Christian Truisms

A Litany

I am deeply connected with all of humanity,
and with every person in particular.

So long as anyone remains unloved,
I am lonely.
So long as anyone remains hungry,
I am not satisfied.
So long as anyone remains in need,
I am poor.
So long as anyone remains imprisoned,
I am not free.
So long as anyone remains in danger,
I am not safe.
So long as anyone suffers from illness,
I am not well.

Continue reading “Christian Truisms”

Verse of the Month — June 2017


When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.
John 16:13a

The Coming King

Found this in the archive: a sermon I didn’t get to preach.  How about a little Christmas in May?

Sunday 12-8-2013,  2nd Sunday in Advent
Isaiah 11:1-10 —  The Coming King
This message was planned for Sunday, December 12, 2013 and was not delivered because our morning worship was cut short due to inclement weather. 

The Text:  Isaiah 11:1-10
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. 
 The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. 
He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.  
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. 
The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. 
They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
 On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

The Coming King Foretold 

“a shoot from the stump of Jesse”  Jesse of course is the father of David the king, so this refers to the birth of someone in the royal line.  It is a “stump” because for hundreds of years there were no Davidic kings in Israel, the last of them having gone into exile in Babylon.  Still the roots remained, as the family continued to exist, so the prophet says a “branch” would come out from those roots.  There is also a suggestion here of how the kingdom of God works:  When God intends to do something big, he starts our with something small.  A shoot growing from a stump seems insignificant, but it contains the life of the tree, and thus the promise of more life and growth in the future.

The Background:  Exile to Assyria 

Isaiah prophesied during the time when the great world power of the day, Assyria, was overwhelming the entire Middle East with its military might.  During Isaiah’s lifetime this juggernaut overcame the resistance of the northern kingdom of Israel, with its capital in Samaria, and took ten tribes into exile.  The Assyrian army then proceeded to besiege Jerusalem, threatening the existence of the remaining tribes (Judah and Benjamin). Only through miraculous intervention did the attacking army withdraw.  Under these dark circumstances, when it looked like the life of the nation may soon be snuffed out permanently, this promise of a coming king comes as a surprisingly (and no doubt unlikely) word of hope.

A different kind of King 

This King will be known, not by the trappings of power, but by the presence of God in his life.  What is described here is a matter of character: wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge, fear of the Lord, delight.  These seven characteristics are associated with godliness.  “He shall not judge by what  his eyes see,” etc., is reminiscent of the words of Samuel to Jesse on the day David was revealed as God’s anointed king:  “The Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”  Similarly, God says elsewhere through Isaiah:  “For my thoughts are higher than your thoughts.”  The opposite of appearance here is contrasted with righteousness, defined as equity or fairness, such that the poor and the meek are treated equally with the powerful.  This is such an unusual thing in this world that it is said that he judges “for” the meek; the ones whom Jesus, in one of his Beatitudes, will call blessed.

The Power of Truth (v 4):  John 14:6 

It is through truth-telling that the world is judged. “the rod of his mouth” and “the breath of his lips” refer to the power of the spoken word.  At the beginning this power is what called the universe into being.  In the New Testament the word of God is referred to repeatedly as a sword, and in Revelation it is portrayed as proceeding out of the mouth of the Messiah.  So Jesus also says of his detractors:  “The word that I have spoken will be their judge in the last day.”

The Peaceful Kingdom (6-9)

Isaiah’s vision of God’s ultimate blessing on Israel, and through Israel, the world, is the reason he also called them to such a high standard.   The images here are of predator and prey, powerful and weak, living together in beautiful harmony.  This can only happen if the nature of these creatures, and the nature of their habitual relationship, changes radically.  One might be able to expect a vision where the lamb and the kid and the little child — the vulnerable and the victims — are protected from the lion and the leopard and the snake, where those predatory creatures are destroyed or at least separated from those they would naturally be expected to prey upon; but this vision is much more radical than that. Dare we hope that this biblical vision can be ours?

In God’s coming kingdom, enemies are not destroyed, but enmity is. The thing that will bring this about is “the knowledge of the LORD”.  This is not intellectual or informational knowledge, but intimate, personal, relational knowledge that affects the character of the persons involved.  And the best here is saved for last:  the good news is not that the nations, exemplified in the first instance by the Assyrians, will be eliminated, destroyed, or defeated, but that they shall be attracted to “the root of Jesse.”  This is Christ who said, “If I be lifted up I will draw all people to myself.” 
And that points to why, at Christmas, we sing “Joy to the World, the Lord is come, Let earth receive her king.”  We do not sing “Joy to the Christians.”  If it were only “Joy to the Christians” we would have a diminished Christ, and a diminished vision of what God intends to do, even of what God is able to do.  Thank God for the vision!  

“By this shall all men know that you are my disciples…”

…. If what?

…. What do you want to be known for?

To be able to name the sins of others?
To stand against what all your friends agree is wrong?
That you take the right side on every issue?
Go the right places?
Hang with the right people?
Have the best music?
Worship in the best church?


… Have love for one another!
Radical love
Public love
Overcoming love
Love in the face of betrayal

Love that reconciles
That doesn’t give up
That touches the outcast
That celebrates with sinners
That lifts up the fallen
That restores with gentleness
That puts up with failure, and tries again
And again

By this shall all men know who you are learning from;
Who your teacher is.

Verse of the Month — April 2017


So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above,
where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.

Colossians 3:1 nrsv

Speaking the Truth in Love 

“Speaking the truth in love” is one of the most powerful concepts in the Bible.

 In our natural lives, truth and love hardly seem to have room for each other. This is especially true in and near the centers of political power. 

There are people raising their voices for truth in a way that stirs up hatred, and that happens from every political angle. And there are people who in the name of love would rather not face up to what is right in front of them. 

But the gospel brings us a way of loving that embraces truth, and a way of being truthful that engages love. 

Love can hold a wrongdoer to account without forsaking the possibility of redemption. It can denounce an action while still seeking the wellbeing of the actor. 

If Christianity is to be more than just another self-serving political faction, we must pursue this kind of love, whose model is Christ at the cross forgiving his enemies, or Stephen the first martyr saying “lord lay not this sin to their charge.” It is the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

Those troublesome protesters…

I remember reading about one. He had a real reputation as a rabble rouser, had a crowd following him everywhere he went. Seems his big draw was the prospect of health care, personally administered by himself and his hand-picked cronies. 

Imagine his nerve, coming from out of town to the capital city, just in time for a big annual festival. Of course he disrupted it with an unscheduled parade, all these people shouting and cheering like he was some kind of king. Dangerous!
Then the next day really took the cake. Backed up by his crowd he went into a place of worship, destroyed property and disrupted business, and gave an angry speech accusing the business owners of being thieves! 

Fortunately, within a week one of his lackeys did the right thing and let the police know where he could be arrested without that big crowd around. It was a little unusual to have his trial that same night, but extreme times call for extreme measures. The governor needed a little persuasion to approve the execution, but right-thinking people were able to pull together enough supporters to impress him there would be popular support for that action, and consequences for being too lenient. 

Too bad they didn’t round up the whole gang that night. I hear they are still making trouble. 
(Disclaimer: any resemblance of people or events to actual, contemporary or historical realities is most likely coincidental, and most probably intentional for purposes of satire. He who has ears, let him hear.)

The Cleansing Blood

Posted on August 2, 2005 by Bob Buehler

1 John 1:7 But if we live in the light in the same way that God is in the light, we have a relationship with each other. And the blood of his Son Jesus cleanses us from every sin.

What is this about the blood of Jesus cleansing? I wanted to take a second look at this, because it seems to me that many people are in the category of not quite getting the significance of those passages that deal with this subject. Many sing songs such as The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power, Power In the Blood, Are You Washed in the Blood of the Lamb?, Nothing But the Blood of Jesus, etc. Even more go through the service of the Lord’s Supper, in which the words of institution, This cup is the New Testament in my blood are repeated; but how many have any idea what this is about? There is some discussion of the matter, chiefly in the epistle to the Hebrews, which sets this whole business of the blood in the context of the ancient practice of animal sacrifice; mostly as a way of showing that that whole system has been superseded, was ineffective anyway, and is now replaced by something better. For many, this does not really solve the issue, and it seems significant that no similarly detailed explanation seems to have been addressed to the emerging Gentile church.
So let’s back into the Hebrew scriptures, with a few other questions in mind.

In the Old Testament, there are basically three common substances that are used in religious ritual, as a way of symbolizing and/or representing the spiritual relationship between humans and God. A fourth, holy anointing oil, is in a category by itself and should be treated separately. Suffice here to say that the anointing oil was specially formulated, prepared and kept, and used for very specific purposes. Otherwise, however, I find three things that are used for ritual cleansing:


Let’s take a look at each of these. What I want to show is that in each of the first two cases, there is a very natural image of the function of the particular substance, which is easily carried over by analogy into the spiritual realm; so that the application of each helps any observer to understand the spiritual transaction taking place. That being the case, I will then ask if we can find a way to understand the third substance similarly.

Water is easy. It is used for washing, for getting dirt off, and is certainly used in ritual to indicate the removal of uncleanness from a person, or sacrifice, as a matter of simply hygiene. This ritual washing carries forward quite easily to baptism, where the washing away of one’s sins is symbolized by the application of water. When John came baptizing in the Jordan river, the running water symbolically carried the penitent’s sins away. With the uncleanness of sin removed, the person had an opportunity to live unburdened by a sinful past. Submitting to this process indicated repentance, a willingness to take a new view of one’s role in life.

John predicted, of course, that the one coming after him would baptize, not with water, but with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Fire is used throughout scripture to show purity, or purification. Isaiah, in his encounter in the Temple with a holy God and his angels, is not washed with water; instead, his lips are touched with a burning coal: Behold, this has touched your lips; your iniquity is taken away, and your sin purged. This after Isaiah bemoaned the uncleanness of his lips, and the lips of his people. But as water symbolically removes the outer stains of sin from a person’s life, fire purifies the substance: so there is talk of people being refined as gold or silver is refined.

Water cleanses. Fire purifies. What does blood do? It does both of these, and also heals.

As the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews so eloquently points out, the external application of blood really has no good effect: for it was impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. But if we think for a moment or two about how blood functions in the natural world, we find it has a beneficial effect really only under certain very specific conditions.

Blood cleanses, when it flows through or out through a wound sustained by a living organism. When you cut your finger, the best way to prevent an infection, before washing the wound with water or cauterizing it with heat (fire) is to let the blood flow through it. Blood nourishes and feeds the body, providing life-giving nutrients and oxygen, removing dangerous toxins from tissues. In the natural realm, it gives and sustains life.

So how does the blood of Christ wash away our sins? When it gets at us from the inside. When Christ’s life becomes our life. This happens when we exchange our own life for his, thus gaining the benefit of his having exchanged his life four ours, in a divine transaction that is the central mystery of the Christian faith. Leviticus 17:11 says, The life [soul] of the flesh is in the blood; therefore I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your lives [souls]. If we understand that Christ poured out his life for us so that he could pour out his life into us, then we can see both the power of the blood and the power of the resurrection, that they are one and the same; but neither power is of any effect from a distance, but only as we take upon ourselves an intimate fellowship with the living Christ; therefore the text we began with makes some sense:

1 John 1:7 But if we live in the light in the same way that God is in the light, we have a relationship with each other. And the blood [=soul, life] of his Son Jesus cleanses us from every sin.

Since each of us shares intimately in the life of God which gives Jesus the power to overcome death, we cannot avoid having a relationship (fellowship) with one another; and that life, which is here also called light, enters into us so fully that the healing, restoring power that characterized the earthly ministry of Jesus is at work in us continually, removing from us the spiritual toxins that would make for death, bringing us into a powerful relationship with God and all his works.

The blood cleanses us from within.

Greatness (Ambition)

“And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.””‭‭Mark‬ ‭10:42-45‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Jesus tells us how to be great, and what greatness does and does nor look like. if we want America to be great we have a choice: is our ambition to be like all the so-called rulers of the world, lording it over others and stuling ourselves benefactors, or do we choose as Christians to be deliberately different, choosing to serve rather than be served? What is our ambition for ourselves, our leaders, and our country? is Jesus worth listening to?

Verse of the Month — January 2017


The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

John 1:9, nrsv

Hebrew: a word study

The word Hebrew is likely derived from the name Eber,  great-great-great-great-grandfather of the patriarch Abraham. However, its usage in scripture seems to carry a more specific meaning. Below are all the instances of its use in the Old Testament.

Genesis 14:13   Then one who had escaped came and told Abram the Hebrew, who was living by the oaks of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol and of Aner. These were allies of Abram.

Beginning with this text, we see that Abram is identified as “the Hebrew.”  Then we are told the location of his then-current camp, as a guest of a man who lived in the land.  It has been suggested that the usage of the word indicates “wanderer,” “vagabond,” “nomad” or maybe just “homeless” or “foreigner.”

Genesis 39:14  she called to the men of her household and said to them, “See, he has brought among us a Hebrew to laugh at us. He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice.

The reference here is to Joseph, a captive slave in Egypt.  He is being accused of rape, or at least attempted rape.  It’s easy to imagine a connotation of distrust of a foreigner of suspicious origins and even more suspicious morals.

Genesis 39:17  and she told him the same story, saying, “The Hebrew servant, whom you have brought among us, came in to me to laugh at me.

The same rape accusation along with a description of bad character and motives.

Genesis 40:15  For I was indeed stolen out of the land of the Hebrews, and here also I have done nothing that they should put me into the pit.”

Now Joseph is in prison, and this reference has a new element: self-identification.  “The land of the Hebrews” is, at least, a foreign place.  But Joseph’s reference is unlike that of the Egyptians; here he claims innocence.

Genesis 41:12  A young Hebrew was there with us, a servant of the captain of the guard. When we told him, c he interpreted our dreams to us, giving an interpretation to each man according to his dream.

The chief butler describes Joseph as a young Hebrew.  In this case his character is not brought into question.

Genesis 43:32  They served him by himself, and them by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves, because the Egyptians could not eat with the Hebrews, for that is m an abomination to the Egyptians.

Joseph’s brothers visiting Egypt.  Notice that table fellowship with these foreigners of questionable character is “an abomination” to the Egyptians.

Exodus 1:15  Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah,

Exodus 1:16   “When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live.”

In Exodus 1 the Egyptians see the Hebrews as a threat, because they are increasing in number.

Exodus 1:19  The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.”

How often are people of a different ethnicity ascribed with unusual attributes? In this case the midwives are lying (and the Bible says it is because they feared God) in order to preserve the lives of these infants. But the Egyptians fall for the lie.

Exodus 2:6  When she opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the baby was crying. She took pity on him and said, “This is one of the Hebrews’ children.”

Even the babies looked different, or maybe there was an identifiable difference in how baby Moses was dressed or wrapped.

Exodus 2:7  Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and call you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?”

Again it would be beneath the dignity of an Egyptian princess, however compassionate, to actually see to the daily needs of a Hebrew child.

Exodus 2:11  One day, z when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and looked on their a burdens, and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people.

Moses, now a grown man, sees his people being mistreated by the Egyptians.

Exodus 2:13  When c he went out the next day, behold, two Hebrews were struggling together. And he said to the man in the wrong, “Why do you strike your companion?”

Then sees two slaves, who look and sound like him, fighting.  Already oppressed, they are now mistreating each other as well, and he is distressed.

Wait forty more years….

Next we see Moses in his interactions with Pharaoh.   For the first time, God is identified as the God of the Hebrews.  If this means he is the God of the homeless, outcast, wanderers, with no place of their own, it would be surprising that such a people have a God at all, since gods were usually associated with nations; but as it is, it seems more than appropriate that their worship would have to take place in “the wilderness,” somewhere that is not claimed as territory by any nation.

Exodus 3:18 And x they will listen to your voice, and you and the elders of Israel y shall go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has z met with us; and now, please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God.’

Exodus 5:3  Then they said, “The w God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God, lest he fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword.”

Exodus 7:16 And you shall say to him, ‘The b Lord, the God of the Hebrews, sent me to you, saying, “Let my people go, c that they may serve me in the wilderness.” But so far, you have not obeyed.

Exodus 9:1  Then the Lord said to Moses, p “Go in to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says qthe Lord, the God of the Hebrews: Let my people go, so that they may serve me.’

Exodus 9:13  Then the Lord said to Moses, z “Rise up early in the morning and present yourself before Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, “Let my people go, that they may serve me.

Exodus 10:3  So Moses and Aaron went in to Pharaoh and said to him, “Thus says the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, ‘How long will you refuse to u humble yourself before me? Let my people go, that they may serve me.

The next two references are a bit different.  They are God’s instructions about how to treat their fellow outcasts.  If we are right, the designation Hebrew still means someone who has no special standing or status. This is God’s instruction about how to treat people with no privileged status to rely on.

Exodus 21:2 When you buy a Hebrew slave, 1 he shall serve six years, and in the seventh he shall go out free, for nothing.

Deuteronomy 15:12 “If your brother, a Hebrew man or a Hebrew woman, is sold 1 to you, he shall serve you six years, and in the seventh year you shall let him go free from you.

The idea here is that servitude is never to become a permanent status (though the statute makes an exception in the case of a voluntary agreement).  If this way of reading it is right, these instructions are in keeping with other things God tells his people about how to treat foreigners:

When an alien resides with you in the land, you shall not oppress the alien.  The alien who resides with you shall be as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 19:33)

After entering the promised land, we find the people of Israel are confronted by their near neighbors, the Philistines, who had not much use for these newcomers to a land they considered their own:

1 Samuel 4:6 And when the Philistines heard the noise of the shouting, they said, “What does this great shouting in the camp of the Hebrews mean?” And when they learned that the ark of the Lord had come to the camp,

1 Samuel 4:9 Take courage, and be men, O Philistines, lest you become slaves to the Hebrews c as they have been to you; be men and fight.”

But under king Saul, they began to take on this as a self-identifier:

1 Samuel 13:3 Jonathan defeated m the garrison of the Philistines that was n at Geba, and the Philistines heard of it. And Saul o blew the trumpet throughout all the land, saying, “Let the Hebrews hear.”

1 Samuel 13:7 and some Hebrews crossed the fords of the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead. Saul was still at Gilgal, and all the people followed him trembling.

1 Samuel 13:19 and some Hebrews crossed the fords of the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead. Saul was still at Gilgal, and all the people followed him trembling.

But to the Philistines, the name remained anything but a compliment:

1 Samuel 14:11 So both of them showed themselves to the garrison of the Philistines. And the Philistines said, “Look, Hebrews are coming r out of the holes where they have hidden themselves.”

1 Samuel 14:21 Now the Hebrews who had been with the Philistines before that time and who had gone up with them into the camp, w even they also turned to be with the Israelites who were with Saul and Jonathan.

1 Samuel 29:3 the commanders of the Philistines said, “What are these Hebrews doing here?” And Achish said to the commanders of the Philistines, “Is this not David, the servant of Saul, king of Israel, who has been with me j now for days and years, and since he deserted to me k I have found no fault in him to this day.”

That’s about it.  Many years later, Jeremiah remembers the instruction of God recorded in Exodus and Jeremiah:

Jeremiah 34:9 that everyone should set free his Hebrew slaves, male and female, sso that no one should enslave a Jew, his brother.

Jeremiah 34:14 ‘At the end of seven years each of you must set free the fellow Hebrew who has been sold to you and has served you six years; r you must set him free from your service.’ But v your fathers did not listen to me or incline their ears to me.

And finally, after Israel loses its homeland and driven into exile, another prophet identifies himself as a wanderer, whose God is not tied to one land or people:

Jonah 1:9 And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear othe Lord, the God of heaven, pwho made the sea and the dry land.”