Phil Congdon, NBBC, July 5, 2019
Recently I returned from a two-week trip to Denmark and Norway – with a few hours in Sweden as well. It was a wonderful trip, with some of the most breathtaking natural beauty I’ve ever seen. The creative hand of God is evident everywhere, and His abundant blessings to boot. But as I reflect back on my journey, I’m struck by the fact that despite God’s blessing, there is a ‘spiritual vacuum’ in these countries.
Don’t get me wrong: There are a lot of churches. Some are centuries old. We visited a few, and brochures told of the architect who designed it, who built the pipe organ, who carved the images on the walls, etc. But I was saddened to think that once – perhaps decades or even centuries ago, these buildings reverberated with voices singing praises to God. Today they are mostly relics of a bygone age. We oohed and aahed at the structures, but the faith in God that motivated their building is forgotten.
On a Sunday morning in Ålesund, Norway, we found a magnificent ‘kirke’ (church) to attend. According to an information sheet in the vestibule, it was built in 1855, burned to the ground in 1904, then was rebuilt with help from the German Kaiser Wilhelm II, who loved the fjords around Ålesund. It’s a beautiful church, with detailed stained-glass windows, frescos painted on the arched ceiling above the altar, and a magnificent pipe organ. The service started with ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’ (in Norwegian, ‘Hellig, Hellig, Hellig’); the organist was amazing, playing each stanza with more and more complex harmonies. I practically levitated! But the huge auditorium that might seat a thousand or more, had maybe 30 sitting in the front few rows on one side – most of them members of a family there to baptize their new infant.
The Old Testament book of Judges presents us with a conundrum: God has brought His people out of slavery in Egypt, they are living in their Promised Land, and He has won major battles for them. No one can stop them – but themselves. Time after time, they adopt evil practices and worship idols, and are plundered by tribal Canaanite kings. Each time they repent and God sends a judge to deliver them; but no sooner are they delivered than they fall back into sin! See a pattern? God blesses, those who are blessed forget God, and fall back under His judgment. Like Israel, like Denmark and Norway.
I’m not picking on Scandinavian countries here – indeed, the same tendency is evident in America. My home state of Oregon boasts some of the most magnificent natural beauty in the United States, but its leaders have aggressively and intentionally abandoned the morals of the God who blesses them. But I don’t even mean to pick on Oregon – or any other state, or city. Rather, I suggest we ‘personalize’ this.
Brothers and sisters, God has incredibly blessed each one of us, certainly in material and physical ways, but far more significantly in spiritual ways – revealing Himself to us, sending His Son to die for our sins, giving us the gift of eternal life by grace, supplying us with the Spirit to guard and guide us, preserving His Word through the centuries for us to read and meditate on, and giving us the ‘body of Christ’ for fellowship and encouragement, to list just a few. Despite these blessings – or is it because of them (taking Him for granted)? – we tend to forget God, and largely ignore Him.
Luke 17 records Jesus’ healing of ten lepers. Overjoyed, they rush to the priests, and are pronounced ‘clean.’ Then one returned and fell at Jesus’ feet, and thanked Him. Jesus’ words at this point are piercing: “Were there not ten? Where are the other nine?” God forbid that we should be those who receive His blessing, then forget or ignore Him. Why not start, right now, by telling Him “Thank you!”? It might lead you to consider other ways of thanking Him for His many blessings.