Category Archives: Sunday

Misplaced and Misspoken

John 18:15 Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he entered with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, 16 but Peter stood outside at the door.  So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the servant girl who kept watch at the door, and brought Peter in. 17 The servant girl at the door said to Peter, “You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” 18 Now the servants and officers had made a charcoal fire, because it was cold, and they were standing and warming themselves. Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself. 19 The high priest then questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. 20 Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. ESV

>§§§>

One of the first words of Jesus’s ministry was “repent.”  Jesus told his best friends at their inner circle supper just a few chapters earlier that one of them would betray him.  “Simon Peter motioned to this disciple [Jesus loved] and said, ask him which one he means.”a  All but one man in that small group probably heaved a sigh of misplaced relief when Jesus revealed the identity of the betrayer; it’s Judas – it’s not me!   

Later when Peter stood outside the courtyard where Jesus had been taken, the other disciple “known to the high priest,” used his credentials to bring him into another inner circle place where his misplaced relief of innocence became his misspoken words of denial – “I am not.”  Peter surely heard those words of betrayal from his own mouth and realized they belied the innocence he’d been so sure of  earlier…because it was him!  

Judas is the one we usually condemn as the guilty betrayer.  He betrayed Jesus to the guards and Pharisees.  That’s Gospel truth.  Peter’s denial of Jesus was for a different reason and to a different crowd but it was betrayal too.  That is also Gospel truth.  Judas and Peter both came to recognize any relief they might have felt about their innocence was misplaced.  Both felt the anguish of the guilt of their betrayal, but only Peter had the courage to face Jesus, confront his denial, repent and accept forgiveness.  God has chosen those startling similarities and that one big difference between the experiences of Judas and Peter to remind me this Lenten season of something important about innocence and repentance.  

We are human. We cannot escape the results of that brokenness. It’s easy to accept misplaced relief as the standard of innocence when it’s clear someone else is guilty.  We excuse misspoken words as something other than betrayal because judging intent is easier than admitting guilt.  I think the comparison of Judas and Peter has revealed another Gospel truth; repentance is not about relying on innocence, it’s about seeking purity.  Jesus offers so much more than innocence.  We have a Savior who promises to receive the pitiful offerings of misplaced relief and misspoken words into His own heart as an act of repentance from a human heart that longs for true purity.

aJohn 13:24

Psalm 119:169-176 Taw – Mark, Sign, Signal, Truth

Psalm 119 Taw
169 May my cry come before you, Lord; give me understanding according to your word.
170 May my supplication come before you; deliver me according to your promise.
171 May my lips overflow with praise, for you teach me your decrees.
172 May my tongue sing of your word, for all your commands are righteous.
173 May your hand be ready to help me, for I have chosen your precepts.
174 I long for your salvation,Lord, and your law gives me delight.
175 Let me live that I may praise you, and may your laws sustain me.
176 I have strayed like a lost sheep. Seek your servant, for I have not forgotten your commands.
                                                          >§§§>
These twenty two sections of Psalm 119 and their relationship to the Hebrew letter the Psalmist chose to “mark” each of them have challenged my thinking from mid November through Advent, Christmas and into this new year, 2021.  Transposing sentences has been a way to pay homage to the Hebrew method of reading Right to Left.  These last eight “right to left” verses were organized with that in mind but with a twist; writing all the right phrases, one after another, and then stringing all the left phrases together after them.  My intent is for them to be read as a whole that gives these important old words a new expression and then consider why the Psalmist marked them with last letter of the Hebrew Aleph-bet, “Taw.” 

The image of the ancient letter, Taw, was used like a signature mark to verify the truth of what was said.  Taw is pictured by two sticks crossed but I don’t see two sticks.  I see a cross!   It’s amazing to consider the Psalmist purposefully chose a mark all those centuries ago to verify the truth of his words and become a recognizable sign of the cross, chosen by God, to verify our future.  Read on please…
                          – Psalm 119:169-176 All Right then All Left –
Give me understanding according to your word. Deliver me according to your promise, for you teach me your decrees.   All your commands are righteous for I have chosen your precepts. Your law gives me delight and may your laws sustain me.  Seek your servant for I have not forgotten your commands.  May my cry come before you, Lord; may my supplication come before you.  May my lips overflow with praise; may my tongue sing of your word.  May your hand be ready to help me.  I long for your salvation, Lord. Let me live that I may praise you.  I have strayed like a lost sheep.
                                                 –––∞ My Thoughts ∞–––
Jesus IS the  Word!  That’s the understanding of God we need.  God’s promise to us lives in Jesus Christ; the way, the truth and the life.  Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s precepts, laws and commands and He will remove the condemnation of those same laws from those who place their life in Him.  Jesus has completed everything God required to sustain us.  He is our reminder that the truth we now have can hold us firmly while our lips learn to overflow with praise and our tongues find words to sing the song of salvation for lost sheep; being crucified with Christ.  I long for your salvation, Lord. Let me live that I may praise You, glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

Psalm 119:153-160 ר Resh – Head

Psalm 119:153-160 ר Resh – Head
153 Look on my suffering and deliver me, for I have not forgotten your law.
154 Defend my cause and redeem me; preserve my life according to your promise.
155 Salvation is far from the wicked, for they do not seek out your decrees.
156 Your compassion, Lord, is great; preserve my life according to your laws.
157 Many are the foes who persecute me, but I have not turned from your statutes.
158 I look on the faithless with loathing, for they do not obey your word.
159 See how I love your precepts; preserve my life, Lord, in accordance with your love.
160 All your words are true; all your righteous laws are eternal.

Right >§§§> Left

I have not forgotten your law, look on my suffering and deliver me.  Preserve my life according to your promise, defend my cause and redeem me.  The wicked do not seek out your decrees, salvation is far from them.  Preserve my life according to your laws, your compassion, Lord, is great.  I have not turned from your statutes but many are the foes who persecute me. The faithless do not obey your word, I look on them with loathing.  Preserve my life, Lord, in accordance with your love, see how I love your precepts.  All your righteous laws are eternal, all your words are true.

–––∞∞∞–––

Resh – Head might be the Psalmist’s acknowledgement that he knows God is his Head.  He is confident God always acts in accordance with His character.  He is truly certain of what his heart knows about God but his words show us that isn’t always what is in his head.  God has chosen to show us the honest words of this man “after His own heart” because they clearly reveal a struggle between the faith of his heart and the words of his head.  That is the struggle people of faith still confront today.  

The Psalmist knows every circumstance of his life is exposed to God’s own heart. I think that’s what he wants us to learn too.  “We [must] let our mind descend into our heart and there stand in the presence of God.a    Standing in that presence our heart and head can finally recognize the gaps in our faith. That is the place God’s own heart transforms our faith from what our own heart and head know into faithfulness based on knowing God’s law is always balanced by His promises; His decrees by His compassion and His precepts by His love. 

a Henri Nouwen in Spiritual Direction

Psalm 119:137-144 צ Tsadhe – fish hook?

Psalm 119 צ Tsadhe – fish hook?
137 You are righteous, Lord, and your laws are right.
138 The statutes you have laid down are righteous; they are fully trustworthy.
139 My zeal wears me out, for my enemies ignore your words.
140 Your promises have been thoroughly tested, and your servant loves them.
141 Though I am lowly and despised, I do not forget your precepts.
142 Your righteousness is everlasting and your law is true.
143 Trouble and distress have come upon me, but your commands give me delight.
144 Your statutes are always righteous; give me understanding that I may live.

Right >§§§> Left

Your laws are right.  You are righteous Lord!  Fully trustworthy are the righteous statutes you have laid down.  My enemies ignore your words and my zeal wears me out. Your servant loves your thoroughly tested promises.  I do not forget your precepts though I am lowly and despised.  Your law is true.  Your righteousness is everlasting.  Your commands give me delight when trouble and distress come upon me.  Give me understanding that I may live your always righteous statutes.

–––∞∞∞–––
Obviously there isn’t much efficiency in working on two sections of the Psalm at a time if you end up having to say “sorry this section is posted out of order.”  I have been “caught being human too.”

The Psalmist had his own reasons for choosing Tsadhe – fish hook as his title. Today it’s a stepping stone, a mental path, to find truth that makes old words real for contemporary life.  Fish hook is only one step away from the idea of being “caught.” Is the Psalmist caught thinking his zeal for God is what changes his enemies?  Is that what’s wearing him out? Is he caught by his own perception of what others think of him? Is he caught by his own trouble and distress? Is he caught being human? The answers to all of the above may well be yes.

That’s why his words seem familiar – they’re still struggles of being human today. Maybe Tsadhe – fish hook – is the Psalmists’ way of remembering being “caught” is also what makes it possible for him to find a positive response to those negatives.

He’s “caught on” that despite thorough testing, he still loves the promises of God. He’s “caught on” that God’s righteousness is everlasting but his circumstances aren’t. He’s hooked by these truths that allow him to live, to believe, to be faithful…even though he’s caught being human too. He’s been caught and firmly hooked by a righteous and trustworthy God.a

aReposted from September, 2016

Psalm 119:145-152 ק Qoph Axe, Back of Head

Psalm 119 – Qoph Axe, Back of Head,
145 I call with all my heart; answer me, Lord, and I will obey your decrees.
146 I call out to you; save me and I will keep your statutes.
147 I rise before dawn and cry for help; I have put my hope in your word.
148 My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises.
149 Hear my voice in accordance with your love; preserve my life, Lord, according to your laws.
150 Those who devise wicked schemes are near, but they are far from your law.
151 Yet you are near, Lord, and all your commands are true.
152 Long ago I learned from your statutes that you established them to last forever.

Right >§§§> Left

Lord, I will obey your decrees; answer me; I call with all my heart.  I will keep your statutes, I call out to you, save me.  I have put my hope in your word; I rise before dawn and cry for help.  Through the watches of the night my eyes stay open that I may meditate on your promises.  Preserve my life, Lord, according to your laws; hear my voice in accordance with your love.  Your law is far from those who devise wicked schemes near me.  All your commands are yet true, Lord, you are near.  You established your statutes to last forever, long ago I learned from them.

–––∞∞∞–––

I write what I “think I know,” because I want God to “know I think.” More importantly I believe God knows what I need to know, and He wants me to know it too.  I wonder if that’s the process of discernment?

I’m guessing seeing beyond what he thinks he knows is why the Psalmist writes too. Maybe that’s the secret of his obscure title Ooph – axe, back of head. The “back of the head” according to a Google search about anatomy is the “occipital lobe that controls sight.  What the Psalmist “sees” are his life experiences but he knows there is a greater truth that can cut away the debris of life and reveal a much greater reality.  The decrees, statutes and promises are the “axe” that can open his mind beyond what he thinks he knows, so he can see their truth; God wants him to know that His love preserves life.  “All your commands are yet true, Lord, you are near.”a

a  Rewrite of September, 2016

Psalm 119:121-128 ע Ayin – Eye

Psalm 119
121 I have done what is righteous and just; do not leave me to my oppressors.
122 Ensure your servant’s well-being; do not let the arrogant oppress me.
123 My eyes fail, looking for your salvation, looking for your righteous promise.
124 Deal with your servant according to your love and teach me your decrees.
125 I am your servant; give me discernment that I may understand your statutes.
126 It is time for you to act, Lord; your law is being broken.
127 Because I love your commands more than gold, more than pure gold,
128 and because I consider all your precepts right, I hate every wrong path.

Right >§§§> Left

Do not leave me to my oppressors; I have done what is righteous and just. Do not let the arrogant oppress me; ensure your servant’s well-being.  Looking for your righteous promise my eyes fail, looking for your salvation. According to your love, teach me your decrees, deal with your servant.  Give me discernment that I may understand your statutes; I am your servant.  Your law is being broken; it is time for you to act, Lord. More than gold, more than pure gold, I love your commands and I hate every wrong path because I consider all your precepts right.

–––∞∞∞–––

Praying is hard.  Emotions are involved and sometimes they actually become a barrier to praying at all.  Who wants to admit they think the key to God’s behavior might be getting the wording just right to assure Him of your trust at the same time you’re trying to keep any negative thoughts from Him?  That’s the opposite of what the Psalmist’s prayers and this section of Psalm 119 show us.  His no-holds-barred method of praying is right there for us to see.   He’s learned something about true humility; God does not see the Psalmist’s words or emotions as good or bad.  His prayers are his true heart given to God whether they’re words of harsh desperation or high praise.  God has given the Psalmist the courage to reveal everything in his heart to the God whose “eye” is always on him anyway.  ע Ayin is right there for us to “see” too.

At first glance the word “humble” wouldn’t be how I’d describe the prayers of this Psalmist king.  He’s as straightforward with his bold demands of God as he is with his praise.  He adds no timid phrases like “thy will be done” to soften what he asks.  His prayers combine his own desperate physical and emotional needs along with his fervent praise of the God who continues to be his teacher.  God has given the Psalmist the assurance of true humility that recognizes nothing he says can remove God from his heart OR remove his heart from God’s own.

That is the kind of prayer I want to learn.  

Psalm 119:105-112 נ Nun – Fish, Longevity

Psalm 119 Nun – Fish, Longevity
105 Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.
106 I have taken an oath and confirmed it, that I will follow your righteous laws.
107 I have suffered much; preserve my life, Lord, according to your word.
108 Accept, Lord, the willing praise of my mouth, and teach me your laws.
109 Though I constantly take my life in my hands, I will not forget your law.
110 The wicked have set a snare for me, but I have not strayed from your precepts.
111 Your statutes are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart.
112 My heart is set on keeping your decrees to the very end.

 Right >§§§> Left

The light on my path for my feet is the lamp of your word.  I will follow your righteous laws. I have taken an oath and confirmed that.  Preserve my life, Lord, is according to your word.  I have suffered much.  Teach me your laws and accept the willing praise of my mouth.  I will not forget your law though I constantly take my life in my hands.  I have not strayed from your precepts but the wicked have set a snare for me.  The joy of my heart and my heritage forever are your statutes.  My heart is set on keeping your decrees to the very end.

—∞∞∞—

For some time now I’ve been separating the Scripture from my own writing using a typographical sign of the fish [ >§§§> ] so  the meaning of “Nun” didn’t seem unusual.  It’s a familiar image many Christians use to associate themselves with Jesus.  The surprise was to find it hidden here in Psalm 119. 

 The fish symbol was a common pagan symbol long before it was chosen as an identifying mark for Christians. Early believers in Jesus Christ chose the
“fish” because it was a sign that would attract less attention than, say the sign of the cross might, because people were familiar with seeing it.  It became a way to safely identify themselves to one another.  The story is told that when strangers met, the Christian could draw a simple arc in the sand with his toe and wait for the other to respond.  If the other was a Christian, he would respond by drawing the lower arc to form the outline of a fish.  

The “fish” is the surprise set-up for these devotional thoughts.  Did God reveal
נ Nun to the Psalmist king as a mark of a greater KING, yet to come, or was it just a poetic accident?  Was that secret little Hebrew heading written as a familiar signal for generations in the future to respond to, and reveal their own identity? 

This Psalmist king knew the law of God.  He knew it made the path he wanted to follow visible to him.  He knew seeing that path was one thing, but deciding to walk it demanded a way to identify truth and people he could trust.  He knew the writings of the prophets.  He knew life was his training ground with a divine purpose; intimacy with God.  I think he knew the significance of נ Nun – Fish was longevity, that his identity with God would last into our future too.

The Psalmist king has become known throughout history as a “man after God’s own heart.”  He knew his own identity was as sketchy and unreliable as any other human being except for his awareness that God’s truth [aka, the law] had saved and changed him.  The Psalmist knew he could trust God to be just and fair even when his own behavior and words were not.   Long before Jesus fulfilled the law, the Psalmist identified himself completely with the fullness of God revealed in His law, it’s precepts and statutes.  The value that has been ascribed to his heart was that he gave the fullness of it to God without reservation; the very best parts as well as well as the very worst parts.   That was the identification mark the Psalmist king made face to face with God trusting it would be recognized and God’s response would be to complete His identity with him.  >§§§>

Psalm 119:89-96 ל Lamedh – to learn, to teach

Psalm 119
89 Your word, Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens.
90 Your faithfulness continues through all generations; you established the earth, and it endures.
91 Your laws endure to this day, for all things serve you.
92 If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.
93 I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have preserved my life.
94 Save me, for I am yours; I have sought out your precepts.
95 The wicked are waiting to destroy me, but I will ponder your statutes.
96 To all perfection I see a limit, but your commands are boundless.  [NIV]

>§§§>

Learning how to be taught today from left to right:
“In the heavens Lord, your word stands firm and is eternal.  You established the earth and it endures.  Your faithfulness continues through all generations.  All things serve you for your laws endure to this day.  I would have perished in my affliction if your law had not been my delight.  You have preserved my life by them and I will never forget your precepts.  I have sought out you precepts; save me for I am yours.  I will ponder your statutes but the wicked are waiting to destroy me. Your commands are boundless but to all perfection I see a limit.”

∞∞∞

My challenge is trying to read and write about this section of Psalm 119 with fresh thinking.  The Psalmist has focused his belief on the faithfulness of God enduring despite the risk of his own circumstances.  Several things were clear to him.  Endurance came packaged with correction and learning.  His own endurance was dependent on God’s boundless laws, precepts and statutes even when faced with dramatic events that called into question his own security.  The final clarity of truth the Psalmist’s grappled with, were his words that the Lord’s “commands are boundless, but to all perfection I see a limit.”

The circumstances we have seen with our own eyes this last week in the Capital of the United States have shown us how much we need to read and ponder these words of the Psalmist in a contemporary way.  His clarity must become ours.  As limited as perfection may be it never looks like an angry mob causing chaos, destruction and death.  Lamedh is the powerful reminder the Psalmist has given us this week; every person of faith must deliberately make the choice every day to let God’s boundless laws, precepts and statutes teach them to be willing to learn.

Psalm 119:73-80 י Yodh – Hand [Bent]

Psalm 119 [NIV]
73 Give me understanding to learn your commands and how your hands made me and formed me
74 I have put my hope in your word so those who fear you can rejoice when they see me
75 You have afflicted me in faithfulness I know Lord and your laws are righteous
76 According to your promise to your servant, may your unfailing love be my comfort.

77 Your law is my delight that I may live and your compassion come to me
78 I will meditate on your precepts, may the arrogant be put to shame for wronging me without cause
79 May those who fear you turn to me, those who understand your statutes.
80 May I wholeheartedly follow your decrees, that I may not be put to shame.   

>§§§>

The mention of hands  in v73 was distracting in terms of that small Hebrew subtitle, “Bent.”  Reading each individual section of Psalm 119 backwards and rewriting them without changing their intent [I hope] has made them seem more like a personal prayer to me.  The last two verses today couldn’t possibly have been any more personal so I haven’t changed them.  I hope they’ll be your personal prayer too.

My first thoughts about “bent” evoked the imagery of the gently bent hand of God reaching toward us.   I don’t think that’s what the Psalmist had in mind, as true and welcoming as that is.  “Bent” is something more than a description of the physical hand of God.  Instead I believe the Psalmist has discovered “Bent” is God’s purpose for His laws, precepts, statutes, decrees and commands.   God’s promise was to change His servant’s natural “bent,”* so his inclination would be the determination to do or have all that God was offering him: hope, faithfulness, unfailing love, comfort and compassion.

*Bent: determined to do or have or a natural talent or inclination

Psalm 119: 57-64 Heth – Hedge, Fence, Surround

Psalm 119: 57-64 ח Heth – Hedge, Fence, Surround
57 You are my portion, Lord; I have promised to obey your words.
58 I have sought your face with all my heart; be gracious to me according to your promise.
59 I have considered my ways and have turned my steps to your statutes.
60 I will hasten and not delay to obey your commands.
61 Though the wicked bind me with ropes, I will not forget your law.
62 At midnight I rise to give you thanks for your righteous laws.
63 I am a friend to all who fear you, to all who follow your precepts.
64 The earth is filled with your love, Lord; teach me your decrees. NIV

>§§§>

The “I” statements are so striking in these verses they have preempted my forwards/backwards plan as the last days of 2020 unroll.  Heth is part of the wisdom revealed to us again in Christmas, 2020.  Jesus was God Himself, offered to the world to be the true Hedge, Fence, Surround between the vulnerabilities of life and our confidence in the unknown days of 2021 yet to come.

“We have a shelter, we have our defense and now we have a hedge, fence or a surround. Heth is a boundary; “a point or limit that indicates where two things become different. ” Look at the Psalmist, the hero of the song. His theme [in all his Psalms] regularly shifts from complete confidence in his knowledge of God to the awareness, and sometimes even fear, of how vulnerable he is.

God has set himself as the boundary line between those shifts of confidence and vulnerability. It’s that point of Heth from which the Psalmist speaks; “I have promised…I have sought…I have considered…I will hasten,,,I will not forget…I rise to give you thanks…The earth is filled with your love, Lord; teach me your decrees.”a

a 8/16/2016