Under The What?

I’ve got something to share with you I am really excited about.

Back in March when the first round of COVID-19 happened, we stopped having in-person worship services. One of the tools we used to substitute (there really is no substitute for congregational worship, but doing nothing really is not an option) was a podcast feel in which we talked about the material I was planning on preaching. Some of this was on Daniel and some of it was from encounters people had with Jesus.

Those were fun, but they were, intentionally, built like a group sermon experience with no real surprises and not conversational. But what we discovered was we had the technical ability to do it.

That planted in our mind an idea: our small groups are all, for the most part, in a kind of limbo right now — what can we do?

What we decided to do was develop a podcast with me and our pastoral staff talking about Biblical material as you would a small group. The more we planned, the more we decided this was just a good idea all around to supplement our teaching ministry and to provide something that might substitute (again, there is no substitute for real life small groups) during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

We have recorded and published two episodes and will record one weekly for the foreseeable future. We call it UNDER THE WATER TOWER because our church building is right underneath a city water tower. We even have bumper music! How cool is that?

I hope you enjoy it. Click on our artwork below (thanks John Trapane for building it) to listen.

Advent 1, Year C–1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

The Epistle reading for the first week of Advent seems whittled down for my taste. I would prefer it take a bigger bite and include the earlier material in chapter 3 about afflictions, because the theme of afflictions matches the other readings as all the travail leading up to the Day of the Lord and the coming of the Son of Man will be filled with afflictions. It will get worse before it gets better.

But instead we have these encouraging words. Maybe the lectionary thinks we need some encouragement after the harsher materials from Zechariah and Luke.

“For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith.” 1 Thessalonians 3:9-10

How can I thank God enough for you? I got it–I will pray night and day for the opportunity to come fix what it is that you clearly don’t understand yet. Okay, I admit that is a little harsh, but I’ve been reading Paul for so long that I feel like I understand his sarcasm. He is writing 1 Thessalonians because they have questions about things they should have already understood. He clearly perceives they are lacking some finer points of discipleship or theology (v. 10) and he needs to come fix it. For the record, they still didn’t quite get it, which is why we have . . . 2 Thessalonians.

The concept, though, that people who earnestly follow the Lord and try to do and be right, yet have something lacking is intriguing. Paul hints at the same thing in the Roman church (Romans 1:11) and there is no end of problems in Corinth. Here in this time of advent, maybe we should consider–is something lacking in our own faith?

  1. Perhaps our personal faith is lacking. What I mean is, we could devote ourselves to learning more. Stop relying on whatever the pastor is leading and read books on your own, listen to podcasts, do some study. Learn. Fill in the gaps. This personal lacking might be practice as well. Perhaps you don’t pray as often as you should, or at least don’t pray ‘earnestly’ as Paul mentions.  Only an arrogant fool would say ‘There is nothing lacking in my spiritual life–I’m a perfect 10.’
  2. It could be something is lacking in our local church. Maybe your church is a sweet fellowship, but it doesn’t lift a finger to help solve the problem of clean drinking water in Africa and could not care less about child sex-trafficking. Flip it around, maybe your church is great at reaching children and young families, but terrible at discipling older adults. Maybe your work is to address what is lacking in your congregation.
  3. There is no way anything is lacking in Western Christianity, though. We have our act together perfectly. #sarcasm.

From this desire to fix a problem, Paul turns to benediction. In fact, this benediction could be crafted and worked very nicely as the spoken benediction to finish a worship service.

“Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.” 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13

Having read the benediction, we see Paul’s desire for the Thessalonians and we see how it fits the familiar pattern. As much as Paul wants to fix their theology and fill in the gaps, the things that really matter in our daily living are:

  1. Love. Paul is quite specific when he says love for one another and ‘for all.’ I take this to mean all people. Love within the church fellowship is important, but love for neighbor, love for stranger, love for enemy, love for the confused, love for the addicted, the immigrant at the border, the extremist Muslim in Malaysia, and even Tom Brady.
  2. Holiness. The curious thing about holiness is Paul doesn’t mention their behaviors when he describes this, but instead their hearts. Remember, Jesus told us that it is what comes out of our hearts (Matthew 15:18) that defiles a person. If we are not holy the root is not behaviors. The root is the heart. In the end, we do what we want to do.

The apex of this benediction is the eventual coming of Jesus, which is a major theme of 1 Thessalonians and it is what I am preaching about this Sunday.


Here we are, the penultimate chapter of Romans.  Only one more to go after this.  To think, when I started I thought I might be done by July 4!  I was either foolish or arrogant.  Probably a little of both.

Translation Notes

I have supplied “doing” as a verb in verse 2.  The sentence works without it, but by adding it meaning is clarified.

In verse 16, the weird phrase ‘serving as a priest of the gospel of God’ is awkward and jarring for those of us in the Protestant tradition that de-emphasizes the priestly role of ministry.  The word picture is that of a priest tending the duties of God in the temple.  Paul is making the point that he is like a priest fulfilling his term of service, but the place of service is not in the physical temple, his place of work is among the gentiles. A priest to the gentiles.  The incredible theology here is implied:  The holy place of God is not a building, but people, and gentiles at that.  The thought parallels nicely with 1 Corinthians 6:19.

The ending of verse 24 is a little hard to translate because it feels like mostly idiom, idioms which are hard to get at. What Paul appears to be indicating is “I hope to stop by and visit you on my way to Spain. We’ll have a good time, won’t we?”

The word I render as ‘proceeds’ in verse 28 is actually the word ‘fruit.’ It is a reference to the money Paul has collected among the churches during his journey. This money was a love offering for the church in Jerusalem because they had been in severe famine.

Theological Notes

There are four striking components of this chapter.  First, Paul has the idea of “owe” in his mind.  The strong owe the weak and gentile Christ-followers owe the church at Jerusalem.  One of these debts is paid with care, the other is paid with money, but the reason for the debt is the same.  All of us are spiritually connected.

Second, I still think verse 7 is the key to understanding Chapter’s 14 and 15.  These complicated faith communities–some Jewish Christian, some gentile Christian, some both, and some with other religious flavoring from all over the empire must learn to practice an inclusive faith that never lets people whom Christ accepts be rejected.  It is hard work to be a welcoming congregation, but that is exactly what Paul wants them to be.

Third, Paul wants to go to Spain.  This is his new dream.  He has had enough of the Mediterranean basin.  He is ready for a new challenge, and he is not afraid of suggesting that the fat cats in Rome help pay for it.  That is probably what the last ten verses are hinting at.  He wants to highlight how Macedonia and Achaia sent money to Jerusalem, layng the foundation for Rome to send money through him to Spain.  He also wants to be refreshed (v. 32) by them, which might mean resupplied.  Paul has a new dream, and this is his fire in the belly.  Sometimes when old dreams die, new ones must replace them.

Fourth, Paul’s prayer at the end tells us that he is somewhat hesitant, perhaps even fearful, of his journey to Rome.  He tips his hand this direction when he asks the Romans to pray for him.  He asks them to pray that his ministry/service/life’s work be accepted by the Christ-followers in Jerusalem.  He really doesn’t know how things are going to happen when he gets there.

Chapter Fifteen
1. We who are strong owe it to the weak to bear their weakness and not please ourselves.
2. Each one of us should please our neighbor by doing good things, with the goal of edification.
3. For the Messiah did not please himself, but just as it is written, “The insults they insulted you with fell upon me.”
4. What was written beforehand was to guide us, written so that we might have hope in the scriptures by patience and encouragement.
5. May the God of patience and encouragement give that same thing to you, to think about one another as Messiah Jesus.
6. So that with one mind and mouth you might glorify God and Father of our Lord Messiah Jesus.
7. Therefore, you must welcome one another, just as the Messiah welcomed you into the glory of God.
8. For I say the Messiah became a servant to the circumcised to confirm the truth of God in the promises to our ancestors.
9. But he gave mercy to the gentiles so that they would glorify God, just as it is written, “Because of this I will confess you among the gentiles and I will sing your name.”
10. And again, it says, “Be glad, gentiles, with his people.”
11. And again it says, “Praise the Lord, all you gentiles, and let all the people praise him.”
12. And again Isaiah says, “There shall be the root of Jesse, and he will arise to rule the gentiles. Upon him the gentiles will hope.”
13. May the God of hope fill you with all joy, peace in believing, and hope to overflow in you by the power of the Holy Spirit.
14. I myself am convinced about you, my brothers and sisters, that you are full of goodness, having been filled with all knowledge and are able to advise one another.
15. For my part, I write to you rather boldly, reminding you about the grace given to me by God
16. to be a minister of Messiah Jesus among the gentiles, serving as a priest of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the gentiles might be acceptable, consecrated by the Holy Spirit.
17. Therefore, I have something to boast about to God in Messiah Jesus.
18. For I will dare not to speak of anything except what obedience Messiah accomplished through me among the gentiles, in word and work
19. with powerful signs and wonders in the power of the Spirit, so that I filled from Jerusalem around about until Illyricum with the gospel of the Messiah.
20. And so making it a point to evangelize where Messiah has not been named, so as not to build on someone else’ foundation.
21. And just as it is written, “To those who have not known him, they will see, and those who have not heard, they will understand.”
22. For this I kept being hindered many times from coming to you.
23. But now, no longer having a place in these regions, and desiring to come to you for many years,
24. I hope as I travel to Spain to see you first as I pass through, and to enjoy being with you for a while before I am sent ahead.
25. But now I travel to Jerusalem, serving the saints.
26. For Macedonia and Achaia considered it a good partnership to do something for the poor saints in Jerusalem.
27. They thought well of it, for they are debtors because since the gentiles have a share in spiritual things, they owe the service of physical things too.
28. Therefore, accomplishing what I have personally guaranteed about the proceeds, I will come to you on my way to Spain.
29. I know that when I will come, I am coming to you in the full blessing of Messiah.
30. But I encourage you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Messiah and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together in prayer to God for me.
31. That I might be delivered from the unbelieving people in Judea, and my ministry in Jerusalem might be accepted by the saints,
32. and that I come to you in joy, by the will of God, and refresh myself with you.
33. And the God of peace be with all of you. Amen.


Romans 11 has an elegant simplicity to its argument, but Paul takes a lot of verses to make it.

Theological Notes:

The line of thought in Romans 11 goes something like this.

  • God has not rejected his people, genetic Israel.
  • What he is doing is using their failures to save the whole world.
  • When they come back (and they will come back) to grace and faith, imagine what it will mean for the whole world.
  • It is a complicated plan, but who can understand God’s ways–certainly not us.

In addition to this outline, there is buried within the chapter a strong, terrifying tone exemplified in a warning.  It is a warning that most people don’t notice and that most Calvinists simply ignore.  Verse 21 teaches us that if God wasn’t squeamish about cutting off parts of his chosen people, genetic Israel, neither will he hesitate to cut off us gentiles.  It is a terrifying warning that should cause all of us sober reflection.

Translation Notes:

In verse 3, most English translations use helping verbs,  “have killed, have dug up” but the verbs are aorist (past) tense, so I kept them that way.  No helping verbs needed.

Verse 12 ends with a difficult rendering. The word is usually written as “fullness” and is translated various ways in this verse. I prefer here, given Paul’s comparison of Israel’s past behavior, to use the word ‘success’ as a polar opposite of failure.

The word “irrevocable” in verse 29 is such a weird word for the modern ear. Perhaps irreversible or unchangeable would have been better for reading, but in the end I decided that the older, legal word was better especially given the context of a discussion about covenant.

Romans Eleven
1. Am I, therefore, saying that God rejected his own people? Never! For I myself am an Israelite, the family of Abraham, the tribe of Benjamin.
2. God has not rejected his people, whom he foreknew. Do you not know in the Scriptures what it says of Elijah, how he pleaded with God about Israel?
3. Lord, “They killed your prophets. They dug up your altars. I alone am left, and they seek my soul.”
4. What did the oracle say to him? “I have left myself seven thousand men who have not bent the knee to Baal.”
5. So now, in this time too, a remnant has come to be by the free choice of grace.
6. But if by grace it is no longer by works, since the grace would no longer be grace.
7. What then? Israel pursued and did no obtain, but now those chosen attained it, while the others are hardened.
8. Just as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that do not see, and ears that do not hear until today.”
9. David says, “Let their table became a trap, a snare, a stumbling block of payback to them.
10. Let their eyes be darkened, not to see, and their back always bent.”
11. I ask, therefore, did they stumble so as to fall? No! Instead their lapses lead to the salvation of the gentiles, who then made them jealous.
12. If their lapses are riches for the world, and their failures are riches for the gentiles, how great will their success be?
13. But I say to you gentiles, that even though I am an apostle to the gentiles, and it is a ministry of honor,
14. nevertheless I will make some of my people jealous and will save some of them.
15. For if their rejection is reconciliation of the world, what can acceptance be except life from the dead?
16. If the first pinch is holy, so also is the whole batch of dough, and if the root is holy, then so are the branches.
17. If some of the branches were broken off, but then you wild olives were grafted in, you became sharers in the root of faith on the olive tree.
18. You branches should not boast. The root sustains you, not you the root.
19. You will then say, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.”
20. True, the faithless were broken off, but you have stood by faith. Do think highly of yourselves, instead, be in fear.
21. For if God did not spared natural branches, neither will he spare you.
22. See then, the goodness and severity of God. Severity upon those having fallen, but upon you the goodness of God to preserve you in goodness. Otherwise, you would be cut off too.
23. Even those, if they do not persist in unfaithfulness, might be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.
24. For if you naturally wild olives were cut off and against nature you were grafted onto a tame olive tree, how much more will those be grafted back into their same old tree?
25. For I do not wish you brothers and sisters to not know the mystery, and then think yourself wise, because a hardening upon part of Israel has come until the full number of gentiles should enter in.
26. Just as all Israel will be saved, exactly as it is written, “The deliverer will come out of Zion, he will turn ungodliness away from Jacob.
27. And this is my covenant to them, when I might take away their sins.”
28. On one hand they are enemies of the gospel because of you, but on the other hand they are chosen because of their beloved forefathers.
29. For the gifts and call of God are irrevocable.
30. It is the same way as when you disobeyed God, but now you found mercy because of their disobedience.
31. Thus, they now disobeyed for your mercy so that they themselves might find mercy.
32. For God linked together everyone in disobedience so that everyone might find mercy.
33. O the depth, riches, wisdom, and knowledge of God! His judgments are inscrutable and his ways are untraceable.
34. “For who has known the mind of the Lord, who has become his advisor?
35. Who has given to him that he should repay?”
36. For everything is from him, through him, and in him—to him be the glory in eternity. Amen.

Click on the links below to read other chapters from the Book of Romans.

Romans 10

Romans 9

Romans 8

Romans 7

Romans 6

Romans 5

Romans 4

Romans 3

Romans 2

Romans 1