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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Just A Little Side Note

Going the bathroom in a country like Turkey often creates certain challenges that one must be prepared to encounter. In the public toilets, there seems to either be a severe lack of toilet paper in the country or just a low desire to make it readily available for those wishing to relieve themselves. There seems to be a void of paper in general as the air hand dry your hands method has been widely used.
In addition to toilet paper being sparse, toilet seats are not always guaranteed. The only upside of this arrangement is the good quadriceps work out you get while holding yourself steady over the bowl. It gets even more interesting when the bowl disappears and all you have is a hole in the ground. Squat down low and hope the splash factor remains at a minimum. I have successfully engaged each of the listed toilets in the past several days.
Every once in while you will hit the jackpot with a public toilet. I had a nice trifecta the other day: Toilet Seat, Toilet Seat Cover, and toilet paper. It was the Nirvana experience of using a public bathroom in Turkey! In case you were wondering how to find a toilet here, I have included this sign.


Read the book of Ephesians, Acts 19 and Revelation 2:1-7
Ephesus is just an amazing experience and the stunning reality is that this is my 3rd visit to this awesome place. We first visited the site 8 years ago when the International Pastors' conference was in Turkey. And we were here a year ago as a stop on the wonderful cruise we took with my parents. See for details related to that trip. Today was fun because having been here twice before we could just enjoy the walk and not have to pay so much careful attention to the commentary or worry about getting the perfect photo. Funny enough, I took 52 pictures anyway! One highlight that we did add, is that this time around Doug and I did go in and visit the terrace houses that are being restored along the main drag. This is where the wealthiest of the wealthy would've lived in Ephesus and let me tell you, you can see why. Marble walls, mosaic floors, soaring pillars and sky high ceilings were hallmarks of these upper crust homes. They also had running water which was almost unheard of. They are far from finished but it was awesome to see the work in progress and to watch as master craftsman painstakingly put the marble pieces back to together again. I suppose over time the entire site will be restored. Perhaps I'll see it again in 40 years and see how the progress has gone!
So Ephesus...where Paul got into loads trouble and was run out of town. Doug and walked through an archway where it is quite likely that Paul also tread. What fun to sit on an old piece of marble and ponder what a bustling little city this was. The giant Library overwhelms when you consider how it was constructed. The detail work is so intricate and beautiful. I love the 4 virtures that sit outside of the structure: Wisdom, Moral Excellence, Insight and Understanding. Widsom figures greatly in the letter to the Ephesians as they are urged aside the wisdom of the world and instead to pursue Godly wisdom.
The Biblical lessons of both the letter to the Ephesians and the verses in Revelation are greatly illuminated by seeing the site where it all unfolded. To think that some Christians might've gathered in the one of those terraced homes for encouragement and prayer is just mind-boggling.
We ended our tour in the theater which is an enormous, acoustically perfect arena. Someone from our group read from the books of Acts and another followed that by singing the Lord's Prayer. It was so moving that I actually shed a tear. It is such a gift to be in the place where the roots of the church that I love and serve took shape. The sense of connectedness that this gives me with Christians who have gone before me and go beside me and those who will come behind me is just awe-inspiring. I am so thankful for this great trip. Mark Wilson, our guide and scholar on this trip has become like a good friend. His knowledge enriches and inspires and I am grateful for his leadership among us.
The day ended with a dash to the airport to catch our flight to Istanbul. We are situated in the center of town. Istanbul is a barrage on the senses. I can't wait to take it all in tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Colossai and Laodicea

Philemon and Revelation 3:14-22
Colossai has not been rebuilt. All that is there right now is a hill top where the village would've been. But we know that Philemon lived there and of course, Paul's wrote an entire letter to this young church community...Colossians. It is great because Doug and I are preaching through the book of Colossians right now at church. How special to stand on the hilltop where this community thrived and grew. After a quick stop to enjoy the incredible view from this ancient spot, we continued onto Laodicea. Laodicea is a site that is newly excavated and it is exciting to see it all unfold. This was a very wealthy community and the letter from John contains harsh rebuke about how they are living their lives. The reference to lukewarm water takes on an entirely new meaning when you visit this site and see the incredible water system that allowed water to flow into the city. The ancient water tower has been dug up and the pipes from the original system are now visible! Such staying power.
Today our group sat together in the huge ampitheater and read the letter from Revelation and sang some hymns together. Just as we were getting started, the Muslim call to prayer began around us and it was so fascinating to be praying the Lord's prayer while the loud call was echoing around us. We have much work to do to gain a greater understanding of one another. As we prayed during their call to prayer I just thoughtfully considered how we must find ways to live side by side in spite of our differences.
I am moved by the visible, historic presence of Christianity in this area. I feel a deep kinship with Christians world wide as I try to take in what it means to walk where the original Christians walked. To spend this time in the region where the early Christian church has its roots is truly a gift that I will treasure for a life time.
We returned to our hotel and I indulged in a thermal bath at our hotel. After a wonderful dinner with my fellow pastors I am tired and ready to sleep. I know that the Muslim call to prayer will begin shortly after 5.00 a.m. and we ourselves have a long journey to Ephesus tomorrow.


Surrounding this area are travertine falls that cause you to wonder if you've stepped into some ancient wonder of the world. The way in which the mineral water flows through the area leaving deposits that have created this wonderful area is unlike anything I've ever seen. Fun to behold such a beautiful site, set right in the midst of all this Biblical history. We took off our shoes and waded in the water. Such a cool place.


For the context of our day, read Colossians 4: 12-18.
WOW. Today was amazing. How can one day be better than the next? That's what life feels like at this juncture. We began at Hierapolis. The breath-taking views of the mountains set the perfect tone for our wander through these ancient ruins. The photos do not show the amazing mountain range that graced our view throughout the day. We started our journey by walking on the original Roman road. How can this road still be there?! The first 20 minutes were through a necropolis, or cemetery and was filled with tombs of all shapes and sizes. Death played a big role in the culture of the time and it is interesting to come to understand some of the imagery in Revelation as relating to this reality. The graveyard near the town center was for wealthy people so it is likely we were seeing the tombs of the some of the most well-off people in Hierapolis. The presence of the early Christain community is evident by the church ruins that remain as well as the etchings of Jewish symbols and crosses. Amazing to think about the Christian community thriving and developing in this place hundreds of years ago.
The enormity of the arch work was staggering to me and reminded me of the stone work that is written about in Pillars of the Earth. Very cool to imagine how all of this came to be without the use of today's modern technology and tools.
The public latrines were quite ornate with pillars surrounding them. It was fascinating to see a cross on top of one of the city gates indicating how prevalent the Christian community had become. Ancient theaters are always impressive and this one did not disappoint. We spent about 3 hours wandering through this ancient city. The surroundings were simply gorgeous. The presence of wild flowers, especially the poppies create dazzling images for us to enjoy. The day was only half over and already we had experienced such wonderful things.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Seven Churches of the Revelation: Sardis and Philadelphia

Read Revelation 3:1-13.
It is mind boggling for me to consider that I am walking where the apostle Paul walked and getting to see first hand what the area in which the early Christian was born. The imagery that John uses in his letters becomes so much more clear when you are here. This is a staggeringly beautiful area. Snow-capped mountains, lush vineyards, green rolling hills...a true feast for the eyes. And the ruins are magnificent. We began our day high above the city of Izmir. The view of the Aegean sea coupled with the sprawling city was breathtaking. I read aloud for our group the letter from John to Sardis. How fun to stand high above the city and read this ancient text. It is awesome to consider that I share the same faith with those who lived in this area so many years ago.
The rest of our day was spent traveling from one amazing site to another. The ruins of Sardis with the synagogue and gymnasium complex were simply awesome. I greatly enjoyed the small Byzantine church with its delicate arches set next to a large temple construct. The stuff we saw today dates from the 2nd, 4th and 6th century. It's been around for quite awhile! The craftsmanship displayed in these ancient treasures is nothing short of breath-taking. The church ruins in Philadelphia are mainly the enormous pillars that supported the structure. I found it especially interesting to view a minaret next these ancient church pillars. Our group huddled together in what would've been the altar area of these ancient churches and listened to the letters read aloud. The early Christians faced much persecution for their faith and pursued it at great personal risk. To think that their sacrifices have allowed me to come to know Christ as well is truly humbling.
Tonight we are in Pammukkale. It is an area known for its hot springs. I am sitting in the hotel lobby, surrounded the sounds of a Turkish band, breathing in second hand cigarette smoke and thinking about how amazing it is to walk these ancient roads and consider how my faith thrived in these parts so many years ago. It is awe-inspiring.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The 7 Churches of the Revelation: Smyrna

Last night we arrived in Turkey for the International Pastors' Conference. Immanuel belongs to the Association of International Churches in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. (AICEMEA). It is a rich and lovely community that we have enjoyed since we began our ministry in Sweden. One of the great gifts is the annual Pastors and Spouses conference. We move from region to region and enjoy getting to know what's happening in other International Churches. We also take in a great deal of the local flavor and the flavor this time around in Turkey will be amazing. We begin in western Turkey, the area known as Asia Minor in the New Testament with a look at the 7 churches that the apostle John wrote letters to in the book of Revelation. So I invite you to join our journey and learn with us about this fascinating country where so much New Testament Biblical history resides.
Read Revelation 2:8-11
The region known as Asia Minor in scripture is modern day Turkey. Last night we flew into Izmir which is a sprawling metropolis. Izmir used to be known as Smyrna but the name Smyrna no longer exists. While there are no remaining ruins from the time that the early church existed, tomorrow we will drive to a hill top and see the Stadium where Polycarp was Martyred. It is truly thrilling to be able to visit these ancient Biblical sites and consider the deep meaning behind some of the imagery that is fleshed out when you come to understand the region.
Today was a day of new smells, different sights, and a shift from quiet, staid Stockholm to chaotic, noisy, in your face Turkey! It was wonderful. Food stalls on the street, vendors selling every imaginable good, and people talking, talking, talking to you, working hard to coax you into their shop so that they can sell you a Turkish treasure.
Izmir is on the Aegean Sea is really an urban sprawl. Mountains surround you and buildings rise up all around. We walked through the market place and strolled along the sea front. We had kebabs for lunch (very tasty) and drank Turkish beer and sour cherry juice. All tasty treats that leave you asking for more. We also indulged in a piece of lemon Turkish delight that was delightful indeed. I am excited about being here. This is my 3rd time in Turkey and I've enjoyed every visit thus far. I anticipate the same will be true for this trip.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Fabulous Finnmaster

One of the perks of living in Stockholm is water. Stockholm itself is made of up 14 different islands. Boating is quite the popular hobby here and is surprisingly affordable. Wanting to "test the boating waters" ourselves, 3 years ago we bought an old motor boat from a young guy anxious to get out of boating. Since he was not purchasing a new boat, we also lucked out and obtained his spot at the marina. Unheard of in Sweden so we fell upon a lucky star there. The marina is a perfect location for us, about a 20 minutes drive from our apartment and is located on the Baltic sea. But after a couple of summers of literally needing to nurse this boat through the season and suffering a terminal breakdown at the end of the summer last year, we decided to try and unload the boat for cheap and purchase a new and improved vessel that we felt would suit our boating habits in a much safer and fun manner. We listed our old boat on which is like a Swedish Craig's List and lo and behold, we got rid of it! A retired mechanic thought it looked like an interesting challenge and we came to an agreement. Then the quest for the new one began. In February, Doug located what seemed to be the perfect buy, again on Blocket. We had missed a couple of good opportunities because we moved too slowly so in this case we jumped on it. We called within 20 minutes of the boat being posted on-line and asked to be first to consider it. Within 12 minutes of seeing that boat we knew this was an amazing deal and we jumped on it. Doug labored long and hard with a good friend to get it moved and into the water. When we purchased the boat, the waterway in our harbor was still frozen and there was still snow on the ground. But alas, they finally got it in place and we've been out on it twice already. We were finally able to move it into our harbor last Monday and it feels great to have the fabulous Finnmaster sitting in our boat spot.
Seeing Stockholm from the water is really quite a treat. From our marina, we head out throught a narrow passage that leads us to the open water. From there, it's about a 20 minute ride across the open sea until we see Fjäderholmen, a cute little island that gets lots of visitors in the summer months. From there, it's a quick jaunt to the Djurgården canal which takes you right into the center of Stockholm! The architecture is stunning, the big boats that ferry people out to archipelago dominate the harbor and all in all, it's quite exciting to sit in the middle of a city, in a boat!
We took our first sojourn into the city on Friday night. It's still a bit chilly, but the evening sun gives off some warmth so along with the wonderful wind blocks that this boat has, and layers of clothing, we really enjoyed our evening cruise. Tanner loves to be on the boat but he also loves to be in the water so it's quite a chore keeping him in the boat when he's anxious to jump ship. He has to wear a life jacket and this year he needed a new one. He had outgrown the one from a year ago even though we've said for a long time that we think he's full grown. Now, we have no idea what that actually means! This is his 3rd life jacket. His puppy one is silly small. That first summer, we just handled him like a little handbag, picking him up by the handle of the life jacket and carrying him onto the boat! Now, he has to wear the second largest doggy life jacket available so hopefully he'll be able to keep this one for a bit. (Forever?)
Having a boat is definitely a luxury that we feel privileged to enjoy at this juncture in our life. It is the only vehicle we own and we did fall into a great deal. It's amazing how refreshed I feel when we've been out on the water. Soon, we will have no cover of darkness and we'll be able to linger on the water until 10.30, 11.00 p.m. It is very special to be out and about amidst the Stockholm archipelago, watching the light dazzle with its myriad shades and shadows. It's thrilling to experience such beauty and peace, knowing that the city lurks just around the next bend.