Sunday, January 20, 2019

Prayer for MLK Day



Heavenly Father, we are thankful as we start a new year for a rhythm and a calendar that reminds us of events and people who had a lasting impact on our history and on the human experience.

We look to the national holiday tomorrow and join our nation in remembering and honoring a man, Martin Luther King, Jr., who preached the word of God and promoted justice in his own time. We acknowledge that any man, or any preacher, is not honored because of words of eloquent wisdom or even their motives, but along with the Apostle Paul we rejoice whenever Christ is proclaimed.

Yet, it is not lost on us that the cultural landscape in 2019 makes the celebration of this holiday particularly sobering, and particularly important. The dream of racial harmony is not yet realized. Our neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, and churches do not yet reflect the diversity that your Word describes is beautiful. Racial prejudice still lingers and brings hurt that affects generations.

Therefore, we take this opportunity on this occasion to pray to you God – our Wonderful Counselor, Everlasting Father, Mighty God, Prince of Peace – for a specific working of your Spirit and your healing hand in our country, our world, and our hearts.

We live in a culture and a time when it is far easier to judge the opinions and actions of others rather than reflect on the wickedness in our own heart. Lord, please forgive us and have mercy. Help us remove the log in our eye before identifying the speck in our brothers’ and sisters’.

And we live in a culture and a time when it is far easier to attend to our own needs without also being aware of and caring for the needs of others, especially those who are different than us. Forgive us Lord! Deliver us from the snare of debating “who is my neighbor?” like the lawyer in the parable in Luke, and instead help us simply be a good neighbor to whomever we encounter, especially those in need, like the good Samaritan did in that story, and like you, Jesus, did throughout your earthly life.

Lord we pray that you would victoriously cast out fear that may exist in our hearts, and that does exist in our country and perhaps even our local church, towards pursuing biblical reconciliation and diversity; the kind of reconciliation and diversity we see so clearly in the Bible, the gospel, and in your promises of a new heaven and a new earth. Give us courage to overcome our own fears and strengthen us to love with the perfect love that you tell us casts out fear.

We pray for the same thing that King prayed for more than 50 years ago; a world, a country, and a church that more closely reflects the holiness, the love, and the hope displayed in the person and work of Jesus Christ. We lament like he did that we live in a place and a time that has a stained history and a present problem of racism. But we trust like he did that our God is able and willing to bring about everlasting healing and reconciliation in our generation.

Father, through your Son Jesus and by the power of your Spirit, bring to bear in our lives, in our country, and in our church, the only message that can truly change sinful hearts, save and unite sinful people, and reflect the glory that you intend for us to reflect – the message of the gospel that He who knew no sin became sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God. In awe of that message and dependent on your power, we pray in the name of Jesus, our Savior. Amen!

Monday, December 31, 2018

It's About Time



Had to get a blog post in this year. Did I make it (...trying to find a clock...)?? Perhaps 2019 will be the year of the blog again. If so, I should probably get a redesign. Though I’m more of a word person, so if my frequency of writing is dependent on that I have little hope.

But what should I write about? Before, when I first started blogging, I would spend hours crafting a post, making sure it was precise and thorough. In retrospect I see my longer posts written in the structure of a chapter in a book. Of course, few people read that much online, so at best it has provided me content for a future book or at least a historical journal. Then, my wife Katie helped me realize to be readable online (or anywhere actually), I need to work harder to have less words. For writers (if I can call myself that), writing less is much harder. Writing a lot of words is very easy and not indicative of a skillful writer. “Whoever restrains his words has knowledge”, says Proverbs. As a result of that exhortation, I do have some more concise and hopefully helpful posts in more recent years.

Now, it has been so long since I’ve posted, I think I need to somehow combine these two approaches and give somewhat of a summary, but in a short and readable way. Here goes.

COURAGE

For the last few years I have defined a “word for the year”. Fortunately, the word has come to me around November for the year ahead, and so it hasn’t been a choice between all the words in the language, but instead an acceptance of the word as presented to me. For example, as 2018 was approaching I had to accept whether I had the courage to accept that my word for the year was courage. One of the major lessons I learned through the year was that courage doesn’t come before it comes during. So, I accepted it, I received it, and I am still learning and accepting and receiving the virtue about which C.S. Lewis said, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality.”

Among other things, I have tried this year to be patient in waiting, cheerful in suffering, and courageous in doing. In March, my wife and I officially started the process of growing our family through domestic adoption, following much waiting and some real suffering. This is the part of the blog post where as I writer I am fighting the temptation to abandon the skill of brevity and commence using words galore. How could I not? I am talking about one of the most surreal and wonderful experiences of my life! Sigh, I shouldn’t.

Approaching adoption, my charge was not necessarily to lay aside my fear and anxiety and put on courage, in the same way that Paul says to put off sin and put on Christ. Instead, my charge was simply to follow Christ by being like him. It was to walk in a manner worthy of the gospel. That didn’t mean I was to attempt to muster strength and bravery on my own, but that I was to love and encounter the unknown with virtue, by his grace. And the joy would come alongside, and the blessing would be beyond anything I could imagine. Adoption no matter the experience involves loss, which involves pain. We knew this, so I knew that there would be moments of confusion, sadness, and anxiety, and that I needed courage to get me through. But it would not be a “get through this and it will all be better” moment. It was a “learn a new perspective on endurance and joy” reality, that would apply to every moment to come, good and bad. God was and is so gracious and provided for us so abundantly.

NAOMI

Enter “my joy”. Literally. In August our daughter was born and we brought her home to be part of our forever family. Her name is Naomi Naysa Elliott; Naomi means “my joy” and Naysa means “miracle of God”; and that she certainly is. I mean, look at this precious blessing from the Lord:



I have written before about the power of moments (Florence!), and again now with the beautiful weight of having a child, I am desperate to learn the art of savoring moments, acknowledging that on this side of eternity they are always fleeting. As 2019 approaches, I am attempting to dedicate the time to accept a different word for the year, one that is perhaps harder to explain but is a combination of my 2017 word (focus) and courage. I actually used it in that sentence.

TIME

Time. A focused and courageous humility towards, and honoring of, time. For fellow Marvel fans, you could say I am going to try to channel the powers of Dr. Strange (former wielder of the time infinity stone). No not really. My goal is to understand and utilize time as a mortal, finite, sinful human being, trusting that my approach to it can both glorify God and serve people, even when (especially when!) some of it seems wasted or limited.

Mike Cosper in his book, Recapturing the Wonder, quotes Anne Dillard who said, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.” Cosper goes on, “Each moment of our days - our meals, our conversations with friends, our escapes, obsessions, romances, and distractions - is what we make of our lives. Our habits and rhythms of life are formative not only of who we are but how we know the world, including whether we know it to be a place where God is present or absent.”

Something like that is what I mean when I say my word for the year is “time”, Or, to quote C.S. Lewis again, “We are always falling in love or quarreling, looking for jobs or fearing to lose them, getting ill and recovering, following public affairs. If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work. The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavorable. Favorable conditions never come.”

True enough, right? Let me use a brief example from the very experience I had putting these words to the screen (a phrase not as cool as saying putting pen to paper, but I digress). I spent one hour attempting to get my new Microsoft Surface Book connected and operational. I will spare you the agonizing technical details, but did you hear what I said? One. Hour. That is 60 minutes of time. You can travel from Indianapolis to Chicago in that time (that’s almost 200 miles of physical space on earth). One hour of time. Time that is not unlimited. Time that has immense value. Time that is a category created by God for the benefit of humans, for what? Not to waste it for sure. So, did I waste that 60 minutes? It seemed like it, but hence my focus for the year on time. No minute is wasted inside the sovereign will of God. May I have the courage to believe that and act on it!

But how? Consider the perspective of A.W. Tozer: “Because God’s nature is infinite, everything that flows out of it is infinite also. We poor human creatures are constantly being frustrated by limitations imposed upon us from without and within. The days of the years of our lives are few, and swifter than a weaver’s shuttle. Life is a short and fevered rehearsal for a concert we cannot stay to give. Just when we appear to have attained some proficiency, we are forced to lay our instruments down. There is simply not time enough to think, to become, to perform what the constitution our natures indicate we are capable of. How completely satisfying to turn from our limitations to a God who has none. Eternal years lie in His heart. For Him time does not pass, it remains; and those who are in Christ share with him all the riches of limitless time and endless years. God never hurries. There are no deadlines against which He must work. Only to know this is to quiet our spirits and relax our nerves. For those out of Christ, time is a devouring beast; before the sons of the new creation time crouches and purrs and licks their hands. The foe of the old human race becomes the friend of the new, and the stars in their courses fight for the man God delights to honor. This we may learn from the divine infinitude.”

There is a time for everything. A time to be born, and time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.

I didn’t use quotation marks, but surely you know I didn’t say that (neither did the Byrd’s, originally). But it is my jam for 2019. What time is it? That question, for me at least, will not be answered simply in numbers, and by some otherwise arbitrary accounting for where and when we are in the universe. That question will be answered by a focus and courage and humility to live in the moment, and love and serve and think and act in such a way that might, God willing, bring more hope and more Jesus to bear in our crazy world. Not because of me, and maybe not even seen or realized by me, but coming to bear nonetheless by the grace and sovereignty of Him who created all things, including time itself.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

What is Your Life?



I often read passages in the Bible assuming they are only saying the obvious, and missing what else they are saying which could be less obvious, even paradoxical. I often miss that the other side of the coin not explicit in the text is equally important, and may take a little more meditation through the Spirit to get there.

For example, when you read that your life is like grass, or a mist, or a flower, what is obvious about that? Well, I suppose you might say that your life is short, or it is fleeting. Obviously. Yes, that is important to consider. But do you also read that your life is valuable? Or do you read into the fact that since it is like a vanishing mist or withering grass or a fading flower that it is so short that it doesn’t matter so much? I do. At first. Then I am reminded of how ridiculous it is to assume that because life is short it is also meaningless. How ridiculous to think that is what Scripture is saying! How ridiculous to forget that a mist contributes significantly to temperature regulation and air conditions in the short time it is around, or that grass portrays the beauty of God’s creation with vivid color and provides nourishment to several creatures if only during daylight or for a season.

To say that the fleeting nature of life as referenced in the Bible is only meant to communicate the brevity of life and not also the value of life is reductionism. Scripture (thankfully!) is more than a compilation of obvious statements. It is also a sea of pearls that are hidden beneath the surface. The implication on the surface is that life is short and therefore not of much value. I think that is what we are prone to think. The pearl at the bottom is that life is short and therefore unspeakably valuable. We see its value despite its brevity, even in its brevity. Yet, is that intuitive from the passages that reference this? I don’t think so, hence my emphasizing it here. Yes, life is short! Even though it is so short - since it is so short - what are we to make of that reality? Eat, drink, be merry, and die only? God forbid!

Consider the book of Job. This fascinating portion of Scripture involves a godly man Job, who has experienced great loss and is attempting to work out the reason and purpose of his suffering, while his well-meaning but theologically naïve friends attempt to help him. How does one read and understand the book of Job? Are all the individual statements automatically truth because they are in Bible, even though in this case they are about the nature of an infinite God made by finite humans wrestling with thoughts too lofty for them? Can one read and understand Job truthfully without considering Christ?

Those are big questions. If you read Job 14 specifically, you see Job lamenting the reality that death comes soon to all. As Dr. Thomas Constable notes in his commentary, this chapter and Job’s remarks could be separated into three sections: the brevity of life (v. 1-6), the finality of death (v. 7-17), and the absence of hope (v. 18-22). Consider the words of Job here:

“Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of toil and trouble. He comes out like a flower and withers; he flees like a shadow and continues not.” (v. 1-2)

“As waters fail from a lake and a river wastes away and dries up, so a man lies down and rises not again; till the heavens are no more he will not awake or be roused out of his sleep.” (v. 11-12)

“But the mountain falls and crumbles away, and the rock is removed from its place; the waters wear away the stones; the torrents wash away the soil of the earth; so you destroy the hope of man.” (v. 18-19)

You could say, as a faithful student of the Scriptures sensitive to genre and context, that Job is not speaking absolute truth on its own but instead modeling a natural response to suffering, acknowledging that it has purposes beyond his grasp and Scripture’s revelation. Questioning God, or even coming to false conclusions about the nature and purposes of God, is fine, if it accompanies steadfast faith in God despite the circumstances. You could say this is the purpose of the book of Job and statements like this.

Perhaps. Another way to say a similar thing is to say that these three realities that Job is emphasizing - the brevity of life, the finality of death, and the absence of hope - are absolutely true outside of Christ. It seems to me that Job is setting up a pretty strong gospel presentation. That he doesn’t happen to finish it is neither here nor there for those of us who have the whole story and the complete revelation in the Old and New Testament.

The rest of the story is that all three of these realities are reversed and redeemed through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Yes, life is fleeting, but through Christ it is immeasurably valuable and purposeful. Yes, death is final, but through Christ it is swallowed whole and becomes an entryway into paradise. Without Christ, there is no hope in life or death, yet through Christ hope is laid up for us in heaven! And as Puritan Thomas Brooks said, assurance of this hope (Hebrews 6:11, Hebrews 11:1) also produces heaven on earth. “An assured soul lives in paradise, and walks in paradise, and works in paradise; and rests in paradise; he hath heaven within him, and heaven about him, and heaven over him; all his language is Heaven, heaven! Glory, glory!” (Heaven on Earth, p. 139)

The overcoming of death and the eternal hope through Christ’s death and resurrection on our behalf is the center of the gospel. You see that articulated throughout the New Testament in glorious ways. But it is the redemption of this first reality mentioned by Job, namely, the brevity of life, that does not get enough attention in my opinion. It is not only Job that speaks of this reality. If you were to ask the Biblical authors the question, “what is my life?”, you would get several answers that all point to this same reality.

James would tell you that your life is like a flower, which falls, and like grass, which withers, (James 1:10-11). He would also say it is like a mist, which vanishes (James 4:14). Notice, there are three realities in each of these answers. First, life is fleeting, like flowers, grass, and mist. Second, life does not last, instead it falls, withers, or vanishes. But third – do you see the other reality?? The third reality is that life is like flowers, grass, and mist. What are these things like? What is the purpose of these things? Surely, their purpose is not only evident but glorious. The beauty of flowers in the Spring, and the joy produced by flowers all year (ask your wife!) is worth our consideration, especially as we compare it to our life. And that is before saying anything about their more technical or scientific value to creation, which would also be seen in the grass and mist. If you don’t see the value of mist you need to go to Disney World in the hottest part of the year, or the Indianapolis 500 when it is 90 degrees outside. And that is man-made mist! How much more the wonderful cooling properties of a mist descending into a scenic valley on a hot day. I digress.

David, Moses, Isaiah, and Peter would all agree with James and answer that your life is like a flower or grass. Notice that David highlights that your life is not only like a flower, but flourishes like a flower (Psalm 103:15). Moses indicates the same in Psalm 90 and adds to it the concept of renewal (Psalm 90:5-6). Isaiah and Peter (who quotes Isaiah) describe the “beauty” (or “glory” in 1 Peter) of grass (Isaiah 40:6-8, 1 Peter 1:24-25). All life is short like grass, and withers like grass, but it is beautiful like grass!

Don’t you see?! Through Christ our life is like beautiful and valuable components of creation that bring joy and fruit to life. The fact that our earthly life is short and fleeting takes nothing away from its value and eternal purposes, in Christ. In and through Christ, life is a gift and a picture and a vessel and so much more. What are we to do with this? Eat? Yes! Drink? Sure! Be merry? Of course! Die? Sadly, yes. Anything else? Yes!!

We are to labor. The depth and detail of what this means is my passion in life. The Word of God has an enormous amount to say about this. The Word of God, that as Isaiah and Peter tell us, in contrast to the brevity of our life, is everlasting. As Tom Nelson has said, the theology of work and vocation (calling) is a central thread in the Bible, all the way from the Garden of Eden in Genesis to the New Heavens and New Earth in Revelation. What is your life? What is it made up of? I have always been prone to compartmentalize the parts of my life and then prioritize them into the categories of God, family, work, and ministry. In my case my work is in a secular business environment. Is my “labor” this day-job only? When Moses in Psalm 90 calls upon the favor of the Lord to fall upon us and for God to establish the “work” of our hands, and when Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 exhorts us that in the Lord our “labor” is not in vain, does this only mean our career? You can be sure, it absolutely means our career. That is essential to understand and live accordingly.

It also absolutely means every part of our life. Our work, our labor, our “craft” as I like to say, as finite humans who serve an eternal and infinite God, is our living and serving in every capacity in every part of our life. Work or labor is ultimately service to others, which is our highest calling in every activity. It is the purpose for which we were created and though our window of time is short, and our accomplishments are ultimately but a shadow, in and through Christ and according to His Word, we can glorify Him and contribute to his creation and redemptive plan in everlasting ways.

“Let us be on the watch for opportunities of usefulness; let us go about the world with our ears and our eyes open, ready to avail ourselves of every occasion for doing good; let us not be content till we are useful, but make this the main design and ambition of our lives.” – Charles Spurgeon (Counsel for Christian Workers, p. 108)


Let us get to work! For we do not have much time. Spring reminds us of new life. Let us not forget that winter will still come after. The grass will wither and the flower will fade, and so it will be with our life. May we live in such a way that our momentary flourishing will be seen and experienced by others and they will in turn give glory to our Father in Heaven.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Knowledge in the Pain



I realized recently in the context of suffering in the world and specifically in our church family, that I have difficulty bridging my present life to the reality of eternity. I want eternity and the future promise of my inheritance in Christ to be as real as the food I eat, the ground I walk on, and the color and aroma of the leaves and the season. It is not always that way for me. Paul says to Timothy to “take hold of the eternal life to which you were called.” (1 Timothy 6:12) How do I grab hold of eternity?

I believe the ultimate resolution to the challenge of taking hold of – even physically grabbing – eternal life is inexpressible joy. When you have the inexpressible joy spoken about in 1 Peter 1, there will be a tangible link to the eternal promises in Christ. This kind of joy can hold the sorrows of life and the joy of salvation in the same hand. It’s a joy that is compelling to others.

As Pastor Chris highlighted for us from Psalm 67 and Revelation 7, God is fighting for this joy for us. A joy that is natural – meaning it can be physically and emotionally experienced now – but also eternal, weighty, and deeply spiritual. Are we fighting alongside him? How does such a joy come about?

Sometime in high school, I became a huge fan of the comedian Jerry Seinfeld. Recently in his online show Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, Seinfeld said something that sparked my attention surrounding the fight for joy.

He said, “I always say that pain is knowledge rushing in to fill a gap. When you stub your toe on the foot of the bed, that was a gap in knowledge. And the pain is a lot of information really quick. That’s what pain is.”

That is funny but also very helpful. In our fight for joy, and our hoping in eternal life, we get tripped up by pain and suffering. But perhaps pain is not a stumbling block in our fight for joy, but a mandatory resource. As Seinfeld keenly observed, pain is knowledge rushing in to fill a gap.  Now, I would hate to over-spiritualize a casual comment over coffee, meant mostly to be humorous. The point is that it seems consistent with the text of 1 Peter 1:6-9, that trials in this life have a purpose, and even offer something to us.

Suffering offers a more intimate knowledge of how we experience glory-filled, inexpressible joy. It is the knowledge that God is working together all things for good for those who love Him. (Romans 8:28).  It is the knowledge that tested genuine faith is more precious than gold (1 Peter 1:7) and that these light and momentary afflictions are producing for us an eternal weight of glory (2 Cor. 4:17). These are things you may know from Bible reading and sermons. But you know it when you’ve experienced pain.

This does not mean we seek suffering, or that we rejoice because of suffering. It means that we rejoice in suffering. It means that to avoid or minimize suffering and sorrow is to not experience the intimacy with and growth in Christ that he desires for us. It means that when the trial comes, the eternity-level knowledge of how our God is saving us and how to fight for real joy will rush in to fill us.

Joy is our end game by the remarkable grace of God. And the only complete source of joy now, and the only source of complete joy in the future, is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The specific why of our trials is eclipsed by the eternal why of God’s grace for us in Christ. Our joy is key to taking hold of the eternal life to which we have been called. And pain is necessary for this joy.

That is good to know.

Originally posted at the College Park Blog.


Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Reality of Venice



Now, I am going to describe Venice to you.

It is like... Well... You see there are.... I mean, as you walk around you... There are no cars so... It is shaped like a fish and... The chances of getting lost are high because... Have you ever had a dream that seemed so real but... Gondola... Glass... Seafood...

You know what? Scratch that. Too difficult. Let me back up a bit. A year ago, my wife and I went to an "Antique Treasure Hunt" on the Old Northside of Indianapolis surrounding the Indiana Landmarks Center. Actually, the morning of my writing this was the same event this year. This time we took our little buddy Stanley the Samoyed. He did great and was kind of a big deal. But I digress. Last year, one of the treasures I came away with was a book called Venice: Its History, Art, Industries, and Modern Life, copyright 1896, written by Charles Yriarte. I remember paying more for it than I normally do for rare and used books, and my justification was that someday we would go there and I would be glad I had it. At that time our Italy trip was hardly even an idea in our minds. Now, this old treasure gives me some great words to explain the unexplainable.

For this post I am going to intermingle quotes from this book with pictures, and then at the end tell you in my own words about a few things I think you should know.


"Venice, the Queen of the Adriatic, is distinguished, not only by the glory of her arts, the strangeness of her position, the romance of her origin, but by the great historical memories of her days of power. These throw an interest over a city which survives its own glories, and even its own life, like the scenery in some great theatre after the play is done and all the actors are withdrawn. A pleasurable melancholy grows upon the traveler who wanders among the churches or glides along the canals of Venice."




"Although misfortune has overcast the city with a pall of sadness, it still preserves the indefinable grace of all things Italian. Its old magnificence imposes on the mind, while the charm of its present melancholy creeps about the heart. And even on the brightest day, when the unconquerable sun looks down most broadly on the glittering city of St. Mark, silence and melancholy still hold their court on the canals; and the most unsentimental spirit yields to the elegiac influence."



"At Venice, he who is happy, he for whom silence has no charms and who loves the tumult of the world, soon finds his footsteps dogged by limping dullness. But those who have known the sorrows of life return gladly thither; the place is "catching" - every corner or open square recommends itself to the affections. The lightness of the heavens, the even purity of the air, the steely shine of the lagoon, the roseate reflections of the walls, the nights as clear as day, the softness of the Venetian dialect, the trustfulness and placability of the people, their tolerance for all men's humors, and their gentle intercourse, - out of all these results that unseizable and seductive quality which is indeed Venice, which sings at a man's heart, and so possesses and subdues him that he shall feel far from home whenever he is far from the Piazzetta."





"Travel where you will, neither Rome nor Jerusalem, neither Granada, Toledo, nor the Golden Horn will offer you the spectacle of such another enchanted approach. It is a dream that has taken shape; a vision of fairyland turned into reality by human hands. The order of nature is suspended; the lagoon is the like the heavens, the heavens are like the sea; these rosy islets carrying temples are like barks sailing in the sky; and away upon the horizon, towards Malamocco, the clouds and the green islands lie mingled as baffingly as shapes in the mirage of the desert." 



"The very buildings have an air of dreamland; solids hang suspended over voids; and ponderous halls and palaces stand paradoxically supported on the stone lace-work of medieval sculptors. All the principles of art are violated, and out of their violation springs a new art, borrowed from the East but stamped with the mark of Venice; in a while this is transformed and becomes, in the hands of Lombardi, the Leopardi, and the Sansovino, the glory and the adornment of the city."



THE HOTEL

If all that was not enough, you should know about the hotel where we stayed. It is called the Danieli, and because of its connection to Starwood, we were able to get a deal with Katie's mom's points. By a deal I mean we were able to stay for two nights what it would cost to stay an entire week in a normal place. Venice is not a normal place. Naturally, this place used to be a palace.



Upon checking in, we were told that we have "the balcony". Not "a balcony". That is say, the only balcony in the hotel, which also is on the corner. God is so abundantly gracious to us when we travel.




THE BOOKSHOP

You should also know that Venice is home of the world's most beautiful bookshop. I like bookshops.


This one had books piled in gondolas:


Book steps (that is, steps made from books) to give you a view of the canal:


Its own dock for entry via gondola:


And a small outdoor reading room:


It was grossly disorganized and wonderful. Found me a used Bible in Italian.

THE LEGEND

You should also know that in Venice, inside the famous St. Mark's Cathedral, are the bones of Mark himself, the author of the second book of the New Testament. Or so the legend goes. If I could, I'd like to take a minute to highlight something I came to realize after returning. There were many early Christians who went to great lengths to either recover relics related to the original apostles, or pretend that they did and then allow history to be built around them. Perhaps more so in Rome, at places were we did not visit (but would have had I known!), there are these examples; such as the chains that bound St. Peter or (my personal favorite) the index finger of St. Thomas that touched the post-resurrection wounds of Jesus. Whether these types of relics are truly what they say they are is suspect. In Venice's case, St. Mark was claimed as their much-needed patron saint once his bones were successfully recovered (stolen) from Alexandria. Now, those remains are said to reside directly beneath the altar of St. Mark's Basilica.


Historically, it is actually unlikely that the bones of the author of the second book of the New Testament are in Venice, because it is unlikely that the bones that were stolen were his in the first place. It is possible that no one knows or can know what the real truth is. Theories abound; even those as random as that the remains under the altar really belong to Alexander the Great (just ask the internet). It is all very fascinating. One thing is for sure - the physical remains of those who personally knew and saw the incarnate Christ are far less important than the work they did and words they preserved for us.  

THE SEAFOOD

And finally, you should know that when in Venice you eat seafood. Really, really good, fresh, and unique seafood. 



Venetians like to eat several small samplings of meals, especially in the evening. They call this "cicheti", which is basically tapas, or small plates. Don't overthink it - order what they tell you to. Our meals in Venice blur together a little because we did so much of this. We had more than three meals a day I think.




Still, we had some incredible meals the normal way. Calamari Gnocchi, Grilled Swordfish, Sea Bass Cerviche, Seafood Lasagna. Oh my!





THE CITY

Sadly, that brings this Italy recap to an end. I hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as I have writing it. As I close, I'll offer a thought for your consideration. While in Italy, our church was in the middle of a sermon series on Heaven. My wife and I talk and dream about heaven together often, specifically the New Heavens and the New Earth. I couldn't help but wonder, when I consider the fact that history will end in a city, what kind of city that will be. Perhaps Rome, with its breadth, depth, and splendor? Or maybe Florence, an all around wonderful and beautiful place to be? You know, I think it might be more like Venice; its pleasurable melancholy and simplistic yet robust culture. A dream turned into a reality. I wonder.