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About this courseTravel with our video team as we trace the footsteps of the Apostle Paul through Greece and Rome and explore how one of the most influential figures in the Christian Church dealt with overcoming boundaries.
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…is how Paul ends his letter in II Timothy, one of the last letters Paul wrote. Paul is in prison, probably knowing that his life on earth is nearing its end, and he writes to Timothy some final words. This letter is so full of emotion! “As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the fight.”
Our group visited the Church of St. Paul Outside the Wall, the traditional site of Paul’s burial. I was moved to tears being in this sacred place. I am a big fan of Apostle Paul. This place allowed me to pause and reflect on Paul’s ministry…the many miles he traveled, the beatings, the stonings, the shipwrecks, the lonely times, the rejections…all for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. What an inspiration and embodiment of faithfulness! I also had to think about how the church has at times flippantly dismissed Paul’s writings because we simply disagreed with him through our 21st century lenses. This saddens me. Paul is a hero of mine and being in this church helped surface my gratitude for his life witness, and deep pastoral and evangelistic care for the early Christian movement.
I unexpectedly was overcome by pictures of all the Popes who served in the Roman Catholic Church. Standing in the basilica with hundreds of portraits of church leaders encircling me reminded me of my own ministry calling. I am not Catholic, but this was an unanticipated holy moment that I’ll not forget for quite some time.
Tomorrow many members of our group fly home to Goshen and elsewhere, while some continue travels in Europe before returning home. It’s been a great trip filled with absolutely wonderful students. In reading their journals and reflecting on my own experience, it is safe to say that we come away from this trip with a richer awareness of Paul’s life and ministry, and his passion for spreading the Gospel of Jesus. For many, the Bible simply came alive to us in ways not previously known. A number of students said, “Paul’s letters and life became more accessible through this experience.”
To end my last blog posting, I wish to quote Paul’s final words to Timothy in II Timothy: “The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.”
Photos below: 1. The Church of St. Paul Outside the Wall. 2. Statue of Paul. 3. The tomb of Paul. 4. Photo medallions of the Popes inside the church. 5. Outside the church with statue of St. Paul near the entrance.
It’s hard to believe that our trip is coming to an end. The book of Acts ends with Paul arriving in Rome. Our class has now also finally arrived in Rome. Paul desired to reach Rome so that he could connect with the Christian church community there so that he could continue his evangelistic ministry to Spain. Rome served as a strategic geographic location for this to unfold. However, Acts tells us that Paul was in Rome under house arrest for two years, and tradition tells us that he was beheaded in Rome. Thus, never achieving his mission efforts to Spain.
The final two verses of Acts reads, “He lived there two whole years at his own expense and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.” What a testimony! Do I live life with that same fervor and message? I try to, but there is room for improvement. As I have journeyed with our students these past few weeks, engaging and following the story of Paul, I continue to be impressed with his pastoral heart and evangelistic zeal.
I am a BIG fan of apostle Paul and believe that our church could use more people like him. Now, I also must confess that I haven’t always liked how the Christian church has used Paul’s letters to support its own agenda and theology. I think the church has been more restrictive than Paul actually was. At the same time, I also think the church has had too many theological debates “with/about” Paul and not enough looking into his pastoral heart. Paul was clear in preaching about Jesus, freely sharing his encounter with the risen Lord, and quite expansive in his ministry zeal of the Good News. I am a BIG fan of Paul!
Photos below: 1. Our group ready to enter the Pantheon. 2. Approaching the Coliseum. 3. Lizzy is all smiles inside the Coliseum. 4. The Arch of Titus displaying the treasures taken from Jerusalem temple after the Roman army destroyed the city.
Paul opens his letter to the Corinthian church with a strong plea for unity. We read in Acts 18 that Paul spent 1 1/2 years in this large metropolis. Clearly Paul had significant interest in seeing that this church would be a shining example of what a Gospel community would be. However, Paul basically tells the church they are still “babies” when he says they still need milk and are not ready for solid food. This church is bickering, taking each other to court, etc. This church is an example of what Paul did NOT imagine for a Gospel community.
In I Cor. 6:19 Paul asks, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you…?” A tendency for we individualistic Americans is to read that verse as “my own personal body”….BUT in the Greek the “you” is plural, meaning that Paul was referring to the collective body of believers. In this case, it happens to be that the fellowship of believers at Corinth are not doing very well as a “collective you” and thus making it difficult for the Holy Spirit to work among them to produce goos, Spirited fruit. In fact, Paul states that the “quarreling” and “jealousy” are signs of the flesh…not good!
I have been part of churches in which it seems easier to not get along with each other and not talk about those quarrels than to address our differences ahead on. At the end of the day, the quarrels did not yield Spirited fruit. Overall, I think many of our churches in the U.S. need a good education about the “collective you.” Paul was a strong “collective you” ind of person. (See Galatians 6)
Photos below: 1. Nate is pondering atop the canal in Corinth that connects the Aegean Sea and the Ionian Sea. 2. The Temple of Apollo in Corinth with the Acrocorinth in the background. 3. Lunch atop the Acrocorinth. Notice the two bodies of water? 4. The group at the Bema where Paul was brought before Gallio, the proconsul.
Paul knew his audience…whatever it was…and engaged them and challenged them. He arrived in Athens from Berea, having been run out of there and two other northern Greek cities. If Paul wasn’t so compelled by his calling, he might have gone on vacation. Instead, he walked around Athens and argued in the Jewish synagogue because of all the idols that filled this city. Perhaps the Jewish leaders were okay with idols, and so Paul challenged them. He also debated the local Stoic and Epicurean philosophers. Paul was then led off to the Areopagus.
At the Areopagus, however, Paul’s debate style changed from confrontational to “speaking their language.” He applauded their religiousness. Told them more about their “unknown god” and quoted their unknown philosophers (e.g. “in him we live and move and have our being”). I wonder if I am able to be as nimble as Paul in my own speech? Can I confront and challenge when the situation calls for it, while also “speak their language” to those who are different from me in ways that only come through careful, attentive listening and observation?
Photos below: 1. View from Areopagus looking at the Acropolis. 2. Jenn Zehr sitting near the base of the Acropolis with a large, ancient theater in the background. 3. Sarah Dieter climbing down from the Areopagus in her “transformed” pose. 4. Bible class group photo in front of the Parthenon atop the Acropolis.
Those Thessalonians were at it again!…the Jewish leaders, that is. After Paul was encouraged to leave Thessalonica, he was warmly and eagerly welcomed in Berea. Many Jews, some Greek women, and “men of high standing” comprised this faith community. However, the Jewish leaders from Thessalonica traveled to Berea and incited the crowds. The Berean church then encouraged Paul to leave…but he left Silas and Timothy with the church to encourage them in the faith.
I wonder about the times I’ve been a “Thessalonian” to someone’s faith…in the “Jewish leader” sense? When have I squelched the work of the Holy Spirit? I pray that I have the wisdom, discernment, and accountability to be a faith encourager.
The photos below: 1. The site which commemorates Paul’s time in Berea. 2. Inside an old Jewish synagogue in the Jewish quarter of Berea. 3. Getting ready to climb the base of Mt. Olympus, “home” to the Greek gods and goddesses. 4. At the peak! Well, not really but a picturesque view of the plain and Aegean sea below, with Thessaloniki on the other side.
Have you ever been made fun of, especially if you believed something about faith that others found strange? Is it tough in those times to stay true to your convictions or is it easier to “compromise a little” so you don’t have to deal with those annoying comments and misunderstandings? Well, when Paul paid his first visit to Thessaloniki…the synagogue leaders wanted to grab him and take him to the city officials. However, they got Jason instead. Based on Paul’s two letters to the faith community in Thessaloniki it appears that this church continues to face persecution from those living around them.
So in the midst of that reality Paul writes a letter to them as a way to encourage their faith in Jesus and as a community of believers. And several a times in these two books Paul encourages them to “encourage one another and build up each other.” I often wonder what would happen if more people in the church today spent time encouraging one another rather than offer up “less than encouraging” actions.
Photos below: 1. Sammy and Yolo striking a pose. You can see that Thessaloniki was a port city. 2. The White Tower…public identifier of the city. 3. An icon of Abraham’s hospitality with the angelic visitors; in the Byzantine museum we visited in Thessaloniki.
Today was our day in Philippi…what a day! Our day included visits to Kavala (biblical Neapolis) where Paul landed on the mainland of Greece (Macedonia) after receiving a vision from God to “detour” his ministry this way from Asia Minor (Turkey). Paul climbed over the mountain range to Philippi, a city with special Roman status privileges. There he met Lydia, a seller of purple cloth (aka businesswoman with financial means). This church was near and dear to Paul as they supported him throughout his ministry with emotional, financial, and spiritual means.
And so it must have been painful for Paul to learn about “murmuring” and “arguing” among some members of the fellowship. In fact, he calls a couple of key people out by name!…but in the same breath encourages them to posses the same mind of Christ and to remember what really unites them…an identity in Christ! I’m so glad that over 2,000 years later that we in the church have solved this problem and we have no more “murmurings” and “arguments”…what a life! Now, only if my last sentence were true! I wonder what “God’s letter” to us would be today? What would it say? What would God encourage us to do?
Photos below: 1. Group photo of both classes in Kavala in front of mosaic depicting Paul’s coming to this country. 2. Walking the Via Egnatia…the ancient “highway” that Paul journeyed. 3. The ruins of Philippi. 4. Ye ancient latrine. 5. Baptismal site near home of Lydia.
In Acts 16:9 the writer states, “During the night Paul had a vision” about a man from Macedonia pleading for him to come over to Macedonia. Paul’s ministry took a “detour” of sorts from his ministry efforts in Turkey to the country we are currently in, Greece. Yet that “detour” opened up the Gospel to a new country and impacted so many lives. I wonder what would have happened if Paul had ignored that vision…or shall I say “gift/calling” from God? Who knows, maybe we’d simply be reading about another name who actually followed through. But we have Paul being that one obediently following.
Today David shared with our group that Paul was a “person of controversy” and he offered four thoughts concerning that. The one issue is that Paul…and us…have to
deal with him being an apostle. Accepting apostleship means following through on the call even when there are “detours.” I wondered to myself if I actually follow through on the possible detours in my own ministerial calling, or am I too busy focusing on the ministry I think I ought to be about? When have I ignored those dreams and visions?
Today was a good first day in Thessaloniki…we will touch more on the Thessalonian letters after our day in Philippi tomorrow. Below in Thessaloniki, 1. Danae points to some “Christian graffiti” dated during the Roman period in early centuries A.D. 2. Engaging the church of St. Demetrius, first Christian martyr of Thessaloniki and patron saint of the city. 3. Triumphal Arch of Galerius, 3rd/4th century Roman Emperor who had Demetrius killed. 4. Early Christian symbol…long before the cross became a prominent.
Our first meeting with David and Elizabeth Sparks during a brief cultural orientation to Greece. Afterward we had a lovely Greek meal and then a stroll on the promenade by the bay in Thessaloniki with Mt. Olympus in the background.
Today on the plane I read the story of Paul found in the Acts of the Apostles. I was struck by Acts 9:16 where the Lord tells Ananias, “I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” This, of course, refers to Paul’s future. And then in many of the following chapters we see Paul and others being stoned, beaten, stripped, tossed out of a city, brought to the local government, etc. I wonder if I’d be that willing to do follow through in the the way that Paul did?
If all goes to plan we will be on a bus tomorrow at this time heading for Chicago O’Hare. Looking forward to a great class ahead! I want to note that there are actually two classes on this trip…Seth’s videography class and then a Bible class in which myself and Keith Graber Miller are leading. There are 33 students in the “Journeys of Paul in Greece and Rome” Bible class.
We have worked closely with Footstep Ministries. They have been excellent in arranging for itinerary and many other details of this trip. For more information about class itinerary and Footstep Ministries, check out: Footstep Ministries – Goshen College itinerary