6-Week Series: Against All Odds


Summary: Discerning what God’s will and direction is for our lives.

Iliff and Saltillo United Methodist

June 30, 2002

“Unfolding Deck Chairs”

Acts 17:22-34

INTRODUCTION: In a “Peanuts” strip, Charlie Brown and Lucy were discussing theology. Lucy said, “On the great cruise ship of life, some people take their deck chairs to the bow. And some people take their deck chairs to the stern. Where do you put your deck chair, Charlie Brown?”

Charlie replied, “Lucy, I can’t even get my deck chair unfolded.”

What she is saying describes the human condition. We are all passengers on “the great cruise ship of life” moving from the stern where we strain our eyes over the trackless ocean for some sign of where we’ve already been in our life and to the bow where we try to peer into the empty distance ahead in hope of discovering where we are going in the future. Whether or not we realize it, we are looking for something we can count on to save us. We are really looking for God; but like Charlie Brown, we don’t know where to place our faith--we don’t even know how to get our “deck chairs open.”

Paul addressed these same circumstances in Athens in A. D. 50. at the Areopagus. He looked around the area which was overflowing with people who were very religious, but never finding what they were looking for. They were actually soul-starved people “dragging their unopened deck chairs behind them.” Paul noticed that there was even a huge temple in the city dedicated to “an unknown god.”

He was greatly distressed by all of the idols he saw in the city of Athens and the heaviness and emptiness that it brought these people in spite of all their attempts to be “religious.” The people of Athens were considered to be more “religious” than people in any other area. They would spend all their time sitting around discussing any new ideas or trends that came down the road. Yet it didn’t get them anywhere. They were just “dragging their unopened deck chairs from one place to another.”

Paul took advantage of this opportunity to present Jesus to them. You might wonder what all this has to do with us today. According to recent research by church consultant Thomas Bandy, our North American culture today--especially since the 1990’s--compares more closely with that of Paul’s time than at any other time in history. Paul’s timeless message to speaks to all of us as well. He opened by saying, “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious...I even found an altar with this inscription: To an Unknown God. Now what you worship as something unknown, I am going to proclaim to you.” Paul started where they were. He used Greek poetry and idols as points of contact with these people.

1. A Shallow, Superficial Religion: Although these people were constantly seeking after new ideas and new truths from all directions, it was very shallow and superficial with no real fixed beliefs. All they wanted to do was discuss the various philosophies of the day. The Stoics were very rigid in their keeping of rules and the Epicureans were very much at the other end of the scale living for pleasure--eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die anyway. We know from this scripture that their religion was not really workable in their lives because they were always wondering if they had done enough. They set up the altar to the UNKNOWN GOD just in case they had missed one.

STORY: The story is told about an Army sergeant who was caught on the beach by German artillery and managed to save himself by jumping into the water. While improving his position with a trench shovel, he came upon an ornate crucifix--the kind that prosperous Italians often hung on their bedroom walls. Two hours later in the midst of still another German artillery barrage, A United States Chaplain rolled into the water beside him. A moment after that a German 88 landed just ten yards up the beach. The Master Sergeant held up the muddy crucifix that he had been clutching for dear life since discovering it and turned to the startled chaplain and said, “My God, Sir, am I glad to see you! How do you MAKE THIS THING WORK?”(source unknown)

The problem with mere religion is that we don’t know how to make it work. This is very evident everywhere we turn in our culture as well as in Paul’s day. People would rather not consider where they actually stand before God. Maybe you are like this also. It is easier to discuss ideas and brush it off it if it hits too close to home. We may excuse ourselves by saying, “I just don’t know. I don’t understand the Bible, I don’t have time to go to church, or it’s not that I think the gospel is not true but it just doesn’t do anything for me.” If our religion is superficial it probably won’t do anything for us. It won’t work in our day to day life. Therefore, people want to brush it off or find some kind of a loophole to make them acceptable before God. Maybe you are like this too.

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