How I Got Here: When in Rome, part 2

(This is actually a newsletter from Rome to my family, friends and supporters in February of 2000.  I will have more to say about a couple of these people later, but this gives a taste of our ministry in Rome and doesn’t rely on my memory.)

A struggle before baptism

Angelo was raised catholic but has been friends with Christians for many years. He has studied the Bible with others and on his own for many years. He is very smart and in some areas actually understands the Bible better than his Christian friends. He knows the Bible well enough to realize the contradictions and problems with Catholicism. He knows what the gospel says and what it takes to obey God but has had many doubts, some as a result of personal struggles. Chris has studied with him since we arrived and has been able to be honest and straightforward when talking about the gospel and Angelo’s soul. And he has become a friend of all of us, often eating at our house our with our youth group. I mention all this to tell you that he was baptized into Christ on Friday, February 11th. Praise God for another addition to His kingdom.

A listening ear
Alvaro is a 50 year old Catholic; 20 years older than Angelo but going through struggles of his own. He entered the church building for the first and only time on a Wednesday night, eyes red from crying, slight smell of liquor on his breath, nervous, and in need. It was a little frightening the way he entered. After standing outside the door, he entered slowly, and Laura, a coworker left the room when she saw him. That left Jesse, Laura’s husband, and me to talk to this stranger. I went to him and listened. I understood that his brother had died a week ago. I later found out that he had died tragically from smoke inhalation in his own apartment when a space heater malfunctioned. He had gone to a nearby catholic church but the priest was either unavailable or too busy to talk with him (I don’t know exactly what happened and I am not mentioning this to shame the catholic church or this priest, just explaining the situation). I was never sure what hurt him more, his brother’s death or not finding someone to talk to. God brought him to us. An elderly member of the church was at the building and we called him up front to help. I didn’t know what to do. He talked to the man for awhile and found out a little more information and we both offered our condolences. Occasionally he would begin crying, hiding his face with shame. After they had talked for awhile, Paolo the evangelist for the church, arrived and began talking to this man. He told the distraught man that we can listen and sympathize but only God can take care of his pain and suffering. They talked for awhile in private. Afterward I had a chance to speak to him again and he seemed to be feeling a little better after finding people who would listen. We chit-chatted a little and laughed. I told him why I was in Italy and found out that he knows the part of Florence where I lived. The Wednesday night Bible Study was about to begin so he left, not wanting to be around a large group of people. Please pray that he returns. This is very common.

They don’t know the lord
A few weeks earlier a man who had been drinking entered, distressed, with many questions about divorce and remarriage. His girlfriend was waiting in the car. He couldn’t afford a divorce from his wife although they had been separated for a few years. And one week after Alvaro come in, we received a phone call from a desperate 30 year old whose wife had been unfaithful. There are many others just like these, people struggling and suffering and they don’t even know that it is God who is lacking in their life. They don’t know the one who can heal and take care of all their problems. But Angelo is no longer one of these.

She remembers the important things
In one of our bi-weekly visits recently, we went to the house of Pietro and Pina Leone. They are both in their eighties. They are Christians and shut-ins of the congregation here at Viale Jonio. They both have health problems but they have their faith. Pina, in particular, is very interesting. Time and age have taken away much of her memory and mind. She remembers her father, who died in WW1 when she was 3 years old, but she never remembers our names and tells us the same things every time we visit. The most beautiful thing about this sister is that she is continually praising and thanking God. Although she forgets our names, and that Jesse and Laura are married to each other, she remembers the important things. Every time we visit she recites a Psalm completely from memory. She has forgotten many things but the Word of God remains in her mind and on her lips. Amen.

The importance of being visable
Gisella is another elderly lady who is great; always joking and talking even though she has had a rough life. She has suffered through a bad marriage and a nervous breakdown and doesn’t remember a lot of her life before her “sickness”, as she calls it. Her grandfather was a friend of a Pope. She passed by the church building one day last fall, lonely, depressed, without much family or many friends. She spends much of her day watching TV or reading until her eyes start to bother her. She said she had noticed our building for a long time but never knew who we were. She has been at almost every worship service, bible study, and church activity ever since she first came even if she causes some distractions by talking during the song service or asking questions that don’t relate all to the study. She is a wonderful lady, calling us all her grandchildren, and joking about marrying Chris, but she is not a Christian. She doesn’t have the faith, the assurance from the Scripture, and the hope the Pina Leone has. She is interested and always learning even if she still has a statue of St. Francis of Assisi in her apartment. Please pray for her soul

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How I Got Here: “When in Rome…”

In August of 1999, I moved from Florence, Italy, to Rome with a friend and coworker, Chris.  We shared a one bedroom apartment a few blocks from the church building.  It was near a McDonalds and a store that was kinda like a Sears/Wal-mart.  Right outside our door was a pizza by the slice place.

The Church of Christ on Viale Jonio (street name) was a store-front location.  It had a nice cafe/bar on one side, and a take-out chinese place on the other.  Just past the Chinese place was a another, cheaper pizza by the slice place.  I had more than one Italian tells us that Egyptians made the best pizza.

Forgive me for remembering so much about the food.

Friends from church took us to a Champions league game between our team, AS Roma and Leeds from England.  It was exciting.  We were almost killed by British soccer hooligans as we entered the stadium (who we think were actually enemies of Leeds and came all the way to Rome to start fights–people were stabbed in a bar later that night by British soccer hooligans).  But we lost 1-0, on an amazing goal by Kewel, an Australian.

I loved walking around the Forum/Colosseum area in daytime and Piazza Navona and the Spanish Steps at night.  One of the less known places but near the Vatican, Castel Sant’Angelo, a round fortress type structure was also a favorite.  There were some beautiful parks where I spent free time and also had church activities.

Some of my favorite sites were out of the city.  A beach town named Gaeta on the way to a day in Pompeii with friends.  Having a picnic on an old Roman road with tombs on each side practically deserted in the middle of nowhere. Castelli Romani, the summer home of popes in the mountains outside of Rome, which has the best porchetta, and cookies you dip in white wine.  Visiting the monasteries of St Benedict and St Scholastica and the roman countryside.

aahhhhhh……sigh………

And I still never saw Tivoli, the baths of Caracalla, Assissi, and a multitude of other places in the region.

I am saving the important stuff about ministry and relationships for another post, but just got caught up reminiscing about Italy.

It was a great time and a great place!

More to come soon.

Why Johnny Can’t Preach (Book Review)

I enjoyed a quick but meaty read by T. David Gordon:  Why Johnny Can’t Preach:  The Media Have Shaped the Messengers.

His main premise/concern is that Preachers:

  1. no longer have the ability to read texts
  2. no longer have composition skills to create unity and movement in a sermon
  3. no longer recognize the difference between the significant and insignificant

He wrote the book while dealing with cancer and thought he was dying and felt the urgency to share his concerns about the state of preaching.

He will come across as an old codger, modernist, grumpy old man to many, and to more among younger generations and emergers.  I still believe he has a lot of great things to say that need to be heard, especially in seminaries.

Anecdotally, he claims that his family often has a hard time recognizing the main point of a sermon, and also understanding the connection between points made and the text used.  A unity or structure is rarely evident or obvious.

I am intrigued by his use of Dabney’s “Seven Cardinal Requisites of Preaching,” which is over a hundred years old, but beneficial.

Gordon is a “media ecologists” and while I can’t tell you exactly what that means, it is a study of how culture affects us.

He is not a Luddite, but is concerned with more than just the effects of TV and internet.  He makes an interesting point that even the advent of the telephone has reduced our ability to notice and respond to body language.  He believes that preachers are too often unaware of their effect (or lack thereof) among the congregation while we preach.  Also, “telephone conversations rarely have unity, order, or movement” all of which are vital to a good sermon (p. 66).

His main argument against TV and current media is that they have eroded our ability to distinguish the significant from the insignificant.

He highly recommends study of literature and poetry for all ministers, even suggesting preachers should study liberal arts or Literature before moving to Bible/Theology degrees. He refers to others in history with the same view.

A love for words and why certain words were used are crucial to reading the Bible as we ought. With regards to reading, he says,

“we scan for information, but we do not appreciate literary craftmanship…we don’t really read texts to enter the world of the author and perceive reality through his vantage point;  we read texts to see how they confirm what we already believe about reality.  Texts are mirrors that reflect ourselves; they are not pictures that are appreciated in themselves. This explains in part, the phenomenon that many Christians will read their Bibles daily for fifty years, and do not have one opinion that changes in the entire fifty-year span” (p. 49)

He believes that Preachers are the most resistant to Annual Reviews and criticism, even though it is a common practice in most professions.

I may post more quotes later.  It was an interesting read that I am still chewing on and thinking about ways to grow and improve as a speaker.

I highly recommend it to all preachers, especially those considering a preaching ministry.

NFL Playoff Picks

I like picking games without doing any research and not caring if I am right or night.  It’s probably the best chance to do well.  So…..

Cowboys over Vikings

Saints over Cardinals

Jets over Chargers

Colts over Ravens

Have a great weekend and week-beginning with the Lord and your church family!!!

Prayers for Haiti

About two years ago, maybe more, someone posted a newspaper article on our bulletin board about the people in Haiti eating mud pies to survive.  You can read about it HERE and HERE.

Our congregation was concerned and added Haiti to our prayer list but didn’t act much more than that.

In the Fall of 2008 after trying to find ways to be involved in Haiti, we discovered Hope for Haiti’s Children, based in Sugar Land, TX. We sent a monthly check for 2009 but have not made plans for 2010 (that may change now).

Last summer, this poor nation (poorest in the Western Hemisphere, not far from the wealthiest nation on Earth) was hit by multiple storms.  Read about it HERE and HERE.

This country has needed help for a long time, sadly it took a devastating earthquake to really get the world’s attention.

Here is an article from the Christian Chronicle with updates about Church of Christ members in Haiti that also lists some Christian organizations who have ministries there.

LET”S PRAY AND GIVE!!!

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A comment by Royce Ogle:

My wife works for WFR Relief. Donations and other info is here: http://www.wfrchurch.org/relief/index.html

Through World Radio we have long standing relationships with local church leaders and have two of our own men on the ground there now.

Any help will be deeply appreciated.

Royce