SOAP Journal – 20 September 2017 (1 Samuel 18:10-30)

David was prospering in all his ways for the LORD [was] with him.

1 Samuel 18:14

At this point in Saul’s reign, things are actually good. Saul worries that God is with David and that bad things will happen if David is around Saul too much — after all, Saul did try to pin David to the wall with a spear … twice (v. 11) — so Saul appointed David a commander in the army.

As it turned out, appointing David a military commander served to put him more in the public eye and to increase his fame, because God continues to be with him. This also means, by extension, that Israel’s armies are victorious in their battles and that Saul appears to be a brilliant ruler. David becomes a household name in Israel and Judah (northern and southern parts of the kingdom) and does well on the battlefield.

Saul tries, twice, to make David his son-in-law. This is not, however, altruistic in motive. In both instances, Saul thinks that the hand of the Philistines may be against [David] (v. 17, 21) if David marries one of Saul’s daughters. When Saul offers his younger daughter, Michal, to David, Saul adds that she may become a snare to him (v. 21). There are no good motives lurking anywhere in all of this. The one positive is that Michal loved David, so she would actually get what she wanted if David married her. And marry her he does.

This morning’s verse is a reminder to me. It is tempting to look at the words and see only David’s military success or his marrying the king’s daughter. But prospering in all his ways means all his ways, including in his walk with God. Things can be going well for me in most areas of my life and I can be tempted to think that God is blessing me. But it could just as easily be a feint by the enemy trying to draw me out into dangerous waters. The only way to differentiate, that I can think of, is to look at my walk with God. Am I growing closer to God? Is my devotional time increasing in intimacy with God? Do I find myself more frequently victorious in the spiritual battles that come my way? Do I find myself resorting first to prayer and The Bible when things get difficult or confusing? If my answers are uniformly “Yes.”, then there is a good chance that the other areas of my life in which I am doing well are blessings from God. If the answer is “No.”, then I might want to take a serious look at where the pursuit of those material benefits is leading me.

Sun Tzu, one of the most famous tactical writers in history, said (I paraphrase) that the victorious general must seem like he is about to lose when he is ready to secure his complete victory. One’s enemy must always think he is secure and winning until the moment he loses. The same is true of my spiritual enemy. He will employ tactics like this (because they are sound strategy) and lead me to think that everything is awesome because of the material blessings on my life — good pay, a comfy house, favor at work with my boss and colleagues. There is nothing inherently wrong with those things, but they undermine my walk with God if I have done things that damage my relationship with God in order to get to that place.

What is the application? Only what Paul wrote to the Corinthians: Let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall. (1 Corinthians 10:12).

Father, thank You for this reminder that material blessing is not an indicator of a good walk with You or of a healthy relationship with You. Please keep me mindful of the pitfalls around me. There seems to be good favor at work and things moving in a mostly positive direction, but things are challenging in other areas of life. Please give me insight to know if there is something wrong that needs to be addressed or if this is just a difficult time.

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SOAP Journal – 09 June 2017 (Deuteronomy 30:19-20)

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the LORD your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.

Deuteronomy 30:19-20

I have read these verses before. This is familiar ground on which to tread. But I had not noticed that the verses are connected. There is no full stop between them as there is with other verses to signal the end of a thought. Tee only full stop appears in the middle of one of the verses. The punctuation might be inserted by the translators — I do not know enough about Hebrew to be able to comment intelligently — but I agree with the notion that these are linked thoughts.

Moses calls heaven and earth to witness. Wrongs, according to The Law, had to be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses. So Moses calls in two witnesses: heaven and earth. This could be the physical heaven and earth, as in the sky and dirt, or the spiritual Heaven and Earth, as in the abode of God and of humanity respectively.

The part of these verses that I want to zero in on is in the middle of things: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the LORD your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days.

Moses had gone over God’s promises — the pleasant and the terrifying — and God’s commands — even those that are difficult to understand — and what the consequences of obedience and disobedience are. Moses had set before the Israelites life and death, the blessing and the curse. God does the same thing for me through His Word and through those who teach it.

What this presentation should do is prompt me to choose life. The consequence of which is that I and my descendants will live. How do I choose life? I choose lifeby loving the LORD [my] God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him.

To love is a simple complexity. For example, I love my wife, but to live in such a way as makes that clear to her requires deliberate action on my part. I cannot blithely wander through life and expect that she will understand that I love her. Experience and available data do not support this idea. I must do things that she understands as loving her. Likewise, loving God is more than a feeling (now I have that song in my head), it is a deliberate choice to live out love as The Bible describes it.

Obedience is straightforward, but not always easy. I understand that God wants me to speak the truth in love, but some truths are difficult to take and trying to frame them in a gentle and loving manner requires a great deal of effort on my part.

Holding fast to God is a necessity if my faith is to survive the modern Western world. Everywhere, there are distractions and enticements that try to lure me away from the simplicity of the gospel and of my faith in God. There are outright assaults on the senses: billboards and advertisements of various kinds, music with earwormy lyrics and sounds and punditry blaring in almost every quarter. The Western world is an audio-video assault on my senses and my sensibilities. The only way to keep from being carried away by the waves of all this is to hold fast to God.

This is my life and the length of my days. If I want a full rich life and days that I can take pleasure in, then I must love, obey, and hold fast to God.

hank You, Father, for loving me first. Thank You for being dedicated to me before I was even aware of You. Please teach me to love and obey and hold fast to You so that I might walk in Your blessing rather than in the alternative.

SOAP Journal – 05 June 2017 (Deuteronomy 23:3-6)

No Ammonite or Moabite shall enter the assembly of the LORD; none of their [descendants], even to the tenth generation, shall ever enter the assembly of the LORD, because they did not meet you with food and water on the way when you came out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you. Nevertheless, the LORD your God was not willing to listen to Balaam, but the LORD your God turned the curse into a blessing for you because the LORD your God loves you. You shall never seek their peace or their prosperity all your days.

Deuteronomy 23:3-6

Right off the bat, this passage catches my attention, because Ruth, the forebear of King David, was a Moabitess (Ruth 1:4). But there seems to me to be a renunciation of that heritage on the part of Ruth. Naomi tells Ruth to go back to her people and her gods and Ruth refuses, saying that Naomi’s people (the Israelites) shall be her (Ruth’s) people and that Naomi’s God shall be her (Ruth’s) God (Ruth 1:15-17). It is an often taught passage of scripture. And I think that there is application in this for the believer.

The Israelites are told to hold the Moabites and Ammonites as enduring enemies because those peoples did not meet the Israelites with provisions, but summoned a prophet to curse the Israelites (Numbers 22-24). Plenty of peoples did not receive the Israelites on friendly terms. The Edomites, for example, were cold toward their distant relations, the Israelites and Edomites being descended from a pair of twin brothers named Jacob (Israel) and Esau (Edom) (Genesis 25:30; 32:3; 36). The Moabites and Ammonites were also distant relations, Moab and Ben-Ammi being the sons of Abraham’s nephew Lot (Genesis 19:36-38). It is one mass of familial dysfunction. But the point of departure seems to be that the Ammonites and Moabites tried to have the Israelites cursed. Apparently, God understands turning a cold shoulder to your family, but trying to curse those whom He has blessed is grounds for Bad Things. It should have been obvious, what with God telling Abraham that He (God) would bless those who bless him (Abraham) and curse those who cursed him (Genesis 12:3). This also carries application for me, as a believer.

Last item of note, for me, is that the LORD your God turned the curse into a blessing for you because the LORD your God loves you. God is still in the business of turning curses into blessings. He regularly flips the script on behalf of those whom He loves and who love Him. I have often experienced this in my own life and can attest that God has done this and continues to do this.

How can I apply all of this?

First, repentance; renunciation of what lies behind permits access to even those who were once barred from entering the assembly of the LORD. There is no wrong so grievous that repentance cannot elicit God’s forgiveness. The Moabites were supposed to be barred from the assembly even to the tenth generation. David, Ruth’s great-grandson, not only entered the assembly, but was anointed king of the Israelites. God can forgive anything if there is repentance.

Second, opposing God does not end well. The Moabites and Ammonites tried to do the exact opposite of what God intended to do. They tried to have the Israelites cursed when God intended to bless them. So the king of Moab squandered resources and time trying to have the Israelites cursed when he could have been blessed by doing nothing more than blessing them. The Israelites only wanted to pass through his kingdom and go on to the places God had in store for them. They sent messages saying this. All the king of Moab had to do was sit back and do nothing to avoid trouble. He could have invited blessing on himself and his people by blessing the Israelites. Cooperating with God’s plan always yields better results.

Last, God has turned things around for those He loves and who love Him in return. Paul later writes that God works all things together for good to whose who love God and are called according to His (God’s) purpose (Romans 8:28). The seas, I have learned, are not always peaceful when I am in the center of God’s will. But I always have peace on those rough seas that place me in the center of God’s will. There is always blessing for those who love God.

Let me repent of the things I have done wrong and do them no more. Let me cooperate with God’s plan. And let me love God wholeheartedly, knowing that He will be the One to protect me and provide what is needful in the midst of difficulty and trial.

Thank You, Father, for loving me and for being ready and willing to forgive anything of which we will repent. Please give me a repentant heart toward those things that displease You and give me a heart that wants to cooperate with Your plan and program.

SOAP Journal – 08 March 2017 (Numbers 6:22-27)

Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and to his sons, saying, ‘Thus you shall bless the sons of Israel. You shall say to them:
The LORD bless you, and keep you;
The LORD make His face shine on you,
And be gracious to you;
The LORD lift up His countenance on you,
And give you peace.’
So they shall invoke My name on the sons of Israel, and I then will bless them.”

Numbers 6:22-27

I love this blessing. In the beginning of Numbers, God is giving all sorts of specific instruction that was not covered anywhere else — who does what with which parts of the tabernacle, the rules around a Nazirite vow, and so on — and He comes to this.

The LORD bless you and keep you. The blessing part is straightforward, but the word that is rendered keep carries such a wealth of possible meaning that it might as well be a paragraph. The possible meanings include to keep, have charge of, guard, keep watch and ward, protect, to watch for, wait for, to watch, observe, retain, treasure up (in memory), to keep (within bounds), restrain, to observe, celebrate, preserve, protect, or reserve. There are many ways to keep someone and the word used carries most of the meanings as potential ways to understand it.

The LORD make His face shine on you, / And be gracious to you. These, again, are straightforward in their meaning, but the imagery is awesome. The blessing requested here is that God’s face would shine on me; that the LORD would beam at me and give me grace.

The LORD lift up His countenance on you, / And give you peace. Again, straightforward words, but awesome imagery. The idea is that God’s face would be lifted up toward me; that I  would not cause God sorrow or disappointment. The blessing invoked is peace. The word shalom carries a fair bit of meaning, but peace and contentment rank high in the list. And everyone could use some peace and contentment.

Today and every day, may I be kept by God and shown grace by Him and given His peace. May I experience His blessing and walk in the light of His presence. Please, Father, let these things be so.

SOAP Journal – 25 January 2017 (Exodus 39:32, 43)

Thus all the work of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting was completed; and the sons of Israel did according to all that the LORD had commanded Moses; so they did…. And Moses examined all the work and behold, they had done it; just as the LORD had commanded, this they had done. So Moses blessed them.

Exodus 39:32, 43

After several chapters of describing how the people did the work and in what order and how meticulously they adhered to God’s instructions, it culminates in the statement that the sons of Israel did according to all that the LORD had commanded Moses; so they did.

This is particularly interesting to me, because the command and the work follow on the heels of Moses coming down from the mountain with the second set of stone tablets. When he came down with the first set, he found the Israelites worshiping an idol and doing all sorts of sinful things. Unpleasantness followed and Moses had to slog back up the mountain to intercede for the Israelites and get a second set of tablets. When he comes down with the second set of stone tablets, he finds the Israelites ready and willing to donate resources and time and skills to the creation of the tabernacle. It is quite the contrast.

Three things pop as I read this.

One, the sons of Israel did according to all that the LORD had commanded Moses. Obedience. It was obedience that invited the presence of God into their midst. A few chapters back, it was noted that the pillar of cloud/fire would settle on Moses’ tent which was pitched outside the camp. God’s presence was not in their midst. In the next chapter, the tabernacle is set up and God’s presence comes to rest on it so strongly that Moses cannot go in to minister. The tabernacle is, according to other passages, the center of the camp. The tabernacle is set up and everyone sets up their campsites accordingly. God’s presence rests on the tabernacle which is in the middle of their camp. Their obedience invited God into their midst and God responded by accepting the invitation.

Two, Moses examined all the work. Our work; the things we do as believers are being examined. God examines my work. Paul writes that every believer’s works will be tested by fire and whatever remains is kept. God is a Consuming Fire and it is He Who tests my work in that way. The world also examines my works. People who know I am a believer are looking at my life, trying to see if my actions match the God I profess to serve. I am certain that there are times when my actions do not, just as I am certain that there are times when they do. God is gracious, He knows I will mess up and He is ready to forgive whenever I am ready to repent. People … not so much. My works; the things I do and say are being examined.

Three, Moses blessed them. When Moses saw that their works were obedient to God’s command, he blessed them. Obedience, as noted in the first thing, invites God’s presence. Obedience also prompts blessing. Too often I think of blessing as some specific thing that I want to happen or to receive. Maybe I think of blessing as a new job when I look for one (not looking, a the moment) or think of it as a new place to live (for which I am looking) or some other tangible thing that I can point to and call it a blessing. But God’s blessing is just as often — if not more often — something intangible, like love for others or joy despite sad circumstances or peace in the midst of difficulties. These blessings not only benefit me, but bring glory to God as others — who are examining my works — see these things and begin to wonder whether or not there might be something to the God I claim to follow. Others might see those intangible blessings and realize that God can give those to them as well.

Obedience invites God’s presence and prompts His blessing and my works, obedient or not, are being examined.

Thank You, Father, for this reminder that obedience is inviting to You. I know that I can get muddled and lose sight of this. Thank You also that obedience prompts blessing. It is pleasant to be reminded that there is more than just the satisfaction of having done right to be found in obedience to You. Please continue Your work in my life to make me obedient and right with You and holy, so that others may see the work You have done in me and glorify Your Name.

SOAP Journal – 14 October (Genesis 39:5-6)

 It came about that from the time he made him overseer in his house and over all that he owned, the LORD blessed the Egyptian’s house on account of Joseph; thus the LORDS blessing was upon all that he owned, in the house and in the field. So he left everything he owned in Joseph’s charge; and with him [there] he did not concern himself with anything except the food which he ate.

Genesis 39:5-6

These verses caught me this morning. Joseph had been sold into slavery by his brothers and that slavery took him down to Egypt and into the house of Potiphar. Potiphar was an important person in Pharaoh’s court and probably did not have a great deal of time to spare for running his household. Then he notices that Joseph works diligently and that everything Joseph touches is blessed. This persistent diligence and blessing leads to Potiphar making Joseph overseer in his house and over all that he owned. And the diligence and blessing continued. In fact, the LORD’s blessing was upon all that [Potiphar] owned, in the house and in the field.

The who and what and when are all pretty obvious in this story. Joseph is an example of what I should be doing. I should be working diligently and be trustworthy in my dealings such that my employer feels safe leaving anything in my charge. Is that how I work? Moreover, am I praying for God’s blessing on my employer, more specifically on the work I do for them?

For the first part — working diligently and in such a way as to prove myself valuable and an asset to the organization — I can check the box. For the second, I find I still need work. Let me continue in working so as to be a blessing, but add to it praying that the blessing is greater than my efforts alone could produce.

Father, thank You for Joseph as an example. Thank You that You want to bless both me in my work and my employer as a by-product of my work. Please continue to strengthen my hands to work diligently and to be a blessing. Please multiply the blessing such that it goes beyond. Thank You for providing me work to which I might apply myself.

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.