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”

The Cleansing Blood

Posted on August 2, 2005 by Bob Buehler
in http://www.seethekingdom.net/stk/2005/08/the-cleansing-blood/

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in the context of the ancient practice of animal sacrifice; mostly as a way of showing that that whole system has been superseded, was ineffective anyway, and is now replaced by something better.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:

Water
Fire
Blood

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

http://bible.com/59/mrk.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

Light

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.”

Verse of the Month — December 2016

Peace

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
Luke 2:14, kjv

Verse of the Month – November 2016

Salvation

Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the LORD GOD is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.

Isaiah 12:2

October 2016 Verses of the Month

Compassion

The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The LORD is good to all, and his compassion is over all he has made.
Psalm 145:8-9, NRSV

I learned some things…

I have lived most of my life in one country, the United States, on one continent, North America. Only a few times have I traveled outside of this limited domain. I can list in my fingers the countries I have visited: the USA, Canada, England (and Scotland and Cornwall), the Dominican Republic, and now…. Uganda. 

If you count airport stops, add Ethiopia and Ireland to the list. Not an impressive itinerary for a life of six and a half decades. Add all of these together and you probably don’t come to a total of as much as ninety days. 

But I live in the age of instantaneous communication, so via electronic connections I have been acquainted with a far wider range of people. So my experience, limited and parochial as it is, touches every continent.

 Additionally, one of my uncles served as a missionary in India and Bangladesh. One of my dearest friends was from Pakistan. We hosted a German student for a year in our home. 
(And don’t forget those Nigerian lawyers and Chinese widows who promised me millions of dollars– bit I digress)

Still, the decision to spend three weeks visiting an African country was a big deal for me. Now I ask myself, why did I wait so long?

A view of the Nile river, a few miles from the Source

 It’s been a month now since I came back from that visit. Let me tell you some things  learned. 
I learned about hospitality

The friends who welcomed me went out of their way to make sure I was well taken care of.  Fourteen children sang me a welcome song when I visited their school. Pastors gave me perhaps more honor than I deserved, when I visited their churches. Never did I feel unwelcome, though I found I had a lot to learn. 

I learned about being a minority.

In some places frequented by tourists, especially in the city of Kampala, it’s possible to find groups of muzungu – that’s white people – but most of the time I was the sticking-out-like-a-sore-thumb non-African wherever I went.  Especially as I was an isolated muzungu among African friends.  People stared.  Especially children. But not rudely, nor unkindly; still I might have been viewed suspiciously, sometimes, or so I guessed. It’s hard to tell if you’re being peered at a a curiosity or eyed cautiously as an intruder. I think an unfamiliar presence can cause discomfort.  

I learned about poverty.  

In terms of standard of living, there are rich and poor everywhere, but it’s pretty clear that the poor are much more numerous. I saw many people working hard to get enough for the day. It doesn’t take much money to get the necessities of life, in that place, but not much money is the rule. Wealth might mean you have running water in the house, or an actual bed to sleep on instead of the floor. Here is how one person explained it to me: 

“If a family has two chickens, they are not poor. If an emergency comes up, or a bill must be paid, they can sell one of the chickens. Then if they have no food in the house, they still have the other chicken. If the two chickens must be used in this way, after that they will be poor.”

So by our standards there is lots of poverty.  But another thing I noticed: there are also many smiles. 

I learned about happiness. 

Having enough for the day really seems to work. I saw more smiles per square mile than I have seen anywhere. Working hard, for sure, but practicing happiness in the midst of it. 

I learned about faith. 

Religious messages are prevalent everywhere you look. They adorn taxis and buses, they are on the signage of businesses, they can be heard from street preachers here and there. I met a lot of people who take their faith seriously. Christianity is young in this part of Africa, and thriving. Islam is also to be seen (Muslims make up about 12% of the population), and some of the religious messages one sees reflect that. But here’s another thing some of my readers may find hard to fathom:  I saw no sense of hostility between Christians and Muslims in Uganda. I made sure to discuss this impression with my Christian friends there, who to a person expressed dismay and bewilderment at the way fighting over religion happens in other places, including some neighboring countries. The tradition in Uganda is quite different from that, something you are unlikely to hear on the news. 

My Christian host in Kampala took me to lunch nearly every day of my time there to his favorite restaurant, where the owners and servers are all Muslims. 

I learned about diversity.  

Not only religious diversity but ethnic and cultural diversity is a feature of the Uganda landscape. There are fifty-two (officially recognized) local languages, each one representing a distinct culture and each one having a king. To talk to someone from a different kingdom, people use English. I wasn’t in country long enough to get a full sense of the scope of this diversity, having visited only two of the fifty-two regions, but even in that limited field I could catch an undercurrent of, at least, a friendly rivalry. 

I learned about technology 

Uganda is adopting modern technology at a rapid pace. Cell phones are ubiquitous- often one person carries two of them. The cash economy is being supplemented by the use of “mobile money” – a system that allows transfers of funds from phone to cash at many locations. 

I saw solar panels atop street lights. What a concept!  Solar electricity is a fast growing phenomenon, thanks primarily to heavy investment from China. This is a great thing, at least until the rainy season. 

I learned about friendship 

And that, more than any other thing, will encourage me to go back there again – and maybe to more places.  It’s a big world out there. 

These are just a few of the things I learned. Here are a few more facts. 

The population of Uganda is young: nearly half the people in the country are under the age of fifteen. Education is a huge challenge. There are many schools but they are for the most part run privately. I spent a good deal of time at one, visited a couple more, and have been told of others that are in search of support. Some parents cannot afford to pay the necessary fees,  so student sponsorships are one way of helping. At the school I visited, Hannah Infant School, the children are there from 7 am until afternoon. It’s important that they get at least one good meal. I learned that to provide that meal for the 20 or so persons who were present during my visit cost me a whopping nine dollars a day. Not per person; that was the whole school. 

I’ll be accepting donations to be passed along for the current term, which started today. If you’ve read this far, you might want to click the link on support to take part. 

Come back often for more.  I’ll let you know when I start making plans for another adventure.  

Let’s Get Started 

Ok here’s my idea. I want to start a movement. 

Everything big has to start small, so here’s the first step. 

I hereby declare Friday, September 30, 2016 to be the first annual Kill No One On Purpose Today celebration. 

I pick that day because it happens to be my birthday. I’m asking all my friends to participate as your present to me. 

My personal pledge: to the best of my ability, I will make every effort not to cause another human being’s death on that day. 

To join this movement is easy. Make the same promise. 

If you work in law enforcement, make the promise. 

If you carry a weapon, make the promise. 

If you drive a vehicle, do so with care keeping in mind the promise. 

If you work in healthcare, take extra care of your patients that day. 

Governors can refrain from authorizing executions on that day. 

Get family members to sign up. Avoid domestic violence on that day. 

Put the word on the street. Peer pressure can be a positive tool. 

Governments can implement a unilateral ceasefire, for a day. 

Don’t have that abortion, that day. 

Hey, mr. Terrorist: go get some ice cream or something. (And by the way, what are you doing on my friends list?)

All I’m asking is for people to sign up, and make a personal pledge. Maybe someone won’t. Don’t be that person. 

And just maybe, if we really get a movement, there will be less violence in the world, for a day. 

And if we can do it for a day….