V is for Vine

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I am the vine, you are the branches.
If you abide in me and I in you,
you will bear much fruit;
apart from me
you can do
nothing.
John 15:5

The vine nourishes the branches,
the branches produce the fruit,
the fruit nourishes the world.
That’s how it works.
Get any of those out of order and you have nothing.

Union with the Vine is the only way to stay spiritually alive.
Hang on to the Vine, all you lovely branches.
The fruit will come.

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My favorite word in the Bible that starts with “V” is VINE.

Resh

Resh is the twentieth letter in the Hebrew alphabet. Resh (also written as Reish or Reysh or Rosh) has the same sound as “r” as in “rain”. Every line in Psalm 119:153-160 starts with this letter. Resh looks like this:

resh

Resh means “head”, as in leader, captain or beginning.

The letter’s shape represents someone bending over, just as we bend down to explain something to a child. In the same way, God bends toward us in order to bring His wisdom down to us in His Word. Because God is our “captain” or “leader”, we are to put ourselves under His authority, or headship.

That’s a problem for most of us.

More often than not we want to say,
along with poet William Ernest Henley,
“I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.”

Another meaning for the letter Resh is “reason”, or our ability to think logically. Unfortunately, our heads often get in the way of our faith. We use our own human reasoning instead of trusting in the Lord with all our hearts. We tend to lean hard on our own understanding and fleshly logic. Many even use their God-given reasoning abilities to try to disprove God! Instead, our intellect was given to us to enable us to appreciate our Creator.

Resh comes toward the end of the alphabet because even the smartest academician needs something more than raw brain power. In fact, Resh comes after Tsadhe (righteousness) and Qoph (holiness) to show us that our reasoning needs to be led by righteousness and holiness, not the other way around. But when our brains are led by righteousness and holiness, our understanding will be a blessing.

reason

There’s a lot I don’t understand right now,
so I’ll gladly lean on God and let Him lead.

This world is a confusing place,
so I’ll go to His Word to get help sorting it out.

When I feel lost amid the many flawed theories that seem empty,
I’ll hang on to The Way, The Truth, The Life.

Next: My favorite word in the Bible that starts with V.

Long Song Study, part V

At first glance, Psalm 119 may seem to be a bit repetitive. After all, it uses the same eight words (law, word, statutes, precepts, promises, judgments, testimonies, commandments) over and over and over. Ah, but if we’re bored by this, it might be more of a reflection on us. I give you Spurgeon:

Where we think we have a repetition of the same idea in this psalm we are misled by our neglect of careful study. Each verse is a distinct pearl. Each blade of grass in this field has its own drop of heavenly dew.

Let’s get our feet wet and go pearl hunting, shall we?

revive

Verse 153
Look on my affliction and deliver me,
for I do not forget your law.
David is at the throne of God once again, asking for deliverance. It seems like he had a lot of enemies, doesn’t it? Before you start assuming he was dramatically exaggerating his affliction, keep in mind that every nation around Israel wanted to see it destroyed along with its King. Not only that, there was trouble right inside the royal palace, with several of David’s sons attempting to overthrow their father. Add in all the headaches of being the head of a government and the commander of an army. Oh, and don’t forget, David had numerous wives (eight are named, but there were many more) and at least 20 children. No wonder he felt afflicted (depressed, miserable). Somehow he was able to keep his head on straight and stay mindful of God’s commandments. Whereas affliction sometimes drives people away from God, it drove David closer to God.

It seems a strange thing that such a truly godly man, as David was, should have many enemies; but it was inevitable. The disciple cannot be loved where his Master is hated. (Spurgeon)

Verse 154
Plead my cause and redeem me; give me life according to your promise!
Perhaps David also had some legal trouble, because he used technical courtroom jargon in this verse. He was asking God to defend his case, to give him acquittal and declare him not guilty. God is the perfect defense attorney, as one of His names is “Wonderful Counselor”. “Give me life” is a recurring theme in this section of Psalm 119, and it means “revive me”. David knew the Word of God was his best source of revival.

Verse 155
Salvation is far from the wicked,
for they do not seek your statutes.
The ungodly had no interest in the things of the Lord. They didn’t inquire about His ways, they didn’t darken the door of the temple, and they didn’t hang around with believers. Since they didn’t seek, they didn’t find. Yet David saw their disadvantage: they had no one to consider their affliction, they had no one to deliver them, and they had no one to plead their cause. They were difficult people to deal with, but David maintained a sense of sorrow over their lost condition.

Verse 156
Great is your mercy, O Lord;
give me life according to your rules.
When God’s mercy is truly and fully experienced, it is always a great thing. It is never stingy, always abundant. The Message version says, “Your mercies, God, run into the billions.” The King James Version says, “Great are thy tender mercies”. The magnificent mercy of God can be staggeringly overwhelming, so He is tender with them and us. David asked for the kind of mercy that would revive him in the midst of his present state of discouragement.

Verse 157
Many are my persecutors and my adversaries,
but I do not swerve from your testimonies.
“Many” is the same word that is used in verse 156 for “great”. As persecutors and adversaries grew in number, so also did the mercies of God. No amount of trouble can swallow up God’s tender mercy — there’s always more mercy than trouble. Still, a momentary lapse in faithfulness might be expected when crisis hits without warning. Yet David resolved not to slip off course, not to wander or waver from the truth.

Verse 158
I look at the faithless with disgust, because they do not keep your commands.
David saw what faithlessness looked like, and he didn’t want to have anything to do with that way of life. He viewed the godless as treacherous betrayers, living under the common graces of God while giving Him the cold shoulder. The revival David sought was already having an effect. As David Guzik points out, “This sensitivity towards sin and passion for the glory of God is entirely characteristic of the revival that the Psalmist prays for repeatedly in this section.” In other words, you are experiencing revival when 1) the sins you used to flirt with begin to make you terribly uncomfortable, and 2) the glory you used to enjoy begins to feel empty and you want God to be in the spotlight instead.

Verse 159
Consider how I love your precepts!
Give me life according to your steadfast love.
Look how far he’s come in seven verses! The beginning of this section says, “Consider my affliction” and now he says, “Consider my affection”. That’s real progress! David stated his love for God’s words, but he dared not use the same word for love that he attributed to the Lord. Only God loves with “hesed” steadfast love — He’s on a whole other level when it comes to love. David made his third request for revival based on that unique love, making it a sure thing. 

Verse 160
The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever.
Every bit of God’s Word is truth. Every word, every letter, every comma, every period. Every “jot and tittle”. “The word of our God endures forever.” Isaiah 40:8

“The Scriptures are as true in Genesis as in Revelation, and the five books of Moses are as inspired as the four Gospels … There is not one single mistake either in the word of God or in the providential dealings of God. The Lord has nothing to regret or to retract, nothing to amend or to reverse.” (Spurgeon)

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Things I know for sure from this passage:

  • I am never alone in my troubles. God sees and helps.
  • The quickest way to revival is time in the Word.
  • New mercies are waiting for me every morning.
  • A mature faith swerves away from God’s Word less and loves it more.
  • The unchanging truth in the Bible is an anchor in a world of change.

Next: Resh

Stanza V

Not gonna lie — I’m a little giddy about closing in on the end of this colossal undertaking. Three more weeks and we can say we studied the longest chapter in the Bible together!

Psalm 119:153-160

View my anguish and help me out,
     for I remember what You’ve said.

Vouch for me and pay my ransom;
     give my life a fresh start again.

Villains are far from your rescue;
     they don’t care a whit about You.

Very great is Your kind concern;
     breath new life into this old soul.

Various foes victimize me,
     still I keep my face turned toward You.

Vexed by those who refuse belief,
     I hate how they despise Your laws.

Vital are Your words to my life,
     for they keep me safe and secure. 

Verse upon verse proclaims Your truth,
     every one perfect and timeless.

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Next: Long Song Study, part V

This, Too

Over 450 times the Bible says,
“And it came to pass.”
Zero times the Bible says,
“And it came to stay.”

Covid-19 has come.
Covid-19 will pass.

It has not come to stay.
This, too, shall pass.
(That’s not in the Bible.)

There is a story being written right now.
It’s the story that you will tell when you look back on this strange time.
How did you weather the crisis?
How did you respond in love to others?
What did God teach you?
How were you shaped by the experience?
You are the author of that story.
Make it a good one.

this too

 

U is for Us

Up in the U.P. (Upper Peninsula) of Michigan, “Yoopers” have a distinct dialect. They greet visitors with, “How are yous guys today?”

Down in Texas, where the southern drawl is thick, guests are welcomed with, “How are y’all today?”

I regret that my Midwest English (and the English translations of our Bibles) doesn’t distinguish between singular and plural when it comes to “you.” The northern Yoopers and the southern drawlers might have a real advantage there.

One thing Americans are known for, whether from the north, south, east or west, is an independent, go-it-alone, self-reliant, individualistic mindset. So we often make a mistake when reading the Bible. As Lois Tverberg points out,

English speakers have a habit of reading every “you” in the Bible as if it’s addressed to “me all by myself” rather than “me within God’s larger community.”

In the Jewish way of thinking, faith is built around doing life with people and is inherently communal. In other words, the “you” is almost always plural. They think in terms of “we” instead of “me”.

When Jesus taught the disciples to pray, He started with “Our Father”, not “My Father”. He used “us” and “our”, not “me” and “my”. The early church was famous for its devotion to fellowship, communal prayer and sharing meals together in each other’s houses. The New Testament writers continued the theme:

  • But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom. 5:8)
  • If God is for us, who can be against us? (Rom. 8:31)
  • For God did not give us a spirit of fear. He gave us a spirit of power and of love and of a sound mind. (2 Tim. 1:7)
  • If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
  • See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3:1)

Yes. Jesus loves me, this I know. For the Bible tells me so.
But we mustn’t forget that Christ loved us and gave himself up for us. (Eph. 5:2)

I’d sure like to do something about all those plural “you”s in the scriptures. Perhaps a new translation of the Holy Bible is in order. It would sound something like this:

Yous guys are the salt of the earth.
Y’all are the light of the world.
y'all

My favorite word in the Bible that starts with “U” is US.

Qoph

Qoph is the nineteenth letter in the Hebrew alphabet. Qoph (also written as “Kuf”, “Qof”, “Koof”) has the same sound as “k” as in “kite” or “qu” as in “queen”. Every line in Psalm 119:145-152 starts with this letter. Qoph looks like this:

qoph

The letter Qoph stands for the word holy, which means
“set apart for a sacred purpose”.

“God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy (Qadash).” Gen. 2:3

“Within the Temple, at one end, was the most sacred room—
the Holy of Holies” (Qodesh Ha-Qadashim). 2 Chron. 3:8

Holy, holy, holy (Qadosh, Qadosh, Qadosh) is the Lord of Hosts.” Isa. 6:3

holy-holy-holy

Qadash. Qodesh. Qadosh.
Holy. Holy. Holy.

In the Old Testament,
the tabernacle was Qodesh,
the altar was Qodesh,
the plates were Qodesh,
the utensils were Qodesh,
the furniture was Qodesh,
the anointing oil was Qodesh,
the incense was Qodesh.

Then Jesus came.
A Qodesh Person.
“We have come to know that you are the Holy One of God.” John 6:69

Then, somehow, His people were made Qodesh.
“We have been made holy through the sacrifice
of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” Heb. 10:10

Then the church was born.
“You are a chosen people,
a royal priesthood,
a holy nation….”
1 Peter 2:9

And now we have the voice (Qol) of God in the
Holy Bible.

Thankfully, Qoph reminds us that holiness
is not something we must muster up within ourselves.
“Holiness is not the way to Christ,
Christ is the way to holiness.”
C. H. Spurgeon

kuf

Long Song Study, part U

When my brother was a senior in high school, he got mononucleosis. During basketball season. And he was the starting point guard. One night when mom and dad were gone and I was supposed to be in bed, I heard loud talking in the living room. I tip-toed down the hall and put my ear to the door. My brother was praying, or rather, having it out with God. I’d never heard anything like that before. I was on holy ground. It was whole-hearted praying.

In this passage of Psalm 119, I feel the same way — like I’m eaves-dropping on David as he pours out his urgent pleas. Let’s put our ear to the door and listen to a man of God pray from his heart.

rise

Verse 145
With my whole heart I cry; answer me, O Lord! I will keep your statutes.
David didn’t ease into this part of his long song. He was desperate for God’s help and got straight to the point. Sometimes I pray (i.e. I read off my list of people to pray for while trying not to get distracted by the squirrels outside my window) and sometimes I PRAY (i.e. I get on my knees, put my head down, and cry actual tears while focusing on my great need and my great God). Desperation tends to make whole-hearted pray-ers out of us. We pray most honest prayers when we’re unconcerned about using highfalutin language, when we don’t measure the quantity of words used, and even when we aren’t worried about theology or doctrine. God hears our whole-hearted cries.

Verse 146
I call to you; save me, that I may observe your testimonies.
David cried out. Again. Once is rarely enough. It sounds a little like he’s playing “Let’s Make a Deal” with God. You answer me, I’ll keep Your statutes; You save me, I’ll observe Your testimonies. But David wasn’t trying to cash in on his obedience. The longing of his heart was to keep God’s word and walk in His ways. David needed rescue in order to continue serving God with his utmost.

Verse 147
I rise before dawn and cry for help; I hope in your words.
We’ve seen how David prayed in verse 145 and what he prayed for in verse 146. Now we get a glimpse into when he prayed. It seems David was a morning person. “O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice.” (Ps. 5:3) “In the morning I will sing of your love.” (Ps. 59:16) In his time of trouble, he didn’t veer from his habit of early morning prayer. As Christopher Ash points out, “Real Christian experience is not occasional forays into the world of prayer”, but a life shaped by daily, consistent conversation with God.
David’s hope found its anchor in God’s promises, not in his own desires. He wasn’t straining to hear a “new revelation” from God. Instead, he stuck with the promises and pled for their fulfillment.

“How important it is to be clear on what He has and has not promised. How many Christians make shipwreck when suffering comes because they think God has broken a promise He never made in the first place. ‘It has shaken my faith,’ they say. But so often the faith that is shaken is a faith that God has promised me what I would like Him to have promised me. We must learn the promises, that we may plead the promises. We must study the promises, that they may shape our longings.” (Christopher Ash)

Verse 148
My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises.
This verse reveals how long David prayed — through the night. He cried out three times, and then, stayed awake all night meditating on God’s promise. That statement is surprising. My experience is to cry out three (or twenty) times and then stay awake all night fretting, worrying and stressing. What a waste of a sleepless night! David didn’t deny his problems, but he chose to meditate on His promises. All night long.

Verse 149
Hear my voice according to your steadfast love; O Lord, according to your justice give me life.
Why do toddlers cry out for “mama” and “dada” when they wake up in the night? The sound of a little one’s distressed voice brings a loving parent to the rescue. David was confident that his cry would activate that “hesed” love (“steadfast love, lovingkindness, mercy, unfailing love, faithful love, loyal love; a long-suffering love that extends to the undeserving and even intervenes on their behalf”) that God was famous for.

Loving-kindness is one of the sweetest words in our language. Kindness has much in it that is most precious, but lovingkindness is doubly dear; it is the cream of kindness. (Spurgeon)

The cream of kindness. Come on. So good.

Verse 150
They draw near who persecute me with evil purpose; they are far from your law.
I’m not sure we really understand the concept of true persecution. Unlike trouble we bring on ourselves, or inconveniences and irritations, biblical persecution “encompasses all the pressures that afflict the believer because he/she is a believer”. (Christopher Ash) And it always has evil intent, because of the great distance the persecutors are from God’s law. Make no mistake, the devil does draw near to attack believers. David felt the wickedness closing in.

Verse 151
But you are near, O Lord, and all your commandments are true.
Yay!! My favorite word in the Bible!  Evil was near, but God was nearer. All believers are in a “state of nearness” to the Lord based on the Covenant given to Moses on Mount Sinai and then signed, sealed and delivered by Jesus on the cross. According to Thomas Manton, “in addition to this ‘state of nearness,’ there are ‘special acts of nearness.'” By this he means that, in our experience, God is nearer to us at certain times than at others. Or perhaps there are times when we are just more aware of His nearness, His favor, His peace.

It’s worth noting that the word “near” in verse 150 is “qarab” which means “to approach for an unknown purpose” and the word “near” in verse 151 is “qarob” which means “to be approached by kindred, ally or neighbor”. Like a good neighbor…..God is there.

Verse 152
Long have I known from your testimonies that you have founded them forever.
Many times in his life, David experienced the “special acts of nearness”. There is a sweetness in growing older because His testimonies keep testifying to us over time. Confidence grows as we put the promises to the test. Although it is true that we are surrounded by evil in the world, there is a “truer truth” — God is near. And we find that truth by having regular times of nearness to God in the Word.

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Things I know for sure from this passage:

  • Desperate cries for help are an acceptable form of prayer.
  • There is something special about establishing morning prayer times.
  • I chose what to meditate on; worry is meditation on the negative.
  • Nothing can separate me from the nearness of God.
  • God’s love is rich and sweet and rises up when I am still.

Next: Qoph

Stanza U

As each week goes by, I’m more and more impressed by David’s writing in Psalm 119. Many scholars believe this psalm was written over a period of years based on verse 9 — “How can a young man keep his way pure?” and verse 175 — “Let me live that I may praise you.”

In my imagination, David sat down to write an octet of lines every year on his birthday, as a present to God. Using the Hebrew alphabet, his ode spanned 22 years. I may be way off, but it’s an intriguing thought. With every year that passed, David grew in his love for God’s word and he kept finding new ways to sing about it.

Psalm 119:145-152

Using a loud voice I cry, “Help!
     God, respond! And I will obey.”

Uttering a yell, I say, “Quick!
     Rescue me and I’ll do my part.”

Up early, I plead for support;
     my only hope is in Your word.

Unable to sleep all night long,
     hour by hour, I think of Your laws.

Unravel my ranting with love;
     put me back together again.

Unrelenting foes lurk nearby;
     they are in their own little world.

Ultimately, You are close by,
     giving me Your honest counsel. 

Under Your teaching all these years,
     I’m confident Your word will last.

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Next: Long Song Study, part U