SOAP Journal – 31 October 2016 (Exodus 6:1)

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh; for by a strong hand he will let them go, and by a strong hand he will drive them out of his land.”

Exodus 6:1

Immediately preceding this statement of God, Moses had asked God why He (God) had sent him (Moses) to deliver Israel when the only thing talking to Pharaoh had done was make things worse. Pharaoh decided that the Israelites were lazy and not working hard enough and that was why they wanted to go out into the wilderness for three days each direction and worship God. Vacation? Pft! Clearly they did not have enough work to do if they had enough time for a week long worship retreat. So, the work got harder and the taskmasters harsher and the Israelites, who had been crying out to God to deliver them not long before, started complaining at Moses for God’s methods. Moses took it to God and God replied.

Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh. God did not just blindside Pharaoh with the plagues and bad times. God gave Pharaoh a chance to do things the easy way. All Pharaoh had to do was let the Israelites go out into the wilderness and worship. Instead, he says he does not know their God and will not let the Israelites go. In addition, the Israelites saw what Pharaoh did to them, but they had not yet seen what God was going to do to Pharaoh.

[By] a strong hand he will let them go. This first statement is that Pharaoh will let the people go. But Pharaoh will not just let them go, it will happen by a strong hand. God is going to have to, as we might say in modern parlance, strong arm Pharaoh into releasing the Israelites. Not exactly a stretch for God, but He does not stop there.

[By] a strong hand he will drive them out of his land. Pharaoh is not merely going to allow the people to leave, he is going to drive them out of his land. He is going to kick them out. Where once his heart was set on keeping them where they were, God is going to turn things around and Pharaoh is going to willingly and emphatically do the thing that God wants him to do.

The same is likely true in some aspects of my own life. I have not yet seen what God is going to do. I do not know His full plan or how things are going to play out. But He does. He will not only work His will in my life, but will do so in such a way as to leave me no doubt that it was His hand and His will that moved me. I have seen this played out in jobs and relationships over the years and know that He does this in the lives of His children. I have only to look and to cooperate with what He is doing.

Father, thank You that You exercise Your might to move me and that You do so in such a way as to leave me no doubt about Who moved whom. Please keep me mindful of this when I am tempted to complain about the way things are going.

SOAP Journal -27 October 2016 (Exodus 5:2)

But Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and besides, I will not let Israel go.”

Exodus 5:2

Moses and Aaron have met with one another and met with the elders of the Israelites. After all that meeting and relating of what God said and showing the signs that God gave to convince the elders, Moses and Aaron stood before Pharaoh. They say to Pharaoh what God told them to say — and what, incidentally, God told them would not work — and receive the answer in this morning’s verse.

Pharaoh’s reply comes in three parts.

First, the ancient Egyptians, like many ancient peoples, were polytheistic. They had dozens of gods and goddesses that they worshiped. In this context, Pharaoh’s question — Who is the LORD — could be understood along the lines of “Wait, which god are we talking about? Never heard of him.” Pharaoh says, in essence, that he does not know where the LORD sits with regard to the hierarchy of deities in his pantheon. How powerful is this LORD of yours?

Second, Pharaoh does not know the LORD. More than just not knowing where God sits with regard to the pecking order of the polytheistic mess that is many ancient religions, Pharaoh is not acquainted with the LORD. Pharaoh says I do not know the LORD. He has no knowledge of God. Who, exactly, is this God of yours?

Third and finally, Pharaoh states simply that he will not let Israel go. Israel was a slave labor force at this point and nations that become reliant on slave labor have historically had trouble coping if/when that slave labor force is removed. It makes sense, then, that Pharaoh is unwilling to part with his slave labor force. A three day trek into the wilderness is enough that it could become difficult to follow if they got it into their head to keep right on walking.

Does my life answer the questions? Can people see how powerful my God is and Who He is through my life — my actions and words and choices? If no, then I have some surrendering to do.

Father, thank You that the questions are there to be heard if I will listen. Please make my life such as answers them. Make my life a testimony to Who You are and to Your power.

SOAP Journal – 26 October 2016 (Exodus 4:10-12)

Then Moses said to the LORD, “Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither recently nor in time past, nor since You have spoken to Your servant; for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” The LORD said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes [him] mute or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now then go, and I, even I, will be with your mouth, and teach you what you are to say.”

Exodus 4:10-12

The conversation between God and Moses continues. The bush is still burning and Moses is still barefoot on holy ground. Moses has brought up the identity of God Who sends him and has received an answer. Moses brought up the issue of not being believed about having met with God and God answered that with the ability to perform miraculous signs. Moses has one last concern and it is at this point that he gets stuck. Moses is concerned that is slow of speech and slow of tongue; in other words, he is not eloquent.

God answers this directly. He asks Moses Who made man’s mouth in the first place, then answers His own question. God made man’s mouth. God is perfectly able to change a clumsy speaker into a great orator. But Moses gets stuck on this. The previous two objections were, apparently, answered to his satisfaction. But this; this is a bridge too far. Moses cannot possibly be made able to speak.

Psalm 19:7 tells me that God’s Word — in Moses’ case, God’s words — is able to make wise the simple. I am reasonably sure — though I cannot find it at the moment — that The Bible tells me that quoting The Bible will make me sound wise to anyone listening. And it has been my experience that this is so. I was given the opportunity to speak in a very public venue many years ago and quoted rather extensively from Ecclesiastes in the speech. Portions of the speech were quoted in the local paper. The quoted portions were quotes from The Bible. Even a dullard sounds wise when correctly quoting God’s Word.

So, too, did Moses. Despite God saying that Aaron could speak on behalf of Moses, Aaron does not seem to do much of that in front of Pharaoh. When it comes time, it seems to be Moses who speaks.

I have heard it taught, and this verse seems to be the origin of the teaching, that God does not call the equipped, but equips the called. That is to say that God does not always call a talented public speaker to be His mouthpiece. It brings God greater glory to use someone who is known to have trouble with speaking to deliver powerful oratory and persuasive arguments. More, though, this verse establishes for me the precedent that God will not always call me, personally, to things to which I am naturally inclined. He may do so — Moses was inclined to deliver the Israelites, after all — and He may not. It is His prerogative. My part in things is to hear God’s instruction and obey it.

Father, thank You that being equipped for the work and capable of doing it are not prerequisites. Please keep my ears hearing that I might know Your call when it comes and keep my heart pliant that I might obey.

SOAP Journal – 25 October 2016 (Exodus 4:1)

Then Moses said, “What if they will not believe me or listen to what I say? For they may say, ‘The LORD has not appeared to you.’”

Exodus 4:1

This verse is part of the conversation between God and Moses wherein Moses is commissioned to go get the Israelites out of Egypt. Moses knows Who is sending him, but he realizes that the elders and the people might very well say that Moses never met with God and that he is making the whole thing up. And — aside from his knowledge that he did, in fact, meet with God — Moses would have no way of proving that God has spoken to him at all. That is this morning’s verse: Moses asking how he will convince the skeptic.

I find this question and God’s response particularly pertinent. Moses asks how to convince the skeptic and God answers with three miraculous signs. The New Testament tells me that the gospel went out with power and accompanying displays of God’s power. The thing is, it seems like God’s answer to the skeptic is to show Himself mighty. What about my life?

I can give account of times that God has done miraculous things for me; times when all human estimation said I should not have lived, yet here I am. I can testify to God’s power changing me and making me different than I was. I am not yet who I want to be, but I am not who I was. I have seen and bear witness to the power of God in my own life and in the lives of people I love. I am witness to the power of God. Can the skeptic see it?

I have, in recent times, encountered much in the way of atheism in various online media and these individuals are often quite civil in their objections to Christianity. They seem decent folks who say that they are willing to be convinced if such a thing can be done through reason. The problem, most often, is that they see no compelling evidence for the existence of God. And I think that the lack of evidence, sad to say, stems from the lack of God’s power in the lives of those claiming to be His children; in my life and the lives of my fellow believers. If I am ever to convince the skeptic, then the power of God is the only answer I can really give to the objection that I cannot prove that I met with God.

Father, please forgive me for the times and ways in which I have hindered Your power working in my life. I cannot know how many times I have stood in Your way. Please work in me to get me out of Your way and to show Yourself mighty to those skeptics with whom I have contact. Please reveal Yourself to as many as will be convinced thereby.

SOAP Journal – 24 October 2016 (Exodus 3:13-14)

Then Moses said to God, “Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I will say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you.’ Now they may say to me, ‘What is His name?’ What shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”

Exodus 3:13-14

These verses are part of the account of Moses meeting God in the burning bush. As I read the interaction between God and Moses, the asking of God’s Name brought to mind an earlier passage in the book. Moses had just killed an Egyptian in order to stop the Egyptian from beating an Israelite. The next day, Moses sees a pair of Israelites fighting and tries to break it up. Exodus 2:31-14: [Moses] went out the next day, and behold, two Hebrews were fighting with each other; and he said to the offender, “Why are you striking your companion?” But [the Hebrew] said, “Who made you a prince or a judge over us? Are you intending to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid and said, “Surely the matter has become known.”

In the earlier instance, an Israelite asks Moses who made him their leader. Now that God Himself is sending Moses in as the leader, Moses stops to ask for God’s Name so that he (Moses) can answer if anyone asks Who sent him. And God answers Moses’ question.

There is a tremendous difference between trying to do God’s work in my own strength and doing it how and when God has commissioned me to do it. Moses was right about what God wanted him to do, but Moses’ timing and methods were all wrong. At that juncture, he was not acting in the Name of God; not doing God’s work in God’s way at God’s time so as to preserve God’s glory. He was doing Moses’ work. And his own name; his own reputation was not sufficient to grant him genuine authority over the Israelites. He was just another oppressor. Moses had to come to know God and be commissioned by God in order to receive the authority to do the work of God.

Likewise, in my own life, I cannot do God’s work unless I know Him and have been commissioned by Him to do it. Sure, I could try to pastor a church, but it would be a frustrating and futile experience, at the least. I have not been commissioned to pastor a church. I could try to be an evangelist and stand on a street corner preaching the gospel. While God might use that, it is not the thing to which he has called me. Moses was commissioned to liberate God’s people from Egypt and the commission came with God’s authority in the form of His Name as well as power to accomplish the task. The work for which God has commissioned me is the place where I will have His authority to act and will also see His power doing the work.

Let me take the time to know God and to wait on His commission before stepping out into a work.

Father, thank You for this pair of passages that remind me that Your work must be done in Your time and in Your way. Moses tried to do the right work at the wrong time and in the wrong way and it backfired catastrophically. While the results may not be as terrible, it is no benefit to me or to You for me to do Your work in the wrong way or at the wrong time. Please open my eyes that I might see the timing and the methods that You would have me employ. Keep me mindful that it is in Your Name that the work will be done.

 

SOAP Journal – 21 October 2016 (Exodus 2:23)

Now it came about in those many days that the king of Egypt died. And the sons of Israel sighed because of the bondage, and they cried out; and their cry for help because of [their] bondage rose up to God.

Exodus 2:23

In the course of Exodus 2, we are given the birth of Moses, then speed through life to Moses as an adult — at which point he commits murder and flees for his life into Midian, then hit fast forward all over again and come to the point where he is a husband and a father living in Midian. Somewhere in the course of these events, the king of Egypt died. And it would seem that things under his successor were much worse for the Israelites, because it is after the death of the king of Egypt that the sons of Israel sighed because of the bondage, and they cried out.

People can endure quite a bit before we voice our discomfort. We also have some really fascinating mental machinery that blocks out unpleasantness that falls below some threshold in our mind. I do not think that it is the same for all of us, but I do think that we tend to stay quiet while the group with which we identify remains quiet. Once the group at large begins to speak, then we do, too.

There is so much happening in America  right now that seems to parallel this. Groups in society that say they have been pushed to the margins. Not being a part of those groups, I cannot speak to the truth or falsehood of the claims made. More, much of being pushed to the side or oppressed has to do with perception. Up to a point, the Israelites did not seem to register their situation as oppression. The course of Moses’ life from birth to burning bush is about 80 years. That is a long time to be oppressed without taking note of it.

So, what do I do about this? Well, the Israelites cried out; and their cry for help … rose up to God. The first thing I can do is to pray. It may not sound like much to some, but prayer accomplishes two major things. One, it adds another voice to those asking God to set right a wrong. To an atheist or agnostic, this is trivial. To the believer, this is seeking the aid of the omnipotent. Two, it adjusts my heart and my perspective. It is difficult to be compassionate and empathetic when I do not witness the wrongs firsthand and have never, to my knowledge, suffered under them myself. A person suffering does not necessarily need my words, but my compassion can go a long way. Job’s friends were great for helping him feel better when they sat with him in silence, but their words caused more grief than good.

The second thing I can do is listen. Not merely to the words that are said, but to the heart behind the words, which is infinitely more important. The same words might come out, but one heart is raging while another is breaking. I do not have answers. The more I think about this and how it can be applied to my own life, the more overwhelming it seems. God never has called His children to the easy way.

Father, first a prayer that You would hear the hearts of those suffering. I know that You do and I know that You want to comfort them, so I add my voice to those asking for You to comfort those suffering. Second, I ask that You would give me compassion. I find it difficult to maintain a compassionate heart in the midst of current events. Third, and finally, I ask that You would give me discernment. I want to know which voices come from hearts that need compassion and need to be heard and which come from hearts so full of hate and rage that no being heard and no compassion will move them. Thank You for loving us all, irrespective of anything we are or have done. Thank You for Your compassion toward us and Your mercies and Your grace.

Thoughts on the 2016 Presidential Candidates, Part II

I have, largely, been silent about the candidates. It may not seem this way to others — those not privy to the hurricane of thoughts in my head — but I say very little of the rather vast amount that I have to say. I am going to attempt to distill my thoughts down to a manageable dose. I will write more at a later time.

If you are an atheist or agnostic or any other faith, this is not directed at you, but you are welcome to read on.

Dear Fellow Christians in America,

Allow me to cut to the chase.

Stop it!

I do not care which candidate you are voting for or what your reasoning is, just stop excusing their deplorable behavior.

Trump is a walking stereotype of masculinity gone wrong. Swagger and smug self-satisfaction might as well have copyright Trump on it. Has he done some good things over the years? Possibly. I am not concerned with people pointing out good he has done. That is laudable. Stop making excuses for his behavior. He certainly does nothing of the sort. Did he say what the recording records him saying? Here is a hint: yes. He has said atrocious things and shown no remorse for them. He dismisses them as “locker room talk” and expects everyone to accept that. Do men talk that way? Some men, sure. That does not make the behavior any less wrong. Stop making excuses for him. God does not excuse our sins, He forgives them when we confess them and repent.

Clinton is just as bad. She is just differently bad. She has perjured herself. She has mishandled government documents. She is a caricature of everything people hate about lawyers and politicians. Now, you can vote for her and you can give me your reasons and that is fine. Do not deny that she has committed criminal acts. The FBI director said that what she did was criminal and that they would not be pressing charges. Not pressing charges does not obviate criminal activity, it only tells me that the person not pressing charges has insufficient evidence to convict or that some other, more sinister thing is at play. Since I lost my tinfoil hat, let us operate on the “insufficient evidence” premise for the nonce, shall we? Stop excusing her actions or writing them off in some way. She is as unrepentant as Trump. Stop trying to excuse her. Let her repent or not. It is not our place to repent on others’ behalf.

My fellow American Christians, if we are ever to be salt and light, then we must stop making excuses. Trump is an example of everything that every feminist has ever said is wrong with men. Clinton is an example of why so many of us think that 10,000 lawyers or politicians — or, better yet, both — chained to the ocean floor would be a good start. We should pray for both of them, absolutely. We should look at what merits and strengths they might bring to the office of President. But we must stop excusing their transgressions.

Vote with your heads, since we all know that the heart of man is deceitfully wicked.

You may dismiss what I have written and that is your prerogative. Just know that those who do not believe in our God are watching and if we excuse the crassness of Trump and the untrustworthiness of Clinton, then we are no different than the world in which we live.

And they see that.

And the Name of our God is maligned by our actions.

Let us speak the truth in love.

 

Your brother in Christ,

DC Dowd