Friday, June 27, 2008

Faith On Friday

As I begin this new series, please know that it comes from a growing desire to share what the Lord places on my heart. I share with a humble heart and realize that I do not corner the market on God's Truth. These are just the stitches of His grace on my heart! This first post is a little intense, but that won't be the norm.
Hubby and I are reading from The Bible in 90 Days and already on our 5th day I can say that it is truly an experience. Since we are reading out loud, it takes about an hour. If you are a fast reader or reading to yourself it would go faster. However, I find that when I read it out loud as literature, I hear things that my mind has skipped over before.
Have you read the Bible through before? Since I love to read and my Grandma Hopkins lovingly illustrated in her life, the importance of reading God's Word, eating it, soaking it in, enjoying it, treasuring it... I have read through the Bible many times. Never have I read it through so quickly though and it is opening my eyes to new details.
I admit, that there are parts I don't particularly care to read. Some of that changed for me when I went through Kay Arthur's Precept Bible studies on Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. These were books I admittedly viewed as boring and would rush past to get on to "the good stuff". After studying them I learned that they are also rich with meaning, show God's love in incredible ways and still had some things to teach me today that had nothing to do with law, legalism or how to get rid of a bad rash! After all, Paul instructs Timothy in 2 Peter 3:16, that " All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness". (NIV courtesy of Bible Gateway) That includes the Old Testament and the Law!
Today God showed me many things I had not noticed before while reading Exodus. Exodus is pretty interesting, being an historical account of the children of Israel being led from Egypt to the Promised Land. But have you ever read through and thought, "Let those people go already!"? In the past I have read it and felt that it drags on and on and my mind wanders and becomes lost in a sea of plagues and hardened hearts. Frogs. Locusts. Gnats. Blood. Ick! I'm sure volumes have been written about why God did it this way and I could probably even spout off from the top of my head, a few reasons, but today I felt like God had "opened the eyes of my heart" to something different.
Many struggle over God hardening Pharaoh's heart. This doesn't bother me because I don't believe He would have done this if Pharaoh would have turned to Him and worshipped Him. It would be contrary to His own nature. God knew Pharaoh's heart already. So, I don't want to focus on that aspect. But, have you ever thought about the magicians, wise men and sorcerers? Since the Bible makes it clear that sorcery, communication with the dead etc is evil, I had read through this and kept on going, not giving it much thought. In Exodus 7, Aaron throws his staff down and it becomes a snake. Then Pharaoh's men do the same thing, but Aaron's snake swallows up their snakes. Weird.
After the words left my mouth, I turned to Hubby and said, "There is no 'magic' that can make a stick become a snake. This had to have come from the enemy." (I do not even wish to write his name here!) "Still he had to have had permission to alter God's Creation..." In this passage I see that he was given permission to make these things happen, but God was telling him that HE is still in charge no matter what. I wondered if these magicians had done this before or if they were astonished at what they did?
As I continued to process my thoughts, I realized that the enemy works in exactly the same way today! He presents himself or his colleagues as being able to perform and behave like the miracles and gifts of God. He distracts us so that our hearts are hardened to The One True God, just like Pharaoh's heart was hardened. Many people choose not to follow God because they see all the different religions and cults, new age movement and paranormal activity and think that He is just one amongst them. The Israelites too had been living amongst all kinds of foreign gods and different kinds of worship in Egypt. Perhaps their hearts had also turned or at least their heads had been turned from the Truth.
Many of us are not tempted at all by other religions. He turns our heads in other ways, trying to keep our hearts in Egypt and focused on things that keep us from growing spiritually. We fill our days and hours with anything and everything but God. I am not trying to say that we should become nuns and priests, but that we are often lazy and forget the very One who gives us "every good gift". It reminds me of an old Keith Green song in which he sings, "Jesus rose from the grave and we can't even get out of bed!" We make time for everything we *want* but neglect our relationship with our Father, who restores our soul. Some of our distractions are even good things, ministries etc. I know I am often guilty of this.
This year I have been learning how to make time for Him in my day every day. Some days it is hard! Certainly, the enemy doesn't want me to spend this time with God and grow stronger as it makes his work harder! Since the women's retreat on spiritual disciplines I have been thinking of this even more. And at the home school conference, Sally Clarkson impressed upon me that as a mother, I have a great responsibility in modeling the importance of a real relationship with God to my children, so that they will know how important it is in their own lives. If we treated our marriages like we often treat our relationship with God, we would be divorced! In fact we often treat God like we are divorced - talking with him only when we want something and possibly having weekly visitations!
It is not my job to make you feel guilty.
I do not want you to feel guilty, but I want to encourage you, maybe challenge you to think out of the box - not only of the world we live in, but the Christian bubble we often find ourselves in, which is a culture unto it's own.
I know that I am not the only one experiencing this in our rush around world. We don't have the enemy producing snakes out of staffs, but we have the enemy speaking to us constantly through the world, telling us we deserve this, that or the next thing...time, possessions, selfish wants, extra sleep, indulgences. Or he could be telling us what we need to add to our to do list to be what we envision (as opposed to what He envisions) as the "perfect" Christian, mother, woman... fill in the blank! He tells us we need to be involved in this ministry or that out of guilt. We listen without asking God if this is His voice or His desire. Is the world so crazy that you feel like you no longer have a choice? Sometimes I feel that way. CRAZY!
This spring and summer I have been taking time to evaluate this. There are so many things in my life that are not necessarily bad and are not sins, but still they pull me away... from my family, from God, from my health. Am I listening to the magicians who present a form of godliness or am I listening to Aaron/God who is giving me the Real Thing? Am I willing to leave Egypt for the land God has promised me? There are numerous accounts of the Israelites blundering through and choosing something in the immediate, rather than waiting for what God promises is coming. Have you done that? WHOA! I can't even list how many ways I have interfered with God's blessings in my life by doing this! It's painful to recall.
As the plagues continue, God demonstrates, not only to Pharaoh, but also to the Israelites and me, that He is powerful, above all and that He loves His Children. He remembers His children. They are not forgotten. He hears their straining in Egypt and listens to their groaning and complaints. He desires to free them of their slavery and lead them out of the world of Egypt into a place He has prepared especially just for them. He wants to feast with them, rejoice with them, protect them, lead them, dwell with them, delight in them, bless them and treasure them.
God wants the same with us! Is that not reason to rejoice!?! I am not saying that if we follow Him we'll be in Candyland! We still live on a fallen Planet Earth. But, I believe He is calling His children out of Egypt today and you know what the good news is? We don't have to struggle to get out. He does it for us! That is what struck me as I read Exodus 14:14 "The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still."
Amazing! If you read any of my post about what I learned at the women's retreat - God has been teaching me about quietness and stillness. What a relief! I believe there are times when He calls us to action and there are times when our own actions have led us the wrong way and we need to be still in order for Him to re-orient us, heal us, comfort us and strengthen us!
One might think that I am being melodramatic on the importance of God leading us out of Israel, but if you read Exodus, God Himself emphasizes it and tells the Israelites to commemorate it every year through the 7 day Feast of Unleavened Bread and Passover. We are to teach our children and say, "See what God has done for us, for you!"
Chapter 11 is sobering. The Plague of the Firstborn and the Passover are described. Unless a household bore the blood of the Lamb, the firstborn was taken in death. Those who bore the blood lived. Have you ever noticed that the bones of the Passover lamb are not to be broken? The Psalms say the Messiah's bones will not be broken and the Gospels tell how Jesus' bones were not broken on the cross, though they usually are in a crucifixion to speed the death. Jesus is our Passover Lamb. This gets so lost in our culture's view of "Easter". We should be celebrating that the Passover Lamb has not only been sacrificed but resurrected! And we should be carrying that knowledge and joy in our hearts throughout the year, reflected in our words and deeds. We need to stop living like we are still in bondage and serve the Lord in Freedom!
Do you struggle with this too? This year I seem to be sorting out these things. I have listened to what the culture says I should be as a Christian, as a wife, as a mother, as a homeschooler, as a woman and as a person. There may be great knowledge in the world, but wisdom is a gift from God. I finally realized that He is my direct source for strength, wisdom and teaching. Sometimes it is difficult to sort out the truth from the fiction, because just like the enemy used the Egyptian sorcerers to copy the miracles of God, a good lie has an element of truth. The problem is those truth covered lies are like swallowing a sugar pill that is bitter in the middle. There are consequences to listening to lies and sometimes it takes a bit of time and effort to work out of those consequences. That's where I am at now.
It never struck me until today though, that God gave the Exodus for an example, not only to generations of Jews to remember, but also for me!
Does God ever teach you things in funny ways like this? I sat down to read our allotted verses. He had another idea and took me the next step on my journey! How awesome that He leads me gently on!
Phew! Another long post. I don't even know if anyone will read this or if they will find this relevant, but as soon as I put down the Bible, I knew I had to write out my thoughts about this. I'll try to join you next week for Faith on Friday too - maybe something shorter! LOL


Trish said...

Great post Theresa. I have the 90 day Bible plan and want to start this summer. I always bog down in the Psalms of all places!! I'm taking/making some time this summer to reflect on my role(s)-I've spent the past several years in react mode-and I know that is not good. I'll email you later.

Denise said...

I love Exodus, Leviticus, and even Numbers but often find myself trudging through the prophets. Isn't it funny how different things slow us down?

Miss you, Theresa.