Europe – Wanted: Dead or Alive…

As American missionaries in the geographical heart of Western Europe, our American friends and family often forward on to us links for articles that they’ve just read about the current “spiritual state” of France (where we live) or Europe in general. We see these articles ourselves from time to time as well. These articles give them a window on a world that largely doesn’t enter into their consciousness and connects them with us to a greater degree.

This has happened over the last several years many times and, of course during that time, we’ve actually lived, experienced and are actively “working on” the spiritual state of Europe.

What I’ve noticed is that though these articles are focusing on the “same thing”, their conclusions are widely divergent.

Why is that?

Well I think there could be a number of factors which play into this range of perceptions including probably a few pre-conceived notions of the authors that they are setting out to prove or some goals that the authors perhaps need to support with their articles…all of which can even be more sub-conscious than subversive. I’m really not trying to accuse anyone of anything.

However, my conclusion…about all these conclusions…is a little different…

I happen to think that, regardless of any less-than-neutral motivations that might exist, and could skew the conclusions of various observers, it is completely “normal”/”logical” that there be such a wide range of conclusions about the spiritual state of Europe right now.

I believe that the Bible speaks directly about this in Matthew 13:24-30 in the parable of “the Wheat and the Tares” where Jesus says that as the Kingdom of God is increasingly manifested on the earth (the Wheat), non-Kingdom growth (the Tares) will also become more apparent. Later in Matthew 24:12-14 Jesus indicates that at the same time that the Gospel of the Kingdom’s proclamation will increase at the same time that lawlessness increases. In Psalm 2, David writes of himself but at the same time prophetically of the time of Jesus and of the end times. In this scene that David describes, he sees that nations and leaders are not simply ignorant, apathetic or even amoral, they are enraged against Jesus. In contrast to this, God the Father indicates that Jesus is already declared and installed as King and that God mocks their fury.

With the scene in Psalm 2, we see the crux of the issue…there are two kingdoms in conflict here. That’s pretty much “old news”, as Satan’s opposition to God is well-documented since the Garden of Eden. What perhaps is not so clear in this conflict is the two basic stances that Satan takes in this conflict.

  1. Satan is very content to be subversive or behind-the-scenes in the promulgation of his kingdom on earth…so long as he’s not opposed
  2. When God’s Kingdom begins to manifest in some sphere of earthly life, Satan begins to fight a very overt battle. He rages against the anointed of God.

In Psalm 2, we also have an indication of how the Kingdom of God is breaking out…exactly what it is that is making Satan so enraged. I like the way the King James Version states it in verses 10-12:

Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth.

Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.

Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little.

David is admonishing those he sees in the vision…those who are enraged against God’s Son. He’s telling them that they are caught up in a War of Worship. This is serious business. This is no longer, “I really don’t want any more of that religious stuff.” This is, “Get off the fence and choose whom you will worship!”

Ok, I’m getting a bit carried away here from my first topic…

But…it is relevant.

I chose the topic title: Europe – Wanted: Dead or Alive

The reality of the situation is that Europe is wanted…by both sides. Satan wants it dead and God wants it alive. A better picture of the reality that we will be living until the full manifestation of God’s Kingdom is: Europe – Wanted: Dead AND Alive. Until the time when Jesus’ Kingdom is fully established, the more Life that is stirred up by the Spirit of God, the more death that will be stirred up by Satan in enraged retaliation. It’s inevitable. One will be able to prove increasingly that Europe is a spiritual wasteland and that Europe is a hotbed of the activity of the Spirit of God, because both will become increasingly true. Middle-ground apathy will, however, become more difficult to find.

Kiss the Son, lest he be angry…

It was the best of places and the worst of places…

This week, we had a group of American high school French class students from two Christian schools in Illinois (Peoria Christian School and Calvary Baptist Academy) visit Alsace as part of a 2-week missions trip to France. I was blessed to be their logistical contact in the area and help coordinate their activities here. One of their principal contacts was with Collège-Daniel where they did chapel services, some “deep cleaning” in the Chateau and went on a field trip with the students in 8th and 9th grade.

The field trip day, Thursday, dawned gray and rainy. Due to recent heavy snows in the our area it was pretty “gross” (slushy, etc.) everywhere. We had a caravan of 8 vehicles (I think). I’m ready to charter a bus next time! ;c) Anyway, we distributed the Americans amongst the French students and vice versa. We were very pleased at how much they all interacted and dared to try and speak the other’s language. For me it was concrete French/American-Euro/American reconciliation seeds being planted.

Our target for this field trip was two historical sites in Alsace. One was the Oberlin Museum and the other was the Struthof Concentration Camp. I had been in the area of the Oberlin Museum before but not the Concentration Camp. I was surprised to find out therefore, as I looked on the map in preparation for the outing, that the two are only 10 kilometers away from each other…and that’s by extremely circuitous roads in the middle of the Vosges mountains. As the crow flies Google Earth claims that it’s only 5 kilometers between the two!

But…they couldn’t be father apart from each other in what they commemorate…

At the Oberlin Museum, the life and work of Johann Friedrich (Jean Frédéric or John Frederic) Oberlin is celebrated…and what a life it was. If you’re an American, you may have heard of Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio. Other than that, however, perhaps not…I hadn’t before I came here. Oberlin was a pioneer (in my opinion) of how to manifest the Kingdom of God on the earth…literally living the proclamation that Jesus is Lord of ALL. I quote portions of his life history I found on an archive page on Oberlin College’s website (no longer live)…a good read (my emphases):

Oberlin entered the university at the age of 15. … he chose a wide variety of courses in the liberal arts, giving special attention to ancient languages and cultures and the natural sciences. He also attended lectures in medicine and studied human anatomy in the dissecting laboratory. He took the Ph.D. at the age of 23.

He took a position as tutor in the home of Strasbourg’s leading physician and surgeon. This gave him an opportunity to develop some ideas he had conceived about the education of children, to increase his knowledge of medicine by reading in the doctor’s library, and to acquire some rudimentary skills in surgery by observation and some practice.

After two years he rematriculated, this time in theology. He finished the course and was ordained at the age of 27.

Oberlin had been reared in the tradition of 18th century German Lutheran Pietism, with a strong. infusion of the discipline of the Moravian Brethren. On his 20th birthday he had written out a long and solemn “act of consecration” in which he dedicated to God “all that I am and all that I have: the faculties of my mind, the members of my body, my portion and my time.” It became his habit to renew this pledge by endorsing it again at the beginning of each decade. His last endorsement he made at the age of 80.

Oberlin believed that this act of consecration required of him renunciation of all worldly comforts and total dedication to the working out of God’s will. As a student he had accordingly practiced a severe austerity of life, and he now hoped for a vocation that would demand of him the discipline of asceticism, of renunciation, of mortification of the flesh through deprivation and hardship.

He recognized his opportunity when it came in the form of a call to serve the community called the Ban de la Roche. It was a large and far flung parish high in the Vosges mountains. It comprised five villages: Waldersbach, Belmont, Bellefosse, Fouday and Solbach. It was physically nearly inaccessible. Its climate was inclement and its soil infertile. It was culturally isolated because its language had deteriorated to a barbarous patois that was incomprehensible even to its neighbors. Its people were suspect and despised as residents of a Protestant island within a Roman Catholic sea. It had been devastated in the Thirty Years War and plundered for centuries by greedy feudal lords under the medieval system of vassalage that persisted in that remote corner of Europe until some years after the French Revolution. For these reasons, its poverty was immeasurable. It was a forgotten enclave that seemed to have been passed by in the march of history. Among Oberlin’s fellow theologs it was spoken of as a place of exile, an Alsatian Siberia.

To that unpromising scene Oberlin joyfully went forth. His soul was imbued with Pietistic yearnings for a heavenly perfection on earth. His will was steeled by rigorous self-discipline and a profound religious faith. The goal that he had set for himself was to make of the unlettered folk of the Ban de la Roche a “Gottesvolk,” a people of God.

And that, literally is what he did. His influence in this extremely difficult context was nothing short of amazing. He went as a pastor but his life was hardly limited to any supposed “ecclesiastical boundaries”. He “discipled” a whole region in the mountains. His influence is a model of multiplication, discipleship, perseverance, faith, etc. His theology didn’t chop life into tiny morsels to be carefully placed in a secular or sacred box. God permeated everything and thus everything was transformed…not just certain components of life. As N.T. Wright (among others) likes to say, Oberlin practiced an “inaugurated eschatology.” He lived “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” in a very real way. A visit to this very fine museum is definitely worth if “if you’re ever in the neighborhood!”.

…Sorry that this is so long!!

Entering the camp gatesTo deeply contrast with that was our 2nd visit of the day…the Natzweiler (Struthof) WWII Concentration Camp. As I mentioned, the weather was pretty horrible. That made just walking on slushy and icy sidewalks in the rain an interesting adventure in itself.

Struthof is already located in the Vosges mountains, but it is on a barren top of one of the rises. The nasty weather blew in our faces. The Americans had suffered the delayed-delivery of much of their luggage and most were ill-equipped for this sort of weather.

Imagine when we heard that prisoners were made to stand outside in just this sort of weather with nothing but prison “pajamas” for clothes and some even lacking shoes. I really can’t even imagine it. Of course the list of atrocities goes on and on…

The facility (museum) is well-done and I will go back in better weather when more of the actual camp will be accessible to visit, and when I can spend more time.

I don’t really want to go into detail of what happened there 60-some years ago as it’s already well-documented many places. I’m a full believer that we need to remember these things and understand their impact even today as a measure to stand against that evil and any potential to release those horrors on another generation. I do believe, however, that the stories like that of Oberlin’s are under-told. Since Struthof presents clearly a picture of manifesting Hell-on-earth and the life of Oberlin a picture of the Kingdom of Heaven-on-earth, I’m content to leave that as the longer part of this entry.

As I mentioned before, I find it intriguing that these two sites are so physically close to one another. On the other hand, there may be an increase of just this sort of juxtaposition in the years to come on earth as the “wheat and tares” both begin to ripen before the Lord puts in the sickle at the end of the age.

Jesus, please help us walk in Oberlin’s shoes…even while some are deprived of theirs…and of walking at all on this earth.