Following Paul is hard

Here in Athens it is clear that following Paul is hard work.

The difficulties faced in travelling by foot (or boat) from Phillipi to Athens is clear, but the work that Paul does/accomplishes is mind boggling.

Following Paul is vastly different from following Jesus.

I have been to Israel on a number of occasions and each time I listen to the stories and I hear Jesus. And each time my faith is renewed and I come away with a new confidence in my reasons for believing.

But this traveling in the footsteps of Paul is way different.

This trip is filled with learning a culture that is different. This trip is filled with learning a history that is new. Why didn’t I pay more attention in World History, I don’t remember learning any of this Greek history. And I am also sure that I don’t know much Roman History either.

Paul is clearly in a foreign land and a foreign culture. So what does he do? You can read about it in Acts 17

16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. 18 A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. 19 Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean.” 21 (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)

22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

We stood today in the same place Paul stood – Mars Hill (see the people on the rock?).

Paul stood amongst people more concerned with status … with education … with accomplishments … people more concerned with stuff … oh wait that sounds like us.

And Paul, who is someone just like us – a follower of Jesus, stood out amongst all the people.

And Paul declared the message of the Gospel. Not with a bullhorn. Not with judgement.

The people came to him and asked … and Paul delivered a message of grace and love.

As we follow Paul, we see how big the world is and we are challenged by all that Paul does to change the world with a simple message and life that has been transformed by following Jesus.  

That’s why following Paul is so hard.

As we follow after Paul … our faith isn’t confirmed … our faith is challenged.

Has your life been transformed in such a way that others notice?

Have you found a Mars Hill where you can share your story?

I told you following Paul would be a challenge …

Paintings tell a story

Ever have that feeling you that you’ve been someplace before and yet you know you have never been there?

That was today as we visited Meteroa. An UNESCO World Heritage Site and an incredible view to take in … and yet there was something familiar about the views. Oh yeah … I’ve seen it on the big screen. James Bond For Your Eyes Only. Today was more than an image on the screen it was real, big, and 3D.

This area at one time had over 30 Monasteries perched on the cliffs. Today that are but a few.

When Christianity became the religion of the Roman Empire and persecution ended the monastic movement took off. Fearing that people would forget the cost of following Christ now that the threat of death was gone, the monastic retreated from the world foregoing all earthly pleasures so that people would be reminded of the cost of following Christ.

One of the Monasteries (actually a Convent) continues to function and we were able to visit. Aside of the views from high atop the rock cliffs … the views inside were amazing as well.

The chapels are ordained with the painted stories of the Bible and the life of Christ. Another Chapel was ordained with the story of a number of Martyrs. The interesting part was that the chapel while telling the story of so many that gave their lives because of their faith had empty spaces still on the wall. The reason for the empty space was the belief that not all the stories had yet happened that would need to be told. An incredible reminder that our faith is worth living, and yet it is also worth dying for the faith as well. And there are those that believe that there are still saintly stories to be told.

We wrapped up our day learning more about the art of telling stories.

Icons have long been a part of story telling in the Orthodox Church. Each Icon tells a story and have been around for centuries. The original icons were hand painted and remain in ancient churches, museums, or private collections. Reproductions can be purchased nearly every where.

We actually visited a family business where the old techniques are used to produce new original copies.

Each icon is handcrafted from the wood carving, to the canvas, to the painting (or icongraphy). This is truly a family business and an art form.

It was a blessing to see the family devotion to the craft and their faith and love for the works they produce.

Covid has been hard on this unique family business, so we are did are part to help them out. Be on the lookout for some new art work to help tell the story of faith coming to a Pastor’s office near you.

Without story faith dies. Today we experienced story in a little understood world of icon painting and ornate chapel paintings. Both very different from our culture in American Christianity. I’m not suggesting we redecorate the ceiling of our churches, but perhaps we could do a better job of our telling our stories of faith.

What story could we paint with your faith?

Footsteps of Paul

The book of Acts is the story and history of the early church. It is easy to skip over the history in the book and simply jump to the letters of the Apostles. But when history comes to life … it’s hard to ignore.

Paul arrived by boat to Europe in this ancient port.

He arrived in Phillipi and launched the first church in Europe. He clearly loved these people. He likely was familiar with the theatre … walked the streets that are still here … spoke from the speakers chair … and amazingly all the places are here with the inscriptions in stone.

Outside the gates of the city, Paul met and baptized Lydia and her family. The church he loved started with Lydia (a wealthy merchant), a slave girl that was used by her masters, and the jailer who feared for his life after Paul and Silas were freed from their chains by a miracle. What a group to start a church with … in shadows of this place is the acropolis of Phillipi looking out over this sacred place.

In Thessalonica Paul was familiar with the place below. He was actually here … you can read it about in the story of Jason from Acts 17. This was part of the ancient forum and marketplace.

This is where it gets interesting. For centuries people questioned the authenticity of Luke’s account in Acts. Luke uses the term Politarch in reference to the rules and officials. Problem is Luke is the only one to use the term. It was found no where else in history. The belief by many was that Luke made up the word and the stories. Therefore the Bible cannot be believed. This was the story until the late 1800s when the stone below was discovered. Numerous other inscriptions verifying Luke’s account have since been found.

Imagine that …. history can verify the truth the Bible. Beware doubters … stones don’t lie!

By the way … by the descriptions of Paul this statue reveals the reality of Paul’s appearance. He certainly won people over with his words. Appearance was not in his favor

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A couple of additional observations

Paul must have been fascinated by the beauty of everything. Marble was in abundance and that meant everything was built with marble — even the sewers. Value is something we give to things … sometimes we forget about the value of that which have and place to much value on that which we don’t.

Fall in Greece looks alot like Indiana