Archive for October, 2014

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.

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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.