Oslo Arrival

IT ALL CAME BACK TO ME…

Jeanne posting her first blog from Oslo

Why I hate long plane rides. Sitting in the Lufthansa jet at the back of the plane (row 59), jammed tightly between two people (one of which was a six foot two guy who loves food) and a mere foot from the monitor screen on the back of the seat in front of me, I experienced a strange new sensation: claustrophobia. The space for eight long hours was so small that I couldn’t lean down and pick anything up off the floor if I dropped it and there was no possible way to sit comfortably. Add to that a two-year-old just a few rows ahead of us that screamed six of those eight hours and you can picture what I mean. A miserable way to get from Charlotte to Munich, but hey, at least it worked. We were late arriving and almost missed our connecting flight to Oslo. But getting on the smaller jet sent me into a kind of euphoria since the seat space was exponentially larger. I felt I could breathe again. Sadly, our checked bags didn’t make it on the flight with us. So after another very long walk through the Oslo airport (my feet are not happy with airports, especially the one at Munich) we had to stand in a very slow line (all the clerks typed with one finger) to report our lost baggage to the airline before we could go through customs and meet the man who had kindly driven to the airport to pick us up.

BUT THIS FIRST REPORT IS NOT AS NEGATIVE AS YOU MAY THINK.

The Gaut Students saying, "Hi."

We had our first evangelistic witness on our connecting flight. A nice Norwegian man was happy to share with us about his new girlfriend that he met on the Internet (no, her name is not Lafonda) – and how he was just returning from Hong Kong after visiting her for 10 days. His flight schedule was nightmarish compared to ours! We got to ask him lots of questions about his country and share what we were doing here. Like most urban Europeans, he has decided he doesn’t believe in Jesus Christ or religion of any kind. We did what we could to dispel some of his misconceptions and to offer some things for him to consider about why we believe in Him. We parted on good terms and I felt it was the first of hopefully many more divine appointments.

I’ve even seen some miracles on this trip already. Now, they aren’t the kind that would qualify for sainthood in the Catholic church, but I can see God’s gracious hand upon us in answer to the prayers of many of our Christian brothers and sisters … like being tranquil in the face of many frustrations and setbacks and the inevitable jet lag. Also, Tony and I both slept for two solid hours this afternoon without a single sound in the room (no fan or noise machine that we’ve grown so accustomed to) because our electrical adaptors were put in – you guessed it – one of the checked bags that didn’t arrive with us. J Small mercies, I know, but when you’re exhausted, they speak volumes about our Father’s love for us.

 

Our first day or night (?) of sleep took place here

Our usual fare

 

 

Our Norwegian friend Johannes, who picked us upat the airport, took us on a quick tour of the area (that looks amazingly like Canada), fed us some lunch of breads, jam, cheese, and a boiled egg, and helped us get settled in a room at the college where he teaches (see photos). Tony will be teaching a class here in a couple of weeks, but they let us stay for one night, since it’s close to Oslo, to rest up before we go to Tonsberg (Smyrna Bible Institute).

Thanks for the prayers and best wishes you are sending our way… I feel such peace and joy in being here with Tony. The adventure with God begins … now that the nasty plane ride is behind us.

Lindsay Lohan, Charlie Sheen and my mole.

“An unexamined life is not worth living.” 

Socrates

The High Cost of Sin Management…

Examine yourself

There are all kinds of managements these days – time management, wealth management, health management and it goes on and on. The most costly thing to manage is sin and we desperately need help with this. In a moment of weakness, perfectly nice and intelligent people do stupid things. Things like buying something far beyond their means, snorting something up their noses, falsifying records, driving while intoxicated, spend ten seconds doing something rather than thinking about it first and so forth. All of this has costly consequences from losing one’s credit, rearing a child on one’s own,  jail sentences, divorce courts to losing an entire, lucrative career as a star or starlet. I am pretty sure that sin management is a trillion-dollar growth industry. 

There are always those seven deadly sins with Pride as it’s Prince (“I am above that sort of thing” or “I can handle it”), greed, envy, lust, gluttony, anger and laziness. They lurk in the shadows, just waiting to pounce when the moment is just right.

Peter explained this in his First Epistle. He referred to sin as a roaring lion watching, waiting for the separated one, the weak one, the young one, the wounded or ill one and in a heart beat it is all over. This is why Jesus warns us to be on our guard, always praying and not to faint.

All of this started in the Garden of Eden with Satan’s appeal to Eve, “Come on now,” he hissed, and in a second sin was conceived (born) and it brought forth death (the offspring was separation from God). “Come on now, you CAN have what you cannot have (lust of the eye), do what you cannot do (lust of the flesh) and be what you cannot be (pride of life).” 

Ever since that day, all men have a virus. Like the “I Love You” computer virus that began with one fellow in Manila and within five hours had spread all over the world infecting millions of computers. That’s what happened in the Garden and ever since then we have been involved in sin management. You see the basic problem is SIN not sins. Sin is embedded in our very nature right from the beginning and sins are simply an acting out of the very nature of man. It has been said that it is as natural for men to sin as it is for birds to fly or fish to swim. Sin is not something we do it is something we are.

Paul talked about this in Romans, chapter seven when he wrote,  “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.  And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.  For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.  For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law;   but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?                                                          Romans 7:15-24

Nevertheless, Paul winds up this lament with a remedy when in verse twenty-five he has this bit of good news. “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

So then, to Lindsay Lohan and Charlie Sheen I might add a few others here – names like Brittany Spears and, who knows and only time will tell, perhaps Miley Cyrus. There are multiplied millions more but they are not public figures and therefore away from our view and scrutiny. In fact, we could add the entire human race. Since the beginning of time men and women, boys and girls have attempted to manage their sin. This is an expensive exercise and universally unfruitful. We might work at one sin but as soon as we think it is mastered another pops up.

I had a mole.

For thirty, even forty years, it was a rather harmless looking thing and so, for all of those years, I ignored it. It has been described by the dermatologist as positioned on my lower left abdomen. Then one day, after showering, I looked in the mirror and thought, “That looks different. It looks bigger than usual.”

I am a man of Chesterton proportions. (G.K. Chesterton was a rather rotund English apologist that lived into the last century). This put me in a dilemma. Was the mole just getter bigger because I was getting fatter (something I didn’t want to acknowledge) or should I examine this a little closer. I wondered… if I just ignored it, would it go away?

For the better, it appears, I made the call and hustled myself into the doctor’s office. As I am told, it is always better to “be safe than sorry,” or even better, “An once of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

To be honest, I didn’t expect much from this visit. Other doctors had looked at it without batting an eye so I did not expect to be alarmed by the verdict. So it was, the doctor looked it over, asked me what changes I had noticed and then calmly reported that he thought it to be a mole but, “Let’s take a piece of it and send it in to the lab for a biopsy just to be sure.” One minute or less after this sentence he had me on my back with a needle in my stomach. Just to assure you, this was the worst part of the ordeal and it takes but a split second. Upon reflection, I wish I would have taken photographs so you could see how innocent and “noninvasive” this all seems to be. Anyway, I didn’t care to see it, but what he took, when compared to the hole in my belly was the size of a pellet. A piece of gauze and band-aid later, I was on my way home slapping my hands together the way one does when they successfully complete an unappealing task in the garden.

I felt assured that nothing would come of it. I whistled through the next ten days not even hardly thinking of the ordeal except when I changed the dressing on the little pock mark of a wound. I didn’t think about it until the phone rang early on a Wednesday morning and a cute little voice at the other end began using language that I had never heard before. She threw out words like, “nevus, atypical, dysplastic” and “pre-cancerous melanoma.” It was those last two words that I immediately recognized. As calmly as I knew how, I responded by inquiring, “How serious is this?” Her answer was brief, “Could you come in tomorrow?” Stunned and dizzied by the two-minute conversation , I simply asked, “What time?”

First thing, and there I was. Rather than repeat myself because the next two office visits were pretty much the same as the first, I will simply tell you that I now have a hole in my abdomen the size of a silver dollar and about and half an inch deep. This is a bit of serious management. This killer required immediate and radical treatment.

When I asked the doctor if this might have been serious he casually reported to me the following, “This one could have killed you. You saved your life” This isn’t exactly good bedside manner but it beat the alternative, “Your gonna die,” so I left the office rather pleased with his parting words.

Now, what does all of this have to do with movie stars and starlets? Everyone is speculating about Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan. There are others as well, but generally they are suggesting that Charlie, in particular “needs to get help.” Some others say he is “on self destruct,” others, “bi-polar” and on and on the speculation goes.

There is a Bible verse that I think describes him and well, me and you. 

“…whatever prayer, whatever supplication is made by anyone, or by all Your people Israel, when each one knows the plague of his own heart, and spreads out his hands toward this temple:  then hear in heaven Your dwelling place, and forgive, and act, and give to everyone according to all his ways, whose heart You know (for You alone know the hearts of all the sons of men)…”

I am continually amazed at the attention people can give to the comfort and well-being of their bodies and yet give no thought to their inner man. This is baffling to me. For me it is akin to investing an enormous amount of money in a Jaguar XJ sedan, polishing the outside but never lifting the bonnet to check the oil. This is the problem with people, we are distracted by novelty, the trivial and momentary amusement but never lift the hood to take care of what makes it all tick. Lindsay Lohan and Charlie Sheen are not alone.

Since I am an early riser I often see neighbors jogging down my street, in front of the house, in the dark, dressed in special running gear, with special lights mounted on their special hats.  I regularly drive by the YMCA at six in the morning. Perhaps I am sneaking by on my way to get a donut at Dunkin’s? Even at that time of the morning the parking lot is jammed and I can see through the windows people pumping up and down on this and that apparatus.

Yet, many of these people take no thought of their souls. They are not rich toward God. When the writer speaks of the heart, this is what he is talking about. Let these same one’s hear of an impending plague caused by birds, pigs or some other thing and they are frantically shoring themselves up against the likely possibility.

A plague is a horrible thing. I have never experienced one and I don’t care to. We’ve read of wars, disasters and plagues where every family has lost loved ones. Historically, there have been all kinds of disastrous epidemics – influenza, cholera, small pox, AIDS, etc.. When there is a possibility of a plague there is worldwide alarm to manage it.

I remember once walking through a graveyard and noticing a large number of headstones where children had succumbed to some sort of plague. Often the same last names of children only a few years apart told me that entire families had lost out to the scourge. I later learned that two plagues befell them at the same time, diphtheria and the Spanish flu (1917-1922).   

There is nothing wrong with looking after one’s body. The scripture encourages people to be balanced. John the Apostle writes along these lines when he says, “Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.” (3 John 1:2). You will notice that John emphasizes attending to the soul first and then the rest will follow. This is the implication of the grammar.

I suppose, if people do not hold to the idea of a soul then they can spend all of their time polishing and waxing the outside and give no thought to the inside and what goes on there.

I am acquainted with a man like this. He is always about his work and when he is not, he is busy tending his lawn, bushes, trees and washing his various automobiles, motorcycles, seadoos, boats and so forth in his driveway. All weekend, the only time he seems to have available, he is busy maintaining the appearance of things.   For me, this is discouraging as I have lived across the street from him for almost five years and have rarely seen a guest come to his door except a tradesman who has been summoned to fix the downspout or exterminate termites and fire ants. It seems to me that all of this polishing is for no purpose except to look over it once he is finished.

I invited he and his wife to a home Bible study on the person of Jesus to which his wife called to apologize for not taking us up on the invitation. She said that “Bob did not like to make commitments.” Though I didn’t say it at the time, I felt the urge to respond, ” One day he will be committed. In fact, they will stand around lowering his body into the grave and have a committal service. His body will be committed to the cold, dark grave and his soul to everlasting darkness. And then what? 

My new traveling companion

This isn’t completely true.

Though she hasn’t tramped around Europe with me until now, Jeanne has traveled through a lot with me. Every hairbrained idea from moving to Canada (actually this was her idea), buying a commune farm with three other families, breeding exotic cattle, opening an advertising agency, planting  four churches, moving here and there…  Just about the time we would get settled and begin to earn a decent salary, off we’d go again. Jeanne would willingly pack her boxes and start all over.

When I came home the first time from visiting nine nations of Europe, I sat her down on the back deck of our house on West 106th Street in Bloomington and said, “I think the Lord is calling me to serve in Italy.” Jeanne is a slow processor so she just looked at me, maybe trying to figure out if it was just another phase and, if given a few days, I might forget all about it (or change my mind). After several days, she said her usual, “Well, if you think this is what the Lord wants you to do, then I’m with you in it.” Being “with me in it” didn’t mean that she would immediately give up her job, sell the house, and move overseas. It meant that if we went broke trying she wouldn’t criticize or complain. She just threw her lot in and for the next twelve years she went to work every day so I could afford to give up my job and bring in what I could through support. She spent approximately three years on her own during that period when I was traveling. 

But now she is retired and ready to roll. On Tuesday, we go for two months to Europe (mostly Norway), where Jeanne will have to be flexible and live in cultures she can’t quite figure out. But she’s okay with this and feels it’s the Lord’s timing for her. I believe she has much to offer through prayer, teaching, and encouragement. Specifically, I can’t wait to see all of the women she impacts. There are so many wives and mothers, both nationals, expatriates, and missionaries who need encouragement from someone with the experience she has had. I can’t wait to tell the stories as we go. Stay tuned here at 4euroinformation as she joins me blogging through our travel and ministry.

The Fayetteville Tornado

 

The North Carolina District of the Nazarene Church has a disaster relief team.

It appears that unless you go in with something like this it becomes rather difficult to enter a disaster area. The Red Cross is supposed to be the coordinating organization but they were the least visible on the ground. The most visible were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (Mormons).  When I heard of this calamity on the television of thought, “Well, here’s a disaster and I won’t have to drive for twenty hours for or fly to Sri Lanka,  India or Haiti. It was less than three hours away so on Monday morning I got up at 6 and drove off to help.

I arrived before nine and met Pastor Mark Medley of the Fayetteville  Nazarene Church in the church parking lot where they were loading up the trailer. Originally, I had come with my prep knives to cook for them but once I got there it seemed that there wouldn’t be such a big crew so we ate at Subway and from the generous people who came along with water and sandwiches. One family (four teenaged girls) went around with their grill in the truck bed frying hamburgers and hot dogs for the various exhausted workers.  

What was left of Als Ford truck

The way this works is church first, parsonage next, church members and finally anyone else that might need a hand. Since the church and parsonage were untouched we went right to the area most affected, Cottonade a community of eight hundred homes near the Fort Bragg military base. Since we had not yet received our clearance we were turned away until after lunch when we made arrangements to meet church members Al and Rita Bledsoe at the check point. With them making request we rolled in.

Up to this point things looked relatively normal, that is until we turned the corner. It was amazing. I grew up in tornado alley so I have seen my share of the devastation left by tornadoes. This was a F3 and certainly not the worst it could have been but it looked like a bomb went off. Trees are wonderful things when they are standing. The Cottonade housing development will be without shade for many years to come. Hundreds, even thousands of one-hundred fifty year old, one-hundred fifty feet high pine trees were shattered half way down and others uprooted and hurled everywhere as though the were match sticks. Car after car and roof after roof were smashed.

Many people just sat on the porch and watched seemingly in shock. Several I talked to seemed distraught and there was an air of confusion, hopelessness and helplessness everywhere. All many people were doing is simply sitting and waiting for someone to show up and offer a solution or help. Trying to pick up twigs seems useless when there are ten trees the size of three telephone poles uprooted and tangled together in your front yard. God only knows what will happen to those who have no insurance. Some had already just took what they could and left their homes behind – what were left of them. It will be three-months before the power is restored.

It always snows in Minnesota…

This isn’t really true but it also isn’t true that, “it never, ever rains in southern California,” as the hippies sang in the sixties. But twice now I arrived in Minneapolis with better than tolerable weather to be met by a snow storm in only a few short days. Here it was again. The last time I was here for two weeks Minneapolis had the second worst single snow storm in recorded history. This time it wasn’t as bad but it was more unfair since we were met by the promise of springtime weather. Not so! We will spent the next two weeks slogging through snow and slush.

SICK…

AGAIN…

More lately, it seems that I have gotten sick (the unrecoverable kind) every time I have traveled. Jeanne and I arrived in Minneapolis, went out to Matt and Noemi’s house, spent the night and then drove the next day to the Kansas City area to meet the Benedict family (more on this in the next entry). I remember right when it happened. I sneezed four times and wound up sick for the last two weeks.

I DON’T TRUST FLU SHOTS…

I am assured those who sell them (perhaps this is the first clue) that they have nothing to do with contracting everything and anything other than the H1N1. After coaxing by many of my friends and seeing a friend sick with Bird or Swine or some other kind of influenza, I decided to take their advice and over the last few years have been getting these blasted shots at $22.95. It is cheaper than computer virus protection but I have a theory about that as well. I am pretty sure that Norton Virus Protection is in cahoots with the software companies. In the same way, I think the flu virus folks are tied in with the people who make this over the counter stuff like ThermaFlu, Mucinex and the like. It is all a huge conspiracy like the hot dog makers and the hot dog bun makers. It takes three packages of wieners and two packages of buns to finally come up with as many wieners as one has buns. It’s all fraud. You are made to buy more stuff… stuff that you don’t want, won’t work or will quickly be obsolete. Did you notice? You can now buy obsolescence insurance.

Anyhow, all that being said, I was sick the last time I was here in December. I was sick before that with a sinus infection from Slovenia, through Italy, Norway and America. This began exactly on September 27th while on the train from Trieste to Venice. It ended a week before I went to Minneapolis in December and the beginning of my next cold. It is no fun and nigh impossible to teach three hours every morning for two weeks with laryngitis.

Meeting our new kinfolk, the Benedicts

AN ENTIRE FAMILY WE NEVER KNEW WE HAD…

It came as a rather big shock to us when we learned that Jeanne had relatives she never knew of, in fact, a large herd of them. Once we learned of the possibility, we spent part of last year sleuthing the internet looking for clues on how we might find them. Finally, advice came to do one of two things, hire what amounts to a detective for a large fee with no guarantees or take a shot into the dark by posting notices on the internet, so this we did. Through this we got one hit that paid off. A retired policeman from Chicago who himself had looked for siblings wrote to say that he could find the party we were looking for in less than a day for a reasonable fee. The fee did seem reasonable so we took him up on his offer and true to his word, within twenty-four hours we had the name and contact person’s phone number. This fellow had also gone ahead of us and made a preliminary call asking if our call would be welcomed? The answer was, “Yes,” so excited but cautious, Jeanne made the call.

After learning the back story from one of the relatives, we were contacted by others in the Benedict family. Photographs and Facebook chatter were exchanged and arrangements made for us to come to Missouri where we would meet the entire clan.

After arriving in Minneapolis and spending the night with our son, Matt and his wife, Noemi, we took their second car on Friday morning and drove to near Liberty, Missouri where in the evening we met Jeanne’s brother, Gary and his wife Christy and from there went to the farm to meet the others.

We were quite amazed at the warmth of reception we received from people with whom we had nearly seventy years of history but had never met before. It was also surprising to see the similarities in family culture and physical resemblance that had meandered its’ way through the blood line.

Every southern cooked thing immaginable

Over a table laden with southern cooking we caught up on the names and respective families. In all, we were joined by twenty or more family members on the Benedict side. They were all lovely and it turned out to be a wonderful acquaintance for both sides. I suspect we will stay in touch with these in-laws of nieces, nephews and cousins. 

My gift to the family was a portrait drawing I did of the patriarch Gene and his wife Beverly (now deceased).