What makes us human? – by Mark Meynell

Human  Who you think you are shapes the how you think about many issues and determines how you behave. In the west, people view humans as thinkers, as animals, as biological machines, and as economic resources. But is that all that can be said about who we are?

Mark Meynell argues that you and I are much, much more than the sum of these views of humanness. He demonstrates how the uniqueness of mankind as revealed in the bible helps us go beyond the limitations of these other views of humans. Mark considers what it means to be made by God and what it means to be saved by God and how this changes our outlook on the rest of our lives.

 

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Storylines: Your Map to Understanding the Bible– by Andy Croft & Mike Pilavachi

Storylines Most of us have a few favourite parts of the Bible and yet almost completely ignore vast sections. In part this can be because we have never really understood how the different books of the Bible fit together.

The Bible is a collection of writings by different authors, in different styles, in different languages and written at different times. At first it can seem daunting and muddled. However in reality there are a number of storylines that run through the bible, like letters running through Brighton rock! This excellent short book unpacks these storylines in an easy to read manner and will help any reader of the bible have a better grasp of how it all fits together.

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The Apostle: The Life of Paul– by John Pollock 

The Apostle  The Apostle Paul is one of the most significant characters in the New Testament. When he bursts into the narrative, he is approving the stoning of Stephen who was a wonderful, spirit filled man of God. Saul, as he was known in Jewish circles, was a self-righteous religious man who was consumed with hatred for the followers of the way, as the early believers were known.

Most of us are familiar with Paul’s Damascus road conversion, but how much else do you know about him? What was his upbringing? What made him tick? What was the context of his prolific letter writing?

In this excellent volume John Pollock gathers data together from dozens of first century sources, including the New Testament writings, and has produced a highly readable and well-paced 21st century style biography. This format brings Paul to life and immerses the reader in the events that shaped the early church.

 

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To an Unknown God

The summer holiday season is on us and many Focus readers will be looking forward to time away from their day jobs. One of the things I enjoy about a holiday is the opportunity to travel and visit new places, especially when this is overseas. It is good to experience different cultures and explore historical sites.

A couple of years back I enjoyed a holiday in Cyprus. One afternoon we visited the ruins of the ‘Tombs of the Kings’ near Paphos. As we walked on ancient roadways and explored the various burial chambers it was humbling to think that the first people to visit these sites did so 2,400 years ago. As we walked around I found myself wondering whether St Paul too may have visited this site. It is recorded in Acts that Paul and his companions arrived by sea at Salamis on the eastern side of Cyprus and proceeded to Paphos where they embarked on another ship headed for Perga (near Antalya in modern day Turkey) during the first of his missionary journeys. In all Paul made 3 such trips and travelled through much of modern day Turkey and Greece before finally being taken to Rome under arrest. Some scholars believe he may also have travelled as far as Spain. These journeys were about as far removed as you can imagine from modern day holiday trips. Even with excellent Roman roads, overland travel was dangerous and arduous and it would take several days to cover distances that would take only a few hours by car. Sea travel too was hazardous and highly weather dependant. It is recorded that Paul was shipwrecked on three occasions, once spending 24 hours adrift in the open sea! Far from being a tourist, Paul was a seasoned and hardy traveller.

During one of his missionary journeys Paul found himself at a loose end in Athens where he was waiting for his travelling companions to join him. So he decided to wander round the city and do a spot of sightseeing. What he saw troubled him because he found that the city was full of idols. Never one to miss an opportunity he began to reason with Jews in the synagogue, and with those who would listen in the market place, explaining to them the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. You can read Paul’s message in Acts 17 but what strikes me as most interesting is that he praises the Athenians for their spirituality. One altar in particular had caught his attention; one with the inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Paul then went on to show them that, rather than having to continue worshipping in ignorance, through Jesus they could know God and worship him in truth.

Many people today have vague notions of spirituality; a feeling that there is some kind of spiritual force operating behind the scenes. They may not have an altar inscribed like the one in Athens, but nevertheless they consider God to be unknowable. The wonderful news that Paul gave the Athenians is just as relevant today. God is not an ethereal, unknowable spirit. On the contrary, Jesus came to make God known to us. If you are willing to put your trust in Jesus you too can get to know the eternal, living God.

This blog post featured in the July/August 2015 edition of Hook Focus

Just Passing Through

It can be great fun to travel for a holiday, especially when that travel takes us to new places. Sometimes even the journey can be part of the adventure rather than just a means of getting there. If you have been fortunate to travel abroad you may have enjoyed tasting new cuisine, experiencing different cultures and exploring new scenery. Holidays usually seem too short and we may fantasize about them lasting longer. However in reality we are just passing through and it is always good to get back home, sleep in our own bed and enjoy being back among people we know and love.

Some years ago there was a popular gospel song that had the line: ‘This world is not my home I’m just a-passin’ through’. The song writer was expressing the hope that after this life is over, we have an eternity with Christ to look forward to. Whether we live to 80, 90 or 100, compared to eternity this present lifetime, like a holiday, it is all too brief.

In 2 Corinthians 5 Paul compares our present life as being like living in a tent. It is a temporary structure; one which he says causes us to groan and be burdened because it is inadequate and unsatisfactory. Referring to our death he tells us that when this earthly tent is destroyed we can look forward to a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.

Paul expresses an intense desire to leave behind this earthly tent. He writes: meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, and we are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. Paul picks up a similar theme in Philippians 1. You are probably familiar with the verse that says: For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But have you ever spotted that two verses later he writes: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far ?

Like the song writer, Paul held loosely to this present life, regarding the future eternal hope as something to be eagerly desired. I wonder how many of us are genuinely more excited by our eternal heavenly inheritance than we are by this present life. I wonder too what a transformation it would make to live this life more like being on holiday, enjoying the scenery but not putting down any roots because we’re just passing through.

This blog post featured in the July/August 2015 edition of Lifelines