Sunday, 9 November 2014

Ignorant idolatry exposed

In his conversation with the men of Athens, Paul cut straight to the heart of the matter.  They were worshipping gods made of gold or silver or stone – images "made by human design and skill" (Acts 17:29).  Paul's comment indicates that this was not simply an "innocent mistake", but an act which required repentance.

The word "repentance" is often equated to "being sorry" but this falls far short of what it means.  It can be understood well by using a combination of two related images.  The first is the idea of "thinking again" and the second is "turning round."  Perhaps an illustration might help.  I remember taking part in one expedition for the Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme where, in a moment of haste in torrential rain, I did not orient the map correctly and glanced only briefly at it.  As a result, I led our team south instead of west.  As darkness began to fall, we realised that the road we were on was veering away from our destination.  We had come to the point of repentance: we needed to think again about our onward journey; we were heading the wrong way and needed to turn round.  I can try to make excuses for my "mistake", but ultimately it was simply an expression of my own pride and my prioritising getting out of the rain over following the rules and paying proper attention to our route.  It was a disaster.

It's like that with the Athenians' relationship with God.  Instead of worshipping the God who made them, they had been serving statues they themselves had made in the hope that these idols would provide for their needs and desires.  Accordingly, their whole worldview needed correcting - they needed to think again.  Every affectionate step they took towards their idols was effectively a step away from God - they needed to turn round.  They needed to repent.

The idols of our age may not be statues, but we can be sure that if we serve them, we offend God and need to repent in the same way as the Athenians.  In the west, we are quick to hanker after money or popularity; we seek our own comfort or happiness instead of the glory of God.  In the end, we are no different from the Athenians - so often we ignore the God who made all things and run instead after gods "made by human design and skill" which can ultimately not deliver what we hope to receive from them.

What are the false gods which entice you away from giving your all to the God of creation who deserves all our worship?  God is calling you to repent.  Will you?

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

The Unknown God

The Apostle Paul lived by his own teaching.  He trusted that God had placed him in his historical moment and geographical location for a good purpose.  Accordingly, he took every opportunity to speak of Jesus.  He wasn't about to let a single moment of his life go by without using it to do something of real value - something that would last into eternity.  So whilst in Athens, he turned the dubious religious practice of the people into a window through which they could glimpse the true and living God.  In the city was an altar to an "Unknown God"; Paul took the chance to introduce them to each other.

I wonder what he would have made of 21st Century England.  I am sure he would have been pleased to hear of its Christian heritage, but I am equally sure that he would have quickly picked up on our society's general ignorance of God and his ways.  There are many who profess to believe "in God", and according to the most recent census, most of these profess to be members of the Christian faith - thereby suggesting that faith in the Christian God is the God in view.  But scratch beneath the surface of this claim and what substance is there?  For many people, God is actually largely unknown; at best, the subject of faded recollections of Sunday school teaching.

For the good of everyone the church needs to follow Paul's lead and proclaim clearly not only the God who "made the world and everything in it" (Acts 17:24), but particularly his Son Jesus - his death and resurrection and the eternal implications of these things (c.f. v31).  God has made himself known in Jesus.  It is a tragedy that so many do not know him.  Are you playing your part to make introductions?

Sunday, 5 October 2014

For such a time as this

In his conversation with the people of Athens, Paul argues that God is different than the people imagine.  There's a sense in which they evidently believe God needs them - as if his existence is somehow incomplete without human beings and the attention they pay him.  Paul corrects this rather arrogant and human-centric viewpoint pointing out that God "made the world and everything in it" (Acts 17:24).  With such power, he is surely self-sufficient!

Paul continues with a description of God's providential care for human beings (who are reliant on him, even if he is not reliant on them!) and raises a couple of interesting points which are worthy of reflection.  They're not the main point of Paul's entire argument, but are nonetheless worth considering independently.  Paul writes (v26): "He determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live."

The Sovereign Lord of the universe who "made the world and everything in it" has also set in motion a plan in which people are allotted a particular place to live and a particular moment of history to inhabit.  Think of your own situation... you're living at this moment in this place, and this is the deliberate plan of God.  It's no accident.  Your presence in your local community is rich with meaning.  The fact that you're living now rather than 300 years ago gives you some special privileges over those who went before you and those who will follow you.  You have the unique opportunity to love and serve your neighbours.

So what are you doing with this unique, God-given opportunity?

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Looking around

When the Apostle Paul was in Athens, he was confronted by the culture of the city and its people.  We read in Acts 17:16; "His spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols."

When was the last time you stopped for long enough to examine the culture of the society in which you live?  When was the last time your spirit was "provoked" within you at something in your culture or in part of the world which is different to your home?

Paul's response to what he saw was to discuss the matter with others - first of all with people who shared his religious background, and then with others who had a very different approach to life.

When did you last spend time critiquing the foundational values of contemporary British life with other people who share your approach to life?  When was the last time you discussed such matters with people who think differently?  What was the central issue in your conversation?

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Exploretumn 2014

As promised, our special season of reflection is back.  Exploretumn 2014 begins on 28th September.

If you're new here and don't know what Exploretumn is, check out our first post "What?" from the 2013 archive. 

Hope you can join us as we step off life's merry-go-round and take time to consider some of the deeper issues we encounter on our journey through this world.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Light in the Darkness

First an apology to regular readers who have been waiting for this post for some time... Sorry - life happened and I didn't have chance to write it.  Please forgive me.

Second, please note that this will be the last new post for Exploretumn this year - we're now in Advent.  However, as sure as spring follows winter and summer follows spring, after the summer, Exploretumn will be back.

And so to this brief, closing post...

Last time, we looked at "The Way of Things."  Of course, there are plenty of positive aspects of the world we enjoy, but we don't have to look far to see sadness and shame.  It's a dark world.  The shortness of the daylight hours at this time of year acts as a reminder that the suffocating darkness of sin is all around us.  (And as we saw last time, even acting from within us.)

The prophet Isaiah sounded a clarion call of good news to the people of his day.  It's a call which sounds with as much power in our generation as it did in his:
"The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned."  Isaiah 9:2
It's important to note here that the light doesn't come from the people, but from beyond them.  The light emanates from God and is their only hope.

It is no accident that churches all over the world use this reading in their Christmas celebrations. In the birth of Jesus, we see God's light shining into the darkness.  In Jesus, we see that God has not left us alone in our sin, but has come to rescue us and bring us home to himself.  His love for us is completely undeserved, and some people actually reject it (to their loss), but for those who accept it, there is new life - the darkness is dispelled, the just sentence of death is revoked, and heaven's dawn breaks with forgiveness, healing and reconciliation.

At this time of year, we get excited about perfume or chocolates or computer-games or turkey.  We rush around with decorations, cards, parties and gift-wrap.  Tragically, and so easily, in the busyness of the season we can overlook what God has given us - yet, for a people in a world dominated by sin, God's gift is the most precious of all.

For reflection:
  1. Have you seen the light of hope shining in Jesus?
  2. Will he be the one present you're talking about when the decorations have come down?

Friday, 18 October 2013

The Way of Things

"If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us." First letter of John 1:8

"The LORD looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God.  All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt: there is no one who does good, not even one." Psalm 14:2-3

"All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Romans 3:23

The Bible presents Adam's choice to disobey God as typical of all of us.  This is particularly clear in the quotations above, but this theme runs through the Bible's story like an unbroken dark thread in a complex tapestry.  The Bible is equally clear that as Adam and Eve faced the consequences of their sin, so we face the consequences of ours.

A quick look at the next few chapters of Genesis drives this home.
  • Adam is cast out of the garden so he cannot eat from the tree of life.  Like cut flowers in a vase, he appears to live for a while, but is actually dead.  Eventually, however, his physical state catches up with his spiritual condition, and he dies.  All of mankind faces the same end (as is pictured in the repetitive phrase "and he died" in Genesis 5); we may like to think of ourselves as immortal, but (as Ecclesiastes 2:16 tells us) "like the fool, the wise man too must die."
  • Adam's task of tending the garden is frustrated by thorns; his work becomes labour - most of us can relate to this.  Similarly, no mother would deny they have experienced the pain of childbirth that is a result of God's judgment on Eve.
  • Relationships become strained - Adam and Eve are ashamed of their nakedness before each other and one of their sons kills his brother.  Today, because of human selfishness, marriages and family relationships are often characterised by jealousy and power struggles, friends betray friends and nations rise against nations.

This is our world - a world dominated by sin and its effects.  It is a far cry from the beauty and tranquillity of Eden.  We sometimes express a longing to return to the perfect world that God prepared for us, and we may even work to bring a little of heaven to earth, but if we examine our hearts honestly, we know that we are as much part of the problem as the solution.  This is the way of things.

For reflection:
  1. Consider the arrogance of Adam and Eve who decided God's word about the fruit could be rejected and ignored. When God speaks to your heart through the Bible, and particularly when he challenges your own attitudes and behaviour, how do you respond?  How much like Adam and Eve are you?
  2. If this is the way of things - that our sin has broken our world and broken our relationship with God - what hope is there?  If God has chosen to cut us off, how can we ever be reconciled to him?