SOAP Journal – 19 June 2017 (Joshua 2:10)

For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed.

Joshua 2:10

Joshua sent two spies in to get intelligence on the lay of the land: strong points, weak points, that sort of thing. He told them to pay particular attention to Jericho, which makes sense, as it is the first city that the Israelites will conquer in the Promised Land. The spies go in, but are somehow revealed. They shelter in the home of a prostitute named Rahab. She tells the city leadership that the spies came to her house, but had already gone by the time the gates were being shut for the night. Meanwhile, the spies were hiding on her roof under stacks of stuff. This morning’s verse is part of her response to the spies before she helps them escape.

The denizens of Jericho had heard of what the LORD had done. They heard of the Red Sea opening up and the Israelites crossing on dry ground. They heard of Og and Sihon, two kings across the Jordan River from them who were neither kings nor even living at the time of the spies going through the land. The people of Jericho had heard, which means that the stories had gotten around. People were talking about what God had done for and through the Israelites.

The question for me is whether or not I am telling others what God has done for me. His fame spreads by word of mouth. I tell someone about something awesome God has done for me and they, in turn, relate the story to others. And God’s Fame grows. And His fame should grow. He has done great things for me and in me.

I was once a tremendously angry person and now that anger — while still an emotion that I feel intensely — is under pretty tight rein, by God’s doing. I did not meditate or follow any other sort of practice to gain control of my anger, I prayed and God gave me control of my anger. It was not an overnight hand-off, either, but a lengthy process of learning to surrender my anger to God’s control and to gain control of it by ceding control of it to Him. And it is things like that which increase God’s fame. The rage of a violently angry person brought to heel (me). The immediate and complete abstinence from alcohol on the part of a former alcoholic (one I know).

Am I sharing these stories (and others like them) with others? If yes, then I am taking part in increasing God’s fame and giving people a correct view of His power. If no, then I am robbing God of glory that is rightfully His and robbing other people of a right view of God’s might.

Father, thank You for showing Yourself mighty on behalf of those who love You. Please give me a mouth that is ready to praise You to anyone and everyone; to increase Your fame by nothing more than telling the truth about how You have impacted my life for the best.

SOAP Journal – 11 May 2017 (Deuteronomy 11:2,7)

Know this day that I [am] not [speaking] with your sons who have not known and who have not seen the discipline of the LORD your God—His greatness, His mighty hand and His outstretched arm … but your own eyes have seen all the great work of the LORD which He did.

Deuteronomy 11:2,7

Moses takes a moment to remind his audience of who it is he is addressing. He is not talking to a bunch of people who have never seen God act on their behalf. Some of the group he is addressing were present at the parting of the Red Sea (v. 4). They were possibly quite young, but they were there. Most of them were present when others challenged Moses’ authority and God made it quite clear that Moses was His (God’s) chosen spokesman (v. 6). Again, some of them may have been young, but seeing the ground open and swallow people alive is the kind of thing that would stick with you. What Moses does in this very brief span of verses is establish that these people to whom he is speaking have already had the bona fides of God and Moses established in their sight. These verses are a reminder that he does not really need to go over the things God has done, because his audience was there.

This establishing of to whom he is speaking is important. It drives home the purpose of the doings of God that he is recounting. He is not going back over these things because he is talking to a bunch of youngsters who have not seen the goodness and might of God in their own lives, but because he wants to recall to mind; to make fresh in their memory the things that they have personally witnessed. Many centuries later, a woman meets Jesus at a well and runs back to town to tell everyone that she has encountered a prophet, at the very least, and possibly the Messiah Himself. The people go out to meet Jesus and their belief based on the woman’s testimony changes and they tell her It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world. The experience became personal.

So, too, is it in my own life. I am not reading a Bible behind which I have seen no power, but a message that I have personally seen change lives. I believe in a God who has shown Himself mighty on my behalf and on behalf of others whom I have known. I have seen God make addicts clean and seen Him restore families that had been broken. I have seen Him mend marriages damaged by various things. I have seen Him heal miraculously and even more miraculously give people a peace in facing their end that led others to belief. I have received His comfort and experienced the peace that is beyond understanding. All of this is my own experience; my own lived walk with God.

There is no action item for me this morning. No addition to my “To Do” list or my “To Be” list. Just a reminder that I have, with my own eyes, seen the power of God. When God speaks to me through The Bible, He is not addressing someone who has yet to see anything that might convince them of His character but someone who has seen Him work in ways consistent with His revealed character on behalf of himself (me) and others.

Say on, Father. I am listening.

SOAP Journal – 27 April 2017 (Deuteronomy 6:4)

Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!

Deuteronomy 6:4

In chapter 6, Moses says that he is getting into the commandment, the statutes, and the judgments that God has commanded him to teach to the Israelites (6:1). Moses begins what will be a fairly lengthy lesson — Deuteronomy is 34 chapters long — with this morning’s verse.

Hear. Moses is not merely telling them to listen, which we regularly do. We listen to music. We listen to people talk. We listen to our significant other. Moses wants them to go beyond recognizing that he is speaking and registering that it is Moses talking and to move into the realm of taking the words and mulling them over so that they completely understand what is being said and remember it.

The LORD is our God. All of The Law and obedience to it; all of the statutes and judgments that follow are couched in this context. If the One telling me how to live my life is anyone less than God, then I am under no real obligation to pay that person any mind. Sure, governments can apply coercive force to make people compliant — that is more or less how the punitive measures in the system of law are designed to work — but governments do not make people, people make governments. The atheist would argue that God is also a fabrication of people. And the whole conversation would grind to a halt, because we could not get past that one essential point. For the believer, there is One God and He is owed obedience if for no other reason than because He is our Maker. For the atheist, we are the product of some process or another and a process is owed no allegiance. Moses calls out this fundamental departure point at the outset. He has already reminded the Israelites of the miracles they have seen and the Ten Commandments, which were delivered in a miraculous fashion. If the LORD is not my God, then I can close The Bible and walk away, because I am not obligating myself to hear what it has to say or obey what I find therein. If the LORD is my God, then I am obliged to listen to Him and do what He bids me.

The LORD is one. There are layers to this statement. On one layer, this is a statement that there is only one God. On another layer, this is a statement that God, while being three distinct persons, is One God. I very distinctly see Father, Son, and Spirit all acting independently, yet always toward the same end. On yet another layer, the first layer gives some scope. If God were one of many gods, then I would need to learn how to please all of the gods, as all of the polytheistic beliefs have. But He is not. Because He is the one and only God, I need only learn what pleases Him and act on that.

Because God is my God and because He is one — the only God, three persons in one God, and the only Lawgiver — I need to hear what He commands and act on it. Let me do so.

Thank You, Father, for giving me clear direction and a singular set of directives. Thank You that You later boil it all down to just two things: love You and love others. Simple is good for me. I can remember simple. Please teach me how to and give me the ability to not only remember simple, but to obey it and live it.

SOAP Journal – 29 August 2016 (1 John 1:1)

What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life …

1 John 1:1

It is bad practice to take a verse out of context. It is also not so fantastic to take a part of a verse and start making doctrines from it. This verse is the first in the book, so there is not much in the way of preceding context. And what I see in this verse is not going to change any doctrines, that I am aware of.

John is commonly thought to have written this letter, hence the name of the book, but there is nothing as concrete as in the letters of Paul and Peter to tell me that this is definitely from the pen of John the Beloved. There are some similar thematic elements between this letter and John’s gospel — the focus on love, for example — and, I am told, some similar linguistic constructs — not reading Greek, I could not say — so the likelihood is high that this letter is, indeed, written by John. The audience to whom this letter is written is not explicitly stated, though there are passages that state that the author is writing to little children, fathers, and young men (2:12-14). Essentially, this letter is meant for believers at every stage in life. And that life may be either spiritual or physical, as the things mentioned as pertaining to the three groups are generally spiritual in nature.

With that in mind, what do I see this morning? Verse four (v4) tells me that these things were written so that our joy might be made complete. The things in question begin being described in this verse: (1) What was from the beginning, (2) what we have heard, (3) what we have seen with our eyes, (4) what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life. (1) John speaks of the Word made flesh in his gospel — one of those similarities that make folks think this letter is written by John — and what was from the beginning is God. Nothing else has been around that long. (2) This is not just about God, but about things heard. I can hear about God by reading The Bible and I can hear directly from God Himself. This tidbit does not give me any insight into which is intended. (3) What I have seen is personal experience. While I may have heard about God by reading scripture, a thing must happen to me personally in order for me to have seen it. What the author of this letter is going to be writing about is not hearsay, but is personal experience; eyewitness testimony. (4) As if the preceding was not clear enough, this is added — that these things have been looked at and touched. This implies a thorough examination. This was no cursory glance, but an investigation.

This leaves me with two action items. First, I need to be aware that I can only really testify to what I have personally experienced. If I am not handling God’s Word regularly and am not looking for Him to intervene in my life and seeing that intervention, then I really have nothing to say to others about God. I cannot tell someone about another person’s friend and be credible as a source, I must personally know the One about Whom I am talking. Second, this feels like an invitation to do all of these things: to hear and see and examine and touch. Not only must I have done these things in order to be a credible source when telling others about God, but this sounds like an echo of other places in scripture like the verse that invites me to taste and see that the LORD is good or the verse where Thomas is invited to reach his hands into Jesus’ wounds. God does not want me to stop at a distance and never come close to Him, God invites contact.

Father, thank You that You are not distant, but close. Thank You also, that You are not afraid of my examination, but rather invite it. You want me to hear and see and touch and find out about You personally. Thank You for these things. Please remind me that this is not about rules and regulations, but about a relationship with You. Do This and Do Not Do That is easier to manage than a living, breathing relationship. Rules are such predictable things, but living beings are not. And there is no one more alive than You. Please teach me to be at home with relationship and give me things to recount — times I see Your works and times with You that can be nothing else.

Ears to Hear (Matthew 11:15)

He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

Matthew 11:15

The simple fact of anatomy is that the overwhelming majority of people have ears. The fact is so prevalent that a cliché cropped up saying that we have two ears and one mouth as an indicator that we should listen twice as much as we speak. I think the ratio is off and that still more listening should be done, but that is not to the point. The point is this: the overwhelming majority of people have ears, but it is a small minority who actually hear.

The stereotypes persist. Wives complain that their husbands do not listen. Mothers complain that their children do not listen. Husbands (if they bother to speak) complain that their wives do not listen. We are so eager to be heard and so unwilling to hear.

There is a fundamental disconnect between the realities of listening and hearing. I listen to music and to the leaves being rustled by winds. I listen to my son’s babble and my daughter’s sometimes incomprehensible songs and monologues. These are not things that I need to understand. I can passively absorb the sounds and bask in the feeling of them without needing to comprehend anything. But hearing … hearing is another thing entirely. I hear when my daughter wakes in the middle of the night. I hear when my boss delivers an assignment. I hear when my goal is comprehension and the ability to act on what I hear.

That is what we lack. That is what, too often, I find myself lacking. God speaks and we listen, but we do not hear. We listen to the sound of God’s voice and soothe our souls to sleep. We listen to His commands and nod our agreement with their justice and rightness, but we have no intention of doing anything about it. We have ears to listen, but not ears to hear.

What I need — in all areas of life where what I do matters — is ears to hear. I need ears to hear what God would say to me — to hear and to do what He says. I need ears to hear my wife when she speaks — to hear and to take actions that will correct errors and heal hurts and remind her that she is loved. I need ears to hear my children — to hear what they say and what those thing reveal about the character being formed in my children and what actions I need to take as a father to guide my children to the right path. I need to hear in all of these circumstances and in more.

Lord God, please touch my ears that I might hear. Make the connection between ears and mind and heart and limbs that what is heard would impact the way I think and what I determine to do and what actually is lived out by my actions.

Hearing and Acting (Isaiah 59:1)

Behold, the LORDS hand is not so short
That it cannot save;
Nor is His ear so dull
That it cannot hear.

Isaiah 59:1

There is a tendency for believers to have a certain amount of confidence in God’s power and to lose confidence at the end of that. Worse, we have a tendency to think that God fails to hear us.

There are probably more root causes of these issues than I will ever know. I think that the ones I most often hear, though, are that we doubt His power because we do not see it employed and active in the world around us and that we think He does not hear because He does not answer. In both cases, we operate under a wrong supposition: we suppose that God behaves the way people do.

We expect that God would always use His power because people who have power are wont to do exactly that: use their power. We suppose that God is held to the same operating principles as fallen men. And He is not. God does not use His power for whatever reason makes sense to Him. It may be, as seems to be indicated in portions of the gospels, that we lack faith and thus limit His ability to work. It may be that He does work and that we chalk it up to coincidence or the law of averages or some other way of explaining away what is legitimately miraculous. Science keeps trying to do that with the plagues of Egypt. It may also be that He is not working because He is waiting for the right moment to step in — the moment when it is impossible apart from His intervention. He did exactly that with Lazarus. It may be any of a host of reasons that simply do not occur to me. One thing is certain: God is not lacking power to accomplish the things that concern me.

We also suppose that God’s silence is indicative of failing to hear. There is more than one thing at work here. There is God’s actual silences and there are those times when He answers and we do not want to hear that answer and so conclude that God has not answered. There are probably more, but those are the ones that happen most often in my own life. God’s actual silences are not indicative of His not hearing me. To think this is to ascribe human limitations to God. He is not encumbered by anything so paltry as physical ears that can only register so many sounds at once or by time that limits the opportunity to hear something spoken. He is outside of time and He is not a man to be subjected to man’s limitations. He is abundantly able to hear every word spoken and every prayer uttered. If He is silent, then He is not yet ready to speak or, perhaps, I am not yet ready to hear and understand the answer. Sometimes, I think that God withholds answers from me because I would not understand them if He gave them. So He brings me through things that give me the necessary framework to understand the answer and then responds to me. It is like a teacher not directly answering a student’s question, but taking them the long way around through related concepts and necessary context in order to fully comprehend the answer when they receive it. God is the greatest Teacher in the history of teaching. Sometimes, I think that God remains silent because the answer is time-bound and needs to be given at an exact moment in time in order to be useful. Like knowing who to marry or what job to take. Knowing that I would be a technical writer today would have changed the arc of my learning and early employment, but that also would have changed whether or not I arrived at this point in life. I might never have become a technical writer had I set out to become one. I actually set out to become a teacher and landed in technical writing. Knowing where I would be today would actually have hurt my chances at being here today. Sometimes, answers are like that.

Part of my faith; my trust in God is and must be to trust that He hears me when I call to Him and that He operates to bring about good for me. He has promised to both hear me and act on my behalf. To trust Him is to accept that His silence has a reason and that His inaction may be an action unto itself.

Heard v Seen (Job 42:5-6)

I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear;
But now my eye sees You;
Therefore I retract,
And I repent in dust and ashes.

Job 42:5-6

Hearing about someone and meeting them are worlds apart. Years ago,  was blessed to be a part of a mobile sound company. We went all over the place setting up sound for concerts — indoors, outdoors, small venues, large venues. And I learned something about musicians: they’re just people. I know this isn’t a paradigm shift for a lot of people, but for a guy in his late teens, that was a bit of a news flash. Shooting the breeze with bass players and trying to encourage vocalists after they’d been chewed out by a manager (not sure if I should have done that, but I was young and dumb and the band did well, so I don’t think any harm was done) taught me that those people that I had looked up to were just as flawed and fragile as me — we all have feet of clay. So it should be no surprise to me that the difference between hearing of God and hearing from God is pretty world-altering, too.

Job and his friends spent the whole book going back and forth about why Job was in that predicament. His friends all insisted that God only blesses the righteous and only punishes the wicked. That God blesses the righteous and punishes the wicked are both certainly true, but they are surface level knowledge. Anyone who is passingly acquainted with me is likely to know that I’m a word nerd. It takes someone intimate with me to know why. Job had a deeper understanding of God than his friends. Job starts the book off by telling his wife that they will accept whatever God sends their way — feast or famine, good or bad. As the book progresses, Job moves to wanting to understand why God would allow Job’s circumstances. He wants to know if he did something wrong or if there’s something he doesn’t understand. By the end of the book, Job has moved to justifying himself instead of seeking to understand God. This is where God steps into the frame and everything changes.

Job says that he had heard of God before this book began. He knew God by reputation. He knew that God is good and that God is merciful and that God is forgiving. But he only knew those things based on reputation. He had heard that God was those things and he accepted it. But now, at the close of the book, he sees God for himself. Seeing God results in humbling (I retract) and repentance (and I repent in dust and ashes). Job sees the gaps in his understanding of God not because of some new teaching, but because of a personal encounter with God. People can tell me that God is good all day every day and I can accept their estimation because I have found those people trustworthy. But I will never truly know the goodness of God until I experience it for myself. I can say with the apostle Paul that God is the God of all comfort and that the Holy Spirit is the Comforter in deed as well as name based on my experience with them after the death of my youngest sister years ago. I can testify to the peace of God and how it surpasses our understanding from having experienced it years ago when a relationship fell to pieces in a singularly spectacular fashion. There are times when the world shifts and God is ready to step in and prove Himself to be what we have heard Him to be. Those moments define our relationship with Him. Will we let our Father wrap us in His arms and give us the Comfort we crave? the Peace we need? Will we bury our faces in Him and let Him enfold us or will we push away?

My daughter does both. Sometimes, she wants comfort and daddy’s arms are precisely the place she wants to be. She lays her head on my chest and she’s wrapped in my arms and, for that moment, all is right with her world. Sometimes, she pushes away from me; tries to escape my arms not knowing that my arms are the only thing keeping her from falling and being hurt. We believers are much the same with our Heavenly Father.

In those places where I have heard of God and believe in some truth about Him based solely on reputation, I should expect that He will seek to make that a truth I know based on experience. He wants to be known based on our experience with Him. Just as I want to be known to my wife based on her experience with me and her intimate knowledge of who I am in the depths of my being. Most people see the surface of the oceans that are us and the billows can be frightening. But beneath the surface is a life and depth and drama played out that only those who go below the surface ever know. If I never go below the surface of who my wife is, then I will never truly know her. If she does not go below the surface of me, then she will never know me. But we suffer a far greater loss if we never go below the surface of Who God is. God has promised that I will find Him if I seek for Him with all my heart. I know this promise to be valid from my own experience. Let us; let me seek to know more about the God behind the reputation every day.