N is for Now

How frustrating it was as a kid to hear,
“Maybe later, but not now.”
When was “later” going to arrive, exactly?
Did “maybe” mean “probably not gonna happen”?

How thrilling it was as a kid to hear,
“I have time right now. Let’s play!”

Now.

It’s a short word that packs a punch.
It appears in over 1200 verses in the Bible (NIV).
But Romans 8:1 is my favorite.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation
for those who are in Christ Jesus.

What would that verse sound like without this powerhouse syllable?
“Therefore, there is * no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
When, exactly? Maybe later? What about now?
See? Aren’t you glad there is no condemnation NOW?

now

Perhaps you remember my favorite word that starts with “B”.
Team that word up with this one and you’ve got a potent duo.

“Once you were alienated from God,
BUT NOW he has reconciled you…”
Colossians 1:21-22

“Once you were not a people,
BUT NOW you are the people of God.”
1 Peter 2:10

“I was blind,
BUT NOW I see.”
John 9:25

“For this son of mine was dead,
BUT NOW he is alive;
he was lost,
BUT NOW he has been found.”
Luke 15:24

It has been said that we live between the “already” and the “not yet”. The Kingdom of God has come in Jesus, but the complete fulfillment of the Kingdom is still in the future.

John said it like this,
“Beloved, we are God’s children now,
and what we will be has not yet appeared.”
1 John 3:2
Now and not yet.

How thrilling it will be to witness the moment the God of the universe says,
“NOW!”.

“For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.” 1 Thess. 4:16-17

Not maybe.
Not probably.
Not now.
But soon.

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Mem

Mem is the thirteenth letter in the Hebrew alphabet. Mem has the same sound as “m” as in “mom”. Every line in Psalm 119:97-104 starts with this letter. Mem looks like this:

mem

As you can see, there are two forms of this letter. The open one on the right is used at the beginning or middle of a word. The closed one on the left is only used at the end of a word.

This letter is closely connected to water.
The Hebrew word for water looks like this:

water

See the open “Mem” followed by a “Yod” and finally the closed “Mem”? (Hebrew reads from right to left!) Some rabbis teach that the “Yod” in the middle is a drop of water within the word “water”.

Water is the most basic and important element in life. Sixty percent of our bodies are made up of water. The earth is 71% water. Without water, we can’t live more than three days. There is a Jewish saying, “There is no water but Torah.” Rabbis teach that the Torah is the most basic and important element in one’s spiritual life. Without the Torah, the Jew is like a fish without water — he couldn’t live.

Since “Mem” is the letter of water, it symbolizes the “spring” of wisdom found in the scriptures. Like an underground spring rises up from an unseen source, so does the spring of wisdom rise up from the mysterious Source that is God. http://www.hebrew4christians.com

Maybe that’s why David wrote about wisdom, understanding and insight in the “Mem” section of Psalm 119.

It’s easy to find Jesus in the 13th letter.
The Messiah is our Living Water.
He is the only one who truly satisfies our inner thirst for real life.
He is the most basic and vital of all elements in this world.
He is the Living Word and we cannot survive without Him.

spring

As the second half of the Hebrew alphabet reveals the life of faith in response to the good news of the gospel, so the letter “Mem” reflects the believer’s baptism. First we are taught (Lamed) and then we take a step of obedience by going into the waters (Mem) of baptism.

“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.
Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said,
rivers of living water will flow from within them.”
John 7:37-38

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

Long Song Study, part N

David relied heavily on God and His word during his period of suffering. Study, meditation and obedience while under duress produced something in the psalmist — wisdom, understanding and insight. And a great love for God’s word.

“No man ever loved his Bible too much.”
William Swan Plumer

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Psalm 119:97-104

Verse 97
Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.
It’s possible to study the Bible, obey the Bible and even teach the Bible, but not love the Bible. David’s love for the law came as a result of meditating on it. Remember, we’re not talking about some Eastern form of meditating — a kind of passive emptying of the mind. Christian meditation is active. It is thinking over and dwelling on the purposes and promises of God, “consciously performed in the presence of God, by the help of God, as a means of communion with God.” (James Packer) “David meditated on God’s word because he loved it, and loved it the more because he meditated on it.” (Spurgeon) He couldn’t get enough of it.
“This love for God’s word is a great proof of love for God. If a man says he loves God, but neglects His word, that love must be called into question.” (Christopher Ash)

Verse 98
Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me.
David credited the law for giving him wisdom, beyond that of his enemies. We live in a difficult world and trying to navigate all the posts and tweets and opinions is nearly impossible on our own. The Bible gives us absolute access to the Architect and Creator. When we need to know how to think about an issue, we need to run to our Bibles where we can connect to God’s wisdom without limit.
How did David keep the commandments near him? Probably by memorizing portions of scripture. But it was also his duty, as the law stated, “When the king takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law. It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life.” (Deut. 17:18-19) So King David had copied the entire Torah by hand and was charged with keeping it with him. That’s a good law. Maybe we should bring it back.

Verse 99
I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation.
It’s good to learn from human teachers. I can name many that have impacted me over the years. (And they’re not all old dead guys.) David recognized he had an understanding that went beyond knowledge and again, he traced it back to his untiring commitment to soak in God’s word.

Verse 100
I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts.
Usually, older people are considered to be wiser, having learned from their life experiences. Usually. However, very smart, experienced people can still lack wisdom. It seems there is always a connection between understanding and obedience. David wasn’t just a hearer of the word, but also a doer. “He that excels in practice has the best understanding.” (Thomas Manton) Far from bragging about his great insight, David was extolling the wonder of God’s great wisdom and His ability to put it in a person’s head and heart.

Verse 101
I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word.
David gets practical here. There are just some things that don’t mix with godly wisdom, like evil. Not that it’s easy. He had to make a conscious effort to hold back those feet of his from taking him the wrong way. The choice was before him: keep the word he had grown to love or chase after lies. “If we keep the good word, we must let go the evil.” (Spurgeon)

Verse 102
I do not turn aside from your rules, for you have taught me.
Compared to walking down evil paths, a little turning aside doesn’t seem like a big deal. That is what makes it such a subtle temptation. Turning aside from reading the Bible, praying, and fellowship can begin a slow slide away from the Lord. David wouldn’t do it.

Verse 103
How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
When Jewish boys were six years old, they entered school at the local synagogue. On the first day of school, the rabbi would take a generous amount of honey and put it on each of the boys’ slates. Then the rabbi would tell the boys to lick it off as he quoted from Psalm 119, “May the words of God be sweet to your taste, sweeter than honey to your mouth.” The students’ first association with scripture was sweet, helping them understand that nothing was more enjoyable than receiving and tasting the Word of God. Many people are introduced to the Bible as a set of rules and commands, a list of dos and don’ts. Let’s add a bit of sweetness as we share the Word.

Verse 104
Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.
The better we understand the heart of God in His law, the easier it is to see religion that’s fake. Hate is a strong word, but there’s a time and place for it. “It is well to be a good hater. Not a hater of living beings, but a hater of every false way. The way of self-will, of self-righteousness, of self-seeking, of worldliness, of pride, of unbelief, of hypocrisy — these are all false ways, and therefore not only to be shunned, but to be abhorred.” (Spurgeon)

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Things I know for sure from this passage:

  • Knowing a lot does not equal wisdom.
  • God’s Word has the power to make us wise people.
  • When we study the Bible, God Himself is our Teacher.
  • Meditating on God’s Word helps us keep His commands.
  • Wisdom is knowledge put to practical use, usually through obedience.

(Click here if you want to discover the difference between wisdom and knowledge!)

Next: Mem

Stanza N

The old David is back in this section! “Oh, how I love Your law!” is his opening line (with an exclamation point!). That’s more like it! His affliction lasted for a season, and now, he writes with a new appreciation for God’s good word.

Psalm 119:97-104

Needless to say, I love Your law;
     I think about it day and night.

Now I outsmart my pesky foes,
     because Your commands make me wise.

Not to brag, but I’ve got insight,
     since I feed my mind with Your word.

None of the elders surpass me,
     for I have learned to obey You.

Notice how I avoid evil;
     I keep my feet on the high road. 

Nothing deters me from Your law,
     for I have learned from the best — You!

Naturally sweet to my senses,
     Your words are tasty as honey.

New discernment keeps my mind sharp;
     I can’t stand walking on dead ends.

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Next: Long Song Study, part N

M is for Maker

I am breaking rule #2 today.
2) Use only small words, four letters or less.
And I am invoking rule #3.
3) Change the rules when necessary.

I sure am glad I left that loophole open, because I sure do love this word.
My favorite word in the Bible that starts with “M” is “Maker”.

I’ve noticed lately that artists of all kinds are calling themselves “makers”.
The Original Maker was, indeed, an artist.
But the term is nothing new.

“Come, let us bow down in worship before the Lord our Maker.” Ps. 95:6
“My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” Ps. 121:2
“He is the Maker of heaven and earth and everything in them.” Ps. 146:6
“Let Israel rejoice in their Maker.” Ps. 149:2

maker

God is a Maker with a capital “M”.
We have been made by Him.

“For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.”
Ps. 139:13

The Hebrew word for “knit” is similar to our word for “embroidered”. In other words, He didn’t print off a copy and slap us together with some scotch tape. No! He used the very finest of handiwork, creating detail upon detail. Each stitch was an artful expression, resulting in a one-of-a-kind. Our word “embryo” comes from this beautiful root word “embroidery”.

stitch

The Bible opens with the Lord making one thing after another.
“So God made the expanse…”
“God made two great lights…”
“God made the wild animals…”
He made the seventh day holy.
He made a man from the dust.
He made a woman from the rib.

It was good.
For a little bit.
Until it wasn’t.

So the Maker kept on making.
“The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife.” Gen. 3:21

Then the Maker kept on making.
God was pleased to reconcile to Himself all things by
“making peace through Jesus’ blood, shed on the cross.” Col. 1:20

And the Maker will keep on making.
“I am making everything new!” Rev. 21:5

new

We have been made in the image of God.
Let’s be like Him and make something good today.

My favorite word in the Bible that starts with “M” is MAKER.

Lamed

Lamed (also written as Lamedh) is the twelfth letter in the Hebrew alphabet. Lamed has the same sound as “l” as in “lake”. Every line in Psalm 119:89-96 starts with this letter. Lamed looks like this:

lamed“Lamed” is unique in the Hebrew alphabet because it is the tallest letter.

hebrew

Also, it is considered the central letter, or “heart” of the Hebrew alphabet.
By the way, the Hebrew word for “heart” starts with the letter “lamed”.

Heart = לֵב (lev)

 

The word “lamed” means to learn or to teach and it is first seen in the Bible in Deuteronomy 4:1, “Now, Israel, hear the decrees and laws I am about to teach you.” Learning has always been viewed as sacred to the Jewish people. It was a high calling for a man to become a Rabbi because it meant devoting his whole life to learning the Torah and teaching it to others. Every student’s goal was to move from knowledge to understanding to wisdom. Knowledge alone came up short without moving from the head to the heart. The wisest Rabbis were seen as head and shoulders above everyone else, just like the “lamed” rises above the other Hebrew letters.

In the Jewish tradition, learning wasn’t an end in itself, but found its purpose in action. The accumulation of knowledge was only of value if it spurred one to do something. James, Jesus’ brother, wrote about this idea in his letter.

“But be ye doers of the word,
and not hearers only,
deceiving your own selves.”

(James 1:22)

A true disciple, then, is both a learner and a doer,
one who “learns” in order to “do.”
Sometimes we need a little prodding to “learn” and “do”.
The “lamed” is shaped like a cattle prod,
which farmers used to direct their animals.
A little poke, a kick in the behind, or a spur in the side
motivates us to keep moving along.

Even though Jesus was a Teacher while He lived on earth, He also was a learner. “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered.” Heb. 5:8

Israel = יִשְׂרָאֵל (yisrael)

The name Israel starts with the smallest letter, “yod”, and ends with the biggest letter, “lamed”. Some scholars interpret this to mean that the nation of Israel may have started out small, but in the Last Days it will be higher than all the other nations, teaching them the truth about God and Jesus, the Messiah.

The first eleven letters of the Hebrew alphabet revealed the gospel. The second set of eleven letters will reflect the response of a believer and the walk of faith. It all starts with learning, being teachable, and recognizing the prodding of the Holy Spirit.

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

 

Long Song Study, part M

David made it through the low point, or “midnight of the psalm” in last week’s passage. In this section, his tone changes from despair and doubt to steady reliance on God’s words.

Psalm 119:89-96

Verse 89
Forever, O Lord, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens.
Here is why it is worth our time to study the Bible: it’s going to last forever. Every moment we spend in the Word will be of value in eternity. The Bible is the only thing on this earth that is not temporary. It is a permanent fixture in heaven that we will recognize and rejoice in when we get there. 

Verse 90
Your faithfulness endures to all generations; you have established the earth, and it stands fast.
Just as the Word is firmly fixed in the heavens, so too, the faithfulness of the Lord is firmly fixed on the earth. Hundreds of generations of people have come and gone, and God has faithfully endured every one. Evidence of His faithfulness is everywhere. The hymn writer said it best:

Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above,
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.
(Great Is Thy Faithfulness, Thomas Chisholm)

Verse 91
By your appointment they stand this day, for all things are your servants.
David saw the sun rise every morning, the planets stay on their tracks, and the seasons turn in time. God had organized the universe with His creative word. This gave David confidence that if he held on to the Creator God and His creative words, he was secure.
David used every expression he could think of to drive this idea home. Verse 89: “firmly fixed”; verse 90: “established” and “stands fast”; verse 91: “stand” — they all mean the same thing. “The order and stability of the created work of God is guaranteed by the authority of the word of God. And therefore the believer who rests upon that word, rests upon firmness and will not fall into a pit.” (Christopher Ash) All of nature is serving the purposes of God, to show us His power and faithfulness.

Verse 92
If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.
Looking back on his period of suffering, David realized how close he came to giving up. And sometimes people do give up. For some, affliction can lead to destructive anger, bitterness and hopelessness.  For others, trials drive them deeper into the arms of God where His Word sees them through dark times. David understood that holding on to the word that was firmly fixed in creation was his only place of security.

Verse 93
I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have given me life.
Having come out on the other side of suffering, David had fresh appreciation for life. He would not soon forget the help and hope he received from God’s Word.
There are some verses I will never forget, because they spoke to my heart during difficult circumstances. Those words are marked in my Bible with a date in the margin. They stand as a testimony of God’s help when I was struggling. Spending regular time in the Word keeps me from forgetting His provision in the past and His promises for the future.

Verse 94
I am yours; save me, for I have sought your precepts.
David had given himself to God, so he knew he could continue to depend on God’s care. All believers have the seal, or mark, of the Holy Spirit, God’s sign of ownership. “Having believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance.” (Eph. 1:13-14) We belong to Him. Guaranteed. “You are not your own; you were bought at a price.” (1 Cor. 6:19-20)

Verse 95
The wicked lie in wait to destroy me, but I consider your testimonies.
His troubles weren’t over, but David had learned not to obsess about what his enemies were up to. He knew they were watching him, but David turned his attention from them to God’s testimonies. The wicked were lying in wait for David, but David was waiting upon God. It takes strength and resolve to keep our eyes on Jesus when under attack. It’s another three word prayer I whisper often — “Eyes on Jesus, eyes on Jesus, eyes on Jesus.”

Verse 96
I have seen a limit to all perfection, but your commandment is exceedingly broad.
As a bit of a perfectionist (Enneagram #1), I’m always bumping up against imperfection. What a relief to come to terms with the fact that perfection isn’t required or even expected. Spurgeon said, “He does not expect perfection in the creature, and, therefore, he is not disappointed when he does not find it.” God is different. He is limitless, bottomless, boundless, inexhaustible, immeasurable, and every other word in my thesaurus.

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Things I know for sure from this passage:

  • During times of uncertainty, I need the firmly fixed Word of God that stands fast.
  • Nature is constantly speaking to me of God’s faithfulness.
  • Delighting in God’s Word is a mark of spiritual maturity.
  • I am His and I can trust Him to take care of me.
  • Perfection belongs to God alone.

Next: Lamedh

Stanza M

The second half of Psalm 119 begins today!

The first eleven letters of the Hebrew alphabet tell the story of our rescue, from the God-man bridging the gap between heaven and earth (Aleph) to the believer’s place of safety and security in the hands of the Father (Kaph). The 12th letter marks the beginning of the second half, and a new story. The theme shifts from God’s work on our behalf, to our response and our need to persevere to the end with our faith intact.

Psalm 119:89-96

Made to last beyond space and time,
     Your divine word stays rock solid.

Marching through time, You are faithful.
     The earth lasts because You say so.

Morning to night, Your laws live on,
     and all creation waits on You.

Minus Your laws that delight me,
     I couldn’t have survived for long.

Mindful of all You’ve said to me,
     I feel reinvigorated.

My life is all Yours, so save me,
     for I keep on searching Your Word.

Many foes are out to get me,
     still I fix my thoughts on Your law.

Most of the time I’m deficient,
     But not You — You are limitless.

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Next: Long Song Study, part M

L is for Love

It’s the obvious choice.
“Love” is my favorite word in the Bible that starts with “L”.
It may be my favorite word in the whole Bible.
It might be my favorite word in the English language.
But I’m not a good enough thinker or writer to do this word justice.
Today, I defer to the Apostle Paul who wrote the consummate essay on love.

You know it well
You’ve heard it at weddings.
You’ve seen it on coffee cups.
But today, read it like it’s something brand new
that just landed in your inbox.
Go ahead.
Read it out loud.
Today and every day.

If I were to speak with eloquence in earth’s many languages, and in the heavenly tongues of angels, yet I didn’t express myself with love, my words would be reduced to the hollow sound of nothing more than a clanging cymbal.

And if I were to have the gift of prophecy with a profound understanding of God’s hidden secrets, and if I possessed unending supernatural knowledge, and if I had the greatest gift of faith that could move mountains, but have never learned to love, then I am nothing.

And if I were to be so generous as to give away everything I owned to feed the poor, and to offer my body to be burned as a martyr, without the pure motive of love, I would gain nothing of value.

Love is large and incredibly patient. Love is gentle and consistently kind to all. It refuses to be jealous when blessing comes to someone else. Love does not brag about one’s achievements nor inflate its own importance. Love does not traffic in shame and disrespect, nor selfishly seek its own honor. Love is not easily irritated or quick to take offense. Love joyfully celebrates honesty and finds no delight in what is wrong. Love is a safe place of shelter, for it never stops believing the best for others. Love never takes failure as defeat, for it never gives up.

Love never stops loving. It extends beyond the gift of prophecy, which eventually fades away. It is more enduring than tongues, which will one day fall silent. Love remains long after words of knowledge are forgotten. Our present knowledge and our prophecies are but partial, but when love’s perfection arrives, the partial will fade away. When I was a child, I spoke about childish matters, for I saw things like a child and reasoned like a child. But the day came when I matured, and I set aside my childish ways.

For now we see but a faint reflection of riddles and mysteries as though reflected in a mirror, but one day we will see face-to-face. My understanding is incomplete now, but one day I will understand everything, just as everything about me has been fully understood. Until then, there are three things that remain: faith, hope, and love—yet love surpasses them all. 

1 Corinthians 13, The Passion Translation

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Kaph

Kaph (also written as Kaf or Khaf or Chaf) is the eleventh letter in the Hebrew alphabet. Kaph has the same sound as “k” as in “kite”. Every line in Psalm 119:81-88 starts with this letter. Kaph looks like this:

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The word “Kaph” means “the palm of a hand” and is shaped like a hand curving around a cup to hold it. In the Old Testament, fathers would place their hands on their children’s heads when pronouncing a blessing. In the New Testament, Jesus often laid His hands on people who needed healing.

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Orthodox Jewish men wear a “kippah”, or a skull cap, that represents the palms of God’s hands (Kaph) resting on the head, as a protective covering for the mind, body and spirit.

“Kaph” is closely associated with the idea of “covering” as described in Exodus 33. When Moses said to God, “Show me your glory,” the Lord replied, “I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand (Kaph) until I have passed by.” (Ex. 33:22)

The word “cover” is the same word for “atonement”.
Can you see where this is going?
Jesus,
who is at the right hand of God,
provided covering
for our sins
through His blood.

God made clothes with His hands
out of animal skins for Adam and Eve.
He’s been covering for us ever since.

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Hear Jesus’ last words on the cross:
“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Luke 23:46

See Jesus’ hands, which bore the mark of sacrifice — and still do.
“Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself!” Luke 24:39

Watch Jesus’ final act before ascending:
“When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany,
he lifted up his hands and blessed them.” Luke 24:50

We are safe in His hands.
“See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” Is. 49:16

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