Use the S.O.A.P.

soap

I grew up in Iowa, and now live in Wisconsin.  You might immediately think of food when you think of the Midwest.  There is nothing in the country quite like Iowa corn-fed pork, best served at the Iowa State Fair.  There is equally nothing like Wisconsin cheese, best eaten at a local county fair listening to polka music.  It can get mighty hot in August at any fair in the Midwest.  It’s likely you’ll clean up when you get home, after visiting the food tents and the animal barns.  Make sure and use the soap!

As good as Midwestern cuisine can be at its prepared best, there is something that is even better and something that I crave even more.  No matter where I live, what my means of making a living, or my season of life, what I desire above all is to know Jesus better and dwell with him.  I want to sit at his feet, listening and learning.  Being with Jesus has the dual effect of bringing great satisfaction, even better than a great meal of pork and cheese; and, feeling clean and refreshed, even better than taking a cool shower on a hot summer day (or a hot bath on a cold Midwestern winter day!).

One way of enjoying Jesus and connecting with the triune God – Father, Son, and Spirit, is simply reading the Bible every day and writing a few thoughts in a journal.  Reading Scripture (especially out loud) puts beneficial thoughts in your memory.  Writing your insights of from that reading into a journal presses the benefit even better and deeper not only into your mind, but into your soul.

I often use a simple method, S.O.A.P. as a means of learning from God.  Just today, I wrote this in the quiet of the early morning.  Come and see what the Lord taught me today….

S cripture – Luke 2:41-52, especially verse 45: “When they [Jesus’ family] did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him.  After three days they found him in the temple.  He was sitting among the teachers, listening to them and putting questions to them.”

O bservationJesus put himself in the posture of a listening learner.  Yes, Jesus is God.  Yes, Jesus is human.  He needed to discover, develop, grow, and learn just like we do.  At 12 years old, Jesus did not put himself in the position of pushing his identity on others.  This practice of listening and learning served Jesus well throughout his earthly life.

A pplication – If Jesus found the need and created the time to be a listening learner, how much more do I need such a practice in my life?  In today’s Gospel story, not everyone was happy with Jesus for doing this.  His hunger for learning was misinterpreted by his family as disobedience.  They were upset with him.  Sitting at the feet of Jesus in the posture of listening learner is going to be sometimes misinterpreted by others who think you should be doing something else, be somewhere else, or be somebody else.

P rayer – Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.  I fail too many times to sit at your feet and learn from your words and ways.  Help me to faithfully carve-out time each day to be with you.  And may this humble posture of a learner and grower translate into the whole of my life so that my faith will be strengthened, and others will be blessed; through your great and powerful Name, Jesus Christ, my Lord.  Amen.

Just minutes a day being at the feet of Jesus can change your life for the better.  Imagine if you did this every day, what your life would be like, how it would transform your relationships with others, and improve your outlook on your current situations.

Today is the day to either find that journal that is hidden away, or to go out and purchase a notebook or actual journal to start recording what the Holy Spirit is teaching you at the feet of Jesus.  Maybe even stop and get an Iowa pork-chop and some Wisconsin cheese curds while you’re out.

Why I Read the Bible Every Day

 
 
            My earliest memories of the Bible are in the church in which I grew up.  I remember Bible stories from Sunday School and the pastor talking about particular verses from the Bible while I sat in our regular family pew at church.  But I really have no recall of ever having read the Bible for myself.  It wasn’t until my late teen years that I took up the task of reading the Scriptures.  And, I have to tell you, it absolutely changed my life.  I found that many of the stories I heard as a kid were a lot juicier than I realized.  I also discovered that there were simply a lot of things in the Bible that I didn’t know even existed.  But maybe the most profound breakthrough for me was plowing through all four Gospels and seeing the life and teaching of Jesus.  My adoration and appreciation of Christ rose exponentially after watching him in action throughout Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
 
            I was so impressed with reading the Gospels that I moved into the rest of the New Testament.  Then, I went back to the Old Testament and read it all.  In a matter of months I had read the entire Bible.  But what I then discerned is that, although I had read the whole Bible, I had more questions than when I started.  There was just far too much I didn’t understand about it.  So, I read the whole thing again… then again… and again… somewhere along the line I’ve lost count of how many times I have read the Bible – I estimate that I’ve read the New Testament around four-hundred times and the Old Testament about two hundred.  And I still have so much more to learn, discover, and unearth in this richest of books.
 
            Maybe all that reading of the Bible seems over the top.  I assure you, it isn’t.  Why in the world would I spend so much of my life in plain straightforward reading of the Scriptures?  Let me offer several reasons:
 
I cannot lay hold of God’s promises if I don’t know what they are.  Living from a place of faith and calm in the midst of uncertainty and unrest doesn’t just happen.  It comes from knowing the words of Scripture and applying them to everyday life.  The promises of Scripture are like an asthmatic’s inhaler, enabling us to slow down and take a deep breath.
 
I cannot be like Jesus if I don’t know him very well.  Reading Scripture about Jesus is like eating food. I have to do it regularly.  It nourishes me for the day. Bible reading is stored energy, stockpiled emotional and psychological capital.  I can speak and act like Jesus throughout the day by making moment-by-moment withdrawals from that vast reservoir of stored Scripture knowledge.
 
I cannot be wise if I am not connected to wisdom literature.  By nature we are all ignorant and have to learn through humility and experience what is wise, just, and good. But over time we can shed folly and become wise. I cannot do it on my own. I need a word from God each and every day to face life’s challenges, its ups-and-downs, as well as its mediocrity and mundane nature.  Every day the Bible tweaks my life and prompts fresh mid-course corrections.
 
I need to see God for who He is, and not what I think He is.  Everyone has an idea about God.  But I believe the Christian Scriptures tell me who God really is in all of his attributes, character, and sovereignty.  God is pretty big – so big that I can read the Bible for a lifetime and still get to know more about him. I read my Bible in order to sharpen my vision of God and to think more accurately about all that matters most in this life.
 
I need to see the Church for what it is, and not what I think it is.  Everybody and their dog have an opinion about how church should be and operate.  But I must take my cues from the Bible about what is most important about the church and what it should be doing.  I read the Bible in order to better know and understand who God’s people really are, and what they ought to be doing in this world.
 
I need God.  Reading the Bible is a personal experience — an actual encounter with the author. Daily Bible reading requires routine and structure, but it is not mechanical—just as a body requires a bony skeleton, but it is not the skeleton that gives it life. We do with the Bible what the Psalms guide us in doing—adore God, thank him, complain to him, wrestle with him, express perplexity to him, etc.  Without God I am lost.  Which is why, apart from Scripture, I am lost.
 

 

            Reading the Bible is an investment of time, energy, reflection, meditation, and prayer.  Struggling through its contents can change your life.  It did mine.  One of the most important decisions you could ever make is to read the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation because it is God’s Word that reveals to us the God whom we serve.  

Hurry Up and Listen

 
 
“My dear friends, you should be quick to listen and slow to speak or get angry.  If you are angry, you cannot do any of the good things that God wants done” (James 1:19-20).
 
            Rarely does anything go as planned in life.  Yet we all have certain desires and expectations about how things should go in our lives.  When things go sideways, tempers flare.  People do not listen well and are quick to blame and jump to conclusions.  Difficult life circumstances can lead to pointing fingers and giving heated opinions about problems.  Verbal jabs can take over in the church.
 
            Inside of all our heads we have higher brain functions, and lower brain functions.  We need both of them.  When there is danger, the lower brain immediately kicks in and puts us on a hyper-vigilant state to resist and deal with the threat.  This works great when a burglar is in your house, or you jump in to help someone in a car accident, or any number of things which threaten life.  Adrenaline is great for danger but not so great when there is simply things going on we don’t like.  The problem with the lower brain function is that it operates more on instinct and not on rational, logical, and reasonable thought.  When the lower brain is functioning the higher brain function is not so much.  If you have ever seen someone all worked-up about something and that person does not listen to any kind of reason, you are observing a person who is operating in the lower brain function.  Most of our contemporary problems are not solved through the lower brain’s activity of responding to fear and threats of danger.
 
            We need to hurry up and listen.  People caught in their lower brain function do not listen because all they can see is what upsets them.  There is a great need for listeners today.  Very little productive communication takes place because there are so many people in a hyper-vigilant state going on and on about their opinions and what’s wrong with everything and what we should be doing.  We just talk over and on top of each other because we already have our minds made-up about how things really are.  Nobody is listening.
 
            On top of all this, there are a number of things which distract us from any kind of ability to listen well:  our busy-ness; constant background noise of the TV, radio, tablet or computer.  And these often just appeal to the lower brain with no substantive thoughts.  This all has major implications when it comes to listening to God.
 
            Bible reading is the primary source for Christians to listen to God.  But reading the Bible is too difficult and dull for far too many believers.  Sitting quietly before God and slowly reading the words of Scripture, and giving focused attention to Him in prayer has been relegated to the super-spiritual among us, as if it is not normal to read the Bible and pray.
 
            I haven’t even said anything about preaching yet.  It is little wonder why so many preachers today think they need to be showmen with such little listening that actually occurs.  Then, there are always people who think they already know what needs to happen, so they check out during the sermon.  In order to hurry up and listen to God’s Word, it needs to be a priority in our lives.  We must say “no” to some things in order to make room to listen to God.  We must prepare for worship and listening through deliberate preparation.  Listening is not just going to happen.  It has to be looked at as a skill just like anything else in life, and purposefully cultivated.
 

 

            A teachable spirit which is attentive to the words and ways of Jesus is a listening spirit.  A place to begin is to allow some space for listening within the worship service.  Cramming the time with as much stuff as possible is not conducive to hearing from God.  But through slow and deliberate speech, times of silence and contemplation, and careful planning can spawn an atmosphere of listening to God and his Word.  Let the church model for parishioners how to listen well.  For straining out all others voices in order to hear God might be one of the best things we can do today.