28 Aug 2008

Sorry it’s been so long since I last posted… packing and trying to get our house sold so we can make the final move to Berlin has been crazy!

There is only one final hurdle: the friend who is buying our house needs a signed lease agreement for the bank to prove that there will be a rent stream for the next year until he moves to Boise. A young couple who are friends of Charissa and Davin is very interested, but the details still need to be worked out. Please pray this will go quickly! Then we can order our airline tickets!

Thanks for your friendship and prayers!

Comments? Questions?


19 Jul 2008

There is a huge wave of discussion rolling in about the new “Batman” movie, “The Dark Knight” and, in particular, the performance of the late Heath Ledger as The Joker, a psychopathic killer. The adjective that consistently appears in reviews and comments is “dark”. Ann and I saw the film yesterday. Technically, it’s a virtuoso performance and it may prove to be the most important film this decade. While extremely successful in portraying evil, it’s not so successful in picturing the Good. I’d like to reflect on one aspect of this, but I’ve got to take a round-about route, so please be patient.

Sharp observers through the centuries have wrestled with the fact that at a certain point the driving force behind evil defies rational reflection. The impetus behind everyday “garden variety” wickedness and malevolence is usually pretty obvious; the perversion of pride, power, money and sex covers most cases. But occasionally (one must at least hope it is only occasional), one encounters a different species of evil.

Dr. M. Scott Peck, a psychotherapist who investigated the My Lai massacre in which U.S. forces murdered between 350-500 Vietnamese civilians on March 16, 1968, describes in his book People of the Lie what he calls malignant narcissism: a self-focused evil that is almost completely “anti-life”. There seems to a boundary that a human being can cross, beyond which he or she not only does evil but seeks to destroy any light or life within their circle of power. The real monsters of history such as Hitler or Stalin fit this description; but also the less well-known malignant narcissists who destroy their family and, when possible, the world around them. The Judeo-Christian faith believes that human beings are image-bearers of God; yet, such “people of the lie” seem to have lost even the vestigial remains of that image. How can this be?

The Bible is clear that there is an unseen world behind and beneath our reality. This spiritual (but no less real) dimension is the setting of a great cosmic conflict between Light and Darkness. This battle will play itself out until history is wrapped up and the books closed.

Sometimes, through a huge effort of the will and an unimaginable personal price, it seems that a human being can reach through the wall into this unseen dimension and tap into metaphysical evil.

This is where The Joker comes in. I have never seen such a clear rendering in the performing arts of a person possessed by Evil as Heath Ledger’s portrayal of this character.

There are hints that to achieve this performance, the actor himself had to push through the membrane into the unseen world. Wally Pfister, the cinematographer for the film, described what it was like to watch Ledger act: “It was like a séance, where the medium takes on another person and then is so completely drained.”

Heath Ledger died of an overdose of prescription drugs in January of this year. He was apparently mentally, emotionally and spiritually exhausted. What a heart-breaking tragedy! An image-bearer of the Eternal cut down in the prime of life.

Is there a remedy for our poor, lost race?

The old apostle John, one of Jesus’ closest friends, wrote toward the end of his long life: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.” Now that’s Good News!

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13 Jul 2008

In the past weeks we’ve been thrashing through the thicket of selling our home in Boise (to cover a home equity credit we took out to pay back loans given to purchase “Haus Nazareth”). This means we’ve been packing our household for our major move to Berlin.

In the midst of all of the turmoil, it’s surprising how often a children’s book, The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams, has come to mind.

We used to read this little gem to Seanne and Charissa. The subtitle of the book is “How Toys become Real” and it has been a parable for us of what God actually wants to accomplish through each difficult circumstance and why He sometimes leads His children on rough and painful paths.

The key passage of the story relates how the little Velveteen Rabbit finally gathers enough courage to ask the old Skin Horse something that has been on its mind for quite a while:

“What is real?’ asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. ‘Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?’

‘Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time not just to play with, but really loves you, then you become Real.’

‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’

‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’

‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges or who have to be carefully kept.

Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because when you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.’

The Apostle Paul articulated it clearly:

“We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.” (Romans 8:28-29)

God’s final purpose for us who know Christ is to “conform” (mold/form) us so that we become more like Him. Pain and pressure are not accidents in the life of the believer. God wants to bring us through them and use the pressure to mold and shape our character.

Comments? Questions?


12 Jul 2008

We’re quite often asked, “What exactly is going to happen in ‘Haus Nazareth’? What will be your initial goals?”

On June 23, six German friends deeply involved in the project met for prayer and counsel together. These are the “core team” of the ministry of Philosophia Europa, the folk whom Ann and I meet with, pray with and dream with in Berlin. I’d like to share the vision for “Haus Nazareth” as articulated by one of the men in the group.

Michael is a businessman and university professor. He and his wife have a very deep burden for reaching Berlin for Jesus. He became acquainted with the “Haus Nazareth” project through an almost-miraculous contact with Pastor Bob Caldwell of Calvary Chapel, Boise. As we met together and shared our thoughts and dreams this spring, it became very clear that God has brought him and his wife to the team “for such a time as this”. These are his thoughts as Matthias jotted them down:

The initial target audience will be the academic community, especially lecturers and professors. That is a group of people that is difficult to reach for Christ and almost no one is doing so. This is a very important part of Clark’s calling and an area that he can fulfill, both in view of his life-experience and academic qualifications. It will be important to have an ongoing contact point, a group meeting, for instance, on a daily or weekly basis.We also want to have a ‘fellowship-church’ in ‘Haus Nazareth’ and begin having worship times, so that thinking people whose hearts have been touched will sense that someone understands them and they can grow in faith until they’re able to start going to an ‘ordinary’ church.

A women who works on the university underlined how important this is: many non-believers or “church Christians” who are won to faith need a long time to get to where they can return to a church. For these kind of folk, “Haus Nazareth” and Philosophia Europa can be a spiritual home.

Comments? Questions?


7 Jul 2008

I want to give you a quick update on the remodeling at “Haus Nazareth”: Heinz, the brother who leads the construction firm that has been doing the work, committed himself to continuing the remodeling as far as he could until the credit limit was reached that he could give us.

That limit is the problem right now. Until the 120,000 Euros that he has advanced can be covered, he cannot move ahead.

We are within 2 weeks of finishing the basement work, but things have been stopped for almost a month now. Please pray that God will provide the funds necessary to move ahead.

Comments? Questions?


30 Jun 2008

I mentioned last time that you might be surprised at which European countries have the healthiest birthrates. Perhaps you thought of some of the “family-friendly” southern European countries like Italy, Greece and Spain. In fact, these nations have some of the lowest fertility rates in the world (about 1.3 children per couple).

However, childlessness is peculiarly high in Germany and Austria, too. Shorto cites a study that found that 27.8 percent of German women born in 1960 were childless. This rate is “far higher than in any other European country. (The rate in France, for example, was 10.7.) When European women age 18 to 34 were asked in another study to state their ideal number of children, 16.6 percent of those in Germany and 12.6 percent in Austria answered ‘none.’ (In Italy, by comparison, this figure was 3.8 percent.) The main reason seems to be a basic change in attitudes on the part of some women as to their ‘natural’ role.”

To modern, post-Christian Europeans, childlessness is emerging as an ideal lifestyle. Why is this?

The thinking of a nation or society can become, in the words of the Apostle Paul (Romans 1), “futile” and people’s hearts “darkened”. Eventually, the “truth of God” is exchanged for a lie, resulting in direct consequences in the relationship between man and woman. I suspect that the Western world in general – and Europe in particular – is farther along this road than any of us would like to imagine.

How does this play out?

Let’s start with the fact that the European countries with the healthiest birthrates are the Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands; England and France are also relatively better off. Why would these countries – which would certainly be reckoned as some of the most “post-Christian” – be better off than the ostensibly more “religious” Roman Catholic south? Shorto points to a problem deeply rooted in the relationship between man and woman that is embedded in the “culture” of family life in the southern tier of Mediterranean nations, Germany and Austria. The problem is with the willingness of the fathers to be full partners in the home and in the raising of children.

Fathers in the nations with the healthiest birth rates are significantly more committed to a “partnership” model of marriage. Dutch fathers, for instance, “change more diapers, pick up more kids after soccer practice and clean up the living room more often than Italian fathers; therefore, relative to the population, there are more Dutch babies than Italian babies being born. As Mencarini said, ‘It’s about how much the man participates in child care.’”

Shorto argues that this is also the case in the United States, which enjoys the highest fertility rate of almost any developed country. In addition to the flexibility of U.S. society and the American job market, he points to “the relatively conservative and religiously oriented nature of American society, which both encourage larger families. It’s also true that mores have evolved in the U.S. to the point where not only is it socially acceptable for fathers to be active participants in raising children, but it’s also often socially unacceptable for them to do otherwise.”

Our good friends, Dave and Claudia Arp, who started their work of “Marriage Alive” in Europe, have being teaching a Biblically-based partnership model of marriage for years. It’s interesting that European social scientists are now uncovering empirical data that supports the direction of their teaching. (I’d encourage you to take a look at Dave and Claudia’s website .)

Shorto concludes his NY Times article with a dark glance at the future. He quotes Carl Haub of the Population Reference Bureau: “You can’t keep going with a completely upside-down age distribution, with the pyramid standing on its point. You can’t have a country where everybody lives in a nursing home.”

Please pray for Europe!

Comments? Questions?


29 Jun 2008

An article by Russell Shorto on “Childless Europe” appears this weekend in the New York Times Magazine online. I’d encourage you to read the entire article (you have to sign up, but it’s free and the New York Times is the national newspaper of record). Shorto points out that Germany and most other European countries have a birth-rate today that is dramatically below even a “replacement” level for the current population. Some have compared the situation to standing at the edge of a precipice. Here are some pungent insights from the article:

‘Europe is infected by a strange lack of desire for the future,’ Pope Benedict proclaimed in 2006. ‘Children, our future, are perceived as a threat to the present.’ In Germany, where the births-to-deaths ratio now results in an annual population loss of roughly 100,000, Ursula von der Leyen, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s family minister (and a mother of seven), declared two years ago that if her country didn’t reverse its plummeting birthrate, ‘We will have to turn out the light.’…

The Canadian conservative Mark Steyn, author of the 2006 best seller America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It, has warned his fellow North Americans, whose birthrates are relatively high, that, regarding their European allies, ‘These countries are going out of business,’ and that while at the end of the 21st century there may ‘still be a geographical area on the map marked as Italy or the Netherlands,’ these will ‘merely be designations for real estate.’…

Venice has lost more than half its population since 1950; its residents believe their city is destined to become a Venice-themed attraction. Is the same going to happen to Europe as a whole? Might the United States see its closest ally decay into a real-life Euro Disney?

Next time, I’ll share some startling insights from the rest of the article; in particular, why several European countries are exceptions to this trend. (It’s not the ones you’d think of!)

Meanwhile, please pray for Europe; in particular for “Haus Nazareth” to be a light in the gloom for people in Berlin.

Comments? Questions?


13 Jun 2008

Our family at The Wedding

This update is “a wee bit tardy”, as my old Scottish fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Brass, would have said; but, we’ll try to make up for it with pictures!

Historic Christian Church

On Saturday we celebrated Charissa and Davin’s marriage in the old historic Capitol City Christian Church in Boise. The building dates from the early 1900s and is a fine example of the “round” church architectural style (it’s on the National Historic list). It was a wonderful time with many old friends (and some new ones as well). We really wish that all of you could have joined us!

After the ceremony, we went to the “Rose Room” on Idaho Street for the reception. (Dad had the second dance with the bride and even earned a compliment – Charissa has amazing rhythm, so that’s praise indeed!) The following morning -near noon – about twenty folk from the wedding party gathered for breakfast/brunch at our house and watched presents being opened. A very special “Thank You!” to all!

Now the new couple is on their way to Germany, where they’ll spend two months working in Berlin. (Davin has some overseas requirements linked to his major in International Relations and Charissa wants to do an internship there in trauma therapy with her German godfather, Arne.) Hopefully, Mom and Dad will link up with them in July — if we can sell or rent our home by then. (Prayer request!)

As far as the remodeling in “Haus Nazareth”, things are pretty much at a stand-still until the funds come in to pay the bills that have already accumulated. I’ll try to explain this more specifically in a future blog or email; but for right now: Thanks for your thinking of us and your prayers. Please know how much you’re appreciated!

Comments? Questions?


1 Jun 2008

Davin and Charissa

Finally, I have a moment to catch you up a bit on our lives:

I’ve been teaching a very intensive 3 week “Philosophy of Religion” course for Boise State University. It started two weeks ago. (I do this for a couple of reasons: to keep in touch with the academic world and friends there in the philosophy department; to expand my course preparation for possible teaching opportunities in Germany; to gather enough Social Security “quarter credits” to qualify for Medicare when I reach the right age… this is a little challenging because of our many years of overseas missions).

But most exciting: we are in the throes of preparation for Charissa and Davin’s wedding next Saturday (if you haven’t gotten an invitation yet, please pardon the oversight and shoot us back an email immediately!). We appreciate your prayers… coordinating all these things is getting a little wilder every day!

Comments? Questions?


20 May 2008

Sieglinde and Matthias

Last night, we received a very open and heart-moving letter from Matthias and Sieglinde. I’ve translated it from German and want to share it with you in its entirety:

Dear Friends,

Today, one of the students living on the 3rd floor had her backpack stolen out of her room, together with her purse and cell phone.

The new door to the student rooms has not had a lock installed because the work has stopped in “Haus Nazareth” – there is simply no money to pay for the outstanding bills.

Please uphold us in prayer!

In the past few days, we’ve often had to think of Nehemiah’s situation before he was able to help rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.

In Nehemiah 1:2-4 he reports: “One of my brothers came from Judah… and they said to me: ‘Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.’ When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.”

We feel the same way today about “Haus Nazareth”… the House of the Lord. We’ve not had a fire, but the situation is not good.

Since February over 20 people are working here in the house: the clinic, the property management office and the social services office are open. The rooms are attractive and bright… but people are really suffering because of the constant noise and dirt.

Throughout the building, there’s been loud hammering, drilling, scraping, laying concrete… and unimaginable dirt, dust and the smell of plaster penetrate every crack.

Even when going to the washing machine in the cellar, those living in the house have to navigate their way around old pipes and piles of old bricks and junk. Everyone is just worn out from the general stress.

Nehemiah’s reaction to the news about Jerusalem was to pray: “O LORD, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and obey his commands, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants.”

During the past weeks, we’ve worked and prayed, believed, hoped and shared until we’ve been ready to drop. Honestly, we’re exhausted and kind of discouraged.

On top of all this, the questions keep coming from outsiders: “What’s actually going on here? Why all this struggle?” Most folk mean well with their questions and are just curious, but there’s often an undertone of doubt and skepticism, too.

It really weighs on our hearts that the spiritual commitment “Haus Nazareth” represents [in this unchurched city] not bring discredit to the Lord in the eyes of those people around us! Remodeling is still moving forward in a few places in the building, but it is at a standstill everywhere else.

On top of all this, there is pressure from the bank. They want to have things finished so that the business plan we submitted for the loans is completely up and running.

There are open bills to be paid of 150,000 €uros [$233,000]. Since last year, [German friends committed to the project] have donated or given interest-free loans of over 500,000 €uros for the remodeling. These are sums that can take one’s breath away, but they also show the greatness and care of our Heavenly Father!

What are the most pressing needs?

- It is urgent that the newly remodeled basement rooms for the social services office be completed…

- so that the garden house (Kindergarten building) can be used by the Church of the Nazarene that is renting it

- that a new basement door can be finished for guests, visitors and patients who need wheelchair access to the building

- the completion of the two staff apartments by the end of the year, so that our missionary work can go on and increase to full capacity

We aren’t writing this for pity; we simply are asking God for fellow believers who will partner with us and help carry out the vision God has given for “Haus Nazareth”.

We’re meeting together for prayer on May 20th and want to invite you to join us!

Thank you for your concern and interest in reading this.


Matthias and Sieglinde Ploner

Comments? Questions?

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