SOAP Journal – 05 April 2019 (Psalm 17)

As for me, I shall behold Your face in righteousness;
I will be satisfied with Your likeness when I awake.

Psalm 17:15

I have been returning to this psalm every morning for a few days now.

Its structure is simple enough: 3 stanzas with each one addressing an idea.

The first stanza (vv 1-5) contains the idea of being tried and tested by God and found innocent. David, as far as he could perceive, had done nothing wrong in the circumstances that prompted this psalm.

The second stanza (vv 6-12) contains the idea of seeking God’s protection and knowing that God will hear your call. David knew from experience that God would answer when he (David) called.

The third stanza (vv 13-15) contains the idea of God’s deliverance and the compensation of both the wicked and the righteous. While the wicked seems to do well, that is limited to this life. David says that he will be satisfied with God’s likeness when he (David) awakes.

Sometimes, we will be wrongly accused. And God knows that. God will hear when His children call to Him. He always has and He always will. And God is our part and our portion, not any thing in this world.

Taken in reverse order, the ideas of this psalm seem more applicable. Because God is my portion, I can go to Him and know that He will listen to me and vindicate me when I am wrongly accused. I may not be vindicated in the here and now, but I will be vindicated.

Father, thank You for being the part and portion of Your people. Thank You for testing us and trying us so that You can vindicate us and we will come out of our tests and trials purified. Please teach me how to see the events of my life through the lens of You being my reward.

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SOAP Journal – 01 April 2019 (Psalm 16)

You will make known to me the path of life;
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.

Psalm 16:11

This psalm opens with David saying to God that he (David) has made the LORD his (David’s) Lord and Master. He goes on to say that those who have chosen to submit to God are his delight while those who worship other gods will have increasing sorrows. And there is much truth in this. The people I know who have a life that evidences God’s power at work are generally the most contented people I know. They are a delight to be around. In contrast, those who pursue other things often have empty lives. It is not that they lack for comforts or material wealth, but they, in my experience, are not fulfilled by the things they thought would fulfill them.

David goes on to speak of God’s support and how pleasant his (David’s) heritage is to him. And I can agree. A heritage of parents who follow the LORD, however imperfectly, is wonderful. To live among a people who worship the LORD is something that I cannot comprehend, but it seems like it would be a delight.

David closes the psalm talking about the LORD counseling him and instructing him. The last thought being that fellowship with God is the most pleasant and fulfilling way to live. While I cannot say that I walk continually in the awareness of God’s presence or that I am always as close to Him as I ought to be, I can say that I have experienced the peace and joy that He promises when I have drawn near to Him. I have been able to sense His guidance when I was still. The problem I run into is that I am so seldom still. I live in a time when every facet of life seems to conspire together to take away stillness. Between TV, radio, movies, the internet, and “smart” devices all vying for my attention, I have hardly any time without a distraction. As I wrote that, I was pleasantly surprised to note that people were not included on the list. I sometimes feel like people distract me from the moment; from the task at hand. But people are, if I actually believe my Bible, what God is all about. He loves people; loves us so much that He was willing to take on human flesh, live a perfect life, and die the death that we all deserve so that we could accept His work as the only way to Heaven and live with Him forever.

I agree with David that [the] lines have fallen to me in pleasant places. The inheritance that God has prepared for me is delight. Or, as C.S. Lewis wrote, “joy is the serious business of Heaven.”

Father, thank You that what You desire to give me is all of Yourself. Thank You for desiring better for me than I could have wanted without You intervening on my behalf. Please work in me that I might lay hold of that for which You laid hold of me. Please stir up desire in me to have more of You until I have all of You, that You might have all of me.

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.