I’m soaking in the beauty and charisma of Florence tonight. As our plane descended earlier this afternoon, my eyes scanned the rolling hills of the Tuscan countryside. Trellised landscapes and vineyards interwoven with trees and shrubs bursting with color in the afternoon sun. This is truly a beautiful and amazing city – but filled with spiritual death. Yes, there are troubles in the national economy, in the justice system, in the social welfare system, and the prime minister has committed to step down. But the cruelest truth is that there isn’t a political, economic or sociological policy that can solve these broken and empty hearts and unite them to God.
While my colleague (an Italian national who is an evangelical church-planting pastor) led his staff meeting and provided ministry training, I took the time to wander the streets and pray. I have been asking the Lord to show us what He is doing here, and for The Holy Spirit to lead clearly as to if / when / how we should engage with His work. I spent several hours walking, thinking, observing, praying, wrestling – making a spiritual and mental catalog of the local community of the lost.As I have continued to learn, the cathedrals and parishes of Italy are empty. Postmodernity, Catholicism, moral failings – there are plenty of fingers to point – the Gospel is largely absent here. What a privilege to experience the true faith of a handful of Christ-followers in the heart of the ancient Roman Empire. I learned from these saints about how God is neither known nor spoken of, while a twisted caricature of faith is exhibited through religious traditions and practices. In essence, Italians know the name of Jesus, but they do not know the Gospel. They know how many Euro they must pay the church to have their children baptized, but they don’t know that baptism is a proclamation of faith in Christ’s resurrection. They put off understanding sin and salvation, expecting that when they die they will go to purgatory, and hope that will afford them the opportunity to get to heaven. They cannot taste the goodness of God, but they are deceived by the Pharisees that surround them. They see beautiful art, such as the statue of Peter (shown at right) who is considered the first Pope, but they do not know the beautiful Savior that Peter fought for, preached to the nations, and was martyred for.
So here, in the birthplace of the Renaissance, a different rebirth must take place. Not one of art, but of salvation. Jesus, in Your mercy and grace, pour out Your Spirit here, and bring a revival of spiritual life. And set our hearts ablaze with Your light as we share the hope You offer in the Gospel.