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"These people got together and asked him to make a public presentation over at the Areopagus, where things were a little quieter. They said, 'This is a new one on us. We've never heard anything quite like it. Where did you come up with this anyway? Explain it so we can understand.' Downtown Areopagus was a great place for gossip. There were always people hanging around, natives and tourists alike, waiting for the latest titbit on most anything.
"So Paul took his stand in the open space at the Areopagus and laid it out for them.’It is plain to see that you Athenians take your religion seriously. When I arrived here the other day, I was fascinated with all the shrines I came across. And then I found one inscribed, TO THE GOD NOBODY KNOWS. I'm here to introduce you to this God so you can worship intelligently, know who you're dealing with.'" Acts 17:19-23 (The Message).
Masterful stroke! We can learn a lot from Paul's approach to people.
His evangelistic style was faultless. He was no Bible-basher; he began where people were. In a letter to one of the churches he explained his method. 'I have become all things to all people.' It would have been useless talking to the intelligentsia in Athens about Abraham or the exodus from Egypt. It would have meant nothing to them. But to begin with their shrines and images was right on target. It was something they understood and were into in their everyday lives.
Paul recognised that they were a religious people. There were shrines and idols everywhere. They meant that they acknowledged the need to worship something or someone greater than themselves. They even realised that out there somewhere was a God they did not know. In their ignorance, they added Him to their collection of man-made deities.
Paul was astute enough to realise that this was the gap he needed to get his message across -- his point of contact with them. Since they already honoured this UNKOWN GOD in their way by making an altar to Him, he would fill them in on the details of who He was and what He had done to make contact with them and to reveal Himself to them.
Paul did it in such an inoffensive way that he was able to arouse their interest and not their antagonism. Once the door was open, he had carte blanche to share God's story, to give them their opportunity to believe it or not to believe it.
Unfortunately, we live in a world where the story of Jesus is relatively well known in many places, but so distorted by the additions of religion or the misrepresentation of those who have embraced the theory but don't practise it that it no longer looks anything like He intended it to be.
What is our role in spreading His story to the world? We need to shed all the religious baggage the church has gathered over the centuries and get back to who Jesus is and what He called us to do. His invitation remains unchanged and is deceptively simple: 'Follow me.'
Like Paul, we need to live with our ear close to His heart -- learning to listen and obey. If we do that, we will also recognise those 'light bulb' moments when the Spirit whispers wisdom into our minds to grab the opportunity that will crack open the hardest heart and shine His light into the darkness.
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