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Turkey Trip

#1 Biblical Perspective.  #2 God’s love.  #3 Our part.

Even with the pre-trip preparation, I was not prepared for what I discovered about First Century Christianity on LEAD’s annual pilgrimage to Turkey and Greece. Three big ah-has stand out among the countless learnings of this journey.

  1. When reading the Bible, the first question is “What does it say about God acting in historic context?” Only then can we ask the second question, “What does this mean for me?” To quote our Immersion Guide, Don Carlson, “Too often the Bible is primarily read ‘devotionally’ which is the ‘what does this mean for me or us’ without acknowledging that we are reading someone else’s mail.”

All my life I have been in Bible Studies that have helped me reflect on myself. I wonder why I had to wait until I was able to travel to these amazing historical, Biblical sites to fully grasp that the Bible is about God moving in living, breathing people who risked their lives for their faith. Surely someone had taught me this when I was younger, yet I must admit that until now, I had missed it. Our Christian culture has been so ‘me’ centered that this default lens of mine has messed up my capacity to read scripture.

So Learning #1 is that reading scripture through a First Century lens frees me from imposing my 21st Century biases…biases that are unhelpful. 

The more I understand about the historical Biblical perspective, the more I can understand God and what it means to be church. Hopefully you are ahead of me in your own historical Biblical understanding. Hopefully you already know what Pastor Marcia Kiefer articulates well in her quote from the trip:

I was standing in the ruins of the 4th largest temple built to Apollo in Didymas, Turkey – halfway through the trip – when it hit me. Jesus stood against the Roman Empire. Paul stood against the Roman Empire. The glorious empire of Rome, built on power and fear, now lies in ruins. The Kingdom of God, built on love and peace, lives on. I will never read the Gospels or the letters or Revelation in the same way again. This trip was revolutionary!

  1. First Century Christian leaders were tougher than we are. Sorry to be so blunt, but they risked their whole life, not is some romantic way that makes for a good novel, but in an painful, life-risking, gut-wrenching way. Most of us haven’t signed up for that. They had the guts to go against the culture to share the Gospel with the powers-that-be and with the powerless. They understood in a way that, if we are honest, we can admit we have not, that God’s love is what unites us, not our socioeconomic status, race, gender, age, language or any if the many other ways we have of classifying people.

So Learning #2 is that we are loved and can love more than we realize. God’s love is really the whole deal – and if we really believe that in the way the early church did, we would love more readily. We will never run out of love. We will never be worthy of this kind of love. Our first call as followers of Jesus is really about loving each other. That love is “agape” in the New Testament. It is a self-givng love. It involves action, not mere emotion. It involves justice.

  1. On occasion I have thought that God has a misplaced trust in the church as a vehicle for sharing the good news. I have wondered if the decline in the organized church is evidence that God is finding other ways to help a hurting world know God’s love. After walking through ancient ruins, I realize that the world has always been messed up, that Christians have always been on a learning curve and that I am being short-sighted if I think the church as I know it is the only form of church. Again, to quote Don Carlson, “The church/congregations of the Corinthians, Philippians, Thessalonians, Ephesians (etc.) are no longer there. Why do we think that congregations should last forever?”

So Learning #3 is that our part is changing but God’s part is not. I find hope in recognizing the many different forms of church through which God has moved. I find even more hope in knowing that the changes we are experiencing are great because these new opportunities to be church mean more people will experience God’s love. It turns the buildings, the systems, and even the worship styles we tend, into tools, not destinations. The early church functioned in a way that made sense in its context, we need to do the same.

Christianity is on the move today not unlike the First Century church. Immersion experiences like the ones LEAD is hosting to Turkey and Greece and to Rome are eye-openers that deepen our faith, spark new imagination and remind us of what matters most. My wish is that every leader, especially our young pastors, would have the chance to meet God in the ancient past.
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