Biblical Landscapes – Sea of Galilee

Sometimes we read our bible and we skim over the geographical details. If we are not familiar with the biblical landscapes then we can over look some of the details that help us understand the biblical narrative. Some of the gospel stories take place around the Sea of Galilee, a body of water in the north of Israel. From the fresh waters of the Sea of Galilee flows the Jordon River which flows south, past the baptismal spot of Jesus, into the Dead Sea which is 33% salt.

In understanding the significant landscapes of northern Israel at the time of Jesus, we need to understand that there are two sides to the Sea of Galilee:

  1. The Jewish side – the people known as Galileans are the Jewish people that live on the western side of the sea. Their towns were adapted to their Jewish culture with synagogues and ritual cleansing baths. The farming and work practices on this side allowed the people to follow the jewish law and cultural practices. Many of the jewish people stayed in their area of Galilee to avoid the unclean habits of non jewish towns and cities. The Jews also reduced their payment of taxes to Rome if they did not cross the borders into the other regions.
  2. The other side – many other people lived and worked around the Sea of Galilee that were not practicing Jews. There were some hellenized or secular jews living in these towns The towns on the other side of the sea were formed around roman culture and roman styles of building. The towns often had pagan temples, secular bath houses, amphitheatres and cultural buildings.

In the gospels we read stories where Jesus got into a boat and traveled to the other side. Perhaps we might have over looked this geographical detail in the past. If we understand that this also means Jesus is taking the disciples into gentile areas then perhaps there is deeper meaning to the travel log given by the Gospel writers.

For example in Matthew 8 and Mark 5 we hear that Jesus is talking to teachers of the law, this places Jesus in the Jewish areas of Galilee. Jesus heals sick people here showing that He has command over sickness. Jesus and the disciples then cross the Sea of Galilee in a boat. On the journey across Jesus calms the storm, showing that He has command over the elements of nature. Final Jesus arrives on the other side.

When we read the narrative that takes place on the other side, we might notice that this is a pig farming area which indicates it is a gentile area. In the Matthew account the people of the region (gentiles) are not impressed by the loss of their pigs and force Jesus to leave their region. This was perhaps a good learning opportunity for the disciples to have an encounter with non-jewish region. In the gospel of Mark the reaction is a little different because the man who was healed goes back to “his people” and shares the good news in the Decapolis, a region of 10 roman cities. Mark states that all the people were amazed; gentiles were amazed at the work of Jesus.

So why did Jesus cross over to “the other side”? Maybe Jesus just wanted to go for a sail and he just happened to land on the other side. It is more likely that Jesus saw this as a training opportunity for the disciples. Perhaps Jesus knew that the good news would go to all the nations and therefore he needed to form the disciples for cross-cultural ministry while he was still with them.

In our world today there are secular forces that would love to push the church back into its shell, to keep the church on its side. The temptation for Christians is to stay out of the public and stay on our side of the public debate. Yet Jesus didn’t just cross over to the gentile areas, he sent the disciples out to the ends of the earth to make disciples of the whole world. Are we prepared to go to the other side to spread the good news? I wonder what the other side looks like in your work and ministry setting.

My hope is that this insight into the biblical landscape might help you take notice of other geographical details in the biblical narrative. Even if you need to read your bible with a map in your hand, there is often one in the back of the bible, hopefully you will gain new insights into the stories by locating them in the Jewish or gentile areas.

Please leave a comment.

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Bible reading plan for parent with little kids – Part 2

In a previous post about a bible reading plan for parents with little kids I suggested how you might find 20 minutes in your day for spiritual reading.  The post was so popular that I thought I should add a few quick thoughts about what parts of the bible to read first.  Whilst any spiritual reading is worthwhile, it is always important to come back to God’s word in the bible.  So here are four thoughts about where to begin your bible reading:

  1. The Gospel of Luke:  it is great to get into the life and ministry of Jesus.  Many of the stories will be familiar to you but often we don’t read the gospels “from cover to cover” so we miss the connections and how the stories unfold an image of Jesus.  Also many scholars see the Gospel of Luke as Act 1, see the next suggestion.
  2. Acts of the Apostles:  this is the unfolding story of the early Church and it reads like a narrative so it is a bit of a page turner.  The continuing story will help you pick up the theme each night as you come back to the text.
  3. Psalms: many of the Psalms are like the mind of a parent; one day is great, the next day is difficult.  Hearing David praise God in one verse and lament that God is nowhere in another verse might resonate with you.
  4. Proverbs:  these are one or two lines of wisdom that might hit the mark with you.  Instead of reading chapters of text this is one book to stew over, maybe read four or five proverbs and let one speak to you.

One style of bible reading is to get through as much as you can in 20 minutes.  Another style of reading is to read one section or one chapter at a time.  A third method is to read sentences and reflect on the text as you go; sometimes you might take 20 minutes to read one paragraph.

Whilst all of the bible is God’s inspired word, the reality is that some passages are harder to understand than others.  There are passages which have great significance to the overall theme of the bible but are hard to capture in just 20 minutes in your day.  As a parent you have a lot going around in your mind so you want to read something that encourages your rather than make you feel like you can’t understand texts.  Remember that many bible scholars struggle to understand some texts and spent years in research so go easy on yourself.  So here are four areas to be cautious of:

  1. Numbers – parts of it explain how Israel became a nation during the Exodus but there are huge sections that describe details and numbers.  Perhaps read the narrative but skip the details and numbers.
  2. Leviticus – parts of the book establish the laws for the new nation of Israel during the exodus and may be hard to understand without a bible commentary so save that for another season in life.
  3. Romans – even St Peter said that some of Paul’s letters were difficult to understand.  You might find yourself reading Romans and not understanding a single paragraph, so again save that for a different season in life where you have more time to digest the text.
  4. Revelations – the imagery may be interesting but this is another book that needs a bible commentary and not suitable to sitting in the doorway of your child’s bedroom.

I hope this has been a helpful addition to the topic of spiritual reading for parents with little children.

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A Bible reading plan for Parents with little kids

Parents – what if I told you that you could find 20 minutes in your busy schedule each day to read the Bible?  You would most likely say that you are too busy running around being a parent to have 20 minutes for “quiet time”.  Whilst most parents of little kids find it hard to get quiet time, they need it to keep them sane.  So what if there were 20 minutes within your parenting time where you could read the bible or any other spiritual reading?

When I was a young parent I found it frustrating putting my boys to bed each night. It would take almost an hour as I put them in bed, they got out, I put them back etc etc.  Then I learned a simple technique from the SuperNanny that involved sitting in the room whilst they were in bed without giving the child direct eye contact.  Her suggestion was based on the thought that the child is seeking comfort and gets security from knowing their parent is in the room.  Once you establish that you are not there to interact with them in a playful way, the child will go to sleep.  Whilst it doesn’t work perfectly I did get results from this technique.

What I found was that my boys would stay in bed whilst I was in the room but get out if I left the room.  If I stayed in the room for too long would get bored with not looking at them so I started reading a book to fill in time.  After a few months I developed a pattern where I spent about 10 minutes putting them to bed then the next 20 minutes reading a book on the floor in the doorway.  This is where you find your 20 minutes to read your bible, read some spiritual classics or any other material you want.  In my case I worked my way through Visioneering by Andy Stanley.  Some nights I found myself sitting in the room long after the boys were asleep as I wanted to finish the next chapter of a book.

My encouragement to all the parents of young children is to use this technique to accomplish two things:

  1. Spiritual reading – if you think about how much spiritual reading you can get through in just 20 minutes a night it is a lot.  You will start to look forward to bed time each night because you get into the next chapter of your book.
  2. Sanity – instead of becoming frustrated with your children’s bed time, which every parent feels, you might have a way of bringing comfort to your child by being close to them while doing a little something to keep you in “adult land”.

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Eye witness proof of Jesus

People often ask about the proof about the existence of Jesus, did you know that we have eye witness testimony of the existence of Jesus?  Yet why do so many people base their views on Jesus from writers from a different millennium?  Do they have factual evidence to reject the testimony of eye witnesses?  What are the claims of eye witness testimony in Scripture?

On Sunday night here in Melbourne, Channel Nine aired a television drama called “Howz that!”  It is a re-creation of the events surrounding the 1970’s split between the Australia Cricket Board and the cricket players, leading to the creation of World Series Cricket.  The interesting thing about the drama was the actors were portraying real people and their version of events.  In the week after the show aired most of the media were asking the real people about their version of events.  Whilst the show was exciting to viewers, nothing beats the testimony of a person who was actually there.

This got me thinking about the value of eye witness testimony to prove what happened at certain events.  At the same time I was reviewing commentary of 1 John and realised the weight of eye witness testimony in the Epistle.  So what is the eye witness testimony in the bible:

  • The Epistle of 1 John claims to be from an eye witness of the life and ministry of Jesus.  In the Epistle it claims that Jesus was the Son of God and really died on the Cross as an atoning sacrifice for sin.
  • The Second Letter of Peter, 2 Peter, also claims to be an eye witness to the life and ministry of Jesus.  Peter also claims to have seen and read the writings of Paul, and found them difficult to understand.  See 2 Peter 3:15-16.
  • The Gospel of Luke claims eye witness testimony of life and ministry of Jesus.  The author, Luke, also claims eye witness testimony of the life and ministry of Paul in the Acts of the Apostles.

Some modern writers claim that the Old Testimony prophesies about Jesus are so vague that they could mean anything.  Whilst I disagree with this perspective it still doesn’t change the fact that there are at least three written eye witness accounts of Jesus.  We also know that  these writings have been tested over the centuries and found to be as legitimate as any document from that period.  If you want more on this see the work of John Dickson from the Centre of Public Christianity.

So it really comes down to the question “why do people reject the eye witness testimony of Jesus and get their understanding of Jesus from a 20th Century atheist?”  We have to wonder if it is because the message of Jesus is too confronting for them.  Perhaps the message of Jesus demands too much change in the way these people live their life.  Just because a person don’t like a message doesn’t make it untrue.

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3 Questions to ask when preaching to teens

This is guest post by Michael Angelo Crisafio.  Michael speaks to teenagers every week through school retreats, presenting at Impact Leadership and through preaching at Grace Unlimited.   You can follow Michael on Twitter.  If you would like to write a guest post please contact Mark McDonald.

I believe the quality of the things that you do is going to largely depend on the quality of questions you ask yourself.

When it comes to preaching to youth and in particularly school aged teenagers, it’s really going to be like herding cats if you are not going to ask the Holy Spirit to be with you daily.

In my time this year speaking to thousands of kids in schools all over Australia both in secular capacity, teaching out of bible based leadership principles or directly as a school based retreats speaker and facilitator there are some questions that I always ask myself when I preach.

  1. Who are you? your identity is largely linked to the quality of what you will delivering. are you a person of prayer? are you a person of action. Living out the Gospel is just as important as knowing the Gospel and when you can start seeing that in your own life others will see it too.
  2. What’s your story? Your preaching will come alive when it’s personal; when it’s a story only you can tell.  Teens love stories! You don’t have to look far to see what you’re competing with the likes of Twilight and 140 characters of conversation. It’s said that humour is a universal language and it’s always good to tell stories which bring out passion and humour; focus on things that people can all agree on – like sacrificial love.
  3. What does the bible have to say about it? The mysteries of the bible are as real and true and powerful today as they were 2000 years ago. Ancient rabbis talked of it like an any-sided gem, that when you hold up to the light a unique reflection is cast.  Teens want to know that the bible is relevant; as a matter of fact I make it my personal responsibility to allow people to see that connection as much as possible. If you don’t tell them, then the trash magazines, their friends or social media will tell them.

Please leave a comment about the tips you have for preaching to teens.

Are there “Flashbacks” in the Bible?

Sometime when people want to be critical of the bible they point to passages in the bible that they call “errors”.  An issue that some critics raise are what they perceive as chronological errors.  Some critics look at stories that are out of chronological sequence as a proof that the bible is made up.  Yet if we look at modern day film making, we may have a clue to why some passages in the bible seem out of chronological order.

For example in Judges 1:1 we read that Joshua died, yet in Judges 2:6 we read that Joshua is still alive sending out the nations then dies again.  Did the author get it wrong? Is this a chronological error?  Is this a different Joshua?  In Genesis 10 we read that after the flood, people filled the earth yet in Genesis 11 all the people are back in the one place, is this right?

It seems that some people look at these literary tools as “errors” in the bible but when it happens in modern movies we all call these “flashbacks”.  Whilst I use this term here I have to be careful because the ancient writers didn’t use the term “flashbacks”.  However if you want to explain some literary tools of the bible in terms that young people might understand then you can suggest the parallel to flash backs in modern movies.

For example in the movie Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy we see one character go into an optometrist to get a new pair of glasses.  Whilst the scene is quiet boring and might seem unimportant, the film maker uses the two different set of eyewear to show different periods of time in flashbacks.  When the character is wearing the old set of glasses the audience knows it is a flashback without the date having to appear on the screen.

So flashback to the example in Judges, the author is reminding the reader that Joshua sent out the nations to fill Canaan because it explains the problems Israel faced in chapter 1 and the rest of the book.  So Judges 2:6-8 is like a mini flashback to remind the reader of an important point for interpreting the future chapters.

Likewise with the earlier reference to Genesis 10 and 11.  In Genesis 10 the author is showing what happened after the flood involving Noah and so finishes the narrative with the people filling all the earth, which would have taken some time.  In Genesis 11 the author has a flashback account to explain why the people dispersed rather than stay together in the one place.  This is not a chronological error in the bible, simply a literary tool that the author uses to tell compelling accounts of God and God’s people.

What other “flashbacks” can you see in the Bible?  Leave a comment.