Saturday, August 28, 2010


There aren’t any roads directly leading up to it, but you can hear it as you get closer. The excitement mounts, the hubbub increases, and—suddenly!—there you are in front of the Fontana di Trevi (Trevi Fountain). Rome may have its Vatican and St. Peter’s and such, but the Trevi is its true icon, its center. The largest Baroque fountain in the city, about 90 feet high and 70 feet wide, built in the 1700s.

Everyone throws coins into this fountain. Apparently if you do so you will return to Rome in a year. Yours faithfully, having been impoverished by an expensive nephew (just kidding, Jake!), didn’t want to return in 2011, so he kept his euros to himself.

There are other variations on this cunning maneuver: if you cast two coins you will be rewarded with a new romance (nope, not interested), and if you toss three, you can be sure of a divorce (nope, not applicable).

Anyhow, for whatever reason, there are about €3,000 (about $4,000) pitched into the water each day. They are supposed to be collected nightly for the Catholic charity Caritas. A few years ago Caritas noted a sharp dip in the funds and, after a lengthy surveillance operation, Rome’s cops arrested fountain cleaners who were sweeping off more than debris.

But nothing can beat “d’Artagnan” (aka Roberto Cercelletta) who fished coins out of the fountain for 34 years till he was nabbed by police in 2002. He was banned from visiting the fountain. Not so easily deterred, he returned, and in protest of his interdiction, slashed his ample belly with a razor blade. He was arrested again. He confessed to having pilfered coins six days a week, leaving the seventh day’s offerings for Caritas. Authorities think charities lost as much as €12,000 a month as a result. Not a bad way to “earn” money. “If I'm dying of hunger and am forced to return to the fountain to get money, if they try to stop me then, I will cut myself again,” he said from his mobile phone at his house in the Roman suburbs. Starving? On €12,000 a month? Yeah, right!

He is not rich who has a lot.
He is rich who doesn’t want more.
(an old philosopher)

But those who want to get rich
fall into temptation and a snare
and many foolish
and harmful desires
which plunge men into ruin
and destruction.
For the love of money is
a root of all sorts of evil,
and some by longing for it
have wandered away
from the faith and
pierced themselves
with many griefs.
1 Timothy 6:9–10

Instead of being greedy, Paul asks us to be content.

For we have brought nothing
into the world,
so we cannot take anything
out of it either.
If we have food and covering,
with these we shall be content.
1 Timothy 6:7–8

And here in the US, if you’re on welfare today, you possess more income than 95% of the people in third world countries. We are rich!

But there are riches that are better than gold and last longer than gold.

A gentle and quiet spirit,
which is precious in the sight of God
1 Peter 3:4
Rich in faith and
heirs of the kingdom
James 2:5
Wisdom is better than jewels
Proverbs 8:10
The unfathomable riches of Christ
Ephesians 3:8

We are …

… not to fix [our] hope on
the uncertainty of riches,
but on God,
who richly supplies us
with all things to enjoy.
1 Timothy 6:17

Next time, I’ll toss in a euro.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


The fascinating arch, the Arch of Titus, is on highest point of the Via Sacra, in Rome. Its inscription reads: The Senate and People of Rome To the divine Titus, Vespasianus Augustus, son of the divine Vespasian. Built in 82 AD, by Emperor Domitian, it commemorates the victory of his deified brother, Titus, over Jerusalem in 70 AD. (It was restored by Pope Pius VII in 1822.) This Arch has become the prototype for other famous arches: the Arc de Triomphe (1806), the National Memorial Arch (1910) in Valley Forge, the India Gate (1931) in New Delhi, etc.

The Arch of Titus is an incredibly important monument, the only existing depiction of the looting of the Temple of Jerusalem during its sacking—the seven-branched menorah and trumpets are strikingly visible. In fact, the menorah on the Arch served as the model for that on the emblem of the State of Israel. And Roman Jews have always refused to walk under it, until 1948, when, with the founding of the State of Israel, prominent ones in the Jewish community conducted a solemn procession through the Arch, but in the opposite direction to that taken by the victorious Romans. Jerusalem had been “refounded.”

The Sack of Jerusalem occurred on the ninth day of the month of Av (Tisha B’Av; in July in 2010). Tisha B’Av, remembering this sad day of Jewish history, is a day of mourning—the biblical book of Lamentations is customarily read that day. Around one million Jews were killed in that First Jewish Roman War, and about 100,000 captured and enslaved. The Temple was utterly destroyed by fire. Josephus, the Jewish historian, seems to think Titus didn’t really want to destroy the Temple, but to use it for his own Roman gods. In any case, the general (later Emperor) refused a wreath of victory, turning it down saying that there was “no merit in vanquishing people forsaken by their own God.”

This guy, Titus, may have had something there. God threatens to forsake those who forsake Him.

… the LORD is with you
when you are with Him.
And if you seek Him,
He will let you find Him;
but if you forsake Him,
He will forsake you.
2 Chronicles 15:2

But not for long.

... in Your great compassion
You did not make
an end of them or forsake them,
For You are a gracious
and compassionate God.
Nehemiah 9:31

Though discipline might come, this gracious and compassionate God does not forsake His own for ever.

This theme is echoed in the New Testament as well. God’s people are never forsaken, in the eternal scheme of things.

… He Himself has said,
“I will never desert you,
nor will I ever forsake you,”
so that we confidently say,
“The Lord is my helper,
I will not be afraid.
What will man do to me?”
Hebrews 13:5–6

Will there be suffering here on earth? For sure, perhaps even peril to life and limb.

For to you it has been granted
for Christ's sake,
not only to believe in Him,
but also to suffer for His sake,
Philippians 1:29

But forsaken? Never, because of the payment for our sins, made by Jesus Christ, God incarnate, on the cross. We will never be forsaken … because He was, on our behalf.

I’m forgiven because you were forsaken,
I’m accepted, you were condemned,
I’m alive and well,
Your Spirit is within me,
Because you died and rose again.
Amazing love, how can it be?
That you, my King, would die for me!

Billy James Foote (1997)

Saturday, August 14, 2010


The other day I was at a family wedding with all the clan gathered to make merry. Among them was Julie, my cousin’s daughter.

I tell you everyone’s getting old! This was the wee one I used to bounce on my knees 25 years ago. Now she’s a bonnie lady, full of spark and cheer.

So I decided to test out my upper body strength and prove to one and all that I, alone, had not aged. All those long hours at Landry Fitness Center (ahem!) paid off.

I did it in perfect style, following all the rules: maintain a stable center of gravity, back straight, feet apart, one in front of the other, knees slightly flexed, object being lifted close to the body, head up, chin in, etc. Yup! They all got a workout: lat. dorsi, trap., erector spinae, glutei, triceps, biceps, and the rest of ye olde musculoskeletal apparatus.

Not that Julie weighed much! (Go eat some JIF, girl!)

And neither did she need any carrying anymore.

But we do. We all do. And God promises to do the heavy work.

Like a shepherd He will tend His flock,
In His arm He will gather the lambs
And carry them in His bosom;
He will gently lead the nursing ewes.
Isaiah 40:11

This is a tender and merciful God who knows His people need carrying. And carry them, He does. All their days.

“You who have been borne by Me from birth
And have been carried from the womb;
Even to your old age I will be the same,
And even to your graying years
I will bear you!
I have done it, and I will carry you;
And I will bear you and I will deliver you.”
Isaiah 46:3–4

A carrying God. A delivering God.

For He said, “Surely, they are My people, ….”
So He became their Savior.
In all their affliction He was afflicted ….
In His love and in His mercy
He redeemed them,
And He lifted them and carried them
all the days of old.
Isaiah 63:8–9

Isn’t that amazing—“In all their affliction He was afflicted.” He suffers with us, and He suffers for us. Jesus Christ, God incarnate, paid the prize of our sins.

There is nobody like this carrying God.

“To whom would you liken Me
And make Me equal and compare Me,
That we would be alike?”
Isaiah 46:5

In fact, God challenges us: “What are you carrying?”

“Those who lavish gold from the purse
And weigh silver on the scale
Hire a goldsmith,
and he makes it into a god; …
They lift it upon the shoulder and carry it;
They set it in its place and it stands there.
It does not move from its place.
Though one may cry to it,
it cannot answer;
It cannot deliver him from his distress.”
Isaiah 46:6–7

What do we carry, thinking it can take the place of God? What do we carry, hoping it can deliver? What do we carry, assuming it can satisfy, fulfill, and delight?

“Gather yourselves and come;
Draw near together,
you fugitives of the nations;
They have no knowledge,
Who carry about their wooden idol
And pray to a god who cannot save.”
Isaiah 45:20

Nobody else can, but God. Nothing else can.

“… there is no other God besides Me,
A righteous God and a Savior;
There is none except Me.
Isaiah 45:21

And this God asks us to lay down what we are carrying and, instead, be carried by Him. The carrying God. Hang on to Him!

Saturday, August 07, 2010


“You did what! Preach without socks? Really?”

Yup, I did. Really! Without socks. Three weeks ago. At my church.

“Gosh, you must be becoming postmodern,” I was accused.

I tell you, the world is coming to a pretty pass and will soon arrive at a sad end because yours faithfully didn’t wear socks while preaching.

Skeptical about these significant advances in preaching that I had made, he asked:

“Did you wear jeans, and was your shirt untucked?”

Do cargo pants count? And an untucked T-shirt with the inane logo of “Life is Good”? (I personally think eternal life is better, but what do I know?)

“Did you wear glasses with square, black rims, and put gel in your hair?

Listen, one can go only so far, OK? No, no cool glasses or spiky hair for this preacher. I have a reputation to uphold, which, in my adventurous foray into sockless homiletics, has now probably been completely shot to bits.

I do have a confession, though: For the first service on that earth-shattering Sunday (first service = traditional), I did wear a sports jacket and shirt, and put on a different pair of pants, and wore another pair of shoes—yes, with socks, I’m ashamed to say.

But the skeptic challenges me again:

“What next? You gonna throw out the Bible?”

One week if it’s socks that are jettisoned, does that mean next week it’s the Bible? Ne feceris ut rideam, as Cicero would say (“Don't make me laugh”).
Anyhow, there I was. Seemingly postmodern.

“I bet you don’t believe in objective truth, now that you have abandoned socks in the pulpit.”

Fac ut vivas (“Get a life”), I replied, in majestic Ciceronian fashion.

Whether or not postmodernism has rejected objective truth is a matter of debate. But the Bible is clear that there is objective truth.

Your law is truth.
And all Your commandments are truth.
The sum of Your word is truth.
Psalm 119:142, 151, 160

(How clearly we can apprehend that truth is another question. IMHO, we can—not perfectly, but sufficiently, and adequately.)

To God, Himself, frequently the quality of truth is attributed, and it appears to be a constant characteristic of deity.

But You, O Lord, are
a God merciful and gracious,
Slow to anger and abundant
in lovingkindness and truth.
Psalm 86:15

His purposes are true.

All the paths of the LORD
are lovingkindness and truth.
Psalm 25:10

His works are true.

The works of His hands
are truth and justice.
Psalm 111:7

Truth virtually surrounds Him.

Lovingkindness and truth go before You.
Psalm 89:14

God’s truth is forever and ever!

The sum of Your word is truth,
And every one of Your
righteous ordinances is everlasting.
Psalm 119:160

And His truth is truly awesome!

For Your lovingkindness is
great to the heavens
And Your truth to the clouds.
Psalm 57:10

May we remain in God’s truth.

Lead me in Your truth and teach me,
For You are the God of my salvation;
For You I wait all the day.
Psalm 25:5

Bless Thou the truth, dear Lord, to me, to me,
As Thou didst bless the bread by Galilee;
Then shall all bondage cease, all fetters fall;
And I shall find my peace, my all in all

Thou art the Bread of Life, O Lord, to me,
Thy holy Word the truth, that saveth me;
Give me to eat and live with thee above;
Teach me to love thy truth, for thou art love.
Mary Lathbury, 1877, and Alexander Groves, 1913

I’ve gotta go get ready to preach today. Where are my socks?