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Jesus is Alive and Well in Stockholm  

You’ve probably heard that Europe is a gospel wasteland. According to a Gallup poll, 18% of Swedes consider themselves atheists and 55% non-religious.

The Pew Research Center finds that almost half of Swedes say religion is "not at all important."  Indeed, Sweden emerges as one of the least religious countries in the world, alongside France, Japan, Australia, the UK, and the Netherlands. Only about two in ten Swedes say that religion is 'somewhat important' or 'very important' compared with seven in ten Americans.

Having just visited Sweden, I’m hardly an expert. But that research does seem to fit the vibe you feel walking the streets of Stockholm. The churches that you see are more historical sights than spiritual lights. More relic than religion.

On an afternoon walk, I stopped by the St. Clara Krika (church), built in 1590. It’s just off the main thoroughfare known as Vasagatan street. A golden pulpit rises above the floor, while enormous stained-glass windows flank the front of the edifice. Then there’s the massive pipe organ— as large as some rural towns I’ve been in.

As you peer up at the vaulted ceiling, your gaze wanders from painted mural to painted mural—all scenes from the Bible looking down on you. How were these created?

What painter would have had the nerve to mount the monstrous scaffolding that would put your brush in contact with the ceiling?

An oak table at the entrance caught my eye with its gospel tract, The Way to God—stacked neatly in piles representing nine different languages. Emboldened, I asked a staff member, “What does this church believe about the Bible?” She replied, “Oh, it is the Word of God!”

Cutting to the chase, I asked, "And what does your church teach about how to go to heaven?"

“You come to God through Christ. You must be forgiven of your sins.”

“But can’t I get to heaven by good works—just being good?” I prodded.

“No! You must have Christ!”

She was adamant. She was also right.

Though the national numbers might not look great, the witness of Jesus Christ is alive and well in Stockholm. Look for the 350-foot spire at St. Clara Church.

By the way—have YOU come to God through Christ?

 

SOURCE: https://sweden.se/life/society/religion-in-sweden

 
Life in the Past Lane  

Temptation has a way of finding us—no matter what stage of life we're in. For those who've reached middle age and beyond, nostalgia is a beguiling temptress. She whispers that things were (absolutely positively) better in our yesterdays.

Owens Lee Pomeroy once quipped, "Nostalgia is like a grammar lesson. You find the present tense but the past perfect."

In truth, nostalgia is a seductive liar. It doggedly insists things were way better in the “good old days.” Nostalgia is the file that smooths off the rough edges of yesterday.

But at least two dangers come with a life immersed in nostalgia. First, there's the danger that we spend so much time pining away, grasping for what was, we cease to be grateful for what is. Good things are happening today. God is moving and working and blessing today.

Second, there's the danger of living so much in the past that we miss or minimize the present. It's okay to look back. It’s not okay to “live back.” Yesterday can be a nice place to visit, but we dare not stay long. Because if we’re going to move forward, we’ll need to look ahead out the windshield, not behind in the rearview mirror.

There's nothing wrong with celebrating God's goodness in the past. In fact, it's biblical to recall great memories, great blessings, and great experiences. But our God is a God of the new. He has plans for this day, this week, this month. Plans for you. Let’s not miss what God is doing today by living life in the “past lane.”

Do not say, “Why is it that the former days were better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask about this.

-Ecclesiastes 7:10

 
Quiet Truth in a Noisy World  

If tranquility is what you seek, you'll not find it in Sweden's island neighborhood, Gamla Stan. Its medieval streets squawk with countless languages as tourists trod the cobblestone paths of what is today better known as old Stockholm.

Weary from the walk, Diana and I slipped into Cafe Schweitzer. Fur pelts adorn the seats of this curious cafe, where nearly every square inch of the walls and ceiling are covered with graffiti screaming messages in many languages. Who knew plaster and paint could be so loud? Yet the old-world charm, freshly squeezed juices, and distinctly Swedish menu intrigued us.

Munching our toasted Skagen —shrimp, eggs, dill, and lettuce on toasted rye— (you've never seen such a mound of mayonnaise), we tried to make sense of the graffiti. And that's when I saw it.

At the top of a column, camouflaged by so many other scribblings, was a blue-lettered Bible reference to Joshua 1:9. You know the verse. It's God speaking to Joshua, who is facing enormous obstacles, and God tells him:

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not be terrified nor dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.

What a breath of fresh air in a city that today is as choked with paganism as any place I've been. Looking back on our visit to Cafe Schweitzer, two lessons seem to work their way off of the graffitied walls.

First, you and I live in a noisy age. It’s easy to miss God’s voice, just as I nearly missed that Bible reference on top of the column. Messages from a media-mad world threaten to crowd out the one voice we must hear—the Almighty’s.

Second, God's promise to Joshua is ancient—but still active. I don't know what neighborhood your path will take you through today. I don't know what obstacles or adversaries you'll face. But I do know a promise you and I can both claim:

Be strong and courageous! Do not be terrified nor dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.

 

 
First Things  

What’s the first thing you do in the morning?

Whatever it is, it's important to you. That's why you do it first. That's also why first things can be a struggle and ought to be chosen carefully.

So, what's your morning routine? After showering, I first try to grab my Bible and journal and head off to a comfortable old chair for my daily quiet time. For the most part, I'm disciplined. But the battle for first things is never fully won.

I am easily derailed by an "urgent need" to dash off an email on my phone—at 5:45 in the morning (gimme a break, right?). Or, I can be so distracted mentally that I have little capacity to pray. Or—because I'm committed to a 45-minute walk every morning—threatening skies can tempt me to walk first and pray later. But "later" somehow never arrives.

Indeed, the battle for first things is never fully won. And there's something wrong when my step count is more important than keeping in step with the Holy Spirit. In fact, there's something wrong every time we shut out the Voice whispering to us that we should be doing something we've placed lower (later) on the list.

In Matthew 6:33, Jesus tells us, "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness." Meaning that everything else is secondary. I'm sure there's some re-ordering of the soul that needs to take place in my life. Maybe yours, too.

Matthew Henry says it best: “First things belong to Him who is first.”

 

Lord—

Would you help us know what it means—today and every day—to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness? We ask you to shout rather than whisper. For our souls are hard of hearing.

Amen. 

 
Faith and Flight  

Imagine yourself in the co-pilot's seat of a four-place airplane. You've just clicked your safety belt when the pilot announces, "I'll have you handle the take-off and then some other maneuvers once we get airborne."

That was me with instructor Ian Hawk at the Moody Aviation flight school in Spokane, Washington. Since you’re reading this blog, you know we survived the flight.

Watching Ian run through the pre-flight checklist of more than 100 items, I was impressed with the meticulous attention to detail that defines every facet of Moody Aviation. These men and women are superb professionals.

As for the flight, I felt overwhelmed staring at so many screens and gauges. But take off we did. And what a rush to pull back on that yoke, to watch the nose rise and see the runway and buildings shrink as we soared.

In my headset, I heard Ian's calm instructions and a good bit of pilot talk. So much to think about:

  • Was my rate of climb too fast? Too slow?
  • Having reached altitude, was I flying straight and level?
  • Was I paying attention to the airspace around me?

Pulling out of a tight turn, Ian commented, “There are a hundred ways for things to go wrong in an airplane. But most of them are hardly noticeable—until you’ve neglected the symptoms long enough that you’re in real trouble.”

But isn't that precisely the way it is with the Christian life? We have Christ's promise that He will never leave or forsake us. More than that, we have the presence and power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. But just like the instruments on that Cessna’s panel, we can ignore them or acknowledge them.

I’m hoping to hang on to three insights from that flight:

  1. Flying straight and level is far more challenging than I’d thought. Same with the Christian life. It’s disturbingly easy to get off course. Let’s not be fooled!
  1. There are plenty of ways to gauge your statusif you’re willing to look. But so often, we cheat our morning "pre-flight" time in the Word. Or we shrink our prayer time to a few "Bless me" and "Help me" phrases.
  1. Having a pilot who really knows is a powerful comfort! Knowing that Christ is right there beside us is the only reason we can have confidence and peace when the skies aren’t so friendly.

One last thought. If God is your co-pilot, you’re definitely in the wrong seat!

(Hope you’ve enjoyed today’s flight). 

 
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Jon GaugerJon Gauger

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