Last December I reviewed VeloPress’s Believe Training Journal (here). I’ve been using a new edition for the last few weeks. All due respect to the teal cover on my last one, I like this “Boston-inspired blue and gold” much better:
The souped-up journal comes from Lauren Fleshman and Roisin McGettigan-Dumas. As I noted with the previous edition, this one has:
a two-page spread for tracking run details each week… there are 54 undated weeks, so use them whenever you want
each week has a small box for “this week’s focus”… I consistently benefit from thinking through this each week (I otherwise never would on Strava, etc.)
similarly, each week ends with a few lines for a “rundown,” also the kind of reflection not built in to any activity tracking apps
quotes from different runners to inspire (this week it was Shalane Flanagan)
a guided goal-setting section
pages for logging races
what most sets this journal apart (and makes it more than just a blank journal): short articles on running-related topics like racing, recovery, community, setbacks, and more
Here are some pictures. You’ll see that I’ve been using the log so far to track my progress in injury recovery (I fractured my ankle in late October). I’d much rather be tracking runs, but right now recovery is my training plan:
There are “check-in” pages throughout, which has been a great place to record notes from doctor’s visits!
Here’s an article (this one was in the last journal I used, too):
As with other Believe journals, this one is undated (a year’s worth of pages) and includes an annual calendar where you could easily see multiple months’ worth of mileage at once.
This cover is “flexi-bound synthetic,” material which is a little stronger than softcover.
If your goal is to log your runs (distance, pace, mindset, weather, etc.), all you need is a blank notebook. Especially being in recovery mode, though, I’ve enjoyed having this journal with its additional reading material to keep me interested. I still appreciate the 6” x 7 ½” size and ribbon marker that keeps my place at the current week.
You can find the journal here, with other options available, as well.
Thanks to the great folks at VeloPress for the review copy.
Disclosure of Material Connection: One time when we were in college, hanging out outside Caribou Coffee, I put my hand on Steve’s forehead and started to fake push his head against the brick wall. But I didn’t let go soon enough, so caused him “actual pain,” the same safe words I had to employ another time when I was roughhousing with his friends in the chapel backstage area, and they broke my glasses. I don’t mean to suggest these two events are connected–just that, well… Steve and I go way back.
Disclosure of Material Connection, cont’d: Even at barely 20 he was a ridiculously gifted guitarist, singer, and songwriter. Some of my favorite college memories are Steve Thorngate concerts. Steve may remember most the time Abram Jones and His Loud, Loud Band opened for Steve and His Chair-Sitting Whispercore Corps, but the Steve concert experience I most remember is one he played at (now razed and rebuilt?) Pierce Chapel in Wheaton College. He and his band were loudly rocking an epic rendition of “If I Find You“, and Steve was, as the kids would say, absolutely crushing the major 7 intervals in the melody, as he scraped his pick–top string to bottom string–across an Fmaj7 with the top two strings open, walking the shape up two frets over the same melody, then sitting on an A minor while the melody resolved. Emo Abram was–and still is–in awe of that song. And I believe I may have witnessed its best performance that night.
One night as part of my kids’ bedtime routine, I played and sang them Steve’s song “The Thick Darkness Where God Dwells.” I introduced the song by saying, “This song is by my friend Steve.” At that point they’d heard After the Longest Night a few times. Two lines in to the song, I was interrupted by a resounding chorus of, “You KNOW HIM???” and, “Wait, is he famous?”
Steve has foregone the fame that was certain to be his, in service instead to the church. Last Advent I had to try hard not to quote Steve’s lyrics in every sermon. Listening to this album–and dialoguing with him about it over email–profoundly shaped my preaching last Advent, as well as stretched my understanding of light, darkness, and just where God resides.
Here are some highlights of this album:
A wide variety of musical arrangements
FIVE Thorngates for the price of one
The melodies are immediately memorable, which bodes well for congregational singing, if you want to try some of these in that setting
Speaking of leading these songs with a congregation, Steve has you covered: the album comes with a PDF songbook
“The Thick Darkness Where God Dwells” was an early favorite track. For one, I love seeing a song based on such a moving Bible verse. For another, it’s a fresh exploration of themes of light and darkness… more than just light=good=God, dark=bad=devil, but a meaty exploration of what God-in-the-darkness looks like
I mean, just check out these lyrics:
Winter days are so short. In the nighttime keep watch for the Lord, Who reverses our vision With new order that we can’t see. Yet we cry, “Jesus, come! Here’s who needs to be saved; here’s who from!” Learn to trust in the darkness, Where our God of mystery dwells.
Advent, Christmas, Epiphany: they are all here
One of the songs is called “The Night is Long (But Not for Long),” which I think beautifully captures the “already-but-not-yet” aspects of waiting
This is Steve’s first full-length album in 14 years, and I hope we’ll get to hear another one in less time. There’s more to say in praise of this musical offering, but I’ll stop there so you can go listen for yourself.
This is the sermon I preached Sunday, with Luke 21:5-19 (read it here) as the Gospel lectionary text.
There are few things in life that we want to believe more than this:
All shall be well And all shall be well And all manner of thing shall be well.
Those lines come from Julian of Norwich in the 14th-century. It’s not her talking: it’s Jesus, as he has appeared to her in a vision.
Her vision is not cheap hope that crumbles at the first sign of pain or difficulty. It’s in the context of acknowledging the pain and sin in the world that Jesus says to Julian:
All shall be well And all shall be well And all manner of thing shall be well.
But do you know what her response was to these powerful words of comfort?
Ah, good Lord, how could all things be well, because of the great harm which has come through sin to your creatures?
“HOW could all things be well?”
The disciples were about to ask that question.
What about the disciples?
But first… they couldn’t help but admire this beautiful temple they worshiped in. They gawked at “the splendor of its stonework and memorial gifts,” Luke says (The Message).
The lectionary will circle back eventually to the story just before this passage—the poor widow with her two copper coins. She takes the standard of tithing 10% and multiplies that by 10, giving everything she has.
And somehow all the disciples want to talk about is who’s in the temple’s Platinum Donor’s Club. Hey, I know that guy!I talked to that family once! They’re a big deal around here!
They’re spiraling, and Jesus disrupts it: “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”
It’s all going down, Jesus says, every… last… stone.
The disciples must get scared, because they snap out of their donor admiring, and ask, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?”
Jesus gives four:
ONE. Fake Jesuses. Verse 8: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them.”
TWO. Wars and revolutions. Verse 9: “When you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.”
THREE. Natural disasters. Verse 11: “There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.
The FOURTH sign is personal: being persecuted by others and betrayed by your own family. Verses 12, 16-17, “You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name.”
But then Jesus says, “… not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls” (18-19).
And, remarkably, Jesus says, “This will give you an opportunity to testify” (v. 13, NRSV). “This will result in your being witnesses to them” (NIV).
The disciples, apart from being scared, must have also been confused.
One commentary quite helpfully says, “The lack of chronological order in Jesus’ statements helps to discourage any attempts to work out in advance a timetable of events.”
The disciples couldn’t work out a timetable. They couldn’t know when their end was near; they could only know that God would be present with them no matter what happened and when.
What about us?
And that’s true for disciples of Jesus today, too.
Some scholars think this passage had both immediate fulfillment—the destruction of the temple, the persecution of the disciples, and a fulfillment that is yet to come—the so-called end times.
But just as the disciples couldn’t figure a timeline from Jesus’s words, neither can we. God doesn’t promise us we’ll know when the end is near. Elsewhere Jesus talks about the second coming as unexpected, so watch and wait for it. We’ll practice this watching and waiting in Advent.
So we hear this foretelling of wars and natural disasters, and we ask, “Surely it couldn’t get any worse than it is now? Surely this is it?”
It can get worse. Probably will.
It’s comical how many people have been so certain that the world would end on such-and-such a date.
And then, inevitably, when it doesn’t end, “Ah! I found an error in my calculations. It’ll be six months from now.”
This reality is perhaps best presented—and skewered—by the TV show Parks and Recreation. There’s a group in that show called “The Reasonabilists,” who are anything but what their name suggests. The Reasonabilists are an end-time cult that is waiting for Zorp the Surveyor to destroy the world.
Who is Zorp, you ask? A Parks & Rec fansite describes him as a “28-foot-tall lizard-god savior.” But the salvation he brought was a little different—he was to come to earth and melt everyone’s faces off with his “volcano mouth.”
Well, Zorp’s predicted time comes and goes, and the cult leader has to re-figure the numbers, only to stay up all night for the next time Zorp will come melt their faces off and thereby save the world.
Our temptation is more subtle… with every new war and every massive natural disaster, with every self-proclaimed Savior and persecution of Christians, we could begin to live in the same kind of fear the disciples surely feel.
But Jesus’s point is exactly the opposite.
No matter when such a time is, and no matter what it looks like, and now matter how bad it gets, the same God who accompanied the disciples—even to their deaths—promises to accompany us—even to our deaths.
Even in the scenario that verses 16 and 17 describe… even should your own family come to hate you, “Not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.” They can take your body, but not your soul. No one can take God’s love away from you. So make up your minds, Jesus says, not to worry beforehand! (v. 14)
Paul picked up on this in Romans: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Here’s a question to consider. You might give it some thought and prayer this week. When you walk into a difficult situation, what do you carry with you?
When you initiate a hard conversation, what do you have? When you face into a challenge you’d rather ignore, what resources do you have to face it? Maybe your family wouldn’t betray you to the death, but maybe you have to face some family dysfunction this Thanksgiving and Christmas.
What do you carry with you into all that?
However you answer that, we all have the promise of at least this resource: the words and wisdom of God. The words and wisdom of God.
Verse 15, spoken first to the disciples and surely extended to us in our time of need, has Jesus saying, “I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.”
Those words, that wisdom… they come from the Holy Spirit, whom God has sent to dwell in the hearts of all who follow Jesus.
I said that Julian of Norwich had replied to God, “Ah, good Lord, how could all things be well, because of the great harm which has come through sin to your creatures?”
That question feels right at home with this passage. It’s the kind of question the disciples would ask Jesus. It’s the kind of question WE want to ask Jesus when we hear something like this. Or when we just go about living our lives and watching the world around us. “How could all things be well,” O Lord?
Even after a vision of Jesus saying, “All shall be well,” that was what Julian asked—and a bunch of other questions like it.
And then, she got a response. She writes:
And so our good Lord answered to all the questions and doubts which I could raise, saying most comfortingly in this fashion: I will make all things well, I shall make all things well, I may make all things well and I can make all things well; and you will see that yourself, that all things will be well.
This is the same emphasis the Isaiah passage (65:17-18) gives us.
Behold, I will create / new heavens and a new earth. / The former things will not be remembered, / nor will they come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever / in what I will create, / for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight / and its people a joy.
I will create and all things shall be made new, God says. Not just because of some vague optimism that things just have to get better. “All shall be well” because our living and powerful God makes it so.
The 19th century poet Oscar Wilde is said to have taken Julian of Norwich’s lines—“All shall be well / And all shall be well / And all manner of thing shall be well”—he is said to have taken these lines and added to them:
And if it isn’t well, then it’s still not the end.
/ Note from Abram: I’ve started using this book, and it’s excellent. What an age to live in, where we have both a Reader’s Septuagint and this accompanying vocabulary guide! There are *multiple* Reader’s Greek New Testaments and all kinds of NT Greek vocabulary resources, but both the Reader’s LXX and this vocab guide are the first of their kind.
This book fills an important gap in the market by providing a tool to help those reading the Septuagint “get up the learning curve” with Septuagint vocabulary. Surprisingly, there’s no comparable resource out there in an accessible form.
The book consists of 28 chapters that present vocabulary lists for specific sections of the Septuagint corpus. Within each chapter, vocabulary is arranged according to frequency for that section of the Septuagint, which allows users to focus on the most important words (by frequency) within sections of most importance to them. Each list consists of twenty words, which we deemed to be an ideal size for memorization. And each chapter includes enough lists (typically over a…
This post is the concluding portion of the sermon I preached Sunday, with Luke 18:9-14 (read it here) as the Gospel lectionary text.
Did you notice the Pharisee and the tax collector both start their prayer the same way? “God….”
They use the same word, the same way of addressing God, but you get the impression they are praying to two very different Gods.
We wonder: who must the Pharisee think God is, to be praying his way? And what does the tax collector think about the God to whom he prays?
Also, how does our own image of God shape our prayers?
For the Pharisee, there’s very little introspection. He’s critical of others and not himself. He mentions God, but it’s really only a quick appetizer before he can get to the main dish that is his own righteousness.
Maybe it’s as simple as: he’s just arrogant. His religiosity has gotten the best of him.
But imagine for a moment that the Pharisee is being sincere in his prayer. Sincerely wrong, yes, but what if he really means what he’s praying?
What kind of God would he have to have in mind to be praying like this?
It would be a God who just can’t stand all the ways we terrible humans mess everything up all the time.
It would be a God who LOVES when we get it right, and loves us more when we get it right more often.
It would be a God who doesn’t need a relational connection with us—just for us to check certain things off the list, and that’s enough.
It would be a God who wants us to jockey for position—who wants us to outdo each other in religious practices and spiritual disciplines, in fasting and giving and serving.
Then when we pray, if this is who God is, we’re just reporting back to our judge on all that we’ve done, desperately trying to find our place in God’s system of punishment and rewards.
The God of this Pharisee also seems to be a God who wants people to do it on their own. Because as the Pharisee is contrasting himself with others and listing his achievements, not once does he say, “There but for the grace of God go I.” Not once does he ask, “God please help me as I fast… increase my generosity so I can give cheerfully.” Never does he invite God into his faith practice.
What kind of God is that?
Maybe one we’ve believed in, from time to time. Maybe that’s a God we’ve prayed to.
Who we believe God is will shape how we pray. And that means that we can listen to our own prayers, dig a little deeper, and ask ourselves, “Who do I really believe God is?”
The French thinker Montaigne was right on the money when he said, “Oh senseless man, who cannot possibly make a worm or a flea and yet will create Gods by the dozen!”
By contrast, who is the God the tax collector believes in?
It’s a God who listens.
It’s a God you can approach—even from far off—no matter what evil you’ve done.
A God you can confess to, and who will hear you, and will forgive you.
The tax collector believes first and foremost in a God who is merciful.
This is a God to whom you can tell the blunt truth about yourself. You can talk to God about your sin, bring it right into God’s presence.
1 John 1 says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
The tax collector believes in a God who receives us when we confess, arms open, just as the father did the prodigal son.
We don’t have to read our spiritual résumé to God. We don’t have to put other people down when we pray, to elevate ourselves. In fact, God’s presence calls for our humility. Prayer is not first about us, after all. Prayer is first about God.
God is so full of mercy, so ready to forgive—as the tax collector knew—that we simply can enter in, as we are, and say, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
The tax collector is a model for us, not only in how to pray, but in how to think about God.
Of course, if we overheard the Pharisee’s prayer in real time, we’d be faced with a particularly cruel irony. We’d have to be careful not to say, “Lord, thank you that I am not like THAT arrogant Pharisee. Thank you, God, that I know who you are.”
Thomas Merton wrote:
There is something of this worm in the hearts of all religious [people]. As soon as they have done something which they know to be good in the eyes of God, they tend to take its reality to themselves and to make it their own. They tend to destroy their virtues by claiming them for themselves and clothing their own private illusion of themselves with values that belong to God.
New Seeds of Contemplation
In the end, the Pharisee’s idea of God and idea of himself were really not that different. He was so good, so giving, so upright, he didn’t even need God! He was basically his own God.
The tax collector knew he couldn’t survive another day without God’s mercy.
And whether we realize it or not—insulated as our lives can be—none of us can truly live another day without God’s mercy.
We need it, we crave it, we have to have it now, Lord Jesus, because we are sinners in need of Christ’s mercy.
Earlier in 2019 Zondervan released updated editions of Basics of Biblical Hebrew Grammar (Pratico and Van Pelt, now in its 3rd edition) and Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar (Mounce, now in its 4th edition), as well as a suite of accompanying aids for students learning from those textbooks.
I haven’t spent as much time with the new resources as I’d like. But I recently came across Mounce’s own short summary online of what is new and updated in his fourth edition. Here’s his list of “major improvements”:
The layout of the book has been simplified. It’s gone back to its former size (6 x 9) but with a lay-flat binding. You wouldn’t need a brick to hold the pages open.
The layout is cleaner, which makes the content less intimidating, and the Professor has been moved to the website.
Vocabulary is the same (except ἅγιος is moved forward to chapter 9). However, pay close attention to the semicolons in the vocabulary listings. They identify the different glosses for a word.
Exercises 11 and 12, which are made-up sentences, now have space to translate them; hopefully, teachers will start requiring them.
A few exercise sentences have been replaced, and the order of the parsing exercises have been re-ordered in later chapters so that they go from easier to harder. Eventually, there will be a listing of those changes.
A free set of Keynote and PowerPoint slides for both the grammar and the workbook are downloadable for free, and they use Unicode so you wouldn’t have to download a special font. (They use Times New Roman.)
The FlashWorks database, paper flashcards, and the Compact Guide have all been updated to match the changes in the grammar. Roots are added to the cards, and a downloadable PDF listing all the words in alphabetical order is available for free.
Scholarship’s new understanding of the middle voice has been included, and teachers are invited to decide which approach to use. The same goes for the debate over σα and θη forms. QC codes will point you to YouTube presentations on some of these issues.
Aspectual language is now used throughout. So the book talks about the imperfective aspect, imperfect tense, perfective aspect, aorist tense, combinative aspect, and the perfect tense. I always include the words “aspect” and “tense” to avoid confusion.
Roots have been emphasized from chapter 4 on, are listed prominently in the vocabulary sessions, so when the student comes to chapter 20 it is natural and easy to think in terms of roots and stems.
See more here. Mounce’s grammar is available here.
This post is an adaptation of a sermon I preached a few weeks ago, with Psalm 55 (read it here) as my preaching text.
Can we pray them? Yes, we can!
Recently the The New York Times published an Opinion piece called “The Mosquitoes Are Coming for Us.” The subheading was: “They are our apex predator, the deadliest hunters of human beings on the planet.”
An opening line was innocent enough: “It has been one of the most aggravating sounds on earth for 190 million years — the humming buzz of a mosquito.”
But the article shared some alarming facts. It described mosquitoes as “a swarming army of 100 trillion that kills (some) 700,000 people annually…” and “…research suggests (they) may have killed nearly half of the 108 billion humans who have ever lived.”
Even the most humane among us have no trouble swatting or smushing a mosquito. We might have some choice words for them.
Were mosquitoes to become a topic of prayer, we’d have no trouble praying against them: may they die a thousand deaths; may they leave no progeny behind; may they burn in the unquenchable fire. Even as I was looking over this sermon in the cool quiet of the morning, I found myself praying for a wretched fate for the crows that loudly feasted on our compost.
But when it comes to praying against other people or institutions, we might be a little more reluctant. We might wonder: can I pray that? We hear David pray, “Let death come upon them; / …for evil is in their homes and in their hearts.” We wonder what to do with this verse and others like it, that are right here in our holy book.
Psalm 55 is a prayer of vengeance—an “imprecatory” Psalm is the category interpreters put it in. We have Psalm of thanksgiving, Psalms of confession, Psalms of trust, Psalms of lament, royal Psalms, and others. But the imprecatory Psalms may be the hardest ones to know what to do with. These are Psalms that, in short, call on God to take swift action on enemies, even to the point of their destruction (HT: Pocket Dictionary of Biblical Studies).
Imprecatory prayers can be as specific and harmless as, “Dear God, I pray that that person who is texting while driving would get into the slightest of fender benders as a harmless but effective wake-up call so that they never text and drive again.” And imprecatory prayers can be as broad and intense as, “God, destroy these your enemies, so that they never see the light of day again!”
Some commentators say we should not pray these Psalms, as Christians. The verse “Bless those who curse you,” they say, is reason to no longer ask God to curse those who curse us.
Some of these commentators—including ones with a high view of Scripture—have described these Psalms in less than favorable terms, like:
C.S. Lewis reacts to these Psalms this way: “The hatred is there—festering, gloating, undisguised—and also we should be wicked if we in any way condoned or approved it, or (worse still) used it to justify similar passions in ourselves” (Reflections on the Psalms, 22). Lewis said, the imprecatory Psalms—Psalms of vengeance—“are indeed devilish” (25).
He’s entitled to his interpretation, of course, but in recent months I have come to view prayers of vengeance in a different way. I’ve made it my practice—given myself permission, really—to pray like the Psalmists do when they’re praying God’s vengeance would come to earth.
Thinking of the haughty and proud who abuse their power, I’ve prayed words like these ones in Psalm 59:
For the sin of their mouths, the words of their lips, let them be trapped in their pride. For the cursing and lies that they utter, consume them in wrath; consume them until they are no more. Then it will be known to the ends of the earth that God rules over Jacob.
For those that lie serially, and who incite violence, I have prayed words like these ones in today’s Psalm, Psalm 55:
Confuse, O Lord, confound their speech; for I see violence and strife in the city.
I’m far from alone in reading the Psalms this way. Readers and interpreters of these Psalms have argued that just like we need Psalms of lament, we need imprecatory Psalms—prayers of vengeance. This is especially true when we consider the church across the world, and Christians who may live under a kind of duress or oppression that we may not know in our contexts. One commentator says, “A diet of upbeat songs and positive testimonies does not meet the needs of those suffering disappointment, ill health, or persecution.”
To be clear, no one in this worshiping community has been the subject of my recent imprecatory prayers. But as I’ve tried to inhabit Psalms like the one we read—as I’ve tried to pattern my own prayers after them—I’ve been reminded that God is a God of mercy and a God of judgment.
This is not just an Old Testament characteristic of God, either. Even the New Testament features words of imprecation, on the lips of Paul and even on the lips of Jesus himself. Martyrs in Revelation 6, killed for the sake of Jesus, cry out, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?”
In my own praying, I’ve found myself feeling more vulnerable and more honest in God’s presence when I pray a prayer like Psalm 55. That honesty has led me to a greater sense of intimacy, or at least to feel like I’m doing something.
The big question about imprecatory Psalms—with a nod to Bob the Builder—is: Can we pray them? Yes, we can!
Still, I think the Psalms suggest some important parameters, if we’re going to take the plunge and pray prayers of vengeance.
1. Leave vengeance to God
First, imprecatory Psalms leave vengeance to God. They leave vengeance to God.
This is hugely important, noted by many readers of the Psalms, and gives us a reason to pray a prayer we might otherwise be uncomfortable with.
Our Psalm ended like this:
But you, O God, will cast them down into the lowest pit; the bloodthirsty and treacherous shall not live out half their days. But I will trust in you.
It did not end like this
But I, O God, will case them down into the lowest pit; the bloodthirsty and treacherous shall not live out half their days, because I will make sure of it myself. I will trust in myself.
Fundamentally, a prayer calling God to take action against his enemies is an affirmation of trust in God. It’s to say, “This is God’s job; not mine.”
Deuteronomy and Romans and Hebrews all quote God as saying, “Vengeance is mine; I shall repay.” Vengeance is not ours. We do not repay. God does.
When Psalm 55 and others like it pray for vengeance, it’s an affirmation that God judges in a way we cannot and should not. Better to ask God to exact justice—even destruction—on a serial evildoer, than for us to go rogue try to do it ourselves.
Prayers of imprecation pray for vengeance to come from where it should come from—from the Almighty and just God, not from ourselves.
2. Know “your” enemies
A second parameter seems important to Psalmists who prayed against others: knowing who “enemies” really are. Prayers of vengeance are not for that kid in your class who just bugs you; they’re not for someone who looks at you funny; they’re not for New York Yankees fans.
Imprecatory Psalms are chiefly reserved for those who are enemies of God, who set themselves up against God’s righteousness and justice, and who persist in doing evil in the world. They are those who harm precious ones created in the image of God.
Think of our Matthew passage today. Jesus says:
If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea.
Or consider Psalm 139, powerfully rendered in the King James Version:
O that Thou wouldst slay the wicked, O God; depart from me, therefore, men of bloodshed. For they speak against Thee wickedly, and Thine enemies take Thy name in vain. Do I not hate those who hate Thee, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against Thee? I hate them with the utmost hatred; they have become my enemies.
As we say in my family sometimes, “Hate is a strong word.”
We’re probably hesitant (rightly!) to even use the word “enemy.” And we know Jesus calls us to love our enemies, whoever those may be.
But whatever else we make of this part of Psalm 139, the point of the pray-er is that he’s calling on God to silence and put an end not to those who speak against him, but who speak against God.
Prayers of vengeance are not for personal vendettas. They’re prayers that God would deal justly with God’s enemies. And if we want to know who those are, we’d do well to spend lots of time reading Scripture and praying and connecting with other Christians, so we don’t mistake our enemies for God’s enemies.
Further, we want to keep in mind, as Ephesians says, that
(O)ur struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
If you’ve got pent up energy and frustration when you see injustice and wickedness in the world—pray first “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Those are the invisible powers animating the visible powers of this world.
3. Imprecate yourself?
Psalmists who prayed imprecatory prayers (1) were leaving vengeance to God and (2) were defining as “enemies” those who set themselves up specifically as God’s enemies.
A third parameter that’s important, if we’re going to pray like this, is that we be ready to turn this kind of prayer back on ourselves.
In Psalm 139, David confesses in prayer to despising those who despise God, calling down judgment and destruction on them.
But we know how that Psalm ends:
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
I trust I’m not the only one who has read that Psalm and skipped from, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made” and, “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!” to, “Search me, O God, and know my heart.” But those intense imprecations come in between. And they cause the ending to make even more sense.
David says, “See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Because he knows that there may be others who could rightly pray prayers of imprecation against him! Bathsheba certainly could have. His daughter, whose rape David did not take seriously, certainly could have. He at least has the self-knowledge to pray, “Search me, O God, and know my heart. See if there is any offensive way in me….”
We might consider a similar ending to our prayers, as we pray for God’s justice and judgement to be enacted on the wicked.
For example, we might pray against racism, and those who advance it. In the same prayer, we might also pray, “Lord, show me any racist thoughts—however minor!—in my heart. Reveal to me, God, if there are any ways have I benefited from and perpetuated systems of racism.”
And we pray against those who harm others day after day, we might also ask, “God, help me to see: how have I hurt others with my words and actions, perhaps causing them to want to pray prayers of imprecation against me?”
One interpreter cautions about these Psalms: “Those who pray them are inevitably faced with the question of their own complicity in the web of violence.”
That makes praying imprecatory prayers even harder—we maybe already feel uncomfortable praying them, but to do so in good conscience before God, we need to be ready to point the prayers back on ourselves.
“Surely there is a God”
Psalms of imprecation, at their best, leave vengeance to God; they define “enemies” less as their own enemies and more as God’s enemies; and they are ready to implicate themselves.
It’s helped me to see this kind of prayer as a more detailed expression of lines in the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.”
If God’s kingdom is going to come, if God’s will is going to be done, that means there will be judgement for the wicked.
One interpreter and modern-day prayer of these Psalms said it like this:
As poetic prayers, the psalms of vengeance are a passionate clinging to God when everything really speaks against God. For that reason they can rightly be psalms of zeal, to the extent that in them passion for God is aflame in the midst of the ashes of doubt about God and despair over human beings. These psalms are the expression of a longing that evil, and evil people, may not have the last word in history, for this world and its history belong to God.
Psalm 58, another one of these “Psalms of zeal,” we might call them, ends like this:
The righteous will rejoice when they see vengeance done; they will bathe their feet in the blood of the wicked. People will say, “Surely there is a reward for the righteous; surely there is a God who judges on earth.”
If God lets evil go on forever, what hope is there for us? If God cannot stop and will never stop evil, how can we have faith?
As with lament Psalms, imprecatory Psalms are a way for us to keep showing up in God’s presence, even when seemingly unchecked evil might otherwise shut us down and keep us quiet.
“Surely there is a God!”
We need to see—the world needs to see—God in all power, exercising mercy and judgment, so that we can all say, “Surely there is a God!”
Baylor University Press has announced a Septuagint introduction (728 pages!) coming in November: Introduction to the Septuagint, edited by Siegfried Kreuzer.
I can personally attest to Prof. Kreuzer’s graciousness and meticulousness as an editor. No doubt this book will be good.
Here’s the description from Baylor’s product page:
The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible created by Jews seeking a place of legitimacy for diaspora Jewishness and faith among the traditions of Hellenistic culture, was a monumental religious and cultural achievement.
This Greek Old Testament, in its original form and revised versions, provided the scriptural basis for Judaism in the Greek-speaking diaspora, enabled the emergence and spread of Christianity, and influenced translations of the Bible into African and European languages. Over time, however, the Septuagint’s relevance faded for Jews, and the Hebrew text eventually reasserted its dominance within Judaism. This led many to neglect the Septuagint as an authentic witness to the biblical tradition. But the Septuagint remained important, inspiring biblical writings and further translations into Latin, Coptic, and Armenian. In combination with the Qumran biblical texts, it provides yet further indication of the multivocal state of the Hebrew Bible around the turn of the eras and proves to be a text of continuous interest for biblical scholarship and cultural-historical studies.
Siegfried Kreuzer’s Introduction to the Septuagint presents, in English, the most extensive introduction of the Septuagint to date. It offers comprehensive overviews of the individual biblical writings, including the history of research, current findings and problems, and perspectives for future research. Additionally, this survey presents a history of the Septuagint in its Greco-Hellenistic background, theories of its genesis, the history of its revisions, its lore in antiquity, and an overview of the most important manuscripts and witnesses of the convoluted transmission history of the text. The text includes extensive bibliographies that show the ongoing interest in Septuagint studies and provide a reliable basis for future studies.
A collaboration representing multiple nationalities, professional perspectives, and denominational traditions, this dependable guide invites newcomers and experts alike to venture into the rich world of one of the most influential works of literature in history.
It’s often said that all you really need to run is shoes, shorts, and a shirt (even that is optional). True, but for those of us who want to combine running with data tracking, a little introspection, and the #analoguelife, there are running journals.
I reviewed the Believe Training Journal here. It’s a robust journal that includes training tips, articles, mini-essays (!) and more. Although much of it is guided, there’s plenty of blank space to just write down the runs you did.
GoneForaRun.com makes a series of running journals that are simpler. Here’s their description of the features:
160 Pages with 280 daily Training log entries
Convenient 7.5″ x 5″ size with protective cover
Over 140 unique motivational + inspirational quotes
Includes pages for goals, weekly & monthly mileage summary, my race log, PR’s, bucket list + race registration log
So all the essentials are there, especially if the Believe journal is too much for you.
GoneForaRun was kind to send me a review copy of one of their journals, so I could write about it here (and write in it). They sent the 13.1 Math Miles journal.
The cover is a great-looking yellow and blue.
The cover brings makes me think of the old Langenscheid dictionary covers, a pleasant memory:
Each page has room for you to log two runs, so that a full spread with the journal open shows you four runs at a time. A downside to this is if you run more than four times a week, you can’t see an entire week’s workouts on a two-page spread. There are 70 front-and-back sheets in the journal for a total of 280 runs you can log. This number also is funny to me, since you’d have to run 5.3846 times a week to fill up this journal in a year. More serious runners (who run or work out six times a week) will need another journal before a year is up. There are two pages of weekly and monthly summary, which is enough for two years, but even for a more casual 3x/week runner, the total number of pages won’t be enough for two years.
At any rate, the layout is clean and simple:
There are places for goals, tracking PRs, and a bucket list:
There is lots of room (four pages!) for tracking your races separately, too:
I’m a sucker for sewn binding, and this journal has it! That combined with the plastic slip case will prolong the life of the journal.
My favorite part is the weekly and monthly summary, where you can track just mileage.
There are also six notes pages in the back, where you could do longer-range planning or perhaps sketch out your training plan.
The simplicity of this journal is great. The amount of runs it records (280) is odd; I would have rather seen seven spaces for runs spread out over two pages, like most weekly planners have. But everything else you need in a training log is here, so if you want a journal without the extras, take a look.
The 13.1 Math Miles journal is here (in four different colors). All the other GoneForaRun journals are here.
It was fawning interest at first sight and then love at first drink with the Chemex Filter-Drip Coffeemaker.
I love to drink coffee, and the fact that our coffee of choice is Peet’s made me think I was kind of a coffee snob. (Wonderfully, our local grocery store sells Peet’s whole bean by the package, and often on sale.) But deep down inside I knew that my reliance on a standard coffee maker–and only very occasional use of a French press–meant coffee brewing snobbery was still an aspiration.
Chemex scratches that itch, but in a non-pretentious way. I’ve been enjoying regular use of the Ten Cup Glass Handle Chemex for the last couple weeks, which Chemex kindly sent my way for review.
Chemex even included an awesome leather coaster to put the glass on.
Now, it’s time to make the coffee. Pretty simple (and there was an instruction sheet included):
Grind the beans, medium coarse
Put them in the filter on top of the glass brewer
Boil the water (Chemex has this sweet looking thing, but I just used my tea kettle)
Pour the water over the beans and let them “bloom” for 30 seconds (Chemex tells me the bloom is “escaping gas that has been trapped in the beans during the roasting process”
Pour water over the beans, so that it goes almost to the top of the glass
This is the smoothest cup of coffee I’ve ever had at home. There’s not an ounce of sludge, anywhere in sight. Even the pour from the Chemex to mug is perfectly clear and clean. Here’s an image of the drip brewing:
Drinking coffee from the regular coffee maker the next day was a serious step down. (Don’t get me wrong; I’m grateful for coffee in all its forms!) I had no idea what I was missing.
The design is awesome. The glass is strong. The filters are easy to use and don’t leak. The handle makes pouring easy. Maybe the only thing I’d add is some kind of cozy or heat cover. You can put this on the stove on low heat (if gas or glass stove top), but then I’d have to remember it’s there! (I.e., no auto-off.) But I put the brewed coffee right into a Thermos, so that works out well.
Learn more about the Chemex at its product page here. Two thumbs (or in this case, mugs) up!