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Ephesus

Our introduction to Ephesus started with Randy’s talk on the short drive from the hotel. We will see not the original, but Ephesus III, the one from New Testament time. It has a Sacred Way for triumphal parades. It was completely planned, an orthogonal city. It had two agoras. The two streets are the ones Paul saw. The restoration is mostly to second century Ephesus.

Randy discussed the assimilation of soldiers. Gauls adopted into a Roman family got the name of the family. They received a token, a medal with a reference number, for their inheritance, a tract of land along the Tiber River.

The harbor at Ephesus needed to be dredged every 10 years because it filled with silt from the rivers. This made Ephesus very dependent on government aid. They wanted to please the emperor.

We listened to the lesson of the five walks in Ephesians. From 4:1-3 an illustration from the slave trade, a regulated and taxed industry. Walk worthy, according to what is on your titulus, the advertisement for a slave in the market.

In chapter 4, the gifts are to the church not to individuals. Gifts as those thrown from a float in a parade. Take off old clothes, put on new, as in a public bath. Walk in love, the kind that serves, not the kind learned from Hollywood. Walk in light.

Near the theater we found a spot in the shade to hear the story from Acts 19. Demetrius said Paul was persuading people all over Asia that gods made with hands are not gods at all. He said they needed to do something to keep their god in power, proving that it was not a god at all. If the town clerk had declared the gathering in the theater an unlawful assembly, he had the power of the Roman garrison to disperse the crowd.

We looked at John’s letter to the church at Ephesus. John was bishop of the church here. Love (agape) is acting deliberately to meet a need because there is a need, expecting nothing in return. They had sent away their first love. This in the town where love is especially remembered. The temple of Artemis was one of wonders of the ancient world.

The seven stars possibly referenced the deified baby of Domitia. Nicolas is mentioned in Acts 6:5. Ephesus was home of what we call naturalism and atheism.

Sometimes we do work for Jesus instead of working with Jesus. Also, there may be a tendency to replace quality with quantity. There is a difference between walking intimately and working actively. We should focus on the primary goal, walking with You and taking joy in the walk.

After Ephesus we stopped at a carpet outlet. Carpet making is done by ladies. They can focus for 27 minutes at a time, men for 9 minutes. Also, ladies’ fingers are more slender and nimble. Carpet making is often a sideline work done at home. If more than one lady works on a carpet the difference in pressure. Turkish carpets are unique in that they are made with a gordon knot on two threads. A 4×6 foot carpet can take 6 months, more in a very fine, intricate carpet. Some have 325 knots per square inch, 645 in a finer yarn and more intricate design. The highest density wall hanging I saw was 2000 knots per square inch.

We visited the Museum of Ephesus. It contains two well-preserved statues of Artemis, also known as Diana.

Lastly we stopped at the site of the temple of Artemis. It had been listed as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world by a Greek traveler in 200 BC.

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Colossae, Carian Marble, and Aphrodisias

On the bus Randy gave us information on the geology, history, and the economic and political situation of the Lycus Valley. The geology is similar to that of Jericho. Agriculture production is good, and the location on the Persian trade routes gave an advantage. Marble is abundant. Marble cutting was important. The towns were separate, with no sharing of income.

Colossae was possibly the smallest of the New Testament churches. But the letter to them has more about fullness in Christ than any other. The size of the error, not the size of the group, prompted Paul’s letter.

Standing beside the tell at Colossae, we heard the lesson of God’s goals for us from chapter 1 of Paul’s letter. Most importantly, know He has a goal for me, verse 9. Secondly, in verse 10, knowing priorities, where to put the weight of gifts he gave me. Third goal, to please Him, to conform my desires to another. Next, we’re to produce fruit. In the end, to hear well done, and experience intimacy with Christ.

The other letter written to this area was  to Philemon. We learn principles of reconciliation to apply when one believer has wronged another.

A few stones are uncovered at the Colossian tell, but we saw no impressive columns or even structures. I made a quick excursion to the top to see what I could see.

We visited the ancient town Aphrodisias, the site of the world’s largest source of Carian marble. This marble has the characteristic of being easy to work, then developing a hard surface when left to bake in the sun. Workshops here would have produced sarcophagi (stone coffins) and statues shipped all over the empire.

The Sebasteion is a structure containing many reliefs depicting scenes of the emperor and family. Only a small part of the original structure is standing. Each story panel is interesting and beautiful. But the really amazing part of this is the combined effect of all of the panels. Some empty panels show something is missing. Each of us is writing the story of our life. Everyone’s story is valuable and needed. As we each fill the panel where God has placed us His glorious plan can be manifested.

The entrance to the city is a huge tetrapylon, a four-way decorated gate structure.

The temple to Aphrodite has several columns standing. It’s not nearly as imposing as the tetrapylon.

The stadium is impressive. We thought about Paul’s admonition to run our life’s race well.

We toured the museum. It contains statues of both Greek and Roman origin. The relief panels from the Sebasteion were the most interesting. As always, there were more things to see than time to see them.

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Laodicea

We started the day early with a balloon ride. We enjoyed the beautiful sunrise, a great view of the landscape, and a preview of Hierapolis, one of the sites for today.

After breakfast we headed out to see Laodicea. On the bus Dr Randy filled us in on the hot thermal springs and cold water availability from snow on the mountains or the springs of Collosea. Laodicea had calcified water that clogged their terra cotta pipes. It also can cause vomiting. We saw landscape covered with calcium deposits shining white in the sun.

After an earthquake in 17 AD, Tiberius sent money to rebuild. Later, Laodicea was rejected in their application for building a temple, while Smyrna was accepted. After the rejection, like people do, they over-compensated and became brash and over confident. Then more earthquakes came, and a tsunami. When Nero offered money to rebuild, they rejected it and rebuilt by themselves.

Two letters to churches had encouragement, Smyrna and Philadelphia. Five letters had instruction for change. For Laodicea, there was no praise or commendation.

Jesus is telling them He is there for them, they can rely on Him. Hot means boiling, like the hot springs in Hieropylis. Cold means refreshing, like the streams in Colossea. The Laodiceans are neither. A church is successful not when it’s bigger, but when the people properly reflect Christ.

The site has seen a tremendous amount of archeological work and restoration in the past 20 years. Syria Street is from the time John’s letter would have arrived in the town. The Constantine era church structure is where a regional council of 30 bishops outlawed the keeping of Sabbath in 363 AD.

After Laodicea we explored Hierapolis. There is quite a bit of exploration and discovery happening here. The thermal hot springs and white deposits are also a major feature.

We had some free time to explore and/or get lunch. Julia and I hiked to the theater, then on to Philip’s tomb, and a church with eight (I think) arches. Philip was martyred in Hierapolis. We took off our shoes and waded in the warm water flowing over the mineral deposits. There was so much to see and do that we didn’t take time for lunch.

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Three More Churches

We left Izmir this morning, palm fronds sweeping the side of the bus as we passed through the narrow streets. Randy gave us a rundown on archeology, Thyatira, Sardis, and the Lydian kingdom.

The words on the milestones found on the road between Pergamum and Thyatira were, “To the Elegance of Thyatira.” Thyatira was a union town, a town of trade guilds. They were tolerant of sin. Christians cannot be tolerant of every behavior. Thyatira’s love tended toward blind affirmation. We can’t affirm what God does not. Jesus’s longest letter was to this tiny trade town.

Thyatira was a great place for farm to table food, as it is today. An army town that was a gateway to Persia, it had two roads going that direction. Trades, guilds, temples, banks, money, all were centered around Apollo, a son of god. Christians who didn’t participate in the system risked losing their job, hospitalization coverage, and burial coverage.

Jesus’s criticism of Thyatira was for their tolerance of Jezebel, who was causing the people to sin. Was it tolerance of participation in the guilds? Jesus was searching their minds. Were some participating in the guilds without believing in Apollo? Were some participating in the Christian church and their heart wasn’t in it?

We visited an archeological site from the second century, and a museum with exhibits of various time periods.

After a good lunch we visited ancient Sardis. Reference to Sepharad in the Bible may be Sardis rather than Spain. Coins were first minted here. The king became wealthy, more than any other king, except perhaps Solomon.

The church of Sardis deceived themselves into believing they were still alive. They were resting in the glories of the past. There is no deception like self deception. They lived in a relativistic and pluralistic society. Were they saying something like, We need to get along better with the culture?

The Kula Salihli Geopark has some of the most stunning ruins (oxymoron?) we’ve seen yet. The pillars of the temple of Artemis were so wide it takes five people to reach around them. The massive columns are 58 feet high.

Also part of the “first and only geopark in Turkey” is a restored bathhouse and gymnasium complex.

The church at Philadelphia received no scolding. But they felt insignificant and betrayed. Earthquake after earthquake and then Tiberius shut down the vineyard business. Two questions face a believer one time or another. Is God really good? For those in a ministry, Does my life really count? If we work for the praise of men we’ll be disappointed.

It may feel like Christians are losing significance in the cancel culture that is our society. But Jesus knows the doors that are closing and the doors that He’ll open.

The archeological sites for Philadelphia are sparse. But the story of the church was inspiring.

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Pergamos

Today we’re driving to Pergamos, about 2 hours drive from Izmir. The name of the city today is Bergamo. On the bus Randy gave us a lesson on the Greco-Roman ways of worship and their view of their gods. Their idea was to do things for the gods in the hope of obtaining something in return. The message of Jesus was so different, with God’s unconditional love.

We visited the Acropolis of Pergamos. We saw a temple that was built to worship Trajan the emperor and the god Zeus. Nearby was the steep seating area of a theater. Marketing new ideas starts with first getting people to laugh at the idea. Entertainment was and still is the way culture is changed and shaped. There was also a temple to Athena. This was a seat of pagan worship, but we don’t know which one was specifically known to the Christians as Satan’s seat.

The Christians at Pergamos were under pressure to conform to the culture. Antipas was a faithful martyr. A white stone signified pardon from a death sentence, with a new name given, including the name of the one who pardoned.

We visited the Basilica of St John. A temple had been constructed to an Egyptian God. Later a Christian church building was constructed inside the temple. Today part of it is being used as a mosque.

Our third and last site for the day was the asklepion. This was the place to go for healing after one had exhausted all of the simpler methods such as blood letting, amulets, spells, etc. The patient would live here, hoping Asklepios would reveal through a dream what was needed for a cure. A doctor at the healing center would then apply the treatment.

There was a theater on the premises. One of the methods of healing used was having the patient act out his dreams on stage.

What is the purpose of your worship? To win things and blessings in return? What God or gods are we expecting to meet our needs?

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Izmir

We left the hotel at 7:15 this morning. Of course, back home that’s 12:15 AM so it seemed quite early. Taner wanted to allow plenty of time for check-in for our flight to Izmir.

Our flight took us across the Sea of Marmara, the only inland sea contained within a single country.

Our first excursion in Izmir was the Kadifekale, or velvet castle. It was built in the 3rd century BC by one of Alexander’s generals.

It was easier for Alexander to take a city that was dead and make it come to life again than to build a new city.

Izmir (Smyrna, the dead city made alive) is a port city on the Aegean Sea.

At the Agora of Smyrna we heard the lessons from the letter Jesus wrote to the early Christians who lived here. They would face tribulation in three ways. First, by poverty because they wouldn’t worship the emperor. Secondly, they would lose the Jewish exemption to emperor worship because of lies by those who called themselves Jews. Lastly, they would face imprisonment or death. But they were not to be afraid of the coming persecution.

We visited the Church of Polycarp. Not because of any historical significance of the building, but as a meaningful place to recall the story of this martyr. He was the third bishop of Smyrna.

During the evening I snapped a few photos of the harbor.

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More of Istanbul

We visited the Spice Market first thing after breakfast. Taner, our guide, told us it gets quite busy during the day and we’d want to beat the crowds. We made a few finds, including zaatar for hummus and Turkish delight.

We visited the Blue Mosque but were a bit disappointed because it is under renovation. We walked over to the Hagia Sophia. This amazing structure was built in only five years, finishing in 537. For one thousand years it held first place as the largest cathedral in the world.

Some of the church councils, including formalizing the canon of scripture, were held here. The dome is almost 100 feet across and 180 feet high.

In 1453, when Constantinople fell to the Ottomans, the Hagia Sophia became a mosque. In 1923 it was made a museum, but in recent years it has once again become a mosque.

Tomorrow we leave Istanbul and fly to Izmir. Do you know the Bible name for this city?

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Turkey, Blend of Cultures

Turkey bridges the continents of Europe and Asia. We started our Seven Churches tour with some cultural experiences in Istanbul to feel the collision of East and West.

Our first stop was the site of the ancient hippodrome of Constantinople. This was where the horse races took place.

One of the columns was a transplant from Egypt. It was originally constructed by Pharoah Thutmose III. Interestingly, he was succeeded by his second son instead of his first born. Almost like his first born mysteriously died about the time of the Exodus.

We visited the Aya Irini, an ancient church building. It was at this church the Second Ecumenical Council met in 381 to discuss the nature of Christ, and His relationship to the Trinity. We saw the separate gallery for the women. Randy also discussed the two year process of becoming a Christian.

Next we walked to the Istanbul Archaeological Museum. We saw frescoes from the Ishtar gate of Babylon, among many other things. Unfortunately, the third floor was closed for renovation, so we didn’t get to see the sign from Temple Mount, and other artifacts from Israel.

The artifacts are from many countries. The Ottoman empire at one time controlled much of Southeastern Europe, Western Asia, and Northern Africa. Constantinople, now Istanbul, was the Ottoman capital.

Our last stop was the Grand Bazaar, one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world. The Eastern way is to engage the customer, even by bargaining. The Western way is to emphasize the acquisition of material things.

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Remembering Shavuot, or Pentecost

The people of Israel observe the Feast of Weeks, or Shavuot. It has the dual significance of marking the wheat harvest in the land of Israel and commemorating the giving of the Torah on Sinai. The “Weeks” has to do with counting the seven weeks after Passover. It is sometimes described as the eighth day of Passover.

The New Testament refers to Shavuot as Pentecost. It is the fiftieth day after Passover, which makes it 10 days after Jesus’ Ascension.

Acts 2 describes the events of the day of first Pentecost after Jesus’ death and resurrection. They were “all with one accord in one place.” Being a celebration day, that “one place” would likely have been the temple. The expansive steps at the southern entrance were used as a gathering place, and a teaching place. It would make sense that this was the location of Peter’s Pentecostal sermon.

Rabbis would teach their disciples on the steps outside the temple.

The many mikvahs (ritual baths) around the temple could have provided water for baptizing 3,000 new believers.

Inside a mikvah. Steps on one side for entering, before cleansing, and the other side for exiting after being purified in the water.

Just as the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai finalized Israel’s redemption from Egypt, so the giving of the Holy Spirit on Mount Zion inaugurated the New Covenant. The wind and the fire are symbolic of God’s presence, just as the pillar of smoke and the pillar of fire showed God’s presence in the wilderness.

Meditating on the significance of what happened here.

I’m thankful, this Pentecost, for the Comforter, the indwelling presence of God’s Spirit.

Standing barefoot on an original southern step, imagining Jesus walking here.
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The Ascension

After the resurrection, Jesus visited with His disciples a number of times. On one of those occasions, they were in Galilee in a mountain that Jesus had appointed for them. That’s a subject for another post. Acts 1:3 says He appeared to them during forty days…speaking about the kingdom of God. On the last day He was with them, Jesus said, “And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

Then He led them out of Jerusalem, as far as Bethany, a village on the Mount of Olives.

Here we’re walking through the Kidron Valley, with Jerusalem in back of us, looking up toward the Mount of Olives.

Jesus told them, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Outside the Eastern Gate, looking toward the Mount of Olives.

And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. Two men in white robes appeared, and told them, “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”