Friday, November 30, 2007
In other exciting news, this week was pretty good on campus. I got into a conversation with a guy Monday (he was reading an English book... I had to strike up a conversation, right?) that was great. It was actually quite amusing. I sat down next to him on a bench (sound familiar, Lindsey?) and noticed his english book and asked him in Italian what book he was reading. He was a little surprised that I was talking to him but he showed me anyway. I explained (still in Italian) that I was American and didn't often see students reading english books... and then didn't say anything more, but pulled out my journal to write a little (I was too scared to continue, cause I didn't know what else to talk about). He started reading again but then stopped after a minute or so. Seemed to be thinking. Then turned to me and asked, "Why are you here at Villa Mira Fiori?" So we began to talk and probably one of the most encouraging things he said was "I would like to be as sure as you are someday about my faith. Maybe someday but I am not now." So we are going to meet again this coming week.
On Wednesday I had probably the most encouraging conversation of my year so far. No joke, this was amazing. I had already been shot down by two different guys (me: "Parli inglese?" them: "No. Perque." me: "lavoro per un organizazione...." them: "ok. ciao") when I walked up to this guy eating his lunch and asked him if he spoke english. He said he spoke a little and asked why did I want to know. I more or less gave him the spiel about working for an organization of americans and italians and how we want to speak to students about what they think about spiritual things. At this point, I was a little discouraged and thought I would get shot down again (oh me of little faith), so he surprised me when he said, "Questa e una bella cosa (this is a beautiful thing)." So I sat and began to chat with him.
Turns out he is 'believer' but doesn't really know what that means in it's entirety. He just knows that he has a relationship with God. I asked him who he thought Jesus was and he said, "My brother, my friend. Because of Jesus I can have a relationship with God." We covered the four basic points of the gospel (God loves us, we mess up and the penalty for our sin is separation from God, Jesus died to pay this penalty and then rose to conquer death, we must accept this and follow him) and he agreed with all points but didn't really know a whole lot (these are his words, not mine). It was so encouraging to listen to how God has brought him to this point, how he had searched for God and despite not really having anyone teach him, he had figured out these basic points. He did think that the Bible had two Gods (Old and New Testament: Judging God vs. Loving God). It was good to talk about how the God of the Old Testament is the same as the God of the new, but he punishes because he wants to draw us back to him. He said "Oh ok, so he must punish us if he loves us because he doesnt want us to be hurting ourselves." The last thing he said to me before we exchanged numbers was "I have had a lot of coincidences in my life that I know were not coincidences, that were God. I think you are maybe one of these, that God sent you to talk to me." So praise God for these two guys, for how God is working in the hearts of Italians, and for how God loves us enough to not give up on us, to send his Son to die to pay our penalty and make a way to have a relationship with Him. Thanks for reading.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Thursday, November 22, 2007
I tread no new ground as I seek to understand what it means to proclaim the Gospel and struggle through the questions that accompany this search. I think it is strange that as I am here in
The question of what is the Gospel is the essential question that we all need to ask and answer. I know the answer in part. I know that it is a story of the Creator and his love relationship with his creation (us). Of our fall into self indulgence and the story of the promise of redemption and the fulfillment of that promise. Of a renewed relationship, of following a risen Savior, of learning how much we need to trust and rely upon the One who knows us better than ourselves. This much I know about the Gospel.
But what I don’t know, what I think I am beginning to figure out, is what does that mean for those who call ourselves Christians. What does it really mean to be a Christian? I am reading a book called The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard right now and he says that, “the only thing made essential on the right wing of theology is forgiveness of the individual sins. On the left it is the removal of social or structural evils. The current gospel then becomes a gospel of ‘sin management.’ Transformation of life and character is no part of the redemptive message.”
I know that ‘sin management’ is not the Gospel that Jesus talked about. Despite this, I am certain that I have fallen into one or both of these categories because they are simple, easy and not too difficult to accept. The Gospel, quite literally, that Jesus preached was “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matthew ).” The reason I have been asking questions about the Gospel is because both parts of Jesus’s words throw me for a loop.
I am a coward. Telling people to repent is not in my comfort zone; the honest truth is that I would much rather tell people that God loves them and leave out the part about God calling them to change, to repent. The sad truth is that I often settle for this. I offer a gospel of ‘sin management’; “God loves you, sent his Son Jesus to take away your sins, and you just need to accept that and you are a Christian.” Yes, God does love us and yes, Jesus did come to take away our sins, but he calls us to repentance. God tells us to repent, to turn from our ways.
The part that I love and am just beginning to understand is that he tells us to repent (turn) FOR the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Once again, to steal from Dallas Willard, “the gospel is the good news of the presence and availability of life in the kingdom, now and forever, through reliance on Jesus the Anointed. This was Abraham’s faith too. As Jesus said, “Abraham saw my time and was delighted” (John ).” God is calling us to repent because there is something better! Because he is calling us into a life that is real, that is better than the superficial life that we are living by ourselves.
I really don’t have a good handle on this; I feel like I am simply beginning to learn of the truth that God laid out for us in the Bible. But I have realized two things. One, God is calling us to repent/turn and if we are to present the Gospel in a way that is true to Jesus, we (specifically me) need to talk about this fact. The second thing I have realized is that God is calling us to more than sin management; He is calling us to true life, to something better than our meager self-supported existence. He calls us to something better.
This leaves me with hope. I know that there are cowards like me in the kingdom of heaven, because of the present reality that I can live as a child of The King (John -13). It means also that I have been charged with a responsibility to be an ambassador for The King, to accurately represent what he says (2 Corinthians ). It means that the life that He is calling me to live is something better, is real life (John 17:3). And for that, on this Thanksgiving, I can be thankful.
I am not an emotional guy. I am sure some of you have seen this movie... a group performed this on campus on Wednesday and I broke down crying. And I had seen it before. Check it out. Seriously.
Andrew Peterson - Holy is the Lord
I love Andrew Peterson and this video is not an official AP music video but does a great job with the song. Yet another thing that almost brought me to tears the first time I watched it.
This link is only two paragraphs... you need to read this. It hit me like a ton of bricks.
Settling on this Side of Jordan
Challenging... I thought it was very well written.
"I know this isn’t necessarily what the movie is about, but in this moment Ratatouille reminded of what the best art can do in us – art done with devotion, care, and great love. It restores us and reminds us of the promise of a more beautiful time, both a time passed and a time to come. It names us and gives us back to ourselves. It makes us children again in that it makes us feel wonder. It awakens the possibility of love, redemption, forgiveness, and rebirth."
Friday, November 16, 2007
Monday, November 12, 2007
Today was a rough day, not exactly the kind of day I love having on campus. English Club was kind of typical, with only four or five people showing up. Pray for me and Kanda as we try to figure out where God want's us to take this thing and what to do to try to attract more people. I did, however, get to hang out at English Club with David, a buddy of mine who is cool as all get out and an atheist. I think today I felt for the first time pain at how someone was thinking... I think, when discussing free will, he said "If I choose hell and this separation from God, God has to respect it." Man, that breaks my heart. So pray that God will break through to David's heart because that is the only way it will change.
The reason that the day was tough (besides the mild EC discouragement) was that I went to Citta Universitaria (another campus of La Sapienza) and got there (alone) and simply froze. I sat on a bench for 20 minutes and prayed and was freaked out. I dont know what it was, if it was a lack of trust in God or what but I was freaking out and not wanting to talk to students. I eventually worked up the nerve, tried a couple conversations and got shot down so I left.
But here is where the story gets a little more encouraging. I got off my bus stop and decided to swing by Villa Mira Fiori (the first campus I was at today) and look around, if for nothing else, to make myself feel better for tucking tail and running from Citta. I got there and was trying to figure out the professors schedules that they had posted when I heard, "Ciao, Chris." I turned and saw Eugenio, a guy I met last week. I ended up talking to him and three of his French friends for a while before leaving (he helped me figure out the schedules too). So, once again, despite my cowardice, God managed to have the last conversation of the day be one that encouraged me. I know it doesn't really communicate by simply typing this, but this was huge for me. I was discouraged... yet God shows up. I dont know why He doesnt give up on me, but I guess he still has a plan for me. This is encouraging.
So keep praying (especially for guys like David, or Andrea and Juan, or Ilaria (girl) and Adriano). Pray that I learn to be strong and courageous because God is with me (like my nephew Brayden Kai... don't you wish you were friends with him?) Much Love
This freaks me out to write this, because this is completely not my style, but here is my attempt at creative writing... let me know what you think. If it is negative feedback, I will just choose not to publish it :) But in all seriousness, if you think this was worthwhile, let me know and I might try it more often. This (very short) story isn't exactly autobiographical but it has elements of truth woven into it. I tried not to be overtly spiritual in it but still wanted it to communicate a point... so yea, enjoy, let me know what you thought.
Worn out. That’s how he felt that evening, sitting on the front steps. It wasn’t the well worn, classic feel of an antique; no, at 22 he was too young for that. Everything he thought should have filled up his reserves instead brought him to this point. It shouldn’t be like this. It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
His work was what he loved. Fulfilling, meaningful, bringing life to others and himself. Yet something was missing. He couldn’t put his finger on it but something was lacking, some part of him was trying too hard to grasp onto a reality that can never be seen.
So he sat.
Not sure what he was waiting on, he sat and stared. Stared across a scene of rolling hills and small villages dotting the country-side. This wasn’t
Here, the country he gazed across had the feel of sameness. He somehow felt that the town that he now gazed at in the distance could have just as easily been an outpost for ancient
Perhaps some Roman soldier, a veteran of many campaigns, used the same ancient farmhouse, where he now sat, as his retirement home. A place to grow old. To enjoy peace.
That was what he sought. Peace from the thoughts, the fears that pestered him. The questions that he knew would never be answered, could never be answered in this life. So he sat and waited and wanted the day to come where his faith became sight.
He smiled dryly. “Only 22, what am I thinking? I don’t even know.”
So he sat.
The colors changed as the sun sank across the sky. Not even close to dinner time, yet the golden hour had already hit. Trees became holy canopies, glowing in the setting sun; the grass became an inviting carpet, soft and lush; everything gradually transformed into something different under the influence of a dying sun.
What was once a simple Tuscan country scene became something more. It was filled with life. Not the life of living things, of people or animals, but it felt alive. It glowed with a warmth that seeped into all things, even into him.
His thoughts continued to follow their meandering path yet instead of angst they were now consumed with the beauty before him. He pulled out a camera and then put it back away. It could never capture this, he thought.
Beauty. Something far deeper than the models plastered across the bus’s and city walls. Even deeper than the beauty of the girl who had taken a piece of his heart. Beauty that a radiant bride begins to hint at, or a breathtaking sunset begins to touch, or a soaring aria makes you feel. Yes, this true beauty that he beheld was something you feel.
So he sat.
Refreshed. As if life was gradually being poured back in. Yet none of the questions were answered. But he was ok with that. None of the proof was laid out, concrete in front of his eyes, able to touch. Yet somehow it was. Somehow the beauty laid in front of him was proof. Enough. For now, enough.
Saturday, November 10, 2007
Last weekend (really beginning on Thursday) was an Agape Italia national team conference called "In Missione Insieme" (In Mission Together). It was a wonderful time, where the teams of STINTers (the program I am doing) from Solerno (S. Italy), Roma, Firenze (Florence) joined Italian and American staff in Rome, Firenze, Pisa and Bologna. It was so encouraging to meet our national leadership and really get to know them, to hear a bit of the vision, and to experience the fall essentials (good food, football, falling leaves and fall weather). I loved it and the place we were at was beautiful. Check out the pictures below if you don't believe me. Some take away points/highlights for me were as follows:
+ Hearing the vision of Agape, how we hope to partner with the body of Christ everywhere to take the gospel to all Italians. It was exciting to hear that we aren't here to build an organization (Agape), we are here to help fulfill the Great Commission (found in Matthew 28:18-20)
+ Playing in the fall weather: I got the throw a football around, play a little bit of soccer, hike, get in a leaf fight, enjoy a cool Autumn night... it was a beautiful, much needed, even spiritual, thing.
+ Hanging out with the national staff: Our director, Greg Lillistrand, is such a cool guy; Elfi, our Italian expert who is from Rome, simply puts a smile on my face; Kip, on staff in Rome, is the first person I have met who seems to always have laughing eyes; the Malcolms are an American couple who has been here so long that they talk to each other in Italian.... I could go on and on.
+ Agape Italia is beginning to partner with Malawi and a country in the Middle East to do humanitarian stuff while sharing the Gospel. It is, as Haswell Beni said (quoting someone else), "Our organizational mission does not relieve us of our Christian responsibility."
+ Being reinforced that, as Colossians 3:3-4 says, to be fully alive is found in Christ. I love that concept, being fully alive. I love how that being fully alive is found in pursuing Christ, not pursuing everything else (job, money, studies, things)... I have seen that in countless lives of people I know and love and respect... I want that to be true of my life.
The negative thing about this conference is that afterwards, SO MANY came down with the plague. Three from our team were hit hard, five from Solerno, and a number of staff... throwing down (makes more sense than throwing up), fever, shakes, nausea... we even made a facebook group for it. This week was spent with nostro capo (our boss) Glen, in from the States to check up on us, encourage us, teach us, and buy us dinner. Good deal, eh? He and Julie (staff from Miami) have spent the week with us and although it took time away from campus, it was needed and encouraging. Now we have something called the Rome Roundtables going on... really what this is is cool people from partnerships all over the US have come to learn together how to best reach Rome, Italy or any other big city. I have quite enjoyed hanging out with Keith, from Crusade Headquarters and a buddy of mine's Dad, who is both insightful and knows how to laugh.
I apologize if this is starting to get random, but here are the last notes... I met a guy name Giovani this week, who I will most likely continue to meet with to help him practice English and hopefully share the Gospel. He is an amazingly talented juggler (we met because I was watching him juggle and struck up a conversation) and was trying to teach me a few tricks. Needless to say, I am a novice. Also, pray for a couple meetings I have with students this coming week: Andrea, Juan, Ilaria, Adriano, Giovani.... I am really praying God uses our times together to communicate His message to them. I love you all, thanks for reading, I will probable post tomorrow my attempt at creative writing.... scary thought.
If you have made it this far, check out The Drop link to your right... interesting music. Or The Rabbit Room.. writing that is better than mine. As always, leave comments if you want. Much Love.
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
The sweet team in Solerno... "Get mad at the camera, show me angry!"