SOAP Journal – 10 August 2017 (Ruth 2)

The servant in charge of the reapers replied, “She is the young Moabite woman who returned with Naomi from the land of Moab.”

Ruth 2:6

As I come to the second chapter of Ruth, I find myself wanting to look a bit at the servant in charge of Boaz’s reapers. I am not given his name or age or any other personal details, but what he says and does speak of who he is and of what kind of servant Boaz puts in charge.

The first thing I note is that he is observant. When Boaz asks who Ruth is, this servant knows without having to ask. He is fully aware of who this woman is that has been working in the fields all day. He is also aware of how long she has been working and how long she has been resting. This gives me an insight into why Boaz would want this man supervising his servants. This servant has an eye for details and he keeps track of things.

The second thing I note is that he has character. Ruth asked permission to glean — even though The Law codified gleaning as a sort of workfare for the poor — and the servant did not take advantage of Ruth’s situation. Ruth is not an Israelite and a person of lesser character might have seen her status as an opportunity to try to extract some payment or to make her situation even more difficult. This servant does no such thing. He gives her permission to glean with no caveats or stipulations.

The third and final thing I note is that this servant sees the good things that people do. When he reports who Ruth is, he speaks of her as the young Moabite woman who returned with Naomi from the land of Moab. He speaks of the sacrifice that she made by staying with her mother-in-law He also informs Boaz that Ruth has been working in the fields from the morning until whenever the conversation took place. The servant sees her work ethic and how she is laboring to take care of herself and her mother-in-law.

When the book of Ruth is taught, Boaz is often pointed to as a type of Christ and Ruth as a type of the church. If Boaz stands in for Jesus, then what does the servant in charge tell me about the servants that Jesus wants? Observant people of character who see the good things that others do and are ready to report that good. Let me be such a servant to my Lord. Let me be observant, looking to see what is going on and keeping track of things. Let me be a man of character. And let me be always ready to report the good things that people do. It is far too easy to relate the bad.

Father, thank You for this nameless servant who shows character, an observant mind, and a readiness to see and recount the good things that happen. Please form this kind of character in me; one that observes and is focused on the good things that happen.

SOAP Journal – 30 March 2017 (Numbers 26:63-65)

These are those who were numbered by Moses and Eleazar the priest, who numbered the sons of Israel in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho. But among these there was not a man of those who were numbered by Moses and Aaron the priest, who numbered the sons of Israel in the wilderness of Sinai. For the LORD had said to them, “They shall surely die in the wilderness.” And not a man was left of them, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun.

Numbers 26:63-65

The Israelites are preparing to enter the Promised Land. They have enjoyed a few victories in battle. And, as the census reveals, there is not one person left of those who had been numbered in the census taken in Sinai. This is an entirely new generation, with three exceptions.

The first is the obvious: Moses. He is not yet dead. But God has told Moses that he will not enter the Promised Land, so Moses has to know that it is only a matter of time for him. I imagine him taking this last census with a mixture of relief and sadness. He knows that God is almost done using him in this world. He knows that the Promised Land is close and that this generation is ready to go in and take possession of that land. That must provide him with some relief. But I imagine it being tinged with sadness, as he knows that he will not be there to enjoy the Promised Land himself. He knows that he has to pass on before the Israelites can enter into the fulfillment of God’s promises to them.

The second is Caleb. Caleb is one of only two people who brought back an encouraging report the first go around. Caleb, then in his forties, wanted to go into the land and take what God has promised them. He saw giants and fortified cities, just like the other spies, but he saw them in the light of God having promised that land to him and the rest of the Israelites. He saw a conquest just waiting to happen, not because the Israelites were such amazing warriors, but because their God is that amazing. Not only was Caleb promised that he would get to go into the Promised Land, but he was promised a particular parcel within the land. This census must have him about ready to burst with excitement to see what God has in store.

The third is Joshua. I do not know if Joshua knows for certain that Moses is going to hand the reigns of leadership to him, but Joshua has to be aware of the possibility. He, I think, is probably seeing this census before entering the Promised Land as bittersweet. He has served as an assistant to Moses for over forty years. That is a long time to get to know someone and learn how they do what they do and why. And there was an effective communication of spiritual life from Moses to Joshua, because Joshua depends on God as he leads the Israelites and challenges the Israelites to choose whom they will serve when he retires from leadership. Just as Moses reminds the Israelites of the Law in Deuteronomy, Joshua reminds the Israelites of Who it is that gave them victory in their conquest of the Promised Land. There was an effective transmission of spiritual life there, but that, I think, must have left Joshua sorrowing over the impending departure of a man to whom he had probably grown very close.

Whenever God does something new, it seems that these three are present somewhere.

There always seems to be the person God used to lay the groundwork for the new thing He plans to do and this person often knows that they cannot be a part of the new work. It is not that God has ceased to love them or use them, but that they have served the purpose for which God called them to that work and he is going to move them on to something else.

There always seems to be the eager servant, someone who was ready to do the work back when the outgoing leader shared the vision in the first place and they are positively aching to get to work now that God has said things are ready. These people energize a work in a unique way. Plenty of people will serve — God is more than capable of staffing His endeavors — but not all with the same unbridled enthusiasm.

And there always seems to be the new leader; the person whom God is raising up to take the work forward now that everything is ready for the new thing He plans to do. This leader may be reluctant and may be frightened of the shoes they feel that they must fill. The reality is that God has a whole new pair of shoes that is custom-tailored to the person who He wants doing His work.

Father, please prepare me for whichever of these roles You want me to fulfill. If the eager servant, then please prepare me for whatever work You have in store. Please strengthen me for that work and equip me with whatever I may need. If the new leader, then please place a desire in my heart for that work and give a vision for where You want that work to go. I suspect I must first be the new leader before You can call me to be the outgoing leader, so I need not pray for that for myself, but I ask that You comfort the hearts of those leaders whom You are currently moving from an old work to a new. Transition can be difficult and Your comfort is a necessary balm for the aches that come with off-loading any burden that You placed on us — light as Your burdens are.

SOAP Journal – 14 March 2017 (Numbers 12:5-8)

Then the LORD came down in a pillar of cloud and stood at the doorway of the tent, and He called Aaron and Miriam. When they had both come forward, He said, “Hear now My words: / If there is a prophet among you, / I, the LORD, shall make Myself known to him in a vision. / I shall speak with him in a dream. / Not so, with My servant Moses, / He is faithful in all My household; / With him I speak mouth to mouth, / Even openly, and not in dark sayings, / And he beholds the form of the LORD. / Why then were you not afraid / To speak against My servant, against Moses?”

Numbers 12:5-8

The context for this exchange is that Miriam and Aaron had been grumbling about Moses’ Cushite wife and how God had talked to them, too. There are a few questions that the context brings up, such as why Moses married a Cushite woman when he was already married to Zipporah and when God spoke to Miriam (there are plenty of recorded cases of God speaking to Aaron). Moses does not defend himself or his position. Instead, God calls all three of these siblings out to the tabernacle and has a little sit down with them. This morning’s verses are that sit down.

The first thing I notice is that this is God speaking. It was Moses who was challenged and Moses who was attacked, yet it is God Who answers the challenge and the attack. Miriam and Aaron grumbled against Moses and God answered their grumbling. I do not need to defend myself when I am serving God and being faithful in that service. My focus needs to be on pleasing my Master  – God – and not on worrying about what people have to say about me.

Next, I notice that God outlines how He interacts with people. He mentions that He would interact with a prophet – His usual spokesman to the Israelites – in visions and dreams. There is a way that God will usually do things. This is not to say that He is in any way limited to this one way, but rather that He tends to do things in predictable ways so that we understand that it is Him doing the thing. We human beings are nothing if not creatures of habit. And God knows this. So He tends to do things in very similar ways so that we recognize Him at work. Isaiah and Ezekiel both begin their ministry with a vision of the LORD. The patriarchs almost all had direct dealings with God and received promises from Him. The same is true for me as a believer. My experiences are common to many other believers. We have gone through many of the same valleys and climbed many of the same mountains, because God tends to work in very similar ways to produce the same outcome. My experience is not entirely unique.

Then God points out that Moses is a break in the pattern. While God normally speaks to prophets in visions and dreams, He talks with Moses openly, and not in dark sayings. There is no interpretation required in how God speaks to Moses. God just deals the hand open. God goes so far as to say that Moses beholds the form of the LORD. Moses has not seen the face of God – no one can – but he has gotten as close as humanly possible. This leads to a question: Why then were you not afraid / To speak against My servant, against Moses? There should be a healthy respect for those who hear from God and do His work faithfully . This is not to say that they are sinless or cannot be wrong – Moses was prevented from entering The Promised Land because of an outburst of temper causing him to do God’s work in a way that God had not prescribed – but that faithful servants of God need my support and prayer. Moses needed help. He asked for help just before this. Everyone who serves God faithfully will need help. Back to God’s question. I should have a healthy fear of causing problems when dealing with someone who is doing God’s work faithfully. I should be looking for ways to help, not to hinder or aggrandize myself. Moses did not even defend himself.

Let me focus on serving God and know that my experience will not be completely unique. There are nail-scarred footprints leading the way when I focus on following God and being faithful to Him and His calling in my life. Let me seek to be a help to those who are already serving God faithfully and to have a healthy fear of getting in the way of what God is doing in and through another’s life and ministry.

Thank You, Father, that You lead us and that we never walk any road that You have not walked before us. Thank You for those who serve You faithfully. Please work in me to make me a suport for them and a help wherever I can be.

Servant and Steward (1 Corinthians 4:1)

Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.

1 Corinthians 4:1

How should believers be seen? An answer is in this verse and it is in two-parts.

Part one: believers are servants of Christ. Do I see myself in this light; as someone who serves Christ? If I do, then I should be attentive to Him and looking for His instructions.

Part two: believers are stewards of the mysteries of God. Do I see myself as having been entrusted with things that are mysterious or hidden from others? If I do, then I will know that there are those who will not understand the things that seem obvious to me.

Let me be looking and listening for His instructions and understanding that some things that are obvious to me will not be obvious to others.

Stand or Fall (Romans 14:4)

Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

Romans 14:4

Believers are just as guilty as everyone else of judging one another. Sometimes, I think we are more guilty of it. Paul, in the verses surrounding this one, is talking about how some believers could eat whatever they wanted while others had dietary limitations — i.e. some folks ate any old food while others could not eat food that had offered to idols because they still thought of the idol as something. Paul was also talking about how some people observe certain days while others do no such thing — think Lent. In this context, Paul writes a question and answers it.

The question: Who are you to judge the servant of another? The question would have sounded absolutely absurd to his audience. It would be like someone asking me who I am to comment on the day-to-day performance of a friend’s BMW. While my friend might let me drive his car, this does not qualify me to give insightful commentary on how the vehicle performs day-to-day. I just do not know. For that matter, not being a BMW owner, I am not even certain that I know how a BMW should perform. All of that to say that I am not qualified to give intelligent or useful commentary on how that car performs. Likewise, I lack the necessary understanding to be able to give any useful insight as to how my brothers and sisters in Christ are doing in their walks. Should they eat certain things or abstain from them? Should they observe certain celebrations? What about clothing? Tattoos? Piercings? Music? The list is endless. The answer I must give to Paul’s question, if I am honest, is that I am no one; I am unqualified to judge my fellow servants of God.

Paul then continues to comment that To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. There is more than one idea in this statement, and both of the things I see packed up in here are comforting to me. To his own master he stands or falls. I am comforted by the knowledge that I will not be judged by human standards, but by God’s. The Bible gives me great hope and comfort on this count and leaves me with every reason to trust that God will find me righteous based on the righteousness of Christ and not one thing I have ever done. But Paul continues on to say that he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. There are things with which I struggle and fail and fall and get up and try again. The message that I get this morning is simple: God is able to make me stand. It is not by any effort of mine that I will stand, but by God’s doing.

Let my fellow believers stand or fall as God is able to make them stand. What things they do, they do to please our Lord and God. If He is pleased with them, who am I to be otherwise?

A Bold Approach (Matthew 8:8)

But the centurion said, “Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed.”

Matthew 8:8

How do I approach God in my prayer life? I have requests and I have things that need to be set right in me and things for which I am grateful and things that make me want to shout. These are all good and acceptable and valid things about which to pray. It is not the what that I feel the need to focus on this morning, but the how.

The Bible tells me to approach the throne of grace with boldness. It would be a simple matter to confuse boldness with brazenness.

To be bold is to come with confidence in Who I am approaching and where I stand in relation to Him. This centurion came boldly. He knew Who Jesus was. He knew what Jesus could do. He also knew precisely who he was and what he could do. For all of his ability and authority and power, he could not make his servant well. But Jesus could. The centurion understood the nature of power and authority, but he also knew that he had no right to command Jesus to do anything. He came anyway. He knew that he was not a Jew and that Jesus was running around doing things for Jewish folks. He came anyway. He came with boldness; came knowing that Jesus could do what he wanted done. He also knew that he did not deserve it; had done nothing to earn it. He came in hope. He came knowing that Jesus could do this thing. Is this how I approach the throne of grace? In hope and confidence that God can accomplish what concerns me and in the full knowledge that I do not deserve to be admitted to the presence of God?

The centurion could have been brazen. He could have come and demanded that Jesus heal his servant. He was the face of Roman authority and had military power to back him. He had the ability to coerce nearly anyone to do nearly anything. He could have come that way. He had the backing of the Roman government and was authorized to force non-citizens to do all sorts of things. He could have come that way. I, too, can get caught up in what I think are my deserts. I can think that God owes me something because I am whatever good thing I flatter myself that I am. I am not that thing. I am not patient. I am not kind. I have not endured as long as I ought to under temptation or trial. I am not worthy and I am not in a position to make demands.

In the last 24 hours, I have heard 2 separate sermons on prayer. One emphasized coming in relationship; in love. The other emphasized coming in boldness. I submit that I cannot be bold until I am confident in the relationship. Until that time, I come brazenly. I come with bravado. When I an secure and confident in the relationship between God and me, then I come boldly; confidently; knowing that God will do the things I ask because the things I ask are in accord with what He wants to do anyway.

Relationship precedes and founds boldness. Jesus goes on to marvel at this centurion’s faith and it was faith that made Abraham righteous and founded his relationship with God and allowed him boldness. This centurion was bold because he had come to faith and the burgeoning relationship that man had with God knew that God was willing to heal his servant. Let me tend to my relationship with God and a bold approach to His throne will follow.

The Servant Then and Now (Isaiah 53:3)

He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
And like one from whom men hide their face
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

Isaiah 53:3

What was true of The Servant — Jesus — at His coming remains true today. When Jesus was here, He fulfilled this prophecy. The Jewish leadership of the time hated Him and conspired to deliver Him up to Rome for execution. Rome did not care much for Him one way or another — even their historians only mention Him in passing. His half-siblings and His own mother thought He was a lunatic.

But there were those who saw Him. There were those who followed Him. There were those who believed; who trusted what He said and banked their lives on it.

The choice made then remains the choice that must be made now. I can respond to Jesus as the Jewish leadership of the day and actively resent Him for His claims.The Jewish leadership viewed Him as a liar. More than once they took up stones to stone Him for His claims to divinity.

I can respond the way that the Roman government did and shrug off everything He said and did. I can respond with ambivalence and apathy. The Roman government was unconcerned with whether or not He was Who He claimed He was, they worshiped other gods entirely. Moderns have much in common with ancient Rome. Their gods were the gods of sky and ocean and life and death and so on. Moderns’ are given names like astronomy and ecology and biology and so on. The modern pantheon seems reasonable to moderns, just as the Roman pantheon seemed reasonable to Romans. In both cases, the limits of the pantheon can point to the limitlessness of God or can distract from Him. Either way, God is ignored.

I can respond the way Jesus’ family did and write Him off as a lunatic. In more than one instance and recorded in more than one gospel, Jesus’ family came to try to take Him home and get Him the help He needs as it were.

C.S. Lewis wrote what has become one of the best ways of viewing the claims of Christ. Either Jesus was a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord God. Either He deceived people, in which case He was better than even our best politicians; or He was a madman who thought He was God in human flesh; or He was and is exactly Who He claimed to be.

There is one thing I cannot do. I cannot respond by half measures. If I would hate Him, then the hate will grow to be all-consuming. If I am ambivalent toward Him or choose to worship other gods, then my ambivalence will grow to apathy and eventually to disdain. If I would write Him off as a lunatic, then I will discount everything He says as the ravings of a madman. But I cannot take some of what He says and discard some. He did not leave me with that option. He demanded total commitment.

Of note, what was true of The Servant with capital letters may also be true of the servant without capitals. If I choose to follow Christ, then it is entirely possible that I may be despised. I may be thought a liar or a lunatic. I may be little esteemed or esteemed not at all by the world at large.

The modern world, by and large, fulfills the substance of this verse. They despise Jesus and do not esteem Him. How will I respond?

Jesus, thank You for being despised and forsaken so that I can be loved and accepted by Your Father. Thank You for enduring the ignominy of the life You lived. Please teach me to take up my cross and follow You as You deserve, knowing that my life may be similarly despised and esteemed not at all by the world.