Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Kingdom Era

                Well, friends, we’re at the end of another long and exciting week at the Institute. We began the week with Ministry Mondays, where we host of speaker who specializes in a specific area of ministry and comes to share their knowledge and experience with us. This week, Mike Haley came to speak to us about homosexuality. It was an incredibly eye-opening and interesting morning! Mike has an incredible testimony of having been a part of the homosexual community for over ten years and then being loved out of it and brought to where he is now. The Lord has done an incredible work in his life and he is now able to minister to those who are struggling with homosexuality and those who are working in ministry and may encounter that. In reality, though, as my boss at the YMCA reminded me of yesterday, we are all in ministry as believers, no matter what our occupation may be. After learning from Mike, I now have an understanding of a Biblical worldview of homosexuality and feel more equipped to deal with the issue as I encounter it.
                For the rest of the week, our topic of focus was the Kingdom Era, as taught by Charles Stolfus from Denton Bible Church. After coming off of two weeks of teaching on a general Bible overview, it was interesting to focus on just one era. We basically spent three days plowing our way through the Samuels and the Kings. It was so interesting to look at the progression of it all, but also overwhelming, especially when you realize that all of what you’re reading took place over 520 years of history, 120 years of the United Kingdom and then 400 years of the Divided Kingdom.

                Looking back on the week, there were a couple things that stood out to me. I really enjoyed studying the specific kings. It was interesting to see what the Bible said about each of them and how they were described. Typically, there was similar information that was given for each king. The Bible records how old they were when they assumed the throne, who they succeeded (or who was king in the other Kingdom if it was in the Divided era), how long they reigned, whether or not they had a heart for the Lord, and certain things that they accomplished during their reign, such as whether or not they maintained alternate places of worship or if they removed the idols form their kingdom.
                Manasseh was one king that I had never heard of before. He was the son of King Hezekiah, a good king who made some stupid mistakes towards the end of his life. Even though he was the son of a so-called “good” king who followed the Lord, Manasseh actually became one of the most evil kings the Kingdom of Judah ever had. He assumed the throne when he was twelve years old and reigned for fifty-five years in Jerusalem. The Bible says that “He did evil in the sight of the Lord, according to the abominations of the nations whom the Lord dispossessed before the sons of Israel.” (2 Kings 21:2)
                Among the evil things that he did, “he rebuilt the high places which Hezekiah his father had destroyed…” This means that he reinstated alternate places of worship in the kingdom that were not honoring to the Lord. He also built altars to Baal, made an Asherah pole, worshipped the powers of heaven, sacrificed his child in the fire, built altars in the house of the Lord, practiced witchcraft, used divination, and “consulted with mediums and psychics.” (2 Kings 21:6) Manasseh convinced the people to “do evil more that the nations whom the Lord destroyed before the sons of Israel.”  (2 Kings 21:9) Because of the evil that was done in the land while Manasseh reigned, the Lord sent prophets to warn them of the judgment that was to come. The people did not listen, though, and the Lord brought Assyria against them.
                When Manasseh was in captivity in Babylon, though, he returned to the Lord and humbled himself before Him. “When he prayed to Him, He was moved by his entreaty and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God.” (2 Chronicles 33:13) The Lord brought him back to Jerusalem and he rebuilt the outer wall, removed the foreign gods and the idol from the house of the Lord, threw the altars out of the city, and instead set up an altar of the Lord.

                Although Manasseh is described as a king who did evil in the sight of the Lord, it is so cool to see how Lord worked in his life to bring him back to Himself. Manasseh was the epitome of evil and the Lord brought judgment upon Him out of love, to discipline his and remind him of the Lord’s goodness. How often do we do the same thing? We forget how good the Lord is and the evil of the world look so enticing, so we begin to stray away. But, because He loves us, God disciplines us to bring us back. He is a good Father, who loves despite our tendency to run towards the world.
One of my favorite kings that we studied was Josiah. Josiah was the grandson of Manasseh. His father, Amon, was even more corrupt than his father, Manasseh, and Amon’s servants conspired against him and killed him. After his father died, Josiah became king at eight years old and he reigned thirty-one years in Jerusalem. Unlike his father, “he did right in the sight of the Lord, and walked in the ways of his father David and did not turn aside to the right or to the left.” (2 Chronicles 34:2) When he was sixteen, he began to seek God and, when he was twenty, he began to get rid of the high places in Jerusalem and Judah, as well as the Asherim, idols, and the altars to Baal. He went throughout the entire land, purging it of these things.

During Josiah’s reign, he directed Hilkiah the high priest to repair the temple. While they were repairing the temple, Hilkiah found the Book of the Law in the house of the Lord. After reading it, Josiah realized that the people had violated God’s law a led the people back to the worship of God. Even though Josiah worked to bring the people back to the Lord, they were still taken into exile shortly after. As Jeremiah 3:10 tells us, the people did not truly return to the Lord “with all her heart, but rather in deception.”

Josiah is so inspiring to me because he had the courage and wisdom to return to the Lord once the light had been shed on the Truth. Even though his father and grandfather were evil, he did not let that define him or determine his future. Instead, he was determined to follow the Lord wholeheartedly, to pursue righteousness. He fought for that purity and cleanliness despite what others may have thought about him.

As we were studying the era of the kings, it was so cool to see the character of God in it. Even though Israel and Judah went through a time of great unrighteousness under the majority of their kings, God still loved them and called them His people. There was nothing that they could do to change that. They were His chosen ones, despite their ignorance, their rebellion, their complete disregard. He loved them enough to discipline them and judge them, in order to bring them back to Himself. He had a purpose through everything. Throughout time, what mattered to Him the most was that His people loved Him and sought to glorify Him. He is a jealous God who wants to keep His people for Himself. They are to worship no other gods before Him. They are to do exactly as He commands. Even though we as people are imperfect and prone to mistake, He loves us anyway, and there is nothing that we can do to remove us from His hand.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Marriage and Family Week

                  This week at the Institute, our focus was on relationships, marriage, and family. We had some incredible speakers come visit us who were very passionate about the subject. Not only did they talk about marriage, but they also gave us a broader view of relationships, our own personality, and how those are to fit together. We began the week by hearing from Lamar Trieschmann, who is a pastor in Arkansas. Part of his teaching included time to take a spiritual gifts profile and a personality assessment. I had taken a spiritual gifts test before. If I remember correctly, the results from that test showed that my strongest spiritual gifts were Pastoring/Shepherding and Showing Mercy. This week, the test did not include Pastoring/Shepherding, but my highest results were still in Showing Mercy. This basically means that I am sensitive towards suffering. I tend to be sympathetic or empathetic, and enjoy being there for others. I think that this described me very well!
                  After taking the spiritual gifts profile, we took a personality assessment. When answering the assessment, you were supposed to answer as if we were in a stressful situation. After taking this assessment, you recorded the results on two graphs. One showed the personality that you felt like others expected from you, and the other was the personality that was really you. On the former, my “golden retriever traits” came out. On the latter, I was equally golden retriever and beaver. Basically, I am a combination of a passive/people-oriented person and a passive/task-oriented person.
                  The rest of the week focused on marriage. Looking back on the week, there are five keys things that I learned about marriage that I didn’t necessarily realize before. On Thursday, we had some couples from the community come and talk to us about their relationships and what they have learned from them. It was neat to see the reality of marriage and not just the picture-perfect view that the media often portrays. The next day, Gary Smalley and Joe White came to share with us their wisdom about Biblical relationships and marriage.
1.    If you are single and you have a desire to marry, you need to cover it in prayer. It takes the mystery out of it because God is in control. This was not necessarily a new idea, but just a statement that made me realize the importance of it more fully. I had heard before that it is important to pray for your future husband, but I had never thought of it as a way to give God control in that area. I loved this idea, because I feel like it’s something that I can turn around and directly apply to my life right now. So often when I learn about marriage, it’s hard for me to take the information and feel like I can directly apply it, since marriage seems like such a far-off idea at this point in my life.
2.    If you’re constantly thinking about ways that you can safeguard your marriage, then it’s not going to be as hard in the long run. Provide accountability in your life, especially when interacting with members of the opposite sex. Keep no secrets: all passwords should be known and accessible by both the husband and wife. Bounce your eyes. Yes, there will still be attractive people, even when you’re married, but you can’t focus on that. Immediately move your attention away.
3.    Being an independent woman isn’t everything. If you are constantly doing things for yourself and not allowing your husband to take care of you and your needs, then he won’t feel like he is doing his job as a man. Let him showcase the gifts that God has given him.
4.    Marriage is not for your own good, purpose, pleasure, etc. The purpose is the sanctification of both of you as you seek to become more like Christ.
5.    When a wife is being too dominant in a relationship, they are weakening their husband and his role. Instead, they should work to pull strengths out in their husband and encourage his as he leads the home.
Of the things that I learned this week, I want to apply them all to my future marriage. After seeing the way that the Lord has worked through Godly relationships that I admire, I want to model my relationship after theirs’. I also learned five things that I want to do personally as I walk through my singleness and prepare for my future, if that is what the Lord wills.
1.     In my single state right now, I want to resist the temptation to obsess over marriage. I need to focus on what I’m doing at this point in my life right now, and not what is to come. Marriage is not a better state; it’s just a different state.
2.     In my future marriage, I want there to be an open sense of communication. I want my husband to feel comfortable sharing with me anything that he needs to, good and bad, and I want to feel comfortable doing the same. I don’t want to sugar coat situations, but face them head-on together.
3.     As I prepare for marriage, if that’s what the Lord wills, I want to learn what it means to be a strong woman who is not independent in an unhealthy way. I know that I can be too independent sometimes. I want to work on this not only for my relationship with my future husband, but also in my relationship with the Lord right now.
4.     When approaching marriage, I want my husband and I to realize together that it’s not going to be a fairy tale and it’s not going to be perfect. Rather, it is a process of sanctification. The Lord will refine us through the relationship, through good and bad.
5.     Ultimately, I want my husband and I to realize the reality and magnitude of marriage as a covenant. It is a binding agreement and divorce is not an option. We are making the covenant before God, each other, and our future children to stand firm, not matter the trials that come.