SOAP Journal – 14 July 2017 (Joshua 23:8)

But you are to cling to the LORD your God, as you have done to this day.

Joshua 23:8

This morning’s verse is part of Joshua’s farewell address to the Israelites. It is during this address that Joshua will give the Israelites the choice of whom they will serve: the LORD Who has performed miracles in their midst or the false gods of the peoples living in the Promised Land. That is the most often quoted passage in this book, I think, and there are teachings in abundance on the concept. Before Joshua puts the decision to them, he tells them which choice they should make and which they should not make.

The but at the beginning of this verse links it to what preceded, setting this verse up in contrast to what has just been said. Joshua previously told the Israelites to be very firm … to keep and do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses. Since that statement agrees with this morning’s verse, it is not what this verse is contrasting. Joshua follows up his exhortation to keep and do the law with warnings not to mix and mingle with the nations still left in the Promised Land or to engage in the same worship as them.

Instead, Joshua tells the Israelites that they are to cling to the LORD [their] GodCling is one of those Bible Words that gets my ears tingling and my curiosity piqued. So I looked it up in the concordance. And it turns out that the verb used is the same verb used to describe how a husband and wife are supposed to relate to one another. The man is to be joined to his wife, and they shall be one flesh (Genesis 2:24). Joshua is telling the Israelites that they are, to paraphrase a bit, be married to God.

In the Modern Westernized World (MWW), marriage has fallen into disrepute. I saw a movie trailer that seemed to be advertising a movie about marriage being an obsolete concept. While the MWW has lost respect for just about everything — especially marriage — there are places where people marry and stay that way; where the vows of not parting until death separates them are held sacred and kept. It was to a culture of this type that Joshua said that they were to hold fast to God in basically the same way a husband holds fast to his wife.

As a husband, that is some powerful imagery. This imagery not only gives me an idea of what I should want things to be like, but the verb has as another potential meaning (not in the way it is used in this verse, but as it is used elsewhere) of pursuing closely. The concepts bound up in this word choice are evocative. I am given the idea that I should hold fast to God; that I should be coming to Him with my rough days and with my summary of what happened today. I should seek out His presence and His company. And, as is the case with the relationship between husband and wife, there is a way that I can pursue Him to which He will respond and many ways to pursue Him to which He will not respond. Just as my wife receives certain actions and words as gestures of love, so, too, does God receive certain actions and words in that way. Just as my wife may perceive things that I think are acts of love as nothing really worth noting, so, too, does God.

There is a key difference — one of many — between God and my wife. God knows my intent. My wife does not always know what I am on about. God can see, as plain as day, that my words or actions are prompted by love for Him and He understands that my attempts to properly communicate that love will often be clumsy. This does not mean that He leaves me that way, but that He comprehends.

Joshua’s exhortation to the Israelites is to cling to the LORD. The same exhortation comes to me this morning. Things have been rough in many ways in recent times and I have not heeded this instruction as I should. I need to cling to the LORD [my] God. I need to yearn for Him in a fashion similar to (but not exactly the same as) the yearning I have for my wife.

Father, thank You for loving me and seeing my feeble love for You and my sad attempts at expressing that love. Please stoke the fires of love both for You and for my wife (since both are on my mind after this morning’s time) and help me to express that love in ways that can be received by the beloved.

SOAP Journal – 14 June 2017 (Deuteronomy 33:3)

Indeed, He loves the people;
All Your holy ones are in Your hand,
And they lie down at Your feet;
receive of Your words.

Deuteronomy 33:3

This verse is part of Moses’ blessing on Israel. This verse makes a few statements about God’s character and His interactions with His holy ones.

Statement One: Indeed, He loves the people. The word used, so my concordance tells me, denotes people in the sense of a people group or nation. In context and by the word used, this is about God loving the Israelites.

Statement Two: All Your holy ones are in Your hand. The word used for hand, again my concordance tells me, refers specifically to the open hand and denotes power or strength. God’s holy ones, the Israelites in this context, are under His power and protection and authority.

Statement Three: they lie down at Your feet. The translation I normally read, the NASB, included a footnote that this reading was also supported by the language in the phrase. And I find it to be more in keeping with what is said in the other parts of the verse as well as what happened in The Bible generally. The idea of lying down at one’s feet carries so many connotations that it would be difficult to unpack them all, but the two that come most readily to mind are the ideas of rest and of proximity.

Statement Four: they … receive of Your words. Dovetailing nicely with the concept of being close and at God’s feet is the idea of receiving His words. But the verb used does not seem as passive as the translation might indicate. Receiving something connotes a passive activity in which the receiver is acted on. But the verb used most frequently carries some meaning of taking. It is as if the idea is that the holy ones sit down at God’s feet so as to gain better access to God’s words that they might take those words and make them their own possession.

All of these are principles of how God deals with His holy ones; His saints throughout scripture. The apostles write quite a bit about how God loves us. Jesus, Himself, speaks of believers being given to Him by the Father; being in His hand by implication. Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha, literally sits at the feet of Jesus and listens to Him talk.

God loves me and I am in His hand. I can sit at His feet, metaphorically, as I do most mornings and listen for Him to speak to me. Let me rest in His care and avail myself often of the privilege of being close to Him and of hearing Him speak.

Father, thank You that You love us. You loved us before we loved You and demonstrated that love profoundly. Please make my heart desire to be in Your presence more and more that I might sit at Your feet and receive of Your words.

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

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

Deuteronomy 30:19-20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SOAP Journal – 04 May 2017 (Deuteronomy 7:7-8)

The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the LORD loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the LORD brought you out by a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

Deuteronomy 7:7-8

Moses, while giving instruction about what should be done to the nations that the Israelites would be driving out of the Promised Land, works his way around to reminding the Israelites of something they really ought to know and that I should also keep in mind.

Moses says, The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples. The Israelites were no nation at all when God chose them. He chose them back in the time of Abraham, when there was only one old man and his old wife who took God at His word. The Israelites were no mighty nation; no impressive people. They were chosen by God because God chose them. That is it. And Moses makes that clear.

Moses continues the thought and says that God did not chose them because they were great in number or any other such thing, but because the LORD loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the LORD brought you out by a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery. The thought is this: God did not love you or choose you because you were impressive in some way, but because He loved you and kept His promise to those who came before and who loved Him He has done great things for you. And the same principle applies to me today.

God did not choose me because of some impressive aspect of me. I am not all that impressive. God did not love me because of anything inherently lovable in me or about me. He chose me because I chose Him. He loved me because He loves me. God loves me because He loves me (I love this reason) and chose me because He promised that if I chose Him He would also choose me (I am also a fan of this reason). That is it. That is all. I have no features that were worth redeeming.

Thank You, Father, for loving me. Thank You for saving me. I know that I deserve neither, but You freely offer both and I needed only accept them. Thank You. Please work in me that I might walk worthy of Your love.

SOAP Journal – 07 October 2016 (Genesis 29:20)

So Jacob served seven years for Rachel and they seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her.

Genesis 29:20

The So with which this verse begins reminds me that this seven years that Jacob serves for Rachel are an agreement of the wages that Jacob will receive for the work that he does for Laban … who happens to be his uncle.

I note that things were different back then. Jacob was staying with family and was working. There are instances in modern life in which people stay with family and mooch. It seems that such a thing was not tolerated back when.

Jacob’s family offered to pay him for his work. I have heard of instances of “family businesses” in which the relatives working there — usually the children of the business owner — did not receive wages. This, it would appear, was also frowned upon (at least when the worker was considered an adult).

And the part about which people are likely to get most upset is the fact that Rachel is not consulted with regard to whom she marries. She is given to Jacob as wages. This is a non-starter in modern Westernized countries, but it was the norm when this was written. I can get all angry and butt hurt about The Bible telling it how it is, or I can appreciate that The Bible does not sugar coat things and try to tell me that the world has always been the way that I experience it now.

The last thing I notice, and the thing on which I want to focus, is that Jacob’s service — all seven years of it — felt to Jacob like a few days because of his love for Rachel. I am not going to wander off on a romantic rabbit trail. I am focused on the fact that love for someone (or something) makes time go by more quickly. If I am doing something I love to do, then I can spend hours doing it and not notice that the time has gone by. Conversely, I have to slog through those times when I must do things that I find arduous. When I spend time with people I love — my wife, my kids, my parents and siblings (including in-laws), and my friends — time often flies by. It is as if the visit has only begun and it is time to leave.

Is it like that with God?

That is where this leads me this morning. I do not feel the urge to get sappy and romantic, but I do wonder if the time I spend with God flies by and if years seem like a few days because of love for Him. If no, I suspect it is because I lack love.

Father, teach me to love You better; to love You as You have loved and continue to love me. I know that my efforts to love are lacking, because there have been times when talking with You in prayer or reading Your Word have felt laborious. And it should not be that way. Please increase my love for You, so that the times we spend together are nothing but joy.

SOAP Journal – 07 September 2016 (Revelation 2:4)

But I have [this] against you, that you have left your first love.

Revelation 2:4

Revelation is one of those books that gives some people cold sweats. Prophecy troubles some folks and Revelation is replete with it. But the book opens with John writing that he is on the island of Patmos and he had a vision of Christ. Chapter one closed with Jesus telling John to write what he sees and what was at the time and what will be.

Jesus then proceeds to dictate seven letters. Each letter is addressed to the angel of a particular church. The address includes a description of Jesus with a focus on some particular attribute. This morning’s verse comes from the letter addressed to the angel of the church in Ephesus (2:1). And the church in Ephesus had some great things happening. They were a persevering church and a working church and a church that tested everyone who said they spoke on behalf of God. Then Jesus gets to this morning’s verse.

Paul wrote, in 1 Corinthians 13:3, that if I give all my possessions to feed [the poor], and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. Works are awesome. James wrote that faith without works is dead (James 2:26). But the issue is that works, no matter how awesome, without love are of no profit for the believer. To be sure, there are people who benefit, but the labor that we are doing, ostensibly for God, is not leaving the Earthly realm. We do not bless the heart of God when we work without love for Him.

Today, if I examine myself and find that I have good works present in my life, but not a love for God and for His people, then this letter could be addressed to me. Jesus tells anyone who finds themselves working for God without loving Him: Repent and go back to the place where you worked from love. Working from the place of love makes work easy. Genesis records that Jacob worked seven years in order to be able to marry Rachel and the whole time seemed like only a few days because of his love for her (Genesis 29:20). When I work for God out of love for God, then the work I do does not feel cumbersome.

Father, please examine me today and see what works are present in my life. Whatever there are, please root out the motivations for them. If they are motivated by love, then please encourage those things in me. If they are motivated by anything else, please convict me so that I might turn back to the place where the work was done out of love for You and not from any other motivation. Thank You that You want me to work from love and not from any other motive.

SOAP Journal -01 September 2016 (1 John 4:7-8)

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

1 John 4:7-8

While these verses are situated in a larger bit of writing, there is no word that demands a link to what precedes. This is the beginning of a section that deals with love — particularly loving our fellow believers.

John is writing to fellow believers. This is important, because he writes: let us love one another. In order for that to make any sense, I need to know who the one another is. The one another is my fellow believers.

What I am told to do is love. The Bible has much and more to say about what love looks like — what remains of this chapter in 1 John is dedicated to love — and there is little mystery surrounding the what of love in the biblical sense. To love my fellow believers is to be patient with them and kind to them, to not be jealous of them (or their successes) and not brag or be arrogant, to not be rude to them or look to get anything from them, to not keep track of the things they do that upset or offend me and to not be easily upset or offended in the first place — essentially, to live out 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. There is more — so much more — but I do not want to overfill this one journal entry.

John also provides a “Why?” He writes that love is from God and that everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Conversely, anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

Not a whole lot of interpretation needed, really.

And application is simple: Am I loving my fellow believers? If no, I need to examine myself and see if I know God, because John indicates that the answer is likely “No.” If I am loving my fellow believers as best I can, then my best just needs to keep getting better.

God, thank You for Your love for us. We do not deserve it. We could not earn it with an eternity to try. You love us because You are love. Please search me out and give me eyes to see what You see with regard to whether or not I love my fellow believers. If I do not love them, please show me that. If I do, please make that love better; more like Your love for us.