I remember the days when I used to hear a cheesy song on the Christian radio station and cringe, or spot a billboard that claims to be a message from God and wonder what non-Christians thought about that. Nowadays, I’d give my left arm for an accidental, even cheesy reminder of God’s presence in my everyday life. That sort of stuff just doesn’t exist here.
I felt the spiritual void even more keenly as we traveled to Malta and Rome this month for a conference and family vacation. We visited the Island where the Apostle Paul was reportedly shipwrecked on his way to stand trial before Caesar, the jail cell where the Apostle Peter was held before his execution, and the Roman Colosseum that was built on the backs of Jewish slaves who had just had their temple destroyed by the powerful Roman Empire. We visited St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel where we were caught up in the reality of the final judgment and other biblical narratives. We were literally standing within the true story of the world – past and present. In that moment, I realized how hungry my soul was for realty as God describes it, instead of the narrative Japanese culture tells me daily – there is no God, we’re here by chance, education money and sex can make life more bearable, there are gods that can help you a little as long as you make them happy, but the best you can do is keep your head down, do your best, and try not to bother people.
At the same time, I was encouraged. Rome wasn’t always a Christian museum. It used to be more like a tomb for Christians. How afraid the first Christians must have been preaching a crucified Messiah with such a powerful nation breathing down their backs! They were small in number, constantly in danger, and living in a world that preached the Greek and Roman meta-narrative to them each day. In light of these realities, how in the world did Rome become the birthplace of the Catholic Church?
Only the faithfulness of God can explain it! – faithfulness to his rebellious creation, faithfulness to his chosen people throughout the ages, and faithfulness to his Son. He has promised Jesus a multi-racial, multi-national, multi-splendored, part Japanese bride. And His honor is at stake, so He won’t stop until she is gathered, mature and beautiful. If that doesn’t give us hope in a godless nation like this, nothing will!
This is the way that God answered your prayers for refreshment and encouragement during our time in Europe. Thanks for praying and don’t stop!