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

T is for Time

time

Due to lack of time this week, I will not be posting on “T is for Time”.

I had great plans —
— to reflect on the words of the wisest man, Solomon.
“There is a time for everything.” (Eccl. 3:1)
— to ponder the words of King David.
“My times are in Your hands.” (Ps. 31:15)
— to think over the words of Jesus.
“It is not for you to know the times or dates.” (Acts 1:7)
— to consider the words of Paul.
“Make the best use of your time.” (Eph. 5:16)
— 
to contemplate the words of Jim Croce.
“If I could save time in a bottle.” (Not really)

But I ran out of time.

One of the things I’m most looking forward to on the New Earth is
no clocks, no schedules, no timers buzzing, no deadlines,
no time limits, no delays, no due dates, no cut off point,
no being late, no calendars, no hurry, no push to finish.

We’ll have all the time in the (new) world.

clock

Tsadhe

Tsadhe is the eighteenth letter in the Hebrew alphabet. Tsadhe (also written as “Tsade” or “Tsadde” or “Tzadi” or “Tzadee”) has the same sound as “tz” as in “nuts”. Every line in Psalm 119:137-144 starts with this letter. Tsadhe looks like this:

Tsade

The left side of the letter “tsadhe” represents a humble and faithful servant bent in submission. On the right is a hand lifted up to God. Put those two things together and you have a righteous person. The word “tsadhe” means “righteous one”. Only the humble are truly righteous.

Let’s review the last few letters we have studied.

  • The letter samech – represents safeguarding and closure
  • The letter ayin — represents sight
  • ]The letter pe — represents speech

Then, after these three letters, comes the letter צ (tsadhe). This cluster of letters tells a story. A person, who safeguards and protects his eyes from evil things and protects his mouth and speech from saying bad things, will be a tsadhe, a righteous individual.

The Pharisees in Jesus’ day were intent on becoming “tsadik” — disciples of righteousness, by doing “tsadakah” — acts of righteousness. Jesus had a few words to say about that.

Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Matthew 6:1-4)

The highest form of righteous acts are those done in secret. Can you imagine having a trumpeter play “Reveille” every time you put your offering in the plate? That would get annoying.

trumpet

It’s hard to be righteous.
Trying to sustain righteousness on our own doesn’t work.
“All our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6)
(“Filthy rags” is most accurately translated as “menstrual cloths”.)
Selah.

Thankfully, we have a Righteous Savior
who not only forgives our filthiness,
but also imputes His righteousness onto us.
“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us,
so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
(2 Cor. 5:21)

That’s righteous good news.

tzadi

Next: My favorite word in the Bible that starts with “T”.

Long Song Study, part T

study2

Every verse in this section of Psalm 119 starts with the Hebrew letter “Tsadhe” (more on that tomorrow). The letter means “righteous” — and that’s definitely the theme of this passage. A form of the word is used six times in eight verses. Let’s dig in!

Verse 137
Righteous are you, O Lord, and right are your rules.
Righteous: upright, moral, virtuous, good, pure, true, just. Righteousness covers a lot of ground, but basically it boils down to perfect perfection, excellent excellence, faultless faultlessness. You get the idea — just keep on piling up the words. David made the connection that a righteous God would have to be the author of righteous laws, otherwise He wouldn’t be righteous. God’s perfect rightness was a great comfort to David, assuring him that God would always deal with him in the same way: uprightly, morally, with virtue and goodness, in purity, truth and justice.

Verse 138
You have appointed your testimonies in righteousness and in all faithfulness.
Moses is given credit for writing down the first five books of the Bible (the Pentateuch, or Torah). But David didn’t forget that every word was a result of divine authority, given to Moses by the direction of God. The Bible is not a smorgasbord that we get to pick and choose from according to our personal preferences and tastes.

It is not left to our choice whether we will accept them or not; they are issued by royal command, and are not to be questioned. God’s word is righteous and cannot be impeached; it is faithful and cannot be questioned; it is true from the beginning, and it will be true unto the end. (Spurgeon)

See that little word “all” before faithfulness? Like a balloon that keeps expanding with every breath blown into it, this expression means His faithfulness never explodes. It just keeps filling and filling until it’s as faithful as faithful can be.

Verse 139
My zeal consumes me, because my foes forget your words.
David’s certainty about the perfection of God’s law made him incredulous when he saw others dismiss it with contempt. It ate him up inside to witness his enemies utterly ignoring the commands of God Himself. David wasn’t personally offended, but burned with holy anger that God would be treated in such a way. I get it. It riles me up to observe professing Christians, who have been taught the truth, act like they have forgotten every bit of it.

Verse 140
Your promise is well tried, and your servant loves it.
Other versions use the words “very pure” and “thoroughly tested”, but I like the sound of “well tried”. Commands are to be obeyed, but promises are to be “well tried”. The Word can stand up to the test. That’s why David loved it so — it had been weighed and measured and NOT found wanting. In fact, “the more we try the promises, the surer we shall find them.” (George Horne)

Verse 141
I am small and despised, yet I do not forget your precepts.
David was the youngest of the eight sons of Jesse. That’s seven older, burly brothers. When Samuel was looking for a king to anoint in Jesse’s house, David wasn’t even considered a possibility by his father. Years later, as King of Israel, perhaps David still suffered from “Youngest Child Syndrome” — the littlest child overshadowed by a crowd of strong personalities. When David showed up on the front lines of the Philistine battle, his older brothers despised him for challenging Goliath. It’s hard to get over things like that. That’s conjecture, of course. Still, David didn’t blame God or use pain from the past as an excuse. Like David, we all have had past experiences that left us feeling insignificant and undervalued. And like David, we need to hold on to the truest, most reliable thing in life — God’s words.

Verse 142
Your righteousness is righteous forever, and your law is true.
David tried hard to establish the theme of righteousness in this passage. Here he started piling up the words: God is right and He is righteously righteous. He is righteous as righteous can be. And it’s not a temporary thing — it’s a forever-and-ever-amen thing. That truth gave David a firm foundation on which to stand.

Verse 143
Trouble and anguish have found me out, but your commandments are my delight.
It seems like a contradiction to have trouble and anguish alongside delight.

Only the one who is acquainted with the struggles of the spiritual life will understand the expression before us. Let the reader herein find a balance in which to weigh himself. Does he find, even when he is begirt with sorrow, that it is a delightful thing to do the will of the Lord? (Spurgeon)

Well? Are you begirt (surrounded) with stress and pressure? Can you still delight in the Lord? How does your scale read?

Verse 144
Your testimonies are righteous forever; give me understanding that I may live.
One more time, just in case you missed it, God’s words are righteous forever. Got it?

And so he rejoices in the sheer trustworthiness of the word of God. That the small, despised nobody, who burns with jealous anger for the honor of God, who endures trouble and anguish, may safely rest on this righteous word. (Christopher Ash)

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Things I know for sure from this passage:

  • When I say God is righteous, I’m not describing what He does, I am describing who He is.
  • God invites me to put His promises to the test.
  • Well tried promises lead to deeper love for the Word.
  • Even when trouble finds me, I can find delight in God’s words.
  • Studying God’s Word and gaining understanding adds life to my days.

Next: Tsadhe

Stanza T

Instead of counting how many weeks we’ve been at this (this is week 18!), let’s start a countdown. Only five more weeks and the Long Song study will be done! The finish line is in sight. Let’s finish this race!

Psalm 119:137-144

Totally perfect — that’s You, Lord;
     and Your commands are right on, too.

Talk about handing out great rules!
     I trust them with my heart and soul.

Tired out by my own fervor,
     I’m appalled that some blow You off.

Tested and tried and verified,
     Your promises are dearly loved.

Though I am deprived and picked on,
     I call to mind Your wise counsel.

Truth is found in all of Your laws;
     Your goodness never expires.

Trouble comes at me from all sides,
     but I won’t let it steal my joy.

Timeless and flawless are Your words,
     so teach me how to live by them.

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Next: Long Song Study, part T

S is for Said

God is a talker.
In the first chapter of the Bible, we read the phrase “God said” eleven times.
We literally have the very words that God spoke.
At our fingertips.
In quotations.
Selah. (Hebrew for “stop and think about that for a while.”)

said

God’s people are talkers, too.
The word “said” is found 3, 071 times in the scriptures.
Words are the method of choice to get the gospel out to the nations.

world

For those of us who are not such great talkers, there’s a promise:
“The Holy Spirit will give you the words to say at the moment when you need them.” Luke 12:12

Psalm 119 was David’s long love song about the
extraordinary,
astonishing,
miraculous
record of what God said.

Musicians have been writing songs about the same thing ever since.

Back in 1975, the Heritage Singers recorded an album. The group was made up of men dressed in powder blue leisure suits and women wearing puffy sleeved maxi dresses. Ah, the 70s. Their big hit was titled, “God Said It, I Believe It, That Settles It For Me”. Pretty good theology.

Going back farther, in the 1700s, a song was published by an anonymous lyricist identified only as “K”. Pastor John Rippon included it in a compilation of hymns he put together for his church. “K”, whoever you are, thanks for writing such masterful words.

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said,
To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

What more can He say than to you He has said?
He said it, I believe it.

My favorite word in the Bible that starts with “S” is SAID.

Pe

Pe is the seventeenth letter in the Hebrew alphabet. Pe (also written as Pey or Pei or Peh) sounds like “p” as in “pay”. Every line in Psalm 119:129-136 starts with this letter. Pe looks like this:

pe

The word “Pe” means “mouth” as in “I open my mouth and pant…” (Ps. 119:131) The definition doesn’t just pertain to a physical mouth, but also extends in meaning to “word,” “expression,” “vocalization,” and “speech”.

Genesis states that God created everything by the words of His mouth (Pe). The fact that the letter “Pe” has an opening on its right side shows us that God is still speaking.

Rabbis point out that “Pe” (mouth) follows the letter “Ayin” (eyes), suggesting the importance of seeing (understanding, having awareness) before opening the mouth. If this order is reversed, the result is mindless chatter. Heard any of that lately?

To put it another way:
Engage the brain before putting the mouth in gear.

On the path to discipleship,
learning how to control our words is paramount.
“The tongue has the power of life and death.”
(Prov. 18:21)

The timing of our words is vitally important.
“A well-spoken word at just the right moment
is like golden apples in settings of silver.”
(Prov. 25:11)

The tone we use when speaking is consequential.
“Gracious words are like a honeycomb,
sweetness to the soul and health to the body.”
(Prov. 16:24)

Let “Pe” remind us to make good use of our mouths —
to speak
golden-apple,
honey-sweetened
words of life.

pei

Next: My favorite word in the Bible that starts with “S”.