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.

SOAP Journal – 19 March 2019 (Psalm 12)

The words of the LORD are pure words;
As silver tried in a furnace on the earth, refined seven times.

Psalm 12:6

This psalm begins with David asking the LORD for help, because the godly man and the faithful man were disappearing (v. 1).

David then transitions into an explanation of what he is thinking about. And he is thinking about how the sons of men are saying quite a bit. David notes that they lie and flatter (v. 2), but that the LORD [will] cut off all flattering lips (v. 3). David states that the LORD will be moved to action by the devastation of the afflicted [and] the groaning of the needy (v. 5).

It is then that David makes his statement about the words of the LORD. The metaphor used seems to indicate that God’s words are completely pure. If that is the case, then David is saying that God’s words, unlike the words of the sons of men, can be trusted.

In verse 7, David states that God will keep the faithful and preserve the godly man.

David closes with an observation that the wicked strut about on every side when vileness or worthlessness is exalted.

David might very well have been writing this psalm is 21st Century America. Even a cursory glance at social media tells the story of a society obsessed with talking a good game. It seems like every other interview with a person of note is filled with useless words.

What is worse, our congregations are filled with people who walk in and talk as if their lives were nothing but blessing and goodness, sunshine and verdant fields. Small wonder, then, that our society seems filled to bursting with wicked people strutting around. Our airwaves are saturated with lies and flattery. We, the church, are supposed to be different. And we, by and large, are not.

And I am guilty of this. I do not walk in to church with a pasted on smile and tell people that nothing is wrong, but nor do I sit with my brothers and speak of the deep things of my soul – the things that tear me apart and cause me to bite my tongue in everyday conversation. I do not tell my brothers what is making my work life difficult and seek their prayers. I do not confide in my brothers what challenges I face in purity and in being a godly man and husband and father that they might encourage and exhort me. I do not speak often, if at all, of the things that truly enrage me or the things that stoke the fires of my passions. Instead, I speak of the things floating nearest the surface of who I am. I speak in generalities of how it is difficult to be a godly man, husband, and father. I gloss over or ignore entirely the things that enrage me and jealously guard the things about which I am truly and deeply passionate. And because of this I am diminished in my ability to connect with my brothers and my God and to effect change in this world. Because I will not be open, God is limited in His ability to take out of me the things that offend and to pour into me Himself; His Holy Spirit.

God, please forgive me for living so closed and for giving the wicked cause to strut about. I am terrified less of what You will think if I open myself – for I was never hidden from You – but of what might happen with my brethren. You have said that You give me a spirit of power and love and sound mind. I will need that spirit in abundance if I am to live in openness, as You desire, and to become the godly, faithful man that You would have me be.

SOAP Journal – 12 March 2019 (Psalm 10)

Why do You stand afar off, O LORD?
Why do You hide [Yourself] in times of trouble?

Psalm 10:1

This psalm makes statements and asks questions that trouble many believers.

The psalm opens with a pair of questions that are really two phrasings of the same question: Why does it seem like God does not intervene?

The psalmist elaborates on what is meant by this question.

The wicked pursue the afflicted and the psalmist desires justice (v. 2). What is more, the wicked boast about what they want to do and spurn God (vv. 3-4). Still today, there seem to be rather a lot of people who see no need for God. There are atheists and agnostics who think that there is no God and that they are doing just without one. There are more aggressive atheists who are out to prove that there is no God. We have politicians and celebrities and executives who use their position and power to abuse those who ave neither position nor power.

The psalmist expands on this theme of the wicked doing their own thing (vv. 5-11), saying that their ways prosper at all times and that they are able to capture the poor and innocent. The verses read like a synopsis of the evening news. These people are not afraid of other people, because other people are their prey. And the psalmist indicates (v. 11) that these individuals think that God is not paying attention, if they believe in God at all.

The psalm then transitions into a plea for God to take action (vv. 12-15). And the action requested is, ultimately, that the wicked would receive their recompense. The psalmist states that God does see what the wicked do (v. 14) and the closing verses (vv. 16-18) come to the conclusion that God will take action. The psalmist remembers that the LORD is King forever and ever. While it may seem like God has let go of control, He has not. The realization of God’s persistent kingship reminds the psalmist that Nations have perished from His land. Entire people groups have arisen and disappeared from memory while God’s kingship remained. It is a very long game that God is playing, and the psalmist ultimately concludes that, when it comes to the poor and afflicted, God will strengthen their heart.

All of this is immensely encouraging when I consider the state of things in the world. There are people in positions of power abusing that power and doing terrible things. There are people who plan to take in others and succeed in the short term. It can sometimes seem as if God set the universe in motion, then stepped back to watch it all play out. While He does give us free will and permit the consequences of our choices to be real and immediate, that does not take away His control or lessen His ability to intervene on behalf of those who are His.

Father, thank You for the encouragement that You are in control, even when it seems that You take no active part in events; even when the wicked prosper; even when people deny Your existence entirely and reap the consequences of that. No matter what, You are King and in control. Please strengthen my heart when it falters in the face of the apparent success of the wicked. Please remind me that You have seen and that You will require it of them.

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.

The Wicked Will Act Wickedly (Daniel 12:10)

Many will be purged, purified and refined, but the wicked will act wickedly; and none of the wicked will understand, but those who have insight will understand.

Daniel 12:10

There is a fundamental truth about teaching and learning that is often overlooked. No one can teach a person who does not want to learn. The modern debates over education policy and how the shortcomings of the educational system should be addressed very often overlook this truth. The debate and policy issue is not really what I see in this verse, but it was a fleeting thought that came along for the ride.

That fundamental truth, however, is what I see in this verse. The verse calls people out. There are two groups named: the wicked and those who have insight.

The wicked, the verse says, will act wickedly and none of them will understand. The wicked acting wickedly kind of goes without saying, but what, precisely, will they not understand? The answer is in the context of the verse. The angel has been speaking to Daniel about prophecy. Those who want to act wickedly; who want nothing to restrain their wickedness cannot give heed to prophecy or take the time to understand it. If they did, they would then be accountable for what they had learned and accountability is precisely what the wicked take pains to avoid. If I am acquainted with someone who tries to avoid accountability, I am likely to be dealing with one of the wicked mentioned in this verse. It is both an indictment against the wicked and a litmus test of whether or not someone is wicked or simply lacking insight. The wicked will not understand, they choose not to. They choose to read The Bible with no intention of God’s Word changing them. They are looking for ways to change God’s Word; ways to subvert it; ways to make the Truth sound absurd. And they will find it. The Bible says that these folks will find God’s Truth absurd and repulsive while those who have been changed by it will find it to be our very lifeblood.

Which brings me to group number two: those who have insight. This is not some super-special, elite group of believers. James writes that anyone who lacks understanding (insight) can ask God for it and God will give insight freely and without condemnation. God is not looking for an elite corps of insightful folks in His kingdom, rather He is looking to make insightful folks of all in His kingdom. Talk to believers to whom God has granted insight and wisdom and you find that they, most often, are totally unaware of God’s wisdom flowing through them to others. They simply spend time with God and make themselves available to Him and He takes care of the rest. He speaks wisdom and insight through them and to them. He is the One Who opens up scripture to folks so that even I can wrap my mind around it. He is the One who reveals the needed truth at the moment it is needed.

Both of these groups are defined by their actions. Not just their momentary actions, which are variable, but by the pattern of their lives. If someone has a pattern of acting wickedly, then I can conclude, based on that pattern, that the individual is wicked. If someone has a pattern of insight and understanding, as evidenced by a life lived according to that insight and understanding, then I can conclude that the individual is one of the insightful; one of those who is not wicked in God’s eyes.

This morning, I need to take stock and look at my life. Have I been living wickedly or have I been exercising insight? If wickedly, then I need to return to God and be made right with Him. If living by insight, then I need to stay the course and reaffirm my commitment to live according to the insight that God gives me. The wicked will act wickedly, the righteous should not.

No Pleasure in Death (Ezekiel 18:4, 23)

“Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine. The soul who sins will die.”

“Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked,” declares the Lord GOD, “rather than that he should turn from his ways and live?”

Ezekiel 18:4, 23

There is, I have noticed, a false dichotomy presented when it comes to God. Some folks think He can only be righteous; only be just. These folks are stuck on the first in the pair of verses that caught my attention this morning. They see God as a Judge — and He is — but they never see past the Judge’s robes and realize Who it is wearing them.

There are other folks who get stuck in the first part of the second verse, thinking that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked — and He does not — but they stop short of realizing that eternal life requires temporal repentance. To live forever with God, I must turn away from transgression in the here and now.

So, what is secreted away in this morning’s verses? No secrets. Just attributes of God that are often overlooked or seen through tunnel vision.

Verse four states that all souls belong to God. This is the starting point. I need to understand that my soul belongs to God. As the Creator of that soul, He has every legal right to it. For reasons, God gives me the ability to dispose of my soul as I see fit. But the thing I need to realize; the place I need to begin in order to really understand God’s justice and to even begin to wrap my mind around His grace is that He made my soul and my soul therefore belongs to Him. This is also true of my wife and children. Their souls belong to Him on the same grounds. He has entrusted me with the care and upbringing of my children. He and my wife have entrusted me with loving and caring for her. Not one of those whom I often think of as mine — my wife, my daughter, my son — actually belongs to me. All of them belong to God.

Most of chapter eighteen is a set of examples; of If-Then statements. If this guy does these things then his son does these other things then his grandson does these things, then this one lives and this one dies and this other one lives. It is all straightforward. God wraps up His statements on each of us being punished for our own sins or rewarded for our own righteous actions with a statement that is too often overlooked — particularly by anyone who waves a sign that says “God hates ______.” and fill in the blank with a kind of person. Aside from the obvious effect of turning people off on a God Who loves them — He hates the sin that separates us from Him, but that is another topic for another time — it also misrepresents God. God asks a perfectly valid question in verse twenty-three: Does God take pleasure in sinful people dying or would He rather they repent and live? He actually answers the question at the tail end of verse thirty-two (I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies. Therefore, repent and live.). The Bible makes clear, in multiple places, that God does not want anyone to die (i.e. end up in Hell) but for everyone to come to repentance.

How can I apply this today? First, I need to be mindful that all souls belong to God. This includes the best person I can think of and the worst. God made all those souls and He wants them to come back to Him. And He even gives the how: repentance. If we refuse to repent, then we will die. If we submit and repent, then we will live. It is that simple. If I have been misrepresenting God (possible), then I need to stop and to repent of that and represent Him as He is: a God Who does not want anyone to go to Hell, but wants everyone to repent and spend eternity with Him. We have to choose. And I need to be certain that I am not hindering anyone in coming to repentance because I misrepresent the God Who loves them deep as nails through flesh and a spear into His own side; a God Whose love is as wide as arms spread out and nailed to the beam of a cross; the God Who quite literally poured out His heart out of love for us. He wants to stand between each of us and the punishment we justly deserve. Let me not hinder anyone from coming to those wide open arms by misrepresenting Him.

The Wicked Strut (Psalm 12:8)

The wicked strut about on every side
When vileness is exalted among the sons of men.

Psalm 12:8

David calls attention to something that often bothers believers. We have a tendency to look around and see wrong being called right and right being called wrong and people doing the wicked strut — the swaggering walk of a person who is proud of their offenses against God and His Law.

One need not look very far to see it. There are parades to “celebrate” what the wicked world terms “alternative lifestyles.” Pornography and “men’s magazines” trumpet the normalcy of unchecked adultery (any and all sexual sin) and covetousness (I want that guy’s physique). Much as I hate to say it, “action” movies glorify violence. I hate to say it because I enjoy an action flick from time to time. Horror and slasher films continue that work. Most of the merchandise I’ve seen for those movies glorifies the psychotic killer as a “hero” of some sort and the victims as cattle. And while we may not be murdering our neighbors, we’re certainly spending an inordinate amount of time in video games gunning down our fellow human beings. The examples are too numerous to list one-by-one for lack of space. How did society reach this point? David gave the answer.

Vileness or worthlessness has been exalted among men. We have held up vile and worthless practices as something to be admired. People trot out their sexual perversions in public and we applaud them for it, as if someone telling us that they can only become aroused in the presence of a robot took bravery to tell everyone and their dog and was any of our business to begin with. It’s not our business and there’s nothing brave about foisting the knowledge of your perversion on others. We have TV shows like Hannibal and Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad wherein the viewer is convinced to applaud the villain (there are no heroes in Game of Thrones, only characters who have not yet shown the viewer how villainous they are – the heroes are dead – read the books for a full explanation), as if deceit and flaunting the laws of the land and murder and deviant mental processes were somehow admirable. Our elected officials are liars and cheats and we know this and vote for them anyway. One of these elections, we should all write in Mickey Mouse – at least he’s supposed to be fake. The end result is that the wicked strut. They walk around like peacocks; preening because we, as a society, have convinced them that they can do no wrong in our eyes.

There are peacocks where I live. Those birds will walk right into traffic and expect the cars to stop for them (the city irrationally gave the bird right of way on city streets, so it’s a small wonder the birds behave as they do – let’s hear it for conditioned response). A ton or more of metal and assorted other materials versus a blue bird. I can tell you which one is going to win and it won’t take much explanation. But the same is true of humans versus God. A created thing, so small that our significance is dubious outside of God and His love for us versus the Creator of the universe. Again, the outcome is not in doubt and the explanation will be brief. Why, then, do the wicked strut and preen? Because humanity has elevated; has glorified; has exalted vileness and worthlessness. We have disposable technologies and disposable … well, everything — income, relationships, dinnerware, you name it. The ability to use something up and cast it aside have been elevated as virtues and the great idol of Convenience set up for our corporate worship. It is unsurprising that the wicked strut. It is more surprising that they don’t do it more often and more obnoxiously.

Where is the hope for the believer in all of this? It all sounds so hopeless. The hope is in the preceding verse, where David writes that God will preserve him from this generation forever. Who is him? Two thoughts. First, the verse preceding refers to God’s words or Word, so it may be a reference to preserving Christ in purity to be able to be our atonement. Possible. But the context of the psalm indicates that David has in mind the Godly man (v1). The Godly man is the one God will preserve… forever. In the midst of a world that glorifies sin and worthless behavior, God is more than able to preserve those who are Godly and those who want to become Godly He is able to sanctify to that purpose. I do not think, at this time, that being Godly means I will stop watching action movies or playing FPS (first-person shooter, for those who wondered) video games, but what I do or do not continue to do is up to God, for to be Godly is to behave in a manner similar to God.

So let the wicked strut and let the Godly walk in humility before our God. In the end, the worth of each one’s actions will show.