Trouble in River City

First Sunday of Advent

Jeremiah 33:14-16
Psalm 25:1-9
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
Luke 21:25-36

The Music Man, play and movie, intoned, “Trouble, oh we got trouble, Right here in River City! With a capital “T” That rhymes with “P” And that stands for Pool.”

Herald Hill may have been a loveable con-man in the story, but there are many real con-men filling our heads with much worse trouble today. What should we believe, and from whom?

Jesus began this teaching back in 21:5 when he promised that the Temple would be destroyed. He moved from that to the “End of Time” statements, as we generally take them. Notice in verse 8 that Jesus says, “Watch out that you are not deceived.”  NIV That warning came in response to the question from the disciples about when the destruction would happen. We know that the Romans leveled the Temple in 70 AD, but Jesus meant much more than that event.

He went on to say, many will come using my name and saying, “I am the one” and “The time is near at hand.” Refuse to join themNJB So who do we trust? There are hundreds of preachers and teachers of the Word today who are misleading people. Some are on TV, but most are in our hometowns. When I step into a new church, how can I know if he/she is preaching Jesus, or if I am hearing Herald Hill?

Bullet Point Number One. I am responsible for getting to know God. If I let others tell me about God, about what I must believe, about how to talk with God, then I can easily fall into the grip of Mr. Hill. What I find particularly sad is that the false teachers have deceived themselves. They believe they have the only correct path to God. If you hear anyone say something like that, stand back and reconsider.

There are, of course, true cons who see the “Jesus business” as a way to make money, get notoriety, or even become powerful. Many start out seeking God but lose their way. Disillusion is a constant threat among the clergy. Many drop out, even turning away from God. Too many decide to see what they can get for themselves at our expense.

The first time we entered the church we currently attend, we were given a warm welcome by the greeter, Mr. Manors, his real name. Others greeted us, even though we were new in town. Nothing in the service set our teeth on edge. The sermon was good, the choir was middling (it got better when we joined), and the old wooden floor creaked and sagged. When we started going to business meetings is when we saw the truth of the congregation. There were some heated exchanges about money when we were debating the idea of a new building, but when the final vote was in favor of building new, the strongest opponents of the project became the biggest leaders and, I would guess, some of the biggest contributors. Any congregation that can openly disagree about money and then join together to get the work done is a congregation I want to be part of. Next August will mark our 50th year with these fine people.

Jesus went on: Watch yourselves, or your hearts will be coarsened by debauchery and drunkenness and the cares of life, and that day will come upon you unexpectedly, like a trapNJB This gives us a clear picture of what our lives should be like as we walk with Jesus. This is not a condemnation of alcohol or even of parties. It is a warning to concentrate on things of God, not on the distractions of this world.

To follow Jesus is to become a citizen of Heaven. In Heaven, God rules and we citizens follow. Heaven is not a democracy. You and I get no say in the rules. If I am to keep my focus on Heaven, I cannot overindulge in this world, be it wine, steak, shopping, football, fast cars, etc.

Jesus is not telling us not to eat or drink. Clearly, we must do both. What Jesus is warning us about is letting ANY of those things keep us from concentrating on the things of God. In the early Third Century, Origen wrote, Now the Lord, who is both the physician of souls and the bodies, orders them to avoid as a deadly drink the herb “of drunkenness” and the vice “of intoxication” and also the care of worldly matters…. In the illness of drunkenness, the body and the soul are destroyed at the same timeACCS

So, eat, drink, and be merry, but only in moderation for tomorrow, Jesus may return.

Now, if you are interested in how to study one word of the scripture, I will give you a quick outline of my search of the word surfeiting from the King James of verse 34. The whole verse is quoted above from the New Jerusalem Bible where the word is debauchery. What I wanted to learn was, who has the best meaning of the Greek word kraipale (English transliteration).

I first found the word in the United Bible Society Interlinear New Testament with the meaning of dissipation. In J.P. Green’s Interlinear, I found headaches. His book gives the Strong’s word number for each word in the entire Bible. Kraipale is number 2897 in the Greek New Testament.

Next, I looked up number 2897 in Strong’s Complete Dictionary of Bible Words and found the following three definitions which were common in the First Century usage: a headache from drunkenness; a debauch; and surfeiting.

There are a number of online sources for all of this, and I checked Bill Mounce ( who is part of the translating team for the NIV. He listed dissipation, slanderous, and defamatory. That gave me four words to choose from.

Since the KJV used surfeiting, I did an Ngram search ( which showed a steady decline in the use of the word. The use today is a slightly different emphasis. The KJV is not wrong, but it is dated.

I went through the list of Bibles I use for this blog and found the following:

Carousing—CJB, NIV, TLB, NLB


Dissipation—ESV, Phillips




The real translation work can now begin. Which is the best word in this verse? I need to understand the whole message of verses 5-38. What was Jesus telling us? Be on watch. If I am a soldier and my sergeant takes me to a small gate in a long fence and tells me to keep watch until I am relieved, that is what I must do on penalty of death. If my sergeant doesn’t kill me, the enemy might.

The same applies to the followers of Jesus. We expect him to return at any time and he has instructed us—not suggested—to watch for him. If we allow ourselves to become distracted, trouble will follow.

What word did you pick? Mine is carousing, though I like slanderous. I think carousing is the best for our times and it covers the intent of the whole passage.


Read my earlier comments on this theme here.


Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Rock With Wings

One of these days I’m going to go back and reread all of Tony Hillerman’s Leaphorn mysteries. But, until then, we have his daughter picking up the storyline.

In her first book, Spider Woman’s Daughter, Anne brought in Bernadette Manuelito as an equal of Jim Chee. Tony had created her and set up the eventual marriage of Chee and Manuelito, but it took his daughter to bring her to the front of the stage. It is no accident that Anne had to very nearly kill Leaphorn in the first book to do it.

In this story, Jim and Bernie take a few days vacation, which falls apart at once. Jim ends up staying in Monument Valley while Bernie returns to Shiprock to care for her mother because Little Sister is in jail. Each day finds them deeper into puzzling mysteries that at first seem just bearly crimes. Murder and attempted murder turn that around in a hurry.

We could nitpick about the difference between Tony and Anne, but the fact is, Tony is gone and Anne’s work is as close as anyone will get. I like Leaphorn, Chee, and Bernie, and I like Anne’s writing.

Mike Lawrence