Featured

James 5:7-10 Advent Three: A Meditation

The third week of Advent brings us to what might be the perfect Advent text. James 5:7-10 is a strong exhortation to get our act together because, “The Lord is coming.”  The first line in the Latin Bible even has the very word: patients igniter estate craters issue ad adventum Domini. 

Let’s continue in, English.


Be patient, therefore, brothers and sisters*, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and late rains.

My father was a farmer. He loved to watch things grow. However, patience is not a word that anyone would apply to him, and I think to most farmers. Farmers always are impatient. They can’t wait to break the dirt in the spring. They can’t wait to get the seed in the ground. The can’t wait for it sprout. They can’t wait for it to blossom. They can’t wait until the crop is ripe. They can’t wait until the harvest. They can’t wait until it is sold or stored away. And finally, they rarely can wait until they eat it. This is why you see farmers and growers of all types eating their tomatoes/peaches/grapes right off the vine.

Farmers are not patient by nature. They are also never happy with the weather. James points to the early and late rains in the growing season. Farmers always complain about rain. There is either not enough or there is too much or it comes at the wrong times.

Did James know any farmers?

I wager he did, and that might very well be the point. We wait like farmers do: patiently impatient knowing there is nothing we can do except anticipate the day when the crops are gathered and our work is done. Until then, we keep at it.

You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.

The word here, establish, is usually a pretty good word, but may I suggest ‘strengthen’ or ‘firm up’ as a better rendering here. Just as a farmer strengthens her crop by tending it, protecting it, making certain it has good soil, so too should we strengthen our heart. This is not a passive, “let’s hope we have strong hearts” but is an encouragement to make active steps to strengthen our hearts.

Going back to my father, he used to put fertilizer in the soil to strengthen it. Virgin soil didn’t need this, but when you’ve been farming the same land over time, it needs help. Growing things saps the energy and vitality from the dirt.

Just as life drains the love out of our hearts. Hurts, pains, betrayals, lies, and disappointments weaken our hearts. But Jesus is coming, so we must take steps to strengthen our hearts. We strengthen our heart by exercising faith, practicing discipline, and feeding on the word of God.

Do not grumble against one another, brothers and sisters*, so that you may not be judged, behold the Judge is standing at the door.

By my count this the third time in a row James has warned us that Jesus is coming. This time it is as our Judge. What is he judging? Specifically here, how we speak about our church family and other Christ-followers. Grumbling is not a good idea.

What I like here is the sense of the judge at the door, but what he is doing is not coming in. Instead, he is standing there, eavesdropping. He is standing at the door listening to what is happening inside. Can you see in your mind the possible scenario James has built? The Lord Jesus, our judge, is standing outside the door listening to how we are talking about one another.

What does Jesus hear you saying about your brothers and sisters in Christ? He is there, standing at the door listening, and any minute he may walk in, he may come in (adventum in Latin, parousia in Greek (vv 7 & 8) and catch you red-handed spewing slander, gossip, and hatred toward your brother or sister in Christ. How embarrassing.

As an example of suffering and patience, brothers and sisters*, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

The lectionary reading ends here; but James will go on to talk about Job. I wouldn’t think naturally about Job as a prophet, but that is the kind of suffering James has in mind. Job suffered in his body through ailment and disease. Job suffered through grief at the loss of his children. Job suffered economically as all his wealth was stripped away. Job suffered relationally as his wife was at odds with him. Job suffered socially from the accusations of wrongdoing by his ‘friends’. Job suffered spiritually because he never understood why God would do this to him.

To be human is to suffer. I have come to believe this is what defines us. James teaches us that Jesus is coming, and as we wait, we must wait in the context of our suffering the way the old timers did. What does this mean? It means we make Job’s confession about the coming of the Lord; a confession that ends, strangely enough, with an appeal to a weakening heart, which no doubt needs to be strengthened by faith in the midst of adversity.

Oh that my words were written! Oh that they were inscribed in a book! Oh that with an iron pen and lead they were engraved in the rock forever! For I know that my redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!”

Job 19:23-28
*I have annotated the ESV text with ‘brothers and sisters’ where it says ‘brothers’ because the Greek word here, adelphoi, is gender inclusive and is a better reading of the textual meaning rather than the exclusive term ‘brothers’. There are three instances here in this text of that usage.

Featured

Psalm 72:1-8 Advent Two: A Meditation

The readings for the second week of advent (Year A, 2019) have a theme of the rule of the future Davidic king bringing peace and harmony to the world: Romans 15 speaks to the scope of this reign as over the Jews and Gentiles, Matthew 3 is the summary of John the Baptist’s preaching in preparation for the coming of this Davidic King, Isaiah 11 is more specific about the stump of Jesse which will arise and bring the new age.

The Psalm reading intrigues me. Psalm 72:1-8 is a series of petitions to the Lord, prayers, regarding the rule of an earthly Hebrew king for certain, but with an eye on the eventual one who would fulfill the hope of the ages as the eternal king. My instinct tells me Psalm 72 was probably read at the installation of kings, or composed for the installation of a specific king. One notes, however, the backhanded nature of these petitions: praying for the king to do the right sorts of things indicates perhaps the King, or his predecessor, had failed to live up to the obligations and expectations of a righteous leader.


Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to the royal son! May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice.

There is a lot of poetics in the opening lines. First the careful reader will notice justice and righteousness are first asked to be given to the king, then these same attributes are asked for the people through the work of the king. Did you notice the change in order? In verse 1 we have justice then righteousness and in verse 2 we have righteousness and then justice.

I wonder if there isn’t some kind of parallelism here with the judging. There certainly is in verse 1 where “king” aligns with “royal son” forming a chiasm with “righteousness” and “justice” as roughly synonymous. If this works In verse two as well, then there is no chiasm but “your people” would then be synonymous with “your poor” as the same basic group of people. Poor people are God’s people. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

On an interpretative level, these two verses are a plea for the leadership to be fair to all people and not just the wealthy who can bribe and buy justice. It makes a person think about the fact, not opinion, but fact, how much you can afford to pay a lawyer goes a long way in determining wether you go to jail or not in this country. We have to be careful that we don’t take this plea be able punishing the right or even complaining that the wealth get justice. This is not about envy; it is about asking for the poor to get a fair shake in justice.

Let the mountains bear prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness!

The third verse shifts subjects momentarily from the king to mountains. The request is that the mountains will prosper and provide economic provision for the people. Putting this in context with the surround text, our eyes can focus on what the person praying is really concerned for. It is not the wellbeing of the king or the wellbeing of the mountains. Rather, the concern for the prayer is the wellbeing of the people. He is praying that both the king and the mountains be good to the people.

This verse reminds us it is not improper to pray for prosperity and for blessings. As this year ends and a new one is on the horizon, it is proper and biblical to ask the Lord to let ‘the mountains’ or ‘the factory’ or ‘the stock market’ or ‘the sales numbers’ bear prosperity for you and your family. Always keep in mind, however, we are blessed that we may be a blessing.

May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the children of the needy, and crush the oppressor!

The subject goes back to the king, but we can still see who it is the petition is for — the poor people and their children. This is a prayer and is not necessarily what God is speaking, but is speech to God. In this speech we see the concern is with the oppressed and the needy. I wonder if people of faith too often make their prayers aimed at protecting the privileged and the powerful rather than the poor and the children of the poor.

There is a vitriol here as well. The prayer asks those who hurt the children and the needy be crushed. Not punished, but crushed. Before you move on, let that language settle in on your soul.

May they fear you while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, through all generations! May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth! In his days may the righteous flourish, and peace abound, till the moon be no more.

It is a little confusing the way this starts — “may they fear you” — but this is not a valid reading. Likely the text should read “May he live” –thus asking the Lord for the king to live a long life in the idiom of ‘as long as the sun endures.’

The poetics continue as the work of the king is described as a blessed rain that falls on freshly cut grass watering the earth. If we put these together, we have an appeal for the king to be as faithful and stable as nature that allows for the a life filled with shalom. Can you smell the grass? Can you feel the warm rain on your skin? See the moon glowing in the night sky? See the sun’s last rays on a winter’s evening as the fire burns in the hearth? These are the feelings the pray invokes as it asks for good governance that creates the atmosphere of wellbeing for everyone.

May he have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth!

Amen–May this kind of dominion rule from sea to shining sea and up and down all the mighty rivers.


This Hebrew prayer inspired me to put my own words to the same thoughts — which I think is a powerful way to understand the Psalms — ancient prayers to inform our daily prayers. I crafted it as a national prayer, but keep in mind the best hermeneutic of this would likely be a prayer crafted around the Kingdom of God rather than national entities. I chose national entities to keep it in the political context of the original writing; to help us, and by us I mean me, understand what the original implications might have been:

Help our government to value justice, O God, and our leaders to be righteousness.

May our judges be filled with righteousness, and may the poor find justice in every aspect of life.

May all of the economic engines of our nation be prosperous, let them be fair and just so that no one is left behind and no one is exploited, manipulated, or used.

May the President and those in charge of executing the laws have compassion on those who are needy, regardless of where they come from or what language they speak or who they pray to. Give him a vision and passion to be a protector of children.

May our nation, for as long as she is just and righteous, stand as long as the sun sits at the center of our solar system and the moon waxes and wanes above our heads; may our values of freedom and liberty be like refreshing rain showers upon a world that is thirsty for hope.

May we accept your dominion over us, Lord Jesus Christ, from the Harbors of the East Coast to the beautiful shorelines of the West Coast, from the bountiful Valley of Texas to the expansive Great Lakes of the Midwest. May we experience your shalom forever and ever. Amen.

 

 

Featured

Isaiah 2:1-5 Advent One: An Interpretation

Yesterday (Sunday, December 1, 2019) began the Advent journey — IMG_1096the four Sundays
of reflections and readings which lead up to Christmas Day. The key Old Testament reading from the lectionary was Isaiah 2:1-5, which we read in our worship service.


The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

My favorite part of the opening is that Isaiah “saw” the word of the Lord. It is probably an idiom for a vision — the vision he saw about the mountain. In my mind, though, I wonder if it was not some written document he saw. Did he spy God’s book with his eyes and then record in human language what he had seen? That is probably not the way it happened, but in my imagination it is, and what Isaiah gives us is insight into God’s secret plans about the future.

It is a secret The Lord freely shares, though. It is an open secret.

Two other fascinating tidbits here before we move on. Seeing the word of God is the same thing the first century apostle saw. The word became flesh and dwelt among us. They beheld the living word with their own eyes.

The second fascination here is the challenge this verse presents to our vision; that we might see the word or God all around us. Natural revelation comes to mind here with seeing God in the stars and moon as well as waterfalls. We should also learn, train, and work at seeing the word of God in children on the playground, lovers holding hands, and the truth being spoken to power. Can you see the word of God, the words of God, right in front of you?

It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it,

It is not that there aren’t other mountains, it is that the mountain of the house of the Lord is higher than the rest. Just like there are other gods, there are to be no other gods above the One True God.

I don’t know if this is literal. Part of me wants it to be literal, describing a future when the Temple Mount literally grows taller and higher than Everest as a beacon over the whole earth. But I’m not certain that is what this is teaching. Highest here should be taken as meaning the most important or significant. The Temple Mount will be more important than Mt. Olympus, the seven hills of Rome, or the artificial ziggurats which dot the ancient landscape. It is taller than the artificial mountains of skyscrapers and satellites. It is higher than mankind can reach.

The Bible here doesn’t say people will flow (flow uphill, I might add) but that nations will. Nations — not only Hebrews — but nations. The movement of nations echoes throughout the biblical witness until the cacophony cannot be drowned out any longer and the crescendo comes in Revelation when every, all the tribes and peoples, and every language cries out before the throne of God and the Lamb.

and many peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

Is this wishful thinking? Maybe. Maybe Isaiah is just as cynical about his world as I am sometimes about mine. The Nations do not want to know the ways of God. The Nations want the ways of power, strength, greed, and exploitation. The Nations pollute the air and water without regard for our children or the animals. The Nations destroy families by trafficking our young to war and slavery. The Nations value control and manipulation in order to protect the privileged. The Nations use religion as a mask for abominations.

But Isaiah says it will happen. Some day in the future The Nations will be changed; their heart will turn. God’s law will move among them — the law of grace and of healing — and bring repentance to the earth.

He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, either shall they learn war anymore.

There can be no peace without justice. There can be no forgiveness without the struggle and pain to name the wrongdoing. The Lord will usher in a peaceful time without war or conflict by first judging the nations and then acting as arbiter of the great disputes. Eventually, finally, Palestinians and Israelis will have their dispute settled, as will the Muslims and Jews. Likewise, peace will come when the Lord arbitrates the grievance of Native Americans and those of African descent against Anglo-Europeans. Finally the Korean Penninsula will be at peace when God mediates. Likewise Sunni and Shia, Indian and Pakistani, as well as the Tutsi and Hutus will have all aggression and violence purged in their relationships. The wrongs of history will be settled. The future will no longer be on the horizon. It will be upon us.

And war will be no more. Never again will another dime be spent on nuclear weapons or bullets; it will instead be spent on feeding the children and building homes.

O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.

Amen. Let us walk in the light, as he is in the light. Marana Tha.

Featured

What Makes You Thirsty?

At about 7:45AM yesterday (6 October 2019) I realized the sermon about John 7:37-39 was out of control.

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ ” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

water.jpg

I’ve preached this passage before, usually with mixed results. This time I tried to weave a little light exegesis with a constant hammering of metaphor — what it was like to be dehydrated. In fact, I used eight different metaphors–everything from mummies to Mars. I was having a hard time putting in all of the different things I wanted to say along with a baseline exegesis of the text, which is important as well.

Something had to go for me to regain control. What I cut was a wandering speculation about when do we get thirsty? I came up with five, and I intended to draw out the spiritual implications.

  1. When I first wake up
  2. After I eat something dry
  3. After exercise
  4. If I am sick, I am thirsty
  5. When traveling

It would be a safe jump to move “when I first wake up” into a “when I first become a Christ-follower”. I have found this to be inherently true of people who turn on their spiritual lives — they have a near insatiable appetite for the anything about Jesus — worship, church, Bible study, reading the Bible, and serving. Often they can’t stop talking about Jesus. It is because they are thirsty.

Eating something dry is a harder parallel, but not impossible. It could be likened to whenever I am around stale people, crusty ideas, or hardened hearts. Too much time in these environments will make me thirsty for Jesus all the more. Being thirsty after exercise is the opposite, in many ways to eating something dry. Exercise is when we are spiritually serving — for me this is when my teaching schedule is heavy, lots of appointments with people, people in the hospital — and I have exerted myself spiritually so much that I’ve ‘sweated out’ all my liquid. That is when I need to rehydrate and spend some extra time alone with the Lord and drink in his presence.

Antibiotics always make me thirsty. Medicine, in general, does. I like to think of this concept as running alongside the way I can become spiritually confused or even displaced. A good example is when a contemporary issue seems to be running right into the teaching of Scripture. This is a certain kind of dissonance that makes me need to spend more time with the Lord to gather discernment. I need a drink, so to speak, before I know what the healthy path is.

If I am in an airplane I am always thirsty. The same is true when I am in car. I think most people are this way and it is because of the dry recycled air. Recycled air is the key here. One of the problems in my life is I get comfortable recycling and repeating same the same things over and over again, neglecting the Spirits call to sing a new song, start a new thing, or travel in a new direction. When the air is dry and recycled, it is time to spend time drinking in the Lord.

So there you have it, the bonus material that had to be cut from yesterday’s completely out of control sermon.