What do you do when four o’clock in the morning feels like noon? I blog…and drink coffee. We are back from our trip to Italy but my personal time clock is still in Rome. Many of my thoughts remain focused on Rome as well. Our ministry took a wonderful group of people to Italy for almost two weeks. We saw the churches, the Pantheon, the Roman Colosseum and the leaning tower of Pisa. We also saw the beautiful countryside of Italy, dotted with vineyards, villas, ancient castles and cathedrals. We saw Vatican City and the amazing artwork that is housed there. And we ate pasta, pizza, pasta, bread, pasta, fruit, pasta and 31 flavors of gelato. Did I mention we ate a LOT of pasta? We flew from Rome to Atlanta and then Atlanta to Dallas. And after two wonderful weeks in Italy – we were home.
There is a reason the rest of the world thinks Americans are spoiled. It is because we are. I love to see other countries. I love to walk on their roads, see their cities and visit their landmarks. But I come home and realize that I am blessed to live in America. We take a lot for granted…like ice in our glasses and shiny, clean bathrooms, and the ability to walk on a sidewalk or cross a street. In Italy, the “right of way” belongs to whomever takes it first and fastest. So as I blog my way through a second cup of coffee, I am grateful to be home – and grateful for all that I was able to see and learn. There are things I want to be careful to remember and thoughts I want to share with all of you.
Jim has a book, written by Cullen Murphy, that I want to read now. The title is Are We Rome: The Fall of an Empire and the Fate of America. I stood in the Pantheon, a building that has been standing since 126 AD, and probably said the word “wow” a hundred times. I really have no words to describe the utter grandeur. The marble columns, the marble floors, the artwork and the tombs of famous people like the artist Raphael. We were standing in a building that has existed for almost 2000 years! The Pantheon was built to glorify Roman gods. In 609 AD it was given to the Christian church and remains a church today. Technically. They hold masses there sometimes – but mostly it is used as a tourist attraction and a reminder of what it used to be.
That is the point of the book, Are We Rome? When the Pantheon was built, Rome was the world power and no one thought Rome would ever be less. The architecture, the art, the schools, the industry, and the armaments were beyond anything the world had ever witnessed. Italy has some of the most amazing churches I have ever seen. They are full of priceless artifacts and art. They are full of history and tourists. But, most of the time, they are empty of worship. The vast cathedrals had only a few pews, or small stacks of chairs pushed to the side. I sat in a few of the pews and wondered about the people who had been there before me, and those that would sit there after. I looked at the churches and wondered what they used to be like on Sundays.
Will the same be true of the people who visit our national monuments 500 years from now? Will they tour Washington D.C. and listen to guides talk about the way things used to be? Will people drive past buildings that used to be churches but are now schools, hotels, office buildings or something else entirely? Will someone read a blog like this one as history and wonder why people didn’t fix things when they had the chance?
Acts, Chapter 7, records the sermon of Stephen right before the Jewish leaders stoned him to death. He wrote: “However, the Most High does not live in houses made by men. As the prophet says: Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord. Or where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things? You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him – you have received the law that was put into effect through the angels but have not obeyed it” (Acts 7:49-53).
Are We Rome? Probably. But here is the more important thought: Are we home? As wonderful as it was to open my front door, I am reminded this morning of the fact that I’m not home yet. We toured beautiful cathedrals – but the Most High does not live in houses made by men. He lives in us. The Pantheon was built by men to honor false gods. Heaven was created by the the Most High. One day we will live with him in heaven, look around and say “wow” a million times, and know for certain – there is no place like home!