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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Markoffaith, Mark of Faith, mrmarkmcdonald

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Does the Good News sound like good news in your public speaking?

When presenting the gospel to people in your ministry setting does it sound like good news? Sometimes as christians we get so used to our christian language that we present the gospel as it was presented to us, not realising that culture and language has changed. Recently I heard an evangelist say that is so hard these days to get people to understand how sinful they are and much they need a saviour. Whilst this is the heart of the gospel perhaps it is an outdated style, it certainly doesn’t sound like good news to me.

Our culture has shifted and we are no longer living in a christian society. The phrases and language that used to make sense to christians no longer has the same meaning in our society today. The self help industry doesn’t promote sinfulness and our inability to help ourselves, it promotes self help and your ability to work yourself out of any situation. The 24 hour news cycle promotes a constant flow of negative news and stories or horrific tragedy all the time. Perhaps people don’t need more negative news such as “you’re a sinner”, but that need some good news such the God who created the universe loves you personally.

For example Judah Smith, the pastor of City Church in Seattle, presents and speaks in a way that seems to captivate a younger audience and even the hipsters. When you listen to him he is constantly talking about Jesus yet it is hopeful, positive and motivating. Recently at a conference Judah Smith stated that we have to preach the gospel in a way that sounds like good news to an audience who doesn’t understand “christianese”.

As ministry leaders we have to be aware of the trends in language and culture so that we can speak into it. We need to communicate the Good News in ways that people understand. It is very clear in the New Testament, start in 1 Corinthians 1-2, that the gospel can make sense to everyone; you shouldn’t need a theology degree to understand it. So my suggestion is that the next time you have to give a talk, a keynote or a sermon ask yourself these three questions:

  1. Would a non-Christian think this is good news? Even if you are speaking to a room full of christians we need to constantly practice speaking in a way that non Christians will understand. This will also train our audience to invite non Christian friends because they can trust that you will speak to them.
  2. Is there a sense of hope? Some ministry leaders are technically correct with their theology but there doesn’t seem to be any hope in their message. You can’t fault their theology but people don’t put into practice that theology because there doesn’t seem to be any hope. Being constantly reminded of our sinfulness doesn’t teach us to be new creations in Christ or that we can do anything because Christ strengthens us (Phil 4:13).
  3. Have I motivated people to want to know more? Some sermons leave people feeling “if that is what christians are like I don’t want it”. You need to motivate the audience to find out more about Jesus and the Gospel. Perhaps you can share your passion for the gospel as a way of motivating them to learn more. Perhaps you need to be upbeat and positive rather than factually correct. Perhaps you need to add in life based examples rather than examples from Christian history.

A word of warning – the bible is very clear that we are not to “tickle the ear” of others when we present the gospel. Whilst the Gospel should sound like good news to those who hear it, we still need to present the truth of gospel and not some feel good pop psychology. No matter what language we use, the gospel is going to be difficult for some people to hear because it challenges then out of their comfort zone.

Presenting the Good News is not easy in a world with so many conflicting messages. However if we are truly going to make an impact in your ministry, you need the Good News to sound like good news to an audience who doesn’t understand all the christian buzz words and images. Try to think through your language and adapt it to the community and setting that you’re ministering into.

Please leave a comment on how you have done this in your ministry setting.

markoffaith, Mark of Faith, mrmarkmcdonald, Mark McDonald

Does preaching the gospel really work?

At a ministry conference I heard the pastor of a large and growing church plant say that their church is growing because they “preach the gospel”. Whilst this is true, they do present a strong gospel message, they have a lot else going for them. They are very trendy, they have good marketing, contemporary worship, great discipleship programs and a committed leadership team. Simply saying that a church is growing because they “preach the gospel” is being a bit simplistic.

Consider the not so subtle message behind this statement; it is basically saying “everyone else isn’t growing because they don’t preach the gospel”. Yet we all know churches and ministries that present the gospel message that aren’t fast growing churches. Preaching the gospel may not result in a large crowd.

In my theology studies I was looking into the connection between human nature and the Gospel. The interesting finding was that whilst the Gospel should inform our human nature in reality our human nature can determine the impact of the Gospel in our churches. Let me highlight it with a simple statement from a friend:

“every week at our young adult service we would hear the gospel presented but we were so busy looking for a partner that we didn’t take it in”.

We need to understand human nature and the desires of our heart to be effective in ministry. If we don’t address human nature then the Gospel isn’t as effective as it could be in our ministries or churches. Consider these examples:

  • Youth Ministry – young people have a human desire to belong and to connect with others. If we don’t meet their need to belong then they won’t hang around long enough to understand the gospel.
  • Young Adult Ministry – young adults have a human desire to find a meaning and purpose for their life. If we present the gospel without connecting it to this desire for a purpose then it will wash over them.
  • Church Systems – Andy Stanley says that you can preach anything you like but the systems in your church influence behaviour. The systems in your church are the systems you put in place to response to human behaviour, things like systems for welcoming newcomers, communication systems, discipleship systems etc. Does your church have systems that are informed by the gospel but are aware of human nature?

Of course preaching the gospel really works. It is the main thing that we should be doing in our churches and ministries. Yet if we think that it is the only thing we need to focus on then we are being to simplistic. Human nature will naturally default to fulfilling its own desires. We have to be intentional at using the gospel to shape all areas of our ministry not just our preaching and teaching sessions.

Please leave a comment below

P.S. Preaching the Gospel is christian language for talking about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  It is presenting the saving work of Christ to his followers and non christians.

3 steps of an engaging presentation

What does a scenic flight in an aeroplane have to do with presentation skills?  If you reflect on the three stages of giving a presentation, there are a lot of similarities to an aeroplane flight.  There is usually a starting point to any flight the same as there is always an introduction to any talk, speech or presentation.  There are usually a couple of points of interest in any scenic flight, and in any presentation there should be a few points of interest too.  Every scenic flight must come to an end as should a good presentation.

Have you ever heard a talk that never really grabbed your attention?  Perhaps the introduction never got off the ground.  Or perhaps you have heard a talk or speech that went on and on and on; they didn’t know how to “land it”.  So here are three simple tips for giving a great presentation in your ministry setting using the image of an aeroplane flight:

1. The Take off:  When an aeroplane is getting ready to take off it uses the most amount of energy of the entire flight.  When you begin your presentation you will have to use a lot of energy to get the attention of the audience.  If you loose people in the take off you may not get them back, but they are stuck listening to you.  Even if you know your topic really well, you must give some thought to your introduction.

How you can kick off your presentation?

2.  Cruising: when an aeroplane gets into the air it aims for its cruising altitude and then turns down the engines to cruising speed.  An aeroplane doesn’t fly at full speed for the entire flight but cruises at an efficient speed.  In the cruising part of your presentation you might have to come off the energy level a little.  People can’t keep their energy up for the entire presentation so adapt the pace in the middle section.  Just like an aeroplane flight there are usually only two or three points of interest.  In your middle section don’t confuse people with 10 or 15 key points.  You want two or three key points that get you to your destination but add interest along the way.

What are the 2 or 3 key points of your presentation?

3. The Landing:  when an aeroplane takes off it knows where it is going to land.  A long “holding pattern” before landing can be hard for the passengers.  When you are giving a presentation you must know how you are going to land or finish before you begin.  What is your final destination, what is you final point?  Keeping the audience wondering when you are going to finish is not a good idea.

How are you going to finish your presentation?

These are three really simple stages to any presentation.  There is one more thought to add using the aeroplane analogy:
How many planes can a pilot fly at once? 
A pilot can only fly one plane at any given time.  So too you should have one only one key theme each time you present.  Some people will get up and talk for the allotted time, packing in as many themes and topics as they can.  Apart from confusing the audience, each theme is undervalued because it is not explored properly.
So the next time you are giving a presentation, preaching at church, giving a talk to young people or sharing the vision for your ministry remember the key stages:
  • fly one plane (theme)
  • give energy to the take off (introduction)
  • have 2 or 3 points of interest while cruising (body) and
  • nail the landing (conclusion)

markoffaith, MarkofFaith, Mark of Faith, mark of faith, mrmarkmcdonald, Mark McDonald, markoffaith.net

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.

Never use “and finally” unless you are finishing

Have you ever been listening to a long presentation and heard the magic phrase “and finally” which you thought meant they were finishing but they spoke for another 10 minutes?  Recently a speaker who was really boring used the phrase “and finally …” and I wanted to yell out “it’s about time”.  But some people use the term “and finally …” to state their last main point before they begin their 10 minute conclusion.  In my mind if you use the phrase “and finally” I expect you to be done in 2 minutes.

The trick that many speakers don’t understand is that there are some phrases that mean one thing to a presenter and mean something different to a listener.  A presenter might use the phrase “and finally” to sum up their argument but it is often perceived by the listener to mean “I am finishing up”.  If you use this phrase then you have about 1-2 minutes to finish or you will lose your audience.

So here are a few phrases that should only be used in the last 2 minutes of a presentation:

  • And finally
  • To finish up
  • I will finish with this
  • To wrap up
  • So next week
  • The worship team may come up

“My last point” is a grey area because I think it is the same as those terms listed above.  If you have four points use the word “four” to describe the fourth point as the phrase “my last point” implies you are in your conclusion.

So why is this important?  Because people remember your conclusion if it is done well and they switch off if it is done poorly.  You want to drive home your message in your conclusion with what the audience should do next; so it isn’t helpful for the audience to switch off.  If a speaker goes on for too long then the listener is trying to predict when the speaker will finish rather than listening to the message.

So finally work on your transitions so you don’t use these ending phrases midway through your presentation.