Front Porch of Culture

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Read Acts 5:12-14

Solomon’s Colannade or Porch 

For the most part, the concept of a front porch has become obsolete in our culture.  You can certainly still find them in some of the older cities in the U.S.  But as I’ve traveled nationally I noticed that most newer home developments are devoid of front porches.

I grew up in an older part of the U.S. where front porches abounded.  Memories of warm summer nights, slapping our arms because of mosquitos, someone plucking on a guitar, sipping lemonade and, of course, hearing the latest neighborhood juicy gossip. 

Front porches were warm, inviting, a place of gathering, a safe place, a location that provided a sense of community. 

Let’s dig around the fertile soil of the Old Testament:

Biblical history tells us of an important porch in culture in the days of the Old and New Testaments.  The place?  Solomon’s porch.  As pictured above, it is a specific location on the Temple Mount where “all the believers used to meet together”.

Originally, it was built as a place of judgment.  No doubt it was the gathering place for the Sadducees and Phariesees who would dole out their usual harsh opinions and judgments.

Interestingly, we find that Jesus spent time there (John 10:22-24) revealing truth about Himself to those who were serious inquirers rather than doling out harsh opinions.

By the time the New Testament was written, it was a key place that the followers of Jesus gathered to have fellowship, enjoy a sense of community, a unique working of God in their midst and, by nature of their unity, they were impacting their culture.  Notice it says in Acts 5:14 “more and more people believed…”

So, how do these insights apply to your situation?

On a personal level:

  • Is your life “inviting” to those without Jesus?  In other words, are they attracted to Him because of your warm, winsome witness or do they view you as an obnoxious, holy man or woman?
  • Do you invite God-led, healthy discussions with those around you? (Check out I Peter 3:15)

On a corporate level:

  • Think about your small group, your church, ministry or whatever other community you might be in as a believer.  Do those without Jesus see a reason to inquire about God’s impact in your life?
  • Does your group function as a “holy huddle” or are you willing to invite the world into your group so that they can see Jesus modeled up close and personal.

Do we reflect the image of an inviting “Front Porch” or a “No Trespassing Sign”?

 

Starbuck’s of the New Testament

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Read Acts 17:16-34

 The Areopagus (Mars Hill) in Athens, Greece

I’m fascinated by culture-observers (for the most part).  Some culture-observers irritate me, however, because they seem to focus only on outward circumstances, the surfacy points of reference – the latest fashion, phone, trend of this, that or the other.

Digging around the fertile soil of the ancient land and writings:

I was captivated some time ago by a culture-observer named Paul.  You may know him better as the Apostle Paul.  Yeah, the guy in the Bible who “went toward the light” and got knocked on his kiester (and that was a good thing!).

During his journeys he was dropped off for a short season in Athens, Greece.  Been there lately?  Beautiful city not far from the Mediterranean, favorite tourist haunt, birthplace of the Olympics.  You know the place.

Paul was greatly distressed in his spirit as he did a walkabout.  It was recorded that he “observed” Athens with all of its idols, shrines and even a statue to An Unknown God.  This word “observe” could also be translated – examine, look closely, study.  Paul quickly became a student of the Athenian culture and all of its trappings, subtleties and nuances.  His heart became broken for them.

Next thing he knew, he found himself at the Areopagus.  What in the world is an Areopagus?  Sounds like an extinct dinosaur.  Nope.  Let’s let the Bible describe what it was – “Now all the Athenians and strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new” (Acts 17:21).  Humph?  Sound familiar?

Paul used his observations as “springboards” of discussion and tied together many God-thoughts and insights, delivering them to the culture influencers.  He wanted to be a messenger of hope. Notice that some believed, some mocked and some said they wanted to talk further. 

Places of cultural influence.  That is how I’d describe many of our local Starbuck’s, Seattle’s Best or Caribou or whatever your local expression of a coffee shop would be.  Next time you’re at your local coffee shop, look closely and observe the types of conversation and communication taking place.

My point?  These meeting places, similar to the Areopagus, have become some of our key points of influence in culture today.

 Application to your situation in life?

  • Take time to slow down and observe your surroundings.
  • Take time to see the people and their hearts, not just a sea of faces.
  • Allow God to move your heart in the way His heart is moved for our world!
  • Be intentional about intersecting at key points in your culture.
  • Ask God to give you some “springboard” ideas with which to initiate a discussion that could lead to spiritual things.
  • Bathe every day in prayer and ask God to help you be sensitive so as to be a life-giver to those who need to know The Way, The Truth and The Life. (John 14:6)

The culture needs to know and see the “grounds” of our faith!

“Staying in Step…”

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Read Psalm 37, esp. vs. 23

I can’t say that I always appreciated my Jewish upbringing.  But, ever since I became a follower of Jesus understanding the Hebraic backdrop of Scripture has been monumental in my life.  Not only did Jesus use practical object lessons in nature, etc. but He also spoke of things in context of the Old Testament backdrop so that listeners would get it.

Let’s dig around the fertile soil of the Old Testament:

If you ever have an opportunity while in Israel to tour the Old City, make sure you get to the Southern Steps of the Temple Mount.  It actually is one of the rare locations where we can say literally that Jesus walked there.  While a good portion of First Century Jerusalem is well underground, such is not the case with the Southern Steps.  They’ve been wonderfully preserved since the First Century.

On one of our trips to Israel we had been taking a break from some excellent but intense teaching regarding Jesus’ ministry around the Temple area when our tour guide through in a nugget for free!

He asked us to notice that the steps leading up to the wall at the Southern Steps were actually irregular in structure.  Most of us are used to steps that are all the same length, height and width. Not so, these steps.  He pointed out from Jewish culture that some are a wider steps than others.  Some are thinner than others.

What was the point?  The steps were constructed in such a way that as worshipper ascended to the Temple Mount they would have to pay attention to where they were stepping.  There are fifteen wide steps out of the total and some suggest that they may have been one of the locations where pilgrims sang the fifteen Psalms of Ascent (120-34) as they went up to worship.

Each step would keep them in the rhythm of the Psalm.  This process would literally force them to keep their focus on the lyrics of the psalms and thus, stay in step with God’s truth.

So, how does this apply to your situation right now?

  • The main reason worshippers could simultaneously walk the steps and sing the Psalms is because they had committed them to memory.  The lyrics became part of their life.  How are we doing with meditating on the Word and even memorizing it?  Is the Word becoming part of our life?  (I’m asking myself the same question.  Boy, am I on the hotseat.)
  • God has a perfect rhythm for our life.  He doesn’t want us to get ahead, yet He doesn’t want us to lag behind – He wants us to keep in step with Him.
  • Dare I say that this rhythm is different for each person?  Maybe this is where we get the idea, “That person is marching to the beat of a different drummer”.  That’s not always bad.  In fact, it could be very liberating to discover your own rhythm with God and not worry what someone else’s rhythm is like.

As you trust Him, stay in step with God’s plan for YOU!

A Pressing Engagement

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(Read Matt. 26:36-44)

 

I was totally awe-struck the first time I entered the beautiful garden area.  A cool breeze was blowing through the olive trees, which in some cases, are 1000-1500 years old.  A holy silence ran through the area.  I found it hard to believe that this place, The Garden of Gethsemane, was the place where Jesus felt more fully the weight of the world on His shoulders.

I so often forget the details of the account.  Not once, not twice but three times Jesus pleaded with the Father about letting the cup pass from Him.  The cup referred to is what we now call the Cup of Wrath. 

How could a place of such peace at one time in history function as the place of the most anguish one man will ever feel in the history of the world? 

How striking that Jesus would come to this place of all places.  You see, Gethsemane literally translated means, “a place for pressing oils”.  Now, what in the world would an oil press have to do with what our Messiah, Jesus, went through on that most horrific night?

Talk about truth from the rich, fertile soil of the Old Testament

Olive trees, olives, olive oil – these all form the backbone of life in Ancient Israel.  From the Olive trees are derived food, oil for lamps, wood for building, anointing of kings.  The list goes on.  A pretty important commodity in Israel.

What’s fascinating is the process from which the oil is derived.  Bunches of olives are place in a circular, carved out stone.  A very heavy circular stone is placed on top of the olives and this stone is pushed around the main stone vat by a donkey.  Round and round the crushing goes. 

Just when you think you are finished, the donkey goes around again, and perhaps, again and again.  The goal was to literally squeeze every last drop out of the olives, since they were in such high demand.  (Maxwell House coffee has nothing on this!)

Each time Jesus goes to the Father to pray, it’s like that much more is being pressed out of Jesus.  He was pouring out His soul on behalf of mankind.  He goes back the second time and that much more is squeezed out.  He goes back for yet a third time and “every last drop” is squeezed out of Jesus before He is arrested.

I can’t begin to imagine the anguish as Jesus was literally submitting Himself to the Oil Press of Sin and Judgment.  He had the cross to go yet. But I believe this was the point in the process where Jesus was literally emptied out so that He could more fully take on the role of substitute, sin-bearer, the Lamb led to slaughter.

Are you facing your own “pressing engagement”?  Are you finding yourself in a situation where it feels like your very life is being squeezed out of you?  Perhaps you are finding yourself at your own Garden of Gethsemane experience.

How can we apply this to our situation right now?

  • Thankfully, God is a big God and He can handle any and every question we throw His way.  He loves us and wants us to be honest with Him.
  • He knows that the more He empties me of myself, the more He can fill my life.  Reminds me of John the Baptist’s quote – “I must decrease…He must increase”.
  • What ever, and I mean, what ever you and I face in life, we must remind ourselves that Jesus is our High Priest who can sympathize with every pain we face.  He’s been there!

While God is pressing on us, He is also impressing in us!