Spiritual renewal in unlikely places

The tiled image was of a rooster and a turtle fighting it out, the rooster in frozen “near victory.” The entire basilica floor was tiled in mosaic – one inch pieces or less – that brought spiritual truths out of normal scenes of life. Baskets of bread and wine. Peacocks. A lamb with staff. Even a hippogriff (for you HP fans.)

Aquileia was one of the largest cities in Europe around 100 AD. Christianity had already begun to thrive in the international milieu of this port (it may have been Mark the Gospel-writer who first came to this city across the Adriatic from the Balkan peninsula.)

But it wasn’t until 313, and the Edict of Milan, that Christians could worship legally. Within five years, the first worship center and baptism room (yes, a full set of rooms for baptism) began. Along with what is now the largest modern example Christian mosaic art. It was art, but they mainly needed a floor that would stand up to the baptism waters (yes, they immersed), and the foot traffic of fishermen, Roman home owners, street peddlers, and senators.

My wife (Susan) and I visited Aquileia for an anniversary day trip. In this ancient church, we found beauty. I found renewal.

Christianity remained simple in this town – it was just a couple of centuries after the last Apostle died – and the truths of the Gospel found life in the symbols. God’s Kingdom is bounty – baskets of bread and wine. God is a lamb who cares for his children like little lambs.

Even the rooster (a metaphor for the dawn and light) gets the victory over the turtle (who always hid himself in darkness). In the Kingdom, light prevails but with the threat of darkness at the ready.

Near the altar, embedded in the floor are the Greek letters I-X-T-H-Y-S. The tiles declare Jesus-Christ-God’s-Son-Savior – and also introduce an extended theme of fishing, casting nets, enjoying the bounty of the sea (and a three-part scene of Jonah tossed to the sea monster, puked back onto the shore, and naked and unashamed in the care of his God).

It’s no wonder the largest scene is fishing – I’m certainly a fan – but, this city drew it’s physical existence from the gifts God gave them from the deep.

The symbolism is even more important for Christ-followers. There are fish needing to be caught. We are fishermen. And the Kingdom is the net. Simple. No grey areas here. It’s what Christians do because it’s what we are.

Within 100 years, the church was remodeled (though they kept the mosaics) and dedicated to the adoration of the Virgin Mary and the exultation of two saints (who gave their lives in for the Good News under Nero.) Those who would have chosen, if they could, to remain off-stage and point the praise the Jesus, became central. And it got complicated.

“God chose the foolish things in the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things in the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised thing – and things that are not – to nullify the things are are, so that no one may boast before Him.”

The less sophisticated, the better. And I found renewal and beauty when faith was simpler.

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Simon’s Second Call

When Jesus began his ministry, he asked some guys to travel with him to help him out, watch and learn from him. Simon was one of them. A fisherman and small business owner, he had franchised out to his friends, James and John, a part of the enterprise. Business, like the waves of the Tiberian Sea, had its ups and down. But it was a living, and he would do this the rest of his life. That’s the way careers were.

Then Jesus asked for his boat’s use, to preach from, of all things! Sure, as long as it doesn’t interfere too much in his day. It had been a long night, and the fish were too deep to catch. The teaching was good, not wishy-washy or dry like the others. He seemed to know God. And knew how to tell about it. Jesus knew about spiritual stuff, for certain.

But fishing was Simon’s business. Not that it was a big deal, but Jesus asked him to put the nets out again, during the worst part of the day for fishing, and get them mucked up again. At the time, he didn’t think it was important, but  after that morning, Jesus went from being a good teacher and rabbi to becoming the Redeemer and Lord. The fish were so abundant in that first draw that the boys could barely get them in; in fact, it was a miracle the nets didn’t break before making shore.

Sales would be good all day with this catch, but business was the last thing on Simon’s mind… and James’ and John’s, too. They were standing before one who could only be the Lord God, hearts wide open. And Simon knew what had mucked up his own heart. So did Jesus.

And he still asked Simon to travel with him, in spite of his attitude, his temper, his pride, and his tendency to believe nobody does what he does better, and all the other stuff that had darkened his heart.

Jesus called Simon to catch people bound for death without God so they could really live, and he left the business of catching live fish and watching them die on the sand and pebbles.

He asked Simon to follow him a second time. His old business partner, John, heard the exchange. When Jesus was hours away from his Great Work on the cross, he told Simon he could follow him later. This was a call to martyrdom, to leave earth and follow him to eternity.

There are a lot of “comes” in the Bible. I learned about these from one of the most focused men I’ve ever known. “Come and see” turns into “come and follow” and then “come and remain.” From the position of “remaining in Christ,” we bear much fruit as we both “come and go out.” It’s all wrapped up in the call to die…so we can live.

It’s a process of growth. Each time we give up, and we gain even more. David Putman says our Christian lives are a mix of “living,” “loving,” and “leaving.” We leave behind the things that keep us from doing and becoming what God has on his agenda. Someone at Urbana 09 said we should live our lives so that we will be forgotten. That way, only Jesus will be remembered.

This second call of Simon was one of decreasing, of dying to self, and dying for Christ. Yes, it does happen. In the world every day, says one human rights watch group, over 200 Christians die for his or her faith.

Everyday, we can follow Christ. Live with him, love him, leave behind what keeps us from him, and heed his call to point others to Him instead of us.

If you want to do further study on Luke 5 and the Simon’s call to catch men and women for Jesus, click on this study link.  Everything Changes Luke 5 If you are interested in David Putman’s book, it’s called “Breaking the Discipleship Code.” I recommend it.

Learning to live,

Rick

Gifts and Spincasters

Maybe its the season with all the giving and getting that Christmas calls for, that leads me to think on gifts and ownership. We give a present to someone we love with a lot of thought and expectation. Or we write a check or roll up some bills to drop in the offering on Sundays. Or more commonly, we give our time to someone or something we value, again rolled up in a tidy amount that we can afford like an offering.

So who owns all this stuff, this money, this time and energy we give away? When I was a little kid, my dad owned a fishing business. So, I grew up surrounded by the “hurry up and wait” people (and all their stuff) who hang out on piers and docks. Fishing is one of those, engage every sense possible, sports. Sounds of the waters lapping against the pier. Feel of the bait sliding onto the hook. I still get a rush at the first smell of the salty air from the ocean!

When I want to fish, my dad points to the corner of the shop where all of his rental and personal rods and reels hang on the wall. Simple one-button reels and five foot “starter poles,” all the way to open-faced reels and spincasters with strong line and nine foot rods.

For years, I would always pick a little Zebco, one-button job. That satisfied me. I could bait it, drop the line in the water, and wait for the little fish to grab the goods.

But, my dad owned it all. And he was waiting for me to take the good stuff and use it for what it was designed for — to catch the big ones! (Years later, I got hooked on the good stuff and even caught a big one once or twice!)

God owns it all, and he sometimes sees us playing around with the “one-button job” while all along waiting for us to take up the good stuff He has promised us, use the awesome talents and gifts He has “hung on the wall” of our lives, and go after what He has designed us for and called us to.

He points us to it all the possibilities, but we grab the Zebco “starter pole.”

(I know this whole illustration has a whole disciple-making side — we need to grow up and learn to use what He’s offered us. Sometimes, we need to ask someone to help us use the spincaster. And we need to, by faith, take steps of using what He’s given us.)

Back to ownership. God really owns it all. Since He’s the Father, we look to where He points and to what He promises and offers us. It’s all there. We have access. We can use the gifts, the money, the time for what it was designed for. A full life invested for His glory. It all flows past so quickly, like the water through the gaps of the pier deck after a cloud-burst. So grab the spincaster and find the deep waters, and go for the big things God has waiting for you.

Going for the Big One! — Rick

“I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” Ephesians 4:1