You see, we are not like the many hucksters who preach for personal profit. We preach the word of God with sincerity and with Christ’s authority, knowing that God is watching us. ~ 2 Corinthians 2:17
I’ve been in Italy for over a week now visiting churches, cathedrals, chapels, basilicas, baptisteries, temples and monuments. Oh and the Vatican…. We’ve stopped in Rome, Vatican City, Pompeii, Assisi, Florence, Bologna and Venice. I‘ve been stuffed with historical commentary from around 200 years before Christ to the Italian Renaissance period (early 1600’s).
This trip has been completely overwhelming to my senses, to my thoughts and to my desire to study and explore Christian history and its place in world history. For example, did you know that the tribe that settled on the Tiber River and called their new home Rome were known as Latins and migrated from Asia (specifically, Turkey)? Over the centuries of setting up military/political bases, acquiring land and assimilating peoples throughout their known world, they were basically conquered by Christianity. I don’t know about you, but that’s an amazing concept to me. Even so, as one of the ladies in my group said, I’m completely churched out! And as one of the tour guides said, my eyes are exhausted from all that they’ve seen.
Despite the outwardly Christian focus of the tour (religious sites, structures and history), I did not feel the presence of God in any of those buildings nor did I hear Him in any of those stories. I was awed, impressed and even overwhelmed. The beauty, artistry, architectural design and creative genius are all beyond description by words and photos. The structures are filled with icons, idols, statues, relics and images dedicated to Christ and His followers, indeed the story of God. However the motivation to depict these images came from a desire to glorify man. The purpose was to praise man’s talents, beauty and ingenuity. Most of the visual representation for the images came from some element of the artist’s life or the preferences of the financial sponsor (in many cases church leaders). Wealthy families usually bought their sons leadership positions in the church. And only the wealthy had access to the written word of God. Money and power decided what would be depicted in structures claiming to be houses of God. Pride of man was the force behind keeping the true Word of God from the masses.
For example, the pope that sponsored the Sistine Chapel hand-picked the popes and bishops he wanted to recognize with statues in the chapel. And because he was financing the project, he made sure he was one of the few featured.
As awesome as Michelangelo’s David is in person, it was apparently just as scandalous during the time of its creation. David was commissioned for a church in Florence. Michelangelo, who was known for doing things his way and keeping his works in progress out of the public eye, did not bother to share his concept or inspiration with anyone until David was completed. According to the guide, the Florentines were scandalized and David (mind you, the sculpture is a depiction of David right before he slings his stone at Goliath) never made it into a church.
I never understood the idea of “patron saints”, but here in Italy, it’s so clear. Structures, monuments and towns were built and dedicated to people who were then declared to be the protectors of that space (or trade). And people pray to these people for whatever area they offer protection in. St. Mark (as in Mark of the Gospels, aka follower of Jesus Christ) is the patron saint of Venice. Rumor has it that some Venetian merchants stole his bones and brought them to Venice so they could claim him. Mind you, both Peter and Paul are said to be in Rome. Italians are a competitive lot! St. Peter’s Basilica was built in Peter’s honor, hundreds of years after he died, upon the traditional site he was crucified (Vatican City was created to encapsulate that site hundreds of years later). Until recently, St. Peter’s Basilica was the largest church ever built – a point of pride, to be sure.
On a spiritual level, I was disconcerted to realize that the modern church congregations I’ve been struggling with are no different than the ancient edifices I’ve visited this week. Man is featured prominently in all his vainglorious pride. In all his “ordained” specialness. And, in all man’s glory he blocks God from the sight of people.
Who are you building for?
Who are you living for?
Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing. To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume. And who is adequate for such a task as this? ~ 2 Corinthians 2:15-16
I am living and building for my God.
When you dedicate yourself – your life – to God, when you submit to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and lean on the teachings of Jesus Christ everything you do is imbued with His essence. Everything. You don’t have to draw attention to yourself, however people will be drawn to you – not because of who you are but because of whose you are. The scent of Christ wafts about you, drawing those who are meant to be drawn to receive what is intended for them to receive. His light brightens your countenance and shines in your eyes (2 Cor 3:7). You may not be able to see it in yourself, but when you commit your life to God, you become a beacon for others to find Him.
A life committed to self – whatever pleasures you seek (non-covenant relationships, money, status, entertainment, distractions, etc.) – guarantees you are outside the will of God and each choice that profits you distances you further from Him. Whereas, God blesses those who seek Him to such a degree that we become a blessing to others.
How can you actively seek the Lord your God?
Begin and end with praising Him. Express your gratitude for all He has done for you. And in everything you do, do it to glorify God. Can God be seen in the work of your hands? Is the image of Jesus Christ reflected upon your actions? Is the essence of the Holy Spirit wafting throughout your results?
If you answered “no” to those three questions, then you are not building for God… but you can chose to begin doing so today – this moment.
Because of God’s grace to me, I have laid the foundation like an expert builder. Now others are building on it. But whoever is building on this foundation must be very careful. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one we already have—Jesus Christ.
Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames. ~ 1 Corinthians 3:10-15