Isaiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
Every year during December we see the signs of Christmas around us, wreathes, trees, lights and baubles. Advent encourages us to watch for another kind of sign. A sign from the Lord himself that leads us to the cradle again this year to give our own witness to the birth of Christ. Information is one gift the Bible has given us. It paints a vivid picture of the perfect and glorious outcome of that journey of the pregnant virgin and that carpenter to that first cradle and the finally the Birth of Faith, Jesus. That’s what I give thanks for but I believe I may have overlooked another reality to be thankful for. It’s the reality of their tough circumstances and simple obedience that ultimately led to another kind of birth, the birth of my faith. This year I want to imagine and give thanks for their long, hard days on dusty roads and the fatigue, discomfort and inconvenience of travel. I want to appreciate the reality of the relief and gratitude they felt sinking into a pile of smelly straw in a barn at the end of their journey. It was not a perfect situation but they would become part of a perfect plan. I want to be grateful for that too. That pregnant virgin and that carpenter have walked through the words of the prophets, through history, into Bethlehem and now into my life this year to become the Lord’s sign for me of the reality that the Birth of Faith can happen in the most unusual places and circumstances.
Originally posted November 30, 2015
Psalm 119:17-24 All 8 verses of each of the 22 sections of this Psalm begin with the next sequential letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It wasn’t until I decided to visually verify that for myself that I realized Hebrew is read from right to left. It’s become an interesting truth-finding exercise for me to explore the impact of reading the verses forward and then backward. The bold verses are directly copied from the ESV version. Read them as a unit. Then read and consider the same verses composed by reading them right to left. God’s Word has endured all these centuries because it’s truth is more than information. The Word still uses time, translation, and even reading words and phrases right to left, to refresh timeless truth from information into enduring application for followers of Jesus Christ.
17 Deal bountifully with your servant, that I may live and keep your word.
18 Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.
19 I am a sojourner on the earth; hide not your commandments from me!
20 My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times.
21 You rebuke the insolent, accursed ones, who wander from your commandments.
22 Take away from me scorn and contempt, for I have kept your testimonies.
23 Even though princes sit plotting against me, your servant will meditate on your statutes.
24 Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors.
17 I live and keep your word because you deal bountifully with your servant
18 Out of your law my eyes may behold wondrous things
19 Do not hide your commandments from me while I am a sojourner on the earth
20 Longing for your rules at all times consumes my soul
21 Your commandments rebuke those insolent, accursed ones who wander from them
22 I have kept your testimonies, take scorn and contempt away from me
23 Your servant will meditate on your statutes even though princes sit plotting against me.
24 My counselors are my delight in your testimonies
This link is to a previous post about Psalm 119:17-24 written from the perspective of the meaning of Gimel – Soul
Each of the 8 verses in all 22 sections of Psalm 119 [I used the ESV version] begins with the next sequential letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It wasn’t until I decided to visually verify that for myself that I realized Hebrew is read from right to left. God’s truth is worth thinking about and His Word is more than historical documentation. The Word has survived all these centuries because it’s proved to be application beyond time for followers of Jesus Christ.
9 How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.
9 You word is the guard that can keep a young man’s way pure
10 With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments!
10 Your commandments keep me from wandering so with my whole heart I will seek you
11 I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you
11 My heart might not sin against you because your word is stored there.
12 Blessed are you, O Lord; teach me your statutes!
12 Your statues teach me how blessed you are, O Lord
13 With my lips I declare all the rules of your mouth.
13 The rules of your mouth are all l will with declare with my lips
14 In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches.
14 I delight as much as in all riches in the way of your testimonies
15 I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways.
15 Fix my eyes on your ways so I will meditate on your precepts
16 I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word
16 I will not forget your word and I will delight in your statutes!
This link is to a previous devotional post using the Hebrew meaning of Beth
Each of the twenty-two sections of Psalm 119 follows the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. What’s unique is each verse in each section begins with the same Hebrew letter. It wasn’t until I decided to verify that for myself and found this image that I realized Hebrew is read from right to left. I wondered if the verses from the ESV version might be read as normal and then read again from right to left [sort of] as a way to ponder the fullness of truth works both ways. You decide.
1 Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord!
OR 1 The Lord is the law of the walk of those whose way is blameless and are blessed
2 Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart,
OR 2 Whole hearts who keep his testimonies and seek him are blessed
3 who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways!
OR 3 who walk in his ways and also do no wrong
4 You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently.
OR 4 Diligently keeping your precepts is your command
5 Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes!
OR 5 Keeping your statutes keeps my ways steadfast
6 Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all your commandments.
OR 6 You fix my eyes on your commandments so I shall not be shamed
7 I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous rules
OR 7 Your righteous rules are how I learn to praise you with an upright heart
8 I will keep your statutes; do not utterly forsake me!
OR 8 Do not utterly forsake me, I WILL keep your or statutes.
I found the Word of the New Living Translation helpful to my thoughts about this last, third chapter. The verses about each of the three churches of Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea are arranged in that same sequence under each of my headings, what Jesus knows, what Jesus asks and what Jesus vows. It is one way to understand how this revelation of their history impacts our future and confirms Scripture is still living Word that challenges the church of Jesus Christ and His people today.
What Jesus knows:
• 1 “I know all the things you do, and that you have a reputation for being alive—but you are dead. 2 Wake up! Strengthen what little remains, for even what is left is almost dead… your actions do not meet the requirements of my God.
• 8 “I know all the things you do, and I have opened a door for you that no one can close. You have little strength, yet you obeyed my word and did not deny me.
• 15 “I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other!
What Jesus asks:
• 3 Go back to what you heard and believed at first; hold to it firmly. Repent and turn to me again.
• 11 I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take away your crown.
• 19 So be diligent and turn from your indifference.
What Jesus vows:
• 5 All who are victorious will be clothed in white. I will never erase their names from the Book of Life, but I will announce before my Father and his angels that they are mine.
• 12 All who are victorious will become pillars in the Temple of my God, and they will never have to leave it. And I will write on them the name of my God, and they will be citizens in the city of my God—the new Jerusalem that comes down from heaven from my God. And I will also write on them my new name.
• 20 “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends. 21 Those who are victorious will sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat with my Father on his throne.
1 John 3:18-20 My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality. It’s also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it. For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves. 21-24 And friends, once that’s taken care of and we’re no longer accusing or condemning ourselves, we’re bold and free before God! We’re able to stretch our hands out and receive what we asked for because we’re doing what he said, doing what pleases him. MSG
Here’s your Good News for today: There is a way to practice real love that can help you know you’re’re living truly in God’s reality. It’s this simple: “Jesus loves me, this I know.” Say that to yourself. Do you believe that in the depths of your soul? “Jesus loves me, this I know” is not the same as self-affirmation. It’s not a fake-it-’til-you-make-it plan. “Jesus loves me, this I know!” is how God chooses to establish His in-person relationship with you to confirm His love for you. “Jesus loves me, this I know!” is the only truth you need to know to make you a person after God’s own heart.
God never uses shame and guilt to transform you. It is not God who bedevils you with “debilitating self-criticism…” “Jesus loves me, this I know!” is how God has chosen to convert that space designed to harm you into a reminder of your need for Him instead. “Jesus loves me, this I know!” is real love that changes guilt and shame, “even when there’s something to it,” into a heart full of thanksgiving and praise for the Grace of God, and that confirms your love for Him. Once that’s taken care of and [you’re] no longer accusing or condemning [yourselves], [you’re] bold and free before God!
2 Peter 3:8 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. [ESV]
“Man ceases to be in any sense a pilgrim [if] there is nowhere to which he can make pilgrimage. He must simply drift in a kind of lostness, coming from nowhere and on the way to nowhere.”a
The Day of the Lord is an unspecified period of time that stretches between two well defined points; creation and a new heaven and a new earth. Those are the boundaries of the time of pilgrimage for everyone, believer or nonbeliever. The difference is where you begin and where you end. “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient…not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
The pilgrimage of a follower of Jesus Christ begins at the point of becoming a new “creation.” The unspecified period of time is the life of faith that weaves the pilgrim into the strength of a cord that is “not easily broken.” The reward of the pilgrimage is found in the Day of the Lord – a new heaven and a new earth.
a William Barclay
1 Peter 3:8 Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 9 Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. 10 For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; 11 let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. ” [ESV]
Have you ever wondered about “unity of mind?” Today that’s foremost on my mind. There are issues of faith, culture and politics that can, and do, divide us. Unity is defined as likeness but is unity the same as likeness? Each of us exist in the flesh at the will of the same Creator but every person is a unique creation. That uniqueness is evident in our own bodies. Every cell within each person is unlike any other but they they still unite and manage to form one unique body. Each person is formed with their own body, DNA, mind and personality. Each of us is one-of-a-kind, unlike any other.
We have been purposefully created in God’s own image, by His own design, to be mismatched from one another in our own physical body and mind. God has created His unique body, the Church, from mismatched minds and bodies learning to depend on His likeness and be united by His mind as they struggle to find the balance between personal uniqueness and Spiritual “unity of mind.”
James 3:13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. [ESV]
GK Chesterton said “A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed.” I don’t know if he had meekness in mind when he penned that sentence but it seems like the reality that explains the “meekness of wisdom.” My heart longs for absolutes based on God’s Word but I am not immune to the paradox Chesterton referenced. My absolutes are just that – “my” absolutes. They comfort me in a world of division, and hostility where even another believer’s faith can feel like a weapon of attack unless I agree with their absolutes. That’s when the “meekness of wisdom” reminds me “the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.”
I’ve learned a lot over 40+ years as a believer in Jesus Christ but my faith is still just a small glimpse into the mind of God. That glimpse has only become faith because of my confidence in Jesus and the Holy Spirit. I don’t know it all, but the grace of Jesus has made certain that what I don’t know will not separate me from the Sovereign God who really does. Some may doubt everything else I know but I have no doubt about that at all!
Remember Matthew 5:5? “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” The “meekness of wisdom” for today might read ‘Blessed are those who don’t know it all but know the one who does, for the promises of their inheritance begin right here where they live now. Absolutely!’
Hebrews 3:12 See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. 14 We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end. 15 As has just been said: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.a” [NIV]
“That day, next day, one day and someday” is a tongue-in-cheek description I recently read to describe the confusion of keeping track of time and days when the routines of life are altered during long-lasting life circumstances like this pandemic. I’ve experienced that confusion about time and days myself. It’s a real thing that caused me read this Scripture as if it was speaking about the confusion of time and days, then, as a danger in the spiritual life of believers in Jesus Christ now…and the much needed protection offered for “today.”
We have been so blessed for so long as a nation, as a democracy and as individuals that we’ve become confused about how real, and subtle, the danger of a “sinful, unbelieving heart” is. “Today” is the one word in this Scripture that made me realize “that day, next day, one day and someday” is really about missing the warning and protection available “now.” “Now” is our God-given opportunity to to “share in Christ” and “encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of [us] may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness…Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts…a”
a Psalm 95