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
The General Election is just around the corner, and in our daily news we read and hear the latest reports of politicians posturing for our vote. For those of us who have been raised in the UK our familiarity with the UK democratic system can mean that we take it for granted, and many even become bored with the whole business. However, in case you have missed it, Polling Day is Thursday 7th May.
One of my goals as a follower of Jesus is to bring him consistently into all aspects of my life, including the way I exercise my freedom to vote. The challenge however is how to respond to political parties whose agendas are informed by world views that don’t always align with biblical values.
21st Century believers are not the first to find themselves in this predicament. The first century followers of Jesus found themselves under Roman rule which frequently persecuted them. Despite the hostility which they were receiving Paul wrote urging that the church should pray for ‘kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness’ 2 Timothy 2:2 (NIV 2011). Since Paul encouraged believers who were persecuted for their faith to pray for those who governed them, how much more ought we? A good response for believers is to pray about the outcome of this General Election; that the UK will continue to be a place where people of all faiths and none will be free to practice their beliefs in peace and quiet.
A friend of mine frequently reminds me that God invites us to be part of the answer to our prayers. One way to be part of the answer to our prayers is to engage with the political process and cast our vote in an informed and thoughtful way. Although the General Election is becoming increasingly presidential in style and the focus is often placed on who will become Prime Minister, the bedrock of our democracy is that each MP is elected to represent their local constituency. On Tuesday 28th April there will be a hustings event at 7:45pm in the refurbished Hook Community Centre, Ravenscroft. This is a public event to which all Hook residents are invited. Due to seating capacity limits admission will be by ticket which can be reserved online at http://www.bit.ly/electionhustings
I hope to see many of you at the hustings.
This blog post featured in the April 2015 edition of Hook Focus
Recently my wife and I went to see the film ’12 Years a Slave’, a graphic dramatisation of the autobiographical account of Solomon Northup’s experiences as a slave. Set in the pre-Civil War United States, Solomon, a free black man from upstate New York, enjoyed the privileges of wealth and education. As an accomplished violinist he is duped into visiting Washington with two gentlemen on the pretext that he has been hired to accompany their circus tour. Barely has he arrived when he is abducted and sold into slavery under the name of a runaway slave called Platt. What follows is a harrowing depiction of his personal struggle to retain his dignity, and even his life, as daily he faces the dehumanising brutality of being a slave on a cotton plantation. Spoiler alert! Finally an opportunity for salvation presents itself in the form of a Canadian carpenter called Bass who is opposed to slavery. The film ends with Solomon being freed and reunited with his family.
Living as we do 170 years after these events they seem barbaric and unconscionable. St Paul however lived at a time when slavery was a fundamental part of the fabric of society. Looking for a way to describe the power that our rejection of God (which the bible calls sin) has over our lives he writes: I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. Paul is not endorsing human slavery; rather he is using it to illustrate our inability to rescue ourselves from our rebellion against God. Just as Solomon Northup was dominated by his new slave masters, so our sinful nature dominates and enslaves us. Just as Solomon needed a mediator to arrange his release from slavery, we need a saviour to set us free from sin. A few sentences later Paul tells us that Jesus Christ is that Saviour: For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Unlike Solomon we have a choice; we can agree with the Bible’s assessment that we are slaves to sin, deserving death and accept God’s gift of eternal life in Christ or we can ignore it and face the consequences. Which will you choose?
 The New International Version. (2011). (Romans 6:19).
 The New International Version. (2011). (Romans 6:23).
This blog post featured in the March 2014 edition of Hook Focus
If you are the kind of person who likes scripture fridge magnets, then you will almost certainly have seen one with these words ’I can do all things through him who strengthens me.’ (Philippians 4:13) What an inspiring verse! Are you facing a challenge? Then this verse promises you Christ’s strength!
But what does Paul mean by ‘I can do all things’? Does it mean that I can decide to launch myself out of my office window aiming to fly down Lynwood Gardens in the ‘strength of the Lord’ and expect to defy the laws of gravity? I doubt anyone reading this would believe that this is an appropriate interpretation of the verse and would restrain me, or even have me sectioned , were I to attempt such a foolhardy feat. Yet is it so different to imagine that this verse guarantees us exam success, strength to carry the shopping, confidence to win the deal at work? Is it a promise that God will show up and help us do anything we want?
This is where context comes in. Someone has said that ‘a text without a context is a con!’ That is certainly true in this case, as would be proved by my cuts and bruises were I to attempt Christ empowered aviation. Fortunately we don’t have to look too far to see Paul’s context here. Read back a couple of verses and you will see he is thanking the Philippians for taking up a collection to help with his physical needs. Even as he is dictating the letter, he realises that his readers might be misled to think that his physical wellbeing was what was important to him, so he qualifies his thanks by reminding them that his contentment was not based upon circumstances. Verse 11: Not that I speak from need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.
How did Paul learn his contentment? Verse 12 tells us: I know how both to make do with little and I know how to have an abundance. In everything and in all things I have learned the secret both to be filled and to be hungry, both to have an abundance and to go without. Time and again Paul faced shortages and plenty, hunger and abundance. Notice how he links these together with the phrase ‘In everything and all things’. Did you spot that the ‘all things’ in verse 12 and 13 both refer to the same thing – Paul’s contentment! He can be contented in all circumstances only because Christ empowers his contentment. Christian contentment is not a stoical, grin and bear tough times because someone somewhere else is worse off than us. Followers of Jesus can be truly contented through good or bad circumstances, whether or not they change because their hope and confidence is in Christ. When we are content to rely on Him, He is truly glorified, because His strength is on display.
This blog post featured in the February 2013 edition of Lifelines