Trip 38 / Entry 3 / Milan, Italy

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

LionelIt didn’t go as I had hoped. Once and a while jet-lag will really leave me spinning. Arriving at Malpensa Airport at 7:30 in the morning, I took my own advice and tried to stay up all day until a reasonable time to go to bed. This should allow me to get onto the Italian clock.  I checked at my hotel by 10:30 but since my room wasn’t ready, I left my case and took to the street. I kept my eyes pried open by going for walks, drinking coffee, having gelato and eating supper.

At nine I turned in but to no avail. It was three in the afternoon, Charlotte time. I tossed, I turned, opened the balcony door, closed the balcony door and took benedryl but my mind raced. I suddenly felt completely isolated and even worse – stupid. Why am I doing this?  I could be in my own room at home. This bed is hard, the room small and the streets are loud. This isn’t a new experience for me but no many times you go through it, it never gets better. I should know the drill by now. I have often had moments of regret and anxiety.

Around one in the morning Italian time, I made the decision to call Jeanne and get her in my corner. She answered, we talked, she prayed, I hung up, put on my clothes and went down to the small lobby.

I had seen him earlier. Even in the brief encounter I recognized this young Filipino to be a believer so I asked him. Lionel was as bright as a penny while answering my question. He had been converted in Milan about two years before and attends the “Jesus is Lord” church, a largely Filipino congregation of some seven hundred people. The fellowship proved to be just the shot in the arm Io needed and an answer to prayer.

I realized that I had heard of this church before from Filipino friends that attend Smyra Bible Institute in Norway where I teach. As I mentioned one of the Filipino student’s names he looked it up on Facebook to discover that while Lhyn (yep, with an “h”) was in Norway and he in Milan, they had between them forty-eight mutual friends.

With this nice visit (better than benedryl) I went to my bed and fell asleep. I felt assured that all was well and that the morning would look different.

Entry 17 / Norway after two weeks

As of  Wednesday past, we have been on the ground in Norway for two weeks. After landing we stayed a day and a half in the Oslo area (The Normisjon Ga Ut Center) catching up on sleep and getting our land legs. We will be going back there tomorrow where on Monday I will teach a day long seminar on “Contemporary Evangelism Methods” or “Communicating Christian Thought in a Post-Christian, Post-Modern World.”

For the last two weeks we have been mostly encouraging, teaching and mentoring students.

Promotional Poster

Last Sunday I preached here at SBI and Oasen on, “The Plague of the Heart – The High Cost of Sin Management” apparently resulting in good fruit especially with two young ladies, C and J who seemed impacted by the call to Christ and righteousness.

On Sunday evening we were at Betel in Halden across the Oslo fiord near Sweden where I spoke on “Justice, Mercy and Grace – The Unjust Steward.”

During the first week I taught everyday for about four hours. If I were to title the course I might have called it, “Rightly Dividing’ or “Discerning the Full Counsel of God,” where first I explained the divisions of systematic theology and the purpose of theological study. After explaining why theology is important, I took denominational distinctions and various doctrinal positions such as water regeneration, universalism, second work of grace, etc. along with statements like, “What Happens to the Poor Innocent Native who Never Heard of Christ,” and provided biblical answers. We were lost at first with a certain air of anti-intellectualism but once they could see it they got on board and we wound up having a good class which I think will greatly benefit them in the future.


Jeanne and Sara sizing up the Mexican food at the local grocery

Jeanne and I also organized an outreach whereby we hope to entertain many first time guests. You can read about it on one of the earlier blogs, “Mexicali Rosa’s, Cafe’ del Sol.” We hope to serve over three-hundred and fifty tacos and burritos today between five and seven pm today.

On the next Friday evening I spoke at a youth meeting on “So What Makes Jesus So Likeable?” Jesus commended the social outcasts (sinners) while turning away the self – righteous. He was and is a friend of sinners. All other religions teach exactly the opposite and this is why the gate is narrow. People simply have to put away their pride which they are not apt to do. People can’t seem to get this concept without divine revelation.

This past Thursday evening I spoke to a combined church, bible college meeting on “Totemism – Living in the Culture of  the King.” All cultures tend to remake Jesus into themselves by making our cultural values his. When we do this we wind up worshipping ourselves. We become God. This is true in America where Jesus is upwardly mobile, successful and wealthy. By putting cultural grids over the New Testament many “Christian’s” wind up as tourists to the kingdom of God rather than immigrants. We should not be forcing Jesus to be the culture learner. He is King.

Last night I talked on the subject, “Who Switched the Price Tags,” using “What does it profit a man if he should gain the whole world and lose his own soul.” All persons, place high value on trivial things and fail to give importance to  the things that  really matter.

I will finish the series on Sunday morning when I have chosen to talk on Hebrews 12: 1-2, “Jason’s Marathon and Laying Aside Every Weight.” Many people need to unload their anger, bitterness and pain. I will also take them to the bitter water’s of Marah in Exodus 14. To sweeten the poison of life we must put in the stick as Moses did. This stick is a type of  the cross of Christ.

Entry 16 / Norway

A Land Full of Surprises…

It’s fascinating to me how many surprises I have experienced on this cross-cultural adventure. And it has just started! A good case in point is how much Norwegians seem to enjoy Italian food. Now in my head I figured my time in Norway would be spent eating lots of fish and potatoes and I would have to wait to get to Italy to have pizza and spaghetti. But in the mere two weeks we’ve been here, I’ve had pizza three times and just a few nights ago Tony and I

Dinner at a Norwegian home (with our hosts and friend Inger)

enjoyed a truly outstanding spaghetti dinner at a friend’s house. The man of the house, Tor kjell (forgive me if I spell it wrong!), cooked up his own marinara sauce and focaccia bread to go with the perfectly cooked pasta and fresh salad (he used rapeseed oil instead of olive oil for the dressing, because it’s not as heavy tasting, he explained). To say we were impressed with his cooking skills would be an understatement. It turns out that he loves to watch cooking shows and read gourmet cookbooks – another stereotype blown out of the water since I thought all Norwegian men were outdoorsmen who would disdain spending time in the kitchen. Our host is a man of many talents… he is a kindergarten teacher with amazing musical talents and is also an excellent translator.  He served as our translator when Tony preached and I gave an impromptu testimony at the Sunday evening service at the school. He and his wife Heidi (also a musical whiz and an exceptional baker in spite of being blind) live in a rented farmhouse with their two young children. Their son, who’s four, really reminded me of our grandson Dylan back home. Anyway, after enjoying the sumptious main course our host shooed us out of the kitchen so he could clean up. (He

We almost ate it all! Norwegian cobbler

insisted he had his own system and wanted no help!) In about half an hour he called us back in for some to-die-for berry crisp served with ice cream and Norwegian coffee. If we closed our eyes we might have thought we were in another country, but I’m beginning to see that Norway’s people have many sides to them and each of them are terrific. Although they have no regular television, our hosts were able to share some interesting Internet sites with us… including cooking shows like “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” Heidi leads worship at the SBI church services and has such a sweet spirit. Obviously her disability is not something that robs her of her joy in the Lord. How blessed we are to know them both. Sharing their home and their lives with us was an encouragement to us, the bewildered strangers in their midst.

Entry 15/ Norway

My morning walk…

Note these unusual trees. Anyone know what they are?

While Tony has been teaching his classes, I’ve had the luxury of spending my time as I please… something I haven’t been free to do for years. So I’ve been reading my Bible, writing, praying, and taking walks around the beautiful countryside here. Here are a few pictures of my favorite walking path. With my feet problems, I have to keep my daily walking to between 20 and 40 minutes.

Smyrna Bible Institute

The school where we are is set high on a hill that overlooks the farms with newly plowed and seeded fields. The trees are budding out in response to all the warm temperatures and bright sun, and flowers like lily of the valley and tulips are adding color to the green grass beside the roadway. I usually tackle the steep hill climb first, before I get too tired, and am rewarded by a

Lay of the land

lovely steep descent on my way back. One part of the walk is through woods, where I see new birds and trees that I’ve not seen before. And if I walk far enough (the 40 minute version), I pass by a small village with houses and a lovely Lutheran church complete with a small graveyard and high steeple. Sometimes I pass by some pretty impressive bikers trucking up the steep hill without even looking tired. One day I met a friendly man (who looked to be in his eighties) walking his bicycle up the hill in anticipation no doubt of enjoying the ride back down to where he lived. He graciously let me take his picture and cheerfully called as I turned to leave, “Enjoy your trip.”  I wish I knew enough Norwegian to reply in kind. All I could manage was the one word I’ve learned: “Tusen takk!” (a thousand thanks)

Entry 14 / Norway

Now remember, I am a visitor here in Norway. Also, keep in mind, a blog is not a thesis. I consider this particular blog a sort of diary – travelogue filled with observations, impressions and comment. 

I recently got in trouble by saying that Norwegians didn’t have C.S. Lewis’  “Mere Christianity,” or “Screwtape Letters.” I was informed by the same fellow who complained about my comments concerning the price of pizza in Tonsberg that Norway does have these books in their language and for this I was thankful to hear. He went on to scold me about doing better research before telling “gullible”  (his culturally sensitive word, not mine) Americans this sort of misleading information. He’s right. I probably should have done a quick “Google” search but I am often pinched for time and these blogs take a lot of time out my schedule. Sometimes I am just happy to get them written and published, warts and all. Anyway, they apparently do have these books but as I pointed out to another friend in an email, what’s the point of having such books if people don’t  know they exist? I am told there is no good Norwegian word for “mere” so I probably would have missed it anyway as “mere” is most likely rendered as “normal.”  I wouldn’t have thought of that.

I am likely to get in trouble again with this post as I am going to talk about something I only know about from “hear say.” But if I offend you with my, “shoot from the hip” analysis, as long as you are nice, I will listen to your perspective on the following subject. Even if we disagree, remember, we are approaching seven billion people in the world and I am but one. Slap your hands together and move on.

Confirmation Sunday

For illustration purposes only. No lack of beauty and grace in Norway. Here is traditional Norwegian dress

Last Sunday people from all over Norway –  people who rarely darken the doorway of the Lutheran state church – put on their finest traditional dress and go to their respective churches for a national “coming of age” event called “Confirmation.” 

I found this surprising since I almost never run into anyone while traveling here that has much use for church, Christianity or God. I have always thought of “Confirmation” as a very serious bit of business where one publicly confirms their Christian faith. Apparently, this is no longer so and has taken on a more secular significance. I have been told that Lutheran youth have not had to confirm their faith by vows for over fifty years. One is a Christian simply by virtue of baptism.

As much as 80% of Norway would be Lutheran by baptism and membership. For every head that can be counted, the church receives and annual stipend. This is true of the other legal churches as well. If one should change his or her denominational or church allegiance the government must be notified and the money will go in another direction. I should point out that the confirmation candidates receive financial gifts as well… MONEY – lot’s of it. So whether or not people hold any conviction regarding religious matters, it is for the most part, immaterial.

Still, don’t misunderstand what I am saying. While much of the state church is steeped in formality and tradition there is a living faith within the Lutheran community where lives are being transformed, churches planted and missionaries sent. One friend points out that while the Lutheran church often lacks vibrancy, the largest percentage of active, regenerate believers in Norway are undoubtedly Lutheran. 

When over lunch I asked the more important question about whether people took this pomp and ceremony seriously from a spiritual vantage point I was told an emphatic, “No.” Most young people thought it was meaningless and just something that all or at least most Norwegians are expected to do.

It is well-known that Norway is a highly secular state where people rarely attend church. I wanted to know so I asked, “What percentage of those being confirmed take their vows seriously?” In other words, “Do you think very many put any confidence in the Lutheran Church or the Christian gospel?”  Again, (and no real surprise) I was told by the group at the table that they would suppose only 1% would remain active in the Christian faith. Confirmation would make little difference. I privately wondered if , “Thou shalt not take the Lord thy God’s name in vain,” might not be what this verse really means?

Like it or not, these are the facts…

My dad used to talk about the “burnt over”  country where seed could not take root. As another analogy, people can be vaccinated against catching the real thing. This is just such a place. It is tough going here with most people up to their necks in skepticism. When I have tried to talk to people at the small shopping center and coffee shop in the nearby village, I have been met with either coldness or, in some cases, rudeness. Faith is not a subject to be talked about outside of the walls of a religious institution. It is no wonder Muslims in Europe are puzzled with Christianity and see it as meaningless in determining the course of one life, let alone all of history.

Culturally speaking, God has been gagged and Christianity muzzled.  

The Bible has a verse for all that I detect, “having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!”   2 Timothy 3:5

Martin Luther would roll over in his grave to see what has become of the Lutheran Church. It is true, it begins with a man, then a movement, next a machine and finally a monument.  In the words of A.W. Tozer, “Denominations can backslide too.”

Entry 13 / Norway

It seems as though eating is all we are engaged in.

Perhaps I have more pictures of me at a table than anyone in the world. We do have lots of opportunity to try new items and socialize around food. Actually, you will find that when you are without transportation the highlight of the day is not seeing a new landmark but rather eating a new way to cook fish.

Here we are eating what Norwegians consider to be a Saturday special – a traditional and national treat – a kind of porage made from rice. The next day they made a desert with what was left over. On the porage they sprinkle cinnamon or sugar, others put dollops of strawberry jam or a splash of raspberry sauce.

Then later in the evening it was an outdoor dinner party on the veranda featuring a superb Chicago style pizza. Karin is one good baker and the crust was crispy but chewy with wonderful Italian toppings. I was surprised that Norwegians with their inclinations toward healthy foods would have opted for toppings of broccoli and cauliflower but nope, it was the real thing with all sorts of greasy items I could easily recognize.


Finally, sometimes you find a treasure. Here is our friend Ingres. I have known her for about two years and now Jeanne has her for a friend as well. I used to call her “Slave Girl” on Facebook but this nick name seemed to make people nervous and cause them to wonder what kind of relationship I was having with Ingres. I assure you, it was all on the up and up. Ingres was assigned to be my “Girl Friday” and the “go to” person anytime I needed something while here at SBI. She turned out to be my cultural informer, translator, chauffeur and she even did my wash a couple of times. Ingres has an authentic servants heart and we wish you could know her too. She is always busy and though she is a school teacher she makes herself available to cook in the kitchen, clean and work with the children in the Kid’s for Christ Club. We are blessed.

Entry 12 / Norway

Upcoming Outreach Event!

Mexicali Rosa’s                                                          Cafe del Sol                                                               Taco and burritos Fiesta

We’ll have lots of reasons for them to show up by providing authentic Mexican food served by cheery Bible college students, a draw for a 500 kr ($100.) gift certificate and  though all of the food is free, we’ll ask these GENEROUS Norwegians to donate to the Children of Ghana. All of this should bring folks into our building here at SBI and Oasen (the church community).
   I told the students that people are just as weirded out by a church service as we are a Hindu meeting. In un-churched societies, people do not attend churches unless invited by a friend. We are out to make a lot of friends.
Would our friends out there pray for us?