Religion Is Not Enough

Background Verses: Acts 17:16-34

 

Paul stood alone.
Deep in the center of the Athenian Agora.

Oblivious, it seemed, to the bustling crowd,

busy commerce,

and boisterous conversations.

Lips formed his words,

yet he uttered no sound.

Stunned by the

sights and sounds

of sinful ignorance.

 

He stretched out his arms.

Slowly turned full circle.

Intelligent eyes taking his surroundings.

Everywhere he looked,

Every direction he faced,

Glistening granite.

Chiseled marble.

Gilded stone.

Testimony to human confusion and idolatry.

 

Idol after idol.

Apollo.

Ares.

Demeter

Dionysus.

Gods of the people who worshipped…

Music and healing.

War and chaos.

Fertility and harvest.

Wine and pleasure.

 

Hera.

Harmonia.

Nemesis.

Zelos.

Gods and goddesses of…

Women and empires.

Harmony and peace.

Revenge and hatred.

Jealousy and rivalry.

 

He threaded his way through the crowd.

Listened to the debates and arguments

of Athens’ fabled philosophers.

Learned men.

Fumbling with matters of man’s

life,

purpose and

existence.

 

For several days

Paul walked the marketplace.

Engaged at times in quiet

and lively debate with

Epicurean and Stoic philosophers.

Paul parried their intellectual thrusts.

Countered with his personal beliefs.

Sought to understand the…

Epicureans.

Their “eat, drink and be merry” constructs

that ignored their personal responsibilities.

 

Sought to know the…

Stoics.

Their deliberate disdain for life and

unending and unjoyful quest for life on a higher plain.

 

Paul’s introduction of a loving God,

a resurrected Lord,

fell upon curious, but deaf ears.

 

Despite their general apathy,

the philosophers lived for and loved a good debate.

Liked nothing more than to spend

time talking and listening to the latest ideas.

Invited Paul to voice his strange philosophy to the Areopagus,

The council of the most learned in Athens.

Tomorrow morning.

On a hill in the shadow of the Acropolis.

 

Paul walked the remainder of the day

considering the challenge before him.

Constantly in prayer for words to share.

How could he convince them of the God he adored?

The God he worshipped?

 

Head bent.

Focused only on his thoughts.

Paul’s elbow caught the edge of another stone monument,

forcing his attention to his right.

As he rubbed his arm to soothe the discomfort,

he stood face to face with

another idol.

Another altar.

 

He looked at the whitewashed image.

Carved from stone.

The half-nude body of a man.

Chest bare.

Poised and powerful.

Cloth draped across its left shoulder,

tied around its waist.

Face framed by a laurel wreath.

Void of expression.

Featureless.

Paul’s eyes drifted down to the inscription.

Chuckled at the irony.

Marveled at God’s inspiration.

Chiseled into the base of the statue…

“TO THE UNKNOWN GOD.”

 

Offering a quiet prayer to Jehovah.

Paul hurried back to his home for the night.

Gathering his thoughts.

 

*

Early the next morning,

Paul sat quietly on the boulder.

Gazing east.

The rising sun casting a reddish glow onto the low clouds.

The philosophers arrived alone and in small groups.

Eager to begin another day

searching for understanding and knowledge.

Their sole reason for breathing.

 

After a time,

One of the men whom Paul debated yesterday,

held out his hands.

Gathering the attention and eyes of every man.

With an air of derision and scorn,

he pointed at Paul.

“This stranger among us comes at my invitation.

His babblings in the Agora amused me.

While I find his philosophy little more than the chirping of a bird, others…”

he paused, glaring intently at a group of

more open-minded men sitting to his left…

“others, found his argument a ‘herald of some  new divination.’

So, my friend,” said the philosopher,

“tell us about this new thought you bring for it is strange to us.”

*

Paul stood slowly.

Walked toward the edge of the mountain

Looked down on the Agora.

The streets below.

Stretched out his arm over the city beneath him.

Stared down at the Altar of Apollo,

clearly visible in the distant marketplace.

 

Voice clear.

Laced with authority.

Paul declared,

“Men of Athens.”

“I see that in every way you are very religious.

For as I walked around.

Looked carefully at your objects of worship.

I saw many altars to many gods.

I even found an altar with this inscription,

‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’”

Paul turned.

Faced the philosophers seated around the Areopagus.

A smile on his face.

A gleam in his eye.

“What you worship as something unknown…

I am going to proclaim to you.”

 

With an eloquence of speech

And the voice emboldened by the Holy Spirit,

Paul proclaimed the good news of Jesus Christ

and his resurrection.

 

*

 

Paul preached the

plan and purpose of God

Summarized in seven short verses

in Acts 17:24-31.

 

God created.

God rules.

God gives life.

 

A life of purpose given so…

man could seek him.

Reach out for  him.

Find him.

Not distant on the mythical mountaintop.

Not hidden in the clouds of Olympus.

Not crafted by human hands.

Not an image reflecting our failures and weaknesses.

 

Rather, we find him

in the warmth of personal relationship.

We belong to him.

 

He is unique.

The One.

The Only.

 

He calls us to repentance.

Demands our obedience.

Desires our worship.

 

Paul looked at the world around him

Made a simple observation.

“I see that in every way you are very religious.”

 

If he stood on the hill overlooking

our city…

Our lives…

Our hearts…

How many altars could he count dedicated to the

Gods of our own choosing?

How many gods have I created in my image?

How many things have I placed in priority

over my Lord?

 

Religion…

Goes through the motions.

Plays for appearance.

Creates a false sense of belonging.

 

Faith focuses our lives, not on what is

unknown or unreal,

but on the

One and Only

that is known to us…

 

Creator.

Lord.

Indwelling Spirit.

Comforter.

Redeemer.

Restorer of Life Abundant.

 Source: The Searcher

A Unsung Prayer Warrior

Background Verses: Colossians 1:7-8 and 4:12-13

All of us struggle with weighty decisions from time to time. Those issues that tend to keep you awake at night. Whether matters of the heart, matters of health or matters of the soul, we find comfort when we know there are friends and family praying for us. I cannot tell you how many times in my life I have found an element of peace after being told by a friend that they have lifted me up in prayer.

Last night I found myself reading through Colossians within that frame of reference. Here is a first-century church, a group of people from diverse backgrounds, Greek and Jew, master and slave, rich and poor, gathering regularly in someone’s home to hear the gospel proclaimed and to be taught how they should live as followers of Christ in a world that follows a very different moral compass…a church struggling to stay on the right path when those among them are preaching and teaching a tarnished truth blending convenient portions of pagan, Jewish and Christian teaching into a hybrid belief system lacking substance.

Yet, there are good people in the church, trying desperately to hang on to what they have been taught and what they believe. They’re hanging on while their faithful pastor Epaphras serves in Rome offering love and support to an imprisoned Paul, Christianity’s foremost missionary.

Imagine the Christians in Colossae, gathering quickly at a friend’s home. They’ve just been told that Tychius and Mark, two men well-known in the region for their association with Paul and their pastor, have arrived in town bearing a letter from Paul. Men and women of faith gathering in anticipation.

Erastus ducked his head through the door,

out of breath from his dash across town.

Eyes darted from face to face,

Slapping a back in greeting.

Clasping hands with those

not seen since they last gathered for worship.

Many others already sat in boisterous conversation

around the walls of the tidy villa.

Permeating the room was an air of

Energy.

Excitement.

Expectation.

Across the crowded room,

quietly visiting with the man of the house…

Two men he had never met.

Known only by reputation.

Associates of

The Missionary.

Though they looked tired from their journey,

they laughed easily.

Comfortable in their companionship .

Bound together

with those in the room by the

fellowship of faith.

Introductions are made.

Greetings exchanged.

Tychicus,

the elder of the two men took a step back,

yielding to Mark,

 the younger of the two messengers.

Erastus liked him immediately.

No haughtiness.

No pretense.

A calm tone and quiet voice.

A warm smile that spoke volumes

and revealed his heart.

“I have a letter from Paul,” he said,

“and a word from your pastor.”

Mark began to read.

“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

when we pray for you because

we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus…

the love you have for all God’s people–

the faith and love that springs from the hope stored up for you in heaven…

The gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world–

just as it has been doing among you

since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace.

You learned it from Epaphras,

our dear fellow servant,

who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf,

and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.”

Erastus felt…

Edification.

Encouragement.

Erastus heard…

Warnings about the false doctrines that

wage war against their souls.

Words that inspired him to stand fast.

Hold true to what he had been taught.

 I have to believe Paul’s message met its intended purpose. False teachers had peppered them for months with a new doctrine that sounded right, but felt terribly wrong. Yet, the boldness of their arguments tempted them to abandon what they had been taught by their beloved pastor.

Those individuals who listened to the words read to them by Mark had to find reinforcement and reassurance in their fledgling faith.

Yet, as powerful as Paul’s words might have been, I can’t help but feel there was an unsung hero buried in the text of Paul’s letter. A name that captured their attention and strengthened their resolve by the simply sound of his name and the reminder of his love for them.

 The tone of Mark’s voice changed.

Clearly, the letter was drawing to a close.

Erastus had been lost in thought,

Staring at the floor.

His mind hearing,

but not locking on to the closing words

until the sound of a familiar name

jolted him from this thoughts.

“Epaphras, who is one of you and

a servant of Christ Jesus,

sends greetings.”

The men seated around him,

looked at each other and grinned.

The salutation was like balm on a sunburned back.

“Epahpras is always wrestling in prayer…

for you…

praying that you will stand firm in all the will of God,

mature and fully assured.

He is working hard for you.”

Erastus squared his shoulders.

Leaned back against the wall.

Closed his eyes.

Prayed for the kind of strength for which his pastor prayed.

Faith’s great turning point in his life.

Epaphras was a man of faith who loved his congregation. He saw them not simply as sheep to feed, but friends to love. A man who felt the burden of responsibility to develop their immature belief into a deep abiding faith that sustains. So, every day…every day…he lifted them up to the Father. Notice the words Paul used. “Always wrestling in prayer.” He never failed to remember his people in Colossae. The prayer was never casual, but deep and heartfelt.  Praying as if God might not hear unless his prayer sprung from his gut…fearful that if he did not intercede, God would not know how desperate their situation might be. Incessant. Insistent. Impassioned.

Not only did he pray frequently and deeply, but his prayer was specific. Not given to pious platitudes. The prayers were pointed…that they might “stand firm in all the will of God.” Continuing in their belief, finding in Him righteousness as a model for life; finding in Him strength as a mechanism to cope with any disinformation they might hear. Asking that they be…unwavering in their faith and their understanding of God’s grace and what he desires of them. That their faith might discern his perfect wisdom and desire for their lives. Instilling in them…the truth of what they believe and how that belief is translated into practice. Inspiring them to…demonstrate the courage of their conviction even in the midst of abuse and persecution.

I find value in the life of Epaphras, this unsung bible hero, who cared so deeply for the spiritual security of his friends and neighbors that his spirit groaned in passionate petition for his people. May I be blessed with that kind of prayer warrior lifting me up as I deal with life that God has laid before me. May I be that kind of prayer warrior for those I love and those I serve.

Source: The Searcher