Saturday, April 28, 2012

3 Biblical Cities (Hierapolis, Laodicea, and Colosse) and One Unbiblical One (Aphrodisias)

Today was a day that doesn't happen too often in a person's life. I was able to visit three cities mentioned in the Bible and especially Laodicea whose location and water system I have often spoken about but have never seen. Now I have.
This morning I started with touring Hierapolis (mentioned in Colossians 4:13) an amazing city that is quite large. I spent two hours here. The theater is breathtaking as well as the temples, the agora, the gates and the 1 1/4 mile long necropolis (cemetery with 4 types of stone tombs). But flowing out right from the middle of the city are thermal springs with a high level of dissolved calcium carbonate. As this mineral content mixes with oxygen it forms a white "stone" that has the appearance of flowing down the hills (this area now goes by the name Pamukkale and these are famous as the Pools of Pamukkale). It was famous for the cures it could give (but notice the looooong cemetery so obviously it didn't always work!). It was said to be good for kidney disease so I took off my shoes and went for a walk in it! I personally think this was the "hot" water that John may have referred to as he wrote the church at Laodicea. That city is just across the river and I got great pictures of the "white cotton" hills from the 12,000 seat theater at Laodicea.
The drive to Laodicea (mentioned not only in Revelation but in Colossians 4:13, 15, 16) was not long (no wonder Paul wanted the letter to the Colossians to be read by these nearby cities) but the wait for me has been years! Finally, this was one of the reasons I had made this quick trip to Turkey. I had heard there was not much here but the archeologists have been working and I saw two theaters, temples, churches, agora, gates, streets, a stadium, and finally after walking for about 1/2 mile through fields and through an Arab cemetery I saw what I had come for, stone water pipes that had brought water a great distance to this city (no doubt lukewarm by the time it got here). The "pipes" were about 4 foot square with a round hole cut through the middle. Most of them still had mineral deposits that had decreased the size of the hole and no doubt reduced the flow of the water. I just couldn't get over that I was actually standing in Laodicea and then to read Revelation 3:14-22 was a very unique experience that I will not soon forget.

The Book of Colossians was written to the church at a place called Colosse. I visited that site this afternoon. I was told there was not much there and there wasn't! A hill, an indent at the side of the hill where presumably the theater was located and a few tops of pillars and large stones sticking up through the grass in the surrounding fields. Not much but I was standing in the place where Philemon and slave Onesimus had once lived and where Christians had proclaimed the name of Jesus. What a thrill just to be here.
By now it was 3 pm and I decided that to arrive at my hotel by 5:30 pm was something a man didn't want to do when there were things to see. I had heard/read that one of the most renowned schools of sculpture and art in the Hellenistic world was nearby (OK, so it was an hour and a quarter away but not in the direction of my hotel but it wasn't in the opposite direction either). It also had a well preserved stadium (270 meters long!) and a museum that held a tremendous number of statues. This ancient site is known as Aphrodisias (and no snide comments need to be made about my motives at this time!). It was another amazing site. In American we'd put this whole thing under a huge building but just to walk around the site and to realize, that this site, like all the others, still have hundreds of years of digging to do if they ever wanted to uncover the entire city.

I stayed until closing and then made the 2 1/2 hour drive north towards the biblical cities of Philadelphia, and Sardis, and  . . . (see my blog tomorrow for what I was able to accomplish. I have just one more full day here and so I'll be up early and stay out to late!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Reading Revelation 2 in Ephesus and in Smyrna!

I had the wonderful privilege of waking up today and having my "devotions" in 2 of the actual places where these letters were addressed — in Smyrna and then in Ephesus.
I drove my rental car downtown Smyrna (modern day Izmir), the third largest city in Turkey and with the help of 2 words written in Turkey by the hotel receptionist and a somewhat inaccurate hotel map I made it with just one wrong turn in about 10 miles of city driving! I parked in a 6-story parking garage and took the first picture of the ruins of Smyrna from the third floor on which I had parked. The "agora" (market place) is what you can see and is the essential ruin of the ancient city that is left in the middle of a crowded somewhat modern city. The next picture is taken from the other side of the ruins and you can see the parking garage in the distance. As I read the Scriptures I wondered if there are any true believers in Jesus in Smyrna (now called Izmir) and if there are, I couldn't help wonder what sort of persecution they would undergo today just like 2,000 years ago. What a blessing to live where I do with the freedoms and protections I have.
Then on to Ephesus (the ruins lay a couple of miles outside a small town called Selcuk). I've got a couple of great sermon illustrations in how I got there (think toll road, no ticket, the place to purchase a ticket is on the other side of an 8 lane highway with a 6 foot fence in the middle!).
What an amazing place Ephesus is. Most say it is the best preserved of all the ancient Greco-Roman cities and it was something. The 22,000 seat theater (I was disappointed they don't allow a person to go past the lower 1/3 — I had been dreaming of taking a picture from the top row), the Celsus library that is so well preserved, the second theater, clay water pipes, clay roof tiles, houses, shops, places of worship and of course for the "foolish man who follows the seductive woman" (think Proverbs 5, 6, 7) an engraved stone to lead him to the house of ill-repute! Then I read from Revelation 2 concerning the love of the Ephesians that had grown cold. They were faced with an unbelievable ungodly culture all around them but still our Lord wanted and expected them to give him themselves completely and to love Him fully.
Then into Selcuk to the archeological museum, to St. John's the apostle's presumed grave (located in the midst of the ruins of a huge church that was build later), and to the disappointingly sparse ruins of Aphroditis (Diana)Temple (it was once one of the seven wonders of the ancient world and now there is a single pillar that has been place where this structure [see the small model] once stood.
Then off to Miletus (where the Apostle Paul met with the Ephesian church elders) but this was prevented by the traffic jam you can see in the picture. I was under the impression for the longest time that there was a bad bicycle accident (there were police and an ambulance and helicopter) but my interpretation of Turkish was lacking I'm afraid. It was a major cycling race and they closed the highway for an hour! I decided I couldn't chance trying to get to Pamakkule (beside ancient Hieropolis) in the dark so I rerouted from heading to Miletus and drove through dozens of small towns (with stop lights) for the next 2 hours.
Now I'm here and I'm looking forward tomorrow to visiting a number of sites including Hieropolis, Laodicea, and Colosse (if I can find the last two!). By the way, the picture below is from my hotel room balcony. That is NOT snow. What is it?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Pizza Party in Hungary!

Tonight the 53 students along with some staff members of the Word of Life Bible Institute here in Tóalmás, Hungary enjoyed an outdoor pizza and dessert party due to the generosity of Waterbrook Bible Fellowship in Wylie, Texas ( This is my home church and it is this church that faithfully sends me our each year to teach in some international context as part of our missions program at our church. When I made the announcements the Sunday before I left I mentioned that whenever I have some extra money or if someone gives me some money for my mission trip I usually try and purchase a special dessert for the students. The evening meal here is quite basic (the pic shows the bread and lunch meat we had last night). Well . . . the Waterbrook people were more than generous after the service and I ended up with $330 to buy desserts! The leadership here helped me come up with a better plan than desserts after every meal and so today the students enjoyed pizza (delivered from a local town since Tóalmás doesn't have a pizza shop) and a traditional Hungarian dessert called, Somlói galuska (it is wonderful!). Study hour was cancelled and the students ate and then played some games outside. The students were very excited when they realized what dinner was tonight and when they were told it was a gift from brothers and sisters at my home church they broke out into applause (and then again when it was translated into Hungarian). Most of them came up to me personally to thank me and so I pass their thanks on to Waterbrook. Thanks brothers and sisters!
I've requested that the extra money that we didn't use for candy, pizza, or dessert go into a fund that can help the students out another time. Thanks for being so generous! 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The houses of Tolomas

The so-called "Andrássy Castle" is really a large mansion that was once owned by the brother of a famous Hungarian count named Gyula Andrássy. It was built in 1984-95 in the neo-baroque style. During this period of time more than 100 villagers worked full-time at the mansion and its surrounding parks. The Andrássy family abandoned the castle before the end of WWII. When the Soviets moved through, the mansion's contents were ransacked and lost forever.
After Hungary became a communist state in 1948, the castle was taken over by the Hungarian Socialist Trade Worker's Union and remodeled the facilities into a communist youth camp and a weekend retreat for the Communist Party officials.
In 1989, by a miracle of God, the camp was officially taken over by Word of Life and it is now a 2 year Bible Institute and a summer children's camp (for over 1,000 children each summer).
This mansion that I am staying in is obviously an unusual house for this part of rural Hungary. It sits just at the end of the local rural village of Tóalmás, about an hour's drive east of Budapest. It has a population of about 3,000 and has been here in various forms for over 1,000 years. There is a small mineral spring in town which is a summer spa area but not too much else to make it any different than hundreds of other towns.
I love to walk through the village each day and I took some pictures of the streets and houses of this town. Older homes were make of mud brick and straw with tiled roofs while the newer ones are of concrete block covered with stucco. Many have wood burning fireplaces and all have some sort of garden out back, some with chickens and every ones, it seems, with a dog! Enjoy the pictures.