SOAP Journal – 23 June 2017 (Joshua 6:1-2)

Now Jericho was tightly shut because of the sons of Israel; no one went out and no one came in. The LORD said to Joshua, “See, I have given Jericho into your hand, with its king [and] the valiant warriors.”

Joshua 6:1-2

It might just be me, but a city with its walls shut tight and no one entering or leaving does not sound like easy pickings. It sounds like a city hunkering down for a siege. And the fact that people’s houses were built on the wall (like Rahab’s house) gives an idea of how thick those walls were. And yet, God tells Joshua to have a look at this city with its massive walls and its readiness to repel an attack and God says I have given Jericho into your hand. Past tense. In God’s eyes, the thing is already done.

From God’s perspective in eternity, everything already has happened. From God’s perspective, five years from now is as past tense as five years ago. So God saying I have given Jericho into your hand makes perfect sense. And Joshua knew this. Joshua knew that God had this whole thing figured out and Joshua followed orders. God said march around the city in silence for six days and Joshua did it. God said march around the city seven times on the seventh day then make a ruckus and Joshua did it. That is how Joshua lived out his faith. He believed that God’s statement — which was contradictory to available facts from a human perspective — and God’s plan — which made no sense from a human perspective —were trustworthy and he acted on them.

And that is the application for me. God is sometimes going to tell me to do things that make no logical sense from a human perspective, but I need to trust in God. I need to trust Him because that is what faith is and I need to trust Him because His perspective is perfect; complete. He sees the end from the beginning and knows how everything plays out. So His instruction is meant to guide me down the best path for me. Not the most comfortable or the most materially prosperous or any other such malarkey, but the path that will make me the most profitable to His kingdom and make me most like His Son, Jesus Christ.

Father, thank You for leading me in the paths of righteousness. Please teach me to better heed Your instructions and to walk more faithfully in the steps that You lay out for me.

SOAP Journal – 22 June 2017 (Joshua 5:13-14)

Now it came about when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing opposite him with his sword drawn in his hand, and Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us or for our adversaries?” He said, “No; rather I indeed come now [as] captain of the host of the LORD.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and bowed down, and said to him, “What has my lord to say to his servant?”

Joshua 5:13-14

After crossing the Jordan; after circumcising all of the male Israelites who needed to be circumcised; after observing the Passover; after the manna stopped because the Israelites had eaten some of the produce of Canaan, Joshua went for a little walk near Jericho and encountered the captain of the host of the LORD. It is not the encounter itself that caught my attention — I have heard more than a few teachings on who this might have been and encountering the LORD or His messengers — but the question that Joshua asks and the answer he receives.

Joshua asks whose side the captain of the host of the LORD is on: the Israelites’ or that of their enemies. The captain’s response is fascinating to me. He does not answer the question that was asked, but the answer that should have been asked.

Joshua makes the situation into an Us vs. Them and implies that sides must be chosen. The captain, often thought to be a pre-Bethlehem appearance of Jesus Christ, gives this question and its implications a simple No. This is not an Us vs. Them situation … it almost never is.

The captain states that he has come in his role as captain of the host of the LORD. This could be understood a couple ways. First, this could refer to the angelic host and would mean that this individual came to command God’s spiritual forces in a conflict. Second, this could refer to the Israelites themselves, as they are God’s chosen people and therefore uniquely His. Either or both could be the case.

Joshua responds by submitting himself to the authority of the captain — he bows with his face on the ground and asks what the captain wants to say.

Sometimes, God has to correct my misconceptions before He can instruct me. Sometimes, God has to remind me that the battle is not against flesh and blood. The conflict is seldom, if ever, simply a matter of Me vs. Them or of Me vs. That Person. There are often other factors at play about which I am unaware if I do not stop and realize whose side I have chosen.

That is the perception adjustment that Joshua needed and it is the same adjustment that I often need. It is not whose side God is on, but who is on God’s side. The statement of Treebeard in the Lord of the Rings films (I do not remember, off the cuff, whether or not this quote was in the books) comes back, “Side? I am on no one’s side because no one is on my side.” I sometimes think God has the same response to believers who wonder whose side He is on. The right question is not “Whose side is God on?” but is, rather, “Who is on God’s side?”

Sometimes, I need to be realigned. Years ago, I had a car that would, at freeway speeds, rattle like it was trying to shake apart when it was out of alignment. It also drifted to the side when going street speeds. The only way to get that car driving straight and not shaking fillings loose was to realign it. My life experiences similar consequences when I am out of alignment with God. Things get going pretty quick and it feels like my life is going to shake itself apart. I am out of alignment. I am going along and find myself drifting to the right or the left when God tells me to go straight. I am out of alignment. I just need to ask the right question (Am I on God’s side?) and allow God to realign me, because, like that car, I cannot realign myself.

Father, I know that I have felt myself drifting and sometimes it has felt as if things were getting bumpier than the road warranted. Please realign me with You. I want to be on Your side.

SOAP Journal – 21 June 2017 (Joshua 4:1-3)

Now when all the nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the LORD spoke to Joshua, saying, “Take for yourselves twelve men from the people, one man from each tribe, and command them, saying, ‘Take up for yourselves twelve stones from here out of the middle of the Jordan, from the place where the priests’ feet are standing firm, and carry them over with you and lay them down in the lodging place where you will lodge tonight.’”

Joshua 4:1-3

There are several things in these verses that establish their context. First, this happens when all the nation had finished crossing the Jordan. Which means that Joshua obeyed the last instruction he received from God. Second, the Israelites crossed the Jordan, which indicates their entry into the Promised Land. Third, it is all the nation  that crosses the Jordan, which tells me — before the later verses spell it out — that Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh were included in the number that crossed the river.

What caught my attention this morning is not so much the fetching of twelve stones — I have heard teachings on that many times and some of them popped right back to mind when I read these verses — as it was that God did not give Joshua further instruction until he had first obeyed the instruction he had been given. The sequence of events is (1) all the nation had finished crossing the Jordan, then (2) the LORD spoke to Joshua. Joshua led the Israelites across the Jordan as God had instructed him to, then God gives the next bit of instruction to Joshua.

In Sun Tzu’s Art of War, the general says that no one in the army should know all of the leader’s plan, but each should know exactly as much as is necessary to fulfill his part. So, too, does God often order we who are His own. He gives us as much as we need to understand the next step in our part of His plan, then reveals what comes after that only when we have obeyed the preceding part. Joshua obeyed and was told what to do next.

In my own life, I need to examine whether or not I have obeyed in those things where I know what it is that God wants me to do. If I have, then I can expect that God will reveal what comes next when it is time for me to know. If I have not, then I can expect no further revelation until I am obedient to what I already know.

Father, please work with and in me to make me obedient to what You have already instructed me to do so that I, too, might hear what You have next in Your plan for my life.

SOAP Journal – 20 June 2017 (Joshua 3:4)

However, there shall be between you and [the ark of the covenant] a distance of about 2,000 cubits by measure. Do not come near it, that you may know the way by which you shall go, for you have not passed this way before.

Joshua 3:4

As Joshua and the Israelites prepare to cross the Jordan River to enter the Promised Land, the leaders went through the camp and commanded their various groups to be mindful of some things. This morning’s verse is one of those things.

This instruction is practical. Keep a good distance — 2,00 cubits works out to about 5,000 feet or so — between yourself and the ark of the covenant.

First, because it was known that the ark was holy and only the Levites were supposed to heft the poles that it was carried on. A respectful distance was prudent.

Second, because the Israelites were entering into uncharted territory for them. The leadership notes to the Israelites that you have not passed this way before. The Israelites had wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, so knew that area pretty well. They had not been across the Jordan, so it was prudent to make sure that they knew which way the ark — the physical representation of God’s Presence — was going.

The principle I can draw from this is simple: Do not get ahead of God. God sometimes reveals a portion of His will to believers — sometimes even to non-believers — and it is an easy mistake to try to run off and do what God has revealed without waiting on Him to tell me when and how He wants His work done.

The Israelites could have gotten across the Jordan and run off to storm Ai and they would have lost that battle, because God was not sending them after soft targets first, He was sending them against Jericho — the hardest of hard targets available.

In the same way, God will not always send me to do the thing that I think will further His work. He may send me to do something that I think is unrelated. I heard a story of a missionary who arrived in the country to which God had called him and the missionary saw graffiti denouncing the leader of that country. God put on the missionary’s heart to clean up that graffiti. So he did. And someone saw him doing it and brought it to the attention to the leader of that country. The leader called the missionary in and the door for missions work was thrown wide open to that missionary. Cleaning graffiti hardly seems related to missions work, but God has a way of connecting dots that we do not even realize are on the same page, let alone related. So I need to wait for God to show me where He wants me to go.

7 years ago, I had just completed a temporary teaching contract and thought that I would be able to find work in the area into which I was moving. I was preparing to marry and my fiancée and I were looking for a place. I had applied to every opening even remotely near the places we were considering living and nothing was happening. I felt like God was telling me to look elsewhere, so I retooled my resume and went looking for writer jobs. I received some very polite “Thank you, but No Thank You” letters from some of the places to which I applied. I went to job fairs and interviewed for all manner of job. Eventually, I began substitute teaching. Then God opened a door to another temporary teaching job. The very day I was signing that contract, I received a call inviting me to interview for a writing job. I interviewed and was hired on. 6 years and change later, I am still in the technical writing profession, but I never would have found my way here had I not followed God’s instruction and been ready to respond in God’s time.

Some of my stories do not go so well. Sometimes, I think I see where God is taking things and I try to prepare the way for them. The trouble with that is that He is my Shepherd, not the other way around. He prepares the way ahead of me. Let me learn both from The Bible and my own experience and wait for God to show me where He is leading.

Thank you, Father, for going before me into every place I will ever go while following You. Thank You for preparing those paths. Please give me eyes that look for You, feet that follow in Your footsteps, and a heart that is ready to wait for You to direct me.

SOAP Journal – 19 June 2017 (Joshua 2:10)

For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed.

Joshua 2:10

Joshua sent two spies in to get intelligence on the lay of the land: strong points, weak points, that sort of thing. He told them to pay particular attention to Jericho, which makes sense, as it is the first city that the Israelites will conquer in the Promised Land. The spies go in, but are somehow revealed. They shelter in the home of a prostitute named Rahab. She tells the city leadership that the spies came to her house, but had already gone by the time the gates were being shut for the night. Meanwhile, the spies were hiding on her roof under stacks of stuff. This morning’s verse is part of her response to the spies before she helps them escape.

The denizens of Jericho had heard of what the LORD had done. They heard of the Red Sea opening up and the Israelites crossing on dry ground. They heard of Og and Sihon, two kings across the Jordan River from them who were neither kings nor even living at the time of the spies going through the land. The people of Jericho had heard, which means that the stories had gotten around. People were talking about what God had done for and through the Israelites.

The question for me is whether or not I am telling others what God has done for me. His fame spreads by word of mouth. I tell someone about something awesome God has done for me and they, in turn, relate the story to others. And God’s Fame grows. And His fame should grow. He has done great things for me and in me.

I was once a tremendously angry person and now that anger — while still an emotion that I feel intensely — is under pretty tight rein, by God’s doing. I did not meditate or follow any other sort of practice to gain control of my anger, I prayed and God gave me control of my anger. It was not an overnight hand-off, either, but a lengthy process of learning to surrender my anger to God’s control and to gain control of it by ceding control of it to Him. And it is things like that which increase God’s fame. The rage of a violently angry person brought to heel (me). The immediate and complete abstinence from alcohol on the part of a former alcoholic (one I know).

Am I sharing these stories (and others like them) with others? If yes, then I am taking part in increasing God’s fame and giving people a correct view of His power. If no, then I am robbing God of glory that is rightfully His and robbing other people of a right view of God’s might.

Father, thank You for showing Yourself mighty on behalf of those who love You. Please give me a mouth that is ready to praise You to anyone and everyone; to increase Your fame by nothing more than telling the truth about how You have impacted my life for the best.

SOAP Journal – 16 June 2017 (Joshua 1:9)

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.

Joshua 1:9

The book of Joshua is about the Israelites’ conquest of the Promised Land. They do not complete the conquest, there are still bits left unconquered when this book closes, but they make a good beginning. This morning’s verse is the end of the words God speaks to Joshua immediately after Moses’ death.

When people close to us die, it can shock us into inaction. Many years ago, the younger of my sisters died. The phone call that informed me of her death shocked me for a moment. A couple good friends happened to be present and asked me to start making decisions. Being forced out of the moment of shock helped in the hours that followed; hours in which my remaining sister and I made phone calls to inform my late sister’s friends that she had died. Some people could afford to sit a while with the shock of an unexpected death. We could not. There was work to be done. And we were the ones to do it.

In a similar fashion, God steps into Joshua’s moment of shock and gives him marching orders. Moses is dead. Joshua is now in command. Follow God’s orders as Moses did and everything will go the way God intends it to. And Joshua, to his credit, follows God’s instructions. Immediately following this verse, Joshua goes around the camp and tells the leaders of the Israelites that the nation is crossing the river to begin their conquest of the Promised Land and they have three days to get prepped.

And God’s words to Joshua are marching orders for God’s servants today.

The first thing to know is whether or not God told me to do what I am thinking of doing. God asks Joshua, Have I not commanded you? This boils down to God asking Joshua to consider the source of the instruction. The task might look overwhelming. Leading the Israelites is a bigger job than Joshua has every really had to do on his own. But God is the One Who told Joshua to do it. And that comes with certain assurances.

The biggest assurance is that God will be with you wherever you go. So long as Joshua is walking the path that God has set for him, then God will be there at every turn. Every difficulty and every uphill battle will be filled with God’s presence.

In light of this, God tells Joshua to Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed. There will always be the temptation to shrink back from what God has commissioned me to do. If I am certain that God has called me to that, then I can be strong and courageous, confident that my God is with me.

Father, thank You for going before me into whatever place You call me to go. Please give me a courageous heart that is ready to follow You into those places without trembling or being dismayed.

SOAP Journal – 15 June 2017 (Deuteronomy 34:7)

Although Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died, his eye was not dim, nor his vigor abated.

Deuteronomy 34:7

In the midst of a miracle-filled life, it might be an easy thing to overlook this miracle that was ongoing in the life of Moses until the last. Moses, despite being advanced in age, was just as vigorous and sharp-eyed as he had been in his youth. I have seen reports of people who pass 100 years of age and they are not usually as vigorous as in their youth. They are often spry for their age, but nothing compared to their younger days.

This is what I sometimes think of as a “minor miracle;” something God does that might make the news, but is not often going to set off alarm bells about how far beyond the pale it is. Medical science would want to take tissue and fluid samples to try to figure out how this came about.

I cannot generalize this out into a promise of health or longevity or both. That is not the principle. And there are few, if any, other accounts of such a thing in the rest of scripture.

What I can state as a principle is that God gives what is necessary to accomplish the task He has given us. Moses’ task was to deliver the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt then lead the Israelites around in the wilderness for 40 years. To do these things, he needed clear vision and bodily vigor. Moses needed to be able to be the first one up in the morning and the last one to bed at night. He needed to be able to see landmarks clearly so he could follow God’s directions. His undimmed eye and unabated vigor were provision for the task set before him.

Whatever work God has called me to, God will also provide what is needful for me to accomplish it. I have often heard stories from missionaries or evangelists about how God provided exactly the right thing at exactly the right moment for the ministry to go forward; for that person to fulfill the commission of God in their lives.

Let me trust that God will provide what is needful when it is needful and I will never be disappointed (as long as I understand the difference between needful things and desirable things).

One last note, before leaving this book. I was looking for the idea of loving God and following some command to be repeated. It was not, to my recollection.

Father, thank You for providing all our needs according to Your riches in Christ. Thank You for giving us instruction and providing what we need in order to carry out that instruction. Please keep my eyes on Your provision, not on what I perceive myself to be lacking.