SOAP Journal – 30 September 2016 (Genesis 17:19)

But God said, “No, but Sarah your wife will bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.”

Genesis 17:19

In context, this statement from God comes to Abraham after Ishmael is already 13 years old. In fact, the very next statement God makes after this one is about how He has heard Abraham’s prayer regarding Ishmael and how He (God) will answer that prayer. God has just told Abraham to change his name from Abram and to change Sarah’s name from Sarai. A lot has happened since God first promised a son to Abraham.

This verse begins with the words But God, which are often two of my favorite words in The Bible. Those two words signal that man had one plan and God another; that man thought one thing and God was on another page entirely; that we were going along our merry way and learned that God was working on something else that is better by far than anything we could have conceived.

What God says breaks down into a few parts.

Part one: Who the child of promise is coming through. Abraham and Sarah had done their own reasoning and figured that they would try to help God out by having Abraham father a child with Hagar. God clarifies that His promise is to the child that will come through Sarah. This is an important point. Which child is the child of promise makes a rather large difference. If Isaac, then one set of implications comes into play. If Ishmael, then another set of implication entirely comes into play. God clarifies, both for Abraham’s benefit and mine, that the promised child will come through Sarah.

Part two: What the name of this child will be. Abraham laughs when God promises to give a son to a hundred-year-old man and his ninety-year-old wife. God, in His inimitable way, points at that laughter and says, “Name the boy laughter.” I am not God to know why God did not rebuke Abraham’s laughter and did rebuke Sarah’s — I would wager that it has to do with the heart behind the laughter —but I know that God hears the laughter and decides that it would make a good name.

Part three: God’s promise. God promises to establish His covenant with Isaac. The promise that God had made to Abraham of an innumerable multitude of descendants is now transferred to Isaac.

God has made promises to me as a believer. And those promises have scope. Let me look for the scope and conditions of the promises given so I am not, like Abraham and Sarah, trying to help God out and causing problems instead. Let me wait until God clarifies any promises that He has made to me, rather than trying to make them happen in ways that make sense to me.

Father, in this verse, You gave clarification and detail to the promise You had given Abraham. Please teach me to wait for You to do the same for me when Your promise seems obscure or as if it is not going to happen. Let me wait for You to clarify and zero in on how, exactly, You plan to perform those things which You have promised. You have promise them. You will also do them in Your time and way. Thank You.

SOAP Journal – 28 September 2016 (Genesis 13:14-17)

The LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Now lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land which you see, I will give it to you and to your descendants forever. I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth, so that if anyone can number the dust of the earth, then your descendants can also be numbered. Arise, walk about the land through its length and breadth; for I will give it to you.”

Genesis 13:14-17

I include the entire promise in this morning’s verses not because I intend to focus in on the promise itself, but because cutting God off mid-promise felt wrong. What caught my attention is when this promise was made.

This promise is given to Abram after Lot had separated from him. Lot separated from Abram because there was contention between their herdsmen (v7) and because Abram asked him to separate so that there would not be any contention (v8). I notice that it was Abram who suggested that they put some distance between them in order to avoid argument between their herdsmen. Not Lot. I also note that Abram takes the selfless part by offering to go wherever Lot chooses not to go. All of this is a bit of a big deal, since Abram, as the older of the two, had every right to tell Lot to go away and to take the best land for himself.

The promise comes on the heels of Abram being a selfless peacemaker.

When there is contention — and there will be — let me take the part of Abram and, even if I have every right to do what I want, let me selflessly seek to make peace. It is in that place that God promises blessing to Abram. And it is in that place that God will be able to bless me, too.

Father, thank You for being a God Who makes promises and keeps them. Thank You for the promises that You have already made. Please teach me to walk the path of selfless peacemaking; the path that You walked when You went to the cross and made peace between us.

SOAP Journal – 27 September 2016 (Genesis 12:8)

Then he proceeded from there to the mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the LORD and called upon the name of the LORD.

Genesis 12:8

At the start of chapter 12, Abram is told by God to leave the place he was living — Haran (11:31) — and his extended family — Abram was told to leave his relatives and his father’s house (12:1). So Abram picks up and goes and reaches Canaan. Abram stops at the oak of Moreh and God appears to him and Abram builds an altar (12:6). The Then at the start of this verse indicates that the event of this verse follows all of that. So this is part of the narrative of Abram’s obedience to God in leaving the land he was in and going where God told him to go.

So Abram leaves the oak and goes to the mountain on the east of Bethel. This verse, to me, is the entire walk with God in microcosm. Abram does not yet go to Bethel and he will resort to Egypt when the crisis hits, but he pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. It is in this place that he builds a second altar and calls on the Name of the LORD. Why the fuss?

Bethel means “house of God.” So, on the one side, Abram has the house of God; the dwelling place of the LORD. Ai means “destruction.” What genius named their city Destruction, I do not know, but there it is on the other side of Abram’s camp site. Abram sets up camp and builds an altar and calls on the Name of the LORD in between The House of God and Destruction. And that is the life spent walking with God in miniature.

Paul writes about our bodies as tents. Our entire life spent in these tents; these bodies is spent between the place where God is — Heaven — and destruction — Hell. And it is in this middle ground between Heaven and Hell that we can call on the Name of the LORD and be saved.

With all the madness that I see around me and all the truly disheartening occurrences — the current election cycle springs to mind —it is good to be reminded that I am metaphorically living between Bethel and Ai. My tent is pitched and I can call on the Name of the LORD here. Let me call on God to help me while I dwell here so that I might be a light to those going to Ai (Hell) and a reminder of home to those going to Bethel (Heaven).

Father, thank You for this reminder that I live between places. This life is not the final destination; the absolute residence, but a camp site between two cities. Let me build altars to You and call on Your Name while here so that Heaven feels that much more like home when You get me there.

SOAP Journal – 26 September 2016 (Genesis 6:22)

Thus Noah did; according to all that God had commanded him, so he did.

Genesis 6:22

What God had commanded Noah was a gargantuan undertaking. God told Noah to build an enormous container (the word translated “ark” is also used in Exodus when talking about the “basket” into which Moses was placed) and to fill that container with animals and food. People were still, presumably, vegetarian at this point, as the same food Noah consumed would be consumed by the animals and Noah is not told that it is okay to kill and eat the animals until after The Flood. Also, I find out later that it had not yet rained. So Noah is building a huge container and filling it with food and animals in a time and place when rain has never been seen. Another portion of The Bible tells me that Noah was a preacher, so he not only built this box and filled it up as God had commanded him, but also let other people know why he was doing what he was doing and tried to get them to repent and join him in the box.

All of that context is important. God commanded Noah to do something that seemed, on its face, to be absurd. But Noah knew better. Noah knew that destruction was on its way and that the only way of salvation was that container he was building. It is, perhaps, telling that Noah only gave the container one way in and out, just as there is only One Way into Heaven. But that is a digression for another time.

God has, over the years I have walked with Him, commanded some things that seemed a little odd to me. When I have obeyed, I have found blessing. I have not always found peace outside, but I have consistently found God’s peace within when I obey.

It seems to me that God’s pattern is to command the most seemingly absurd when He is going to effect the greatest victories and most astonishing deliverance and preservation. God preserves Noah and his family through The Flood and delivers them and the animals with them in what is basically a box built by an amateur. When God gives Gideon victory, He does so with clay pots and trumpets and torches and three hundred men against an army almost three hundred times that size. God knocks down the walls of Jericho with marching and trumpets blasts. God wipes out the armies threatening Jehoshaphat and Judah with no army at all … Jehoshaphat actually went out to the battlefield with the singers. God delivers all who would come from death by allowing Himself to be crucified. Over and over the oddest command effects the greatest deliverance and victory. Over and over, the only reason it happens is because the person does what Noah did in this morning’s verse: Thus Noah did; according to all that God had commanded him, so he did.

What has God commanded me to do? The more absurd it looks on its face, the more likely it is to be something miraculous waiting on the other side. It may not be. It may be nothing more than a command that I do not understand. But I will never know unless I do according to all that God [has] commanded.

Father, thank You for these faithful examples of what You can do when we obey Your command. Please show me those places wherein I am not obedient and teach me to obey.

SOAP Journal – 22 September 2016 (Genesis 2:25)

And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

Genesis 2:25

Nudity is exposure. Exposure means that we are hiding nothing.

The man and his wife hid nothing from one another and were unashamed.

The man and his wife also hid nothing from God, Who regularly visited the Garden of Eden (as we see later in the book).

This is a picture of the way things are supposed to be; of perfection.

My wife and I are intended to be able to enjoy intimacy that hides nothing. Not one thing.

God also intended that He and I could enjoy that same level of intimacy. He wants me to be unabashedly and unreservedly real with Him. He also wants to reveal as much of Himself to me as possible.

Father, I live in a shameless culture and shameless times. While many do not seem to be ashamed, there is much for us to be ashamed about. Please forgive me for the pretenses I set up to hide myself from You. Please strip me bare of pretense and excuse and work in me until I can stand naked before You and not be ashamed.

SOAP Journal – 20 September 2016 (Genesis 1:14-15)

Then God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years; and let them be for lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so.

Genesis 1:14-15

The first chapter of Genesis gives a day-by-day account of God creating the Earth. Day one saw the creation of light. Day two saw the creation of a sky. Day three saw dry ground emerge from the waters of Earth and vegetation crop up (pun intended). Day four (this morning’s verse) sees the creation of the sun and moon and stars.

I could probably get caught up in a long diatribe about the literal six days of creation versus a more symbolic six day account and which one is more likely. Neither one troubles me much, as God could take six literal twenty-four hour periods to create everything as He could take millions of years. I favor the literal six days, as the text supports it and God is easily powerful enough to handle creating a universe in six days. Authors have “created” worlds in weeks or months, why should I think God is less powerful than the beings He created?

What is fascinating about this verse is what God says about the lights in the heavens and in what order it is said. No history has yet been written. No human yet exists. But God says explicitly that the lights are to be for signs and for seasons and for days and for years. He states that purpose before He says that they are intended to give light on the earth.  This order seems significant to me, as God never does anything accidentally.

So, why the communicative purpose — for signs — first? Well, back on day one, God created light and separated it from darkness and the day-night cycle began. So the light-giving purpose was already accomplished by other means, if God had chosen to leave it that way. These stars, the ones that are for signs, will later give scope to God’s promise to Abraham — as the stars of the heavens in number, so shall his descendants be. It will be one of these stars that leads the magi to Jesus — we saw His star. The stars come back, over and over, to help God communicate to humankind. This does not mean that I believe in astrology. Far from it. But it does mean that God has used the stars as signs to speak with people. Come the time of Revelation, the sun and moon and stars will be signs of God’s judgment being poured out on an unrepentant world. They tell us a lot, if we have ears to hear.

The remainder of what the stars and moon and sun are for are pretty straightforward. Certain stars and constellations are visible during certain seasons of the year and not during others. The sun rising and setting marks off our days and nights, while the moon and its phases help set the date on calendars — especially lunar calendars. The constellations even go as far as marking off years, as certain constellations can be seen one year and not others. The whole zodiac has to do with constellations that become visible in a certain order. Add in comets that only show up every so many years and meteor showers — “Shooting stars”, anyone? — and there is quite the cyclical setup going in the heavens. And The Bible tells me that God set all of this in motion for this expressed purpose.

The last reason God gives is that the sun and moon and stars will give light on the earth. As was previously stated, God was already supplying light — see day one — but He chooses to forego that method of providing light in favor of the sun and moon and stars. I can only speculate as to the reason why, but I suspect that the whole purpose of communication behind the lights in the heavens would have been frustrated with that constant light source interfering. It is only conjecture, though.

What do the sun and moon and stars say to me? They remind me that God keeps His promises. He promised Abraham descendants that could not be numbered any more than the stars could be. Scientists are still only guessing at how many stars there are and Abraham gets more descendants — both of his bloodline and people who put faith in God, as he did — every day. The Messiah came when He was scheduled to come and even folks who did not have all of scripture to work with could work that out … from the stars. I have heard the song of stars — You can, too. NASA has recordings posted on their SoundCloud account — and smile at the psalmist’s claim that they sing for God. I have no doubt that they do. Those lights also tell me that God wants to talk to me, by whatever means necessary.

Father, thank You for Your dedication to communicating with us. Please forgive me for the times I have been dull of ear and heart and the times I have outright refused to listen. Please give me ears to hear what You would say to me and a heart that is ready to obey.

SOAP Journal – 19 September 2016 (Genesis 1:1)

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Genesis 1:1

The very first verse of The Bible. This is the context for every verse that will follow. If this is not accepted as truth, then nothing that follows will make sense. That, I suspect, is why atheists come to The Bible and find it confusing or objectionable. If this verse — the context for all scripture that follows — is not deemed true, then all that follows is colored by doubt and easily objected to. If this verse is true, and it is, then everything that follows must be contextualized by this God created.

It is easy to object to God’s standards for how we should conduct ourselves if we do not believe that He created us. I would be inclined to agree with anyone who said that those who had not created a thing were unqualified to tell me how to operate it or maintain it. Experience might have revealed a thing or two about methods that do not work and even a few that might work tolerably well, but that still will not give me optimal outcomes.

For the best outcomes, I turn to the instructions given to me by the maker of the thing. I do not, as an example, argue with Toyota about how and when to service my vehicle. They designed it and built it; chose the components that have gone into it and determined how long those will last under normal operating conditions. They also provide instruction for how to operate and maintain my vehicle under adverse conditions. No one thinks it odd that I should consult my owner’s manual about what service should be performed and when. If I accept that God created everything I see and hear and touch and smell and taste and that He created me, then it is only reasonable that I should consult His instructions on how best to take care of me and the other things He has created.

There are plenty of passages in scripture that I do not fully understand and still more that cause me to scratch my head. This is no different than the owner’s manual of my vehicle. There are portions of that manual that I read and have to puzzle through. And the best understanding for those puzzling bits is found by comparing them with the bits of the manual I do understand. the same holds true for reading my Bible.

This is all well and good, but it must lead to something actionable, or it is mere observation. And the action is this: If I believe what this verse says, then the best life I can hope to live is one that is in conformity with what God lays out in what follows. I can either obey what God instructs and my life will be better for it or I can disobey what God instructs and my life will suffer for it. If God created, then His Word is the manual by which I can operate and maintain my life.

God, thank You for this verse that puts in context everything that follows. Thank You for creating, even though all that follows makes me question the prudence of having ever done so. Please give me eyes to see what You would say to me regarding how to live and maintain my life. More, please give me a heart and will that are ready to obey Your instructions.