Thursday, June 20, 2013

Paul's Travels

Orthodox Church Icon of St.Paul

Travel in New Testament times was not easy. Though the Romans had built their roads which link major cities and towns, these roads were paved with stones and not comfortable to travel on. The carts drawn by mules did not have spring suspension and were bumpy. Most people, except for the rich and nobles, walked. Travelers were exposed to the weather and at risk from bandits or pirates. They were also at the mercy of unscrupulous innkeepers and their dirty unhygienic inns. One could imagine that the people would not want to travel far unless they had no choice. What then were the reasons the Apostle Paul have to travel? The conversion experience of Paul near Damascus may provide the answer:

AC 9:1 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples. He went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?"

AC 9:5 "Who are you, Lord?" Saul asked. "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," he replied. 6 "Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do."

AC 9:7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8 Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. 9 For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.

AC 9:10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, "Ananias!"
"Yes, Lord," he answered.
AC 9:11 The Lord told him, "Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight."

AC 9:13 "Lord," Ananias answered, "I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name."
AC 9:15 But the Lord said to Ananias, "Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name." (NIV)

Paul was God's chosen instrument to spread the gospel to both the Jews and the Gentiles. While the majority of Jews were in Judea and Samaria, the Gentiles were not but spread out all over the Roman empire. These meant that Paul had to travel far to reach the Gentiles. However Paul did not wander around aimlessly. There seem to be a strategy in Paul's traveling. What then was this strategy?

Firstly, Paul identified and focused on provinces in Asia Minor. Both Luke and Paul referred consistently to provinces rather than cities. Thus Paul was forbidden to preach the word in Asia (Acts 16:6), he was called from Troas not to Philippi or to Thessalonica but to Macedonia. In Paul’s view, the unit was the province rather than the city. Then within these province, Paul identified cities to which he would preach. Paul did not plan to preach in every city in a province but key cities only. He would first preach to the local Jews in the synagogue and if his message was rejected, to the Gentiles outside the synagogues. He planned to establish missional churches in these cities which will spread the gospel into the province itself.

Secondly, Paul usually start with the Jewish communities in the selected cities. Under the Roman government, the Jews enjoyed many privileges. Their religion was recognised. They had liberty to administer their own laws. They were not obligated to share in the worship of the Emperor and they were exempt from military service. Thus Paul entered these centres as member of a powerful and highly privileged group. He can enter and preach in any synagogue.

Thirdly, Paul chose cities which were centres of Greek civilisation. Even in Lystra, half the inscriptions, which have been discovered, are Greek while the other half are Latin. Everywhere Roman government went hand in hand with Greek education. The education provided Paul with his medium of communication. There is no evidence that Paul translated the Scriptures into the local dialects of Asia Minor. The influence of Greek civilisation was an influence, which tended to the spread of education, and Christianity from the first was a religion of education. The disciples were learners. Paul preached in Greek, wrote in Greek and expected his converts to read the Scriptures in Greek. For Paul, one common language was as important as one government under Pax Romana.

Fourthly, Paul’s work was confined within the limits of the Roman administration. In preaching in south Galatia, Paul was preaching in the Roman province next to his native province of Cilicia. Between these two cities lay the territory of Lycaonia Antiochi, and across this territory Paul must have passed when he journeyed from Tarsus to Lystra and Iconium. Yet we were never told that he made any attempt to preach in that area. In areas of Roman administration, Paul knew that he could obtain for himself and his people the security afforded by a strong government. As a Roman citizen, he knew that as a last resort, he could expect and receive protection from his fanatical countrymen. In these Roman provinces, there is religious tolerance, peace and security of travel. In Corinth, Gallio, proconsul of Achaia, was impartial and refuse to hear the case, and in Ephesus the city clerk was reasonable and fair.

Fifthly, the Roman Empire also gave Paul the groundwork for the gospel. The idea of a world-wide empire, the idea of the common citizenship of men of many races in that one empire, the strong authority of one law, the one peace, the breaking down of national exclusiveness, all these things prepared men’s mind to receive Paul’s teaching of the Kingdom of God and of the common citizenship of all Christians in it. Paul used the terms and concepts of his time and 'baptised' it for the purpose of spreading the good news. Caesar Augustus' proclamation of the good news (gospel) that he was the saviour of all humankind through Pax Romana, was subverted by Paul into that the gospel (good news) is Jesus Christ is the saviour of all humankind and has established the kingdom of heaven.

Sixthly, Paul chose cities which were centres of the world’s commerce. They were cities of importance as leaders of the provinces. These were cosmopolitan cities. In them were many travelers who will carry the gospel back to their own provinces. Their wealth makes these cities powerful. They were the trendsetters, foremost in any new fashion or policy. One example was Ephesus a major trading port city in the Asia Minor coast. Paul spent a lot of time there. Another example was Corinth, another powerful maritime city.

Finally, Paul trained leaders from different provinces. He taught them and brought them along with his travels. This is an effective training model, one which Jesus also used. As the team travelled, Paul would teach the core content of Christian beliefs (teaching), his trainees would observe his life (modeling), and Paul would get them involved in the ministry (praxis). No less than seven disciples were travelling with Paul on his trip through Macedonia, making it a mobile school (Acts 20:4). Even when Paul was a prisoner in transit to Rome, he was able to have Aristarchus and Luke goes with him (Acts 27:2-8; 28:1, 10-15). At one time, Paul’s entourage consists of nine men from different provinces: Sopater (Berea, Macedonia), Aristarchus and Secundus (Thessalonica), Luke (Philippi), Gaius (Derbe, Galatia), Timothy (Lystra, Galatia), Tychicus and Trophimus (Ephesus, Asia) and Titus (Achaia).

To summarise, Paul's travels were not aimless wanderings but a planned evangelistic outreach. An estimation made by Eckhard J. Schnabel suggested that Paul travelled a distance of 25,000 km (15,500 miles) in 663 days which is a long distance over a long period of time. Roland Allen, Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1962, 3) notes, "In little more than 10 years, Paul established the Church in 4 provinces of the Empire, Galatia, Macedonia, Achaia and Asia. Before AD 47 there were no churches in these provinces; in AD 57 Paul could speak as if his work has been done and was planning to go further afield". It appear that the strategy worked!

By land (25 km/day)
By sea (100 km/day)
Journey total
300 km (12 days)
300 km (12 days)
1,800 km (70 days)
1,800 km (70 days)
Jerusalem (AD 44)
1,080 km (45 days)
1,080 km (45 days)
1,440 km (60 days)
980 km (10 days)
2,420 (70 days)
Jerusalem (AD 48)
1,080 km (45 days)
1,080 km (45 days)
3,110 km (125 days)
2,060 km (20 days)
5,170 km (145 days)
2,900 km (115 days)
3,210 km (35 days)
6,110 km (150 days)
1,000 km (40 days)
1,800 km (15 days)
2,800 km (55 days)
120 km (5 days)
1,300 km (14 days)
1,420 km (19 days)
Last journeys
900 km (35 days)
1,700 km (17 days)
2,570 km (52 days)
Totals (approximate)
14,000 km (8,700 miles) by land
11,000 km (6,800 miles) by sea
25,000 km (15,500 miles) in 663 days
Table Source: Adapted from Eckhard J. Schnabel, Paul the Missionary: Realities, Strategies and Methods, (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008), 122.


The Chora Church

The Chora Church was originally built as part of a monastery complex outside the walls of Constantinople, to the south of the Golden Horn. Literally translated, the church's full name was the Church of the Holy Saviour in the Country: although "The Church of the Holy Redeemer in the Fields" would be a more natural rendering of the name in English. The last part of that name, Chora, referring to its location originally outside of the walls, became the shortened name of the church. The original church on this site was built in the early 5th century, and stood outside of the 4th century walls of Constantinople. However, when Theodosius II built his formidable land walls in 413–414, the church became incorporated within the city's defences, but retained the name Chora. The name must have carried symbolic meaning, as the mosaics in the narthex describe Christ as the Land of the Living and Mary, the Mother of Jesus, as the Container of the Uncontainable.

In the 16th century, during the Ottoman era, the church was converted into a mosque and, finally, it became a museum in 1948 (source: Wiki). read more and photo gallery

Jesus in Hades rescuing Adam and Eve


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Monday, June 17, 2013

Paul Preaching in Pisidian Antioch

According to Acts 13, Paul and Barnabas visited Pisidian Antioch on their first journey to Asia Minor, having first arrived in Perga on their journey from Cyprus. From Perga they would have followed the Via Sebaste to Antioch. The book of Acts states that on the sabbath Paul and Barnabas went to the synagogue in Antioch and were invited to speak to the people there. Their message was so well received that on the following sabbath “almost the whole city gathered” to hear them (13:44). 

possible site of the synagogue where Paul preached his first sermon

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more on Bible Lands

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Friday, June 07, 2013

Academic Mentors

One of God's greater blessings is to have good academic and spiritual mentors



Thursday, June 06, 2013

Leading Change in Spiritual-Formation Communities Course in MBS

I will be teaching this course

Malaysia Bible Seminary
Leading Change in Spiritual-Formation Communities
22-26 July 2013


Course description
Spiritual formation is the task of the church. Christian spiritual formation may be understood as a three-stranded process of person-in-formation (Christ-likeness in the inner being), persons-in-community formation (becoming a people of God), and persons-in-mission formation (being missional for Kingdom expansion). The biblical, theological and psychosocial aspects will be developed. The approach to faith formation is never individualistic but communal. The contemporary discipleship and faith formation models will be examined. A Christian spiritual formation paradigm which includes the role of the faith community, and spiritual-formation elements will be introduced. Leadership to effect transition to spiritual-formation communities will be considered in the context of local faith communities. This is a 4 credits course.

The expected general outcome of this course is that students will demonstration deeper understanding of spiritual formation, spiritual formative elements in the context of their faith communities, and nurturing spiritual formation communities (SFC).

By the end of the course it is expected that students will specifically demonstrate:

1.      An enlarged knowledge base:
  • The biblical and theological basis of spiritual formation.
  • The nature of spiritual development
  • The nurture of spiritual development
  • The role of faith communities in spiritual development.
2.      The capacity to discern effective formative elements in the context of their faith communities.
3.      A deeper understanding of the dynamics of spiritual formation communities

For more information contact
Lot 728, Jalan Kundang,
48050 Kuang, Selangor Darul Ehsan,
Mobile Phone: 6012-223 4527
Tel:   03-60371727           
Fax:  03-60371728



Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Postcard from Ancient Turkey

To me, our 10 days STM Turkey Study Trip 2013 was like being caught in a tornado and dropped into the land of Oz (no, not Australia). There are these periods of hurried packing and unpacking, been awoken at unearthly hours, and hours of boredom on planes and buses. I do not believe I have seen so many different types of stones in ruins, and toilets in such a short period of time in my life before! These stones of ruins (not the toilets) carry an ambiance sense of antiquity and spiritual power of ancient gods such as Artemis and Apollo.

Artemis is the daughter of Zeus and Leto, and the twin sister of Apollo. She was the Hellenic goddess of the hunt, wild animals, wilderness, childbirth, virginity and protector of young girls, bringing and relieving disease in women. Artemis was one of the most widely venerated of the ancient Greek deities. Her Roman equivalent is Diana. However her influence was so powerful that the ancient Romans continued to worship her as Artemis as evidenced by Artemis Ephesus in ancient Ephesus. Artemis Ephesus predates ancient Greece and may have even earlier roots in the ancient bear cults. Artemis Ephesus is also the Mother goddess of Anatolia, the ancient Romans being syncretic in their approach to religion, merging the Greek and Mesopotamian deities. 

Her brother Apollo is recognized as a god of light and the sun, truth and prophecy, healing, plague, music, and poetry. As the patron of Delphi, Apollo was the prophetic deity of the Delphic Oracle. Medicine and healing are associated with Apollo mediated through his son Asclepius, yet Apollo was also seen as a god who could bring ill-health and deadly plague. As the leader of the Muses and director of their choir, Apollo functioned as the patron god of music and poetry. 

Between the two of them, they control all aspects of human existence: business, government, media, arts and entertainment, education, the family and religion (also known as the seven mountains or spheres of influences of culture). As gods, they also control the fate of human beings (souls). The cult of emperor worship during the latter part of the history of the Roman Empire is another manifestation of these powers. These deities and their cultic institution of worship are the faces of spiritual powers and principalities that early Christians have to face and struggle against as they seek to follow the demands and worship a monotheist God. This struggle was intensified when Christianity herself become institutionalized and political after Constantine.

Walking among the ruins of Ephesus, Laodicea, Sardis and Hierapolis, I cannot help but feel the spiritual battles these early Christians have to face as they live in a culture of the bondage of fear, materialism, hedonism and consumerism. It would have been a great struggle to be a people that stood apart from influences of these which Reformed pastor and author Timothy Keller called ‘counterfeit’ gods. The letters in the Book of Revelation to the seven churches reveal certain aspects of these struggles. The struggles against the bondage of fear, materialism, hedonism and consumerism have not changed over the millenniums. The faces of the powers and principalities have changed but they themselves have not. These faces are no longer known as temples, agoras, nymphaeums or theaters. Nowadays, they are recognized as shopping malls, banks, Hollywood, online shopping, multinational corporations, governments and institutional religiosity. These powers and principalities are still controlling major sectors of the seven mountains. It is still a daily struggle for many of us not to follow the seductive ways of these counterfeit gods.

The spiritual battle has been ongoing for two millenniums and is still going on. Modern Turkey which is the cradle of early Christianity and later, part of the Holy Roman Empire has a population of 74.4 million people in 2011. Of these, only less than 0.2% is Christians! This shows that the spiritual forces working against God are still active and powerful. This is a powerful reminder to us to take heel of the warnings contained in the letters to the churches in Revelation. The spiritual warfare is still waging all around us. The modern Church ignores this at her own peril. We are to choose to intentionally walk closer to God, be holy, reject the seductions of other gods and be in continual communion with the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. 

Help us, O Lord, we plea.



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Sunday, June 02, 2013

Gerome Cave Churches, Cappadocia

In the 4th century small anchorite communities began to form in the region, acting on instruction of Saint Basil of Caesarea. They carved cells in the soft rock. During the iconoclastic period (725-842) the decoration of the many sanctuaries in the region was held to a minimum, usually symbols such as the depiction of the cross. After this period, new churches were dug into the rocks and they were richly decorated with colourful frescoes.

read more and see my photo gallery


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