SOAP – 20 May 2019 (Psalm 24)

Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD?
And who may stand in His holy place?

Psalm 24:3

This psalm begins with the statement that the Earth, all it contains, and all who dwell in it belong to God (v. 1). God did, after all, create the dry land on which all humanity lives (v. 2).

From this fact of God’s ownership, David turns his eyes upward and wonders who can go up to the place where God dwells and who can stand before God (v. 3).  David already knows the answer, as God’s Law gives the criteria of having clean hands and a pure heart (v. 4). But David seems to shift away from ascending to Heaven or standing before God, because he then writes of receiving a blessing and salvation (vv. 5-6). Appropriately, David here inserts the word “Selah”, which invites us to pause and reflect.

The psalm then pivots from people approaching God to God coming down to visit people. The “gates” and “ancient doors” are commanded to lift up their heads and be lifted up in order that the King of Glory may come in (vv. 7, 9). The question is asked, both times, Who is the King of Glory? (vv. 8, 10) and is answered with variations on the LORD each time.

For all that David claimed that the Israelites — called Jacob in this psalm — seek God’s face, he was well aware of how feeble our attempts to approach God really are. It may have been this awareness that took him from wondering who was able to approach God to looking for God to approach people.

And that is where I find application this morning. For all that I would love to be a person who has clean hands and a pure heart and has not sworn falsely, I have sworn falsely and neither my heart nor hands are clean in my sight. I have harmed others in word and action and have promised that which I did not perform. I am, in short, not able to ascend into the hill of the LORD or stand in His holy place. I am unworthy.

But God came down to me. God wrapped Himself in flesh and lived with us and died to put to death my sin and raised Himself to life again that He might show me what He planned to do with me. I was already dead in my sins and He raised me to life. Jesus says, in Revelation 3:20 that He stands at the door and knocks, ready to come in if invited. The gates and doors of my heart and mind must be opened to Christ that He might enter in.

Once Christ has entered in, there is another change that happens. During our songs of worship yesterday, we sang a song with the lyrics “I am who You say I am.” Neither my heart nor my hands are clean in my own sight — I know what I have thought and purposed and done. But I am not judged by how I see me. I am judged by how God sees me. I am who He says I am. And He sees His Son because I am found in Christ.

If someone wandering the internet happens across this, know that the same can be said of you. You may see the filthiness of your hands and heart and know how often you have promised and not followed-through. God wants to cleanse those hands and that heart and to make you faithful. The cleansing can happen as soon as we recognize our guilt and ask God to cleanse us. He will then work with us to give us clean hands and pure hearts and make us faithful. It is not a one-and-done moment, but a day-by-day, moment-by-moment life lived pursuing God. It is simple, but not easy.

We are who God says we are.

Who does God say that I am?

Father, thank You for this psalm and for David’s shifting perspective – from Earth below to Heaven above. Thank You for causing him to see clearly that I might hear from him all these years later. And thank You that my identity is in You; that I am who You say I am.

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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 – 26 April 2018 (2 Kings 15:8-38)

Now the rest of the acts of Jotham and all that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah?

2 Kings 15:36

Most of this chapter is dedicated to a series of kings who are recorded more because they were, in fact, kings than because they had done anything particularly noteworthy. There were conspiracies and conspirators; thrones inherited and thrones taken by force; unGodly kings (mostly) and a Godly king or two.

Most of us, as I feel I have noted before, live footnote lives. As far as history is concerned, we are not worthy of note. There are those that history chooses to remember; people of significant greatness or terribleness, but the vast majority live unremarkable lives and pass into the next world without causing too much of a splash. Or do we?

There is, in Chaos Theory, the idea of the Butterfly Effect. Every little change effects more significant change in some other place and time. These kings may not have been particularly impactful in their time, but their examples — good and bad — have been used to speak to generations. There have been powerful evangelists like Billy Graham and D.L. Moody who were raised by someone and witnessed to by someone and those nameless someones are as important to the ministries of those evangelists as the evangelists themselves. Who can go unless he is sent?

I am encouraged afresh and anew by the footnote kings in The Bible. Though they may have done nothing particularly noteworthy in their time, still they are recorded and remind me that someone ruled in between the remarkable kings. Some ruled well while others ruled poorly. Some were Godly while others were not. I am reminded and exhorted to be faithful where I am and with the work that God has put my hands to.

Father, thank You for the reminder that everyone fills a role and a place, whether we live remarkably or not. Thank You, also, for the reminder that just being faithful in my sphere can have huge implications. Please cultivate faithfulness in me, that I might be faithful where You have placed me.

SOAP Journal – 03 October 2017 (1 Samuel 26)

The LORD will repay each man [for] his righteousness and his faithfulness; for the LORD delivered you into [my] hand today, but I refused to stretch out my hand against the LORDS anointed.

1 Samuel 26:23

This chapter is yet another account of Saul chasing David in the wilderness. David has been doing nothing wrong, as far as the book tells us, and some Ziphites come to visit Saul and tell him that David is hanging out near a particular hill (vv 1-4). It may be that Saul had stopped chasing David because he did not know where David was. It might be that he had actually realized that David was just trying to be safe from him (Saul). The list of possible reasons just keeps going.

Saul must have marched his army pretty hard, because they all drop off into a deep sleep when they get to where David is. David and one of his men, Abishai, sneak into the camp without waking anyone up and walk out with Saul’s spear and water jug (vv 5-12).

Once they are at a safe distance, David and Abishai stand on a hill top and David has a shouted conversation with Abner, Saul’s commander, about how he (Abner) had been derelict in his duties and fallen asleep on the job … literally. David has some harsh words for Abner, saying that he (Abner) and the whole of his forces must die for failing to protect the king (vv 13-16).

Saul hears David shouting and has his own loud conversation with David, finally concluding with Saul admitting that he has done wrong in pursuing David (vv 17-21). David wraps things up with a bow in this morning’s verse.

And this entire debacle acts as a reminder that God is in control. Saul went chasing after David, but David heard about it and was safe. David has yet another chance to remove Saul from the equation, but refuses to lift his hand against the LORD’s anointed.

On the subject of the LORD’s anointed, I have heard stories of pastors and teachers and whatnot claiming that no one should bring a charge against the LORD’s anointed when they (those pastors, etc.) are called on their nonsense. David certainly brings a charge. David straight up rebukes Saul and Saul responds with I have sinned (v 21). David, the man after God’s heart, rebukes Saul for his wrongdoing and Saul admits it. No one is exempt from correction, because no one is perfect. The heart; the motives of the one doing the correcting have to be in the right place, but correction is always necessary if we are in error.

Back to David’s statement that the LORD will repay each man his righteousness and his faithfulness. People may not repay good for good. People may not appreciate the faithfulness shown them. That should not matter to the believer, because the LORD will repay. And this loops into what Jesus said about doing my acts of righteousness. When I do things in obedience to God, I need to do them to be seen by God, Who will repay me good for good. If I do them to be seen by men, then I will get whatever men give me. If I do them to be seen by God, then I will receive recompense from the LORD: good for good.

Father, thank You that You see what is done both openly and in secret. Thank You that it is You Who repay our righteousness and faithfulness, even though both are from You to begin with. Please give me a heart looking to do good things to be seen by You; to be found faithful in Your sight; to be righteous according to Your standards.

Instruction (Hebrews 10:23-25)

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging [one another]; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

Hebrews 10:23-25

In these verses, I see a few positive instructions (Do this), a negative instruction (Do not do this), and some context for things.

First, the positives. I see believers instructed to (1) hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, (2) consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, and (3) encourage one another. We need these.

I need to be reminded to hold fast my hope. The verb used could also have been translated keep firm possession of. The writer of Hebrews is aware that my confession of hope is going to be challenged by non-believers; by false believers; by life in general. Life can be a bit of a hopeless mess sometimes and I, as a believer, am instructed to keep firm possession of the hope I profess.

Connected to this is the idea that I, as a believer, should be thinking about how I can stimulate my fellow believers to love and good deeds. When I looked up the Greek word for stimulate, I almost laughed at the fact that the word is the root for the English paroxysm. A paroxysm is a sudden or violent expression of something. God wants me, and other believers, to incite one another to unexpected outbursts of love and good deeds. I am to provoke my fellow believers to love and good deeds. And the thought of provoking love and good deeds makes me smile.

Finally, I am told to encourage my fellow believers. Keeping firm possession of my hope and provoking my fellow believers to outbursts of love and good deeds requires encouragement. My fellow believers will not always be provoked to the love and goodness I aim for. Life in this world is going to try daily to strip me of my hope. I need to be encouraged. And, knowing that I need to be encouraged, I need to turn around and encourage my brothers and sisters in Christ.

The negative instruction that believers not [forsake] our own assembling together, as is the habit of some. I cannot provoke my fellows to love if I am not in their company. I cannot encourage nor can I be encouraged if I am not in fellowship. Years back, I was at a party thrown by a college friend and the phrase was coined “Get on the boat.” I find this a helpful analogy in the idea of fellowship. To have fellowship is to “Get on the boat.” with my fellow believers. To be “on the boat” is to be a part of what is going on and to be present with others. That is what it meant at that party. That, oddly enough, is what happens when I am in fellowship — the fellows’ ship.

Lastly, the context. The writer of Hebrews tells me that He who promised is faithful. This is connected with the idea of keeping firm possession of my hope. But it can be broadly applied to all of the instruction. God is faithful to take my efforts to provoke love and good from my fellow believers and to bring it to fruition. God is faithful to encourage others through me if I will but step out and try to encourage. I have seen it time and again in my own life — I have no words and this thought that seems self-evident and shrugworthy to me is the very thing that my brother or sister needs to be bolstered and stood back on their feet. God is faithful.

But the writer does not stop there. He adds that the believer should be doing these things all the more as you see the day drawing near. Which day? The day of Christ’s return. It just keeps getting closer. Which means that I should just keep increasing in tenacity to hold on to my hope and increasing in my desire to provoke my brethren to love and goodness and increasing in my encouragement of my brethren.

Father, these are wonderful things you desire from me. It is a wonderful thing to have hope to which to cling and to encourage others is a blessing and it brings me delight to even consider the idea of provoking love and goodness in my fellow believers. Please make firm the root of these things in me and cause them to grow and produce fruit to Your glory. I ask that You would cause me to cling to Your hope as a shipwrecked man to the flotsam of his ruined vessel. I ask that You would silence my tongue when it would be sharp and instead fill my mouth with encouraging words for my brothers and sisters. And I ask that You would continue me in this delight of considering provoking my brethren to love and good. May I not only delight in the consideration, but revel in the execution. Please make these firm in me and increase them more each day until You return for Your church.

(Un)Faithful (Matthew 19:6)

“So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”

Matthew 19:6

Society has become blasé about divorce. Worse, the church — in many corners — has become accepting of it. While there are valid reasons for severing this tie, Jesus gave only one: immorality.

I do not intend to go on a diatribe about divorce. That is not what struck me about this passage. What caught my attention is how prevalent valid divorce could be if we took the word immorality (Greek porneia) at all of its possible values.

Porneia literally means illicit sexual activity. The term encompasses fornication, adultery, homosexuality, beastiality, incest, and any number of other potentially deviant behaviors — including the consumption of pornography, which is linguistically derived directly from the Greek term in question. Considering how many of us tested the waters or sowed wild oats or some such, every single one of those marriages is potentially dissoluble. The persistence of pornography on into marriage and the instance of adultery with which Western society is replete creates a whole other group of marriages that could be legitimately dissolved. Perhaps it is not so much that we have grown accepting of divorce as that our moral compass is so badly off that we understand that most marriages could legitimately be dissolved.

But porneia could go still further. Metaphorically, it is understood to mean idolatry or general unfaithfulness. How many of us men are watching TV shows and movies only for the “eye candy” and being unfaithful in some fashion? How many women are watching TV shows and movies and reading books that scratch that romantic itch that all women seem to have and being unfaithful in some fashion? We have become faithless not only to our God, but to one another.

How many believers, myself included, are being unfaithful to our God? Does He get the best of my time or what is left of my time — does He get first billing or does the TV or a movie or a book or music or anything else? Does He hear from me regularly or rarely — is I spend time trying to maintain my interpersonal relationships, but do I spend equal or greater amounts of time maintaining my relationship with God? Do I give Him all of me or withhold some portion, thinking that He will reject me if He knows me better? In short, am I being devoted to Him or am I being unfaithful? I must examine the deeper recesses of my heart and ask whether or not I am being faithful to my God. I must be faithful to Him first and from that faithfulness will flow all other faithfulness. If I am dedicated to Him then I will also be dedicated to my wife and children. It will flow from the greater (my relationship with God) to the lesser (all other relationships). I must get the first relationship right first or else hobble every other.

Today, let me examine myself and my relationship with God. Let me take the time to talk with Him and bring things out of the shadows where they are wont to hide. Let me expose everything between us to His Light. And, in His Light, let me refuse to make excuses for my failings, but resolve instead to be faithful to Him.