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Monday, October 29, 2007

UPDATE FOR OCTOBER 2007

Encouragement. Back in 1992 Harold translated a fine book entitled Encouragement, the Key to Caring by Larry Crabb and Dan Allender. This book went out of print, but now is back. The editor revised it completely and reissued the book. We had been discouraged because Harold?s efforts seemed lost, but now this helpful, encouraging text is back ? now we too are encouraged!
Men?s convention. Near Taranto in south Italy, 30 men gathered from a number of church of Christ congregations, and Harold went too. (The same organizers have a women?s convention in the Spring.) The theme this year came to grips with the Seven Churches of Revelation (chapters 2-3). We noticed a greater sense of fellowship among us, because we could identify with imperfect churches in the New Testament and examine our efforts with more objectivity.
The last session?s topic asked what we gained from the convention. Naturally, each one reported something different to take home. Harold was particularly impressed with the general attitude of love and openness he had experienced. He said, "We have studied these seven different, imperfect churches that had some very serious problems. As I go home, my question is this: if we had lived in that world of the first century (or if those churches were modern Italian churches), could we have full fellowship with them, as bad as some of them were? Were they 'churches of Christ' BEFORE Jesus wrote his letters to them, or were they 'churches of Christ' AFTER reading his letters, or both? Clearly, Jesus? corrections establish the true model, but how should we treat congregations like them in our own times? Jesus loved them and called them to repentance. Does this text reveal what WE should do with them? I am truly grateful for the love that you have shown me, imperfect and different as I am!?
On Sunday the morning speaker referred to these observations with approval. As we were leaving for our respective homes and congregations, one of the leaders approached Harold, saying, 'I had never thought of our church situation in the light of the churches in Revelation as you presented it. That gives us a lot to think about!'
Indeed it does!

UPDATE FOR SEPTEMBER 2007

Did we have September this year? I saw a sign that said: ?The hurrier I go, the behinder I get!? We feel like the cranberry merchant who just saw his cranberry table overturned: he was berry, berry busy! Maybe we should send out this Update before it becomes ?ancient history!?
Stress relief? Some wise person said, ?To avoid burnout, allow time to recharge your batteries.? A Christian brother from the Florence church invited us to help him harvest his grapes in the Tuscan hills (Chianti region). We accepted to spend two days helping him. This activity provided us excellent therapy of some good, physical labor, working up and down the hilly vineyard, cutting clusters with scissors, pitching them into 40 kilogram cases and hauling them up (or down) the rows until each case was full. Around 30 young people from Harding University?s Florence branch worked the first day, as ?an Italian cultural experience.? Enid and Harold came back a second day because the owner needed help, and we were able to develop our friendship and sense of brotherhood further.
An incredible Bible study. During our stay in Scandicci (a Florence suburb), we attended a week-night Bible study. We were informed that a person converted two years ago would be leading it. Anyone who assumed that his lesson would be rudimentary and bland at best, would have been quite wrong. Instead, he was surprisingly well prepared, spoke clearly and raised thoughtful questions. Essentially, he read and explained the Sermon on the Mount in 35-40 minutes, an exceptional feat in itself.
But this ?lesson? was astonishing for one surprising feature: there in this small gathering of believers (even one Catholic was present), the teacher used this lesson to explain why he was leaving the church of Christ! This relatively new Christian expected to see more real Christianity from the church members. He correctly saw in the Lord?s Sermon a call to radical obedience, but he insisted on judging Jesus and decided that He made some unreasonable or incomprehensible demands on those who would be His disciples. The young teacher chastened the church for an inflated interest in observing the forms of Christianity, while denying the power of it and ignoring the very thing that God called us to do. Sadly, he could offer no remedy, because his own doubts were too strong and evident, undermining his faith in Jesus.
Here was a person pouring out his own doubt and unbelief publicly while presuming to teach the very Scriptures that could remove his doubts and lead him and his listeners to faith! But it should not have been surprising, because many Italians here have an ambivalent relationship to God and Christ: it is a deep-running skepticism about trusting any authority figure implicitly, even Jesus.
During the discussion time, Harold asked how this teacher understood Jesus? call for perfection (Mt. 5:48), and suggested that His inflexible demand might well be intended to challenge everyone to ask, ?Lord, how can I do this?? This would demonstrate his real discipleship to Jesus by going to Him for the answer to the question. To this Jesus could answer, ?You have come to the right person with your question. I can give you the power to do what you consider impossible.? Jesus did say, ?Without me you can do nothing; with me you can bear much fruit.? The young man remained calm and thoughtful. We pray that he returned home with the implications of the Lord?s words ringing in his ears: ?For men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.? Oddly, the young man?s name is Victor: may he find his true victory in whole-hearted belief in Jesus! This will take radical surgery to eliminate his disbelief.
So as we continue to work, you continue to pray.

UPDATE FOR AUGUST 2007

August in Italy. There are not many generalizations that are true of most Italians, but this one is: August is the month for their vacations and they close down the country to enjoy them. The exceptions are people involved in the tourist industry, the police, the firemen and the hospitals, and they are busier than ever. Everyone else goes on vacation. It happens every year, so everyone is accustomed to it, except, of course, the tourists or anyone else who HAS to get something done!
Fowlers in August. We had just returned from four months of traveling in the States, so we faced four months of junk mail and a shutdown country. This was a great time to clean out our garage and make trips to the junkyard. Over the last few years termites had been working their way into wooden cabinets in our storage room. Disposing of some junk indicated how being simply "pack rats" can be confused for a "conservative, frugal spirit." We see the necessity for simplifying our lives, and, in fact, it was liberating and actually fun.
A Church That Flies. This book is now in the hands of a publisher in Rome, thanks to the cooperation with Vittorio Vitalone, preacher and writer of good books. Pray with us not merely for the book's publication, but especially for its wide distribution. Pray for the readers themselves, because we anticipate that its deep, revolutionary message can be explosive among the churches, hopefully in the positive sense. But the determined obscurantism of the "anti" mentality can torpedo its distribution among the very people who need its message most. The book is thought provoking and thinking is hard work and demands self-evaluation, all of which may come very hard for some of the very people whom we hope to reach with this study. So, we pray.
Harold?s back to preaching and teaching on (what else?) "A Church That Flies." The church at Matelica is receiving the material well, perhaps because we have advocated many of the concepts for many years now.
Summer's End Convention. 88 brothers and sisters in Christ gathered at Florence, Italy, in the Harding University site to share fellowship and learn more about Bible origins in the context of the current Da Vinci Code agitation. We rejoiced in the warmth of the fellowship accorded us there. We came home more determined than ever to publish more Bible study textbooks for the future teachers of the Word in Italy.
Enid's health. Her blood-clot and gastric reflux therapies seem to be working well, but will take some time yet. Her doctors are pleased with her progress. However, unpredictable arthritic pains in her back and legs are causing trouble. We walk for about an hour everyday to counteract the sedentary side of our work. Pray that she may be restored to normal health.
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