watchThere has long been discussion in theological and philosophical circles about God’s involvement in the world and in the lives of human beings. Was he like a great watchmaker  who created the world, wound it up, then let it run down, or does he have ongoing sovereignty over nature? How do we understand volcanoes, earthquakes and storms and the destruction that often goes with such natural phenomena?

Here’s the latest in my “Amazing Meetings” series where I “interview”  people who met Jesus. My interview today is with a boatie who plied his trade on the waters around Palestine at the time when Jesus was living there.

Hello, you had a fascinating meeting with Jesus. We’d love to hear about it.

Thanks for the opportunity to tell me story.  I’ve been fishing and sailing around here for years and I’ve sailed through many storms in my time but I’ve never had an experience like this.

How did Jesus come to be in your boat in the middle of the lake?

He had been pretty popular at the time. Wherever Jesus went great crowds of people would follow him. Whenever people gathered, Jesus would take the opportunity to speak to them and teach them about the Kingdom of Heaven. I used to love listening to him. He is a great teacher and everyone who put his words into action found that it radically changed their lifestyle. But I could imagine that sometimes the crowds became too much for Jesus, and he just needed to get away. He was near the edge of the lake teaching, and came over to me to ask me to take him to the other side of the lake.

So he wanted to get away from the crowds?

Well, he wasn’t running away from the crowds, because the people would walk around and be on the other side waiting for him when he got there.  But it was a time for him to get away and spend some time in prayer and meditation. He seemed to have the capacity to give of himself to others quite sacrificially, then he could withdraw and gain spiritual sustenance to keep going. On this occasion he went to sleep. I reckon he needed it right then.

There’s a rhythm there that we could all learn from, isn’t there?

That’s right. Well, he came and asked me to take him to the other side of the lake, so I took him on board and headed off.

Can you explain to me why it seems to be so stormy out there?

Yes the Sea of Galilee  is subject to heavy squalls on a regular basis. You can see there are high mountains around the edge and there’s a big difference between the cold dry air in the hills and the warm topical conditions at water level. As a result there are big temperature and pressure changes, and storms occur on a regular basis.

So tell me about this particular storm.

As I said, Jesus was asleep when this storm started and we were starting to take in water. I’ve been out in that kind of weather before, but it was getting pretty scary and it was looking like we may be swamped.

So you went and woke up Jesus I assume. What did he say?

Here we were, experienced sailors, getting into a panic. Jesus wakes up and calm as you like, he looks around then calls out Peace be still. You wouldn’t believe it, the wind stopped immediately, and of course, the waves stopped as well. It was amazing how quickly the storm stopped.

So you’re saying that that Jesus had the power to stop the storm?

Yes, it was no coincidence. In fact, what Jesus said to us after that was the most interesting thing. He said, “why are you afraid, haven’t you got any faith?” We were stunned because he seemed to be saying that we didn’t even need to worry about the storm. If we trusted him, we could leave things like that in his hands.

It sounds to me that God is more than a great watchmaker. He can control the winds and the waves. I think I need some time to think through that concept. Thanks for sharing your story.

What have genuine fake watches to do with the Apostle Paul?

That’s how I started my message this morning. Having just got back from Europe I’m focussing on three great cities that were visited by the Apostle Paul and which Robyn and I also visited on our journeys. See last week’s post on Athens.

Screen Shot 2014-10-10 at 7.16.26 pmToday I talked about Ephesus, a great city that is currently situated just inland from Kusadasi on the coast of Turkey. One of the features of Turkey for us was the high levels of salesmanship that existed: Or to be more precise, being bombarded by market-sellers from every angle, including those who were trying to sell genuine fake watches.

A couple of thousand years ago, the Apostle Paul experienced the same sort of aggressive salesmanship from a group of tradesmen who made gadgets out of silver to support the worship of the great goddess Artemis, the supreme deity at Ephesus at the time.

The problem with these silver merchants was that while they were talking about Artemis as though she was very important to them, what really worried them was that if people started following this Jesus that Paul was promoting and stopped worshipping Artemis, they would also stop buying Artemis merchandise and their livelihood would be threatened.

I call it genuine fake religion when people talk as if they’re on speaking terms with God, but are really only interested in what they can get out of their religion in terms of financial reward or even a well-polished ego. It’s pretty easy to use religious language to give people the impression that you’re that little better than others … a little more spiritual … a better Christan. It makes the person who’s doing it feel good and makes the other person feel a little worse.

I’ve got a feeling that God’s not interested in genuine fake religion, but needs a whole lot more honesty, both in the way we interact with him and the way we interact with each other.

Did Paul Miss the Bus?

Posted: October 5, 2014 in Uncategorized

What happened when I spent too much time on top of the Areopagus in Athens? Read on to find out.

We’ve just got back from a month in Europe and I’ve started to speak on Sunday mornings about three great cities that we visited that were also visited by the Apostle Paul. This morning I talked about Athens, a great city where Paul found a multicultural and multi-faith society at its peak.

AreopagusThe Areopagus is a rocky outcrop that is situated near the Acropolis, the highest point in the city. In this picture you can see the Areopagus in the foreground, looking up to the Acropolis where the Parthenon is undergoing major renovations.

There is an account in the book of Acts about the time that Paul was in Athens and he began walking around the city, taking in the sights and sounds. He got into debate with some philosophers and they invited him back to the Areopagus to explain his philosophy.

As you can see from this picture he could look up to the Temple of Athena Nike, on the far right of the Acropolis where Athena was worshipped as the Goddess of Victory in War and Wisdom, and he noted to the gathered politicians, religious leaders and philosophers that Athens was a very religious city. But he also noted that he had seen an idol set up to an unknown God. He explained that his purpose was to tell people about that God, and proceeded to explain the Gospel of Jesus.

SermonHis sermon is recorded in full in Greek on the Areopagus and you can see it there today. But basically it went something like this : The God who made the world doesn’t live in ornate temples like that one up on the hill. The fact is, he inhabits the whole earth, and provides life and breath and everything else we need. He’s created in all people an innate urge to find God and while we may do all sorts of things in order to find God, he’s actually not all that far away, and if we reach out to him, we’ll probably find him. The evidence that God has done all this is in the resurrection of Jesus.

It was a simple, yet profound message, but the listeners found it a bit unsettling and while some people accepted the message and decided to follow Jesus, others expressed their disagreement with what he had to say. Paul was used to that. At least they didn’t start a riot like they had in Thessalonika a few weeks before.

There’s something quite overwhelming about standing on the Areopagus a few thousand years later and realising that this is where Paul stood. To look up at the Acropolis and, apart from the scaffolding, see what Paul saw. To look over the city, and to a large degree, see what Paul saw. But if you stay up there too long you may miss the bus.

That’s what happened to me. I got down from the Areopagus and Robyn and I found that our bus back to the cruise ship had left without us. Fortunately we hooked up with another tour party and they got us down into the city where we rejoined our tour group and found our way back to the ship.

I’m glad Paul didn’t miss the bus.

Sowing the Seed

Posted: September 21, 2014 in Uncategorized
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One day Jesus was sitting by the lake, and as people noticed him they started to gather around. Eventually it got to a point he realised there was no room for him, so he called over to one of his disciples and they got into a boat and pulled away from the shore a little. As he sat there in the boat people sat down on the shore of the lake and he began speaking to them in parables.

Screen Shot 2014-08-29 at 2.12.35 pmBeyond the people who were sitting at the side of the lake Jesus could see a farmer on the hillside in the distance. He had a bag of seed hanging by his side and as he walked along he would reach into his bag and grab a handful of seed and scatter it.

So he said to the crowd: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was walking along in his paddock, scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some of the people were nodding their head. They knew what it was like to scatter the seed and to see the wood pigeons flying down behind them and eating them. He went on: Some fell on rocky places, where it didn’t have much soil. It began to grow, but when the sun came up, the plants just withered away. Other seed fell among weeds and they grew up and choked the plants. But some seed fell on good soil, where it produced an amazing crop.

Some time later the disciples came to Jesus to ask him why he spoke in parables. It was almost as if they had missed the point themselves. They were asking him about the process of speaking in parables, rather than asking him about the meaning of the parable itself. So Jesus had to explain what he had been saying to the crowd.

He said to his disciples: You see, when anyone hears the message about the kingdom and doesn’t understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path, he explained. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and initially receives it with joy but they haven’t put down any roots and they last only a short time. When difficulties come they fall away.

The seed falling among the weeds refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it fails to grow. But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. And the word of God dwells in them and produces a great result.

Perhaps you’ve heard God’s Word explained in songs, you’ve heard the Bible read, or you’ve been to church, but what was the result of what you heard?

Perhaps the idea of following Jesus just seems too hard. There’s so much else to do, so many pressures that reading the Bible or going to church doesn’t really fit your schedule. Perhaps you’ve been a follower of Jesus in the past, but somehow it doesn’t seem to work for you any more.

I think when Jesus was telling this story he knew that there would be people who were listening to him, who could identify where they fitted into the story. But he was showing that there is still opportunity for seed to fall on good soil and produce amazing results.

I’d encourage you to help that seed to germinate right now. Read the Bible for yourself. Find someone you can talk to. Find a church where you can begin to water that seed and feed it and experience God’s growth in your life.

 

Here’s another post in my “Amazing Meetings” series. It’s an interview with a woman who  had an amazing meeting with Jesus. Have a read:

Hello, thanks for the opportunity to meet with you. You had an amazing meeting with Jesus. I wonder if you could start at the beginning and tell me why you wanted to catch up with Jesus in the first place.

I had been sick for 12 years – women’s problems, you know. Been to dozens of doctors who charged like wounded bulls. I was broke from spending everything on doctors and alternative medicine and anything I could get my hands on. I was still sick despite all this and I’d really got to the end of my tether.

So what made you think Jesus could do any better than all these doctors?

I really didn’t know if he could. But I’d heard the stories about him, and I was desperate. He was pretty popular at the time, lots of people followed him around, so I thought, if I could sneak through the crowds, touch his clothes, some of the magic might brush off on me.  Nobody would notice me doing that. Nothing lost, nothing gained. Who cared about me anyway?

What do you mean by that?

I’m a woman. All my life I’d been told that women were only for one thing and with the bleeding I was having, no man would be interested in me anyway.  In fact, not even religion was working for me. They had this rule in the temple that anyone who was bleeding was considered unclean. I wasn’t allowed at the temple. I was a nobody and nobody cared.

So you went down to the market to see Jesus and there was a big crowd of people gathered round him.  Did you do what you planned, to sneak up behind him?

Yes, it was easy. There were so many people I could just push through and get real close to him and touch his coat.  I was desperate and probably a bit skeptical as well, but with all I heard about Jesus I was prepared to give it a go.

What happened when you touched Jesus coat?

I got the shock of my life. Here he was busy with all these people and suddenly he turns around and say: Who touched me?  His friends who were there with him kind of laughed. You’ve got all these people crowded around and you want to know who touched you? You’ve got to be joking, they were saying.

Did Jesus say anything else?

Yes, he did say something else. He said someone had touched him and he felt power going out from him.

What did you do?

Well, I was going to get out as quick as possible, but there was something in his eyes. I just knew that he really accepted me as I was. I couldn’t run, so I fell down at his knees and he told me that I could go in peace, my faith had healed me. Then I had this amazing feeling.  I had felt weak all my life, not just because of my sickness, but just that nobody cared for me. Like I said before, I was a nobody.

All of a sudden I felt different. Jesus cared for me even though I was a woman, even though I was sick, even though I was probably the least important person in the crowd. I had never felt anything like this before.

What do you think he meant when he said he felt power had gone out of him?

Well that was what was so amazing. The power had come to me. I felt straight away that I had been healed physically, but having felt like nobody cared for me all my life, there was something else that was even more important. The power that came from Jesus all of a sudden gave me a sense of being loved, of being needed, of being a somebody for the first time in my life.

You were empowered by Jesus to be the person you were meant to be?

Absolutely. For the first time in my life I felt that I had a purpose in life, a reason to live, and somebody cared. I would recommend Jesus to anyone.

Thanks so much for telling your story.

You can read the story in the Bible for yourself at Matthew 9:20-21; Mark 5: 24-37; Luke 8:43-48

I had a birthday this year. I’m not letting on, but it was a big one. One with a zero. Hitting those milestones in life seems to make you want to pause for a moment and consider where you’ve come from. It’s a time to look back on life.

Sometimes when we look back there are regrets and disappointments. But I reckon there’s real value in looking back and asking the question, what have been the building blocks in my life.

legoA new generation of children have been inspired by Lego building blocks with the release early this year of the Lego movie. But surprising as it may seem Lego blocks have been around since 1949. There’s not too many of us who haven’t played with lego blocks at some stage.

When you play with lego blocks you know that as they clip into each other the strength of what you’re building increases. Just putting them side by side isn’t much value. But clipping them together produces something that is creative and strong.

 

As you look back on your life what sort of building blocks have you contributed and how have they clipped together? Relationships are the key building blocks and it’s good to look back and see how you have contributed to the life of someone else, and perhaps helped to establish new relationships.

We’ve all made mistakes in the past, but instead of looking back with regret think about the building blocks that you have contributed to in the past. And give thanks for those people who you have known and the relationships shared.

But don’t stop there. No matter how old you are, there’s still time to put new building blocks together. Here are some people who I’ve heard about who began putting building blocks together late in life. The Earl of Halsburg was 90 when he began preparing a 20-volume revision of English Law. Galileo made his greatest discovery when he was 73. At 69 Hudson Taylor was still vigorously at work as a missionary opening up new territories in IndoChina.

In our youth the building blocks that are important to us are those that help us to grow as individuals. We establish families and careers, we learn new skills, and we travel and explore and add to our knowledge and wisdom.

But late in life it’s possible that people will say, oh I’m too old. There’s not much that I can do now. I’d like to encourage those who are older to think about how they can build into the lives of others and particularly children and young people.

As you share your experiences and wisdom you’re making a contribution to the building blocks of those with whom you have shared.

Getting older can be challenging, but it’s also an opportunity to ask how you can contribute to the lives of others. God wouldn’t have allowed you to stay on this earth if he didn’t have something worthwhile for you to accomplish.

Find it and start building.

Another post in my “Amazing Meetings” series: It’s about a meeting Jesus had with a Pharisee.

Sir, you had an interesting meeting with Jesus. I get the impression that you weren’t actually expecting it to be a good meeting.  You’ve been described as a Pharisee. Can you please tell us what a Pharisee is?

Some people would call us a political party, others a religious sect. We see ourselves as the protectors and upholders of the Rabbinic law. Judaism as you know it depends on our faithfulness over the years to upholding the law.

In my reading of the Bible I get the impression the Pharisees weren’t too supportive of Jesus.  Is that right?

You’re right there. The religious law was given to us by Moses and when people break that law or come up with their own forms of morality or religion our whole society is in danger of collapse.

So this meeting you had with Jesus was because you and your friends wanted to challenge him about the way he seemed to be a little loose in his interpretation of the law?

Loose? Man, we figured this guy was an out and out libertarian.   The fourth commandment in the law Moses gave us was to observe the Sabbath Day and keep it holy.  We developed all sorts of rules and regulations to make sure that this commandment was kept. But this day we spotted Jesus and his disciples walking through this paddock on the Sabbath Day plucking off the heads of grain and eating them.

So this was considered by you to be breaking the Sabbath law?

Well, not so much the rabbinic law, but we had very clear oral laws about the Sabbath. We considered what they were doing as harvesting. They were working on the Sabbath and we didn’t appreciate the way they seemed to be flaunting our authority.

It sounds like it wasn’t the breaking of the law that upset you. It was more to do with your authority being questioned?

Come on, let’s get on with this interview.

OK, what did Jesus say to you when you challenged him and his disciples for plucking grain and eating it on the Sabbath?

He mentioned the story we knew about King David, and how we went into the house of God and ate the holy bread  . He even said it wasn’t lawful for David to do that, but he still used it as an example for why he and his disciples were breaking the Sabbath law.

Did you understand the significance of the story about David?

Yes, I did. He made sense.  He didn’t excuse David for what he did. He still said it was unlawful, but he pointed out that David was hungry and I think what he was getting at was that there was another law at work here that was probably greater than Moses’ law.

What do you mean? did he explain himself?

Well, then he talked about the priests who work on the Sabbath.  He had a point. Someone has to work on the Sabbath, and that’s what the priests did.  We were able to get around the law for that one, so I guess we weren’t all that consistent. I suppose that’s the problem with being so fixed on law. If you’re not consistent on everything, you end up getting yourself pretty mixed up.

And was that all Jesus had to say?

He added that something greater than the temple was here. He said he desired mercy not sacrifice.

It sounds to me he was saying that the teachings of Jesus represented a new way of looking at the old law. The emphasis of the new approach was more about mercy than about following rules and regulations? Is that how you understand it?

Listen mate, I’m a Pharisee and my job is to uphold the law. Unfortunately, what Jesus said actually makes sense. It’s left me pretty confused. There’s no freedom or hope in the approach that I take, whereas Jesus and his friends seem to be so happy. Maybe there is something in Jesus teachings…

I agree, it’s worth investigating further.

To read the account for yourself in the Bible see Matthew 12:1-8  ; Mark 2:23-28  ; Luke 6:1-5.

rootsI re-potted a pot plant recently because the leaves were looking brown and the plant didn’t look at all healthy. I took it out of the pot, replaced the potting mix, tickled the roots and I’m hoping it will look a lot better in a short time.

When something goes wrong with plants and the answer isn’t evident quite often it’s got something to do with the roots. And I think for most of us, when we’re facing problems in life, it’s worth checking the roots. Here’s four poossible root problems:

Some of us have become drain-cloggers – you know what it’s like when a tree is growing too close to the pipes and you discover that the roots have gone into the pipes and broken them open? Sometimes we go searching for new ideas and philosophies and we become misled and confused when it would have been better for us to trust God’s Word. There are lots of great ideas out there, but God’s Word is trustworthy.

Some of us have developed root rot. When a plant is overwatered and the drainage isn’t too good it gets root rot. We sometimes allow ourselves to be over-watered by other people’s opinions and instead of owning our faith and our decisions, we become clogged up with our attempts to keep other people happy. What’s the result? We lose the vitality of our faith.

Some of us have become root-bound by legalism. When a plant becomes root-bound the roots run round and round inside the pot and eventually they have nowhere to go. Rules and regulations have stopped us from being able to put our roots down deep into the word of God. Legalism is a real trap because we feel very secure within all our rules and regulations, but ultimately we go round and round the pot controlled by our own arguments, very comfortable with where we are, but no longer growing.

Another root problem that gardeners experience is nematodes. There are about a million species of nematodes, microscopic round worms, and if parasitic nematodes get into the roots of your plants, they suck the life out of them. Some of us have allowed nematodes to congregate around the roots of our faith and to suck us dry.

We’ve allowed anger and resentment to influence our thinking, inappropriate thoughts and words have become a part of our lives; we’ve given into little temptations and have justified why we shouldn’t give into another.

And each of these nematodes of sin have sucked a little bit more life out of us and we’ve allowed them to congregate and grow and our lives have become ineffective.

The apostle Paul said: just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

Take the opportunity to establish a health root system in your life: Read God’s word and study it, get together with other believers and discuss what you have read. Read the Bible with another person. Pray with someone else. Don’t give up the habit of meeting together to worship God.

 

 

lemon-treeI’ve got a young lemon tree in my backyard. It’s not very strong yet, but it’s got lemons. Only a few, but they’re lemons. I know it’s a lemon tree because I can see lemons hanging from the branches. If I was doubtful at all that it was a lemon tree I could cut those lemons off the tree and suck the juice and I would be convince that it was a lemon tree.

I’ve got another bush in my backyard. The leaves suggest it may be an apple, but it may be something completely different. It was in a pot in someone else’s backyard when I got it and for a couple of years I’ve watched but there’ve been no flowers, and certainly no fruit. I can’t really tell what it is.

When a tree produces fruit it seems to be the ultimate statement. A kind of announcement: “I’m a lemon tree and I can prove it. I produce lemons.”

 

How do you know if I’m a follower of Jesus? Well you can take my word for it. But ultimately, you’re looking for fruit. You want to see some sort of evidence that convinces you that I’m a follower of Jesus. After all, if I say I’m a follower of Jesus, but you see me breaking the law of behaving badly you would probably doubt my word.

The Apostle Paul said:  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Now that makes sense. Here are some pieces of fruit, some outcomes from being a follower of Jesus. When people see these virtues working out in another person’s life they want to ask the question, how can a person be like this?

When a person uses bad language all the time, they’re constantly aggressive, they’re vindictive or hurtful to others, it’s like bad fruit. And bad fruit suggests there’s something wrong with the tree. So the problem is not just with the outward appearance. There’s a deeper problem.

So while my lemon tree is only small and a little spindly, the healthy lemons that it is producing, say to me that this is a lemon tree and it’s OK. People are always looking for fruit in our lives, and we can’t produce good fruit if there’s something wrong with the roots.

Fruit like love and joy and peace, forbearance, kindness; you know … all those great virtues that Paul talked about, don’t come naturally. He called them the fruit of the Spirit. They’re the result of Jesus being present in our lives; they’re the result of a person living in harmony with the Holy Spirit.

What’s your fruit like? Can people see the fruit and know that you’re a follower of Jesus. Or is it still a secret?

 

Interview on Sonshine fm

Posted: August 18, 2014 in Uncategorized

CroppedImage300140-Logo-2014-Thumb2I’d like to thank those who have read my book, “He Speaks Our Language”, and those who have expressed appreciation for what was written. I am hoping to get it up onto Kindle at some stage in the future, but in the meantime it is available at Koorong Bookstore. I notice they’ve sold out at the Perth store, but are renewing their stock, and will re-order if people are asking for it.

This was a co-publishing exercise with Ark House Press and I value their support in this project. It’s been an interesting exercise in writing and publishing and I have enjoyed the process. Who knows, there may be something else on the way!

I did an interview with JD on Sonshine Radio 98.5 on the weekend. You can hear the interview here on podcast. I appreciate your continue support in telling people about the book. This is a story that I think needed to be told.