Monthly Archives: January 2014

January 28, 2014 I Thessalonians 3 (19)

More effusive intro. Some have persecutions in verse 3 rather than affliction. Gene asked about vs 1 and what was it he could bear no longer. Why was he alone? We sent Timothy to you to establish and exhort you in your faith. What about our witness? What is our persecution? Mark says there is a social lid on our witness. We imagine there will be an adverse reaction to our witness. Al talked about a medusa on their front door, an indication of welcome and good will. Vs 8 Paul delighted in knowing that the people at Thessalonica were still faithful because of the report from Timothy. In Athens where Paul was at this time, the Christian witness was difficult because the people were caught up in the the cult of Rome. It was the government established religion. Paul is encouraged by the continued faith of the Thessalonians. Frank brought up the difficulty because of the distance involved as it was over 300 miles from Athens to Thessalinica. But yet, the mail in the Roman empire was delivered in 30 days between any two points in the empire.

We then got into a discussion about Satan. Satan stopped him in 2:18, but Jesus got them thru in 3:11. Erasmus said Christians are superstitious and there is little  difference between the pagans and Christians in that regard. John said the whole idea of Satan is superstitious. Does God or Satan punish or reward us? Don’t we try to see God as being responsible for good things in our lives, while satan is responsible for those times when we fail or bad things happen to us. Satan must be very powerful!

Paul thought his experience meeting the spirit of Christ on the road to Damascus could happen to anyone and it is glorious if it happens to you. How do we maintain relationships and what causes them to go awry. Maybe August: Osage County is an example of relationship problems. Does cancer take something away that will overcome problems in a relationship? Who is the enemy? We have gotten so used to profanity or vulgarity that we can’t distinguish what the role of language is for us. People in that time were dying without Christ and Christians having doubts about their faith because they had been taught to expect Jesus’ return at some near term time. They faced the same problem we have to this day of not knowing when Jesus will come again. How do we maintain our faith in light of this?

01/21/14 I Thessalonians 2 (16)

As Paul writes to the Thessalonians he is realizing that his thoughts about the future with Jesus returning soon were not happening. He has to adjust his thoughts to the way this affects how people should live in the hope of Jesus. In this chapter Paul expresses the most anti-Jewish sentiments of any of his writings. In 2:14-16, he accuses the Jews  of persecuting the Christians in Jerusalem and also says they were responsible for the death of Christ. Some think this section wasn’t written by Paul, because he doesn’t include anything like this in his other letters. However, some say the Jews were just playing a role that God intended for them, because Jesus was intended to die. Some thought that these were the words of Paul in his younger days and that he may have repented of them as he grew older. Was Paul being arrogant because of his practice of reciting his accomplishments or was he just trying to provide the people with authority for his words?

We got onto a discussion of Luther’s three uses of the law because of the views that the Gentiles had to understand about the laws that Jews had followed for years. The first use of the law is to keep sin in check, while the second use of the law is to mirror sin in believer’s hearts to lead them to see their sins and in that way prepare them for the gospel. The third use which some think came from Philip Melanchthon is to serve as a means of sanctification of the believers. This was an attempt to explain the use of the law, because Jesus shows us God as being defined by the good news of the gospel, whereas just seeing the law presents God as a hard taskmaster who can never be satisfied.

01-14-14 I Thessalonians 1 (17)

We talked some about the background for this letter. This was Paul’s first letter and was probably written by the end of 52 AD. Here is a link to a site that suggests a time line for Paul’s journeys and the epistles he wrote.   It was the first written book in the New Testament. Bible scholars think Paul wrote this letter from Corinth after Timothy rad returned from Macedonia with news of the state of the church in Thessalonica. Paul was encouraging the people there, but the last two chapters addresses issues of doctrine. Paul urges them to go on working quietly while waiting in hope for the return of Christ. The letter was an affirmation for some of the converts in Thessalonica. Verse 8 probably refers to Paul and Silas (Silvanus) and he indicated that because of his earlier work there and the way they were evangelizing that he and Silas need not do further evangelizing there. We got into questions about how much people traveled in those days and how long Paul’s journeys took and how he traveled. There is a map below giving Paul’s second missionary trip which was the one on which he visited Thessalonica. While he was on the trip he received a message from God to visit Thessalonica. Here is a link that describes his second trip.

For some background on Paul and this letter to the people at Thessalonica. Paul’s conversion took place not long after Christ’s time on earth in 33-36. Paul visited Thessalonica with Timothy and Silas (Silvanius) on his second missionary journey. He visited one of the chief Jewish synagogues in the area and for 3 Sabbaths explains why Jesus is the prophesied Savior. It is suspected that some of the Jews were envious of the Gospel’s success formed a mob and started a riot. The crowd went to the house of Jason where it was reported that Paul was staying and forced Jason to go to the local magistrate to defend himself. Jason was soon released, but Paul and Silas were sent by the brethren of Jason out of the city to Berea. Thessalonica became part of the Roman empire in 168 B.C. There were a lot of gentiles that attended the Jewish synagogue. Here is the link to the above info:

Pharaisaic Judaizers went to Antioch (Acts 15:1-5) in the late summer of 49 A.D. and taught that circumcision is necessary before a person can be saved. Paul, Barnabas, and others (Galatians 2:1-2) are sent to Jerusalem to confer with other apostles , elders and brethren concerning the relationship between circumcision and salvation. This gathering has been called the Jerusalem Conference. Paul and others had a private meeting with James, Peter, and John about this question and they agreed that circumcision is not required for Gentiles to be saved. James wrote a letter to this effect that Paul and Silas then took to Antioch to deliver this letter to the people there. This was the beginning of Paul’s second missionary journey. The link to this material is

There is a map of Paul’s second missionary journey below:

Large Map of Apostle Paul's Second Missionary Journey


01/7/2014 No Lost Boys Today (Too Cold, Brrrr!)

John suggested the following reading today, so I will give you the link:

In place of Lost Boys this morning, a thought-provoking opinion piece from Ross Douthat, a prominent conservative intellectual.  His background is interesting.  According to Wikepedia, he became a Pentacostalist as an adolescent.  He is now Roman Catholic.

Douthat is in favor of more doctrine rather than less, but that is a story for itself.  If you are curious, read Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics.

December 21, 2013

Ideas From a Manger


PAUSE for a moment, in the last leg of your holiday shopping, to glance at one of the manger scenes you pass along the way. Cast your eyes across the shepherds and animals, the infant and the kings. Then try to see the scene this way: not just as a pious set-piece, but as a complete world picture — intimate, miniature and comprehensive.

Because that’s what the Christmas story really is — an entire worldview in a compact narrative, a depiction of how human beings relate to the universe and to one another. It’s about the vertical link between God and man — the angels, the star, the creator stooping to enter his creation. But it’s also about the horizontal relationships of society, because it locates transcendence in the ordinary, the commonplace, the low.

It’s easy in our own democratic era to forget how revolutionary the latter idea was. But the biblical narrative, the great critic Erich Auerbach wrote, depicted “something which neither the poets nor the historians of antiquity ever set out to portray: the birth of a spiritual movement in the depths of the common people, from within the everyday occurrences of contemporary life.”

And because that egalitarian idea is so powerful today, one useful — and seasonally appropriate — way to look at our divided culture’s competing worldviews is to see what each one takes from the crèche in Bethlehem.

Many Americans still take everything: They accept the New Testament as factual, believe God came in the flesh, and endorse the creeds that explain how and why that happened. And then alongside traditional Christians, there are observant Jews and Muslims who believe the same God revealed himself directly in some other historical and binding form.

But this biblical world picture is increasingly losing market share to what you might call the spiritual world picture, which keeps the theological outlines suggested by the manger scene — the divine is active in human affairs, every person is precious in God’s sight — but doesn’t sweat the details.

This is the world picture that red-staters get from Joel Osteen, blue-staters from Oprah, and everybody gets from our “God bless America” civic religion. It’s Christian-ish but syncretistic; adaptable, easygoing and egalitarian. It doesn’t care whether the angel really appeared to Mary: the important thing is that a spiritual version of that visitation could happen to anyone — including you.

Then, finally, there’s the secular world picture, relatively rare among the general public but dominant within the intelligentsia. This worldview keeps the horizontal message of the Christmas story but eliminates the vertical entirely. The stars and angels disappear: There is no God, no miracles, no incarnation. But the egalitarian message — the common person as the center of creation’s drama — remains intact, and with it the doctrines of liberty, fraternity and human rights.

As these world pictures jostle and compete, their strengths and weaknesses emerge. The biblical picture has the weight of tradition going for it, the glory of centuries of Western art, the richness of millenniums’ worth of theological speculation. But its specificity creates specific problems: how to remain loyal to biblical ethics in a commercial, sexually liberated society.

The spiritual picture lacks the biblical picture’s resources and rigor, but it makes up for them in flexibility. A doctrine challenged by science can be abandoned; a commandment that clashes with modern attitudes ignored; the problem of evil washed away in a New Age bath.

The secular picture, meanwhile, seems to have the rigor of the scientific method behind it. But it actually suffers from a deeper intellectual incoherence than either of its rivals, because its cosmology does not harmonize at all with its moral picture.

In essence, it proposes a purely physical and purposeless universe, inhabited by evolutionary accidents whose sense of self is probably illusory. And yet it then continues to insist on moral and political absolutes with all the vigor of a 17th-century New England preacher. And the rope bridges flung across this chasm — the scientific-sounding logic of utilitarianism, the Darwinian justifications for altruism — tend to waft, gently, into a logical abyss.

So there are two interesting religious questions that will probably face Americans for many Christmases to come. The first is whether biblical religion can regain some of the ground it has lost, or whether the spiritual worldview will continue to carry all before it.

The second is whether the intelligentsia’s fusion of scientific materialism and liberal egalitarianism — the crèche without the star, the shepherds’ importance without the angels’ blessing — will eventually crack up and give way to something new.

The cracks are visible, in philosophy and science alike. But the alternative is not. One can imagine possibilities: a deist revival or a pantheist turn, a new respect for biblical religion, a rebirth of the 20th century’s utopianism and will-to-power cruelty.

But for now, though a few intellectuals scan the heavens, they have yet to find their star.