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 – 03 November 2016 (Exodus 7:24-25)

So all the Egyptians dug around the Nile for water to drink, for they could not drink of the water of the Nile. Seven days passed after the LORD had struck the Nile.

Exodus 7:24-25

For the Ancient Egyptians, this was a terrible inconvenience. Flowing water made life much simpler. Rivers meant that the water was fairly reliably safe for human consumption.The same is not always true in the modern world. So, when God’s second sign/wonder/miracle in Egypt is to hit their drinking water supply, it is something of a big deal. The staff turning into a snake was something that only Pharaoh and his court really experienced first-hand. This is something that everyone in Pharaoh’s kingdom suffered. More, it just occurred to me on this reading that the Israelites had — several generations back — come from a lifestyle wherein digging wells to find fresh water was the norm. The Egyptians found herdsmen loathsome, so it is possible that the Israelites had been digging wells to water their livestock for the four hundred years between the end of Genesis and the beginning of Exodus. And it would be a simple thing to switch from using the well just to water your livestock to getting some water from it for yourself, too.

That Pharaoh’s magicians do the same thing seems useless to me. Were I Pharaoh, I would expect my magicians to turn the river back to water. That would be useful. That would be a sign that my magicians and their gods had the same or greater power than this Moses character and his God. But they do not undo what God has done, because their power is lesser and the best they can do is mimic the power of God.

What this has to do with me is that my God is the same God Who fouled an entire nation’s drinking water in order to get some people’s attention. When the Israelites leave Egypt, there will be Egyptians that go with them. Those folks go with the Israelites, I suspect, because they saw the power of Israel’s God — the very same God I worship today. He has not changed. He is still abundantly capable of working wonders.

There is something that seems symbolic in the Egyptians digging around what used to be a bountiful source of water in order to get just enough to scrape by. God is called Living Water and Jesus later says that anyone who thirsts should come to Him and He will give them to drink of water that will quench their thirst; the thirst of our souls. Some of the Egyptians, I am certain, became thirsty for more than just river water. Some of them, I am sure, came to crave the God Who could not only change the river, but could satisfy the thirst of their souls.

Father, thank You that You do not change and that You are still able to work wonders. Thank You, also, that You continue to do things to sharpen the thirst in our souls so that we might come to You for satisfaction. Please keep me mindful that the thirst of my soul can only be sated by You and let me not go after the world’s methods of dulling my thirst.

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 – 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.

SOAP Journal – 19 October 2016 (Exodus 1:10)

Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. He said to his people, “Behold, the people of the sons of Israel are more and mightier than we. Come, let us deal wisely with them, or else they will multiply and in the event of war, they will also join themselves to those who hate us, and fight against us and depart from the land.”

Exodus 1:10

The book of Exodus chronicles Israel’s departure from Egypt, hence the name of the book. So it is interesting to me that the book begins with Pharaoh thinking about circumstances in which Israel would depart from the land and how to prevent that from happening.

I also note that this Pharaoh did not know Joseph. Joseph had done so much good for the kingdom; had been such a boon as to be remembered for some time after his death. After a fashion, the name; the reputation of Joseph was a covering for the children of Israel. When that name was forgotten, the protection was removed.

Machiavelli would not be born for quite some time, so Pharaoh can be forgiven for not reading The Prince, but the trouble with Pharaoh’s plan for dealing with the children of Israel is that he leapfrogs being feared and loved or even simply being feared and lands squarely in the realm of being feared and hated. According to Machiavelli — and a fair bit of history — this is a sure way to find yourself in precisely the kind of predicament Pharaoh is trying to avoid — the predicament wherein your subjects join themselves to those who hate [you], and fight against [you]. If your subjects already hate you, then they are just looking for someone else who hates you to come along and offer them the chance to be rid of you.

To be able to apply this, it bears consideration that Egypt is often seen as an analog of The World — in the sense of the worldly system of thinking and so forth, as opposed to the Godly — and Israel as an analog of believers. Israel lives in Egypt, but is not accepted by them or well treated by them. Likewise, the believer lives in but is not always accepted by or well treated by The World. Egypt’s ruler looks for ways to keep Israel from leaving and the ruler of The World — i.e. Satan — does the same, trying to keep believers from living in all the blessing that God has for us and also trying to prevent new believers.

The takeaway is that I am either going to be a part of Egypt or a part of Israel, not literally, but metaphorically. I will either be a believer or not. Believers will have trouble with The World. No two ways about it. And it will not always be because the believer did anything wrong. In fact, it is often because The World thinks that believers think the same way The World does.

Moreover, there is the very real fear that the believer is mightier than The World. And the fear is real because greater is He Who is in me than he who is in The World. It is not paranoia, it is fact. Christ is stronger than Satan.

Father, thank You for the reminder that difficult times coming my way are not always because I have done anything wrong. Thank You for the reminder that there are times when The World just gets paranoid about what believers are going to do. Thank You for the reminder that the One Who lives in me — You — is greater than the one who is in The World.

SOAP Journal – 18 October 2016 (Genesis 50:19)

But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place?”

Genesis 50:19

At this point in the story, Jacob/Israel has died and been buried in Canaan. The sons of Israel got a bit worried, thinking that Joseph might hold a grudge against them and decide to settle accounts now that their father is dead and buried. So, they get together and decide to ask forgiveness, but to ask as though their father had asked Joseph to forgive them for having done wrong. Joseph sees through the ruse and I read this morning’s verse.

As I consider the lead-in to this verse, I am reminded that I, myself, am forgiven because my forgiveness is requested by another. I have to ask forgiveness. I must repent of what I have done. But it is in Christ’s Name; on Christ’s merit that the Father is able to forgive my transgressions at all. Like Joseph’s brothers, I approach the one on the throne in the name of another. I do not know that I had noticed that before.

Joseph’s response to his brothers parallels what David will later write about sin — that it is against God alone Whom we sin. Joseph does not excuse his brothers’ actions, but points instead to the fact that God is the One from Whom they must seek forgiveness and he points to the results that God brought from those actions.Likewise, I need to recognize that all sin is ultimately not against me, but against God. It is not my rules that have been broken. While I may have been wronged, I can choose to forgive and put the action behind me, as Joseph did.

The brothers meant harm. There is no doubt of that and Joseph recognizes it. But God used that to bring about something good. This, I think, is how I am to understand what Paul writes in Romans about God working all things together for good. God is able to make good come of even the things that others intend to harm me. It was not a pleasant or agreeable journey for Joseph and I should not expect it to be for me. The intended wrong resulted in good not only for Joseph and his family, but for the entire land of Egypt.

Am I in God’s place? The answer, of course, is no. Let me remember that I am forgiven because Christ took my place and continues to intercede for me. Let me choose to forgive others even before they have asked it of me, as did Joseph. Let me remember that all things, even the things that others intend to harm me, God is using to work good in my life and in the lives of those around me.

Father, thank You for Your forgiveness and for Christ’s intercession on my behalf. Thank You that You are working all things — no matter the intent of the actor — together for good. Please keep me mindful of these things, that I might more readily forgive others and look toward the good You are working.

SOAP Journal – 12 October 2016 (Genesis 35:18)

It came about as her [Rachel’s] soul was departing (for she died), that she named him [her newborn son] Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin.

Genesis 35:18

This is part of a small aside in the story. Jacob/ Israel is traveling around and was — as far as the text tells me — walking in obedience to God at that time. Rachel’s death was not some sort of punishment for wrongdoing, but rather the natural consequence of a difficult childbirth in the ancient world. Rachel, in her final moments, names her newborn son Ben-oni which means ‘son of my sorrow.’ Jacob refuses to accept that name and calls his newest son Benjamin which means ‘son of the right hand.’

I love that the boy did not grow up with his name being a constant reminder of his mother’s grief. Instead, his father changes it around and makes his son the son of the right hand; the son of his strength. Too often, I hear of women who name their children based on some random thing about their own life. A woman is obsessed with the Twilight books and names her daughter Bella. Long after the glow is gone and Twilight has faded into night, these girls will bear the names their mothers gave them as a constant reminder of their mothers’ obsession. The same sort of thing happened with Game of Thrones and all manner of other cultural phenomena. People get caught up in the moment and do not think through the ramifications of what they are naming their children.

This name change for Benjamin takes place after God has already changed Jacob’s name to Israel … twice. These name changes tell me something: Change is always possible. Jacob could have let Rachel’s name choice stand — I am sure that Jacob had longer sorrow over Rachel’s passing than Rachel herself. Instead, Jacob chooses to see his son as the son of his strength. Things will not stay this laudable throughout the story. Jacob will grow excessively attached to Benjamin after Joseph is sold into slavery. But this part of the story is good. Jacob is framing things in the correct light.

The way that Benjamin is named tells me how Jacob chose to see his newest son and Jacob’s name change by God tells me how God sees Jacob. How do I choose to see things? The way I refer to them is telling.

Father, please help me to see things in the way that You do. While things may be birthed from trials or other difficult moments in my life, they may also be the product of blessing from Your hand in the midst of the trial. Help me to focus on the blessing and not the trial from which it came.

SOAP Journal – 05 October 2016 (Genesis 25:27)

When the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the field, but Jacob was a peaceful man, living in tents.

Genesis 25:27

As I was reading, one of the footnotes for this verse caught my eye.

I know that this is happening after Isaac’s boys have grown up — I am told that this happened When the boys grew up, after all — but that gives me more information. Earlier in this same chapter, I am told that Abraham died when he was 175 (v7). I am also told (v26) that Isaac was 60 when the boys were born and Isaac was born to Abraham when he (Abraham) was 100 (21:5). This means that there was an overlap of about 15 years between the birth of these boys and Abraham’s passing. So there was time for grandpa Abraham to pass on some of the stories of what God had done for him to his grandsons. All of that just tells me when this takes place.

The footnote that caught my attention is in regard to the word that is translated peaceful. The concordance tells me that the word is a bit richer in meaning than that and can mean complete, perfect; one who lacks nothing in physical strength, beauty, etc.; sound, wholesome; an ordinary, quiet sort of person; complete, morally innocent, having integrity; one who is morally and ethically pure. I know that Jacob is not a morally innocent person, but it is possible that he was an ordinary, quiet sort of person and that he lacked nothing in physical strength or beauty and so on.

The idea that Jacob could have been an ordinary person who lacked nothing in strength or beauty or what-have-you is new to me. The contrast between Jacob and Esau being one also of ability — Jacob being a generalist while Esau is a specialist — seems curious to me. I do not know if the original language supports such a notion, but it is intriguing.

What I take away from this is that Jacob — for all that I know his faults — had the right idea. He is described, potentially, as complete. Which implies that Esau was missing something — and the account bears this out. I want to be complete. I do not want to be missing something and out looking for it, but want to be present where I am and complete in that place.

Father, my desire is to be complete and lacking nothing. Your word tells me that You will supply all my need and it is for the supply of need that I ask. I need to know You and to have relationship with You in order to be complete and I find room for improvement in both my knowledge of You and my relationship with You. Please bring both of these areas closer to completion; to perfection.