SOAP Journal – 29 November 2016 (Exodus 19:17)

And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain.

Exodus 19:17

Three months after leaving Egypt, the Israelites have reached the wilderness of Sinai. It is here that the LORD gives Moses the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) and it is here that the Israelites audibly hear the voice of God speaking with Moses. This is where God tells them to consecrate themselves; set themselves apart for Him and they do so. It is also here that Moses fulfills the purpose of every  Godly spiritual leader: he brings them to meet God.

That, ultimately, is the purpose of every man or woman of God who leads others. Leaders are to bring others to meet God. The New Testament lists several types of leadership position within the body of Christ — apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers (Ephesians 4:11) — each and every one of which is meant to orient people toward Christ.

If I am called to be any of the things listed in Ephesians 4:11, then God is, in essence, calling me to bring people to meet Him in some particular way.

But bringing people to meet God is not limited to leadership within the body of Christ. Philip, when himself only recently introduced to Jesus, went and brought his brother, Nathanael, to meet Christ (John 1:43-51). Bringing people to meet God is the province of every believer.

Today, let me look for ways to lead others to meet God. Perhaps God may give opportunity to lead someone to Christ for the first time. Perhaps the chance will be to bring someone who already knows God closer to Him. Whatever the case, let me look for those opportunities in my day.

Father, thank You for giving Your children the ministry of bringing others to meet You — for the first time and for better understanding of Yourself. Please give me eyes to see the opportunities to bring others to meet You and the ability to do so.

SOAP Journal – 28 November 2016 (Exodus 18:18)

You will surely wear out, both yourself and these people who are with you, for the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone.

Exodus 18:18

Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, comes to visit Israel after he hears about all the awesome things that God has done. Apparently word had gotten around that God had caused the Egyptians serious hurt and that Amalek had just been given a beating. So, Jethro brings Moses’ wife and two boys down to the camp.

The day after Jethro and Moses have a little palaver, Jethro sees Moses taking the people’s problems to God and telling the people what God has to say on matters. There are so many people and so many problems that Moses has time for nothing else.

That brings today’s verse into play. On seeing that Moses had no time to get anything else done — which would include spending time with his wife and children — Jethro introduces him to the concept of delegation. He tells Moses to find capable, God-fearing men and appoint them to handle the little things; the things that can easily be decided with knowledge of God’s laws and a little common sense. They can still bring the big issues to Moses, but the little things can be handled by others.

What Jethro points out is that Moses is going to wear himself  out with the work and the people with the waiting. Waiting is hard work — just ask anyone who has had to wait to see if they would serve on a jury — and some of the people were waiting from sun up to sun down. And constantly dealing with people and their problems is exhausting … though that may just be me. A little Godly delegation is appropriate.

I have, in times past, been guilty of trying to shoulder too much of the burden in ministry. There have been times when I was given tings to oversee and I felt that the only way for them to be done right was to do them myself. That is the conventional wisdom. It is not practical and, more importantly, it flies in the face of scripture.

I have also, in times past, been wise enough to delegate tasks to others serving alongside me in ministry. Sometimes, this has worked out well and the things entrusted to them went beautifully. Other times, a lack of commitment or follow-through was revealed and those individuals were not entrusted with things of that importance again. Lesser importance? Sure. Not the same level.

This verse is a reminder of two things. One, Godly delegation is sanctioned by scripture. It is Godly to entrust tasks to trustworthy and capable people. Two, God provides fellow laborers in ministry to reduce the burden on those who spearhead. I can easily fall back on the worldly wisdom of doing something myself if I want it done right or I can delegate the task to others who are both willing and able to shoulder some of the burden. One of these is doing things the way God wants me to while the other will wear me out.

Father, thank You for the reminder that the work You have given me is not to be done exclusively by me, but can and should be shared with others who have the ability and the desire to help. Please make me mindful of this at all times and give me eyes to see those who are both willing and able to help.

SOAP Journal – 23 November 2016 (Exodus 17:5-6)

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Pass before the people and take with you some of the elders of Israel; and take in your hand your staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink.” And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel.

Exodus 17:5-6

After the Israelites saw manna from Heaven, they come to a place where there is no water and, instead of trusting that God — Who has provided everything they have needed — they return to complaining and asking Moses the same old questions. God, being God, uses this as a moment to create a picture of something more profound than simply providing water for a bunch of thirsty complainers, though He does that, too.

Some of the elders go with Moses and God stands before Moses on a rock. Moses hits the rock and water comes out. There is probably a scientific explanation for how Moses could have hit a boulder with a walking stick and split the stone, thus revealing a subterranean spring that the rock was capping. Maybe something along the lines of how a gem cutter strikes diamonds at just the right place and breaks something that is very nearly unbreakable. I am sure that the incident is easily explained scientifically. In a wonderful twist, the science would actually not detract from the miracle for me. It would, instead, make the whole thing even more fascinating. God led them to a specific place where a specific rock capped a specific source of water large enough to supply all those people and their livestock for a specific amount of time and God then showed Moses a specific spot to hit with his walking stick. God did not tell Moses how hard to hit that spot or how much length of staff should be swung or at what angle the impact should happen. All that science was handled by God, Who just told Moses to strike the rock. The science, far from lessening the miracle, simply affirms just how miraculous it was that that group of things happened in exactly the way they did. Add in the statistics of any one of those things happening, then calculate outward to the odds of all of those variables lining up as they did and the provision of water looks even more miraculous to me than it did before (as does the ability of math lovers to do that much math and be happy about it).

But all of that presents a picture of Christ. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10:4 that all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. Christ is the One Who would be struck by the leadership of the Israelites. From this strike would flow living water; the Holy Spirit; Life. Jesus Christ is my Rock from Whom flows the water of life. He is the supply for my need and the One Who slakes my spirit’s thirst. And no mental gymnastics are required to come to this conclusion, because Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, already explained the symbol to all who care to read it.

My takeaway from this is two things. One, that God can take my lack of trust and use it to write a message for others to read and believe. This does not excuse my faithlessness, but reminds me that God is greater even than my shortcomings. A comforting thought. Two, Christ is my supply of Living Water; the One to Whom I must go to slake the thirst of my soul. We are all of us thirsty souls and Jesus Christ is the only One Who can satisfy that thirst. As He said to the woman at the well, whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst (John 4:14).

Father, thank You that You are greater than my shortcomings and that You regularly remind me of this. Thank You, also, that Christ is ready, willing, and able to provide for our spiritual thirst so that we are never thirsty again. Please keep these thoughts at the forefront of my mind, ready to be called up when I fall short or when my soul begins to feel the heat of this world bearing down.

SOAP Journal – 21 November 2016 (Exodus 16:6-7)

So Moses and Aaron said to all the sons of Israel, “At evening you will know that the LORD has brought you out of the land of Egypt; and in the morning you will see the glory of the LORD, for He hears your grumblings against the LORD; and what are we, that you grumble against us?”

Exodus 16:6-7

The Israelites got across the Red Sea, had a great worship service, even saw bitter waters made sweet; undrinkable water made drinkable and they complain. They complain that Moses and Aaron brought them out of Egypt to kill them in the wilderness. They complained that they were hungry and acted as though they had never gone hungry while they were in bondage in Egypt. Moses rightly points out that the Israelites are not actually grumbling against him — it was not Moses that performed miracles and brought plagues and killed the firstborn of Egypt — but against God.

There are a few things that jump out at me in this passage.

First, the Israelites needed to be reminded that it was the LORD [Who] brought [them] out of the land of Egypt. Sometimes, I need to be reminded that it is God Who has delivered me and from what He has delivered me. The Israelites were romanticizing the past, talking about meat pots and bread until they were full. I have never once read an account of slavery wherein the slaves were fed meat and bread and never went hungry. On the contrary, every account of slavery I have ever read has included accounts of privation. It has been said that “The Good Old Days” are a combination of a good imagination and a bad memory. There is truth in that. I sometimes find myself thinking of times gone by and waxing nostalgic. But those times were not as universally pleasant as I imagine them to be and the hardships of the moment are no heavier or lighter than those that have gone before.

Second, the needed to see the glory of the LORD. Sometimes, in addition to needing to be reminded that God delivered me and from what, I also need to see His glory; His power displayed in my life and on my behalf. The Israelites had a legitimate need: food. But grumbling was not going to fill their bellies. Only food would do that. And God had every intention of providing food for them. They needed to see the manna from Heaven and know that God was not only willing to meet their needs, but able. I, likewise, sometimes need to be shown that God is not only willing but able to meet the needs in my life. Not in every circumstance, certainly, but in some.

Third, my grumbling is almost never against people. I need to be reminded that I need to not complain for He hears [my] grumblings against the LORD. God knows that I am unhappy; displeased with the way things are going. My complaints do not help the situation, On the contrary, my complaints make me less happy, cast aspersions on God’s character, and drive others away or draw them into my bitterness with me — none of which is profitable.

I need to remember that God is the One Who leads me and guides every step of my life. If times are hard, it is because God has brought me to this place for a reason. It may be that He wants me to see His glory or that He wants me to do all things without grumbling or both or for some other reason not outlined in this passage (but elsewhere). Whatever His reasons, I need to trust in the Goodness of God and in His Faithfulness to me. He has shown Himself willing and able to meet my needs and to accomplish what concerns me. Let me not be found grumbling against Him, but waiting patiently for Him to provide whatever need I might have.

Father, thank You for this reminder that it is You Who leads me and You Whose glory I will see and You against Whom I grumble. Change my heart so that I do not grumble, but wait patiently for You to show me Your glory and provide my needs.

SOAP Journal – 18 November 2016 (Exodus 15:2)

The LORD is my strength and song,
And He has become my salvation;
This is my God, and I will praise Him;
My father’s God, and I will extol Him.

Exodus 15:2

After the Egyptian forces are overwhelmed by the waters, Moses and the Israelites had a praise session and the song included this verse. The song, like all songs, has a lot more in it than one phrase or the chorus or bridge, but this is the part that caught my attention.

Lately, I have been dealing with a somewhat tiring schedule. Been up early, work a decently long day, and get home to kids who are excited to have some time with daddy. One day has been even longer, as it included teaching a class that often ran until a bit late. None of this is the end of the world, but the first part of this statement — The LORD is my strength and song — has felt more real in the past few weeks than at other times. There have been moments when I knew that I knew that the last vestiges of my strength were depleted and what I was running on was not from my store. There have been difficulties and temptations which have hit and been hit back and I find myself wondering when it happened and how I had strength to so much as nudge those things, let alone push them aside and keep walking. None of it has been me, but has been the LORD. As He is my strength and song; the power and energy that sustains me as well as the joy that keeps me from being terrible to be around, He then [becomes] my salvation; saves me from the temptations and challenges and sometimes (often) from myself.

The song gives the proper response to this: This is my God, and I will praise Him. I see the good things that God does for me and remember that this is my God. This is the God I worship and in Whom I have placed my trust. And I will praise Him. Anyone who asks is going to hear that it has been God sustaining me. Anyone who listens will hear about how faithful my God is to those who are His own. Even me.

Father, thank You for this reminder that it has been You sustaining me through the tiring times and You Who has given me strength to face the various vagaries of life that came along during those times and You Who has given me joy in the midst of some of the most wearying moments. You have been faithful. Thank You.

SOAP Journal – 17 November 2016 (Exodus 14:19-20)

The angel of God, who had been going before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them. So it came between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel; and there was the cloud along with the darkness, yet it gave light at night. Thus the one did not come near the other all night.

Exodus 14:19-20

Israel has been led to the edge of the Red Sea. The Egyptian army is in pursuit. Things do not look good. The Israelites panic, accusing Moses of leading them out into the desert to die. Moses tells them that God will do the fighting and that they just need to be quiet. God tells Moses to lead the people forward, but forward is the Red Sea, so God includes instructions about what Moses is to do in order to open up a path forward. After all of that has transpired, then come the verses tht caught my attention this morning.

God had already given the Israelites instruction on what to do and how to do it. All that was left for them was to obey. Then God, who had been going before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them. This is a very necessary strategic maneuver. In order for the camp of Israel to get across the Red Sea, they would need time. Time was something they did not have with Pharaoh and his army breathing down their necks. So God intervened and provided the thing they did not have. To do so, He had to move His guidance — the pillar of cloud — to a place where they must go forward without it. He had given instruction about where to go and how to get there, now they had to act based on that revelation, not based on the sign that they had been following.

In this moment, I see God giving a principle. I see the principle that God may sometimes lead explicitly, as in the pillar of cloud, and sometimes lead by instruction. It occurs to me as I read that the times wherein He leads by instruction and revelation may be the times that He has my back. The Israelites were told to cross the Red Sea, then God had their back while they did. It may very well be that God tells me to go forward in some fashion and falls silent because He now expects me to do my part while He takes care of things about which I am unaware or can do nothing to help which is what He does here. God gets between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel. God acts as a safety against the enemy who is nearby.

Father, thank You for being not only my Guide, but also the One Who has my back. Circumstances have a tendency to blindside me and it is good to know that those times have been permitted and that more serious threats are still stuck behind the pillar of cloud, waiting for You to drown them in the sea. Please bring this to the front of my mind when adversaries are nipping at my heels and the enemy of my soul is too close to my comfort. Please remind me that the pillar of cloud and of fire still stands between that which would do me harm and me.

SOAP Journal – 16 November 2016 (Exodus 14:1-2)

Now the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Tell the sons of Israel to turn back and camp before Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea; you shall camp in front of Baal-zephon, opposite it, by the sea.”

Exodus 14:1-2

Before God led the Israelites into the Promised Land, He deliberately led them around in the wilderness. He did this for two stated reasons. First, in 13:17 tells me that He knew the Israelites would balk when they saw the enemies in the Promised Land. They had not fought a war in a very long time and we not quite ready to trust that God was able to hand victory over to them. Second, 14:3-4 tell me that God was not quite done with Pharaoh of the Egyptians. The Israelites seeming to wander without direction in the wilderness would provoke Pharaoh to come after them, thinking that they were lost and demoralized.

God sometimes tells His people to do things that just do not seem rational and the two reasons for this particular course of action seem to indicate two of the principles at work.

Principle One: God tells me to go where He knows I am ready to go. God is not going to tell me to walk into the fullness of His promises for me if I am going to draw back at the first sign of adversity. God’s promise is not always for sunshine and butterflies, often it is for peace in the midst of conflict and joy in the midst of difficulty. The Israelites will go on to victory, but not until after a fair bit of trial and tribulation and a culling. The group being led from Egypt is not a group that is ready to trust God. Those ready, willing, and able to trust God are those who enter into the Promised Land many years later.

Principle Two: God tells me to go where He will be honored most. There is a song lyric that I often want to play on loop — “Remind me of Your promises. Remind me of Your faithfulness. Remind me this was never about me.” My walk with God is about God fitting me for Heaven so that I can live there with Him for all eternity, but what He does to fit me for Heaven is less about me than it is about His glory and Him being magnified in and through my life. God led the Israelites to a campground with no way out and said explicitly that He would be honored through Pharaoh and all his army (v4). The plan was to bring honor and glory to God and to use Pharaoh to communicate the message.

Father, thank You for the reminder that You lead me to places that may be about my limited trust or may be about bringing honor and glory to Your Name — or both. Thank You for working on my limitations and bringing me to places of trust and places where trust is the only option.

SOAP Journal – 15 November 2016 (Exodus 13:9)

And it shall serve as a sign to you on your hand, and as a reminder on your forehead, that the law of the LORD may be in your mouth; for with a powerful hand the LORD brought you out of Egypt.

Exodus 13:9

This verse is nestled in the context of Moses commanding the Israelites (as God had commanded him) that they would keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the Passover and explain their significance to their children any time their children asked. I found it interesting that it is in that context that Moses speaks the words of this verse.

It seems to indicate that the keeping of the feast and the explaining of it to their children would serve as a sign … and as a reminder. I find that, as a father, I often explain things to my daughter in light of what I have learned from The Bible over the years. I know that there are those who disagree with this, but everyone teaches their child what they know, we can do nothing else. So, when my daughter asks why we pray, I explain it to her as best I can. And knowing that she will ask questions like that causes me to want to be more aware of the things I have believed so that I can explain them to a three-year-old’s satisfaction — which is almost never possible, but I can try.

The purpose that Moses gives for these explanations is that the law of the LORD may be in your mouth. It is my experience that having a child to whom I must explain my beliefs does keep God’s Law close to the surface of my mind. It causes me to have the knowledge that God has worked into me for years more ready to hand. It reminds me that I have, in fact, seen God do good things on my behalf and that I can relate these to my children when they ask.

Why is all of this important? Because with a powerful hand the LORD brought you out of Egypt. Or, in my case, God exercised His might to save me from my sins. He brought me out of condemnation and into promise. Simple as that. I should be able to explain things to my children because they deserve to know what God has done for me. I know that there are those who disagree; who think that I should raise my children to make their own choice. As a believer, I can do nothing else. Everyone must choose for him- or herself. The very best that I can do is explain the choice to my children, live out my faith in their full view, and pray that God is able to touch their hearts so that they, too, choose to follow Him. The choice must be; can only be their own.

Father, thank You for the reminder that my faith must be lived out in front of my children and that I must be ready to explain to them why — why I believe; why I choose to follow; why we partake in Communion; why I was baptized; why all of the things that come with following You. Thank You, also, for my children. They are a blessing and a challenge and a joy and a frustration … sometimes all at once. Please work on me and in me to better show my children what it is to walk in Your ways.

SOAP Journal – 14 November 2016 (Exodus 12:13)

The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you for destruction when I strike the land of Egypt.

Exodus 12:13

This verse is the reason that Passover is called that, because God promises to pass over the houses marked with the blood of the lamb. There is something that I do not think I noticed in the language before this morning: The blood shall be a sign for you. That is, the blood was not solely to tell God who believed and who did not — God knew without the blood smeared on the doorposts — but it made an obvious and visible distinction between those who believed and those who did not in the eyes and minds of everyone living in the area at the time.

The New Testament (NT) tells me that Jesus is the Lamb of God (John 1:29, 36) and that He is my Passover (1 Corinthians 5:7). It is the application of His blood to my life that gives me right standing before the Father and causes destruction to pass me by. The blood of Christ applied to my life should cause visible change, such that others notice. The blood of Christ should cause a sharp distinction to be drawn between those who are His and those who are not.

This, I suspect, is why so many of the old hymns and much of Christian teaching and thought revolves around the blood of Christ. There have been times when Christians were accused of being obsessed with Christ’s blood. And why not? We should be. That blood is the delineation between those who are marked for destruction and those who are marked for Life. And the blood is a reminder that I cannot save myself. No works; no deeds; no sacrifice of my own will ever amount to enough to save me from the coming destruction. Only the blood of the Lamb of God applied to my life can cause destruction to pass me by. And the application of that blood should be something noticeable; should impact my behavior all the way down to how I eat my meals.

Father, thank You for the blood of Christ that washes me and marks me as being passed over by destruction. Please work in me to make the distinction clear, so that others might see and know that You are saving as many as want to be saved from the wrath to come.

SOAP Journal – 11 November 2016 (Exodus 12:11)

Now you shall eat it in this manner: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste—it is the LORDS Passover.

Exodus 12:11

When God gave instruction about the Passover meal, He was very specific about things that I feel like I have overlooked. For example, God tells the people that they are to eat this meal with their loins girded, meaning their clothing was to be ready for quick travel or heavy labor; cinched at the waist and leaving the legs the most freedom of movement. They are to eat the meal with their sandals on [their] feet, meaning they were to be ready to go at a moment’s notice. This would have been quite odd, as normal meals involved taking off the shoes and washing the feet so as to be relaxed and enjoy the meal. The fact that they were to have their staff in [their] hand tells me that the journey they were prepped to make quickly and at a moment’s notice was a long one. You only took your staff for long journeys. A short trip — just down the street or the next town over — required no staff. There were unlikely to be wild animals or anything that you would need the staff’s help to negotiate. But a long journey necessitated a staff. Finally, they were to eat it in haste. This was not to be the normal, leisurely meal that was common in the ancient near east, but a quick consumption of food so as to be ready when the time came to start the trip.

When Jesus instituted what Christians call Communion or The Lord’s Supper, He did so near the end of the Passover meal. If they were following the instructions given to Moses, then they would have been reclining at the table, but totally ready to go whenever the time came, which jives well with them finishing the meal and Jesus just walking right out to Gethsemane.

This brought a new thought to my mind as I read it. The Lord’s Supper is supposed to serve as a reminder of the broken body and shed blood of Jesus until He returns. I begin to wonder if there is significance in Jesus establishing Communion with the pattern of Passover as its basis. Jesus told the parable of the ten virgins — wherein five are prepared for the bridegroom when he shows up and five are not — and explains that the lesson to be learned is that the believer ought to always be ready for Jesus to return. I find myself wondering if Communion was supposed to carry that reminder as well. Passover bore within itself the message that Israel should be ready at any moment for God to deliver them. Should not Communion, with its roots sunk into Passover, remind me of the same thing?

The sudden return of Christ is not a new doctrine nor even a terribly controversial one, but I had not considered nor heard it taught that Communion might not only serve as a reminder of the New Covenant but also of the sure expectation that Christ will come suddenly to take me away.

In the midst of an increasingly chaotic world, I find  comfort in the thought that Communion can now also remind me of Jesus’ return and how I need to be ready for it. I need to be busy in His work (loins girded); ready to go when He calls me (sandals on); prepared to go where He leads (staff in hand); not entangled in anything that would hold me back (eat in haste).

Father, thank You for this unexpected reminder that I need to be ready for You to return at any moment. Thank You that Communion now has an extra layer of meaning for me and can serve as a regular reminder to regularly check my readiness.