Tag Archives: Jesus

Today would be a good day to be on the Sea of Galilee

We’ve just started to plan our next study tour to Israel and Jordan in 2018, which of course has got me thinking about some of my favourite places in that part of the world. I love the hustle and bustle of Jerusalem and the beautiful history of Caesarea, but for a tranquil place to contemplate and reflect, a favourite place of mine in Israel is the Sea of Galilee. I’d love to be able to spend the day there today.

What do I love about the Sea of Galilee?

Many of the places in Israel feel like a tour through church history, seeing how previous generations have chosen to remember places that have biblical significance. So the first time I visited the Sea of Galilee, there was a sense of relief at its untouched natural beauty – “they can’t build a church on this!”

The Sea is somehow both bigger and smaller than I had imagined it to be.

Visiting it brought many stories to life. Reading through the gospels, the Sea is almost a character in the narratives as Jesus and his disciples transverse back and forth across it …

fish from it …

experience storms upon it …

and even walk on it.

When I returned to spend time in this part of the world by myself, I stayed in one of the most beautiful and tranquil guesthouses I have ever visited and had the privilege of this view out my window:

It was a wonderful, peaceful place for reflection and contemplation, whether at dawn …

as the sun rose …

… or after dark.

What did I learn from the Sea of Galilee?

There is something beautiful and pristine about many bodies of water. But this one is special to me because of its connection to the story and history of One Man.

As a follower of Jesus, I walk in his footsteps metaphorically every day. Being able to connect that tangibly to real places is a wonderful privilege. It brings a concreteness and a specificity to my faith.

But the bigger truth it teaches me is not so much that I have walked where he has walked, but that I have a God who has walked where I walk. Who entered into human history and everyday life and experienced beauty and sorrow, tiredness and energy, rest and bustle, food and water and sunlight and dirt and noise and taste and smell and everything else that makes up the ordinariness of my life. And somehow the fact that he has done so transforms it all and makes it all new, inviting me into a new experience every day of walking with him.






What does hospitality look like in speech and in action?

A few years ago I had a disagreement with a politician about words. He was using a phrase that had been understood in the popular media at the time as a kind of ‘slogan’ with a particular emphasis. I assumed that was what he meant by using this phrase; he assured me that he had a more nuanced perspective to communicate. The key to our disagreement was that he then said it was my responsibility to listen and understand what he intended to communicate, and my problem if I didn’t get what he meant. Conversely, I suggested that it was his responsibility to understand how I would hear what he was saying and to use words to ensure that I would receive his intention. In the end we had to agree to disagree, but it is a conversation I have often thought about since.

Does the onus lie on the speaker or the hearer to make sure communication is clearly understood?

And what does that have to do with hospitality?

Missiology 101 tells me that as someone who has a good message to proclaim, the onus is on me to make sure that my words are being heard and understood by those I am seeking to communicate with, rather than expecting or assuming that they will know what I intend. We call it “contextualisation,” that is, making sure our message is communicated in a way that makes sense to those who are receiving it. To me, this is a form of hospitality. I invite someone into the conversation in a way that is welcoming when I focus not so much on what I want to say, but on what they will hear and receive.

I think hospitality is often misunderstood. The mental picture many people have is of inviting someone into their home. Which is a lovely, welcoming thing to do. However, there is an important caveat. In many ways, our home is our “turf.” It is the place where we feel most comfortable, and where we do things our way. If we invite someone in to that, but expect and assume that they will “fit in” with us, are we truly being welcoming? Or is hospitality about making the other person feel comfortable, choosing to accommodate ourselves to their way of doing things, making sure they feel at home?

True hospitality is the attitude of making someone else feel at home rather than simply being in our home.

What would it look like to live that kind of hospitality in speech and in action?

My church has recently started partnering with a Christian community who speak a different language to us, many of whom are refugees and have left everything they have known behind. I see their joy in their eyes as they come into a place where they can speak their own language, and eat food that is familiar to them, and feel comfortable knowing that they understand what is expected of them. I imagine that in nearly every other aspect of their lives this is not the case. Everywhere they go they are expected to fit in with us, speak like us, do things our way. And yes, that is part of the process of learning to live in a new culture. But what if instead of the church being just one more place where they are the outsiders who are expected to find ways to fit in, what if we as followers of Jesus chose to be the ones who learned their language, ate their food, did things their way? What if we went out of our way to be the ones who were uncomfortable so that they might feel at home?

That’s a challenge. That will be more difficult. That’s the kind of hospitality that is costly as we sacrifice our own comfort and ease for the sake of the other. That’s the kind of hospitality of a church whose early leaders chose to become like outsiders in order to share their hope with those on the outside. That’s the kind of hospitality of a church whose head is a God who condescended to become a human being in order to demonstrate his great love for humanity.

The cult of celebrity and Christmas carols: some random thoughts on the implications of the incarnation

It has often been observed that our culture worships the “cult of celebrity.” The idea is that there are certain people we look up to, want to know about, want to be like, and want to meet. Whether that is because of certain abilities they display (sporting stars), or attributes they have (good looking actors), simple due to their visibility (Kim Kardashian) or even because of their family connections (Kate Middleton), the idea that would could in some way “get to know” these people drives a multi-billion dollar gossip magazine industry and results in large crowds gathering wherever these people go.

There’s an awful lot that could be said about that from a cultural-analysis perspective, and there’s a lot to dislike about it, but the reason I’m thinking about this today is entirely different. I’ve been listening to some of my favourite Christmas carols and wondering how these two thoughts connect.

So God imparts to human hearts                                                                   The blessings of His heaven

The cult of celebrity seems to suggest to me that there is something deep within us as human beings that wants to connect with those whom we look up to or admire. That somehow we feel like getting “close” to them elevates us in some way. A famous person who takes time to hang out with a sick child in hospital is universally admired. Throughout history there has been prestige ascribed to having any kind of connection with royalty. Associating with those who have status and value seems to bring a kind of status and value of its own. Perhaps it overcomes our insecurities: if they like us, well then, we really must be likeable and everyone else will know so.

Imagine if a really famous person joined one of the groups or clubs you belong to. Suddenly your whole group would be elevated by their presence. Your status and value would somehow go up.

What on earth does all this have to do with Christmas?

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see                                                                    Hail the incarnate deity                                                                            Pleased as man with men to dwell                                                                       Jesus our Immanuel

The incarnation of God as a human being elevates all of us. It brings us status and value.

At Christmas, we celebrate the miracle of God choosing to become a human being. The creator of the universe chose to become part of His creation. And not just any part but our part. God became one of us. The Godhead for all eternity now includes a human being. The ruler of all things is now a member of our group.

That is a truly incredible, astonishing, surprising, mind-blowing, shocking thing to believe.

And it changes everything.

It tells us that God loves us. Immensely. Enough to become one of us.

It tells us that we are loveable. There is no need for insecurity. The One of ultimate worth has found us worthwhile.

But even more than that, it calls us to love one another because every single other person we share this planet with is not only created in the image of God, but is a being whom God has chosen to become like.

Chains shall he break for the slave is our brother                               And in his name all oppression shall cease

One of the implications of the incarnation is that God becoming human elevates us all. The refugee and the billionaire, the inmate and the Kardashian, the lost child and the superstar … each and every one is one whom Jesus chose to become like.

Now that’s a cause for celebration.

And a call to compassion.

And a challenge to contemplate.