The Closed Door
   Gateway To Spiritual Fullness
                             Reflections
                        From Under The Master’s Table

We did not think Mary was going to be able to take this trip, or any
trip, given her physical condition.  Until the time of departure and
during the cruise we still had butterflies in our stomach about whether
she’d hold up.  

As the days went by, we started to realize that we had been seated on
Eagle’s wings – from your prayers and thoughts.  

The nine of us, including family members and friends, flew out of IAH
on May 21 with a brief stopover at Miami airport; then we began a
strenuous overnighter toward Madrid before landing at our destination
of Barcelona.  

The prior-arranged wheelchairs at all the airports for 3 of our group
members proved invaluable – we had no idea how large those
international airports were and how much walking it would have
demanded of our physically weak and weary ones with carry-on’s in
tow.  We thank the Lord for this provision.  

Our pre-booked airport transfer at Barcelona took us straight to our
hotel in the city center located in the heart of Barri Gotic, the best
preserved Gothic Quarters from the 13th century in the entire Europe.  
There we met Ana and her husband Francisco who rode the high-speed
train from Madrid to join us at the hotel.  

Ana was Mary’s high school mate from First Girls’ High School in Taipei
from over 40 years ago.  Ana and Francisco, aka Paco, have resided in
Spain for the last 30 some years; they also spend 6 months out of a
year in Taiwan since retirement a few years ago.  

A few days before we left Houston, they flew back to Madrid because
Ana was eager to reunite with her old pal Mary and play host to the
rest of us.  And what gracious hosts she and her husband were!  

It significantly enhanced our trip to have local folks chaperoning us in a
totally foreign country half a world away.  Again, we thank God for this
wonderful provision as His hand superintended to our every need.  

The weather?  In one word: "Ahhh…."  We couldn’t have designed
better weather with temps in the mid 60’s to mid 70’s in settings of
sun-kissed beaches and windswept cobblestone streets.  Again, we
take this from the Master’s hands with gratitude.  

Haven’t seen sky quite this blue for some time either.  

Barcelona is an eminently walkable and walker-friendly city.  Its most
famous street La Rambla is a tree-lined boulevard with very wide
pedestrian walkway in the very center of street flanked by stalls of
souvenir and flower shops along the sides with street artists,
musicians, performers, mimes all along the way.  The vehicular traffic
is off to either sides of the wide pedestrian walkway.  This is truly
unique even for European cities.  There is none like it in America for
sure.  

La Rambla is divided into several sections each with a name attached
to it, i.e. Rambla de Sant Josep, Rambla dels Caputxins, Rambla de
Santa Monica, etc.  The entire boulevard from Plaça de Catalunya down
to Columbus Monument is then referred to as “The Las Ramblas”.  

The Barri Gotic on the other hand is full of very narrow and winding
streets that date back to the 13th century.  Since Spain was spared
from the ravages of WWII, this quaint Bohemian quarter was preserved
intact.  It, too, is full of artists and musicians, and, unfortunately,
pickpockets.  

From the very first day when our airport transfer dropped us off at the
hotel, the driver took me and Henry aside and gave us what he felt
was his best advice – “Watch out for pickpockets.”  Interestingly, at
the end of our cruise after debarkation, our porter took us to a long
queue waiting for taxis; he abruptly stepped up to a young couple in
front of us and pointed to the young lady’s back side.  Not
understanding Spanish, the young man was startled as to what our
porter was trying to tell him.  Mary and I quickly realized that he was
pointing to a plastic card sticking out of his girlfriend’s back pocket.  It
didn’t look like a credit card therefore would have little value, but to
the porter, it didn’t matter.  He felt that it was his duty to warn every
visitor of any potential pickpocket targets.  

Our stay in the beautiful Barcelona was slightly affected by having to
be constantly vigilant.  Other than that, everyone enjoyed this city
immensely.  The fact that none of us became a victim gave us one
more reason to be thankful.  

We boarded the ship around 1:00 PM Sunday and joined another couple
from Virginia to round out our final group of 11.  Ana and Paco went
back to Madrid.  They told us they’ll be back at the end of our cruise to
spend more time with Mary and the rest of us.  We are truly humbled
by their kindness which, no doubt, the Lord had orchestrated it all for
us.  

The ship sailed at 6:00 PM sharp.  Mary and I went topside on deck 12
to watch the sail-away.  We were grateful that Mary is holding up well
and thankful for all your prayers.  In fact the thought of you all thinking
of and praying for us was almost like a protective shield about us
everywhere we went.  And honestly, we never felt so undeserving of
this royal shield of prayers offered up by so many of you to the throne
on our behalf.  Yes, dogs (that’s us) do eat the scraps fallen from the
Master’s table, don’t they?  

Monaco is the world’s second smallest principality under the
protectorate of France.  No excursion was planned for this port.  The
two of us tendered ashore and took a tram tour of Monte Carlo.  The
famed Casino Royal did not interest us, so we strolled back to tender
back to the ship at midday for lunch.  Again, we were thankful at how
well Mary was doing so far.  

Tuesday, we began our shore excursions of Italy starting from Livorno
proceeding to Florence, Luca, and Pisa.  Three things were mentioned
again and again as our driver guide gave us a running commentary of
each medieval city: “Defensive Wall,” “Duomo,” and “Bell Tower.”  

I was stunned by the atrocity that men were committing against each
other in those days.  Warlords and bandits raided each other frequently
and power changed hands overnight; higher and stronger defensive
walls were built as a result….  Has human nature really changed?  Not
really.  The same atrocity is still being perpetrated today.  Instead of
swords and arrows, we have bullets and missiles; instead of defensive
walls to keep out raiders, we have “firewalls” to keep out spammers
and phishers.  

“A Duomo is the main church in a city,” our Italian driver guide
explained.  And right next to a duomo, there is always a bell tower to
stir the conscience of the people.  

Apparently though, the duomo and its accompanying bell tower were
unable to change human nature since people constructed stronger and
higher defensive walls as marauding savages and roaming bandits
continued their plunders and pillages….  

The magnificence of the duomos and the bell towers rang hollow also
by those defensive walls, for the true worship of God needed no man-
made protections.  I was reminded of Uzza who tried to right the
leaning ark as the oxen stumbled.  God needed no man’s help and
struck him dead on the spot.  

We human beings are a strange creature, aren’t we?  We build bigger
and grander duomos and cathedrals on the one hand, on the other, we
erect stronger and taller defensive walls….  Just as the defensive walls
are works of man’s hands, so are the magnificent duomos and
cathedrals.  In the end, none of these man-made objects can protect
man or change his nature from the real danger that lurks within.  

God gave us the perfect Gift of His Son.  His Son lived and walked with
the lowliest and simplest of men.  It is the acceptance of what He says
He is that manifests the power of the gospel; and this gospel
penetrates and changes the nature and heart of man wherever it finds
simple and willing acceptance.  

Religious man on the other hand takes God’s perfect Gift and tries to
add magnificence by building a duomo to house Him in, and when that
failed to catch people’s attention, he adds a bell tower to remind them
of their duty to gather for worship (yes, and tithe).  I might add, too,
that most of these duomos, including the famed St. Peter’s Basilica,
were paid for by heavy-handed taxations, extortions and coercions.  
Hidden behind those gilded columns and imbedded in those painted
ceilings are collective sighs of a pressed and burdened populace.  

More and more, I find that the power of the gospel lies not in outward
grandeur, but in simplicity of the message stemming from the
simplicity of the Son.  All it took was a handful of simple fishermen
who willingly accepted the Son and allowed Him to do His work of
transformation for the power to manifest itself.  In other words, when
the inside of the messenger has been touched and dealt with by the
reality of the Message, what is manifested on the outside will be the
power and glory of the gospel.  The messenger is merely a conduit – he
adds nothing, changes nothing.  

Looking at all these man-made structures, I am humbled by the
thought of our need for deliverance from our own “duomos” and “bell
towers”, and to be placed simply at the Master’s table….  Today, our
“duomo” is not just an outward structure, it can be a religious concept
that has been allowed to take hold.  Left un-dealt with, it will plunge
God’s people into captivity.  

Forgive me for being a bit pensive, but I think one important element
in traveling and seeing the wide open world is to put everything back in
proper perspective – God’s perspective, that is.  To miss that is to miss
the true essence of travel, in my humble opinion.  

What’s the use in seeing all the defensive walls, duomos, bell towers,
ruinous Colosseum, faded frescos…and not be stunned by the colossal
failure and frailty of men?  We’d be doomed to repeat history, wouldn’t
we?  

The ancient Rome, the apex and embodiment of human glory now lying
in ruin and faded luster, offers more chances for pondering at how
fleeting man’s glory is.  

According to Bro. Christian Chen’s studies, Paul was probably brought
to trial at the Roman Forum, now a heap of ruins with a few columns
standing….  

There is a church called San Clement Church, which we did not have
time to visit, may have been one of five gathering places of the early
church in Rome.  Interestingly, what’s underneath this “church” was
originally a house.  It is very common to find many ancient structures
covered up by dirt and debris with later structures erected on top of
them.  Thus the gathering place of the early church in Rome was
actually a house.  The so-called “church” building did not come into
existence until after 313 A.D. when Emperor Constantine introduced
this man-conjured up idea for church.  

Again, this fits fallen man’s religious thinking.  A house is simply not
impressive enough; let’s build a duomo, let’s give the church a grand
façade, and why not throw in a bell tower – and so what if it leaned a
little….  This same religious trend continues even today,
unfortunately.  

Pondering aside, we enjoyed our trip immensely.  And constantly
amazed at God’s grace and mercy in keeping Mary healthy, cheerful,
and grateful all the way.  The only thing she, and our 84 years old
friend Dr. Sun, missed was the two-hour walking tour of Pompeii.  
Needless to say, it was yet another stark reminder of human frailty as
Mt. Vesuvius exploded with all its fury and devoured the entire
indulgent and decadent city of Pompeii and neighboring town of
Herculaneum in 79 AD….  

We are extremely grateful at the chance to be worry-free, to get some
sun, relax, enjoy nature, explore with brothers and sisters, and most of
all, to discover how small we are and how great God is!  

As I said early on, this trip was not thought to be possible, yet the
Lord graciously provided health and strength through the prayers of the
saints.  Like the Syro-Phoenician woman, we weren’t worthy to partake
of children’s bread, but the Master seated us at His table anyway.  

Oliver Peng
June 4, 2010