Tag Archives: Verse

Letters, Numbers, Part and Whole

“On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity.”

“Awake, sword, against my shepherd,
    against the man who is close to me!”
    declares the Lord Almighty.
“Strike the shepherd,
    and the sheep will be scattered,
    and I will turn my hand against the little ones.”
Zechariah 13:1, 7 (NIV)

I am currently leading a team of teachers among my local gathering of Jesus’ followers as we share messages from Paul’s first letter to the believers in Corinth. [My kick-off message in the series on YouTube if you’re interested]

One of the first things that I did was to take the text of 1 Corinthians, strip it of all headings, footnotes, text notes, cross references, along with chapter and verse numbers. Then I put the text in a hand written font and handed it out to my team. “Here is Paul’s letter to the believers in Corinth,” I told them. “Put yourself in the shoes of a member of the Corinthian believers and read it as if you just got it out of your mailbox.” The process has been transformational.

It’s amazing how the simple act of separating original, ancient texts into chapters and verses can alter our reading and understanding. I’m sure there are some readers who don’t even stop and consider that the Bible wasn’t originally written with all those numbers. They were added by scribes centuries later, and in doing so they sometimes detract from the writers’ original works.

Take today’s chapter for example. In yesterday’s chapter I mentioned Zechariah’s word from God  in which God speaks of the people looking upon Him, “the one they have pierced“, and mourn as mourning for the firstborn son. It’s a prophetic foreshadowing of Jesus on the cross, pierced by the Roman soldier’s spear, as they sky darkens, the earth shakes, and His followers look on in disbelief. Then I got to the end of chapter 12 on this chapter-a-day journey and stopped reading.

Today I picked up with chapter 13 as if it’s a completely new section or thought and read the first verse:

“On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity.”

This verse is a continuation of yesterday’s vision that foreshadows Jesus’ death, but in my one chapter a day habit it’s easy to think of this verse in my daily time capsule existence independent of yesterday’s chapter. But it was all one vision, one thought, one piece of writing. The death and piercing and mourning were all about God cleansing the people of sin and impurity. If I don’t connect the two chapters as one text I miss a crucial understanding of the whole thing in the same way that reading a hand-written letter as a bunch of independent verses and chapters loses its original intent as a personal letter from Paul to his friends in Greece.

Zac’s amazing prophetic roll continues today, describing the “shepherd” who is “struck” and the flock is scattered. Two-thirds are decimated and one-third survives but is “refined” by the process. Once again I find an uncanny description of the events of Jesus and  His followers in the first century. After Jesus’ death His followers scatter in fear for their lives, but instead of snuffing out the movement Jesus started it actually gains momentum. This momentum eventually sparks terrible persecution from the religious and Roman establishment. Jesus’ followers are hunted down, fed to lions in the Roman circus, stoned to death, impaled on pikes and burned alive to light Caesar’s garden. Many of them were wiped out just as Zechariah’s vision describes but it did not destroy the faith of those who survived. It refined their faith and made it stronger. Eventually, a few hundred years later, even Caesar becomes a believer.

This morning I find myself once again mulling over parts and whole. The first verse of today’s chapter doesn’t make sense apart from the previous chapter. Jesus’ death and the events of believers in the first century are made more meaningful and poignant when seen in light of Zechariah’s prophetic words penned 500 years earlier. In the same way people across the centuries have taken individual verses from the text of the Bible both to make inspirational Pinterest graphics and to justify all sorts of horrific acts of judgement, prejudice, violence, hatred, and persecution.

Some verses have incredible meaning in and of themselves, but I’ve come to understand that meaning should never be separated from the context of the author’s work and the Great Story that God is revealing across time, space, history and creation.

Memorized Lines

So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Isaiah 41:10 (NIV)

When I became a follower of Jesus as a teenager, I soon found myself being spiritually mentored by a gentleman who was my boss in an after school job. Every Tuesday morning at 6:00 a.m. we would meet in his office. Very quickly he began to instill in me the discipline of memorizing verses and passages from God’s Message. The verse I’ve pasted at the to of this post was among the first that I committed to memory.

This morning as I woke and began to think about starting my day meditating on today’s chapter, I immediately associated Isaiah 41 with the verse I had memorized some 35 years ago. My soul smiled as I looked forward to journeying through the entire chapter once again.

As an amateur actor, I am used to memorizing words. I have memorized lines for many parts in many shows. In just the past few months, I had to refresh myself in memorizing that same lines for the same part I played 10 years ago. It’s amazing how few of them I actually remembered. I’m not sure having memorized them ten years ago was much of a help.

I find it fascinating that words from God’s Message memorized 35 years ago come so quickly to mind, while words memorized for a part 10 years ago were completely lost to me. I think there are reasons for this on a number of different levels, but I believe one of the key differences lies in fact that the lines of Eliot Herzog in The Christmas Post were committed to my brain for a finite period of time. I had to get through the handful of performances and then the lines had little value to me. Isaiah 41:10, however, was committed to both my mind and my heart. It became spiritually useful and beneficial to me whenever I traversed a particularly rough stretch of life’s journey.

This morning I am thinking of words that live inside my spirit, and words that I have buried in my mind. I am thankful for my old mentor and the discipline he instilled in me during those spiritually formative years. I am grateful for these words of Isaiah that have bubbled up to the surface once again as 2016 wanes and 2017 is about to begin. I am, once again, reminded not to be afraid of what the future holds, as I know Who holds me in the palm of His hand.

A Son, Not a Servant

But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.
Galatians 4:4-7 (NIV)

I was blessed to grow up in a strong, nuclear family. The whole concept of adoption was fairly foreign to me. It was through a college roommate that I was first exposed to the realities of adoption. Married to Wendy, I have gained a greater understanding and respect for those families who have walked the path of adoption.

Wendy was adopted, twice. Her family includes five adopted siblings when you count her father adopting her. Family pictures with Wendy’s family are awesome. It’s a motley crew, to be sure. It has been great for me to be a part of their family. It has opened up for me a whole new area of understanding.

In today’s chapter, Paul uses the metaphor of adoption to discuss the spiritual relationship we have with God. Jesus established the metaphor after His resurrection. Before His death He referred to the disciples as “friends,” but when the ladies met the risen Christ Jesus told them, “go and tell my brothers that I am ascending to our Father.” The implication was clear, when we follow Jesus and receive Him into our hearts we are spiritually adopted as a child of God. We become co-heirs with Jesus.

An adopted child is not a servant. An adopted child is not “less than” his or her siblings.  An adopted child does not continually earn his or her membership in the family. And still, many of us who follow Jesus act as if we are in the employ of God rather than the fully adopted children of God. We work, we strain, we worry about our performance review. That’s not love, that’s indentured servitude.

Today, I’m thankful for my adoption into God’s family. It’s high time I stopped clinging to the idea that I’m in God’s employ and started embracing the reality that I am God’s heir.

Just What I Need in the Moment

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 69

Save me, O God,
for the floodwaters are up to my neck.
Deeper and deeper I sink into the mire;
I can’t find a foothold.
I am in deep water,
and the floods overwhelm me.
Psalm 69:1-2 (NLT)

It’s been a crazy week, and things are about to get even crazier. Wendy and I are in production week with shows this weekend and next. I have two project deadlines for work this week (one is done, one is not) and have two major client deliveries next week. In the midst of it, Wendy and I had to make a road trip south for two days. You can feel the tension in our house from the sheer anxiety of “Oh my goodness I have so much to do and the task list keeps getting longer while the time gets shorter and I don’t know how I’m going to get it all done and could the phone PLEASE stop ringing because I don’t want to answer it and have MORE things piled on top of the mountain of things that need to be accomplished or I think I’m going to go TOTALLY insane (breathe, Tom, breathe….remember to breathe)!!!!!”

One of the things I love about the Psalms is the way you can read one particular lyric from one particular psalm and it can be packed with so much meaning. Sometimes one line, phrase or a particular verse can speak to you right where you are in a given moment on your life journey. Today is a great example. The first two verses of Psalm 69 leapt off the page this morning because it so perfectly expressed what both my head and my heart are feeling in this moment. It was like a tailor made prayer just for me this morning. I read it and my spirit groaned, “Yes, God, yes. That’s what I’m feeling. I feel like I’m drowning.” [Then, the song Flood by Jars of Clay suddenly became a soundtrack for the rest of the psalm]

The psalm also came with a much needed word of encouragement that is my take-away for today:

The humble will see their God at work and be glad.
Let all who seek God’s help be encouraged.