SOAP Journal – 25 March 2019 (Psalm 14)

Oh, that the salvation of Israel would come out of Zion!
When the LORD restores His people,
Jacob will rejoice, Israel will be glad.

Psalm 14:7

Psalm 14 seems to be a reflection on the unrighteousness of humanity, those who oppress the righteous in particular.

The psalm opens with the statement that the fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” And that pretty well sets the tone for the rest of the poem. From there on, David writes of God looking for anyone who understands or seeks after God and finding none. David muses on the question of whether or not these foolish persons understand that God is with righteous people. And David closes his psalm with the desire that God would restore His people.

The reflection on being surrounded by wickedness and wanting God to put things right feels familiar, as if I might have written this psalm myself. Obviously, I did not, but the thoughts and feelings expressed in the psalm are familiar territory. Do I feel as if God has looked around and found not one single righteous person? Yes. Yes, I do. And I want very much for God to come and set things right.

This psalm serves as a reminder that those who have loved God — however imperfect our love for Him is — have always wanted Him to put things right. Sometimes our desire stems from anger as seeing the wicked seem to get away with their wickedness. Sometimes our desire stems from seeing our own inability to consistently do the things we know will please Him. And sometimes our desire stems from being wearied of seeing the world dismissing God and growing increasingly godless and wicked.

Father, our souls have cried out to You over many generations and in many languages. We have all wanted the same thing. We have wanted You to set this world in its right order; we have wanted the lion to lay down with the lamb. Whenever You do this in the world around me will be the right time. But today, please set me in right order. I cannot do it myself, no matter what the self-help books might say. I am, as Paul noted, a wretched man in need of saving.

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SOAP Journal – 25 February 2019 (Psalm 5)

O LORD, lead me in Your righteousness because of my foes;
Make Your way straight before me.

Psalm 5:8

This psalm seems to have been composed in tandem with David’s morning time with God (v. 3) and begins with a consideration of Who God is and Who He is not (vv. 4-6).

God is not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness (v. 4). Since David makes this statement, it stands to reason that there were, in his time, gods of some type or kind that took pleasure in wickedness.

God is, however, a God Who destroy[s] those who speak falsehood and abhors the man of bloodshed and deceit (v. 6). With this as a descriptor, God cannot be terribly fond of politics. It bears noting that David was, himself, a soldier. This makes it seem unlikely to me that David includes soldiers in his conception of the man of bloodshed. I suspect that he has in mind someone who kills for hatred of the one he kills rather than one who kills for love of those he protects by killing.

David then turns his mind to those who are rebellious against God (v. 10) and those who take refuge in God (v. 11).

David asks God to allow the rebellious to be caught in their own traps (v. 10) after noting that their words are unreliable and that their inward parts; their motives are destruction (v. 9).

In contrast, David asks God to shelter those who take refuge in Him.

All of this leads me to check my words, my motives, and myself. Are my words reliable or am I flattering and spewing meaningless things? Are my motives right or am I seeking things for the wrong reasons? Am I rebellious or do I run to God for refuge and shelter?

Father, thank You for these reminders to check my words and motives and self. Thank You that You are ready to forgive and restore when I find that I fall short and to continue Your work on, in, and through me to conform me to the image of Your Son and to make me useful to You.

SOAP Journal – 19 February 2019 (Psalm 1)

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the path of sinners,
Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
And in His law he meditates day and night.

Psalm 1:1-2

It is fitting, I think, that the book of Psalms opens with a short psalm that speaks about the difference between the man who keeps Good company and thinks on Good things and the man who does neither. I also think it appropriate that this psalm follows on the heels of the book of Job, because there are statements made in this psalm that almost need Job as a counterbalance.

The psalm begins with speaking of the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers (v. 1).  It has been noted by others that this implies a progressive decline that has not happened. The decline seems to follow the pattern of first walking in the counsel, then standing in the path, then sitting in the seat. The decline is from activity (walk) to inactivity (sit), from bad (wicked) to worse (scoffers), from the ideology (counsel) to the lifestyle (path) to the authority (seat). All of these are, by contrast, not the way to be a blessed person. The blessed man is the man who does none of this. And the word rendered “blessed” could also mean “happy.” If I want to be happy for the rest of my life, then I need to avoid listening to the counsel and emulating the behaviors and hanging around with wicked, sinful, arrogant (scoffing) people.

The opposite of those things is to delight in The Law of the LORD and to fix my mind on it at all times (v. 2). The result of thus focusing my mind is spelled out: I will be like a tree planted by waters (my needs supplied) that yields fruit in season (a blessing to others) and whose leaf does not whither. The psalmist states that whatever such a man does will prosper. There is a caveat to that which is often overlooked. It is the same caveat as exists in Jesus’ statement that we can ask anything in prayer and have it done for us. The man who delights in The Law of the LORD is going to pursue God’s will and God’s kingdom and … well, God. What such a man does may often be of temporal benefit, but his aim is God’s glory and God’s kingdom. Everything else is icing on the cake. It is this prerequisite; this starting point that is so often overlooked.

And it is this prerequisite that informs the following verses.

The psalmist says that things are not so for the wicked. The wicked are like chaff (v. 4), blown away by the slightest breeze. And this can be seen in the counsel; the ideologies of the wicked. There is a fad ideology today and it is gone so fast that I find myself wondering if anyone remembers that it existed, let alone what it was. But The Law of the LORD remains. The wicked will not stand in the judgment (v. 5). When God renders His judgment on everyone, the wicked will have no defense and none of their counsel will sway God’s verdict.

Will I choose to focus myself on God’s unchanging Law or on the constantly variable counsels of the wicked?

Father, thank You for Your Word. Please stir up a hunger in my mind to think on Your Word throughout the day. Please make it Your counsel that comes to mind when I am faced with something beyond my understanding.

SOAP Journal – 08 May 2018 (2 Kings 20)

Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “The word of the LORD which you have spoken is good.” For he thought, “Is it not so, if there will be peace and truth in my days?”

2 Kings 20:19

King Hezekiah had fallen ill and God sent the prophet Isaiah to let the king know that the illness would be fatal. Immediately after receiving the news, Hezekiah prayed that God would remember how he (Hezekiah) had walked and God sent Isaiah back to let Hezekiah know that the king would recover from his illness and live another fifteen years. After he had recovered, a messenger came from Babylon and Hezekiah showed the messenger all of his (Hezekiah’s) wealth. Isaiah was sent to the king again to let him know that everything the messenger had seen would wind up in Babylon after the king had died. Hezekiah finds this perfectly acceptable as it means that there will be peace and truth in his days.

His response reminds me of how righteous men are still imperfect.

His response is shortsighted. Hezekiah only looks forward for another fifteen years or less. During that time, everything will be fine for the kingdom, but the people will be taken into exile afterward. While he may have been satisfied that some of his children would be officials in the court of the king of Babylon (v. 18), he does not even ask what will become of the regular folk.

His response is selfish. He is pleased that things will be good in his time and apparently unconcerned that those who follow him will go into captivity. Unlike Thomas Paine, who said If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace. There is a stark difference between the selfless person who would prefer to leave their child an inheritance of peace and the selfish person who wants peace in their own time, regardless of whether that peace remains for those who follow.

I want to be a parent like Thomas Paine, who preferred that he face the trouble so his child could live in peace. I want to have a view that stretches to the horizon and beyond — eyes on the river that flows from the throne of God and aware of all the expanse between. It is possible to be accounted righteous and be so completely in the moment that there is no thought to what lies ahead. What I need is balance. A solid grounding in the here and now with a destination in mind so that I chart my course accordingly.

Father, thank You for Hezekiah as an example of a righteous man who was not perfect. He reminds me that being grounded in the now is a good thing, but that it must be balanced with looking forward or I will never strive toward the upward call. Please help me to be firmly in the here and now with eyes fixed on a future with You.

SOAP Journal – 03 October 2017 (1 Samuel 26)

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

1 Samuel 26:23

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SOAP Journal – 28 September 2017 (1 Samuel 25:1)

Then Samuel died; and all Israel gathered together and mourned for him, and buried him at his house in Ramah. And David arose and went down to the wilderness of Paran.

1 Samuel 25:1

I find it curious that this is the first book of Samuel, but Samuel dies with another 6 chapters left in this installment and before the second installment even kicks off. It makes me wonder who the actual writer of the book is. But that is not the point this morning.

I wanted to pause and remark the passing of Samuel as the Israelites did. Samuel was the last of the judges and the first prophet to anoint a king over Israel. His life was marked by firsts and by intercession for the Israelites and their kings.

Despite his righteousness, his children did not choose to walk the same way. In a real way, he lived out the example that the best and most righteous people can raise children as best they can and those children will make their own choices about how to live. It is the kind of reality and truth that drives parents to their knees regularly.

Samuel’s passing was mourned by all Israel. This, I think, is the measure of a leader. The Israelites demanded that Samuel give them a king (God noted to Samuel that this was a rejection of God’s Kingship over them, not a rejection of Samuel’s leadership), but every last Israelite turned out to mourn him at his passing. I cannot think of the last leader or cultural icon that so unified my nation that every last one of us paused for a moment in whatever we were doing to mourn that person’s passing. Ronald Reagan’s passing is the closest I can think of in my memory.

I also note that David leaves Samuel’s house after the prophet dies as if the protection afforded is also gone. It seems that God will sometimes remove people from our lives in order to make us step further into our faith. David will go to increasingly dangerous places to stay away from Saul until he gets news of Saul’s death.

This leaves me with two challenges. First, let me live a life that will cause all who know me to mourn my passing. Second, let me not rely on any human leader for a sense of safety or guidance, but let me lean entirely on God, as Samuel did.

Thank You, Father, that You are far more than enough to lead me through anything and to keep me safe in Your hands no matter what. Please enable me to rise to the dual challenges I see in this morning’s verse: to live righteously and to rely entirely on You. In doing the second, I will accomplish the first.

Repentance (Luke 5:32)

I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

Luke 5:32

The context of this verse is Jesus sitting at the table with Matthew (a.k.a. Levi) who has just left his life as a tax collector (a.k.a. government sanctioned extortioner) and is giving a feast to celebrate his new life. He has invited all of his friends and these friends are, understandably, all people like him — tax collectors and other folks in questionable lines of work and less than savory lifestyles. Some Pharisees somehow managed to be on the scene and wondered why Jesus would eat with people like this. This morning’s verse is part of Jesus’ reply.

He explains something basic. You do not call a righteous person to repentance — they have nothing of which to repent. You call sinners to repentance — sinners, after all, have sin of which to repent. The Pharisees should have known this. The Pharisees should have had a follow-up question in the form of “Who is righteous except God?” But they did not. They thought themselves righteous. They thought themselves blameless with regard to keeping The Law.

Paul wrote on these two topics. He wrote in Romans, quoting the OT, that there is none righteous, not even one. He also writes that he had been a Pharisee and felt himself to be blameless as pertained to keeping The Law. He also noted that his Pharisaical spotlessness was insufficient to show him approved to God. No matter how good I may think myself, Isaiah wrote that all my righteousness is like filthy rags — the actual term is something more akin to menstrual rag … something like a used Always pad. My absolute best is revolting in the eyes of God. My righteousness; my greatest efforts are deplorable; something to be cast in the rubbish heap.

In the end, Jesus came to call everyone to repentance. Sure, Jesus said that He came not to call the righteous, but sinners. Who is righteous? Who can stand before God and say, “I am spotless and clean and without blame in all my ways?” Only Christ Himself. Who is called to repentance? Everyone. Absolutely everyone.