Excruses 9/21/2018

A few thoughts from this article about the Pledge of Allegiance:
Manual of Patriotism sounds like something from the propaganda arm of the bad guys in a dystopian novel.
The guy who pushed for the pledge, Francis Bellamy, was a socialist and Baptist minister; something you probably wouldn’t hear of much today. Also, with the NFL starting we are back to talk about kneeling during the Anthem and disrespecting the flag, it’s good to remember that if you weren’t doing the Bellamy Salute, you were also disrespecting the flag. In case you are curious, here is that salute:

Also your reminder that ‘under God’ was not added until 1954.
Of course the Pledge was challenged at some point –

In 1926 the American Civil Liberties Union aided a case in Denver of a Jehovite child who was suspended from school for refusing to salute the flag on the grounds that doing so would be “idol worship.”
Justice Sandra Day O’Connor reiterated that “under God” was not a religious claim, just ceremonial deism.

Just ceremonial, we even acknowledge that it is pointless (that quote broke a little funny and I can’t fix it, obviously O’Connor was speaking much later about the 1926 case). I do find it an interesting question, should we as Christians pledge our allegiance to an inanimate object, and one that is entirely unrelated to Christ?  I’ve written about flags before, will probably have to again, but you can check it out if you want to know more.

It is always interesting to see articles like these. I read a good bit about personal finance and even subscribe to a few Financial Independence podcast, but I don’t really see it catching on or becoming mainstream.

But then there are articles like this. Sure, debt for a phone, everyone will be retire soon.

Why not go into debt for a phone, especially when half the calls will be spam by next year anyway?

Back to money, before I wrap up, why are people like this even married? The Biblical concept of marriage is that you become one flesh, things are now ours, not mine. If I didn’t have this view, I just don’t think I’d get married. How do you justify keeping property and retirement in separate accounts but say you want to live your life together?

I think I’m going to do a whole post about this next week, but a survey recently showed that religious Trump voters tend to be moderate compared to the hard rightness of non-religious Trump voters. Among the findings, religious tend to be more accepting of all religious and racial minorities, support more immigration and trade, and see ‘whiteness’ as less important. At least for the first and last ones, I hope that is because we see each other and ourselves as made in God’s image and belonging to Christ. More on that later.

As a city planner, this is something I’ve been aware of for some time – the problem with roundabouts is you. There is some interesting history there as to why some people might be scared, but I think it has more to do with fear of change. I remember when the first one was built in the city in which I work, about 10 years ago, we were told people would die and their blood was on our hands. Of course, accidents went down and average traffic speeds increased.

 

 

Book Review: When God’s Ways Make No Sense

When God’s Ways Make No Sense

My Rating – Put it on your list

Level – Easy, relatively short (~230)

Summary
This book is mostly about unanswered prayer. We pray for certain people or events, and sometimes God does not answer that prayer, but instead takes our life (or others) in different directions. To us, that makes no sense. The book tries to answer what we do when this happens.

There are 19 chapters, plus an intro and concluding thoughts. The chapters are grouped together in four parts – When God’s Ways Make No Sense, What Then? Three Stories, Three Answers; When God’s Ways Make No Sense, Tremble! Why? What? How?; When God’s Ways Make No Sense: Trust in God’s Unthwarted Sovereignty; When God’s Ways Make No Sense: Three Parables.

I really dislike the use of the book title in each chapter; it seems really unnecessary and redundant. Part One looks at the three stories of Jonah, Paul, and Habakkuk. Part Four retells Part One with modern day reactions. Part Two takes a look at our two responses, as Crabb sees them, which is to tremble and to trust. Part Three takes a bit of a detour into providence and sovereignty, which is probably necessary in a book about God’s plan, especially when we disagree with it.

 My Thoughts
I wish I could rate this book a 4.5, because I think some of the questions Crabb discusses are necessary for all Christians to seriously consider, but some of his analysis isn’t quite there for me. Much like Yancey’s book on Prayer (my review), it challenges Christians to really be discerning and ask hard questions, but I’m not sure either take you much farther (though, that is a great place to be).

Early in the book, Crabb makes reference to Romans, where Paul discusses sin and how he seems unable to stop sinning. That is an interesting aspect to unanswered prayer that I have never considered. Have lost two friends just last year to addiction, I would have liked to hear more about this. However, that is the last mention of personal sin as far as unanswered prayers. That’s too bad, it is an understandably difficult topic. What makes less sense than prayer to God to be delivered from temptation, only to fail? Instead the book moves mostly to the familiar realm of pain, suffering, and failure. I love this quote, and I think Crabb really hit on how Christians feel if they are being honest:

God I know you are good, but what good are you? In struggles with no answer, or when his ways make no sense, we wonder what good God is for us.

It really sets the tone for the book – the honesty, the struggle, the questions – and I’m glad that a esteemed leader in the Christian community is willing to write about them in this way; and these are clearly issues he is struggling with currently.

Part Two is probably the strength of the book. That is where you have to look honestly at events in your life and how the unfold in ways that are not according to your plan and you have to wonder what God is doing. Likewise, Part Three looks at our response and delves Biblically into what God says about suffering and general pain in our lives. Though, I’m not sure why he felt compelled to make up his own term, unthwarted sovereignty, that is somewhat between a slight misreading of Calvinist sovereignty and open deism. It’s almost more of a rebranding (attempt) of God’s sovereignty; maybe some people will find it helpful in understanding God’s ways.

The only part I didn’t really like was the second of his stories/answer/parable in Parts One and Four, when he discusses Paul. In Part One, he does a little exegesis of the three Biblical narratives of people he things exemplifies ways we respond to God when we don’t like what he is doing. Though they were insightful and Biblically sound, I feel like his point on Paul missed. Or rather, his point was good, but Paul didn’t really show it the way he might have thought. His point is that Paul distorted and denied God’s word. Obviously we do that today, and I suppose you could say that Paul did, but that is all before his conversion. I just don’t think you can make a strong argument about a Christian response from a non-Christian.

Overall, I think it is an interesting and challenging book. I think anyone who has ever wondered why God’s ways often don’t make sense should read this. This is certainly a must read for those who believe, like I once did, that you can’t question God’s ways. Similarly, people who come from a moralistic or health and wealth gospel view of God, need to read this book. However, for those who have moved passed this, you won’t get as much new thought, and definitely no definitive answer. But that is our lot in life, right? We will likely never understand why some things happen. For now, we keep praying, keep reading, and continue to seek understand. If unanswered prayer is one of those questions for you, this is a book to add to your list.

* I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

1 Thessalonians 4:1-12

thessalonians_

Today, I’m continuing my ramblings on Thessalonians. See my Intro, 1 Thess 1-2:12, and 1 Thess 2:13-3:13.

It is kind of funny to read Paul, in what we have labeled the fourth verse, say ‘finally’, and then go on and write almost everything anyone every quotes or teach from the letter. I think it is a good reminder that this is a real letter from a real person in history. The letter was a personal one from a pastor writing to his flock. That encourages me, that personal connection. I believe that among the many ways we fail to read the Bible, one of them is to read it for what it was. We’ve cut up this letter to be five verses, and most people skip through the first three verses and read/study verse four and the first half of five, before the salutation.

For Paul, this letter was one of encouragement and longing to be with this congregation, with then a few notes that I believe were questions raises after his first letter (which we call Second Thessalonians, see my intro for more). However, we mostly skip the first part, and then jump into the three theological issues – aspects of a Christian life, the Second Coming, and the Day of the Lord. I’m going to look at the first one today, and next week (hopefully) look at one or both of the second two.

Verse 4:1-12
There are there parts to the section – sexual immorality, brotherly love, and work.

1
He asks and ‘urges’ the Thessalonians to do what pleases God. The term here for please is one used for civic servants serving a Council.

2-3
Paul again reminds them that this is what they told them before they left them and then gets to what he has been leading up to, that the will of God (that which pleases him that he started in verse 1) and one of the things needed for their sanctification is to abstain from sexual immorality. The word for sexual immorality is porneia, and general means all forms of sex that were not between a husband and wife. In some instances, the meaning could be restricted to adultery. This word has been subject to a lot of debate, especially recently as we continue to expand the actable sexual ethic, but that is a little beyond the scope here.

4-6
This is a tricky verse to translate. The ESV says ‘each of you know how to control his own body’, with a footnote that says ‘or how to take a wife; Greek – poses his own body.’ The two words that cause issue are skeous and ktashai. The former means vessel or implement/tool and is what we see translated as body or wife. It is the same word Peter uses when referring to Husbands and Wives in 1 Peter 3:7. It appears the words most common use was a tool that was used for a purpose, but with the understand of vessel, often meant, metaphorically, a body. Apparently, it can rarely mean penis (because, what doesn’t?). I personally find this funny and somewhat compelling for no reason than we still basically have this advice in the world today – ‘keep it in your pants’.

Ktashai means to procure or acquire and in classical Greek had a meaning that ranged from proficiency (music, sports, etc.) to dominion (servants). There is not much support for something like, control/mastery of passions (that is, lust/sexual immorality). So, there comes a translation question of whether Paul is telling people to learn to control themselves (to avoid immorality) or is he saying to go get a wife (to avoid immorality). In some sense, it doesn’t much matter, if the exhortation is to avoid sexual immorality (and we know it is, because of verse 3). However, the context does matter, and gives us a maybe a little insight into what is happening among the Thessalonians.

Either sentiment would not be out of line with what Paul has said elsewhere. He tells us it is better to get married to keep sinning, and in 1 Corinthians 7:3 he says, because there is so much sexual immorality, each man should have one wife and each woman her own husband. I lean towards this as Paul’s meaning here. In the culture at the time, it was perfectly acceptable for a man to have sex with another woman (even if he was married) and wasn’t even considered adultery if the other woman was married, because then no man was harmed. This is why Paul points out, Gentiles who don’t know God and why he says that no one should harm or transgress a brother. Now, that might contradict what I said earlier about favoring the translation of ‘get a wife’, because if married men are committing adultery, then maybe we should translate to mean to control your self (or keep it in your pants).

So, you can see where in the end, maybe we get to the same point, but there are some ambiguity as to how we get there. It is important to note that historically, ‘control your vessel’ was the primary understanding.

If ‘avenger’ stuck out to you a strange word because we don’t use it much today, it is a strictly legal concept. The word ekdikos meant an offical who punished those who violated the law.

7-8
God calls us to holiness, not impurity (sexual immorality) so whoever ignore that, ignores God.

9-10
I find this a strange section, he basically says, ‘now to brotherly love, I don’t have anything to say, because y’all do it; but try to do it some more.’ Apparently, the Thessalonians were doing a good job in brotherly love and caring for one another, and others. He even mentions in 2 Corinthians 8:1-2 that those in Macedonia (of which, Thessalonica was the capital), though were extremely poor, gave extremely generously.

As a quick aside, ‘taught but God’ is Theodidaktio, which would have stuck out against the Epicurean autodidaktio (self-taught), and it is another reminder that Paul is writing against very real philosophies that competed for attention and thought in the world, much as we do today.

11-12
This last little section is fascinating, but I won’t spend as much time on it now, but dive back in when I get to 2 Thessalonians 3. Paul tells up to aspire to live quietly, I like Stott’s take that this means to ‘make your ambition to have no ambition.’ He tells us to ‘mind our own affairs’ and will again point this out in 2 Thessalonians 3 when he says to not be busybodies. We read this today as probably meaning gossip, but as Wannamaker points out, these phrases has unmistakable political connotations. To keep meant to rest, which Philo contrast with the public life. Green says, ‘we can safely assume that Apostle is calling people to avoid or stay out of public/political affiars.’

This blew my mind? I always thought he were being told to work and not gossip, which is fairly straight forward. Avoid public affairs? I work for the government and speak on behalf of citizens to a city council. Maybe I got a little more hyped than you did reading, but that isn’t quite the whole story of what is going on here. However, I won’t get into that now, keep going with me as I try to make it through both letters and will pick this back up towards the end.

 

Commentaries Used:
The Letters to the Thessalonians (The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC))
1 and 2 Thessalonians (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (IVP Numbered))
The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians (Bible Speaks Today)
Commentary on 1 & 2 Thessalonians (The New International Greek Testament Commentary)
1-2 Thessalonians (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament)
1-2 Thessalonians (The IVP New Testament Commentary Series)
The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians (The New International Commentary on the New Testament)

Trump and the Supreme Court

Two years ago, during the lead-up to the election, I wrote two articles, one just some general thoughts on the election, and then a follow-up about why we shouldn’t be single issue voters. The follow up was necessary, as I was attacked but fellow Evangelicals for not supporting Trump. Mostly, I was accused of supporting abortion (I don’t). That is also a refrain I heard often during the election, ‘well, he’s a terrible person, but…something, something, Supreme Court.’ Of course, but Supreme Court, they meant abortion. I laid out all my reasons not to think this way in that post, so please check it out. I welcome any feedback or thoughts. I received a few after posting that, including a bizarre interaction with a former Sunday School teacher and mentor, before cut of all contact with us (after accusing us of being Godless).

So, I bring this up now as the confirmation hearings continue for Brett Kavanaugh (unrelated fun fact, his name means follower of Kevin). This is Trump’s second appointee; and he will be appointed, despite the Kabuki Theater of the hearings, he already has the votes and this just a time for politicians to grand stand. I guess it’s all worth it now, right? We’ll overturn Roe?

Maybe. Maybe not –

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has said she would not vote for a nominee who threatens Roe. She said that in a meeting with Kavanaugh, he referred to Roe as “settled law.”

Feinstein specifically asked Kavanaugh about that Wednesday.

“Senator, I said that it’s settled as a precedent of the Supreme Court, entitled the respect under principles ‘stare decisis,’ ” referring to the legal principle of not overturning precedents. “And one of the important things to keep in mind about Roe v. Wade is that it has been reaffirmed many times over the past 45 years.”

One of two things are going on here. First, he is an unprincipled liar who want stand up for what he believes and when he gets on the court, he will vote to overturn Roe, once challenged. I have to assume this is alright with most Evangelicals, as 81% voted for Trump. Second, he actually believes what he is saying. I actually lean towards the latter, and still believe, as I did two years ago, that Roe will be not be overturned. It’s also important to remember, Roe did no legalize abortion – it made it illegal for state to ban abortion. Were it overturned, the issue would be relegated to the states, many of which will keep it legal.

Of course, you could be cynical and say that Trump doesn’t care at all about Roe, but rather likes Kavanaugh due to his devotion to presidential power. However, if we turn over Roe, would it be worth it? It is a serious question, considering the damage supporting him has done to what little reputation we may have had. The hyprocsy with our reaction to him paying off a porn actress and a playboy model for affairs he had with them, as compared to the reaction many of his supporters had during the Clinton issues in the 90’s. That is one reason why this quote from the now famous Op-Ed stuck out to me –

The root of the problem is the president’s amorality. Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making.

Again, all this would be fine, I suppose, if he wasn’t considered the ‘Christian candidate’ or if Evangelicals hadn’t voted for him in record numbers. It is fine to vote for Trump, nothing wrong with it at all. If you are rich, or think Mexicans or Muslims are the greatest threat to the country, or you are a nationalist, then Trump was a great choice (the best, believe me). However, none of the makes him the ‘Christian’ choice and I think that distinct will bother me to no end, for as long as I live. I don’t believe that is the main reason for our support for him. I think the main reason is fear.

I’m not the only one either. Micheal Horton recently wrote the same thing. Read anything from John Fea ( or check out my review of his book).  In a strange irony, we as conservatives are looking for power in the government now more than ever, we look there for a sense of right, or protection, to expand and enforce our will/influence. So, here we are, about to have another Justice. Maybe I’m wrong, and Roe will be challenged next year and overturned. What if is isn’t? What will we say then?

 

Book Review: True Grit

True Grit: A Novel

My Rating – Put it on your list

Level – East, short

Summary
After the murder of her father, Mattie Ross tracks the culprit to Fort Smith, Arkansas where she enlist the help of the Marshall Rooster Cogburn. He eventually takes the case, after meeting a Texas Ranger who is also chasing the man for various other crimes. After telling her no, the men begrudgingly accept that she will come with them. They head into nearby Indian Territory, where the eventually find the man and others in hiding after a train robbery.

My Thoughts
Portis waste no pages of this short book with writing that isn’t action. The book starts with the murder and then Mattie heading to Fort Smith and doesn’t stop until the final few pages as he concludes the book. Interestingly, the book is written form the perspective of Mattie, who is looking back and telling the story. I think this adds to the quick and action-packed pace.

The three main characters are all unique and compelling, even if they a little cliched. Two movies have been made from this, I’ve seen neither, but know that the Ranger is played by Matt Damon in the most recent one. From the movies where he has tried to be unlikable, I think that fits well. Cogburn is most in line with the grizzled not necessarily lawful anti-hero, while Mattie is more head strong and stubborn. Each character is somewhat iconic in fiction.

In case you were wondering, ‘true grit’, is the term she uses when explaining what she was looking for in a Marshal to track the murderer. It is a compelling story, though the ending felt rushed. There are some of the usual tropes, but there were also a few surprises and twist. Overall, it is a fun, easy book to read, definitely one for the beach/vacation. It is also an American classic, so a novel to put on your list.

Biblical Studies Carnival 150

Welcome to the August 2018 Biblical Studies Carnival.

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Y’all ready to get weird? Or at least a little different, depending on your perspective; that’s the question we ask every Labor Day Weekend here in Atlanta. A smaller crowd than last year when Mrs. MMT and I were downtown in the center of it all, but around 700,000 will be in town this weekend, mostly for DragonCon and the Chic-fil-a Kick off GamRelated imagee (that’s how you get pictures like these), but also for things like another minor football game, a Lynyrd Skynyrd Concert, and LudaFamDay.

So it makes sense then, that it is the same weekend in which I host a Biblical Studies Carnival (my first hosting was Labor Day Weekend two years ago). Most of the people who are involved in the Carnivals are academics, pastors/theologians, and a few prolific writers with at least some education. I am none of those things. By day, I’m a City Planner, but by night, well…, actually, I sleep, but sometimes I try to write about Theology or the Bible, and mostly review books. I recently started a series on Thessalonians if you want to check it out. Especially since the nomination of Trump, I’ve become too caught up in the contrast between political christianity and those Christians who actually read the Bible. So, with the scholars being busy this month due to school being back in session, I’ve added a Politics section.

Well, that’s probably enough ado, let’s get to it.

Old Testament
Want to learn to sing the Hebrew Bible? Bob’s got you covered – check out Psalm 111.

Jim asks us to remember Calvin’s thoughts on Psalm 14:1.

Henry posts what he calls a slightly poetic version of Isaiah 10:1-4a.

New Testament
Phil started a series on Sermon on the Mount. I particularly enjoyed his thoughts on Jesus and the Law, which is something I’ve been interested in.

Jarrett shares some thoughts on the Mystery of the Gospel.

Scott starts a series on Revelation. I like the title of his intro ‘Not Your Father’s Book of Revelation’. My father doesn’t read the Bible, but his generation is certainly the one that emphasized Dispensationalism to my generation, which is moving away from this reading. Additionally, one of the things that moved me away from this reading was discussing with my grandfather, who likewise did not read Revelation this way.

Hal responds to Session’s use of Romans 13.

Rod has ‘Greek for a Week’ cover of Philemon 19, 20, 21, & 22.

Ian discusses why Jesus came to bring division and a sword.

Theology
Brandon asks whether Origen was Athanasian or Arian.

Bernard discusses the trouble with faith.

Tim asks how should we respond to the leading of the spirit.

Jeffery has thoughts on whether God has a plan for my life.

Other
Rob is trying to put together a survey on public domain commentaries. It is an interesting project, and if you’d like to help he is looking for volunteers.

William has a review of a Mesopotamian Prayer.

Nijay has a free open-textbook on Intermediate Biblical Greek.

Christoph has some thoughts on mastering Koine Greek.

Michael asks us if it is a waste of time for seminary students and pastors to learn languages.

David asks about sin in the church.

Book Review
Phil reviews Reading Mark in Context.

RJS finishes posting reviews of The Lost World of Scripture.

Micheal has a quick review of Jesus Followers in the Roman Empire. He also has a great quote regarding a rapture from Gene Green, writing in his commentary on Thessalonians (which was my favorite commentary to consult).

Jim reviews Approaching the Study of Theology.

Jason reviews the Complete Hebrew-Greek Bible.

Politics
Jim points out the irony of Evangelical idolatry.

In beautiful irony, Fox News once showed a pictured of NFL players protesting, except they weren’t, they were kneeling in prayer. Pro football will be back next week and we’ll once again be subjected to endless debate about kneeling during the Anthem. Of course, there is a long history of prayer in football, many people I know learned the Lord’s Prayer from sports. However, we’ll listen as many ‘Evangelicals’ get angry over people kneeling when they ‘aren’t supposed to.’

Check out John’s comments on the White House dinner with Evangelicals.

D.G. reminds us that once Evangelicals didn’t even support Giuliani.

Millennials might not follow the Moral Majority playbook. Anecdotally, I’ve seen this to be the case.

Roger Olsen responds to the question, ‘Is Trump Our Cyrus.’ Remember, when the title of an article ends in a question mark, the answer is almost always no.

George surveys Religion vs. Party.

Excurses
As an American, I thought this was posted in the future. Richard has an interesting look into what he calls a ‘dialogue between biblical scholarship and Religious Education.’

Phil’s book is on sale.

Kevin DeYoung shares a few things he’s learned while working on his PhD.

This book cover made me wonder if anyone has ever seen Karl Barth and Warren Buffet in the same room.

Image result for karl barthImage result for warren buffett

 

That’s it for this month. Hope you enjoyed, even if it was a little different than usual. As a pretend theologian (my occupational hazard is my occupation’s just not around), I’m somewhat like a medieval monk – I like to read, write, and drink beer. Now that I’m down reading and writing for the month, only one thing left to do. Thanks for playing along.

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If you are interested in hosting or know someone who might be interested please contact Phil. Contact info from his post last month –

I am borderline desperate for the rest of the year!  Please contact me via email (plong42@gmail.com), twitter direct message (@plong42) or comment here in this carnival. Whether you are a relatively new blogger or you have hosted a carnival in the past, do not hesitate to contact me. October, November and December are open as of July 1. It is not too early to volunteer for a 2019 carnival.

Borderline is clearly an understatement if I’m hosting again, but  it goes legit again the next month with Jim. Like I said earlier, the carnival is mostly hosted by scholars and students, but there are a few pastors and at least one completely pretend internet theologian that has hosted in the past. If you are interested, hit up Phil and get some more info.

*All pictures, except my beer, stolen from google image search/reddit. Please @ me if they are yours and you want attribution or removal.

Book Review: Prayer

Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God

My Rating – Must Read

Level – moderate, 250+ pages before appendixes and notes

Summary
It is a book about prayer, that is pretty clear from the title. There is a little bit of almost everything, prayer as it is in the Bible, a commentary on the Lord’s Prayer, notes from people in church history, differing prayers styles/times, and ways of doing prayer. Overall it is a good survey of most things related to prayer. The book is broken into five parts – Desiring Prayer, Understanding Prayer, Learning Prayer, Deepening Prayer, and Doing Prayer – with a few chapters per part, for a total of 15 chapters.

My Thoughts
I’ve read a number of book on prayer recently for a sermon series, and as someone who occasionally writes, it is almost annoying the Keller once again has written the best book on a topic. The book is almost academic at some points, particularly the exposition of the Lord’s Prayer, while still remaining pastoral and accessible to most readers. I actually read only part of the book a year or so ago when I was studying the Sermon on Mount and heard his commentary on the Lord’s Prayer was one of the best, then finished this year while studying prayer.

There is a good bit of discussion from people throughout church history (Augustine, Calvin, Luther) regarding prayer. I particularly enjoyed his ‘doing prayer’. This was the strength of the book to me. I’ve read many of the other commentators, and I know that/why we should pray, but I’ve always struggled with the how and especially with the habit of prayer. If that is you, the book is worth it just for that section and the resources in the back.

The only weakness in the book is that Keller doesn’t really discuss unanswered prayers. Or at least, he doesn’t do it well. He isn’t ready to say that God doesn’t answer prayers sometimes. That’s a huge theological issue and maybe outside the scope of what he wanted to do, or just knows the answer is both simple and complex. Check out Yancey for more on unanswered prayer. Keller kind of hedges bye saying the answer can be yes and no. He gives the example of a girlfriend in college that broke up with him and him praying that it wouldn’t happen. He says the answer was no, as the girl did break up with him, but that the answer was yes because he eventually married his wife. I see what he is saying, and I appreciate what his view, however, this isn’t always the case. Some people may never be married; additionally, people die young from cancer, addicts can’t kick their addiction, etc.

It is a hard topic, so I don’t mind that he failed, because what he does cover is covered so well. As I said earlier, the practice of prayer is handled extensively and is reason enough to get the book. If you are just looking into prayer as an intro, or your prayer life is stuck, or you are looking to go deeper in your understanding of prayer, this book is a must read.

1 Thessalonians 2:13-3:13

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Today, I’m continuing my ramblings on Thessalonians. See my Intro and 1 Thess 1-2:12.

Chapter 2, Verse 13
In this verse, Paul is referring back to his actions earlier, especially in 6 and 7, where he tells them they came without flattering speech or seeking greed and power. He acknowledges that the Thessalonians didn’t accept it as mere words of men, but as from God.

14-16
He contrast their reactions with that of the Jews. The Jews did not accept the Gospel, and only on that, the rejected Christ himself, to the point of killing him, just as they had the prophets before them. Even now, they hinder Paul and the apostles from spreading the work.

17
Most translations read, ‘we were taken away from you’. The word translated for taken away is aphorphanisthentes. You might recognize our modern word orphan in there. However, the word has a broader meaning, it was just children who lost parents, but also parents who lost children. The later context is likely how Paul is explaining the way he feels about being a part from them.

18
Interestingly, here he says that Satan has blocked him from seeing the Thessalonians. We don’t know exactly to what Paul was referring here. THe word used for stop comes from a military term, in which, to stop an advancing army, soldiers would destroy the road, so that there would not be an easy way to pass. For whatever reason, he is unable to visit them again, and he considers this the work of Satan. He doesn’t always attribute hardships to Satan, but sometimes attributes reasons things happen to God, even if they are negative.

19-20
He rhetorically asks them the question who will be their crown and then answers that it is the Thessalonians, saying that when Jesus returns, they will be the crowning achievement of their ministry. He even repeats himself again in verse 20 to drive the point home.

Chapter 3
Some commentators have put all of Chapter 3 together with verses 13-20 in Chapter 2 as one big apology (in the classic sense) for his not coming to see them. I think that makes sense in light of verse 3:1 starting with ‘therefore’ which reaches back to some previous thoughts. So, Paul is saying that while he in Timothy and Silas were in Athens, hearing about the troubles of the Thessalonians, and as they are a crown in his ministry, and as he (Paul) was blocked by Satan from visiting them, he could no longer stand to think of them alone or to find out how they were doing and finally sent Timothy to check on them.

I think this Chapter especially lays out the reason to believe that 2 Thessalonians was actually the first book, as I mentioned in the intro. It would seem to make sense that they established the church there, had to leave, heard of what was happening and sent Timothy with a letter (2 Thess), then Timothy reported back to Paul and Silas, from which they wrote the second letter, which is 1 Thessalonians.

1-2
Paul can longer resist and send Timothy to check in on them, and also to ‘strenthen and encourage them in faith.

3-4
These verses are hard to hear, or really to even understand, as a Christian in modern American. He tells them they shouldn’t be concerned that they are suffering and being persecuted, because Paul told them this would happen. He points out again, ‘we kept telling you in advance that you were going to suffer affliction’, and reminds them that they shouldn’t be surprised that it happened. Our current level of persecution is limited to someone saying happy holidays instead of merry Christmas. I wonder how successful our churches would be, how many people would actually show up on Sundays, were our pastors to warn us that affliction is coming, and it be true. If it caused actual risk or pain to go to church, how many would we lose? Somewhat ironically, in places today that are persecuted, where there is real risk, the church is thriving and growing, not sitting fat and happy as here in America, or withering away as in other parts of the ‘Western’ world.

5
He repeats again his anguish and fear as to what was happening in Thessalonica.

6-8
However, the report is good. Timothy finds that they are holding strong and longing to see Paul as much as he longs to see them. This comforts him and he tells them we can now ‘really live’, if they continue to stand firm.

9-13
Paul ends this section with a long prayer of gratitude and thanksgiving; thanking God for answering their prayers for the Thessalonians and asking that they will increase in and abound in love (for each other, and for all people, just as they are loved).

 

Commentaries Used:
The Letters to the Thessalonians (The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC))
1 and 2 Thessalonians (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (IVP Numbered))
The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians (Bible Speaks Today)
Commentary on 1 & 2 Thessalonians (The New International Greek Testament Commentary)
1-2 Thessalonians (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament)
1-2 Thessalonians (The IVP New Testament Commentary Series)
The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians (The New International Commentary on the New Testament)

Book Review: Prayer – Does it Make Any Difference?

Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?

My Rating – Put it on your list

Level – Easy read, moderate length

Summary
The title pretty much says it all. The book is about prayer, what is it, what do we do with it, why, and what’s the point? The subtitle isn’t necessarily answered, other than to say, maybe – for us and for God – but also, maybe not. The book is broken into five parts, Keeping Company with God, Unraveling the Mysteries, The Language of Prayer, Prayer Dilemmas, and The Practice of Prayer. Each part is broken down into three to six subparts, for 22 chapters in all.

My Thoughts
I’ve not read a book by Yancey before. I thoroughly enjoyed his writing styles. As a writer and not a pastor, this book doesn’t give you theological insights or pastoral guidance like you might find in Keller, but you get something maybe more personal. Most chapters are fairly short and are usually broken down even further, so you get something almost like blog-post type series of his personal thoughts. Of course, there are many good quotes and insights form other author and theologians, but I think the goal is something more personal. He lays out his struggles, or writes about stories he has heard from others. Yancey is afraid to honestly question the point of prayer.

The strength of the book comes with the first chapter and especially the fourth. In the former, you get the reason for prayer as our main form of communication with God, in the latter, the problems and struggle people face. I was a little disappointed with final chapter as he doesn’t really delve into historical guidelines or lay out any practical steps; though in his defense, I don’t think that was his point. Overall, it is a great personal book on prayer and he points out what many people think and struggle with, something that is all too absent in Christian writing. It probably isn’t the best book if you are seeking a practice of prayer, but if you are just starting to study prayer, it is definitely worth putting on your list.