I is for In

in

“In” is such an itty-bitty word.
We use it hundreds of times a day without thinking.

“In” was a key word in Jesus’ teaching on the vine and the branches.
“Abide in me
and
I will abide in you.”
John 15:4

We are in Jesus
and Jesus is in us.

When Jesus prayed for all of us in John 17, He said,
“…that all of them may be one, Father,
just as you are in me
and I am in you…
…that they may be one as we are one
I in them
and you in me.”

God is in Jesus
and Jesus is in God
and Jesus is in us
and we are in Jesus.

Paul used the phrase “in Christ” over 160 times in his letters.
It’s an important little word.
Nevertheless, it’s a hard concept to get the mind around.

Here’s some help from Bible commentator William Barclay:

When Paul spoke of the Christian being “in Christ”, he meant that the Christian lives “in Christ” as a bird in the air, a fish in the water, the roots of a tree in the soil. What makes a Christian different is that he is always and everywhere conscious of the encircling presence of Jesus Christ.”

We often hear that the life of faith begins
when we invite Jesus in —
into our hearts, into our lives.

But it sounds to me like Jesus is inviting us in —
into His life, into His power, into His presence.

Maybe it’s both.
Jesus is in me.
I am in Jesus.

May we always and everywhere be conscious of His encircling presence.

“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” 2 Corinthians 5:17

My favorite word in the Bible that starts with “I” is IN.

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Teth

Teth (also written as Tet) is the ninth letter in the Hebrew alphabet. Teth has the same sound as “t” as in “trouble”, but it means “good, better, or best”. Every line in Psalm 119:65-72 starts with this letter. Teth looks like this:

teth

 There are two very different ways to interpret this letter.

First, it is a picture of an open container in which something good is hidden. The first use of the letter Teth is in Genesis 1:4, “God saw that the light was good (tov).” The world was birthed day by day and each new creation was declared to be good. Truly, God’s goodness is all around us, hidden in creation.

Some Rabbis teach that the letter represents the womb, where for nine months, something good is hidden. Therefore, as the ninth letter in the Aleph-Bet, it is connected with spiritual birth or renewal. In the New Testament, there are nine fruits of the Holy Spirit that are planted into the soil of all believers’ hearts. That seed is hidden until it produces fruit and grows as we continue to mature in Him. The Christian life is “pregnant” with God’s goodness.

The letter Teth also looks like someone bowing in prayer, opening their heart to God’s hidden treasures of the Holy Spirit and the Word. The left side of Teth is a Zayin, the seventh letter, that shows Jesus as the crowned man. Believers are portrayed on the right side, bowing before the Victorious Savior.

The second interpretation, in drastic contrast to the first, sees the letter Teth as the serpent, coiling into earth and injecting evil into the world. This strange duality in one letter makes a profound point.

“Will we choose to surrender our lives, offering ourselves as living sacrifices or will we inwardly rebel and live in selfish pride that marks the devil? (hebrew4christians.com)

“There is a famous optical illusion (shown below) which depicts both a beautiful young woman and an old woman with a wart on her nose. Some suggest that whichever image you first see indicates something about how you think and perceive the world. But, whether or not this is true of this image, it is a good illustration of the Teth. Like the image of the two women, Teth is the letter with two messages – two Judgments. And what you spiritually see in Teth is determined by your own personal experience and choice regarding Yahweh.

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For those who choose Yahweh and abide in Him, the Fruits of the Holy Spirit are given – that is the JUDGMENT that we receive! Beautiful thought!

God is the Judge, but I decide what my judgment will be. He sets before me the choice – ‘I set before you this day blessing and cursing, life and death. Therefore choose life.’ (Deut. 30:19) The Teth shows the two-fold nature of Yahweh’s Judgment.” (www.lightedway.org)

What do you see when you look at Teth?

Open my eyes, that I may see Your goodness.

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

Long Song Study, part I

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The author of Psalm 119 (presumably David) wrote eloquently about the goodness of God’s law and his desire to keep it with all his heart. Occasionally he wrote about adversaries who were making his life difficult. In the next section, David took these two realities and put them together into one truth: God’s goodness is best known in affliction. “The affliction God gives is His good gift to His people…to draw us into, and keep us in, the Word.” (Christopher Ash)

Verse 65
You have dealt well with your servant, O Lord, according to your word.
David began the ninth section of his long song by looking back and acknowledging the goodness of God in his life. He wasn’t referring to his extravagant palace, or his table of fine food, or his closet full of regal robes. David saw that the promises of God had proven to be rock solid words of truth that gave his soul both help and delight.

Verse 66
Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in your commandments.
Even though he had been walking with God for awhile, David stayed teachable. His experience of God’s goodness only made him want to know more, so he asked for knowledge and good judgment. The word “judgment” in this verse means “a taste for” — so David was asking God to put a craving for good and wise living in his heart. “Taste and see that the Lord is good,” David wrote in Psalm 34. The ability to discern, or “taste”, God’s goodness in the middle of suffering is a mark of spiritual maturity.

Verse 67
Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word.
What was David’s affliction? Apparently, he was persecuted for staying loyal to God’s law and choosing the way of faithfulness. (See verses 21-23, 39, 42, 50-51, 61) Taking a stand to uphold God’s law in the face of persecution only made David more resolute to keep it. He saw affliction as the thing God used to bring him back into right relationship with Himself. When life was easy and comfortable, he didn’t sense his need for God.
C.S. Lewis said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” God often uses times of trial to get our attention and bring us back to Him.

Verse 68
You are good and do good; teach me your statutes.
Because of the affliction, David had a new-found taste of God’s goodness that was present during his time of trial. In fact, David recognized how valuable it was, so he said, “If this is the only way for me to learn to walk in Your ways, then afflict me whenever You need to. Keep teaching me, whatever it takes.” David understood that if he never went through hard trials, he would never experience the depths of God’s goodness.

Verse 69
The insolent smear me with lies, but with my whole heart I keep your precepts;
Smear campaigns are nothing new, although with social media, our culture seems to have taken it to a new level. Keep in mind that David was experiencing this adversity because he took a stand for God’s law. We can get ourselves into all kinds of trouble on our own for saying and doing stupid things. Suffering for being a believer is different. The prosperity gospel teaching that God will give you a comfortable life and make you healthy and wealthy is a false gospel. If even Jesus learned obedience through suffering (Heb. 5:8), we should expect to as well.

Verse 70
their heart is unfeeling like fat, but I delight in your law.
“A greasy heart is something horrible,” said Charles Spurgeon. Yuck — I agree. This is the only place in the whole Bible this word is used, so different versions interpret this verse in various ways: “Their hearts are unfeeling, like blubber.” (CEB) “Their hearts are cold and insensitive.” (GW) “Their unfeeling hearts are hard and stubborn.” (NIRV) “Their heart is as fat as grease.” (ASV) It seems that too much ease causes heart disease and a greasy heart becomes proud and arrogant. Instead of delighting in the law, they were repelled by the law. Greasy hearts and living water don’t mix.

Verse 71
It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.
David saw that he was on the path to a greasy heart, too, until affliction did its good work in him. He would never have become a man who delighted in God’s word otherwise. He was convinced that the gracious hand of God was all over his trials because they trained him to walk in the ways of the Lord. Suffering and God’s goodness were not two separate experiences for David — they were closely tied and they compelled him to love the Word. Of course, it’s difficult to see the benefits of going through painful trials when in the midst of them. David only saw in retrospect that he was better for having gone through them.

Verse 72
The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.
Some people try to buy their way out of discomfort, inconvenience, and tests of faith. David realized that he couldn’t put a price on the lessons he learned in adversity. He may have been the wealthiest of kings, but the riches of God’s word were far more precious to him.

And so we have here a deep truth. No man will love his Bible until God has afflicted him. He may be intrigued by it. He may have an intellectual affection for it. He may have been brought up to have a cultural affinity with it, or an aesthetic love of its verbal resonances. But he will not delight in that word above all the wealth of the world until he has been afflicted, until he has felt the fragility of this world, this age, this mortal body. But when that happens he will cling to the word as the only tie to the age to come. ~Christopher Ash

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Things I know for sure from this passage:

  • When things are going good, we tend to wander away.
  • Those who wander too far for too long can become calloused and heartless.
  • God often uses difficulties to woo us back to Him.
  • Anything that drives us closer to God is good.
  • The word of God is priceless.

Next: Teth

Stanza I

Welcome to week 9 of the Long Song Study which is based on Psalm 119 and the Hebrew Aleph-Bet. We are on the letter “I” this week. If you’re new here, I invite you to scroll back to the beginning of this journey.

Along with the Psalmist let’s pray: “Teach me, O Lord.”

Psalm 119:65-72

I know You are good to me, Lord;
     Your word tells it just like it is.

Instruct me to learn and discern,
     for I take in all that You say.

In the past I wandered away,
     but trouble taught me to obey.

Indeed, You and Your acts are good.
     Keep teaching me, I want to learn.

Insolent liars attack me,
     yet I hold on tight to Your truth.

Inside, their hearts are hard and cold;
     Your law keeps my heart soft and warm.

It was good for me to suffer;
     it caused me to pay attention.

Incredibly dear are Your words,
     they are better than piles of cash.

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Next: Long Song Study, part I

H is for Help

I like it when complex theology
is boiled down
to simple truth.

According to author Elizabeth Goudge,
there are three necessary prayers
and they have three words each:
Lord, have mercy.
Thee I adore.
Into Thy hands.

Still not basic enough?

According to author Anne Lamott,
there are three essential prayers
and they are three words:
Help.
Thanks.
Wow.

help

Of these three prayers,
I tend to use one most often.
Help.

As a parent, I loved hearing the words “Thanks mom!”
On occasion I even got a “Wow!” — usually when baking cookies.
But the thing that got my attention quickest
and caused my heart to beat hardest
and made me run fastest
was when my child yelled,
“Help!”

The Psalm writers seemed to use that prayer a lot, too.

“Arise to help me.” Ps. 59:4
“I am worn out calling for help.” Ps. 69:3
“Come quickly, Lord, to help me.” Ps. 70:1
“I cried out to God for help.” Ps. 77:1
“Help me, Lord my God, according to your unfailing love.” Ps. 109:26

The Psalm writers also seemed to get answers to that prayer.

“You are my help and deliverer.” Ps. 70:5
“You, Lord, have helped me.” Ps. 86:17
“The Lord is my helper.” Ps. 118:7
“My help comes from the Lord.” Ps. 121:2
“I would have died unless the Lord had helped me.” Ps. 94:17

Wow, am I ever thankful we have a Father who runs
when He hears His children call for help.
“God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.”
Ps. 46:1

The great theologians, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, put it this way:
“Help me if you can, I’m feeling down.
And I do appreciate you being ’round.
Help me get my feet back on the ground.
Won’t you please, please help me?”

My favorite word in the Bible that starts with H is HELP.

Heth

Heth (also written as Chet, Khet and Het) is the eighth letter in the Hebrew alphabet. Heth has the same sound as “kh” as in “Bach”. It makes a gutteral sound, similar to clearing the throat. Every line in Psalm 119:57-64 starts with this letter. Heth looks like this:

heth

The first seven letters of the Hebrew alphabet introduce the story of the Gospel: The God-Man (Aleph — Jesus) came to earth to be master of the house (Bet) and to give the good gift of redemption (Gimel) to the poor and weak (Dalet). The Holy Spirit breath of life (He) came and connected God and man at the cross (Vav). Jesus overcame death and ascended to His throne where He rules and reigns (Zayin). Whew!

Heth begins a new series of seven letters which explains the walk of faith. How appropriate that the word “Heth” means “new beginnings” and “life”.

In the broadway musical “Fiddler on the Roof”, there is a celebration scene where all the men toast the engagement of Tevye’s daughter to Lazar Wolf. They sing,

“To life, to life, l’chaim!
L’chaim, l’chaim, to life!”

Chaim means life.
The word “chai” is a Hebrew symbol, often worn in jewelry.
It signifies new life — or resurrection life, for believers in Yeshua.

chai

“…they (wisdom and discernment) will be life for you,
an ornament to grace your neck.”
Proverbs 3:22

The shape of the letter Heth represents the doorposts and lintel that the Hebrews covered with the blood of a lamb at Passover (Exodus 12:7). Because of that act of obedience, the people were delivered from slavery in Egypt. The chains of bondage were broken and they entered into a new life of freedom.

Rabbis also teach that the Heth is a combination of Vav (representing man, who was created on the 6th day) and Zayin (the crowned Jesus, our King of Kings). The two letters are connected by a “yoke” across the top, picturing our relationship to the Lord as He leads and teaches us on our walk of faith. Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.” (Matt. 11:29) Heth!!

Because Heth is the eighth letter, there are several biblical connections:

  • Hebrew boys were circumcised on the eighth day, starting their newborn lives under the Covenant promises of God.
  • New life on earth began after the flood with Noah, his wife, his three sons, and their wives — eight people.
  • God reaffirmed His covenant with Abraham eight times.
  • The Jewish “Feast of Tabernacles” was eight days long. In John 8:12, Jesus stood up on the eighth day and said, “If anyone is thirsty, let them come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.”
  • Abraham and Sarah named their baby boy Isaac, which means “laughter”. Isaac’s name is written with three Hebrew letters: Tsadhe (18th letter), Heth, and Qoph (19th letter). Tsadhe has a numeric value of 90 — the age of Sarah when Isaac was born; Qoph has a numeric value of 100 — the age of Abraham. God kept His promise that “between” the two of them would come forth a new life. That just makes me shake my head in awe and chuckle!

Which verses in the “Heth” section of Psalm 119 speak to you about ways you need to stay yoked to Jesus in your walk of faith?

het

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

Long Song Study, part H

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Teach us Your statutes, O Lord!

Psalm 119:57-64

Verse 57
The Lord is my portion; I promise to keep your words.
The love David had for God’s word was rooted in his love for God. The Lord alone was enough for David. He trusted that God would always be sufficient and that’s what motivated him to make bold promises.
When the Israelites went into the Promised Land, each tribe was given an allotment of land — all except the Levites. The priestly tribe of Levi received no land, but instead, the Lord Himself was their portion. As believers, we are now “a chosen people, a royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9) and God gives us Himself as our inheritance, our reward. What more could we want? Our lack of trust implies that we don’t think He’s adequate for our needs or competent to care for us. In contrast, when we take God as our portion, we will love what He has to say and we will want to live by it.

Verse 58
I entreat your favor with all my heart; be gracious to me according to your promise.
Entreating someone’s favor (or seeking their face, as in the NIV) is about presence. When a child is trying to get the attention of an adult, the child wants that grownup to put down what they’re doing and look at him or her. In this psalm, David asked God for His gracious presence, perhaps in light of the big promise he made in verse 57. David knew he couldn’t pull off perfection, but because of grace, he didn’t need to.

Verse 59
When I think on my ways, I turn my feet to your testimonies.
Being in God’s presence caused David to contemplate where he was in life. When David did that, things were revealed that he needed to deal with. He was moved to repent and get back on track with the Lord. We, too, need to stop every once in a while to take account, check priorities, think about our “ways”, and turn our feet if they have taken us in the wrong direction.

Verse 60
I hasten and do not delay to keep your commandments.
I read a lot of parenting books when we were in the thick of raising children. One basic principle struck me – “Delayed obedience is disobedience.” In other words, when I allowed my kids to put off doing what I asked, I was actually teaching them to be disobedient. Often, I was communicating that they could put off obedience until mom got mad and raised her voice. I didn’t realize I was training them to wait for the blow-up. David had his share of parenting issues, but he seemed eager to be quick to obey God.
The word “delay” means to be hesitant or reluctant. How many times have I dragged my feet in response to God’s nudging, only to have the opportunity pass?

Verse 61
Though the cords of the wicked ensnare me, I do not forget your law.
David found himself surrounded by people who didn’t care about God and who put concentrated effort into undermining him. Doesn’t it seem like when you’ve made a renewed decision to trust and obey, it’s not long before something comes along to throw you off or pull you away? When we choose to be quick to follow God, we can be fairly certain that the enemy will also be quick to test our resolve. Like David, we need to keep God’s words before us, reminding us of the truth and giving us hope.

Verse 62
At midnight I rise to praise you, because of your righteous rules.
David may have gone to bed with thoughts of being ensnared by those wicked cords, but in the middle of the night, he battled back with praise. He reaffirmed the rightness of God’s ways and refused to succumb to fear. If I’m still awake at midnight, it’s probably because I’m feeling anxious about something. Praise has a way of cutting right through the lies of the enemy and making way for peace.

Verse 63
I am a companion of all who fear you, of those who keep your precepts.
So far, the main characters in this psalm have been David, God, and some occasional enemies. In verse 63 we get a glimpse of another group — David was not alone! He had friends! And they shared his love for God and His word! What a relief! A life of faith is never a solitary life, but always a life that includes fellowship, friendship and unified purpose. We need people around us who are also determined to live according to God’s Word — people we can count on to encourage us and spur us on toward love and good deeds. God’s people are meant to be part of our portion of blessing.

Verse 64
The earth, O Lord, is full of your steadfast love; teach me your statutes!
David began this passage reminding himself of God’s sufficiency for his own life. By the end, he saw the whole planet overflowing with God’s “hesed” love — that steadfast, long-suffering, merciful love. David found God to be more than sufficient, not just for him, but for the whole world.

There is no corner of the universe where His people can possibly be beyond His Covenant faithfulness, steadfast love, and care. Even though it does not always look like it, there is no God-forsaken square meter on earth. Even though the earth contains many wicked who are hostile to those who fear the Lord, it is not possible for a believer to be in any part of the created order which is not full of the Lord’s steadfast love.  ~ Christopher Ash

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Things I know for sure from this passage:

  • God is sufficient — I lack nothing.
  • Obeying quickly is a mark of spiritual maturity.
  • The Christian life is meant to be lived in community.
  • Daily reflection and repentance keeps me on the right track.
  • Evidence of God’s steadfast love is all around me.

Next: Heth