I seem to recall a comment from the travel writer Paul Theroux that was along the lines of “When we travel, we not only see things, but we begin to see things from a different perspective.” It came to mind when I was asked about my reflections on our recent trip to Italy. The sunflowers had begun to bow their heads in anticipation of autumn. The vines were being harvested, and the olive trees were heavy-laden and preparing for the arrival of the workers in the groves. It is hard not to wish for the pace of life that seems to mark the routine tasks of the Tuscan hillsides.
The medieval architecture makes even our oldest American buildings seem modern, and the churches are from a time when building knew nothing of utilitarianism! From St Peter’s down to the smallest basilica, one’s attention is immediately drawn upwards. Whatever we make of the statues, icons, and frescoes, it is impossible to miss the fact that the artists thought nothing of taking years and years to remind us of the honor due to the everlasting God.
Now, it was in that ecclesiastical context that I had my Theroux moment. Not only did I see the structure, but I saw it in a different way. How, I asked myself, did “we” manage to institutionalize the church so that we have to peel back the layers of external religious practice in seeking to come face-to-face with Jesus? You will not be surprised when I tell you that it made me think of a song, written by John E. Walvoord. The first verse reads as follows:
Love was when God became a man,
Locked in time and space, without rank or place;
Love was God born of Jewish kin,
Just a carpenter with some fishermen.
In Jesus, God moved into our neighborhood, and He was not hidden behind the garb of the Pharisees. He took fish and bread and multiplied it for the benefit of the crowd. He was accessible to the woman at the well, and He went home with Zacchaeus. Buildings once filled with worshipers are now visited by tourists. But God has His people everywhere! In Siena, we had the privilege of joining the congregation of Chiesa Cristiana Biblica. Why was this multicultural, multigenerational gathering singing worship songs and listening intently to the teaching of the Bible while the gigantic church buildings were empty? The answer, of course, is the Gospel—the conviction that the Word of God does the work of God.
So let’s thank God for His goodness and pray for our brothers and sisters throughout the world. Our daily devotional is now translated into Italian—Verità per la Vita—and we rejoice in our partnership with fellow believers throughout the world.
With my love in the Lord Jesus,