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Sunday, February 08, 2009

UPDATE FOR JANUARY 2009

The Gospel of John. Greeks came to the apostles with this request: "Sirs, we would like to see Jesus." The need is still there, so Harold is preaching through John's Gospel, a faith-building exercise for the church here, both for studying Jesus himself as well as for understanding better the hindrances to faith that would-be believers must overcome. This latter emphasis opens believers' eyes to understand better what they will encounter in personal evangelism.
Surprising insights in Ecclesiastes? The Matelica folk actually requested that we study Solomon, his reign, his public works and his writings. This choice was unexpected because of Solomon's brilliant beginnings and his mediocre finish. Ecclesiastes presents a depressing initial negativism that underlies a worldview that is absurd and empty without the hope available only in the God-centered life. Surprisingly, there is so much that is positive. Harold commented: "The one big surprise for me was not the commonsense advice about how to live life despite the evil, the vanity, the injustices and the uncertainties of life; we could expect this much. Ecclesiastes picks up this theme written into the Mosaic Law: God gave His word so that his people 'might live, be happy and live a long life in the land' (Dt. 4:40; 5:33). But I was not quite ready for Ecclesiastes' surprising emphasis on the well-being and joy of the believer. (Take a look at Ecclesiastes 2:24-26; 3:12-13; 5:18-20 and 6:6.) Our God is not the heavenly killjoy some imagine! These texts decidedly picture our God as a heavenly Father who really does want His kids to relax and actually enjoy life, and not just stoically endure the meaninglessness and injustices that plague everyone.
Our Italian brothers are very work-oriented, so they were relieved to hear Ecclesiastes embed the "eat your food with gladness, drink your wine with a joyful heart and enjoy life with your wife" ethic in the context of "your toilsome labor under the sun". This happy worldview does not exclude hard work: "and whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might?" (9:7-10), "finding satisfaction in [your] toilsome labor?" (3:12, 13)
Job Crisis. It does not matter how you pronounce "Job", because the economic crunch is hitting hard here in Italy. So many have lost their JOBS that they feel like the Biblical JOB. This affects especially our Nigerian brothers here at Matelica. Were it not for some "financial shock absorbers" (they receive a percentage of their pay), they would be very helpless and completely dependent upon others, like many of their Stateside counterparts.
TRAVELS IN JANUARY
ANCONA.
The church led by Team Expansion at Ancona, just under an hour's drive over to the coast, invited Harold to share in the preaching assignments, by speaking on Mark 10. This meant a great time of fellowship with Brian and Heidi Rotert. After worship at their evening fellowship supper, we enjoyed renewing our acquaintance with those who attend regularly, and meeting some new people. We were able to talk again with Carlo Lainò, the representative for Compassion International about adopting children long-distance. At the meeting he presented this organization's work, and one more family signed up to support a child.
ROME. We took advantage of a medical appointment in Rome to spend a couple of days with Franca and Roberto Innocenti, dear friends from the Viale Ionio church where he is one of the four elders. While in Rome we discussed church problems with him. At dinner, we relished the warm camaraderie of Vittorio Vitalone and his wife, Tonia (he leads as evangelist in the same Rome congregation; she is our long-time friend from Bari). In the midst of lively conversation around the dining table, we were able discuss future activities and publishing projects with the two couples.