This was first posted as a regular update for those checking in on us during our trip to Greece, Turkey, and Rome. We travel with GTI Study Tours, and are thankful for the work they do.

These past few days have been a reminder to me that growth happens in community. Today, we ventured into Ephesus and Aphrodisas, one city that is well known to us through Scripture and another new and unknown.

I am quite partial to Ephesus, and one of those many reasons is that my favorite conjunction in the Bible, “but God,” finds itself smack dab in the text, in the heart of a city where the brothel and gods demand constant allegiance. If we are honest with ourselves, that portion of text also describes our lives clearly if we are those who know the truth of the Gospel.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. BUT GOD, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
— Ephesians 2:1-10

As one who finds herself to be much more “hellenistically” minded, I have also fallen into the mindset that this run, this life of faith, is mainly one to be done alone, on my own. Of course, I know the right, biblical answers as to why this is not right, but like most knowledge that we might have of the truth, sometimes we find ourselves to still be unbelievers of that truth in our heart.

What struck me in Ephesus as we walked together, sat, and talked together, was that over the past few days, we have bantered and debated, yet have only grown in love towards one another and for Christ. This for a long time has seemed paradoxical, but today much more clear. As many people shared together under a tree which used to be in the area of the temple to Roma, there were many who confessed blind spots as to why they need community. In God’s good kindness, the chapter I last read of my book called, “Liturgy of the Ordinary” by Tish Harrison Warren has to do with these communal challenges. She writes:

For a couple of centuries now, evangelicals have focused almost exclusively on a personal relationship with God, on individual conversion and spiritual growth. Many feel that the church (if it’s necessary at all) is primarily intended to serve our individual spiritual needs or to group us together with like minded people - a kind of holy fraternity. If we believe that church is merely a voluntary society of people with shared values, then it is entirely optional. If the church helps you with your personal relationship with God, great; if not, I know a great brunch place that’s open on Sunday… We profoundly need each other. We are immersed in the Christian life together. There is no merely private faith - everything we do as individuals affects the Church community.
— Tish Harrison Warren

As I think again about the glorious conjunction of the gospel, God intervening, BUT GOD, I think too of the ways in which this has been passed down throughout the generations, especially as we walk through the streets of Ephesus. Because the gospel is the power of God, those who have truly been changed by Him make disciples. It spread like wildfire throughout Asia Minor, and very clearly, further than that. Friends, family, we must remember. We must remind one another.

We finished the blazing hot day in the artist colony city of Aphrodisas. Not only was the art incredible, but the archaeology found of the stadium there was seriously well-preserved. We sat from the top overlooking the arena, where brothers and sisters before us more than likely went to their utterly painful deaths. Rod led us into remembering those portions of sport-pictures in the text, running the good race, finishing, persevering to the end.

All of these people have a story that are with me here on this trip. All of these people have testimonies of God’s great and glorious faithfulness through some of the worst suffering I would never ask to endure. And yet, BUT GOD.

The question was this: are you making disciples with your life, running the race well and devoted?

I need that question everyday, with the reminder, the fresh knowledge that Jesus has done this for me and I can boast, running in the strength He gives with daily bread and living water.

Not one of us hesitated to follow, grabbing a stone, and building an ebenezer.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
— Hebrews 12:1-2

Jesus is our abundance. Jesus is our all. Hold fast to the gospel, friends. Don’t do this alone.