SOAP Journal – 20 February 2019 (Psalm 2)

Worship the LORD with reverence
And rejoice with trembling.
Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way,
For His wrath may soon be kindled.
How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!

Psalm 2:11-12

The second psalm is the collection is one about the Son Who is also the Messiah. The backdrop of this meditation on the Son is that the nations [are] in an uproar (v. 1). Something is causing the nations to become unsettled and this leads them to devising a vain thing (v. 1). The vain thing in question is rebellion against God and His Anointed; His Messiah (v. 2). The nations and their peoples do not want to submit to God and His Messiah (v. 3), so they foment rebellion.

God’s response to this rebellion is to laugh (v. 4) and to tell the would-be revolutionaries that God’s King — the King that God has chosen to rule — has been installed … upon Zion (v. 5).

The psalmist then turns his attention to what he chooses to say. And his choice is to speak God’s truth (v. 7). In this case, that truth is a prophetic utterance about the Messiah that closes with an exhortation to worship the LORD and to take refuge in the Son.

This compact psalm says quite a lot, then leaves me with a choice: Will I side with the psalmist in telling the decree of the LORD, worshiping God, rejoicing, and serving the Son? Or will I side with the nations in devising a vain thing and taking a stand against God?

There is lots of company on the side taking their stand against God. I see them all over the news and social media. They cheer each other on and congratulate one another on their bravery.

But I have already made my choice. I choose to submit myself to God and take refuge in the Son. The choice is, for me, not a difficult one. But serving God as He deserves is a challenge and I fall short often. This psalm does not address that problem, but other passages of The Bible do. There is mercy to address my failures and grace to address my botched attempts and through all there is the love of my God and my Savior for me.

God, thank You for the choice being such a simple one: side with You or side with the masses; devise a vain thing or place my hope in the sure thing; follow others who are in an uproar or follow the One Who can thunder from the heavens. There is little, if any, gray. While trying to submit to You and serve You and worship You is not often easy, it is the only way to live that is worthwhile. Please continue to work on and in and through me that I would act more like You, think more like You, and submit and serve more like You.

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SOAP Journal – 19 February 2019 (Psalm 1)

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the path of sinners,
Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
And in His law he meditates day and night.

Psalm 1:1-2

It is fitting, I think, that the book of Psalms opens with a short psalm that speaks about the difference between the man who keeps Good company and thinks on Good things and the man who does neither. I also think it appropriate that this psalm follows on the heels of the book of Job, because there are statements made in this psalm that almost need Job as a counterbalance.

The psalm begins with speaking of the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers (v. 1).  It has been noted by others that this implies a progressive decline that has not happened. The decline seems to follow the pattern of first walking in the counsel, then standing in the path, then sitting in the seat. The decline is from activity (walk) to inactivity (sit), from bad (wicked) to worse (scoffers), from the ideology (counsel) to the lifestyle (path) to the authority (seat). All of these are, by contrast, not the way to be a blessed person. The blessed man is the man who does none of this. And the word rendered “blessed” could also mean “happy.” If I want to be happy for the rest of my life, then I need to avoid listening to the counsel and emulating the behaviors and hanging around with wicked, sinful, arrogant (scoffing) people.

The opposite of those things is to delight in The Law of the LORD and to fix my mind on it at all times (v. 2). The result of thus focusing my mind is spelled out: I will be like a tree planted by waters (my needs supplied) that yields fruit in season (a blessing to others) and whose leaf does not whither. The psalmist states that whatever such a man does will prosper. There is a caveat to that which is often overlooked. It is the same caveat as exists in Jesus’ statement that we can ask anything in prayer and have it done for us. The man who delights in The Law of the LORD is going to pursue God’s will and God’s kingdom and … well, God. What such a man does may often be of temporal benefit, but his aim is God’s glory and God’s kingdom. Everything else is icing on the cake. It is this prerequisite; this starting point that is so often overlooked.

And it is this prerequisite that informs the following verses.

The psalmist says that things are not so for the wicked. The wicked are like chaff (v. 4), blown away by the slightest breeze. And this can be seen in the counsel; the ideologies of the wicked. There is a fad ideology today and it is gone so fast that I find myself wondering if anyone remembers that it existed, let alone what it was. But The Law of the LORD remains. The wicked will not stand in the judgment (v. 5). When God renders His judgment on everyone, the wicked will have no defense and none of their counsel will sway God’s verdict.

Will I choose to focus myself on God’s unchanging Law or on the constantly variable counsels of the wicked?

Father, thank You for Your Word. Please stir up a hunger in my mind to think on Your Word throughout the day. Please make it Your counsel that comes to mind when I am faced with something beyond my understanding.

SOAP Journal – 18 February 2019 (Job 38-42)

Who is this that darkens counsel
By words without knowledge?

Job 38:2

Reading through the last few chapters of Job, I was struck by how neatly God’s position could be summed up by the question “What do you know?” God focuses on the natural world — stars, weather, large creatures — but seems to insinuate that an individual so limited in knowledge as to not really understand or have authority over the natural world is in no position to tell God what He ought and ought not do. And God, as always, has a point.

Job and his “friends” have gone back and forth about things that they did not fully understand, but have been speaking as if they were authoritative. When confronted, Job, at least, has the good sense to repent.

What I find most comforting as I close my time in Job is the question: “What do you know?” What do I know? It is what I know that brings me comfort.

I know that God loves me. God loves everyone and has a special place in His heart for each and every one of us. God demonstrated His love by dying for me when I was still in my sins (Romans 5:8).

I know that God does not want anyone to go to Hell, but for everyone to freely accept His offer of salvation (2 Peter 3:9).

In fact, there is rather a lot that I know, because God has revealed it in His Word. And this knowledge is comforting

Father for Mercies and God of all Comfort, thank You for this book about someone enduring suffering and for the insights this book supplies. There is comfort in knowing that our suffering is sometimes through no fault of our own. There is still more comfort in knowing that nothing happens to any of us without You vetting it and placing limits on how far it can go. Please bring these things to mind when I am in a time of suffering.

SOAP Journal – 13 February 2019 (Job 32-37)

Therefore, listen to me, you men of understanding.
Far be it from God to do wickedness,
And from the Almighty to do wrong.

Job 34:10

Out of seemingly nowhere, a young man named Elihu chimes in on Job’s conversation with his “friends.” Elihu begins in a place of being angry with Job’s friends because they had found no answer, and yet had condemned Job (Job 32:3). Job is wrong in some of what he says, but it is not this wrongness that his “friends” focus on in speaking to him and condemning what he says. His “friends” kept harping on how he must have done something to deserve what he was experiencing. And the reader of the book knows that this is simply not the case.

Elihu takes a different tack. He extols God’s justice and righteousness. Instead of telling Job that he has done something to deserve his suffering, Elihu tells him that God does the just and right thing. Elihu speaks of how God has no need to test a man to know what is in that man, since God made the man and has watched that man his entire life. There is nothing that testing will add to God’s knowledge of a person (Job 34:23). And Elihu is open with regard to his motives. He invites Job to speak, because Elihu wants to justify him (Job 33:32).

Elihu’s position can be summed up as follows: (1) God only does what is right and just and good, (2) Job has spoken in ignorance and wanted God to give an answer for things that Job does not fully understand, and (3) God has no need to test Job to learn anything new as God already knows everything there is to know about everyone.

There are things in my life that I do not understand. I do not know why they have happened or are happening and what they are meant to accomplish I cannot yet fathom. But I know, as Elihu reminds me, that God does only what is good and right and just and that His desire is to justify me before Himself.

Father, I have doubted Your motives; I have blustered at circumstances I could not comprehend. Please forgive me and set my heart to rights, that I would trust You and Your goodness and justice and mercy and all that You are. Thank You for only wanting to justify me — and every person — in Your sight.

SOAP Journal – 12 February 2019 (Job 26-31)

I hold fast my righteousness and will not let it go.
My heart does not reproach any of my days.

Job 27:6

Job goes off on his last tirade of the book. And he has a lot to say. There are nuggets of good in there, like when he says that the fear of the Lord is wisdom (Job 28:28). There is also a staggering amount of justifying himself.

Gone are the earlier desires to understand why God would do this or allow it to happen and now Job wants to plead his case to God. And there are people like Job today. There are people who live what appear to be upstanding lives. The outward, visible portion of their lives look good. And we have no way of knowing what is beneath the surface or the individual’s motives for doing those “good” things.

But Job goes so far as to protest that he has abstained from internal sin such as looking lustfully at a woman or wanting to deprive his workers of their due. He looks back on his inner life and sees nothing wrong. He does not see a wrong motive or a lustful desire in the whole of his life. And it is here where Job has much the same blind spot as the rest of us. I do not always know why I do the things I do. Sometimes, I simply do a thing because it needs doing. Sometimes I do a thing from a pure motive. Sometimes I am annoyed and do a “good” thing as a form of penance, which is to say that sometimes my deeds are right and good while my motives are terrible. But I cannot remember which action was motivated by which desire long after the fact. And I suspect that the same is true of Job.

We people have a tendency to ascribe to ourselves our best motives in most instances. If I am not sure why I did a “good” thing, there is a very real prejudice in me to give myself the benefit of the doubt and say that it sprang from a pure motive. The truth of the matter is that my “good” deeds are as likely to spring from exasperation, annoyance, anger, and other wrong motives as they are from the right ones of love and a servant’s heart.

Let me not delude myself into believing that I am some sort of saintly creature in and of myself, for Paul very clearly wrote to the Philippians that it is God Who is at work in the believer both to will and to do of His (God’s) good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). And my own experience bears this truth out. Job sought to justify himself and lost sight of the truth that it is God Who justifies us. Job knew that. He spoke of his Redeemer living. But he lost sight of it in the midst of “friends” making their sad attempts to comfort him. God will set Job to rights, because God is faithful. God will do likewise for me.

Let me seek to extol God’s righteousness and His mercy in deigning to notice such a one as me. God’s forbearance boggles my mind and I should share the boggle with others, that we might be amazed together at God’s longsuffering toward us.

Lord God, thank You that You are longsuffering with me and that You know me for wretch that I am and love me still. Please continue to suffer me and to complete the work of conforming me to the image of Your Son. It may take a long while — I am stubbornly misshapen — but I trust that You will complete what You have started.

SOAP Journal – 11 February 2019 (Job 25)

How then can a man be just with God?
Or how can he be clean who is born of woman?

Job 25:4

The last words uttered by Job’s friends also happen to be the briefest they have uttered. Bildad says, in essence, rule and glory belong to God and asks, rhetorically, how a person can be right with God. Bildad obviously thinks that rightness with God is unobtainable and leaves the matter there.

There are two major problems with leaving the matter there.

First, this statement leaves anyone who actually believes it without hope or comfort of any kind. Of all the useless things that Job’s “friends” have said in their efforts to “comfort” him, this may be the least comforting and most useless. If there is no way to be right with God, then what is the point of even trying? If the only thing I can actually expect from God is punishment for my inability to be right before Him, then I should leave off trying to please Him and just enjoy what little pleasure life brings to me. But this entire thought process is wrong. God will punish those who are not right with Him, but that punishment may not arrive this side of the grave. God will reward those who are right with Him and that reward is very likely to be amassed in Heaven. Jesus told His disciples to store up treasure where moth does not destroy and thieves cannot break in and steal it. The reward for those who are right with God is rightness with God and the peace and comfort that brings. Everything else is decoration on the icing on the cake.

Second, if there is no way for a man to be right with God, then all of the claptrap that Job’s friends have blathered on about God rewarding those who do right in His sight was something that he (Bildad) did not believe was even possible. His words contradict one another. If there is no way for a man to be right with God and God rewards those who are right with Him and punishes those who are not, then it follows that everyone should always be punished and that no one should ever be rewarded. From the standpoint of pure, unadulterated justice, this is true. God is righteous in a way that human beings can never be and unadulterated justice would demand that we all be punished for willfully violating His Law. But God does not work on the basis of justice alone. God tempers justice with mercy and grace. And He does so through Christ and His work on the cross.

I was reminded of how tilted the scales seem to be this weekend. I received credit cards for which I had not applied and made phone calls to sort out the issue, learning that someone had opened them in my name and successfully charged a large sum to one of the cards. I have read more than a couple articles online about how people have dealt with identity theft and gone so far as to essentially hand the culprits over to law enforcement on a silver platter only to have the officers refuse to arrest the perpetrator. It is disheartening. Then I read this and God reminds me that His justice is sure and that the treasures He wants me to store up are in a place where they cannot be stolen and no one can do anything in my name, because my identity is securely bound up in Christ and only The Father knows my true name.

And He wants to do the same thing for the people whom I allowed to ruin a portion of my weekend. I could have taken the news gracefully and made the necessary calls and arrangements and gone on about my day without thinking about it, but I allowed what had been done to get to me and was angry and wanting justice to be done. While I still want the person to stop stealing and ruining others’ reputations (or credit, at least), I am not longer on my momentary hellfire and brimstone warpath. But God (my favorite phrase in all of scripture) does not want them to face His justice, He wants them to receive His mercy and grace.

Father, I confess that I was not compassionate or forgiving or merciful. I am grateful that You are all of those things and more. Please forgive both me and those who have wronged me. They need You. Just as I do. Please break through both of us, me to conform me better to the image of Your Son and them to repentance. May we both be right with You.

SOAP Journal – 08 February 2019 (Job 23-24)

Oh that I knew where I might find Him,
That I might come to His seat!
I would present [my] case before Him
And fill my mouth with arguments.
I would learn the words [which] He would answer,
And perceive what He would say to me.

Job 23:3-5

Job gives voice to a desire that many a person has had. He wants to understand why the things that are happening to him are happening.

Job begins by saying that his complaint is rebellion (v. 1), which seems to indicate that he believes that God expects those who follow Him to never question and never complain. While it is true that believers are told to do everything without grumbling (Philippians 2:14), we are also told that we have a Great High Priest Who is able to understand our suffering and the things we endure. Jesus lived a human life and suffered unjustly. He understands very well what it is to live a righteous life and suffer because God has ordained it so. And, in the midst of His own suffering, even Jesus wondered aloud why God had forsaken Him (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34). This gives the impression that there is a line between wanting to know why I am suffering and simply grumbling about it.

Job asserts that he would be delivered forever from [his] Judge (v. 7) if he could reason with God,  but ultimately concludes that he (Job) would be dismayed at His presence (v. 15). While there are many who think that they would be able to change God’s mind if they could only talk with Him, they forget Who and What God is. And this oversight is quite the blind spot. Job acknowledges his blind spot and considers Who it is he (Job) wants to reason with.

Job wraps up his line of thinking with the statement that the wicked seem to get away with things in the here and now (Job 24:1-19), but that they are ultimately brought low and like everything gathered up (v. 24). Everyone ends in pretty much the same way. We all die. And each of us reaches the point where he is no longer remembered (v. 20).

I may wonder why things are happening to me and want to understand what God has in mind in allowing those things to happen. But I need to remember Who it is that I want to understand and to remember that I can seek to understand without complaining and seek to convince Him without being disrespectful. He is altogether holy and righteous and my ideas, while they seem great to me, are not His ideas.

God, thank You for understanding our suffering and being willing to allow us to vent our spleen, as it were. Thank you that we can seek to understand why You are doing what You are doing — even though we might be unable to comprehend it — without sinning. Please help me to understand as much as I can understand of why You do what You do in my life and give me a heart that accepts the things I cannot understand as the actions of a just Judge and loving Father.