Be Good Figs

Scripture Focus: Jeremiah 24:1-3
1 After Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim king of Judah and the officials, the skilled workers and the artisans of Judah were carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, the Lord showed me two baskets of figs placed in front of the temple of the Lord. 2 One basket had very good figs, like those that ripen early; the other basket had very bad figs, so bad they could not be eaten.
3 Then the Lord asked me, “What do you see, Jeremiah?”
“Figs,” I answered. “The good ones are very good, but the bad ones are so bad they cannot be eaten.”

Reflection: Be Good Figs
By Jon Polk

Figs could certainly use a brand image makeover. I doubt that any other fruit’s favorability polls are as low as the fig’s.

The familiar Fig Newton cookie was invented in 1891 by a Philadelphia baker. Fig Newtons were one of the first mass-produced baked goods by the newly formed Nabisco cookie company.

The cookies were exclusively filled with fig filling until the 1980s when Nabisco started replacing the fig jam with raspberry, strawberry, blueberry, and apple flavors. In 2012, after over a century known as Fig Newtons, “Fig” was dropped, and the cookies became known simply as Newtons.

According to the company
, “It was going to be hard for us to advance the Newtons brand with the baggage of the fig.” Ouch.

Figs are, however, a superfood with incredible nutritional value and the highest fiber and mineral content of the most common fruits and vegetables.

Figs are mentioned throughout the Bible in mostly positive contexts. Figs were one of the fruits mentioned when describing the fertility of the Promised Land. Fig trees symbolize the prosperity of the Jewish nation. Fig cakes were presented as gifts to King David. Hezekiah’s illness was cured by a poultice of figs. A superfood, indeed.

Occasionally in scripture, figs have a negative connotation. Adam and Eve sewed together fig leaves when they realized their nakedness. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, and Joel used the image of ruined figs as a representation of God’s judgment. And of course, Jesus himself notably cursed a fig tree at Passover.

In Jeremiah 24, we find both good and bad figs. God shows Jeremiah a vision of two baskets of figs at the temple; one basket had good, ripe figs and the other basket had figs that had turned so bad they couldn’t even be consumed.

The good figs are the Jewish exiles in Babylon. As noted in the previous chapter, God had a plan to protect them, rescue them, and restore God’s relationship with them. God says the good figs will return to God with all their heart.

The bad figs are King Zedekiah and his officials. Also noted in the previous chapter, God had a plan to bring them to ruin for their selfishness and poor shepherding of God’s people.

“Two ways” metaphors are common in scripture: wisdom vs. folly, light vs. darkness, narrow vs. wide gate, etc.

How to interpret Jeremiah’s vision? Simple. Be good figs.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Purge me from my sin, and I shall b pure; wash me, and I shall be clean indeed. — Psalm 51.8

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 24(Listen -1:54)
1 Corinthians 1 (Listen – 4:03)

Read more about Unexpected Contents of God’s Cup of Wrath
May we soften our hearts…so that we, like the “good figs”…will be carried through the judgment rather than destroyed in it.

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The Righteous Branch

Scripture Focus: Jeremiah 23:5-6
5 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
    “when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch,
a King who will reign wisely
    and do what is just and right in the land.
6 In his days Judah will be saved
    and Israel will live in safety.
This is the name by which he will be called:
    The Lord Our Righteous Savior.

Reflection: The Righteous Branch
By Jon Polk

That’s it. I’ve had enough.

“Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord. (Jer. 23:1)

God laments how poorly the kings of Judah have shepherded God’s people. Jeremiah had warned them previously to get their act together, to do what is right by the people, and bring justice to the poor and oppressed (Jer. 22:3-4) because he knew the consequences were dire:

“But if you do not obey these commands, declares the Lord, I swear by myself that this palace will become a ruin.” (Jer. 22:5)

Alas, the string of terrible, self-serving Jewish kings was too much.

Zedekiah ruled over Judah at this particular time. He ascended to the throne when King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon besieged Jerusalem, capturing King Jehoiachin and naming Zedekiah as regent. Thus began an epic conflict between Judah and Babylon which lasted the eleven years of Zedekiah’s reign and – spoiler alert – ended with the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of most of the Jews to Babylon.

All is not lost, however, for in one of Jeremiah’s few direct messianic prophecies, there is profound hope! A new King is coming! This King’s name will be The Lord Our Righteous Savior (ironically, Zedekiah’s name means “The Lord is my righteousness”). This King will do what the other kings could not.

This King will reign with wisdom, lead with justice, and rescue his people from captivity. This rescue will be so great that the exodus from Egypt, the pinnacle event in the Old Testament, will pale in comparison. (Jer. 23:7-8)

This King will be a Righteous Branch, an ancient term for the rightful heir of an established dynasty.

Who can forget the infamous Christmas Branch from A Charlie Brown Christmas? Selected by Charlie Brown to be the centerpiece for the annual Christmas Play, his scrawny pine branch “tree” is the laughingstock of the whole Peanuts gang. Dejected, Charlie Brown leaves the production all alone. Led by Linus, the gang eventually follows and, using ornaments and lights from Snoopy’s doghouse, transforms the branch into a wondrous tree.

The branch that had been rejected ultimately brought them all together in unity

The Righteous Branch was also despised and rejected and held in low esteem. (Isaiah 53:3)

This Righteous Messianic Branch, the rightful heir of David’s line, sacrificed his life so that we might be reunited with God, a relational rescue so great that, indeed, the exodus out of Egypt, pales by comparison.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes. — Psalm 118.23

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 23(Listen -7:13)
2 Thessalonians 3(Listen – 2:16)

Read more about Hope Amidst Destruction
Even among the destruction of what is coming to Judah in Isaiah’s prophecies, there is hope.

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We Three Kings — Carols of Epiphany

Scripture Focus: Psalm 10.16
The Lord is King forever and ever;
    the nations will perish from his land.

Matthew 2.1-2, 11
1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

From John: We are thrilled to have a “bonus” carol from Jon Polk today, on Epiphany, sometimes called, “Three Kings Day” or the twelfth day of Christmas. Epiphany is the true conclusion of the season of Christmas, called Christmastide, and the true purpose of the incarnation is revealed to us in it. Christ is a gift to all people but today, he receives gifts fit for worship.

Reflection: We Three Kings — Carols of Epiphany
By Jon Polk

Have you ever been to a birthday party where guests received gifts but not the one having the birthday?

January 6 on the Christian calendar is known as Epiphany, the celebration of the gifts and journey of the Magi.

“We Three Kings” was the first widely popular carol written in America. Composed in 1857 by Episcopal minister and church music instructor at General Theological Seminary in New York, John Henry Hopkins, Jr., the song was created for a Nativity pageant at the seminary. 

We three kings of Orient are;
Bearing gifts we traverse afar,
Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
Following yonder star.

For dramatic purposes, Hopkins assigned a gift and a verse to three Magi, traditionally named Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar. Note that Matthew’s account mentions three gifts, not three men. In some Christian traditions, they are twelve in number.

Furthermore, there is no indication in Matthew that they were kings. The word magi refers to astrologers, thus their interest in following a star. Not royalty, but most certainly foreigners, these Magi were likely familiar with Hebrew prophecies.

Despite these slight missteps the carol makes, Hopkins does a fine job describing the symbolism of the gifts.

Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain,
gold I bring to crown him again

Gold is the most frequently mentioned valuable metal in scripture, used as currency but also for making jewelry, ornaments, and utensils for royalty. This gift is fit for a king.

Frankincense to offer have I
Incense owns a Deity nigh

Frankincense, derived from Boswellia tree resin, produces a sweet odor when burned and was part of the incense allowed on the altar. This gift is fit for worship.

Myrrh is mine; its bitter perfume
Breathes a life of gathering gloom

Myrrh, sap from a small tree in Arabia, was used as a perfume and to stifle the smell of a dead body before burial. This gift is fit for death.

As astrologers, not royalty, the gifts came at a significant financial cost to the Magi. Traveling from as far away as Persia, a two-year journey, required time and energy. These gifts were sacrificial, intended for worship.

However, what do we do at Christmas time? We give gifts to everyone but the guest of honor himself.

What if this year you begin a new tradition? What if your new year “resolutions” were not simply ways to better yourself or be more successful, but instead were gifts from you to Jesus?

What present would you give Jesus? More time in prayer or Bible study? Kicking a habit that is holding back your spiritual growth? Focusing attention less on yourself and more on those around you?

If you give Jesus a gift this year, what will it be? Following the example of the Magi, let it be sacrificial and intended for worship.

Listen: We Three Kings by Tenth Avenue North and Britt Nicole
Read: Lyrics from

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Sing to the Lord and bless his Name; proclaim the good news of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations and his wonders among all peoples.
For great is the Lord and greatly to be praised; his is more to be feared than all gods. — Psalm 96.2-4

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Job 6 (Listen – 2:56) 
Psalm 10 (Listen – 2:13)

Join us! Walk through the Bible with us…
Walk with friends through God’s Word this year… Read, Reflect, Pray… Repeat.

Read more about Unwrapping Christ’s Gifts :: Epiphany
May we wear Christ’s gifts prominently, like new…clothing. Through the wearing, may we allow them to transform us into the manifestation of the giver.

O Come All Ye Faithful — Carols of Advent Love

Scripture Focus: Revelation 1:4b-6
4b Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, 6 and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.

John 17:24-26
24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

Reflection: O Come All Ye Faithful — Carols of Advent Love
By Jon Polk

Adore, verb, /əˈdɔːr/: to love someone very much, especially in a way that shows a lot of admiration or respect. (Cambridge Dictionary)

“O Come All Ye Faithful,” is a timeless Christmas carol, beckoning the faithful who have sung it across the ages to join together with the shepherds and others who gathered in Bethlehem to celebrate the birth of the king!

O come, all ye faithful,
Joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem;
Come and behold him, born the king of angels.

The original Latin text of the song is credited to John Frances Wade and consisted of the four verses commonly sung today. Wade was an English exile living in France, having fled due to discrimination against Roman Catholics in the mid-1700s.

Wade taught music at an English college and also hand copied chant and hymn manuscripts for private use by wealthy families. In the 1740s, he produced the song, “Adeste Fideles,” having either written the text himself or discovered words written by 13th-century Cistercian monks. 

Three additional verses were later added by French Catholic priest Jean-François-Étienne Borderies, which give depth to the song. One verse describes the visit of the shepherds, one recounts the journey of the magi, and one centers all of us in the manger along with the holy child.

Child, for us sinners
Poor and in the manger,
Fain we embrace thee, with love and awe;
Who would not love thee, loving us so dearly?

Note that there is no comma after “sinners.” Punctuation matters. Instead of the “child poor and in the manger,” the structure suggests it is “us sinners poor and in the manger.” In our poor and wretched state, we are included in this intimate moment to embrace Jesus with love and admiration.

And who is this infant Jesus and why should we display such unbridled affection for him?

God of God,
Light of Light,
Lo, he abhors not the Virgin’s womb;
Very God, begotten, not created.

The song effortlessly reaches back through church history to 325 AD, mirroring the words of the Nicene Creed, “We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made.”

We are reminded that this baby is God in flesh and, knowing the rest of his story, who would not want to love him after he has loved us so dearly? 

So come, all ye faithful sinners poor and in the manger, come and love Jesus so very much, especially in ways that show your tremendous admiration and respect for him. Come. Come and love.

Listen: O Come All Ye Faithful by Take 6
Listen: Adeste Fidelis by Andrea Bocelli
Read: Lyrics from

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Know this: the Lord himself is God; he himself has made us, and we are his; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture. — Psalm 100.2

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Chronicles 10 (Listen – 3:01)
Revelation 1 (Listen – 3:43)

This Weekend’s Readings
2 Chronicles 11-12 (Listen – 6:00) Revelation 2 (Listen – 4:59)
2 Chronicles 13 (Listen – 3:56) Revelation 3 (Listen – 3:53)

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Joy to the World — Carols of Advent Love

Scripture Focus: Jude 1b, 20-21
1b To those who have been called, who are loved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ.

20 But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.

Psalm 98:4-6
4 Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth,
    burst into jubilant song with music;
5 make music to the Lord with the harp,
    with the harp and the sound of singing,
6 with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn—
    shout for joy before the Lord, the King.

Reflection: Joy to the World — Carols of Advent Love
By Jon Polk

If you only know the name of one famous hymn writer, that name would probably be Isaac Watts, credited with around 750 hymns, and if you were asked to name only one of the most iconic Christmas carols, it would likely be “Joy to the World,” the most-published Christmas hymn in North America.

“Joy to the World” is not actually a Christmas song, since it wasn’t written to celebrate Jesus’ birth, but rather his second coming. In fact, the text is not drawn from the nativity stories at all but is based on Psalm 98.

Joy to the world! the Lord is come
Let Earth receive her King
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing…

Watts sought to encourage new ways of incorporating Psalms in worship and set about paraphrasing the entire Psalter in accessible poetry. His intent was clear by the lengthy title of the final work, published in 1719, The Psalms of David: Imitated in the Language of the New Testament and Applied to the Christian State and Worship.

Watts’ paraphrase of the second half of Psalm 98 became the text for the carol we know today as “Joy to the World.” 

Describing his paraphrase, Watts wrote, “In these two hymns I have formed out of the 98th Psalm I have fully expressed what I esteem to be the first and chief sense of the Holy Scriptures.”

Why do we respond with joy at the great news that the Lord has come and will come again? What is the chief aim of all the scriptures? Psalm 98.3 answers, “He has remembered his love and his faithfulness to Israel; all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.”

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love…

The word translated as “love” in Psalm 98:3 is the famously untranslatable Hebrew word hesed, often rendered as love, steadfast love, or lovingkindness. We have no single English word that adequately describes hesed, yet it is a word frequently used to describe God’s own character.

In his book, Inexpressible: Hesed and the Mystery of God’s Lovingkindness, Michael Card defines hesed as “When the person from whom I have a right to expect nothing gives me everything.”

Heaven and nature sing! We repeat the sounding joy! Why? Because we are overwhelmed by the wonders of God’s love! The indescribable, unshakable, undeserved love of God. A love that gave us everything, even the life of God’s own Son, when we deserved nothing.

So let our hearts prepare room for him this Christmas, as we marvel at the knowledge that “we love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4.19)

Listen: Joy to the World by Keith & Kristyn Getty
Read: Lyrics from

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Let integrity and uprightness preserve me, for my hope has been in you. — Psalm 25.20

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Chronicles 9 (Listen – 5:07)
Jude 1 (Listen – 4:12)

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Read more about Renamed by God — Hope of Advent
We have other names…we call ourselves…Failure. Foolish. Ugly. Fat. Unworthy. Unloveable. Hopeless…God has a new name for us.