SOAP Journal – 29 January 2018 (1 Kings 9:1-9)

The LORD said to him, “I have heard your prayer and your supplication, which you have made before Me; I have consecrated this house which you have built by putting My name there forever, and My eyes and My heart will be there perpetually.”

1 Kings 9:3

After Solomon has finished all his activity — 20 years’ worth of building projects — God came to chat with him during a quiet moment. God wanted to let Solomon knows that He had heard Solomon’s prayer and that the temple would indeed be a holy place and one that God kept a close watch on. God also reaffirms His promise to David by extending the same offer to Solomon: Follow God wholeheartedly and He will establish your throne.

There is something fascinating to me in God’s offer to establish Solomon’s throne. I find myself looking at God’s Law and how the king was instructed to comport himself under that Law and find that a king following that Law would rule by love. This is not to say that he necessarily would love his subjects — though that would certainly be true — but to say that Machiavelli’s method of rule by love would come into play. Any ruler who ruled according to God’s Law would be beloved by the people. God’s Law forbade amassing wealth and unnecessary accoutrements and wives and a whole host of other things. The king, under God’s Law, was supposed to simply be a man who ruled other men. That was it.

But God (one of my favorite phrases in The Bible) had more in mind that merely Solomon’s temporal throne. God was looking down the corridors of future history and telling Solomon that he could be a part of the story of the Messiah if he chose to walk with God. And God already knew that Solomon wanted to be a part of that story

God is not handing out earthly thrones to all and sundry, but He does still extend the offer to be a part of the story of the Messiah. Jesus’ invitation was to all. Let all who are weary and heavy-laden come. John’s gospel says that whoever believes in the Son has everlasting life and goes on to say that the intent of Christ’s coming was that the world might be saved through Him.

God extends to me and everyone else to invitation to be a part of the story of the Messiah. Instead of being His forebears, we can be His brethren by redemption. And the conditions are the same. If I want to be a part of that story, then I must  walk before [God] … in integrity of heart and uprightness. I must come to God to be redeemed so that I can walk in the righteousness of Christ and I must do so with my whole heart.

Father, thank You that the conditions of the promise do not change. It has been and ever shall be that You desire those who would come to You to do so with our whole heart. Please search me and know me and see if my heart is divided. If it is, please tear down the walls I have built up so that I follow with my whole heart. Please do not allow me to compartmentalize You, but instead take over all of me.


SOAP Journal – 20 June 2017 (Joshua 3:4)

However, there shall be between you and [the ark of the covenant] a distance of about 2,000 cubits by measure. Do not come near it, that you may know the way by which you shall go, for you have not passed this way before.

Joshua 3:4

As Joshua and the Israelites prepare to cross the Jordan River to enter the Promised Land, the leaders went through the camp and commanded their various groups to be mindful of some things. This morning’s verse is one of those things.

This instruction is practical. Keep a good distance — 2,00 cubits works out to about 5,000 feet or so — between yourself and the ark of the covenant.

First, because it was known that the ark was holy and only the Levites were supposed to heft the poles that it was carried on. A respectful distance was prudent.

Second, because the Israelites were entering into uncharted territory for them. The leadership notes to the Israelites that you have not passed this way before. The Israelites had wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, so knew that area pretty well. They had not been across the Jordan, so it was prudent to make sure that they knew which way the ark — the physical representation of God’s Presence — was going.

The principle I can draw from this is simple: Do not get ahead of God. God sometimes reveals a portion of His will to believers — sometimes even to non-believers — and it is an easy mistake to try to run off and do what God has revealed without waiting on Him to tell me when and how He wants His work done.

The Israelites could have gotten across the Jordan and run off to storm Ai and they would have lost that battle, because God was not sending them after soft targets first, He was sending them against Jericho — the hardest of hard targets available.

In the same way, God will not always send me to do the thing that I think will further His work. He may send me to do something that I think is unrelated. I heard a story of a missionary who arrived in the country to which God had called him and the missionary saw graffiti denouncing the leader of that country. God put on the missionary’s heart to clean up that graffiti. So he did. And someone saw him doing it and brought it to the attention to the leader of that country. The leader called the missionary in and the door for missions work was thrown wide open to that missionary. Cleaning graffiti hardly seems related to missions work, but God has a way of connecting dots that we do not even realize are on the same page, let alone related. So I need to wait for God to show me where He wants me to go.

7 years ago, I had just completed a temporary teaching contract and thought that I would be able to find work in the area into which I was moving. I was preparing to marry and my fiancée and I were looking for a place. I had applied to every opening even remotely near the places we were considering living and nothing was happening. I felt like God was telling me to look elsewhere, so I retooled my resume and went looking for writer jobs. I received some very polite “Thank you, but No Thank You” letters from some of the places to which I applied. I went to job fairs and interviewed for all manner of job. Eventually, I began substitute teaching. Then God opened a door to another temporary teaching job. The very day I was signing that contract, I received a call inviting me to interview for a writing job. I interviewed and was hired on. 6 years and change later, I am still in the technical writing profession, but I never would have found my way here had I not followed God’s instruction and been ready to respond in God’s time.

Some of my stories do not go so well. Sometimes, I think I see where God is taking things and I try to prepare the way for them. The trouble with that is that He is my Shepherd, not the other way around. He prepares the way ahead of me. Let me learn both from The Bible and my own experience and wait for God to show me where He is leading.

Thank you, Father, for going before me into every place I will ever go while following You. Thank You for preparing those paths. Please give me eyes that look for You, feet that follow in Your footsteps, and a heart that is ready to wait for You to direct me.

SOAP Journal – 27 February 2017 (Leviticus 22:32-33)

“You shall not profane My holy name, but I will be sanctified among the sons of Israel; I am the LORD who sanctifies you, who brought you out from the land of Egypt, to be your God; I am the LORD.”

Leviticus 22:32-33

I went through a few chapters this morning before anything seemed to invite consideration. There were, of course, sections that are controversial, such as chapter 20 and all the judgments passed down on the various forms of sexual sin called out therein. But I feel that I must focus on this concept this morning: sanctification.

These two verses contain several bits of instruction which I would like to unpack.

God tells the Israelites — possibly the priests, specifically, in the context of the passage — that they shall not profane [His] holy name. God’s Name is to be kept sacred and sanctified. And it is not merely His Name in the sense of what the Israelites are to call Him, but His reputation. The Israelites are to guard God’s reputation through their actions. He expects them to obey His commands and thereby set themselves apart; sanctify themselves and to sanctify Him by extension. He states this explicitly, saying that He will be sanctified among the sons of Israel. There is no tacit command, no implicit requirement. This is right out in the open. The way to guard the holiness of God’s Name; God’s reputation is to sanctify Him myself.

God continues. He reminds the Israelites that He is the LORD Who sanctifies [them]. They are to sanctify Him, but this is in response to His sanctification of them. Their relationship with Him will be marked by action on His part and response on theirs. He sanctifies them and they, in response, sanctify Him in their midst. He gives more context than that, though, as He reminds them that He brought [them] out from the land of Egypt, to be [their] God. He came and got them.They were not looking for Him.

All of this is a parallel to the life of the New Testament (NT) believer. We were not, as a rule, looking for God when we met Him. He came to find us and call us into relationship with Himself. He set us apart. He saved us. In response to this, He wants us to treat Him as holy; unique among all relationships in our lives. And this is echoed in so many of the instructions to NT believers. For example, God calls me, as a husband and father, to love God first and best and most. And He tells me that doing so; that loving Him first and best works itself out in loving everyone else in my life better and more fully than I otherwise could. He acts. I respond. The pattern repeats like a dance.

And it is that dance metaphor that I catch on this morning. I used to go dancing in ballrooms and learned that two things are necessary for good dancing to happen: a strong lead and a good follow. Two leads will battle for guidance of the dance. Two follows will go nowhere at all. A weak lead and a good follow may manage to not be terrible, but will not experience the best dancing. A strong lead and a bad follow will move around the floor, but with less grace and beauty than could have been achieved. A strong lead and a good follow is glorious. The lead nudges and the follow moves in that direction. The lead pulls and the follow is drawn in. Having seen and experienced the combination of strong lead and good follow, I know that the best dancing happens under those circumstances. Likewise, the best walk with God happens when God is the lead (not me combating Him for the lead) and I am a good follow. Under those circumstances, my walk with God feels effortless and looks, to all the world, as holiness should.

This morning’s verses remind me that my walk with God has much in common with dance and that I sanctify Him best when I follow His lead. He sanctifies me so I respond by sanctifying Him. He draws me out of bondage to sin and I respond by living in that freedom and following Him to still greater liberty.

Father, please teach me to be a good follow in our dance. I would flow across the floor of life like those who have moved me in their dance. May my walk with You be as beautiful and as joyous and as moving as those dances, Please make me a follow worthy of Your lead.

You Follow Me (John 21:22)

Jesus said to him, “If I want him to remain until I come, what [is that] to you? You follow Me!”

John 21:22

There is a divine comfort in this exchange.

Peter denied Christ three times. Three times Jesus asked Peter if he (Peter) loved Him (Jesus). Three times Peter said that he loved Jesus. On the heels of this, Peter turns around and sees John. And all I can think is how typical that is of me, too — God does something amazing in my life, restores me to close fellowship with Him and I start craning my neck around to see what everyone else is doing. Peter does not stop with just looking around to see what is going on and where everyone is, but goes so far as to ask Jesus “What about John?”

Jesus’ answer is THE answer. Jesus says, in essence, “What about John? John’s walk with Me is John’s walk with Me. You tend to your walk with me.”

There are plenty of questions that fly around about how I should deal with my fellow believer — Cain put it in the form of “Am I my brother’s keeper?” and we have been repeating it in much the same way ever since — but Jesus boils it down to the essential. How am I dealing with Him? My relationship with Him will impact every other relationship in my life. Every. One.

I need not fret that I will treat others horribly if I focus on following Christ. Christ treated the hurting gently and laid the smack down on the proud. He knew what everyone needed and gave them precisely that. If I follow Him, I will also be giving to each what they need, not because I am wise or insightful, but because I am following in the footsteps and actions of the One Who is. Whether or not God uses one of my brothers or sisters in Christ does not change my walk with Him. I should be praying for them; loving them; encouraging them; exhorting them regardless of their walk with Christ. Christ’s instruction is simple: You follow Me.

Let me but follow Him and He will sort everything else.

Everyday Denial (Luke 9:23)

And He was saying to all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.”

Luke 9:23

There are four things mentioned here.

First, Jesus says If anyone wishes to come after Me and limits the group to which the next statements apply. If I do not wish to come after Him, then I can stop listening.

Second, Jesus speaks of what I must lay down — he must deny himself. I must turn away from myself and the selfishness that is promoted in the culture in which I live. I must place my focus elsewhere.

Third, Jesus tells me what I should pick up in place of what was laid down — take up his cross daily. I notice that He does not tell me that my cross is something I take up once and I will always carry it, but rather that I must take it up daily. Every day, I will be called to crucify myself anew. Every day, I will need to make the walk to the place where my self dies. Every. Day.

Fourth, Jesus tells me what I am to do once I have shouldered my cross — follow Me. This is the same instruction given as the calling of the apostles. This is the same challenge issued to the rich young ruler. The ruler was told to sell all that he had — to deny himself and take up his cross — and to follow Christ. The calling never changes. It is always a call to follow Christ. Sometimes, He is walking up the hill to be crucified. Sometimes He is walking on the water. The point is not where he is walking, but that I am to follow.

This morning, let me deny myself, take up my cross, and follow behind Jesus. These may look different every day, but I need to repeat them every day.

Misled (Mark 13:5)

And Jesus began to say to them, “See to it that no one misleads you.”

Mark 13:5

In the context of this verse, Jesus is talking about the End Times and His Second Coming and connected events. There is, however, a larger premise here.

There are going to be folks who will try to mislead me. They will teach things that will sound true. They will say things that undermine my faith in Christ or that just plain confuse me. I need to be wary, lest these people succeed in their attempts to deceive.

There will be others who are simply in error. They will not deliberately deceive me, but they will be walking down the wrong path and I will be misled if I follow them. I need to be on my guard lest I follow them down the wrong path.

There will be still others who will teach as doctrine the things of which the Holy Spirit has been convicting them. Some will be convicted that they cannot consume certain types of media and will attempt to force their limitations on others’ freedom. It is one thing if we, as stronger believers, lay down our freedoms in order to preserve our brethren — and we almost all have the opportunity to do so in some area. It is quite another thing if we feel that God has condemned something which He has quite clearly not — like eating certain types of food or wearing cosmetics or jewelry. I can be misled into thinking that what the Spirit has convicted by brother of is doctrine when it is not. I need to be on guard lest I fall prey to a legalistic way of walking.

This, I think, is why Jesus never once told us to follow anyone but Him. His invitation was, and is, and always will be: “Follow Me.” Too many times, we get caught up in the personality of a particular teacher or leader and we stop following Christ to follow that person. We will, almost invariably, find that we have been misled. We stop reading Christ’s own Words and praying that the Spirit would open them to us and rely on others to tell us what God said and find that we have been misled — whether by deception or by that person’s burgeoning understanding being poorly communicated.

I must follow Christ in order to avoid being misled. All other leaders can and probably will mislead me.

Followers (Matthew 4:25)

And great multitudes followed Him from Galilee and Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea and beyond the Jordan.

Matthew 4:25

Something that I noticed about this verse as I read over it this morning is that it said multitudes followed Him. It does not say that multitudes became His disciples or that multitudes lived out His preaching and teaching, but that multitudes followed Him.

In the modern era, we have social media, which is neither truly social nor truly media, and the ability for people to follow us. We can follow people on Twitter and Instragram and “friend” them on Facebook and so on.

This is not so different from what was going on with Jesus and these multitudes. Many people were following Him — watching what He did and maybe commenting on it, but not really taking any sort of concrete action; never forming a relationship with Him. The disciples, by contrast, were in the beginning stages of forming their relationship with Jesus. Sometimes, we follow businesses on social media in order to get something — discounts, contests, what-have-you — and we parallel what this crowd did with Jesus. He was curing illness — mental and physical — and doing some majorly Good Things. And that is why some of the people in the crowd were there: to get something or to say they knew Him when or to witness the miraculous.

Where am I this morning? Am I walking in the shoes of the disciples — working on a relationship with Jesus, at whatever stage it may be — or am I with the crowd — just following in order to get something or see something? The answer is about eternity. Relationship is what He requires for me to enter into His rest. I never knew you is arguably the most heartbreaking phrase ever to fall from the lips of Christ in scripture. It certainly will be when it is uttered at the judgment seat. Am I a follower or a disciple? Have I “friended” Jesus or am I His friend?