Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Lessons of Seven Churches, Part One

I had hoped to regularly post during my study tour of the 7 Churches of Revelation which I returned from Monday morning (yes; got in around 1am Monday morning); however, I had trouble posting and finally resigned myself to sharing a report when I got back. I'm in Denver this week for my doctoral class but want to get started with some information and reflections on the journey of the past two weeks.

Malinda and I had a great time visiting Turkey and Greece with a group of administrators from the Southern Union.  Impressions?  Many.  Turkey is the land where the evangelistic focus of the early Christian Church centered in and through the centuries, it was referenced by different names depending on who or what power controlled the territory. This country is at the geographic crossroads of two continents, Europe and Asia. It's ancient capital was Istanbul, or as it was known through the 15th century, Constantinople. It's positioned in a vital strategic point on the globe with a very important waterway that links a portion of inland Europe with the sea routes necessary to import/export.  It is interestingly, and in keeping with the biblical account of Noah's ark settling on  Mt. Ararat in Eastern Turkey, a country that has some of the most ancient evidence of human habitation anywhere in the world.

In the Old Testament time, Turkey was the land of the Hittites and the Assyrians who possessed a portion of it during the era Israel was settling the Promised land.  In the days of Paul this is where all seven of the cities of Revelation Two were located,
including one of the area's most significant archaeological sites, the amazing excavated remains of biblical Ephesus. Today, none of the original seven churches is a viable significant center of the Christian faith, or likely, even have a significant Christian congregation of any denomination.  In most cases, the cities such as Laodicea, are no more than empty fields with in some cases, striking archaeological remains. In other venues, such as Philadelphia or Thyatira, almost no visible remains of the 1st century city have survived.

Some impressions that I have returned home with is how incredibly large, sophisticated and powerful were these ancient civilizations.  As you walk the streets of Ephesus, your feet passing over the same stone paths that likely the sandals of the Apostle Paul touched, you are aware of the incredibly formidable challenge it must have been for him to enter this city which prided itself in it's worship of Artemis and had erected one of the largest marble temples anywhere in the world in her honor. I'm in awe of how, before the skeptical and pagan masses, in the shadow of the city's soaring temples, he and his colleagues preached  the Gospel of Christ. The city was, and 2,000 years later, still is a stunning architectural display of man's prowess, wealth, and vanity.  It must have been intimidating for someone with less resolve and determination than Paul, to wade into a pagan materialistic city and introduce it to Jesus.  In fact, the Bible tells us that Pauls first attempt at introducing the city to Christ went about as expected!

I stood in the upper section of the immense Ephesus Coliseum (the 'nose bleed' section) where perhaps 20,000 people may have assembled, as the colleagues of Paul - Gaius and Aristarchus -were dragged into the coliseum as "the whole city" assembled in fury, and according to Acts 19, for two hours continuously shouted at Alexander, a Christian Jew, who was dragged center stage and endured a verbal assault of "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!"  That moment alone, brought to my thinking, and I hope on a deeper level, connecting with my heart and ministry, made the immensity of courage and faith the early disciples displayed in living and sometimes dying for the Gospel of Christ,  become very real. I pray for the same commitment.

I have much more I could share but for now I'll post a couple of pictures, and share another post in a few days. The pictures above are from the site of Pergamum.  An amazing mountain top city to which John the Revelator directed many strong denunciations and warnings.  Great trip; also great to be back in the most blessed country on earth.

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