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.

SOAP Journal – 15 September 2016 (Revelation 21:3-4)

And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be death; there will no longer be mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”

Revelation 21:3-4

After all of the judgments have been meted out and all the wrath spent; when a new heaven and a new earth are created and a new Jerusalem comes down to that new earth, John hears the words of this morning’s verse.

God will dwell among us when the first things have passed away. When the first heaven and earth are gone, then God can come back to the new ones and walk with us and talk with us as He once did with Adam and Eve.

There will no longer be death or mourning or crying or pain when the first things have passed away.

While this is all future tense, I think that this can be experienced to a lesser degree by me as a believer in the here and now.

In the here and now, God dwells with me. He dwells inside me. He has promised to do so and He always makes good His promises.

In the here and now, I am God’s. He purchased me with His blood so that He might make me His own. And His I am. Not perfectly. But that is what He is working toward — the perfection of my sonship.

In the here and now, God comforts me. There have been times when no one else could provide comfort; could wipe away my tears. God has done so. Here. Now. God is my Comfort.

In the here and now, God has delivered me from death. Yes, I will have to shuffle off this mortal coil at some point. Paul wrote that this mortality must put on immortality. I cannot go into God’s presence dressed in this too, too solid flesh. I must put on something more suitable to meet the King. But God has already delivered me from the Second Death. There is no condemnation waiting for me, because Jesus Christ paid my debts and took my condemnation on Himself.

In the here and now, old things have passed away. Paul wrote that the old has passed away and that all things have been made new (2 Corinthians 5:17). That is present tense.

In a limited sense, the promise of this verse is for my here and now. I will not receive the fullness of this promise until this promise is fully fulfilled for everyone. But right now, God dwells in me and walks with me and calls me His son. Right now, God comforts me and cleanses me and teaches me how to put to death the carnal nature with its desires. Right now, I can live in newness despite being in a fallen world.

Father, thank You for the promise that the things I now experience in part will one day be experienced in their fullness. Thank You for loving us; for loving me enough to make such amazing promises. Please teach me to walk in as much of that promise as I can in the here and now.

SOAP Journal – 14 September 2016 (Revelation 8:1)

When the Lamb broke the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.

Revelation 8:1

Thus far in John’s vision of Heaven there has been precious little silence. There has been praise aplenty and conversation with elders and pronouncements of various types and kinds. Heaven is filled with sound, it seems. Right up until The Lamb — Jesus Christ — breaks the seventh seal. After the first six seals have revealed conflict (6:3-4) and famine (6:5-6) and death (6:7-8), martyrs (6:9-11) and generally terrifying events (6:12-16) and the sealing of God’s bondservants (7:1-8) and the appearing of the saints who came out of the great tribulation (7:9-17), what could possibly be revealed by the seventh seal that could cause Heaven to fall silent?

First, a group of seven angels are given trumpets (8:2). It may be something as simple as Heaven falling silent to be able to hear the trumpets. It may anticipation of the judgments about to be meted out.

Second, much incense is given to an angel to add it to the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar which was before the throne (8:3). Two things happen in the wake of this incense being added to the prayers of the saints. One, the smoke goes up before God. Whatever amount of incense smoke the prayers of the saints had already contributed, still more was added. Second, the angel takes fire from the altar and throws it to Earth and this causes lighting and thunder and an earthquake. These things remind me that prayer can quite literally move heaven and earth.

After those two things, the trumpets begin to blast. So what caused the silence?

There are a few verses in the Old Testament that speak of all flesh being silent before the LORD. Some of these even have to do with judgment and the day of the LORD. So it is entirely possible that all of Heaven falls silent in the face of God’s judgment. What, really, is there to say that will make it any less deserved or soften the blow when it falls?  There is that possibility.

What follows is speculation and should not in any way be thought of as doctrinal, but I like to think that the silence is because the incense added to the prayers of the saints is a metaphor of the prayers of Christ, just as the prayers of the saints are symbolized by incense. The Bible tells me that He makes intercession on behalf of those who are His and He most definitely prayed for His disciples before going to the cross, so it is not all that far-fetched (cf John 17). If that were the case, then all of Heaven would be falling silent for the prayers of their Savior being added to the prayers of those He redeemed.

Ultimately, I do not know and cannot conclusively say. One thing I can say for certain: Silence is an acceptable response to the things that God does. Sometimes words fail and to simply be still and know that He is God is sufficient.

Father, thank You that even the denizens of Heaven must sometimes just be still. In those times when I am silent, please fill that silence with the knowledge of Who You are. When it is time to speak once more, may my words be true and uplifting and spoken in love. You and I both know I need to improve in all of those areas. Please bridle my tongue so that it speaks as You would have it speak and is silent when You would have it silent. If all of Heaven can be silent, then You are abundantly able to make me silent when I ought to be.

SOAP Journal – 13 September 2016 (Revelation 4:11)

“Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they were, and were created.”

Revelation 4:11

At the beginning of chapter four, the location of John’s vision shifts from Patmos to Heaven. The first thing John notices there is God’s throne and its surroundings. And what surrounds God’s throne — besides angelic creatures and environs so glorious that John had to get metaphorical to describe them — is 24 lesser thrones and 24 elders on these thrones. The living creatures — the angelic beings — praise God regularly and the elders regularly join in. This morning’s verse is what the elders say in worship of God as an answer to the angelic creatures’ praises of God.

First, the elders say that God is worthy … to receive glory. The dictionary defines glory as “adoring praise or worshipful thanksgiving.” God is worthy; He is deserving of my adoration, my praise, my worship, and my gratitude.

Second, the elders say that God is worthy … to receive … honor. God is worthy of my respect and reverence.

Third, the elders say that God is worthy … to receive … power. Of the three, I find this the strangest assertion. The first two are things that one definitely receives, but power is something that God has regardless of whether or not I give it to Him. I can withhold the others — my withholding will not make Him any less worthy of honor and glory, but it will withhold my share of it from Him — but I cannot withhold power. Where I think this is going is the idea of God receiving power over my life. He could force that, but He chooses not to. He permits me the freedom to make decisions — even terrible ones. So I find myself understanding this as God is deserving of my submission.

The elders proceed to give reasons why God is worthy.

Reason one: God created all things. The fact that He is the Maker of everything makes Him worthy of glory, honor, and power.

Reason two: Everything was created because of God’s will. Not only did He make everything, but He wanted to make everything. This is kind of a big deal when I consider that He knew that mankind would fall and that He would have to come and walk among us and die horribly to redeem us before He spoke the first words of creation. Before “Let there be light.” there was knowledge of what would happen in the light of the sun and moon and stars. Knowing that, He chose to create anyway. Would I have chosen to create if I knew it would go that wrong — even if I knew I could fix it, but at a terrible price? I cannot say that I would. But God did.

This morning I am reminded that God is worthy; deserving of my adoration, my praise, my worship, my gratitude, my respect, my reverence, and my submission because He made everything and He did so even though He knew what it would cost Him.

Father, thank You for creating even though You knew what it would cost know. Small wonder, then, that You tell us to count the cost before following You. Please teach my heart to worship and adore You better and to be grateful; my lips to praise You better; my mind to be in awe of You; na dmy will to be submitted to You. You deserve all of these and more.