Six countries by plane, rail, bus, small boat, ship, taxi and a worn out pair of shoes—a trip of a lifetime for Sandi and me to celebrate 32 years and four children together. From Pisa to Pompeii, Barcelona to Rome, France to Florence and Andorra to Africa, the dust is still settling, and the head is still spinning from an epic trip. My cup runneth over. Now it’s time to reflect…
Wherever I go and whatever I experience, I am perpetually searching for deeper spiritual understanding. For me, it’s about going through life with an upward look, and a heart that desires to hear the voice of the One above. What is YHVH trying to teach me, how can life’s experiences mold and transform me into a more useful servant-tool in his hands? Ultimately, how will this help to advance his kingdom more effectively, and what wisdom and understanding is to be gained therefrom?
Gratefully, the obvious comes to mind. Safe travels from the time we exited our front door at 3 AM to catch an early plane flight eastward until we stepped back over the threshold of the same front door almost three weeks later. Take traffic, for example, and navigating big city streets. You think the traffic in L.A. or Jerusalem is bad, you’ve experience nothing until Rome! The melee of a gazillion pedestrians mingling with a zillion scooters, buses, cars, bicycles and trucks going everywhere at once. It’s a perpetually complicated dance between man and machine that the Italians have somehow mastered. Crosswalks and dividing lines between opposite traffic are mere suggestions, not the law—lines to color outside of to get from here to there more quickly. It’s an amazing miracle you don’t see more human pancakes laying squashed along the roadside, or smashed vehicles! Initially and justifiably, Sandi was reticent to enter this dance with possible death, but soon, she too was dodging and weaving the seemingly homicidal vehicles just like a native Roman. It’s either that, or “Sandi, I’ll meet you one the same street corner when I return to Rome sometime in the future!” By the grace of YHVH, we survived it all intact.
Weather conditions always seems to the first subject people ask about of travelers. So how was it? Again, we were blessed of YHVH. Exceptional mild, sunny spring weather the whole time. We experienced rain only twice. Both were short and violent outbursts rain squalls. For example, in Rome, we had just visited the Roman Forum and Colosseum, and were heading back on foot to our bed and breakfast a mile away via the Trevi fountain when the heavens let loose. Flooding in the streets is putting it mildly. But we made it back to the Trastevere neighborhood drenched, but nothing a hot shower afterwards couldn’t cure. The second time was after a tour of the Vatican complex where we experienced everything from the top of Saint Peter’s dome down to Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. Once again, the heavens let loose, this time with thundering and lightening just overhead. (One could only wonder whether YHVH was trying to tell us how he felt about Greco-Roman, Constantine churchianity!) In the midst of the downpour, we pulled raincoats out of our daypacks, and I purchased a cheap umbrella from a street vendor for added good measure, but soon put it away for fear it would reverse itself in the gusty wind. Just as the storm intensified, we hurriedly sought safe refuge in the open doorway of an Italian ristorante along a narrow cobblestoned street. In a flamboyant Italian manner, the restauranteur warmly welcomed us in where we experienced our most sumptuous Roman meal to that point. Again the grace and provision of YHVH even in the smallest things. Otherwise, during our entire trip, no clouds obscured our views; they merely adorned the heavens above with their billowy beauty.
We successfully rendezvoused with all of our ten tours often after having to navigate narrow and windy cobblestoned streets and alleys with a GPS that failed to work. Dumb phones instead of smart ones! We toured Barcelona and travelled to the Pyrenees into France and Andorra. We then set a foot in the French Riviera for the day. Then it was off to Livorno, Italy for a quick jaunt into Florence and Pisa. Next we cruised to Tunis, Tunisia in Africa were we explored that city as well as the nearby 3,200 year old ruins of Phoenician and Roman Carthage. After that, we spent the day in Palermo, Sicily—an island the Italian boot seems to be kicking like a football across the Mediterranean Sea. Then it was up to Naples at the ankle of the Italian boot were we visited Sorrento and then the ruins of Pompeii located just below the eruptive Mount Vesuvius. Then we ended our cruising at an port east of Rome where we took a train to that city for the remaining five days of our trip. There we visited a number of the main sights including the Roman Coliseum and Forum and the Vatican complex.
First the overview of our trip, then the insights.
Blessings and novel experienced were to be found around every corner. I could write a book.
More grace from above accompanied our trip home. My six foot two tall frame was dreading being crumpled up like a wad of paper unable to move for the 10.5 hour flight home from Rome to Atlanta, and then another five hours to US West Coast. However, during the first and longest leg of our trip, in an otherwise full plane load, I was blessed with an invisible person in the adjacent seat such that I was able to spread out in less cramped quarters, thus making the trip amazingly tolerable. What an unexpected blessing from above! He who knows the number of the hairs on my head, knew the angst of my heart and went ahead and provided a first class seat at half the cost.
Upon prayerful reflection over our trip, a few things come to mind. When you travel through six countries and see more than 3,000 years of human history compressed into three weeks. When you visit countless stunning man-made structures of all types and sizes with amazing feats of engineering along with some of the world’s most name brand artistic accomplishments some of which took years, decades or even centuries to complete, one feels very small. Who am I against this incomprehensible backdrop of human history and achievement? The immediate thought arises that I am merely an insignificant grain of sand in the midsts of the seas of humanity. Selah. But then, within my personal spirit, there arises the cognitive reality that in the midst of all of this, I am known by Yehovah Elohim, the Almighty Creator of all that there is, and that I have private access to and covenant with him through my personal relationship with Yeshua the Messiah. I am a son of the Most High! This puts me on par with, or even ahead of the world’s greats be they Leonardo DaVinci, Columbus, Julius Caesar or Pope Benedict the 95th! Thus, I bow my knee and heart in humble adoration of my Father in heaven and to his Son, my Master and Savior through whom it is all possible. Who am I that thou are mindful of me?
We toured the Vatican from the top of the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica (448 feet tall) all the way down to its masterfully crafted marble floor as well as parts of the Vatican Museum with its some five miles of wall space including Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. The history, the art and monumental size and scope of it all is totally mind boggling and awe inspiring is. There are not words. You have to see it to believe it. Through it all, for me there were two major take-aways. First, if I didn’t know the Truth of the Bible, I would likely be awed into becoming a Roman Catholic, especially in light of their (false) claims that their church is built on Peter the rock (based on a false interpretation of Yeshua’s words in Matthew 16), as well as their belief of papal succession which allegedly traces back to Peter the apostle. Because I know the Truth of Scripture and the false and counterfeit claims of the Roman Catholic Church, I could never be Catholic. Yet, countless billions of people are ignorant of the Truth of the Bible, and for them, the Church in Rome seems to be the only way to the Father in heaven. I believe that many of these sincere but misguided people will have a second chance at the white throne judgment to accept the reality of who Yeshua the Messiah is sans the intermediary of Catholicism, Protestantism, Eastern Orthodoxy or any other form of quasi-biblical religiosity. O the mercy and grace of Yehovah Elohim and his desire that all come to Yeshua and be saved!
Next, when you see a thousand years of endless amazing religious art and architecture—from the Romanesque to the Neo-classical and modern and everything in between—that gifted individuals have ingeniously crafted in their efforts to point men to Elohim and the Bible, one can’t help but wonder what YHVH thinks about men’s monumental and even heroic efforts to reach him. But this I know. There is no basilica or cathedral, no number of pipes on the organ, no enormous sunlight dome or towering spire, no fresco, statue or stained glass window, nor any amount of inlaid marble or gold-gilded mosaics or priceless painting is necessary to reach him. As glorious as all this may be—a testimony to man’s creative genius and Elohim-given talents, none of this is a required ticket for entrance into the kingdom of heaven! I praise Yeshua that in the humble, lowly simplicity of my child-like faith I can enter into a salvific relationship with him as artistically unadorned and naked as Leonardo’s Vetruvian Man or Michelangelo’s David statue. Is YHVH against art that in one way or another depicts him or biblical Truth? No. Not at all. One only has to look no further than the Tabernacle of Moses and the Temple of Solomon for the answer. Art is fine as long as it’s not idolatrous. But all this aside, I praise and thank my Creator that he primarily looks at my child-like heart of faith as the prerequisite for my salvation and as the real fruit of faith in him, and not to all this other man-made stuff, as glorious as it may be. After all, you and I are temples of the Spirit of Elohim, and he desires to dwell in temples not made with hands! Thus, there is hope for each of us. Our path to him is direct and personal. Sorry covetous and power-hungry religious middlemen, you are neither a part of nor requisite to access YHVH’s plan of salvation!
Another thing comes to my mind about my recent trip to the Western Mediterranean. Immediately prior to my trip, I was made aware of the writings of Dr. Miles Jones and his books on the Hebrew autographs of the Gospels and the other New Testament books, and how they were preserved by the Messianic Jews of the Catalonian region of Spain and elsewhere, and how the Roman Catholic Church attempted by all means to suppress and even destroy the evidence of the Hebraic origins of the apostolic writings. As I was reading Jones’ fascinating books outlining this only recently discovered history before and during my trip, I was at the same time visiting Barcelona and Catalonia as well as Rome—the very places mentioned in his books. This may all be mere coincidental timing, but I tend to think not, for YHVH guides and direct the steps of the righteous (Ps 37). Thus, in faith, I am waiting for the revelation as to the greater purpose of my trip to these areas. If nothing else, I have a better sense of the geographical setting for this critical and suppressed history of Hebraic Christians.
What else was reinforced in my thinking? Simply this: It is folly to put Elohim in a box. The fact is he is above all of our labeled boxes, and is sovereignly working with a lot of people in countless places and circumstances. His Truth is not the exclusive possession of this or that group of people. He is reaching out to people wherever they are at, whatever church and religious system they are caught up in, and who have heart inclination toward him. He is in the sheep gathering “business”, and he has many sheep that are not part of any well-defined or labeled flock that are apparent to us. His love and efforts are not confined to man-made labels, stereotypes, biases, prejudices or religious paradigmatic boxes of any sort. He transcends all of this, even as Yeshua did during his ministry to the confounding of the mainstream religious leaders of his day. He reached out to all sorts of people of every stripe and color, from every station and social and economic level and strata of society. As I travel, I see the hand of Elohim at work in many places gently nurturing people of willing hearts who are inclined toward him. Isn’t this the heart of Yeshua and at the purpose of the great commission?
On my trip, I entered numerous churches, saw countless works of religious art and witnessed how Roman Catholicism has held numerous countries like the ones we visited (Spain, France and Italy) in a tight-fisted grip for nearly two thousand years. In this time, soaring monuments and unbelievable works of art that defy human comprehension have been created. This causes one to reflect. For example, as I stood in any of a number of Gothic cathedrals, I couldn’t help pondering how could men a thousand years ago quarry millions of stones out of the earth, transport them for miles, then lift them hundreds of feet into the air and stack and carve them stone upon stone to create these immense cathedrals in almost every town everywhere. And amazingly, they’re still standing after all this time! All of this was accomplished only using men, animals and mechanical advantage. Mind numbing boggling! Yet here these religious edifices stand decorated with frescos, vast paintings, gold covered altars, inlaid wood and marble with behemoth columns that reach to the heavens supporting vast timbered superstructures. All of this frames immense stained glass windows along with gilded mosaics, and marble statuary all depicting various scenes from Scripture. Wow!
Yet behind all of this outward facade and glittering book cover, let us never forget that there is a dark, evil and sometimes demonic underbelly hidden not so silently within the book’s pages. For example, who can one overlook the Inquisition that lasted for hundreds of years and persecuted, imprisoned, tortured and murdered thousands who refused to submit to papal authority. I have seen the actually thumbscrews, hooks and racks! Who can overlook the craven and covetous selling of indulgences that funded the building of these churches along with wanton excess that helped to fuel Luther’s ire and sparked the Protestant Reformation? And how about the refusal to translate the Bible into the common language and the exiling or murder of those who did? Yes, the church wanted to keep the masses illiterate and enslaved to ignorance, so that their reckless twisting of the Truth for their personal gain would not be exposed. Moreover, the soils are drenched in human blood from the endless wars that have been fought in the name of Christ. All of this was necessary to keep this religious clown show and circus act going on and on—the ends justifying the means—in order for the religious elites to hold onto their power and wealth!
Much more could be added to this list of the horrific sins of countless hypocritical religionists including sexual perversion, pedophilia, money laundering, the promotion of false doctrines, fear-mongering to keep people in line, and, perhaps, most egregious of all is the purposeful suppression of YHVH’s Torah-Truth and all the theological lies that have been foisted on the unsuspecting masses relating thereto.
These things are merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg of a whore system with its harlot daughters that continue to exist until now.
So yes, every thing that I saw on my trip of a religious nature both simultaneously amazed and disgusted me. The beauty on the surface and above ground belies the evil underneath it all like the crypts full of dead man’s bones that are often in the basements of many cathedrals and basilicas.
Yet despite all of this, and in all fairness and honesty, the same religious tree that has produced much evil fruit, has also produced a bountiful crop good fruit as well. Educational and humanitarian institutions have been started including caring for the poor, the orphans and anyone else in need. Amazing art and music have been created for the enjoyment of all and the praise of the Almighty. And, admittedly, YHVH has used this Balaam’s donkey to even preach the basic gospel message globally to his lost and scattered sheep. It has not been a perfect message based on the whole Trugh, but even the crumbs of Truth have been potent beams of light transforming the lives of many people, and along the way this system has brought law and order to countless heathen civilizations.
In conclusion, let us never forget this! Both good and evil have co-existed and co-evolved side-by-side to this day. However, now is the time for YHVH’s people to leave Babylonian religious systems (Rev 18:4) which are a toxic mixture of good and evil like the tree in the garden by the same name. Let’s start feeding exclusively from the tree of life—the whole Truth and nothing but the divinely revealed Truth of YHVH Elohim as found in the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. All of men’s systems, monuments, works of art, traditions and philosophies are headed for YHVH’s eternal garbage dump—the lake of fire. Only those whose names are written the Lamb’s book of life and who are adorned in the white robes of the righteous deeds of the saints will inherit the kingdom of heaven. This alone is sufficient; nothing more is needed! Thus, there’s hope for me. HalleluYah!
Interesting observations. I have seen the sites and sights. And thought many of the same or similar thoughts. Great and grand expressions of His existence but sometimes seeming to glorify the human nature behind the work.