SOAP Journal – 12 April 2017

These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel across the Jordan in the wilderness, in the Arabah opposite Suph, between Paran and Tophel and Laban and Hazeroth and Dizahab.

Deuteronomy 1:1

This book opens with context. What follows is the last words of Moses before the Israelites crossed over into the Promised Land. And what was on Moses’ mind at the end of his life was The Law. A new generation of Israelites has come up while wandering in the wilderness and he wants to make clear to them the things that God has commanded.

This verse speaks to me of focus. The verse itself gives a rather precise location for this last address of Moses to the Israelites. There is no ambiguity about where this happened. The verses following give a clear time that this happened, as well. And it is verse 5 that tells me that Moses is expounding on The Law. After 40 years of watching a faithless generation fall in the wilderness, Moses is still focused on The Law of God; still fixated on how to have right relationship with God.

Am I as focused as that? Am I so fixated on having a right relationship with God that even knowing that my own death was coming soon could not cause me to deviate from the theme of how to live rightly? If not, then this is an area in which I need to grow.

Father, thank You for examples like Moses who are fixated on You and Your Law and how to have a right relationship with You. Please grow me in this area. Please cause me to focus on right relationship with You, knowing that all other relationships will be sorted into their proper place.

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Thoughts on Abortion

Foreword

Before I get started, there are a few things that need to be pointed out.

First, I am a Christian. This means that I oppose abortion on “religious” grounds. The Bible seems to indicate that God starts the life clock ticking before birth. God speaks of Isaac as a person before he is even conceived, making promises that Isaac will inherit everything that belongs to Abraham. God tells Rebekah that there are twins in her womb. There is a fair bit about how God addresses people not yet born that gives the impression that personhood is not conferred by being born, as far as God is concerned. Since that line of thinking is only a valid line of reasoning if one already agrees with me that there is a God and about Who He is, this line of reasoning will be set aside for the remainder of this piece.

Second, I am male. It is therefore often asserted that I have no business holding an opinion about abortion, since I cannot ever have one. While I hold this view to be absurd on its face — there are plenty of women who hold opinions about male circumcision and lack the gear to undergo the procedure themselves — my intent in writing this piece is not so much to convince people to legitimize my opinion — it is as legitimate as any other reasoned opinion — or to sway anyone to my view, but merely to express thoughts on the subject.

Third, I do not intend to write a persuasive piece. If you are here looking for someone to cite in trying to convince your friends that abortion is wrong, you are in the wrong bit of writing. I just wanted to dump some thoughts into the blue nowhere and be done with those thoughts.

Fourth and finally, I intend to posit some hypothetical situations in this piece. I will be rather specific and the situations posited may be a bit much for some. You have been warned.

Abortion and Legal Inconsistency

There is a strange bit of legal inconsistency that sometimes troubles me. For a brief summary of what I am thinking of, visit the National Conference of State Legislatures website — the article on fetal homicide laws, in particular. Allow me to illustrate.

In Case A, a man whose certifications we will leave vague approaches a pregnant woman and does some violence to her abdominal area. This violence, for the sake of consistency, is intentional and premeditated. The result is that the woman’s pregnancy is terminated.

In Case B, a man who happens to be a doctor approaches a pregnant woman and does some violence to her abdominal area. This violence is intentional and premeditated and has the goal of terminating the pregnancy. It is successful. The pregnancy is terminated.

Both Case A and Case B involve the same basic elements: a person doing something violent to a woman’s abdominal area which results in a terminated pregnancy. In about 38 states (maybe fewer if the Tennessee law lapsed), Case A can result in criminal charges being filed against the man for terminating the pregnancy while Case B will, as a rule, not. The man in Case A will be charged with assault on the woman in just about every place I can name.

If a woman goes to a doctor for an abortion, she chooses to end her pregnancy and the end of same is her desired outcome. If she is assaulted on the street or gets in an automobile accident and the violence results in a terminated pregnancy, the other person can be held criminally accountable for the death of a person.

Why the disparity?

The only reason I can see is the woman’s choice and desired outcome. In one instance, she wants to end the pregnancy and in the other she does not. If the only difference between a crime and an elective procedure is a person’s choice, then there are some very interesting court cases on the horizon (and already have been, if the above linked article is any indication).

Abortion and Evolution

Disclaimer: I do not believe in evolution on the macro scale, but do find it a useful tool with which to conduct thought experiments such as this one.

I hear often about how human beings are supposed to have evolved from some less evolved life form, the hubris-riddled implication being that we see ourselves as somehow superior to other creatures. Abortion, to me, represents a potential flaw in this line of thinking.

The idea of “survival of the fittest”, as I understand it, is to survive and to pass on one’s genetics to as many progeny as possible. This is, to my recollection, meant to be in service to evolution, as the fitter creatures will tend to pass on their genetics more while their weaker counterparts will not. Abortion interferes with this (as do birth control and monogamy, to be candid, but I am not considering birth control or the validity of monogamy in this piece … maybe another time). Abortion interferes in one of two basic ways that I can see.

Way One: Abortion terminates the development of a potentially superior creature. While I do not think that the X-Men are coming any time soon, I do believe that geniuses of every type and kind have potentially been prevented from entering this world by abortion. The real trouble is that there is no reliable method of knowing. All that can be known is that a pregnancy was terminated. What may have happened is that humanity may have been robbed of its next great physics genius or musical virtuoso. Humanity may also have been relieved of several de Sads and Bathorys, but there is absolutely no way of knowing.

Way Two: Abortion, when used by eugenicists, selects the traits that the eugenicist (or those controlling them) determine to be desirable. The founder of Planned Parenthood was a eugenicist and thought that abortion could be used to remove elements from the populace that she deemed undesirable. I will not comment on whether or not the organization she founded has adhered to her agenda (because I do not know), but point her out particularly because she illustrates the point well. There have bee others who had eugenic agendas, but most often pursued their goals by other means.

Whether by selectively removing traits that some controlling group or person deems undesirable or by potentially quashing the birth of geniuses and virtuosos, abortion interferes with evolution as well as inhibiting the biological imperative. It is, in short, unnatural. And also makes those who adhere to a belief in evolution potentially inconsistent. Unless they are eugenicist, I cannot reconcile believing in evolution and survival of the fittest, then interfering and/or permitting others to interfere with the process.

Wrap Up

I could probably go for pages, but these have been the two thought processes rattling around in my head since panicked people began to run about as if the sky were falling after the last election here in the United States. We Americans are legally inconsistent in our treatment of whether or not the result of terminating a pregnancy is murder/manslaughter or a removal of tissue. And abortion seems to me to be interfering with evolution’s work, if you buy into that sort of thing.

I am sorry if this thought dump is a bit more rambling than previous — my Thoughts on Hell piece is more organized, I think — but I am a bit rusty at writing anything non-technical and not a morning devotion.

SOAP Journal – 20 March 2017 (Numbers 15:14-16)

If an alien sojourns with you, or one who may be among you throughout your generations, and he [wishes to] make an offering by fire, as a soothing aroma to the LORD, just as you do so he shall do. [As for] the assembly, there shall be one statute for you and for the alien who sojourns [with you], a perpetual statute throughout your generations; as you are, so shall the alien be before the LORD. There is to be one law and one ordinance for you and for the alien who sojourns with you.

Numbers 15:14-16

The Israelites just rebelled and said they would not go into the Promised Land after ten out of twelve spies came back and reported that going into the land would be a mistake. It is not that they saw anything different than the two spies who came back and said that the Israelites should go in and conquer the land, but that they acted from fear, not from faith. The Israelites listened and decided not to go in and went so far as to start getting together an insurrection.before God put the kibosh on that. The Israelites realized that they had made a mistake and tried to go into the Promised Land, only to find out that delayed obedience causes as much trouble as disobedience. They lived out their fear and were routed by the inhabitants of the land.

It is that context that God gives Moses instruction about how things are going to happen when the Israelites do enter the Promised Land. God gives instruction about how certain kinds of offering were to be made and how much of the accompanying things was to be offered with those offerings. Then God added this morning’s verses.

God notes that the sojourner might see the Israelites doing as God commanded and decide that he, too, wants to follow God and live in obedience. It would not have been merely the obedience that the sojourner saw, but the blessing that resulted. In any event, the sojourner in question decides that he or she wants to make an offering. God preemptively quashes any notion of making Him (God) any more or less accessible to non-Israelites. God states that there shall be one statute for you and for the alien who sojourns [with you].

There is one Law; one acceptable way to approach God and be accepted by Him. The Law does not become more stringent for a non-Israelite and it does not become less so. The Law is the Law and does not alter itself to accommodate or bar anyone.

Immediately, this set of verses brings back to my mind the oft-repeated argument about how much of the Law applies to non-Jewish believers. And, thank God, the argument’s resolution (Acts 15) follows close on its heels. And there is something said in the resolution of the debate that rings of these verses. After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are. (vv 7-11, emphasis added) Just as the way of approach under the covenant of the Law was singular, so, too, is the Way of salvation singular. God makes no distinction and plays no favorites. All who would come must come through Christ and His cross or not at all.

On to the application.

First, I am not to alter God’s prescribed method of salvation one bit. Access to the Father is through Christ or not at all. I cannot make the message more seeker friendly or, as one more recent appellation has it, seeker-sensitive. God will always have those who seek Him. And those who would worship Him must worship Him on His terms. This also means that I am not to make God any less accessible.There are folks who put blocks in the way of those who are seeking God. While I am not permitted to soften the message or the requirements of salvation, I am also not permitted to make them more strict. God’s Way of salvation is through Christ and His cross and I cannot change that. Not even if I wanted to.

Second, there is only One Way to the Father. There was only one way under the covenant of the Law and there is only One Way under the covenant of grace.

Third, I should be living out my faith in such a way that others see God’s blessing on me and want to follow the God I love. While material blessings are wonderful and totally legitimate — the patriarchs were all wealthy men —these are not the blessings that I think will attract most Westernized people. Our society is so agitated and malcontent, that contentment given by God is tremendously attractive. So many people are on anti-depressants that joy is attractive. So many struggle with anger issues that the peace that passes all understanding must blow their minds. Westernized society is so focused on the self that true selflessness would stand apart without even trying. The list just keeps going. All of these (and more) are blessings from God which the church in Westernized society is sometimes too quick to dismiss. These blessings in my life — if I live my life openly and honestly — will draw others to the God I love and Who has blessed me with riches that cannot be earned by working more or getting “the right job” or finding “the right person” or any of the things with which Westernized society tries to replace God.

Father, please cause me to live in such a way as brings You glory and puts Your greatest blessings on display. Please make me mindful that there is One and only One Way to You and that all of us must enter by that Door or not at all.

SOAP Journal – 27 December 2016 (Exodus 25:16)

You shall put into the ark the testimony which I shall give you.

Exodus 25:16

The section that describes the ark of the covenant — 25:10-22 — gets pretty detailed. The length and width are given, as well as the material of the ark and its overlay. There is a good bit of symbolism in many of the attributes of the ark — as is true for most of the tabernacle and things. These symbols are often interpreted rightly to be a picture of Christ, but I would like to look at how some of the symbols might apply to me as one who is supposed to be conformed to the likeness of Christ.

First, the ark is made of wood. This is not a permanent material. Wood is temporary; rots away over time. More, the particular wood prescribed is thought to be a variety that (a) is thorny and gnarled on the outside, (b) tends to blacken as it ages, and (c) is common to the region. Those things — rough on the outside, blackening with age, and common — describe human beings quite well. We tend to be a bit rough on the outside and we do blacken with sin as we age and we are fairly common. But God does not leave things here.

Second, the ark is overlaid with gold. Gold, even today, carries with it the idea of permanence and glory. So this perishable puts on imperishable, as Paul writes much later on. The wood that otherwise passes away is covered over with gold, wrapping the passing in permanence. This is a picture of salvation, particularly the part of salvation called sanctification. In that phase of salvation (there are three phases mentioned by Paul — justification, sanctification, and glorification), I am being changed into the likeness of Christ; the wood is overlaid with gold; my perishable puts on God’s imperishable.

Third and finally for this morning, the testimony is in the ark. The testimony is almost synonymous with The Law. Over and over again, The Bible speaks of believers having God’s Law/testimony within us (Psalm 37:31, 40:8; Isaiah 51:7; Jeremiah 31:33; Romans 2:15). The idea of having God’s Law within me is not that I have a set of rules just etched on my brain cells, but that the presence of God’s precepts in me is evidenced by how I live my life. The choices I make and the way that I think should bear witness to my contents being God’s Law. But the testimony that God tells Moses to place in the ark is not limited to The Law. Aaron’s rod and a jar full of manna are also placed in there, reminders of God’s miraculous saving power and God’s provision respectively. I should not just be filled up with God’s Law which might lead to legalism, but I should also be filled with an awareness of His ability to save whiners and complainers and such like me as well as an awareness that He provides for our needs, beginning with salvation and progressing from there.

The practical implications of this are obvious. I am that acacia wood: prickly and rough to the touch and blackening with sin as I age unless God intervenes. But God covers me with gold — His holiness and glory and righteousness — so that I can be in His presence. He then fills me with His Law and an awareness of His mighty saving power and His provision for all my needs (even and especially when there seems no way to supply those needs). Let me live out the Law within me and keep always before my mind’s eye the awareness of His power and provision.

Father, thank You for saving me and for providing my needs and showing Yourself mighty on my behalf. Please work in me to live out Your Law within me and to be mindful of Your power and provision always present and ready to act with what is best for me in mind.

Grace (Romans 6:14)

For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.

Romans 6:14

This verse sounds like a call back to Genesis and God speaking with Cain. God tells Cain that sin is at his door and its desire is for him, but Cain must be master over it (Genesis 4:7). Paul seems to be echoing that statement. In the original, God presents Cain with the instruction: If you do well, surely you will be accepted. Paul is saying much the same thing when he says for you are not under law but under grace. Paul is pointing out that the believer lives under a different standard and covenant and in a whole new relationship with God than has been available since Eden.

What follows is, I fear, muddled due to me still parsing the ideas.

Lately, I have been wrestling with the concomitants of a particular decision. As I am unsure how to speak of it in general terms, I will simply state that the decision brings along with it a measure of fear. Until recently, I had thought the fear might be an indicator that the decision needed more prayer and consideration. As I was thinking on it and speaking with God of my concerns, He reminded me that the fear of Him is the beginning of wisdom and I felt encouraged to reconsider the fear. The fear in question is such as would, if embraced, act as a deterrent to sin. More, I realized that the fear is not of committing the sin, but of potentially “getting away with it.” If I were to sin without being disciplined, that would be terrifying and I would question whether or not I had ever truly trusted in Christ to save me. How does this relate to Paul’s statement that sin shall not be master over me or that I am not under law but under grace? Quite well, as it turns out.

The fear of “getting away with” something was always present with my parents. I would do something against their rules and be afraid that I would get caught, but more afraid that I would not. To not get caught meant a lapse; a break in their watch over me. I did not want that with them and I want it still less with my God.

Likewise, a fear that leads to repentance — which is, at its core, a turning away from sin and turning to God — is exactly the kind of fear that leads to wisdom. It is the healthy, proper fear of the LORD. The fear that leads to a renunciation of sin, even in the hypothetical, is good and right and pure. It is akin to the fear that tells me not to get too close to the edge of a cliff or the fear that tells me I should not taunt the bear. Neither is a good idea. Neither is likely to end well for me (though the bear might be happier in the aftermath).

Let me live in the covenant of grace; a relationship with God that allows me to be rightly afraid of damaging the relationship.

(Matthew 17:26)

When Peter said, “From strangers,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are exempt.”

Matthew 17:26

Who do governments govern and tax? The answer is: strangers. The government of my country, though it is ostensibly representative, has little to no knowledge of who I am and what my goals are and what is important to me. If they knew, it is unlikely that they would care much. I am, after all, a stranger to them.

Jesus notes that the sons of kings and rulers were exempted from taxes. Because they were the children of the rulers, they could be excused from any duty that was laid on the common folk. Where I am going with this thought is to the place where God, in Christ, adopts the believer as a son or daughter. We are no longer under the obligations incurred by being a subject of the King, but are now free as only a child of the King can be. A whole set of rules that once applied no longer does and a whole different set of guidelines an protocols and whatnot is in place. This, to me, just painted a very clear picture of the transition from Law to grace.

When I was under The Law, I was merely a subject living under the rule of the King. I was bound to the Law as every subject is. But, when I was adopted by the King, the obligation to obey the Law that governs the subjects was commuted to a freedom to obey the voice of my Father, Who is the King and the source of The Law. He could choose to tell me that certain parts of the Law do not apply to me. He can explain that some parts never did, but I thought that they did. Until I am adopted, I am bound to obey The Law in order to be at peace with the King. When I have been adopted, I am no longer subject to The Law as such, but instead seek to please my Father, Who has the power to make and to nullify The Law.

I feel like this entry if verbally chasing its tail, but the concept of going from obligation to obey to freedom to please is a bit heady and difficult to nail down. Suffice it to say that I am so very encouraged that I am free to please my Father rather than obliged to obey The Law; liberated from fealty and released into love.

Let me seek to love and please my Father in Heaven today.

Mouth of the Priest (Malachi 2:7)

For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts.

Malachi 2:7

I often find myself reflecting on the fact that believers are called to be a priesthood. Jesus is our High Priest (Hebrews 2:17; 3:1; 4:14-15; 5:5 …) and believers the priesthood that serves under His headship (1 Peter 2:5, 9). This being so, it behooves me, as a believer, to look at the things said to the priests of the old covenant — particularly at the statements meant to discipline them and put them back on the correct path.

This morning’s verse is one such. There are three major components to this statement: preserve knowledge, deliver instruction, be a messenger.

The lips of a priest should preserve knowledge. So, too, should the lips of every believer. This is not to say that we will be knowledgeable in each and every discipline. No one but God is capable of such knowledge. However, the word translated knowledge can also mean discernment, understanding, wisdom, perception, or skill. Believers should be a discerning group of people, recognizing the correct course of action. Believers should be understanding, knowing that we are all only dust and prone to all manner of weakness. Believers should be wise, capable to reaching back into the trove contained in God’s Word and bringing out a verse that applies to any given situation. Believers should be perceptive, seeing past the smokescreens and mirrors that people so often put up to hide what they are really about. None of this is possible without the Holy Spirit living within us and doing these things through us. In short, the Holy Spirit must have control of my mouth.

Men should seek instruction from his mouth. The word rendered instruction can also mean Law and  direction. The believer has direct access to God the Father through Jesus Christ. The believer further has insight into how to understand the Word of God by the insights provided by the Holy Spirit. People should come to us to go to God on their behalf until such time as they choose to go to God on their own. Jesus, according to one NT writer, ever lives to make intercession for us. So, too, should the believer intercede for those who have no relationship of their own with God. Not long ago, someone (who shall remain anonymous) asked me to pray about something. I have done so and God has been faithful to answer this individual in sometimes unexpected ways. This is what should be happening. People — believer and non-believer alike — should be able to come to any believer and ask them to go to God on their behalf. God should be able to instruct others through me.

He is the messenger of the LORD of hosts. Is this how the believer is seen? I can say, with some degree of certainty, that the American media and social media in general do not portray the believer as such. We are most often cast as bigoted, judgmental, narrow people. While the narrowness is potentially an acceptable way of seeing us — narrow is the way that leads to life, after all — we should not be seen as judgmental or bigoted. I cannot help how others twist my actions and words, but I can be careful of both and work to surrender myself wholly to God. Whether it is just or not, the unbelieving world will judge God based on His followers. I am well aware of the hypocrisy of it. Most teachers are judged based on their teachings — reference Buddha or the Dalai Lama or even Mohammed — whereas Christ is judged by His followers. For good or ill, believers are going to be seen as the messengers of God. Are my life and words and conduct such that I present God as He is?

To be the messenger that I ought to be, I must deliver God’s Word in God’s way. This means a heart and mind and mouth surrendered to God and available for the Holy Spirit to use. I have not arrived and I feel that it is well past time I surrendered, but there will always be more to surrender this side of Heaven. Let me surrender more fully today and still more tomorrow. Let me become the messenger that God deserves.