Next Up – Revelation

The blogs have come to follow the preacher.  Next up is Revelation, which I have not as yet felt like I had to footing to preach on.  It is a book for which some have firm convictions, outlines and sequences.  Others, myself included, wonder about such certitude.

Title:  Scenes from the Victory

Next task:  get the text, colored pencils and a cup of coffee.

James – last thoughts

We are ending the sermon series on James this week.  here are some last thoughts.

It is to me inescapable that James needs to be read as wisdom literature because

  • It is practical. Everyone notices this and even says that it is the “Proverbs” of the New Testament.
  • It is not primarily about salvation or sacrifice – as most of the Wisdom Books do not take  Sacrificial system of the OT as their main focus, neither does James speak much of the Cross.  One wonders where there is mercy in Proverbs, full of choices and consequences at it is.  Where is any word of the covenant, the temple, the law, etc. in the OT Wis Lit?  It is because the focus is different.  Now, how should we live.
  • Thus it presents a challenge to “bring the Gospel into every message.”  But it is not hard to bring Jesus in, see below.
  • It is organized with typical Wisdom literary techniques.  So look for catch phrases, loose links in general, juxtapositions without phases such as “so that” and “because”, repetition, inclusio and so forth.  I find it remarkable how often commentators will talk about the lack of cohesion to James, because they are looking for linear sequentiality.
  • It is preaching, and it preaches.
  • The gospel is embedded in verses such as 1: 18, 21 but is not explicit.
  • James sounds like the teaching of Jesus recast – and those who don’t like the “legalism” of the Sermon on the Mount say the same about James.
  • The best work for useful study and application that I have found is J. A. Motyer’s, The Message of James, in the Bible Speaks Today series, IVP.   His outline (Keying the topics of chapters 2-5 to 1:26-27 makes a lot of sense.)


So the lecture on Creativity had a line around the corner, down the stairs and back up and then around the bend.  We went for coffee instead.    This lead me to think: rather than hear a lecture, how about starting something.  So now I have, in my own mind, started the “book” on Isaiah.

Basically, how can an ordinary person, let alone a preacher, get a toe hold in Isaiah.  The Gibraltar of Scholarship is imposing, the book itself is large, literary, complex, beautiful and expansive.  The “book” would be a modest effort to get a toe hold.

so far I have 1 page of bullet points, and a new blog Category – Isaiah

I am reminded of the artist who said, “to change culture, you have to create culture.”

“Maybe so…”

Bethany is 106 year old church, and so from a study of our history I heard the story of Pastor Rom, who was pastor here for 33 years from the 20s to the 50s.  One such story is that when someone would say something controversial, or odd, or that he might not agree with, he would say “Maybe so.”

Recently I was buttonholed by a visitor who informed me that James wrote while under the Law and Paul wrote while under Grace, that is why we should listen more to Paul than to James, the legalist.
Since such a dogmatic reading of the text (dividing Paul from James based on dispensations) seemed to me to be foreign to the text, I have a “Maybe so” answer.  I did, however, move beyond the Rom Method when I pointed out that Paul and James were in agreement on the Gospel at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15).

I found a study guide on James that made a lot out of James being a Nazarite, over a rather obscure line of argument – to this too I say “maybe so.”

Shall we let the biblical text speak, and read fewer footnotes?  Maybe so.

Reading – according to Chrysostom

John 5:39-40   English Standard Version (ESV)

39  You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.

“…and so, it was with good reason that he said ‘you think,’ because they did not actually listen to what the Scripture had to say, but merely prided themselves in the bare reading.” –       Homilies on the Gospel of John 41:1

James 4:4 – A story too funny to be invented

Years ago, at a bible study in our home in New York, we were looking at the text of James 4.  I asked the question, “What does ‘adulterous’ mean?”  (James 4:4 “You adulterous people!  Don’t you know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?”)

A student from Japan heard the question and said, “Adulterous” means mature.”

An immigrant from Egypt heard that and said, “No, it means when you worship images made of stone or wood.”

So we had a good laugh (because English is an awful language to have to learn) and a spontaneous vocabulary lesson on the difference between adultery, idolatry and being an adult.


Give that text some air! – James 4

So I am reading James 4 to prepare for a sermon.  The text does not seem to make much sense, as far as a unifying theme.  It appears to jump randomly from topic to topic.  So I look to my bag of tricks.

Since James is akin to Wisdom Literature, and WisLit tends to “jump around randomly” when one does not get the catch phrases, or chiastic structures that are there, I will often give the text some air.

By this I mean, take the text and paste it onto a word processing page.  Then start to use the enter and tab keys to indicate the syntactical structure.  that is to say, what is more important is closer to the left margin, what is explanatory is toward the right.

So I start to notice things, partly because the text is spread out a bit, like skeletal fragments on a light table in “Bones” the TV show.

v.1, v. 2 Passions

v. 1, v. 4 war, enmity

v.2 – do not have (material) do not have (prayer)

the language of passion, friendship, adultery, jealousy v. 1-4

Parallel between v. 2a and v2b-3 – the first is not receiving material things, the other not receiving spiritual things

That is all in verses 1-5, now with a little air I am seeing the structure.

Oh boy, here is another manuscript picture by cell phone.


Naming – Genesis 2:19

   “And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.”  Genesis 2:19

Spring has arrived and the world is returning to life from a winter of sleep.  The birds are loud enough to wake us up through the opened windows.  The trees are budding and some hearty flowers have made it to the sunlight.

When God placed the man and the woman in Eden it was to tend it.  It was also to extend the garden quality of Eden to the world – that is what it meant to “fill the earth and subdue it.”  It is the glory of humanity to bring the peace (shalom) of Eden out into the world.

Adam and Eve failed and we have been failing ever since.  We have worshipped nature, we have abused it, we have given in to it, and we have shaken our fists at its inconveniences.  But that is not our calling

Jesus returned to the world which he had made with the Father and the Spirit (John 1).  His human body was given to death for us – because the Eternal One never needed to die. He accepted death so we can live by faith.

Resurrection Sunday is coming soon, and we are reminded that Jesus was buried in the earth and that by God’s power he sprung up again to life eternal.  He is the first fruit of all the new creation.

So as spring comes around, we of all people ought to enjoy the world that God gave us.  There remains great joy in naming the flowers, trees and birds – for us that is learning their names and their qualities.  Can you identify a Cardinal in the trees?  How about that woodpecker?

We of all people ought to see our relationship with Nature restored to its right place, as part of our whole life being restored by the Gospel

Easter is not about eggs and bunnies. It is about new life, and a new perspective on heaven and earth.

Speaking of illustrations – James 3

I count 10 illustrations in 12 verses from James 3:1-12

  1. Teacher
  2. Stumbling
  3. Horses’ bit
  4. Ship’s rudder
  5. Boasting
  6. Forest Fire
  7. Animal Tamers
  8. Poison
  9. Springs of water
  10. Fruits and vines

And a bonus

11.  “Gehenna” or hell, is a place of constant burning, both the description of Hell and the place outside of Jerusalem where they burned their trash, and false idols.

It’s a preachers potluck!

Words as Pictures – preliminary thoughts on Revelation

The book of Revelation is made up of words.  Yet it is a very pictorial book.  I have begun some preliminary reading of the text and of some academic works about Revelation.   Yet I can find no better way to describe Revelation than the projected sermon title” Scenes from the Victory.

However, the pictures are in our minds as we read the text.  I find that actual art based on the text to be a little odd.  The images are symbolic (wings covered with eyes, swords coming out of the mouth of the Lord, etc) and so are hard to represent.  It seems that the  pictures work best in our imaginations.

An artist depiction of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21, displayed in Rom Chapel at Bethany EFC, Madison, WI.

We have a painting of the New Jerusalem that someone had made based on the description in Revelation 21 – this is quite fun to observe because the artist included a variety of buildings, from pagoda to something like the UN building.

It all suggests to me that imagination is important in reading or hearing the book read – there is a blessing added to the public reading of this book:

“Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.”  Revelation 1:3 (ESV)