Last week, I posted a screenshot of books I read during 2013.  Today, as a means of reviewing the past year, I will take a look at some of the topics and events that prompted me to write over the last twelve months.  You may have already read some of these, but if not, the links will take you to each story.

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2013 began just as it has for me for the past several years, with a spiritual review of the year by studying the Fruit of the Spirit.  I have built upon this idea for the past couple of years, and this past January/February I wrote further on each individual piece of fruit.  It has been a great way to begin the new year and I am embarking on this same exercise even now.  For a full index of the Fruit of the Spirit, go to Top Posts and review all the entries on this topic.
Better yet, go here and download the complete guide!  Yes, 2013 marked the release of the short study, Connected To The Vine, inspired by this topic and your feedback.  Thanks to those who have read it, provided feedback, and even used it as a group study guide.

Corinth

In March, my brother and I took a trip visiting many biblical sites throughout the Mediterranean region.  Our journey began at Athens, and continued to Corinth, over to Ephesus in Turkey, then to the Cappadocia region of Turkey, and finally concluded in Istanbul.  It was an amazing trip that continues to impact and shape the way I read scripture.  I shared just some of my observations from each stop through this space.

2013 had its sad moments as well.  Personally, I experienced the loss of a couple of loved ones.  Death seemed to be a theme in the late summer/fall.  More broadly speaking, two authors whose writings impacted me deeply, also passed.  Brennan Manning and Dallas Willard always challenged me and their spiritual insights will be missed.  I was fortunate to meet Brennan Manning in person and he was a great example of spiritual strength in brokenness.

I didn’t have as much time as I would have liked to post this past fall – primarily due to the previously mentioned loss of loved ones.  But I did have a moment sitting in an airport that reminded me how easily relationships can be pushed aside by electronic distractions if we are not careful.  We can be so engrossed in our on-line world that we are not present for those actually along our path.

Finally, I completed this interview for my book site, where I share some of the events that led to my writing, as well as provide a glimpse of my upcoming project.  God willing, 2014 will see the completion of A Journey Through Ephesus, a project I am very excited about!

Thanks for your support and encouragement; follow this blog to stay up-to-date on my observations and projects, and blessings in 2014!

I recently had an opportunity to complete a brief interview for my author page on Smashwords.  I thought I would share it here as well.

When did you first start writing?

As a pastor, I wrote sermon outlines, but I always felt like there was so much more to explore in any given topic. There was one series I had taught a couple of time, and even after teaching through it more than once, I still had ideas bouncing around in my head on the topic. Then on a trip to Israel with a couple of good friends, one of these friends encouraged me to start writing. I came home and began writing my first book, Ten Essential Words, where I really took a comprehensive look at the Ten Commandments and their relevance for today’s world. I’ve been writing ever since.

Who are your favorite authors?

There are several authors that I love to read for different reasons. Brennan Manning, who recently passed away, has probably influenced me as much as anyone. His writing really reaches deep inside me and brings out emotions and insights that tend to get pushed aside. N.T. Wright and Dallas Willard bring an intellectual approach to the Bible and to faith that I really resonate with. Bruce Feiler‘s books on exploring the actual places and sites of the Old Testament hit close to one of my biggest passions: traveling to places rich with Biblical history.

What motivated you to become an indie author?

I had finally finished the manuscript to my first book. Like any unpublished author at the time, I sent several book proposals to publishers. I was investing time and money, getting no where. Meanwhile, I had this manuscript saved on my hard drive, not being read by anyone. I began reading a couple books about how the internet was opening channels up to people that have been traditionally controlled by a handful of big players – be it record labels, publishers, or mainstream media. I realized that I had a choice to continue to play the game of getting the attention of a publisher or to go the indie route and get my ideas out there available to people. It has been both challenging and rewarding.

When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?

Reading a good book at a coffee shop, most likely. But outside of work and writing, I always have a couple books I am reading my way through. I am always planning my next travel adventure. And when time permits, I enjoy cooking and trying new restaurants. I enjoy food that has been prepared with passion!

What are you working on next?

I am really excited to explore the New Testament letter of Ephesians from the context of the Greco-Roman world of the recipients. Most commentaries tend to either lack depth, avoiding any contextual discussion, or be so deep, dissecting the sentence structure of the original language to an extent that the larger narrative is lost. I wanted to take a letter like Ephesians and really tell the story: who where these people, how would they have heard Paul’s words, why did Paul write what he did, and what did it mean to be a Greek person in the Roman Empire trying to live out the message of Jesus. This past spring, I actually travelled to the archaeological site of Ephesus, so I am really excited to finish this project!

Biblical TurkeyMark Wilson is a scholar who has lived in Turkey since 2004.  His aim is to promote the study of Judaism and Early Christianity within Asia Minor.  In his book, Biblical Turkey: A Guide to the Jewish and Christian Sites of Asia Minor, Wilson does a great job of compiling a comprehensive list of all the sites pertaining to Judaism, Old and New Testament sites, and extra-Biblical writings from early Christianity that have their setting in Asia Minor/modern-day Turkey.  Along with site guides, there are many in-site features that help shed light on New Testament writings from an understanding of the land and the culture.

Having just taken my own cultural insight trip to Turkey, I won’t rehash all that I have written about the trip.  But you can go to the index page for a full listing of my posts from Greece and Turkey.

However, one thing that was driven home from reading Biblical Turkey – even after having traveled to a number of the sites – is just how much of the New Testament was influenced by this land.  In his introduction, Wilson writes,

As we look at the Bible, there are a number of references to Anatolian regions and cities in the Old Testament and Apocrypha, and two-thirds of the twenty-seven books in the New Testament were either written to of from Asia Minor.

What follows is a list of New Testament books and how they were influenced by the region of Asia Minor/Turkey.

  • John – early tradition has John living in Ephesus later in his life and thus the book of John was likely written from Ephesus.
  • Acts – written by Luke and recounts Paul’s missionary journeys throughout Asia Minor.  Additionally, many of the places of origin listed at Pentecost are located in Asia Minor, such as Cappadocia, Pontus, and Asia.
  • 1 & 2 Corinthians – 1 Corinthians was written by Paul from Ephesus.  While 2 Corinthians was not written from Ephesus, Paul does share a couple insights from his time in Ephesus in this letter.
  • Galatians – written by Paul to the province of Galatia in Asia Minor/modern-day Turkey.
  • Ephesians – written by Paul to Ephesus in the province of Asia.
  • Colossians – written by Paul to the church at Colosse in the province of Asia.
  • 1 & 2 Timothy – written by Paul to Timothy, who was now leading the church in Ephesus.
  • Philemon – written by Paul to Philemon, who lived in Colosse.
  • 1 & 2 Peter – written by Peter to the churches in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, all in modern-day Turkey.
  • 1, 2, & 3 John – written by the Apostle John and, like the book of John, were probably written from Ephesus.
  • Revelation – written by John to the seven churches in Asia Minor.

While Israel is known as the Holy Land, Wilson is correct in noting “it is not an exaggeration to call Turkey the Holy Land of Asia Minor.”

In March I was able to travel to Greece and Turkey with my brother.  I am continuing to process each place we visited, share some of our adventures, and take what I can from having been there.  For a preview of the trip, read the A Guide to Biblical Sites in Greece and Turkey entry and read my thoughts on Athens and Corinth.

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After spending about four days in Greece, we hopped a plane to Istanbul, Turkey and caught a connecting flight to Izmir.  From the Izmir airport, we took a train about an hour south to the town of Selçuk.  Unfortunately, the sun had already set, so there was not much to see.  Arriving in Selçuk, we found our hotel and were warmly greeted with some tea and good conversation with a man named Lucky.  I liked this place already!  Selçuk is a nice little town where shop owners want to sit and talk with you.  There are good places to eat, coffee shops, and sweet shops as well.  Right outside of the town, sits the site of Ephesus.  Many tourists come from the cruise ship port not far from Ephesus, but increasingly travelers are discovering that Selçuk is a great place to spend a couple of days away from the tourist town of Kusadasi.

PrieneNeither my brother or I are big on guided tours – they are always moving you on to the next stop before having adequate time to explore the present stop and the lunch buffets are usually pretty bad – but about the only way to see the ancient sites of Priene, Miletus, and Didyma was via guided tour.  Priene is the home to the Temple of Athena, which rests at the base of an imposing cliff face.  The site was abandoned when the shoreline receded.  The remote nature of the site means that much of the building material is still there, resembling a jigsaw puzzle dumped out over the site.  It is not mentioned in Scripture, but its proximity to Miletus suggests that the early church nearby would have had contact with Priene.

Across what used to be a bay, sits the site of Miletus.  Miletus boasted three harbors in its day, along with a 25,000 seat amphitheater, much of which is still intact.  The rest of the site was unfortunately flooded for the most part, but a large Roman bath complex is still there.  It must have been impressive in its day.  Miletus is mentioned in Acts 20: On Paul’s Third Journey, he sailed into Miletus where he met the elders from Ephesus, wanting to avoid getting delayed on his way to Jerusalem.  Today Miletus is about five miles inland from the coast and suffered the same fate as Ephesus and Priene when the river silted up, cutting the city off from the coastline.IMG_1110

The final stop of the day was Didyma, which wasn’t so much a town in Paul’s day as it was a temple complex to Apollo.  Today it is odd to see a town built up around the site, with kids and dogs running around and ruins lying in people’s backyards.  DidymaThe Temple of Apollo was the third largest Greek temple of its time and would provide some perspective to the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, given that little remains of what would have been the largest temple.  Walking among the ruins, we felt like we were on a movie set constructed for giants.  Didyma was linked to Miletus via a 12-mile sacred processional way.

The next day we walked through the site of Ephesus.  Having walked through many archaeological sites at this point, the prominent feature of Ephesus is just how large an area the site is.  From the upper entrance, you can walk through a marketplace, small temples, archways, an Odeon, only to realize you have not yet reached the main road through the city.  Curetes street leads you past several structures to the terrace houses (which are worth the extra admission price) and finally leaves you facing the Library of Celsus.  The main agora itself covers the area of two football fields, then you are awed at the 25,000-seat theater.  The theater overlooks Harbor Street that would have led to the docks.

Celsus LibraryThere are many areas that remain unexcavated or have not been kept up.  Ephesus had a population of 250,000, by some accounts the third largest city in the Roman Empire behind Rome and Alexandria.  Walking through the city, the surrounding hills – now just grassy hillsides – must have been covered with houses and shops.  Paul had truly entered the big city!

And you still would not have come upon the primary identity of the city: the Temple of Artemis, the largest temple in the empire.  We made our way through an orchard back to the main road and found the site of the temple.  There is little that remains, only its enormous footprint in the earth and a single reconstructed column.  I am glad we were able to visit Didyma to appreciate what it must have looked like.

There are many insights that can be gained by walking through these sites.  I hope to fill a book with them one day, but in the meantime here are some impressions:

Insight #1Pagan temples dominated the landscape of Asia Minor.  While pagan temples were an important part of every ancient city, the identities of the cities in Asia Minor were forged by their temples.  I admit that this is just my impression, but I got the sense that cities like Rome, Alexandria, and Athens would have continued on if you removed their temples.  But in Asia Minor, if you removed the temples you would be stripping places like Miletus, Priene, and Ephesus of their very identity.  Ephesus and Miletus (Didyma) were rivals primarily because of their rival temples.  So when Paul strolls through town and announces that “in [Jesus] the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple” (Ephesians 2:21), that announcement was challenging the very power structures and the livelihood of these cities.  This is especially true in Ephesus…

ArtemisInsight #2The Temple of Artemis and its influence on Ephesus.  It is difficult to overstate how much the identity of Ephesus was inextricably tied to the Temple of Artemis.  It was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World for a reason.  Jerome Murphy-O’Connor notes that, “Artemis was part of the fabric of Ephesus, and the city was unthinkable without her.  Ministry in Ephesus, Paul mused, was going to be very different.”  In Athens when Paul announced that God does not live in your magnificent temples, the philosophers perhaps raised an eyebrow.  In Ephesus, that sentiment morphed its citizens into a violent mob.  This led to the uproar in the Great Theater.

Insight #3The scene at the Great Theater.  The Temple of Artemis contributed greatly to the economy of Ephesus.  Just as a modern-day sports team would draw fans throughout the region on game day contributing to the local economy, Artemis drew pilgrims from the region on a continual basis.  An entire industry sprang up around the production of small shrines of the temple and Artemis (available in the gift shop, no doubt) of which several have been unearthed in the region.  So Paul’s message was not just perceived as a religious threat to paganism, but also an economic threat to the livelihood of the city.Ephesus

This is what sparks the riot in Ephesus that spills into the Great Theater.  Acts 19 records that as the mob filled the theater, “they all shouted in unison for about two hours: ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!'”  Order was eventually restored but Paul was clearly shaken by the event.  Writing from Ephesus to the church at Corinth, Paul notes, “If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus with no more than human hopes, what have I gained?”  Later, Paul would write,

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia.  We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death.

There is little doubt that seeing his colleagues being dragged into the Great Theater and he, himself being threatened, this event left an indelible mark on Paul’s psyche.

There is much more that could be said about Ephesus.  In fact, my next project is exploring these very themes in the letter of Ephesians.  But this will suffice for a trip update.

Next up: Cappadocia!

A better title for this might be: Where I’m Going!  I’m using the format of sharing what I have been reading to write about an upcoming trip I am taking to Greece and Turkey.  However, one of the reasons for such a trip is captured in this book.  My journey will take me to some of the most important classical and biblical sites around the Mediterranean.

A Guide to Greece and Turkey

The book itself is a great resource for such a trip.  Any ancient site mentioned in the New Testament located in modern-day Greece or Turkey is summarized in this guide.  A brief history is given for each site, followed by the Biblical significance of the site, as well as an orientation to a site visit.  As the book itself points out, “Nearly two-thirds of the New Testament, including all the letters of Paul, most of Acts, and the book of Revelation, are set in either Turkey or Greece.”  My intention was to only peruse the sites I would be visiting, but I ended up reading the entire book.

Here is a brief synopsis of the places I will be experiencing on my trip.

  • Athens.  Next to Rome, no city has made as many contributions to art, philosophy, and political theory as Athens.  The city is the birthplace of Democracy and was the underlying cultural influence for much of the Roman Empire.  Surprisingly, for all its influence, the city itself does not stand out in the New Testament.  Acts 17 records a sermon that the Apostle Paul delivered in Athens at the Areopagus, or Mars Hill.  After Paul left the city, nothing more is said about Athens and other cities become the focus of Paul’s journeys.  Yet, like its influence on Rome, the cultural impact of Athens reverberates throughout the New Testament.
  • Corinth.  Much more prominent in Paul’s writings is the city of Corinth, which is only a couple of hour away from Athens.  The authors Fant and Reddish note that while Corinth benefited much from trade and commerce in the ancient world, it also found itself frequently dragged into the rivalry between Athens and Sparta.  In the New Testament, Paul spent eighteen months in the city and visited it on at least three separate occasions.  Two extant letters were written by Paul to the church he established at Corinth and they contain numerous references to the ancient site.
  • Ephesus.  The site of Ephesus is one of the best preserved archaeological sites around.  It was home to one of the ancient Wonders of the World, the Temple of Artemis, though there is little that remains of the temple.  Ephesus served as a home base for much of Paul’s missionary endeavors in Asia Minor, spending about three years there.  The book of Ephesians is a letter from Paul to the church he established there.  One of my current writing projects explores the connections between the book of Ephesians and the ancient city of Ephesus.
  • Cappadocia.  The region of Cappadocia in central Turkey is not mentioned prominently in the New Testament, though Paul does pass through the region on a couple of occasions on his way to Asia Minor.  Cappadocia is better known for its other-wordly landscape and does figure prominently in the history of the early church.  Many early churches can be found throughout the region.
  • Istanbul.  Another city not covered in this particular book is the city of Istanbul, better known historically as Byzantium or Constantinople.  While not mentioned in the New Testament, Constantinople would take center stage in the Christian world when the Emperor Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire from Rome to the site of this modern city that serves as the place where Europe and Asia meet.  It is a large modern city that is littered with Byzantine and Ottoman sites.

I’m not sure if I will be able to blog during my trip, but at the very least I will be exploring these sites and sharing pictures upon my return in a couple of weeks.