May 24, 2011

Lessons Learned in Europe, Part 1

Having just spent two weeks in Europe, I must say that I came away absolutely amazed at much of what I saw – marvelous castles perched on the edge of five-hundred-foot cliffs; snow-topped mountains; gorgeous green meadows with fluffy sheep by the thousands; stunning cathedrals; thousand-year-old city walls and gates; and even common houses that are older than our entire nation! In Europe, there seems to be character, quaintness, and remarkable history to be found at nearly every turn and in every city, town, and humble village.

And embedded in it all are a number of very obvious spiritual lessons – some of them heart-warming; others depressing; and all of them relevant even to people living across the pond in modern America! So I propose to use the next several of these articles to share some of my observations with you; to point out some spiritual lessons I learned simply from having spent two weeks among the mountains, spires, towers, and people of western Europe.

The first thing that struck me on my travels was Europe’s amazing Christian history. Everywhere we went – from modern Germany, to alpine Switzerland, to little Liechtenstein, to the hustle and bustle of downtown Glasgow, we saw gigantic church buildings. In fact, very often we saw several such buildings all within eye-shot of one another – and from the same denominations! Meaning? There was a time when so many people were going to church each Sunday that (in the cities anyway) churches had to be built every few blocks to accommodate all the worshippers! And, consequently, there are heroic stories of faith to be found all over the place.

For instance, in a single day in Scotland, I was able to see: two different martyrs’ monuments; the oldest Protestant-built church building in Scotland; the birthplace of the great reformer John Knox; the home and church of John Brown (who prepared one of the first ‘Study Bibles’ in the English language); the church where Horatius Bonar preached to hundreds and wrote hymns like “Not what my Hands have Done”; and the birthplace and churches pastored by my historical hero, Thomas Boston. All of these men and sites are world famous. And I did all of them in one day, before dinner … bypassing many other interesting historical sites and monuments along the way!

In Germany, I got 3-4 minutes alone in the tiny little study where Martin Luther holed up while fleeing from Roman Catholic persecution … and where he translated (in three months!) the entire New Testament into German – opening up the word of God to untold thousands of Germans who had never been able to read it before; and paving the way for the Bible to be translated into virtually all the other languages of Europe, to the salvation of millions of souls ever since. And here I was in the very room where it took place! Absolutely amazing and humbling!

So what’s my point? That we should all take a tour of Europe? Wouldn’t that be nice! But whether we ever stand in Luther’s study, or pray inside Thomas Boston’s ruined church, the point is that we ought to be immensely grateful for our Christian history. We ought to know it far better than we do. We ought to study the past so that we might praise God for the marvelous works He has done; so that we might learn from history’s mistakes and successes; so that we might be spurred to pray that God might move again the way He did, say, at the time of the Reformation; and so that we might be humbled – i.e. that we might not be so foolish as to think that our generation is ‘so far ahead’ of the men and women of old. A simple tour through the streets of Edinburgh or the castles of Luther’s Saxony would show us how far we have to grow … but also how capable God is of helping us do so! So I say thank God for Christian history!

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