Greece Day 1

Ok, I know I’m going a little out-of-order but after many hours without sleep and lots of work, this is the day that is the most fresh in my mind right now.  I will get back to Turkey I promise.

Our fifth day in Turkey started in a very special way…with a 2:15 am wake up call.  I wish I was kidding, however this is actually true.   We needed to be packed and ready to leave Kusadassi by 3:15 in order to make our 1 hour drive back to Izmir and then board a plane for Istanbul by 5:15 am.  Once we arrived in Istanbul we then had to say goodbye to our Turkish guide Shebnem who was absolutely amazing.  We then boarded a plane destined for Athens, Greece in order to continue the next leg of our journey.  Our day in Athens was a short one due to our early morning travel, however we were able to two different sites: Mars Hill and the Acropolis of Athens.

  • Mars Hill/Areopagus – Mars Hill is an important site for understanding the ministry of the Apostle Paul, specifically in Acts 17. The site of Mars Hill was a location where the men of the city, especially the philosophers would gather and debate every new idea and thought process.  Athens was known for this.  They were known for the pursuit of knowledge and understanding.  Here at Mars Hill two different schools of philosophy were represented: the Stoics and the Epicureans.  Without explaining too much, let me say this:

The Stoics were focused on the eternal soul and the material was not of much consequence to them.

The Epicureans were focused on this life – eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die!

It was at the gathering of the Areopagus that Paul was invited to come and explain this new philosophy – the idea of the resurrection!  Neither of these groups embraced the idea of the resurrection.  Afterlife?  Yes, but not in bodily form because the Stoics wanted to be free from the body.  So, Paul came and in approximately 90 seconds shared an amazing summary of the gospel with arguments from small to great.  Some responded by laughing, some with curiosity and at least 2 responded in faith.  Here are two thoughts for you regarding Mars Hill and Acts 17.  First, our faith needs to come into the public arena in a way that is accessible and understandable for others.  Notice how Paul engaged them in a way that they would understand, even quoting from their own poets.  Second, Paul talked about something that resonates in our culture – the fact that the Athenians were unsure about the idea of heaven and the afterlife.  So are many in our culture and yet because of Jesus’ resurrection what may seem unsure has been made sure for those who trust in Him

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Are you sure of your eternal destination?

  • Acropolis – Next we traveled up the nearby hill and visited the sites of the Parthenon, the Temple of Nike and the Erechetion. It is here that we learn a lot about the Athenian culture and also about how God was preparing the way for the gospel to come here.  If you’ve ever seen the move 300 you know about Xerxes – the Persian King who conquered much of this region.  He came to Athens and did the same, but rather than dying, the Athenians left the city and hid, but in the midst of that, Xerxes’ navy which had approximately 1,700 ships made a major mistake and found themselves trapped in the straight between Athens and the Island of Salmina.  Although the Athenians only had 140 ships they were able to surround and trap the Persians who eventually destroyed themselves due to confusion and thereby destroyed all of their supplies for their 1.7 million man army.  The Athenians wisely realized that it was not them who deserved the victory but that someone from above had won the day.  So they built the Temple, just below the Parthenon called the Temple of Nike or victory.  This was to remind them all that the victory came from someone else – from god above.  This particular Athenian idea paved the way for the gospel which reveals Jesus as the one from above providing and securing our victory, even though it’s not what we deserve.

Oh, by the way, we were able to visit the Parthenon, one of the single most recognizable locations in antiquity.  Here the King/Priests of Athens resided before the development of democracy here in Athens.  Eventually, the goddess Athena was worshipped here as the Athenian patron god.

Now, just a little touch of what tomorrow will bring.  Tomorrow we will be in Corinth and I can’t wait to share all of that with you.

Greece Day 1

Turkey – Day 2

On day two of our trip through western Turkey we were able to visit 3 amazing sites: Smyrna, Sardis and Philadelphia – each having received a personal letter from Jesus. Before I share much about the sites I want to share an important piece of background to the land of Turkey.  If you’ve ever wondered “Why Turkey”…you aren’t the only one!  But the geographic location of Turkey gives great insight into why this area, the coast of the Mediterranean and the Aegean Seas are so important.  First, Turkey serves as a land bridge between Europe and Asia as well as the middle East.  So, when Christianity started in Jerusalem, shortly after the resurrection of Jesus, if you wanted to get the gospel to the rest of the known world, Turkey was a key land.  In other words, the gospel is for others too, not just a few and therefore we are wise to focus on areas that bridge many different cultures and lands.  Second, the western side of Turkey was home to several of the largest ports in the world at this time.  Again, if you wanted to take anything anywhere, you went to the ports.  So, since the gospel is not just for a few and for all and since God has called us to be a people who sharing the gospel with others Turkey makes strategic sense.  Now, here is a little bit of what we were able to see in Turkey on day 2.

The Gospel is for others too,

not just a few!

Smyrna

Smyrna was a city that was known as being very beautiful, and today when you visit the ruins and the modern town of Izmir you would certainly agree.  Izmir is seated on the edge of the Aegean Sea with several mountains surrounding and incorporated into the city.  Originally Smyrna was built upon Mount Pagus and continued down toward the water.  Today, many of the ruins that you can see are just below Mount Pagus.

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In His letter to the Christians at Smyrna Jesus describes Himself as the “one who died and came to life again.”  This is a very clear reference to His resurrection, but it is also an incredible word of encouragement to a church that was facing intense persecution including martyrdom.  Imagine you yourself facing such intense persecution that you feared for your life.  Then you receive a letter from Jesus, the one who himself faced death and beat it.  Imagine the comfort of hearing – I see you, I know your afflictions and I will give you victory if you follow me!  What an important message in our culture that is gradually becoming less welcoming to Christianity.

Sardis

The Christians at Sardis had it all!  Because of a gold rush that had occurred, thousands of people had flocked to Sardis to strike it rich.  Some did and because of that the city grew quite wealthy.  The city was so wealthy that they built an enormous gymnasium (seen below) as well as the largest known synagogue in antiquity for the Jewish residents.

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But here was the problem, the Christians there had settled into the culture and grown complacent and sleepy!  No longer were they focused on the mission and no longer were they focused on loving God and loving others, only themselves!  Here at Sardis, Jesus tells the Christians to wake up, persevere in the ministry that I have called you to and start producing fruit.  Specifically, Sardis had a great opportunity to help others from around the world know Jesus because of the traffic on the Royal Road right outside it’s gates and the great temple to Artemis just a little outside the city.  Thousand of people would regularly travel to this area for worship and simply to arrive at other destinations, but the Christians here weren’t doing anything with the good news!

No longer were they focused on the mission.  No longer were they focused on loving God and loving others.  They were only focused on themselves!

Philadelphia

The city of Philadelphia is currently buried under the modern-day city of Aleshir.  While there aren’t many ruins, there certainly is an extraordinary story here, and here is all I’m going to say for now because I am extremely tired and I want to hold you in suspense: you will have to visit New Story Church this fall to see our series called “The Seven” in order to learn more about Philadelphia!  Until then, I will share more tomorrow including Laodicea and more!

Turkey – Day 2

Turkey – Day 1

Welcome to Turkey!  Those are words that I’m not sure I ever expected to hear, nevertheless I have heard them now several times.  While Turkey has experienced a good amount of political and religious upheaval in recent years, the opportunity to see and experience many of the locations talked about in the New Testament has been drawing on me.  So…two days ago I arrived in Turkey and was promptly greeted by those words I never expected to hear.  The apostle Paul spend much time in modern-day Turkey and so you will find many of the locations here listed in the book of Acts.  However, for this trip we are primarily focusing on the churches listed in Revelation 2 and 3 that Jesus specifically sent messages to.  I plan to share with you where we have been and a few thoughts on each location, however we will be starting a series later this year that we are filming here on location called The Seven.

Pergamum

In visiting the Biblical city of Pergamum you have to start with the modern-day city of Bergama.  Bergama is a good-sized city of about 100,000 today and just outside of the city and up the hill you will find the acropolis or “upper city”.  It is the acropolis that houses much of the ruins of Pergamum today.  Jesus’ letter to the church at Pergamum is filled with contrasts.  He states that he knows them and their faith and that they are staying true, however they have bought into the idea that immorality and compromise with their morals is okay.  Because of that, Jesus’ message to Pergamum is incredibly applicable to us today.  Pergamum was a city filled with worship.  Worship of Zeus took place at the Temple to Zeus where he was described as God and Savior.  Worship of Dionysus took place at her temple close to the theater where people reveled in partying, drunkenness and relaxation.  Worship of the emperors started at the Temple of Trajan and eventually Domitian and others made it largely official.  So you see in this city, people who loved Jesus would have a very hard time remaining true to Christ if they wanted any involvement in community life.  It’s very likely that the Christians in this city had stuck to their beliefs but had moved their morals.

It is very likely that the Christians in this city had stuck

to their beliefs but had moved their morals.

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Imagine living every day where you would look up to the skyline and see the fires of sacrifices at the great altar to Zeus and the amazing temple to Trajan (Emperor Worship – above).  The pressure to conform or lose all city privileges would be very strong.  It is in this culture and city that Jesus says – Repent!  Otherwise, he will come against them with the sword that comes out of his mouth.  He has the authority!  He is in control, so we can trust Him even in a difficult culture.

Thyatira

The fourth letter of the seven letters is written to the church in the city of Thyatira.  In this city Jesus calls the Christians to turn away from being more tolerant than God.  Here is what was likely happening.  Thyatira was a very blue-collar town with several trade guilds.  There was a trade guild for the bronze workers.  There was a trade guild for the cloth dyers.  So, if you were a Christian who worked in a trade that had a guild, you would be invited to all of the guild parties.  While this might not seem bad to us, these guild parties were tied to the worship of the patron god Apollo.  The guild would gather, have a meal consisting of food offered to the patron god, and then the real party would begin.  Drunkenness, immorality and partying would all be the end of the event, and if a Christian wanted to skip out of these guild parties, they would definitely be noticed.  So, here at Thyatira, the Christians began to more tolerant of things that were clearly immoral.  Rather than calling out sin in their own lives and helping others confront their sin they were turning a blind eye.  In others words, they were continuing to believe in Jesus but they were okay with living like everyone else so they didn’t lose their friends and their jobs.  At this point Jesus says, watch out, turn away from what you doing or death and judgment are coming your way.

In Thyatira the believers were continuing in their belief but living like everyone else.

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Tomorrow we will show you the cities of Smyrna, Sardis and Philadelphia.

Turkey – Day 1

Changing Our Name – Almost Done!

name-change

Well, the process is almost finished, but there is a lot of work left to be finished.  I haven’t written on our name change process in several months and part of that was on purpose. Over the past six months we have been carefully thinking through and working towards determining an idea for our new name.  This was a long process but eventually our leadership team arrived at a name that we believed encompassed both what we are trying to accomplish (lives changed by Jesus) and what we wanted to communicate to our community (no matter who you are or where you’ve been there is hope for a new story in Jesus).

No matter who you are or where you’ve been,

there is hope for a new story in Jesus!

 

At that point we arrived at the name New Story Church.  Now, while none of us felt like it was a perfect name, over time we began to realize that did communicate hope and it did connect with so much of what we believe.  So, how did we move from there to here?

Over the past three months our team has spent time meeting with the members of our church in order to talk about this name, get their feedback and work toward building consensus.  We hosted several open forums to allow people to ask questions and share objections.  Finally, on February 5th we voted on the name New Story Church.  The results were very encouraging to the unity and direction of this church.  Our vote involved nearly 80 percent of our membership and the vote passed with an 88 percent vote.  The day was culminated with the “new story” of a great friend of mine who recently trusted Jesus and went public with his faith through baptism.  You can see his story here!

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Now what does this mean going forward?  Here are a few thoughts that I want to share publicly:

  1. We are the same church with a new name!  The people are the church, that hasn’t changed and won’t change.  Our theology hasn’t changed but our accessibility to those who are still far from Christ has.
  2. The history and past of Oak Grove is not something to be forgotten!  Many lives have been impacted by Christ here and the mission that we have today is the same mission passed down to us from those who started this church.  We will continue to do everything we can short of sin to reach others for Christ – just like this church was started to do.
  3. Our re-branding process will take some time.  While we are now New Story Church, you will still see Oak Grove on a number of things until April 30th.  On April 30th we will celebrate and unveil our new branding and all of the changes associated with becoming New Story Church.  We do this because we want everything to be done well.

So, thank you for following along in this process, for praying and for sharing your thoughts.  I know that some don’t like or agree with change, but many of you have been an encouragement to us along the way.  No matter what, my desire is that churches take God seriously, His call to reach others seriously, and maybe even stop taking themselves so seriously.

Changing Our Name – Almost Done!