Tag: Cross



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WORD STUDY – A FIXED HEART – נכונ לבי   


Psalms 108:1: “O God, my heart is fixed, I will sing and give praise even with my glory.”


Ever have one of those times when you carry a burden that just so overwhelms you that you can’t even pray.  You try to pray, but it is just such an effort, you feel so weighted down.


This is the way David felt when he started to write this Psalm.  You read this Psalm and it appears like one of his lighter moments.   He seems so joyful, so happy.  Yet, this first verse gives his true emotions away.


He calls out to God saying that his heart is fixed.  The word for fixed is kon which has the idea of being established or directed. Today we would say his heart was focused.  What David is saying here is that his heart was not focus on God but on his burden.  It is for this reason that he will sing and give praise.  Can you related.  Do you sometimes feel so burden down and you cannot keep you mind stayed on God.  Yet keeping your mind stayed on  his is the key to perfect peace. Isaiah 26:3: “Thou wilt keep [him] in perfect peace, [whose] mind [is] stayed [on thee]: because he trusteth in thee.”  Wonderful promise but I don’t know about you but when I am going through a stressful time I really a trouble keeping my mind stayed on God.  Yet David gives us his secret as to how he keeps his mind stayed on God when he is going through a rough time.



The word for praise that is used here is zamar. This is a very focused praised.  The word also is used for cutting or pruning.  This is a very direct praise, no fluff, no disjointed or meaningless words, but a very specific praise.  The word is also in a Piel form with a paragogic Hei.   This makes this direct praise very intense.  David is putting his whole being into this praise. This is not coming naturally.  He is not working it up with electric guitars, keyboards, and drums.  The drummer may be beating the devil out of those drums but away from David.   We, in our Western culture, love our loud music.  In fact neurologist  have now discovered a portion of our brain that releases chemical that creates pleasure from music that is played so loud that it almost reaches the point of being painful, then that pleasure chemical is released to ease the impeding pain.  Then we say: “Oh, feel the presence of God.”  You don’t feel the presence of God you feel the pleasure valve releasing it chemicals that God created in you.


C.S. Lewis in his book Screwtape Letters tells how the senior demon mentoring a novice demon instructs this demon to beware of silence. Let them make a lot of noise, keep them away from silence for in silence you can hear the voice of God.  So this worship of David doing a zamar was not backed up with loud music but was most likely in the quiet of his chambers, alone where he could focus on God without any distractions.  This is a praise the David is giving to God through a deliberate effort.  It is not coming naturally, it is forced and mostly beginning with insincerity.  But as David becomes more and more focused on God, his praise begins to become a zamar praise, a pruning and cutting praise that cuts through all that burden and stress, it prunes away all his cares.  Some call it a sacrifice of praise.  Although I am not sure that is the Biblical definition of a sacrifice of praise, I do like that description.  Although what you are sacrificing is all your cares and burdens for the sake of praising.  That is a sacrifice I would gladly make and I am sure you would also.


Then he says: “Even with my glory.”  The word for glory is kavod which means heaviness.  It can also mean burdensome or grievous.  I suppose we could say that David praises God with his heavy burden.  That would fit the context quite well.


David is overwhelmed with his heavy burden.  His heart is so fixed on this burden that he can not praise or worship God.  So he says he will sing a song of praise.  Not just any praise. He could praise God for His power, for His majesty, etc.   David has done this many times, but right now that is not the praise that he can offer.  So the praise he offers is with his burden.  The word even is aph which is often translated as indeed or furthermore.  “I will praise you indeed with my burden.” 


David is not ignoring his burden, or pretending it does not exist.  He is simply bringing God into the picture.  He is entering into an intense praise with his burden right out there, out in front.  He and God are going to share this burden.   As you read the rest of the Psalm you find David talking about the awesome power of God, his control over everything and in that light, the weight of his burden get’s lighter and lighter.


Sometimes the burdens of this life can weight you down so much, you just want to crawl under yon rock from whence you came and shut everything out.  You can try that but the burden will still be there.  You  could also choose, like David, to worship and praise God in the midst of that burden.  You can let God bear that burden for you and as you do, it will get lighter and lighter.


There is an old hymn we used to sing when I was child and I sing it to myself constantly: “Leave you heavy burden at the cross, at the cross of Calvary.”




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Jn 21:15-17: “So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, [son] of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. 16 He saith to him again the second time, Simon, [son] of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep.17 He saith unto him the third time, Simon, [son] of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.”


Actually, St. John of the Cross did not coin the term the Dark Night of His Soul. In fact he never gave his poem a title and he only referred to it as the Dark Night which narrates the journey of the soul from its bodily home to its union with God.  He called this journey the Dark Night.  We are not sure who coined the phrase of the Dark Night of the Soul, it was just picked up by the Catholic Church to describe anyone who was going through a spiritual crisis. This may explain the popularity of the poem for over 500 years up to today.  Many many believers have gone through or are going through their own Dark Night of the Soul or spiritual crisis. Such notables who experienced such a crisis or Dark Night of the Soul was St. Paul of the Cross 18th Century saint whose dark night lasted 45 years as he questioning the afterlife.  Saint Therese of Lisieux a 19th Century Carmelite, one who devoted herself to prayer wrote of an extended period of doubt.  Even Mother Teresa wrote in letters released in 1948 that she lived in this darkness from 1948 up to her death in 1997, almost 50 years.


I have a theory, only a theory and I stand to be corrected but after living in Christianity for 66 years, I believe that those who have never gone through a period of doubt, questioning, not feeling God’s presence, wondering if this whole religious thing is real not are the exceptions but the rule. I believe every believer must reach a point of maturity in their relationship with God where they ask, “Is this all real, do I really love God.”  I think it is a sort of right of passage.


I believe Peter faced this crisis with Jesus.  After three years of walking with Jesus and listening to Him teach that when the moment came he denied Him three times. He swore he would never deny his beloved Lord.  Such a thing was unheard of in his mind.  Yet watching Jesus being arrested, all his hopes of a kingdom being set up were collapsing, I think Peter had a crisis of faith. I believe Peter entered a dark night of his soul.


It wasn’t until I started to study Greek that I thought I came to understand John 21:15-17.  Three times Jesus ask Peter if he loved Him. Peter insisted that he did and when asked the third time he was grieved.   In the Greek, the first two times Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him he used the word agape unconditional love.  Peter replied that he phileo friendship love Jesus.   Then the third time Jesus asked if Peter even phileo Him.  This really grieved Peter.  He knew he could not admit to agape love, an unconditional love for he denied his master, but he knew he was at least a friend or phileo to Jesus.  Except the third time Jesus even questioned if Peter was His friend as the third time Jesus asked Peter not if he agape but phileo.  Peter must have been totally shattered and heart broken.


All these  years I followed the Greek but now during this period of time as I searched for the One Whom my soul loves I tend to think the English translations and the KJV had it right all along. Jesus and Peter spoke Aramaic not Greek.  In the Aramaic all the times the word love is used it is racham.  Not ahav, a general love, but racham, a love that is deep, abiding and from the heart.  Peter, like me, must have been miserable thinking that his love for Jesus was just superficial, how could he had denied Him if he truly racham.  I believe those days, those hour before that little fireside chat on the beach Peter went through the torment I have gone through these past seven days.   The Bible does say Peter wept after the denial.  I believe he continued to weep as I wept.  I believe he felt so alienated from His Lord that he was overwhelmed with a feeling of loneliness.  His heart burned to minister the love of Jesus but he just couldn’t do it for he questioned his love for Jesus and just returned to his fishing.


These past seven days I questioned my love for Jesus, did I really love Him?  Was my love just a fake, phony, a means to an end?  Yet, my heart cried out to love Him, but how could I know for sure?  How could I be sure I was not using God.  How could I be sure my love for Him was real, that it was truly racham?   This morning as I wept before God I literally heard him ask: “Do you love me?”  I replied like I thought Peter replied, “No, not agape, just phileo.”  Then I heard Him say something else: “Did you ever look that passage up in the Aramaic.”   For the first time I did and realized that Peter did not admit to a failure of love but in His presence he knew he loved Jesus, he racham and affirmed it three times and was grieved when Jesus had to asked a third time. The word grieve in Aramaic is kara’ which is a play on the word charah which means to exposed.  Peter’s heart was grieved because Jesus exposed his doubts.  I understand. As I realized that I did love Him truly, I felt ashamed for even doubting it.  Like Peter I let my failures cause me to question my love and this truly grieved me that I allowed it to separate me from the One Whom my soul loved.


I know I love Him, racham.  I know I have failed Him so much, but I also know I am grieved not over that failure but allowing it to cause me to question my love for Him.  I am ready for that hug, but not yet.  I know there is more.




Deuteronomy 11:26: “Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse.”


Matthew 7:13-14: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow is the way that leads to life and only a few find it.”


The Talmud teaches that Moses spoke to Israel and told them a parable.  He said that when the wicked are prosperous in this world, they will prosper for only two or three days before they end up being confounded.  It is likened unto a man who sat a cross roads. Two paths were before him. One was smooth at the beginning but ended up thorny.  The other path was thorny at its beginning but its end was smooth.  He would tell those who were coming and going, “You see this path which is smooth at its beginning?  For two or three steps you walk in thorns but it ends up in smoothness.”


Scripture teaches us; “For the evil man has no future” (Proverbs 24:20).  But the righteous who are afflicted in this world, for two or three days they are afflicted, but they end up rejoicing afterwards.  “Better is the end of the thing than its beginning.”  Ecclesiastes 7:8.


I have heard this story of the wide and narrow gate all my life in Matthew 7:13-14.  As a Baptist I found it a little disturbing.  I mean we Baptist teach that we are saved by the grace of God alone and not by any works which we do yet in the very same breath we equate this destruction as Hell and life as Heaven.  If that were really the case then this illustration that Jesus gave carries a strong work your way to heaven feel.  Of course, we Baptist believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven, the only way to a relationship with God.  But to say we must follow a narrow road to heaven suggests we must work and struggle to get there.


Oddly, I found the teaching of the Jewish sages to provide answers to many of my Baptist frustrations.   In fact, I remain a born again evangelical conservative because of the teaching of the Jewish sages.


I remember reading how President Lincoln, while president, faced a legal issue with a Senator, as they debated President Lincoln finally said in exasperation, “I am a lawyer you know.”  When Jesus walked this earth, He was not only the Son of God; he was also a rabbi, a Jewish teacher.  Even today orthodox Jews regard Jesus as one of the greatest teachers.    I found that when it comes to walking the road to heaven, Jesus is my guide, the only way; He is the Son of God, my Savior.  Yet, when it comes to walking this earthly road, and facing the storms of this life I often forgot that Jesus is also my Rabbi.   To understand Jesus as a rabbi I need to understand the culture and religious climate out of which He taught.


Hence when I consider the religious climate of the people that Jesus taught in His day, I come to a better understanding of His teachings, as is the case with Matthew 7:13-14.  I now see that Jesus may well have been referring to Deuteronomy 11:26 “Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse.” which is a reference to God’s people and life here on earth.


The word behold is an often overlooked word.  Yet there are a number of words in the Hebrew which English translators simply translate as behold.   In this case the word is ra’ah which means to see, or discern with spiritual discernment.   In other words God is saying: “You will need spiritual discernment to understand this.”  The word set is Nathan which means to give.  The word curse is not really your typical word for curse; this word is qalal which means to be of little value, worthless, destroyed.  The next verse says the blessing is to those who keep His laws and the qalal (worthlessness) is to those who seek other gods.  Many of the laws in the natural did not make much sense to the Hebrews.  They knew nothing of microbes, for instance, so they did not understand why God commanded them to wash their dishes in hot water.  The easy way would be to just stack your dishes rather than heat up water and scrub them.  However, this broad road would lead to stomach cramps after your next meal.   The hard road, the narrow road would be to follow a law that made no sense but at least you won’t end up in two or three days with the trots.


As we journey down this road in our physical life, we often find ourselves at a cross road.  We can take the road that in the natural seems to work well or we can take the road of faith which in the natural seems totally irrational.  Yet, after a few steps on that road of faith the road starts to get smooth. Only problem is that once it gets smooth, we face another cross road and again one road is smooth and the other is thorny.  Each time we must use spiritual discernment to choose the right road but far too often that right road is the thorny, narrow road.  It is very hard to choose that narrow road because it just seems so irrational.  Yet Jesus taught in Matthew and God told Moses in Deuteronomy, “I’ve given you a choice, but you will need spiritual discernment to make that right choice.





Matthew 16:24:  “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”


Practically every modern translation I read will render this as “let him deny himself.”   The only exceptions are Young’s Literal Translation which says, “Let him disown himself,” and God’s Word Translation which says, “Let him say no to the things he wants.”  For me Young’s Literal is too harsh and God’s Word Translation is too soft and I am uncomfortable with the other rendering of “to deny oneself.”   I guess I just cannot be pleased, but somehow it seems contradictory that God would create something and then tell you to deny it.  Of course we just assume He is referring to the old sinful nature that wants to do things contrary to the will of God. I can go along with that and can be comfortable using the word deny in that context, but I wonder if that is really what Jesus is saying.


The word used in the Greek for deny is aparnesastho which has the idea of denying, rejecting or looking back to something that you once rejected.  The word Jesus spoke in the Aramaic was kaphar which has the idea of denying but more in the sense of refusing or saying no to something.  This is more in line with God’s Word Translation which renders this as “let him say no to the things he wants.”  Yet, the closer I draw to God’s heart, the more I find that the things I want are the things that God wants.  So why would God want me to refuse such things that I want if they are what He wants?  In fact, to spend four hours a day basking in the Word of God is my greatest delight, am I supposed to reject this as I am not supposed to enjoy anything for to enjoy something means I am not denying myself?


I think the key to this lies in the word himself.   The Greek uses the word heauton which is simply a reflexive pronoun – himself.  The word that Jesus spoke in the Northern Dialect of Aramaic was napsha which is similar to the Hebrew word nasham which means breath, soul, or life. It is what God breathed into man to make him a nephesh or living soul in Genesis 2:7.  So are we to deny the very breath of God?  The Aramaic word napsha is much broader than the Hebrew word.   This word could also mean just life itself, but why not use the more common Aramaic word for life which is chaye, which is similar to the Hebrew word for life which is chaim.


I believe Jesus used the alternative word for life (napsha) to create an interesting play on words, which was very common for a rabbi to do in those days.  As I said the word  napsha a broad range of usages. One other use for this word is for a reptile. To the ancient mind, any slithering creature that had a tongue that darted out very quickly was a napsha such as a frog, toad, lizard and a snake. These animals were viewed as deceptive creatures that snuck up on its prey seemingly innocent and even friendly.  Every watch a frog just calmly sitting on a lily pad, seeming oblivious to the world, totally harmless and then all of a sudden its little tongue shoots out and snatches a fly in midair?  Every watch a snake just slithering along the ground?  Its tongue is darting in and out of its mouth.  You get the uneasy feeling that it is up to something and you become almost enchanted watch it when, without warning, it strikes out at its prey.


This is the idea behind napsha which we render as himself or ourselves.  Napsha is that part of our life that is fascinated with things that are not of God.  It is like a reptile that is seemingly innocent, wins your confidence that it is harmless and once it is in your grasp, it will strike out to devour you.  Isn’t that what the enemy did in the Garden of Eden?  In fact one use of the word for serpent (nachash) in the Hebrew is an enchanter.  The ancients believed that a snake enchanted its prey or put it under some sort of hypnotic spell where it is then able to seize and devour its prey without any resistance.


Perhaps Jesus is encouraging us to deny or reject that part of us, that part of our napsha (life) that can easily be enchanted with the things of this world, seemingly innocent things like a glimpse of pornography.  I mean no one knows, no one is hurt, a quick trip to a naughty website and no harm done (other than picking up a virus on your computer).  Yet, that bit of this world, that little bit of life (napsha)is slowing enchanting you like a nachash (serpent) and once it has you in its power it will devour you.


Pornography, drugs, alcohol, money, power, fame, etc., may seem innocent at first, but once you take of it, it starts to nachash (enchant) you and soon it draws you away from God for once it entwines itself around you it becomes your naspha (your life) and that becomes your god and the God who loves you takes back seat.  Jesus is saying that you must deny or reject  that napsha, that which controls your life, nail it to a cross and let it die so that you may follow Him.  The words Jesus uses for follow in the Aramaic is ata batar which is roughly rendered as passing through and encompassing. 


In other words what Jesus is commanding us to do is to reject those subtle little deceptive reptilian life tactics that draw us away from God and to completely embrace  or entwine ourselves in the life of Jesus Christ so that we will be ruled by Him and not by the lust of the flesh. So that He can control the things of our naspha (life) rather than the naspha (life) controlling us. Jesus said that no man can serve two masters (Matthew 6:24).  We are either going to serve the lust of this life which has nachash or enchanted us or we are going to serve in the life of Jesus Christ who wants to ata batar (encompass or entwine) us with His love.

{Word Study} Take, Seize “Lakach”

I Samuel 4:3: “And when the people were come into the camp, the elders of Israel said, Wherefore hath the Lord smitten us today before the Philistines?  Let us fetch the ark of the covenant of the Lord out of Shiloh unto us, that when it cometh among us, it may save us out of the hand of our enemies.”

Take, Seize – Hebrew: lakach – Take, fetch, to seize control or take possession of something that is not yours.
In the Hebrew the nation of Israel is asking: “Why did God defeat us? ” Israel was shocked that God had let them down.   I am surprised too, the only sin that is mentioned is with the house of Eli and his corrupt sons running the worship services.  Is God punishing the whole nation because of the sins of the religious leadership? Their sin was not in their acts but their hearts. Perhaps the next move by Israel is a clue as to the heart of the nation which shows they were no better than their leadership.

The elders said: “Let us take the ark of the covenant of the Lord out of Shiloh unto us.”  The word for “take” or “fetch” is “lakach” which is taking possession or control of something that is not rightfully yours.   They then added the word: “elinu” which is rendered “unto us.”  Using this form suggest a play on words for “our god.”    In other words they were saying they would seize control of the ark of the covenant to be a god for them.  Then they said “that it might save us.”  Some translations will say that “he might save us.”  Indeed there is no neuter pronoun in Hebrew, but the syntax does suggest that the elders are saying “it” the ark of the covenant and not “He” or God will save us.

Think about it. The most sacred object in the land, the object where the very presence of God rested became an idol, a god.  They knew enough to know that the ark could only be carried by a priest and they either bribed or forced the sons of Eli to carry the ark into battle.  However, they did not know enough to know that it really didn’t matter for apparently the presence of God was not going to manifest itself at this time on the ark. The midrash suggests that the nation of Israel was to consult the ark.  Apparently, they did not need to carry the ark into battle, only consult with God as to what to do in battle.  In other words, the elders had the right idea, but the wrong approach.

In my own life when I enter into battle and get defeated and crawl back licking my wounds, I begin to ask: “God, why did you let me down?”   Then just like Israel I go and seize the Ark.   I start to carry my Bible around, I make sure I read it every day, I play only religious music and spiritual songs.  I begin praising and worshipping because I have heard that brings the power and presence of God.  I listen to testimonies of others who were victorious and try to follow their steps to victory.  I am then ready to go back into battled.  I now have the Ark with me and I  am certain that “it” will save me, yet I end up suffering even a worst defeat.  So what went wrong?  All my good religious practices were “elinu” for me, or a god to me.   They were used to bribe God but not to consult God.

Sometimes the enemy can use even the most sacred thing in our lives to deflect us away from the heart of God. That little cross we carry in our pocket or around our necks become objects or good luck charms to ward off evil things rather than serving as a simple reminder of the one we love.

{Word Study} Afraid “Yagar”

Job 9:28:  “I am afraid of all my sorrow, I know thou wilt not hold me innocent.”
Afraid – Hebrew:  yagar – To fear for one’s own safety or wellbeing.
First let me point out that this word for fear is not the fear used for “fearing the Lord.”  That word is yara and means fear for the safety of another.  This word “yagar” means for one’s own wellbeing.
Job’s friends approached him with simple human logic.  All suffering is the result of sin.  Job is suffering, therefore Job has sinned.    Job sends that bit of logic into a tail spin with a bit of his own logic in 9:28;   Suffering will not redeem one’s sins, therefore if I sinned, I’m toast.  In other words, there is no redemption from sin in suffering.  Suffering may be the result of sin, but it will not redeem us from our sin, only the suffering of Jesus on the Cross could do that.
The etymology of this word finds it’s roots in the idea of a piling on of rocks.  The word “yagar” for fear is spelled “yod, gimmel, resh.”  Jewish literature addresses the “yod” in “yagar.”  It tells us that he “yod” is the only letter suspended in the air. The danger of the “yod” in “yagar” is that you will be so focused on your pain and sorrow that you will stumble over the rocks that are being heaped up on the ground. These three letters all represent a message, a message from heaven, a message from friends, and a message from the Spirit of God.   The numerical value of the word yagar as it is used in Job 9:28 is 613.  The Hebrew word for warning is also 613.    So Job is saying that he fears that there is a warning or message from God in his pain, but he could be so focused on his sorrow that he will miss God’s message. Instead he will stumble over the rocks of his afflictions.  The word “sorrow” is “‘asav” which means grief, sorrow and pain but it is also used for the word idol and worship.   Job’s fear is that as his sorrows keep piling on that his pain will actually become an idol.  This rock pile will become an idol that will trip him up. Rather than read the message behind his suffering, he will just focus on the suffering itself and that suffering will in effect become an idol. That may well explain why Job uses this particular word for fear which also represents a rock pile, as in an idol.
In the midst of all this suffering Job could not defend himself against the accusations of his friends, he could not explain the reason for his sufferings, but one thing he did know and that was that he must keep his focus on God and not his sufferings.  He must watch carefully as the rocks of his affliction keep piling up so that he does not trip over this rock heap and let it become an idol.  He must continue to worship God and not his sufferings.