times.  If you have a strong stomach here is the video

            We are living in very bad times and I don't use the term "BAD" lightly.  The devil is very active doing his worst at tempting humanity to forswear God and to persecute and kill those who won't.  In the West so far the persecution is a chipping away of our Christian history and culture and restricting us more and more.  In other parts of the world Christians are losing their health, their property, their children and their lives.  It is horribly evil and it is tragically hidden from us by the media around us.  We hear isolated stories of people getting their heads chopped off and buildings blown up and a bomb set off in a crowd.  But this is just the little tip of what is going on.  There is a huge holocaust going on that is greater than the holocaust Hitler inspired in terms of numbers.  As far as the goal - it is the same - to wipe out the true worship of God and to impose another worship on us.

            As far as American Christians are concerned we are overwhelmed by the exodus from our local churches as Satan inspires other kinds of "recreation".  If you have been away from TV for awhile and you change channels off of Sports channel you should be shocked at what you see and hear.  Profanity is commonplace, sexuality is perverted and vividly displayed, story lines of comedies are in very bad taste and it seems Americans have an addiction to "Crime porn" - that is the titillating stories of criminals, autopsies, and what is called "trailer trash" which I take to mean low class insanity as opposed to high class insanity.   Even country music has gone dirty.  The church is so overwhelmed by Christian rejection in our own culture we don't have time to care about the much worse Christian rejection and martyrdoms in other cultures.

            In a way it is our fault.  Our culture has turned rotten, as rotten as the Roman Empire was that led to its fall.  Muslims look at us and object to our freedom to fornicate and live like the devil and to promote our rotten culture through the media in their lands.   And I for one would be very happy if we stopped exporting the rottenness and let them be but it is too late for that.  Their "CURE" and response is even more evil than the sickness they want to treat.
            How can Christians make a difference in the world today?   When I was in Sweden visiting the Child Evangelism director he said that the biggest obstacle that Christians have in dealing with problems in the world today is the fact that we are so divided.  Denominational-ism is necessary for purity but it isn't necessary to keep us apart when dealing with essentials.  We are weak because we are so separatist.  Liberalism has seen to it that churches are dividing and growing smaller and less relevant.  But there have been efforts in the past, such as "MORAL MAJORITY" which sought to bring Christians together.  There is the para-church movement which sought to unite Christians together for causes but in many cases it has no roots and goes off course.

         What we need today is much greater than those things.  We need something Holy Spirit inspired like the great revivals of the past.    Let's join with those who are praying for that.  Christian leaders of our day are silent about this holocaust.  Maybe we need better leaders who are God inspired to lead all Christians together to pray "THY KINGDOM COME, THY WILL BE DONE ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN".

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Interstellar MOVIE

Happy Belated Thanksgiving (I'm thankful if anyone reads this)
            One son was home for turkey and thanks and the other is in France.   When sons come home they want to see movies.   We saw two.  One was so interesting I thought I would review it for you because it confused me.  If you have seen it let me know if my thoughts are the same as yours.
            The first movie we saw was Interstellar.   It was a 3 hour ride that made your body and mind spin.  The time went by very quickly which is good for a movie.  You felt sucked in which is also a good sign.  The premise and plot were interesting which is another good thing.   BUT it reflected the thoughts and impressions of the age we live in which is a very bad thing.
          The movie started off grey/brown with interviews from 1930's Dust Bowl survivors.  Then it went to the "future" where the same thing is happening.  A former astronaut turned farmer was seen in his old farmhouse surrounded with sick corn and burning corn (from blight).   The message - GLOBAL WARMING has done us in, the air is so sick the world can't produce enough food.  But that is OK because terrible viruses have killed most of the inhabitants of the world and the future wasn't good for anyone else.   You get the impression that we were being punished for our environmental sins.
        The house was covered in dust, the furniture very depression looking and windows boarded up because of the huge dust storms that raged outside.  Things were bad and getting worse.  The family was seated around a board table eating humble cooking.  The family consisted of grandpa, son (the astronaut/farmer) and his son and daughter.  The 12 year old girl was very attached to her father.  She would hide in his truck when he went places and tease and joke around with him.  His young son was also loving.   The man's wife and probably the grandma died from the viruses (probably).  They were keeping things together like a traditional old time family (which was nice).  There was love all around in desperate times.
      But the girl's room was haunted but some "higher power" who was sending the girl messages by Morse code.  It gave coordinates and told the father to go there.  He heads off at night with the girl hiding in his truck.  They arrive at some old missile sight and are arrested.  It turns out this is what is left of NASA and they want to know how he found them (they were lying to the American Public because they would object to spending tight cash - echos of OBAMA).
     Turns out that this astronaut/farmer was once their best pilot and they had this space ship which he was supposed to go into outer space before all the earth tragedies hit.  They also show him this huge space station that is supposed to save the world.  They said earth is dying and our only chance of survival was to go through a black hole into another galaxy where there were three planets they might survive on. FORMER MISSIONS HAD SENT BACK MESSAGES.    The tell the dad that if he flies this ship it would at least be years before he came home and he probably would never come home.
       The father says he couldn't do it because his children needed him and his family came first.  The head guy at NASA said that the earth was dying and if he didn't go everyone would die.  So he goes home and says goodbye to his family.  Because of the time shifting in outer space he tells his daughter that he would return when she was his age and he would be the same.  His daughter had tremendous hissy fits and didn't want him to go naturally.  Then her love turned to resentment for abandoning them and hatred that he would leave them.  His son is more understanding (actually he seemed like a "Dull Spud").
       The take off and space travel were fascinating and NOISY.  He was on the ship with a cute astronautette and a white and black guy (so everyone was equal of course) and a strangely human robot that looked like two legos connected together.  Rather than tell you all the movie, I'll just let you know they go through the black hole and time and matter changes.  They arrive at the first planet and it was uninhabitable - it was just a huge ocean with tremendously huge waves.  They get out of there but the white guy dies (which is seen as OK because now he has a better chance with the cute astronaut).  Then they go to the second planet and find only the leader of the team survives and he said that down on the actual planet people could survive.  The hero says he has to go back to earth because he promised his daughter he would. (he saw his son and daughter grow up on TV, with daughter saying "HATE YA DAD".   The planet guy says he will show him the planet before he goes.  It turns out this guy was a lousy, murderous lier and said he only sent the message so they would rescue him.  Then he tries to kill dad.  He doesn't succeed, his whole base is blown up and they go to examine the third planet.  But dad goes back to earth with the message and the girl goes on with thousands of fertilized human eggs to go start humanity again.
       Dad doesn't make it.  His ship blows up, he is floating in space and goes through the black hole.  He is waiting for his air to run out and die when he finds himself inside the walls of his farmhouse and he realizes HE IS THE HIGHER POWER who is transmitting data by Morse Code to his daughter.  He gives her the solution to the gravity problem so the huge space station can take off with earth's remains.  Much later he floats up to this new colony and finds himself on this utopia space ship.  He finds out that he has saved humanity and even that his 100 year old daughter is still living but on her death bed.  So he goes to see her.  NOW THIS IS THE POINT I DON'T UNDERSTAND.  He makes a promise he would come back to his little princess and he sees her at 100 years old dying.  She is overjoyed but after a minute she tells him "Dad, you can go now, I have my own family and they will take care of me, you go back to that third planet and marry your space queen!"   He comes all the way back and she buzzes him off after one minute!!!!  Doesn't make sense to me.
       But what does make sense is the film is polluted with humanism,  audacity, and while it admits to the sinfulness of humanity it also glorifies humanity as god.   They start off following the guidance of the HIGHER BEING, GOD, and find out at the end that they are their own gods, there is no one higher than them (in all their sinful, selfish glory) and that is the only hope of humanity.   I WAS REALLY BUMMED OUT WHAT A WAY TO END A FILM.  What horrible gods we make!  If you have seen this film let me know if that is what you got out of it.  
     If you didn't see this film, I just saved you $8.50 admission to the matinee.  You can leave your donation at the door.

PS:  The other film was Hero6.  It was a cute children's film.  My son would have liked it if he was still 9 years old.  He said it was contrived and predictable.  I thought it was actually nice and it did jerk your heart strings a lot.  I even got him to give me one of those big balloon hugs, like we saw in the movie before he left for West Chester.  This movie also reflected the strangeness and ungodliness of this age but we are all good to forgive, because it is Walt Disney, after all (finger in mouth)!!  I guess I'll just stay home and watch Turner Classic Movies until Christmas and hope better movies come out when my boys come home.

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