Friday, March 30, 2007

Putting It Away

I've been reading in Ezra the last couple of days. Mostly because that's where Pastor Dave is teaching Sunday mornings and when I'm not sure where to study, I go to where we're studying as a body. Anyway, last night and very early this morning, I finished the book and was really captivated by one particular section. At the end of the book, in chapters 9 and 10, Ezra is distraught over the sad state of affairs in Jerusalem. After the Lord worked in the hearts of a number of Babylonian rulers and kings, He brought a remnant of Israel back into the promised land to rebuild His holy temple. They had even gained the blessing and support of the Babylonian king. After laying the foundation of the temple and offering sacrifices to the Lord, it is brought to Ezra's attention that the Israelites had ignored the command of the Lord not to intermarry with the native peoples of the promised land. Grieved at their unfaithfulness, Ezra tore his robe, plucked out his own hair and beard and lay prostrate before the Lord, not knowing how to proceed. He knew that their sin was deep and that God, being holy and righteous, saw their guilt and sin.

As his grief went on, many of the Israelites joined in his lament, aware of their wrong-doing, Finally, Shecaniah approaches Ezra and says,

"So now let us make a covenant with our God to put away all the wives and their children, according to the counsel of my lord and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law. Arise! For this matter is your responsibility, but we will be with you; be courageous and act." Ezra 10:3-4

Ezra agreed with this suggestion and all of Israel confessed their sin before the Lord and made an oath to put away their foreign wives and children.

Whoa. That sorta took my breath away. I mean, the enormity of a vow like that. At first, I thought maybe I had misunderstood what the scripture was saying. Surely, my Father, the God who loves marriage and family, wouldn't agree that all of these families be torn apart. It didn't make any sense to me.

When my girls woke up this morning, the first thing they wanted to do was play with their Barbie collection. They have an impressive collection for a 3 and 5 year old! It's large enough that we have to store them in a large, Rubbermaid tub. Distracted by breakfast preparations, I told them to go ahead and get out the dolls. Within 15 minutes, a knock-down, drag-out struggle ensued. Sure enough, they were fighting over the dolls and shoes and clothes and story line, as they have done more times than I can count over the last few months. I separated them and then explained that a consequence of their disobedience was that the Barbies would be put away for the rest of the day. They cried. They begged. They promised not to fight anymore. I still put the Barbies away, knowing that our day would be ever so much more peaceful as a result. I made them apologize to each other and me and we all prayed. Resigned to the situation, they happily ate their breakfast and began enjoying other toys.

As I was cleaning up the kitchen, I realized (through the power of the Holy Spirit!) that my situation with the girls this morning was a little like Ezra and the Israelites. Just as I knew that the Barbies were interfering with my girls loving each other and respecting each other, God knew, in His perfect wisdom, that the foreign influences the Israelites had allowed into the heart of their homes would always interfere with His relationship with them. He knew that they could not be pure of heart while still living with someone who didn't also share in that fellowship. It also made me wonder if I have any "foreigners" in my own heart; things that are interfering with my fellowship with God. I also thought about Shecaniah's words to Ezra: Get up! This is your responsibility but we're behind you! Be courageous and do something! This is my responsibility but God is behind me, encouraging me to obey and do something about anything that is hindering my faithfulness to Him. It might be terribly painful to separate myself from those things, but my fellowship with the Lord is of much greater, eternal value. I might feel grief and loss over the "putting away," but my relationship with God will be more intimate and will ultimately soothe any wounds inflicted by the separation.

I'm still thinking about all this as I post today. I want to be pure of heart and in right standing with the Lord. I'm so thankful for Jesus, who makes it possible for me to have access to God and for the work of the Holy Spirit who draws my attention to areas of my life that need to be cleaned up.

Thank you, Father, Jesus and Holy Spirit, for lovingly showing me how to draw closer to You. I ask You to show me anything that is interfering in fellowship with You. I thank You for using something like Barbie dolls to show me Truth. I love Your sense of humor and the ways You are always reaching down to me so that I can touch You. I love You. You are amazing. Amen.