Monday, July 31, 2017

Reflections from Rome, the "Eternal" City

Rome—the eternal city.  And after a few short hours spent here, one can see why.  Traversing urban blocks, the traveler views ancient ruins which, like piles of hidden treasure, remind passersby of the ephemeral nature of life.  Gargantuan columns toppled in heaps or fused together by bands of metal shout out to today’s world to remember the past.  Consider history.  And live for something beyond the here and now.

Millennia-old fragments scatter memories everywhere in this city, where the ancient past daily intermixes with the ever-passing present. 

A pigeon holds its perch atop a marble Caesar.  Perhaps it descended from the very birds who, hundreds of generations past, participated in Roman army fortifications, where pigeons were raised and used by the imperial army.

Trajan's Column by Night
I sit in the light of the grand column chronicling Trajan’s victories of war, beholding a sight first seen in a history book years ago.  I’m really here—really in Rome.  One of millions throughout the centuries who has visited this “eternal” city.

Here, in the light of the grand etch work of a brilliant military historian, I note an emperor’s accomplishments displayed in stone.  This ancient volume speaks even more loudly than the Egyptian obelisk by Constantine’s baptismal site.  That testifies of Egyptian presence, of antiquity’s great borrowing and melding of cultures.  But this reaches every language group, for its historian uses pictures to portray one emperor’s conquests in exquisite detail, pointing out his grand accomplishments not only to literate but also to uneducated and barbarian alike.

I marvel at the chronicles recorded in stone throughout the city, at the immense proportions of the giant Forum, dwarfing the mass of humanity, which once crowded under its dominance and even now gaze upwards, imagining that incredible splendor of ages past.

Not far away sits the Mamertine Prison, where the Apostle Paul penned two epistles to Timothy and one to Titus.  Surrounded by concrete, without proper waste facilities, Paul would have depended upon the charitable gifts of others to sustain his life.  Descending into the heart of the Mamertine, I consider the precise geographical context of these books and decide to read through them during my first days in Rome.

Before being bound in this prison, Paul would have beheld the powerful Roman dominance that Caesar Augustus’s massive forum offered.  Bleating sheep and lowing cattle—destined for sacrifice, whose own entrails would have been read to predict omens –-no doubt reminded him of the pagan city where he had come to appeal to Caesar but now awaited death.  His heart, filled with compassion for the mass of humanity surrounding him, would have considered the populace who worshiped at Jupiter’s, Minerva’s, and Apollo’s temples, as the prison hovered in the shadows of these idolatrous centers.

And in this context Paul wrote words that bear noteworthy significance:  “Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

While emperors constructed larger-than-life statues of themselves, this great Ruler remains invisible.  Unlike the emperors’ faded palaces and images, the I AM is eternal.  Other emperors’ grand dwellings—at first, luxurious and soon, fading away—would grace the hillside overlooking the Mamertine for years to come, but this King remains immortal—the same in 2017 as he was in Paul’s day, just decades after Christ’s resurrection.

As I walk back to my hotel room after viewing the old city at night, with the orange flame lit at Piazza Venezia, the Forum illuminated, and Trajan’s Column glowing, I consider.  While the “eternal city” boasts faded columns of marble and stone, I have a “building of God, an house eternal in the heavens” (2 Cor. 5:1)—I have heavenly body promised me that will last forever.  While the millennia-old marble makes for interesting history, it is far from eternal.

In fact, in a city where travelers marvel at antiquity while beholding the intricate detail of colossal beauty, few realize that God—the invisible one—outshines any monument of the past.  And they, unlike the ephemeral statues about them, have been fashioned in the image of this immortal Being.  Created in His likeness, their eternal souls are by far the most important features of this city. 

Unlike the broken columns at our feet, the glory of our God lasts not from one earthly kingdom to the next or from one ruler to another.  His is an everlasting glory. 

“Only one life, ‘twill soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last.”   

A focus on His reality--the eternal—can bring everlasting reward.   
And if we remain focused on such a perspective, we may forever joy that our present was spent reflecting the immortal, invisible, and only wise God, who alone lasts forever!

Friday, July 7, 2017

My High Tower

Tucked away in the tousle of multi-colored, Spanish-style homes near the ocean sits my friend’s house.  I’d visited her for years but, with the hustle and bustle of city traffic, I’d missed something—perspective.  The first time we met, I had arrived in an airport shuttle.  The driver’s way took him through the grand downtown district, so that when I arrived at my friend’s home, the drizzling rain and noisy cars distanced me from the beauty of her home’s location.

Retired and set in her ways, my friend is a creature of habit, frequenting the same grocery stores, the same exercise route, and the same approach to each day in a familiar, mimeograph sort of way.

And so I’d missed proximity to beauty.  Sure, I knew a lovely park sprawled, blocks away from her city home.  We’d walked there multiple times, inhaling the fresh scent of eucalyptus, crunching needles beneath our feet, strolling through a luxuriant rose garden.  But always we took the same route—or a variation of it.  And yet, how long this park stretches eluded me until I recently explored its acres of territory, which extend far across the heavily populated city where she lives.

Beyond trash-strewn city sidewalks and foul-smelling subway stations, a haven of beauty beckons.  Here, flowers of multiple varieties and shrubs of various hues accentuate the fingerprint of God’s handiwork.  Breath-taking displays of manicured flora and fauna highlight man’s work upon God’s planet, as individuals exercise dominion and stewardship over this corner of earth.

But until recently, I never realized my friend’s precise proximity to recognizable landmarks like the Bay Bridge.  I didn’t see just how her home fit into the giant jigsaw puzzle of her huge metropolis.  Because I hadn’t climbed high enough on a clear enough day, I didn’t know just how far one could view the grand ocean that diminished to ever-graying blue and stretched for unseen thousands of miles into the distance.

But when I trekked up several flights of stairs and even higher, I saw.  That vantage point provided a view of an overwhelming patchwork of beauty that surpassed my ground-level perspective, that put all into its proper view.

And as I sat atop the mountain, taking in the now miniscule townscape before me, Psalm 18:2 came floating to my brain—“The LORD is my . . . high tower.”

The Lord, my High Tower, provides a vantage point that stands distant from the mundane existence of life.  My High Tower uses His true and living Word, which is “forever settled in Heaven” to shape my perspective as I enter into His presence, away from the secular realm of this universe. By His every word we are to live, and when we get up into Him, through His eternal Book, we understand His heartthrob.  We realize what’s actually significant.  And He provides perspective—that our tiny, individual lives are only part of a bigger picture.

A picture that reflects all that He is. 

His sovereignty. 

His perfection. 

His goodness. 

In fact, our lives exist as particular parts of His perfect plan.

It doesn’t always appear that way to us.  In fact, it often seems that something’s off.  Something’s wrong.  Something’s gone awry.

But that’s not because of Him.

Too often, we bypass His perspective for our own.  We might choose to do a Google search on a topic before we complete a topical study on that same issue in God’s Word. Instead of praying about problems, we might rather just talk about them, making God's Source Book a last resort.  Instead of getting to the heart of an issue, we might rather avoid the discomfort of confrontation or people who point us to Scripture truth.  In these ways and more, we can choose to walk by what we see (our own feelings) rather than believe what we can’t see (faith in God’s perspective).

It’s tragic, actually--this lack of perspective that makes us trust our own vision instead of God's perfect Word.  It seems to me that the discrepancy between faith and feelings lies at the heart of most battles. 

Paul lamented to the Galatians, “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel” (Gal. 1:6). In Ephesians, he explains that the believers need not be, like children, so easily tossed from one “wind of doctrine” to another (Eph. 4:14).  In both passages, Paul illustrates a common human tendency—to easily remove ourselves from God’s way to our own way.

It’s a childish thing.  But it’s a dangerous thing.  Another Gospel means another Jesus, which means no salvation (Acts 4:12).  Another doctrine means a lack of truth, which means no actual worship, since God must be worshiped in both spirit and truth (John 4:24).

The question at the end of the day remains, Will we trust God’s Word implicitly or will we rely—even just a tiny bit—upon our feelings, our own way, our own understanding?

Let us ascend into our High Tower this day.  Multiple times, we can acquire His perspective and view the world with His wisdom!

Monday I finished reading Broad is the Way by Dr. David Sorenson.  This preacher commends the habit of reading through the Scripture seven times a year.  His method is nine chapters in the morning, nine chapters after noon, and nine chapters in the evening.  In reading about 27 chapters each day for several decades of his ministry, he has been able to see life from God’s perspective.  Understanding it is only God’s grace that has caused him not to move from his doctrinal and practical positions for decades, he also realizes that this habit of Bible reading has greatly shaped his view of life.

Another book I recently started is called For Instruction in Righteousness.  In her introduction, Author Pam Forster refers to herself as “just a mother," saying, “I am not a Bible scholar; I am just a believer, studying the Bible as the guidebook for my life.”  And yet, as a seeking believer, she has compiled a book of topically arranged Bible verses specifically geared toward child rearing from a biblical perspective.  She says, “We must turn back to the Bible, the source of all wisdom.  In it we will find all that we need to know to be godly fathers and mothers.”  Pam and her husband realize that God’s perspective must control their actions if they are to raise their family God’s way.  They have put together this resource that others, too, might have a help in seeking to make “God’s Word ... the center of”  

Fellow believer, let us likewise make God’s Word our Portion multiple times throughout the day, using it as our sole authority for faith and practice.  In so doing, we can live by the perspective our High Tower offers us.

From His eternal Word.