The “Permesso Soggiorno” (permission to sojourn) is something that we’re looking forward to getting here next week in Italy. It’s essentially our residency permit which will cause us to be able to attain our work permit, our tax id, our health cards, etc… Everything is contingent on getting this official permission to essentially be pilgrims here. I think that’s such a telling name that we Christians who were born in America seem to have lost touch with. That this life here is temporary and like our father Abraham (Gal 3:29) we’re not city builders, we’re tent dwellers looking for a city whose architect and builder is God (Heb 10:11).
That was the whole promised inheritance that God promised him and His offspring (his seed) in a covenant ceremony where the smoking cauldron passed between the cut pieces of animal over. (Gen 15:15-21) The promised inherence of the land (Gen 15:3-8). That promise to Abraham and his offspring was not simply for some small piece of land in the Near Middle East, but Paul makes it clear that what Abraham only understood in that typological form was actually the whole world (Rom 4:13). Paul explains in Galatians 3 that the singular offspring is Christ (Gal 3 16,19).
One of Paul’s biggest points from Galatians 3:15 and forward is that it’s not “offsprings” (plural) as if Israel the nation could have secured the inherence under the law. The inheritance is secured by the righteous one, Christ alone, who then becomes our united head through faith alone. So, Christ secures eternal life and the eternal inheritance in the new heavens and the new earth for us, and we receive it through union with Him by God’s grace alone through faith alone. This is the good news of the gospel. That this broken world where we all die is not the best it gets for those who rest their hope in Christ as their savior, and forsake all their own righteousness and rest upon His righteousness alone. (Phil 3:9).
I mention all of this to give context of our move to this part of the world where some people who are fixed on their best life now come to retire. It’s not that I’m opposed to good times, or living in a safe, comfortable place where I don’t get the sense that my government or my culture hates me. I’m a firm believer that if people feel like the place they live is oppressive, holding them back, or that it’s dangerous that there is not necessary a Christian virtue in sticking around that place. There is nothing wrong or un-Christian about seeking to improve your lot in life, and if a move does that, then there’s nothing inherently wrong with asking the Lord to make an opportunity to do so.
The problem comes with the fact that, “no matter where you go, there you are”. In other words, most of our problems are not outside of us, but are us. I’ve often told my wife Cheryl that I could be sitting on the finest and most pristine beach, both of us in super-model shape, millions in the bank, living in a great house and still find a way to be absolutely miserable. In other words, I’m the cause of my own sin and misery.
So much of life is how you look at it. I think this is one reason that Christians are called to set our mind on the things above (Col 3:2), where Christ the securer of our eternal inheritance is preparing a place for us (Jhn 14:3), and why in Philippians 4 Paul exhorts them with these words “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”.
Is Paul just telling us about the power of positive thinking? No, not in the means-to-its-own-ends sense that little children are told that Santa Clause says “you’d better be good for goodness sake”. In other words, it’s not an end to itself, or some Christian practice hollowed out of any meaning other than being Pollyanna like. Some might even seek to use positivity in some system to attract the world to make converts.
Christians should be optimistic, not to drive some earthly result, but I believe its simply one of the gifts of God to us who are sojourners. That we have a hope that does not fade like the grass, or wilt like the flower of the field, but we have eternal treasure in heaven where moth and rust don’t destroy (Mat 6:19:21). We’re to fix our eyes on Christ, and the eternal, immutable promises made to us in Him who secures them for us.
The fact remains however that our move to Italy partly for our own mixed motives. It’s true, that in part I desired to do it for purposes of my own blessing and that of my family. I thought it would be good, and still do think that. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, other than what I might import in my own potentially sinful and idolatrous thoughts about it.
Also however, we did it to potentially help a church plant, where the pastor was willing and even desirous to have us come and help how we could. So, we humbly have that goal and pray that God would use us for His glory here and that we might help make the gospel clear to those who either don’t know it, or who don’t understand the heights and depths of the good news of what we have in Christ.
Ultimately, I only have perhaps thirty more years on this earth, and I don’t know if there will be great suffering and malady during that time. Jesus tells us that the world hates us and to expect suffering. (Jhn 15:18; 16:33), so I might also suffer more in Italy than I would in the US. I hope not, but since I’m not God, I don’t know. I don’t know why many things happen in my life, but I do know that often things that seem bad wind up for my good.
I can tell you that through some frustrating stumbling and bumbling God took us to the exact right place to meet with the exactly right people on the first day available to schedule the meeting to receive our Permesso Soggiorno about a week later. From all I have read this advanced scheduling is not normal, and we have been greatly encouraged by it. That was just one in a long list of blessings where the Lord not only opened a door, but blessed us, even in the middle of our move when there was suffering and heart ache of leaving our church, loved ones, our house, our friends and our country for a place where we don’t even speak the language and have never even visited before.
Yes, that’s true, while we’ve all visited cities in Italy before we never had been to Lecce Italy before determining to sell or give away everything and move here. We tried to visit before hand, but lockdowns because of Covid and limited funds caused me to decide to call off the trip. So, our faith was stretched even further by that uncertainty, yet God used our saving those extra funds to be able to put them into fixing up our house, and we wound up getting way more for it than we thought we could. Yet again, another providence that seemed bad, yet God made it for our good, and we were encouraged by it.
I’m not giving these anecdotal stories to teach some sort of faith/blessing doctrine, but I’m also not going to deny what happened. God grants and withholds blessings at His will.
This church in Lecce Italy that we want to help might not even grow, we might not learn the language well enough to feel like we fit, I hope not, but Romans 8:28 is still true. That ALL things work for our good, even things that seem like failures. The question there I think we should ask is “What is for our good?”. Paul completes his thought from that in verse 30 ending on our being in glory. That is I think the ultimate ends that God works for our good, which is consistent with our being sojourners here. So, even if we eventually become citizens of Italy the most important thing is that we are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven because of and in Christ Jesus, the one who secures eternal blessings, and eternal land, and eternal life for all who put their hope in Him.
In 1 Peter 2:11, Peter refers to believers as sojourners, which we truly are, because our eternal home the Christ secured for us is with God in heaven. This reality awaits us, who while we are here are witnesses to the saving work of Jesus Christ for sinners like us. This is why we can and should help plant churches, not to help build great earthly cities or to influence cultures, but that proclaim the good news that God causes to bring about and increase faith in Christ alone. So, this is our hope, and this is why we can say that our household has simply moved from sojourning in Texas to sojourning in Italy, because wherever a Christian is on this earth, he is a sojourner. That’s ultimately good, because we have an eternal home far better than the best Italian city ever could be.