Many years ago, Jana and I were making our first trip to England. We were spending the night at a bed and breakfast and having a lovely chat with the innkeeper as he served us a drink. I made an offhand comment that something in the news was “disgusting.”

The innkeeper abruptly, but politely, stopped me. He said something about Americans not knowing the language. He pointed out that the word “disgusting” should only be used to describe the most vile and awful things. Words matter, he said, and whatever I’d been talking about wasn’t right, but it wasn’t “disgusting.”

The innkeeper was right, and he was so gracious about correcting me, that instead of being embarrassed, it became a lesson I never forgot.

Words matter.

And so, I give you the word “amen.”

In biblical Greek, it’s ἀμήν.

Everyone says it, including nonbelievers, all the time.

We hear it at the end of a prayer and assume it’s just a formality, like adding a period at the end of a sentence.

The Old King James Bible says “verily.”

The New International Version says, “truly.”

Google, “amen” and the response is, “so be it.”

The synonym finder in Microsoft Word comes up with “I agree” and “you bet.”

A simple, throwaway word?

But what about when God uses it?

When Jesus says, “Truly I tell you…” he’s beginning a sentence with ἀμήν and saying, “Listen up! This is God speaking!”

When you hear Jesus say, “Truly” or “Verily” what he says next is truly, ultimately, always, and forever, important.

Life or death important.

Your eternal soul depends on this important.

Stop what you’re doing and listen up.


Clever stories

Back in 2012, Harvard professor Karen King announced that she had translated the words from a tiny scrap of papyrus from the fourth century. The words were supposedly a copy of an early Christian gospel written in the late second century. The translation appeared to quote Jesus as referring to “my wife,” Mary Magdalene.

The announcement made front pages all over the country. Reporters said it called into question traditional beliefs about marriage.

But within days, more experts came forward. The owner of the fragment refused to be identified. No one knew where it came from. It hadn’t been fully tested. Harvard officials began to waffle; King’s work had not been peer reviewed. The fragment was likely a modern forgery.  

In 2020, CNN did a story on the incident: “How a mysterious man fooled a Harvard scholar into believing the ‘Gospel of Jesus’ Wife’ was real.” CNN said that King thought her “discovery” would “validate her life’s work: claiming a place for women in the early days of Christianity.” Instead, the story “capsized her career.”

“Discoveries” like this usually come out around the holidays: An ancient text has been found that should be in the Bible but isn’t. The stories suggest there were factions vying to be the one true church, and the Bible was written by the winners. Others say the stories about Jesus were legends or were made up after his death. 

So, can we trust what’s in the Bible? 

The Apostle Peter said, “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” 

Evidently Peter had the same problem we do. Peter is saying, “It’s not made up. I was there. I saw Jesus with my own eyes.” 

The truth is, the New Testament was written too early to be legend. The people who wrote the New Testament were either witnesses or had met the original witnesses. The New Testament was completed within their lifetimes. The supposed new “discoveries” were written centuries later.

The style of writing point to eyewitness accounts.

If you were making up a new religion, you would never include stories that made you look so bad. But that’s just what the disciples did. 

We’re all like the professor. We all love stories which reinforce our worldview.

But a god of your own making is no help at all.

Clever stories can’t save you. Only the Truth can.

The plural you

One of the great things about the Christian faith is how it both affirms the best, and challenges the worst, in every culture.

For example, Americans have more freedom to pursue their faith compared to any society in history. But at the same time, we’re more inclined to view faith individualistically than any culture in history.

We make a “personal decision” for Jesus.

We have a “personal relationship” with him.

We say, “I’m a spiritual person.”

OK, but then what do we do with the stories in Acts 10 and Acts 16, where whole households were baptized at once? It’s hard to make the case that everyone there made a “personal decision” for Jesus.  

What do we do about the plural “you?”

In our culture, when we hear the word “you” we assume it’s singular. In the English language, the plural “you” is exactly the same as the singular “you.” Unless the context clearly says otherwise, we assume the “you” is singular.

But the Greek language has different words for the singular and plural “you.”

And in the New Testament, the “you” is almost always plural.

It’s impossible to overstate what a challenge this is to the American understanding of faith.

Faith must be lived in community.

We are a chosen people; we are a royal priesthood.

We are called out of darkness into light together.

We each have gifts that God gave us so that others can grow in faith.

We each have needs that God intended to be met by others.

There are deep theological reasons why, say, the pandemic lockdowns were so devastating.

Our culture would have us believe that life is “all about you.”

It is.

The plural “you.”

Abode of the…vicious?

“During the past 10 or 15 years, a growing condition and a growing problem have confronted this church. From being a church situated in the center of the resident portion of the city, it became a church situated in the business portion of the city. Its environment, instead of being the abodes of wealth and social influence, has become the abodes of the poor, and in many instances, of the vicious.”

Any guesses where those words came from?

They were said in our church on Palm Sunday, April 16, 1905, by then 38-year-old Maitland Alexander, as First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh dedicated its grand new building. In his sermon, Alexander described the unique legacy of a city’s first church, and how its history informed its mission.

Alexander was realistic about the challenges, too. He said there were, “Thousands of unshepherded children and thousands of nominal Christians, whose real religious vitality is at a low ebb.” It would be, “The aim of this church to get these under its influence and help.”

He had the audacity to expect members to come back to a downtown that had grown dirty, choked with soot from steel mills, trains, and steamboats, driving residents to the suburbs.

In the same Monday, April 17, 1905 issue of the Pittsburgh Gazette that covered the dedication (all the Monday papers included Alexander’s sermon verbatim), there was a story of how police had raided eight “speakeasys” downtown.

We sometimes forget that the drug that devastated cities a hundred years ago was alcohol. 

The word that Alexander used to describe the church’s neighborhood was “vicious.”

Surprisingly, Alexander said little about his preaching text, 1 Kings 8:54-56, Solomon’s words at the dedication of the temple in Jerusalem.

Maybe Alexander didn’t need to add anything.

Sometimes God’s word needs no exposition.  

“Blessed be the LORD…,” Solomon said, “There hath not failed one word of all his good promise, which he promised by the hand of Moses his servant.”

The neighborhood will change.

Sometimes it might seem “vicious.”

But God’s word never fails.