Perspective

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A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to see Michelangelo’s famous statue of David in the Accademia Museum here in Florence. I had heard, long before coming to Italy, what a masterpiece it was and what an incredible artist Michelangelo was, so I had pretty high expectations going in–although I must admit, very little knowledge in the area of art. I walked into the museum, wound my way through a couple of little rooms and found myself in a great hall staring at a massive white marble carving of a nude man–but my fascination was not on the details you might be thinking of!

I was immediately struck by a seemingly contradictory pair of features that had me baffled. How could an artist be so intricate, detailed, and talented to carve amazingly lifelike veins into the skin and be off on what would seem to be the most basic of skills–proportion. Indeed, David’s head and hands were sized for Goliath’s body! I just could not comprehend why Michelangelo was deemed such a gifted artist if he couldn’t even scale the human body correctly. I left disillusioned and critical of this so-called masterpiece.

A few days later, I was talking with one of my friends who is here studying art. She asked me what I thought of the David statue and I told her my rather negative opinion. Having never studied or even read about the field of art in general, I should have realized that my judgments were based on ignorance and therefore probably incorrect, but no, I spouted them off like a fool, pretending I knew what I was talking about. My friend, who was very gracious, laughed and said “you would be amazed at how many people get that wrong.” When I asked her to explain, she told me that Michelangelo was commissioned to do the statue of David for the top of the Duomo. If the statue was sitting up high as it was intended to be, everything would look the proper size and be to scale. The perspective for which it was designed to be seen is drastically different than how it is actually being viewed and thus it does not look right. My respect for Michelangelo and his craft was instantly renewed.

Perspective reared its confounding head again later that week as I looked at the drawings different students made of me when I posed for two of the Art academies in Florence. Although every single person was looking at me on the same day, at the same time, in the same clothes, with the same expression, in the same lighting–none of the pictures were alike. Every person had their own way of seeing me and I realized that just because we all look at something doesn’t mean we have the same vision of it.

Through these two events, God has shown me how powerful perspective is. The way we view something determines our attitude towards it. I was also startled to find (ok, more like forced to admit) that sometimes I look at things with the wrong perspective. How many times do I look at an opportunity and see an obstacle? How many times have I viewed a blessing as a burden? How often do I see someone God loves and behold them with contempt? Much like the statue of David was created to viewed from on high, we were created to look up to God for our vision instead of down to our own judgments. My prayer in all of this is that God will give me His perspective to see not only my own life, but also the world around me–for with His vision will come His heart, and with His heart I can become all that He desires me to be.

Today I get to share a poem I started to write on the back of an offering envelope during a church service over a year ago. I have carried it around in my Bible, unfinished, hoping that one day God would give me the rest of the words to complete it. Those words finally came today, I pray you will find them encouraging:

It’s all about perspective
And what you dare to see
Potential is reflective
Of what you imagine it to be
The surface only tells in part
What shadows stir below
It is the passion of a beating heart
That you must seek to know
For when you look with different eyes
Move beyond how things may seem
You will peel away the stifling guise
And call to life your dreams
I will leave you with a couple illegal pictures my friend snapped of the David statue and a few of the student’s sketches from the art classes I posed for. Enjoy the wonder of perspective!
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From the Mouth of a Dog, God’s Miracles have been Proclaimed!

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Many times I have heard people say that God no longer does miracles; they were a thing of the past, used only to bolster the faith in early days until the church grew strong. I myself have gone to the opposite end of the spectrum–I see miracles in the ever day moments of my life. The fact that I woke up this morning with breath in my lungs and blood pumping through my veins is a miracle. The fact that I was able to carry on a small conversation with someone in Italian today was definitely a miracle! The people I have met, the experiences I have had, and the lessons I have learned here are all part of the grand miracle that is God’s plan for my life. There are people who would argue all of these things can be accredited to chance, coincidence, luck, or a product of my own hard work and efforts. I know that isn’t the case, but it is hard to convince someone without faith that things in our lives are not random and luck has nothing to do with our circumstances. Yet, there are some stories so incredible and amazing that there can be no other explanation–situations that prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that we serve a God of miracles who still operates in fantastic ways on our behalf. I would like to share one of these stories with you today and hope that you can pass it on to someone who questions whether or not miracles still happen.

 

A dear friend of mine here who is in Italy for a job internship found herself in a rather upsetting position early last week. She and her roommates had been unfairly evicted from their apartment without being given any notice or period of time to move out–they were forced to leave that instant! Thankfully, the program through which she is doing the internship was able to locate a new apartment for them that same night, so they were able to pack up and move into a new place right away. While carrying boxes through the rain to her new location, which was a 15 minute walk from her old place, my friend had to stop and take off the two precious rings she always wears because they were digging into her fingers and causing a lot of pain. These rings were given to her for her 21st birthday and had a lot of special meaning to her. She tucked them safely into her coat pocket and finished the unpleasant process of moving.

The next day, she came into the Ministry Center and was quite upset. The rings she cherished so much had fallen out of her pocket somewhere along the way and were gone for good. Not only was there a million places they could have landed on a 15 minute walk through these crooked, cobblestone streets, but it is also inconceivable that anything of value would still be lying around after a full night and morning of being on the streets in Florence. Still, she looked everywhere and was unable to find them. I told her I would pray for a miracle and hope with her that somehow she would find them amongst the things she had packed even though she knew they had been in her coat pocket. I must admit, when she left, I did pray for a miracle but I didn’t really expect that it would happen–it just seemed impossible. God sure put me in my place and reminded me that ALL things are possible with Him!

That evening, a woman who spoke very little English knocked on my friend’s door (which is in a huge building with multiple apartments and she lives on an upper floor) and asked if these rings belonged to anyone here! The woman said her dog was eating them out on the street and she had managed to get them out of its mouth before it swallowed them! She then somehow figured out that it could have belonged to one of them because she had seen them moving into the building the night before. How a dog could have spotted these rings before one of the many panhandlers here is incredible. How the  dog, which was big and wolf-like, didn’t swallow the rings is unfathomable.  Why this woman didn’t keep or sell the valuable rings is astounding. How she ever figured out which door in the large apartment complex (all the doors are interior, so she couldn’t have even seen them enter from the street) was theirs is also inconceivable! There is only one explanation that could make sense all of these strange events–it was a miracle from God.

Never again will I doubt that a miracle will happen. Never again will I assume that God won’t do the fantastic for something that isn’t life-threatening. Never again will I be at a loss for words when someone tries to tell me that everything is coincidence or dumb-luck.

I pray that this testimony will encourage you and remind you, as it did me, that God is not only capable of doing anything, but He also delights in doing miracles for His children. He cares about the things that matter to us and there is no problem to0 small or too big for Him to act on our behalf. See and appreciate the little miracles He does for you each day, but also expect and pray for the big miracles He will do to show the world His great power and glory!

These are the recovered rings! Glory to God!

 

Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing, Baby

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Florence is renown for it’s leather and fashion, so naturally the one memento I really wanted to get here was a stylish leather purse. Every day I walk passed countless vendors and shops brimming with bags in every color, size and design you can imagine. Up until last weekend, I had managed to just look–checking out my options and considering exactly what kind of purse I wanted–and never getting close enough to touch and examine anything.

But then, last Friday, it happened–I saw and touched the most beautiful leather bag I have ever seen in my life. As soon as my fingertips caressed the soft baby-lambskin and the rich smell of leather filled my nose–I knew that I was going to buy that bag. When I heard the price, I nearly set it down and ran, but for some reason I kept holding it and let the salesman proceed to explain to me all the reasons it was worth that price and more. Step into the shop for a moment and I will paint you a picture of exactly what took place:

First, he rolled the bag up tightly and scrunched it, “look how soft and flexible,” he said, “and see, no cracking or lines.”

“Yes, it is very soft,” I replied.

“That’s because it is leather from a baby lamb. So young and sweet,” he began, “not to make you feel bad for the lamb, but it is true, baby lambs have better skin for leather.”

“That is a bit sad to think about,” I said, I thought I might nearly become a vegan shopper in that moment.

“But look,” he continued, “it will never scratch.” He took his nail and proceeded to gouge and tear at the bag and when he finally managed to make a tiny mark, he showed me how it just rubbed back out. “And, it is fireproof.” At this, he took a lighter and ran the flame all over the bag.

I admit, I was impressed and it must have showed because he then hit me with the zinger.

“You can go to any of these other shops and buy a bag for 50 euro if you don’t care about it. But if you want something that will last you the rest of your life and look even better as it ages, then this bag is worth the investment.”

He appealed to my sense of frugality and my desire for quality all at the same time. I was done for. I left that shop with a big smile and a beautiful bag–but my feeling of elation was soon turned to utter despair.

The following day I saw the exact same bag at another shop for a third of the price I paid. My heart sunk to my stomach and I was nearly ready to vomit. As someone who loathes wasting money almost as much as I loathe junk food, this was a serious matter. It took a few days of crying and worrying, but I finally decided that I was going to confront the guy who sold me my bag and tell him how wrong it was for him to trick me.

I marched down to his shop and told him that I was very disappointed in him. I said I had put my trust in him and believed I was paying a fair price for an excellent bag, but I had found the same bag for much cheaper. He looked very sad and I thought he was ready to confess and make it right, but what he did next totally shocked me.

“The price I gave you was a gift,” he said softly, “because you are such a kind person. Let me show you why you are so confused.” He then went around to another stand and brought back a bag. “This bag will cost you 30 euro.” He put it on the table and then placed an identical looking bag next to it. “This one will cost you 200 euro. Do you know why?”

I wanted to say, “Yes, because you are deceitful and you charge more than the product is worth,” but thankfully God held my tongue!

“Feel both bags,” he instructed, “now smell them. Do you notice the difference?” Indeed, though identical to the eye, the first bag was very stiff and plasticy, but the second was silky and robust. “This bag is the lowest grade of leather and is mixed with synthetics. The bag I sold you is real, genuine baby lambskin. If it is just the look you want, you can get it for very cheap–but quality is going to cost you more.”

I apologized profusely for having accused him of being dishonest and thanked him for taking time to explain it to me.

All week long, God has been replaying that phrase in my mind and applying it to my relationship with Him: Quality is going to cost you more. If I want a genuine, deep, and true relationship with Him that will last a lifetime and grow better with age, I have to be willing to pay the price.

Am I willing to give up my time, my plans, my dreams to have a quality relationship with Jesus? Am I willing to do things that are uncomfortable, unfamiliar, and even scary to be an authentic believer? Am I going to put in the time, energy, and effort it takes to develop strong, genuine faith?

Anyone can be a Christian to the naked eye. It doesn’t cost much to go to church on Sundays and ask God to forgive you of your sins and let you into heaven. The imitation version of Christianity is very affordable–but it’s not the real thing, and it won’t last til eternity.

As Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell sang, “ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby,” and I’m ready to go after the real thing with everything I’ve got. No matter the cost, it will be worth it to draw closer to Jesus.

 

And now, a couple of pictures to reward you for reading all of this post!

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Friends: New, Old, and Eternal

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Being 5,576 miles from home, 5,576 miles from anyone I really know, and 5,576 miles away from my customary lifestyle is not the easiest thing for the girl who couldn’t even stay one night at the neighbor’s house without getting homesick! Of course, going to a college that was buried across the mountains in a sea of wheat helped break me of my extreme homebodiness, but coming to another country for 3 months is quite a different situation. I can’t pick up the phone and call my parents anytime I want. I can’t arrange to meet my friends during Thanksgiving break. I can’t even enjoy the comforts of home such as cooking up a big meal, pulling warm towels out of the dryer, or lugging home 30 new cookbooks from the library. The fact is, for the first time in my life I have no safety net–I have to rely completely on God for everything.

Please realize that this is not meant as a complaint–but rather it is praise, for only when God has complete control of my life am I getting closer to becoming all that He desires for me to be. Yet, up until now, it has been immensely difficult to get me into a position of total submission because I have control issues. No matter how much I wanted to let God be the leader, I never could follow His path without attempting to carve in my own diversions. But here, in Florence, where I everything is strange and new, the boldness and confidence that enabled me to think I could be God’s advisor is gone. I see now how foolish I have been in settling for less than God’s best because I wanted to go my own way. I see now how temporal the things I clung to in the past are and how faithful Jesus is in all circumstances.

These past two weeks have been a wonderful example of God’s steadfastness for me. When Pastor Randy left to join Pastor Diane in the U.S. for their daughter’s wedding, I was really hit hard with feelings of loneliness. The person who had been there at all times to answer my questions, help me accomplish my tasks, and just talk with was gone and I was left alone with my thoughts. Thankfully, God didn’t leave me with that unpleasant company for long. Instead, He brought a lovely family from Cannon Beach, Oregon into the center in search of a place one of their daughters could get online to do her homework. This divine appointment was God’s special way of meeting their needs as well as mine. While their daughter got her homework done, I had wonderful company! Some people would say it was just a coincidence, but I say it is a miracle–one of the many everyday miracles God does in our lives that we tend to overlook. When the week was finished and my work at the center was done for the day, they even took me out for gelato and paid for me to go to a neat museum with them! They welcomed me in like an extension of their family and it felt as if their hugs came directly from God, reminding me that I am loved and cared for even though I felt alone.

The pleasure of good company continued even after my new friends headed for Rome. Two dear ladies I met years ago at Bayview School of Cooking in Olympia, Pat and Linda, came through Florence for 5 days during their grand tour of Italy. The blessings they showered on me are too numerous to count! From special souvenirs, incredible food, and fun experiences to warm hugs, familiar smiles, and choruses of laughter, their visit was an amazing time of refreshment and encouragement for my spirit.

Yet, just as with my new friends, the time for my old friends to part came all too quickly. But that is when I finally realized just how incredible the friendship of Jesus is. He was there when I met the Childress family–in fact, He is the one who introduced us! He was there too when I spend time with Pat and Linda–in fact, He is the one who reunited us! But He was also there when they left–in fact, He is the one who will remain forever! The Scripture is right–Jesus will never leave us or forsake us–but sometimes we ignore Him. When I was feeling lonely, it wasn’t because I was alone; it was because I was neglecting the only constant and best friend I have.

This adventure is the most frightening and exciting time of my life–thank you, Jesus, for holding my hand through it all. May I go where You lead and remain as faithful to You as You are to me. Let all that I say and do bring glory to Your precious name. Amen.

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All Creation Sings His Praises

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“Sing to the LORD, all the earth;
proclaim His salvation day after day.
Declare His glory among the nations,
His marvelous deeds among all peoples.” 1 Chronicles 16:23-24

This Saturday, I had the opportunity to visit Cinque Terre, a region in Italy where the scenery literally sang out the praises of God with its awe-striking display of His creativity, beauty, and power. How someone could look upon nature, so lovely and incredible, and not realize that it is the work of a Divine Creator is beyond my comprehension!

While my camera could not take enough pictures of these quaint, coastal villages, my spirit could not take in enough of God’s glory–for all the beauty I beheld was but a mere glimmer of the splendor of His creation. What took my breath away even more than the views was the fact that God put even more time, care, and love into creating you and me than He did when He made all the realms of nature. Why is it that I can look at these majestic cliffs and crystal blue seas and see the beauty of my Maker reflected in every inch–yet so rarely do I see Him reflected in humanity, His most beloved creation that He made specifically in His image? Why is nature singing His praises, declaring His glory, and proclaiming His marvelous deeds more than His children?

Regardless of any reason or excuse I could come up with, the fact is that this situation needs to change! I remember singing the song “Ain’t No Rock,” as a child and not really grasping how important those words are in real life. We believers cannot be quiet, passive, and polite about who our God is and what He has done for all people. We cannot let nature speak of our Creator louder than we do. We cannot be content to simply enjoy the good things He has given us on earth and let others miss out on what He has for us in Heaven.

As you look at these stunning pictures of Cinque Terre, I ask you to also take a closer look at your own life. Is the mark of your Maker evident? Can people see Jesus reflected in the choices you make and the way you live your life? Do you sing His praises with all you have and all you are? I have asked myself these same questions and my answer to all is “not enough.” The next and most important question is, what can I do to change that? This answer, and the strength to fulfill it, will have to come from God :)

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Galleria di Gelato

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Be prepared to be amazed (I certainly was) at what God has put on my heart for this post. I had every intention of just posting a slideshow of pictures to show all of the flavors of gelato I’ve had and the many different Gelaterias I’ve tried in my quest to find the best in Florence. Yet, there was this little tug on my heart from the Holy Spirit that just wouldn’t let me do a post on this blog without a spiritual point behind it. So I put the idea out of my head and laughed at the though of me doing a spiritual post about gelato!

Well, now God gets to have the last laugh because that’s exactly what He put in my heart this morning to share with you! Stay with me here, this is about to get metaphorical!

My encounters with gelato here are a perfect illustration of the way lost people in this world feel when they encounter a “Christian.” You see, in Florence you will find two very different products that both claim to be “gelato,” just as in the world you will find two very different types of people that claim to be “Christian,” but in both cases, only one is genuine.

Imagine, if you will, that you are strolling along the cobblestone streets of Firenze and spot two Gelaterias, one on your left and one on your right. The gelato on the left is fluffed up and swirled into heaping, colorful mountains and is lavishly decorated with slices of fruit, bars of chocolate, and sprigs of mint. The gelato on the right sits low in a bin, has very muted colors, and looks rather plain and ordinary. Which would you go for? The temptation that I watch many a tourist fall for is to flock to the attractive appearance of the voluminous plumes of neon gelato, only to find a great disappointment when they take a lick. This so called “gelato” is no better than the stale ice cream you get from a carton, it is full of additives, and it has so much air whipped into it that you get much less to eat than you pay for. This “gelato” may look nice to the naked eye, but it is rotten at its core. If only they would look upon the humble, plain gelato in the shop across the street. This gelato is made by hand each day, the ingredients are fresh and local, and it is made slowly with care so it is at once thickly dense and as creamy as silk. This is the true, pure, authentic gelato that lives up to what it claims to be.

Unfortunately, this same bait and switch tactic turns many people away from the church today. People who profess to be “Christians” and go through a lot of effort to put on a show and look the part are nothing like Jesus on the inside. Sadly, those are the “Christians” that attract the most public attention and give believers the reputation of being hypocrites. I don’t mean to be pointing fingers here as I admit that I myself have “played the part” in the past and seemed like a very good Christian on the outside when inside I was spiritually dying. What I hope is that this little illustration will inspire you to seek to be authentic and genuine in your walk with Christ–to let Him that is inside you shine brighter than your own appearance. Perhaps if true believers will rise up and take more action to show the world the true identity of Jesus Christ, those who venture to give Him a chance won’t be disappointed by a cheap imitation, they will be introduced to the real, living, and Holy King of Kings!

Now, to really drive this metaphor home–see if you can spot the genuine gelato from the poser!

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God will Always be Victorious!

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Those of you who have been following this blog know a bit about Satan’s attempts this week to shake Pastor Randy and Diane, to upset their ministry at ICF Florence, and to disrupt the inaugural Sunday service they have been laboring so diligently for. But today I can boldly declare that God had the ultimate victory–the service not only happened, but it was a powerful and spirit-filled spark that is going to erupt in the hearts of the people of Florence!

Through this situation, I was reminded of afresh of a key spiritual concept that is easy to forget in the midst of troubled times. Satan may get a few jabs in now and then since we live in a fallen and depraved world, but he will NEVER win in the end. Tragedy, heartache, and devastation touch our lives here on earth, but those who endure will be rewarded with an eternity of peace, blessing, and pure joy at the feet of Jesus! Moreover, Satan may be able to mess with our plans, but he cannot affect the outcome of God’s plan–one way or another, God’s will is going to be carried out and that is all we should care about. I am speaking to myself more than anyone here as I am prone to stressing, worrying, and lamenting about the potholes the enemy puts in my road. God is really impressing on my heart the importance of praising Him for the positive, even in the worst of situations. For example, take the issue of the stolen computer. Here is what my response to the theft was:

“Lord, please bring the computer back somehow! It is all my fault, I shouldn’t have let it out of my sight. Pastor Randy already has enough sorrow on his plate, You can’t let this happen to him. Why didn’t you stop the thief? Please, please, please don’t let this happen, do a miracle! Use this to show Florence how powerful you are–let us be able to tell the testimony of how You brought the computer back against all odds. This is awful! I will buy him a new computer, but how will he get all his information back?”

Let’s see, how many victories did I give Satan with my response. I allowed myself to feel guilty, that’s one; I told God what He could and couldn’t do, that’s two; I worried, that’s three; and I started coming up with my own solutions instead of trusting God, that’s four. That’s four victories too many and I vow not to let it happen again! Instead, here is a look at how my response with the proper attitude could have looked:

“Jesus, I don’t understand why this is happening, but I trust You. Thank you for protecting me from the thief. Please help the person who took the computer to read some of the Bible translations Pastor Randy had on it and come to know You. Give Pastor Randy wisdom on how to proceed and keep his personal information safe. May Your name be glorified in this situation and Your will be done.”

Even in an incident of theft, it is possible to have a positive attitude and there are things to be thankful for! I may never know why that computer was taken or what will happen as a result, but I do know that this morning at 10 am in Florence, Italy people from 19 different nations gathered together to praise the name of the Lord! The enemy’s ears must have been bleeding in pain as we sang, prayed, and proclaimed the name of Jesus despite whatever struggles he threw our way!

Remember, God is always victorious–even when it seems your world is falling apart, He’s got it under control!

 

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