SOAP Journal – 27 March 2019 (Psalm 15)

O LORD, who may abide in Your tent?
Who may dwell on Your holy hill?

Psalm 15:1

Psalm 15 reminds me of Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If.” Kipling’s poem describes what the poet understood to comprise manhood. And it is quite the list of traits.

Psalm 15 begins with David asking two related questions: Who can abide in God’s tent? and Who can dwell on God’s hill? One of these questions is about communion while the other is about walking in blessing.

The concept of God’s tent; God’s tabernacle was synonymous with the idea of God’s presence. To abide in the tabernacle would be to always be in the presence of God. That is, David wants to know how to have on-going communion; fellowship with God.

The idea of dwelling on God’s hill has more to do with Jerusalem as a whole and the fulfillment of God’s promises, which leads me to think that the second question is about living a blessed life. David’s life was not always easy, but it was a life of blessing and David understood that blessing and hardship are not mutually exclusive things.

David’s list of traits is a good one. He says that the person who wants on-going fellowship with God and a life of blessing must walk in integrity (words and actions align), do righteousness, speak the truth in his heart (not a liar),  not be a slanderer (or a gossip), do no evil to his neighbor, not take up a reproach against his friend (not be judgmental), honor those who fear God and not keep company with those who do not, keep his promises (especially the promises that will cause him hurt or discomfort), not charge interest of his fellow Israelites, and not take bribes.

David’s list is good, but it is not perfect. Conspicuous by their absence are attributes that pertain to the home life. There is nothing on the list about loving one’s spouse and children or about being faithful to your marriage vows (things at which David did not excel). David’s list is all outward facing; all public sphere. David has listed the things that I can do while away from home. And, in his defense, he would have spent a great deal of time away from home. So the contents of this list make sense.

What has this to do with me and how can I apply it? It is both applicable and not applicable. Because of the completed work of Jesus on the cross, I am no longer subject to lists of Dos and Don’ts. I do not approach God on the basis of my works or merit, but on the finished work and perfect merit of Jesus Christ. David’s list is still praiseworthy and the the attributes in it well worthy of pursuit. I should seek to be these things. Not because I think they will make me acceptable to God, but because Jesus Christ has made me acceptable to God and being the things David lists would please my Lord. This list, and many others like it, are not there to judge me any longer, but to give me goals to reach toward. The case is no longer one of demanding integrity without providing power, but of inviting me to live a life of integrity and empowering me to do so.

Father, this list is good and these traits praiseworthy. Please help me to fix my mind on such things and seek to draw on Your power in my life to live them out. Not because I seek to justify myself — I cannot do what only Christ’s work on the cross could do — but because these things please You and I would dearly like to live in a way that pleases You.

SOAP Journal – 25 March 2019 (Psalm 14)

Oh, that the salvation of Israel would come out of Zion!
When the LORD restores His people,
Jacob will rejoice, Israel will be glad.

Psalm 14:7

Psalm 14 seems to be a reflection on the unrighteousness of humanity, those who oppress the righteous in particular.

The psalm opens with the statement that the fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” And that pretty well sets the tone for the rest of the poem. From there on, David writes of God looking for anyone who understands or seeks after God and finding none. David muses on the question of whether or not these foolish persons understand that God is with righteous people. And David closes his psalm with the desire that God would restore His people.

The reflection on being surrounded by wickedness and wanting God to put things right feels familiar, as if I might have written this psalm myself. Obviously, I did not, but the thoughts and feelings expressed in the psalm are familiar territory. Do I feel as if God has looked around and found not one single righteous person? Yes. Yes, I do. And I want very much for God to come and set things right.

This psalm serves as a reminder that those who have loved God — however imperfect our love for Him is — have always wanted Him to put things right. Sometimes our desire stems from anger as seeing the wicked seem to get away with their wickedness. Sometimes our desire stems from seeing our own inability to consistently do the things we know will please Him. And sometimes our desire stems from being wearied of seeing the world dismissing God and growing increasingly godless and wicked.

Father, our souls have cried out to You over many generations and in many languages. We have all wanted the same thing. We have wanted You to set this world in its right order; we have wanted the lion to lay down with the lamb. Whenever You do this in the world around me will be the right time. But today, please set me in right order. I cannot do it myself, no matter what the self-help books might say. I am, as Paul noted, a wretched man in need of saving.

SOAP Journal – 21 March 2019 (Psalm 13)

But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness;
My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.
I will sing to the LORD,
Because He has dealt bountifully with me.

Psalm 13:5-6

This psalm seems to divide neatly into three phases.

The first is in verses 1-2 and that is the questioning phase. David finds himself in a time of difficulty and asks God how long He (God) will delay taking action to help him (David). And it sometimes feels as if God is standing back from the difficulties in my life, too. This is not to say that God actually is standing back from the difficulties or delaying taking action any more than is absolutely necessary.

Last night, my daughter and I read the story of John the Baptist and my daughter asked why God did not give Zechariah and Elizabeth a baby when they wanted one so badly. The answer that I found myself giving is that God wanted to give them a baby and He wanted their baby and how he came to them to be extra special; that oftentimes the greatest blessings take the longest time to arrive — they just require more preparation time. That is an answer born of reading the scriptures and learning that God is not slow concerning His promises. It is also an answer born of experiencing God fulfilling the good desires of my heart in good time.

The second phase — verses 3-4 — is the consequence if God does not intervene. The consequence will be that David will sleep the [sleep of] death and his enemies rejoice when [he is] shaken. In essence, David’s adversaries will be victorious and will trumpet that victory. And this has not changed. Human nature is what it has always been: selfish. These adversaries do not think of the cost to David or to the kingdom he rules over or anything else. They think only of their issue with David and their desire to overcome him. If they succeed, then they will not be content with merely succeeding, but will tell everyone what they think they have accomplished.

We are not all that different now. We often make goals without considering their impact on others and loudly proclaim our success when we have accomplished those goals, ignoring those we have hurt or destroyed along the way to our objective.

In the third and last phase of this psalm — verses 5-6 — David transitions to peace and praise. He has laid his requests before God and the peace of God now guards his heart and mind. David can now trust in God’s lovingkindness (mercy), rejoice in God’s salvation, and sing to the LORD. David knows that his own failure or fall is a possibility and that his adversaries may triumph. David also knows God and God’s character. And that is where David finds his comfort. He does not take comfort in knowing that God will act. He does not take comfort in knowing that his adversaries will be thwarted. He takes comfort in God’s mercy and salvation. And, thus comforted, he sings to the LORD.

This psalm reads a bit like a poetic example of Paul’s instruction to the Philippians. Paul instructed them to not be anxious, but to make their requests known to God and promised that the peace of God — which is not always understandable — would guard their hearts and minds. That is David’s progression in this psalm. And this psalm elaborates a bit on the peace. The peace does not stem from knowing that God will do what I ask Him to, but from knowing that God is merciful and has saved me and will continue to save me until I am ushered into His presence.

Which phase am I in this morning? Am I praying at all? If no, then I need to take my cares, concerns, and worries to God.; all of my questions and concerns about what will happen if God does not move. Then I need to rest in His mercy and salvation.

Father, thank You for this reminder of what Paul writes elsewhere. It is good to see the same instruction presented in different ways. Please etch this into my character that I would take my difficulties, with all of my concerns and questions, to You  and then rest in Who You are.

SOAP Journal – 19 March 2019 (Psalm 12)

The words of the LORD are pure words;
As silver tried in a furnace on the earth, refined seven times.

Psalm 12:6

This psalm begins with David asking the LORD for help, because the godly man and the faithful man were disappearing (v. 1).

David then transitions into an explanation of what he is thinking about. And he is thinking about how the sons of men are saying quite a bit. David notes that they lie and flatter (v. 2), but that the LORD [will] cut off all flattering lips (v. 3). David states that the LORD will be moved to action by the devastation of the afflicted [and] the groaning of the needy (v. 5).

It is then that David makes his statement about the words of the LORD. The metaphor used seems to indicate that God’s words are completely pure. If that is the case, then David is saying that God’s words, unlike the words of the sons of men, can be trusted.

In verse 7, David states that God will keep the faithful and preserve the godly man.

David closes with an observation that the wicked strut about on every side when vileness or worthlessness is exalted.

David might very well have been writing this psalm is 21st Century America. Even a cursory glance at social media tells the story of a society obsessed with talking a good game. It seems like every other interview with a person of note is filled with useless words.

What is worse, our congregations are filled with people who walk in and talk as if their lives were nothing but blessing and goodness, sunshine and verdant fields. Small wonder, then, that our society seems filled to bursting with wicked people strutting around. Our airwaves are saturated with lies and flattery. We, the church, are supposed to be different. And we, by and large, are not.

And I am guilty of this. I do not walk in to church with a pasted on smile and tell people that nothing is wrong, but nor do I sit with my brothers and speak of the deep things of my soul – the things that tear me apart and cause me to bite my tongue in everyday conversation. I do not tell my brothers what is making my work life difficult and seek their prayers. I do not confide in my brothers what challenges I face in purity and in being a godly man and husband and father that they might encourage and exhort me. I do not speak often, if at all, of the things that truly enrage me or the things that stoke the fires of my passions. Instead, I speak of the things floating nearest the surface of who I am. I speak in generalities of how it is difficult to be a godly man, husband, and father. I gloss over or ignore entirely the things that enrage me and jealously guard the things about which I am truly and deeply passionate. And because of this I am diminished in my ability to connect with my brothers and my God and to effect change in this world. Because I will not be open, God is limited in His ability to take out of me the things that offend and to pour into me Himself; His Holy Spirit.

God, please forgive me for living so closed and for giving the wicked cause to strut about. I am terrified less of what You will think if I open myself – for I was never hidden from You – but of what might happen with my brethren. You have said that You give me a spirit of power and love and sound mind. I will need that spirit in abundance if I am to live in openness, as You desire, and to become the godly, faithful man that You would have me be.

SOAP Journal – 15 March 2019 (Psalm 11)

If the foundations are destroyed,
What can the righteous do?

Psalm 11:3

Psalm 11 seems to break down into two thoughts.

The first thought, verses 1-3, seems to be a consideration of the inability of people. David opens with the statement that he takes refuge in the LORD. This is the best place to start. Times can be filled with trouble and the best place to take refuge is in the LORD. But there are those who question David. They suggest that he should flee to his mountain; to a physical refuge. They tell David that the wicked are preparing to attack. And the closing thought, whether from these questioners or from David, is to wonder what the righteous can do if the foundations are destroyed. If the physical refuge has been undermined, then where can one go for safety? David opened with the answer to that. He takes refuge in the LORD.

The second thought, verses 4-7, is that the LORD has everything under control. David begins this thought with a reminder that God is on His throne and that throne is in Heaven. No Earthly power can get to it to attempt undermining it. David keeps going and reminds himself and the questioner that the LORD tests us and judges the results. The wicked are ultimately destroyed while the righteous ultimately see God’s face. The one who makes his refuge the LORD will ultimately see the LORD face to face. That is the final judgment.

The application for me is to make God my refuge. Times are sometimes tough. Sometimes finances are tight. Parenting is challenging. Marriage is challenging. Friendships or their drifting away into obscurity are challenging. Life is filled with challenge and difficulty. From time to time, someone will take issue enough that they make themselves my enemy and seek to do me harm. In all of these difficulties, the great and the small, I need to run to God and take refuge in Him. I need to seek my solace in His arms, as my children often do in mine.

Father, thank You that You are a refuge for those who run to You. Please restore to me that childlike simplicity that runs to Your arms for comfort and security and all the things that a child can receive from His Father.

SOAP Journal – 12 March 2019 (Psalm 10)

Why do You stand afar off, O LORD?
Why do You hide [Yourself] in times of trouble?

Psalm 10:1

This psalm makes statements and asks questions that trouble many believers.

The psalm opens with a pair of questions that are really two phrasings of the same question: Why does it seem like God does not intervene?

The psalmist elaborates on what is meant by this question.

The wicked pursue the afflicted and the psalmist desires justice (v. 2). What is more, the wicked boast about what they want to do and spurn God (vv. 3-4). Still today, there seem to be rather a lot of people who see no need for God. There are atheists and agnostics who think that there is no God and that they are doing just without one. There are more aggressive atheists who are out to prove that there is no God. We have politicians and celebrities and executives who use their position and power to abuse those who ave neither position nor power.

The psalmist expands on this theme of the wicked doing their own thing (vv. 5-11), saying that their ways prosper at all times and that they are able to capture the poor and innocent. The verses read like a synopsis of the evening news. These people are not afraid of other people, because other people are their prey. And the psalmist indicates (v. 11) that these individuals think that God is not paying attention, if they believe in God at all.

The psalm then transitions into a plea for God to take action (vv. 12-15). And the action requested is, ultimately, that the wicked would receive their recompense. The psalmist states that God does see what the wicked do (v. 14) and the closing verses (vv. 16-18) come to the conclusion that God will take action. The psalmist remembers that the LORD is King forever and ever. While it may seem like God has let go of control, He has not. The realization of God’s persistent kingship reminds the psalmist that Nations have perished from His land. Entire people groups have arisen and disappeared from memory while God’s kingship remained. It is a very long game that God is playing, and the psalmist ultimately concludes that, when it comes to the poor and afflicted, God will strengthen their heart.

All of this is immensely encouraging when I consider the state of things in the world. There are people in positions of power abusing that power and doing terrible things. There are people who plan to take in others and succeed in the short term. It can sometimes seem as if God set the universe in motion, then stepped back to watch it all play out. While He does give us free will and permit the consequences of our choices to be real and immediate, that does not take away His control or lessen His ability to intervene on behalf of those who are His.

Father, thank You for the encouragement that You are in control, even when it seems that You take no active part in events; even when the wicked prosper; even when people deny Your existence entirely and reap the consequences of that. No matter what, You are King and in control. Please strengthen my heart when it falters in the face of the apparent success of the wicked. Please remind me that You have seen and that You will require it of them.

SOAP Journal – 11 March 2019 (Psalm 9)

And those who know Your name will put their trust in You,
For You, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek You.

Psalm 9:10

I normally try to take a psalm in its entirety, but this verse continued to stand out to me amidst the rest of the psalm. This is not to say that this is not the theme verse for the entire psalm — it may very well be — but that I have struggled to string together the whole of the psalm into a single, coherent thought process. David’s poetic styling is not always something I can parse.

David asserts that those who know [God’s] name will put their trust in [Him]. David, being such a person, would know. David knew God’s name and had been zealous for it from his youth. It was in God’s name that David took his stand against Goliath. David had the type of personal relationship with God that God desires to have with everyone. And David had put his trust in God throughout his life. David had seen God execute judgment for the peoples (v. 8) and maintain [David’s] just cause (v. 4). These actions contributed to God’s name, God’s reputation. If I know God’s reputation, then the reasonable response is to put my trust in Him.

David adds another reason to his preceding reason. If God’s name were not enough reason to trust Him, David adds that [God has] not forsaken those who seek [Him]. One of the most compelling aspects of God’s name is His faithfulness. Jesus says that anyone who comes to Him He will in no wise cast out (John 6:37). And Paul writes to Timothy that God remains faithful to us even if we are faithless to Him (2 Timothy 2:13). God’s faithfulness is an often remarked on and truly compelling part of His name. And David adds it as a reason to put my trust in God.

I must learn to trust God more. I know His name and I have sought Him. Let me learn more about Him and seek Him still more.

Father, thank You that You have made Yourself known so that Your name is glorious. Thank You that You desire more than just people who know of You. Thank You that You want relationship; You want each one to know You personally. Please draw me into the place where I seek You more diligently and look to know and be known by You.

SOAP Journal – 06 March 2019 (Psalm 8)

O LORD, our Lord,
How majestic is Your name in all the earth!

Psalm 8:9

This is one of David’s psalms and one which is often partially quoted. This psalm could be seen as a meditation on the greatness of God and His kindness toward humanity.

David begins with God’s greatness, which is an excellent place to begin. The same phrase that David closes with in verse nine is the one with which he opens, “O LORD, our Lord, How majestic is Your Name in all the earth.” The Name of God is majestic and its implications reach farther than we may ever know. His Name, YHWH, is understood to mean something akin to “I AM.” No god or goddess of our own devising has ever been given such a name.

David says that it is from the mouth of infants and nursing babes that God has drawn what was needful to shut up the mouths of His adversaries. God did not go to the wise or the eloquent or any other such, but to infants and nursing babes; to those who cannot communicate well or clearly or at all. From this source, God draws out what He needs to silence the enemy and the revengeful.

From the theme of God’s greatness, David moves on to God’s goodness toward humanity. David considers the moon and the stars and that God has created such things and yet has created humanity and given us value and honor above those stars; above sheep and oxen; above the birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea; above every other created thing. It is this same positioning of humanity so high in the natural order that astonishes people still. I have heard more than one talk being given about another topic that took a moment to wax lyrical about how amazing humanity’s place is. We are not the strongest creature out there or the fastest; we are not suited to flight or diving into the depths. But we have made ourselves all of these things and that after we had already spread all over the face of the globe, slighting the odds.

With these two things held in his mind, David returns to his initial thought and is awed by the majesty of God’s Name.

And that is where I ought to find myself when I meditate on God and what He has done for me. If I am not, with David, in awe of God and His magnanimity, then I do not understand Who He is or how much He has done for me. And, in truth, I do not always understand. I do not always grasp just how amazing He is or just how gracious He is to me. The more I live, the more I see how great He is and how deep His mercy and grace toward me are and how expansive His blessings truly are. We in the Western world are often quick to poo-poo God’s intangible blessings like love, joy, peace, patience, and so on. But if we understood those blessings aright, we would seek them in a way that cares not a bit for material blessing. I have only caught glimpses, but those have been enough to draw me to the intangible blessings.

Father, You are good and Your mercy endures forever. You have done great things for me. Please give me the ability to contain the magnitude of this in my mind and to meditate on this, that I might know You better.

SOAP Journal -05 March 2019 (Psalm 7)

O LORD my God, in You I have taken refuge;
Save me from all those who pursue me, and deliver me,
Or he will tear my soul like a lion,
Dragging me away, while there is none to deliver.

Psalm 7:1-2

I have been mulling this psalm over for a few mornings and feel as if I am no closer to an actual understanding of it than when I started. A handful of thoughts have presented themselves, though.

The first thought is that this psalm stands in opposition to Job. Job professed his righteousness to other men, who might or might not know enough to disagree. David professes his righteousness in a particular matter to God (vv 3-5), Who knows everything and can tell David, in minute detail, everything that he has done wrong. Where Job wants to argue his case before God, David takes his case before God. The difference is noticeable. Add in that Job thought that he needed to be delivered from God’s judgment  (Job was not being judged) while David knows that he needs to be delivered from another person and putting the two side-by-side may or may not work.

The second thought is that David opens this psalm with a basic truth. David writes that God is the only One Who can deliver. Verse one asks God to deliver and verse two states that David’s enemy will triumph if God does not intervene because there is none to deliver. This is the same David who faced down Goliath, who fought battles he had no business winning, who refused to kill Saul despite having every reason to. David had learned through his life that there is only One Who can deliver: God.

The last thought is that verses 12-16 are a mess of challenging pronouns. If he does not repent, he will sharpen his sword is not the most clear of statements, though it might be understood to mean that Cush — the guy David is writing this about — will sharpen his sword if he does not change his mind about what he plans to do. And there is this question of “Who is he?” running through those verses. Is the he in this statement a man or God or does it switch because there is potentially more than one he spoken of in the statement. The verses all make sense just fine if they are speaking of Cush the Benjamite. The verses only make sense in certain groupings if I try to apply them to God. The translators tried to make sense of it and help me do the same with capital H on some hes and hims, but I still find myself puzzled.

The application is a bit rough, since I have yet to really understand what I am reading, but there is a principle that I can take from this psalm. God is the only One Who can deliver me. I have problems and things that trip me up. Only God can deliver me from them. I have adversaries, though I may not be aware of them, and only God can deliver me. Most urgent of all, I came into life with a broken nature; a self of sin that destined me for Hell and only God can deliver me from that and destine me for Heaven.

Father, thank You that You are able to deliver me and any who would call on You. Thank You for being willing to exert that power. Please deliver me from the things that entangle me and the self that is contrary to You. Please set me free to do the things You want me to do and birth in me a self that is in accord with You.