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Saturday, 24 December 2016

Feasts of YHWH vs Traditions of Men Part 2: What is Deception?

Good morning!  I feel giddy.... like I've just walked over to your place and knocked on your door asking "Hey!  You wanna come out and play?  You wanna go for another walk with me?  That's the beauty of a testimony, isn't it?  You don't have to subscribe to it and/or believe it.  There is zero expectation, only the question: do you want to hear a story?  Do you want to go for a walk?

Well, had I asked you that question after I addressed my #1 Stumbling Block in part 1 (do I want to know if I am wrong?), it would have been a treacherous walk!  I would've told you "wear your helmet cuz there's going to be a lot of stumbling... I'm BLIND now!!"

Yep.  That's what overcoming stumbling block #1 feels like.  You go from thinking you saw everything clearly to suddenly realizing you're blind!  Pitch black darkness.  How scary is that?  I absolutely understand why so many of us look at stumbling block #1 and go "um, no thanks!  That looks like it's going to suck... and hurt... and be scary.  I'll keep things just the way they are, thank you very much."

Because it does hurt!

Have you ever been deceived by someone you completely trusted?  Do you recall how the unexpected betrayal felt at the very core of your being?  Do you remember the inconsolable pain that nothing of this world could touch or reach?  That is the power of our Adversary.

Just as Love (what IS good) is the power of God, Deception (what SEEMS good) is the power of Satan.  Take a moment and read that sentence again.  After all, Eve did not partake of the forbidden fruit because she thought it was a bad thing to do... she partook only when Satan deceived her to believe it was a GOOD thing to do.
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.  (Genesis 3:6)
And so it was with what I believed as my sincere devotion to God.  I genuinely believed it was good, that it was a delight to Him and I thought myself wise in His ways.  Nowhere did I realize I was ignorant!  Because nowhere in my devotion and worship did I intentionally seek "hey, how can I act wickedly against God?  What abominations can I commit towards Him?"  I was sincere in seeking what I thought was good!

But so was Eve.
But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.  (2 Corinthians 11:3)
But here's the good news... do you know what the surprising thing is about finally realizing you're blind?  You start feeling your way around desperately... you start looking/seeking for what is solid... you start looking for what is TRUTH.  It's like being born again... vulnerable and having to re-learn everything from scratch!  Until that point, there is no seeking, only assuming everything we're doing is "good".
"Truly, I say to you, unless you turn [repent / reject old ways / do a 180] and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."  (Matthew 18:3)
As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance... Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth... since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.  (1 Peter 1:22-23) 
And [God] made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth... that they should seek God in the hope that they might feel their way towards Him [like a blind man] and find Him... The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent.  (Acts 17:26-27 & 30) 
Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation - if indeed you have tasted that the LORD is good.  (1 Peter 2:2-3) - please note that Paul refers to this spiritual milk as the oracles of God in Hebrews 5:12-13 which Stephen equates to the Law of Moses in Acts 7:38

I struggled with admitting I was blind!  Oh how humbling!!!  How can the LORD love me when I have been blinded?  But in His great mercy and comfort, He showed me why my blindness was beautiful in His sight and why it was necessary:
"For judgement I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind."  Some of the Pharisees [prideful teachers] near Him heard these things, and said to Him, 'Are we also blind?'  Yeshua said to them, "if you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, 'we see,' your guilt remains."  (John 9:39-41) - Had these teachers tackled stumbling block #1 of 'could I be wrong?'
"I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to these things... delivering you from your people [Israel] and from Gentiles - to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me"... that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance."  (Acts 26:16-18 & 20)

So deception is the conviction that something is good, when in truth, it is evil.  That is the true blindness.  That is the real darkness.  Therefore, the weapon of warfare for deception is ignorance!!
Jesus said to them, “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God?"  (Mark 12:24)
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me.  And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.  (Hosea 4:6)
Therefore my people go into exile for lack of knowledge.  (Isaiah 5:13)

YHWH has revealed to me that Deception is a beautiful broadly-paved road with twists to the right and to the left, winding and curving, distracting its wanderers from the sudden last turn that ends in death.  Deception is a death whose tombstone reads: "Ignorance is Bliss."

So Stumbling Block #2 for Rita:
1.  Have I been deceived?
2.  Have I been ignorant?
3.  Am I blind?

With this, my spirit cried out "if ignorance is the weapon of our Adversary that ensnares us into a blind slavery, what can be our only weapon in fighting back?  How do we fight with wisdom and discernment to breaks off the bonds of deception?"  The Father answered me:
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  (Hebrews 4:12)
"If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."  (John 8:31-32) 

With that, my dear ones, the LORD revealed to me that there is a war happening.  It is not a war where I am looking outside and around me for some evil red-horned being whose wickedness can be seen from a mile away!  No.  The war is spiritual and it is within me... it's within all of us... in our thoughts, in our heart (which is deceptive above all things)... therein lies the spiritual realm and it is at war.
Put on the full armour of God for His precepts are like the splendid armour of a heavily-armed soldier, so that you may be able to successfully stand up against all the schemes and the strategies and the deceits of the devil.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood... but against the rulers, against powers, against the world forces of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places... Above all, lift up the protective shield of faith with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.  (Ephesians 6:11-12 & 16-17)

Praise be to God!  My fighting back began when I was finally willing to look at Stumbling Block #1 of 'could I be wrong?' and not walk away!  Praise be to God who revealed to me my blindness and caused my spirit to cry out to Him and to finally start seeking for Truth as if it's a treasure hunt for my life!!  He has caused me to hunger and thirst after Him!
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.  (Matthew 5:6)
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.  Then you will call upon me, and I will hear you.  You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.  I will be found by you, declares the LORD.  (Jeremiah 29:11-14)
Who shall ascend to the hill of the LORD?  And who shall sit in his holy place?  He who has clean hands [repented] and a pure heart [circumcised], who does not lift up his soul to what is false... He will receive blessing from the LORD and righteousness from the God of his salvation.  Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob.  (Psalms 24:3-6) 

Now, my dear ones, we have walked together and here we are back at your doorstep.  Thank you for walking with me... thank you for listening to a story.  I pray its words be a blessing to you, a comfort and a hope in the face of its terrifying possibility of being true.  But that will be your journey, your walk... one I hope and pray unites us at a doorstep knocking and asking "Do you want to go for a walk?  Do you want to hear my story?"

I have not met many of you, and yet I love you so deeply.  I am with you in your warfare!  I pray for your protection, for the armour of God to protect you!  Fight, my dear ones!  Fight and win!  But begin with the biggest battle of all:  asking yourself "have I been deceived?  Am I blind?"

God bless you all and see you in part 3!

Friday, 23 December 2016

Dream: The Fortress and the Tree

It began with cold water at my feet... about mid-calf... all around.

I was walking through it, the gentle swooshing sound with each step.  The water was so crystal clear... and then a word: "pristine".  It was as though the water had come from a glacier or mass of ice... a purity from long ago.  The view spanned out and it appeared as though I was in a valley yet high up somewhere... like the mouth of a volcano?  Or a valley within a mountain?  As I walked, there were others also walking towards a concealed fortress built within the rocky mountain halfway up one of its peaks.  It was so brilliantly built into the rock that one could have easily missed it.

But to my amazement as I walked, there in the middle of this valley to behold was the tree!  Never in my life have I seen such a majestic tree!  Its height was immeasurable.  I could not see its top.  One would think it grew to the height of heaven!  Its trunk was so thick and wide, it must have spanned meters upon meters... it took some time to walk past it.  It was dripping with water as though the tree had been hidden within ice all this time and was finally recently exposed.  And then its leaves... oh dear me, the leaves fully established glistened like little mirrors, an illustrious hidden treasure, as though they themselves bore a silver-lining.  The tree bore no fruit in its newness, but one could only imagine when it would!  Everyone who walked by it towards the fortress walked in complete silence and awe.  All that could be heard was the drip of water and the swooshing of gently walking through it.

Once arrived at the fortress, half-way up just prior to entering it, I looked back at the beautiful tree and smiled in awe.  It stood there almost as if it was a faithful witness to the rock fortress!  Inside the fortress, the masses were being "sorted" and assigned into rooms.  I began to feel a bit afraid like something really big was going on and the dark cool "gothic" feel of the fortress was not comforting.  I was brought to a door I was to go through and once I did, it opened up at the top of a large hall.  The span of the space was easily assessed and I choked back my shock as I realized I was in a room with murderers, thieves, convicts... prisoners.  The murmuring of the room stopped as everyone looked to the newest addition.  Was this my spiritual "classification"?  Despite trying to live as a servant of God, has my blindness prevented me from seeing that I am a murderer, a thief, a convict?  What was the fate of these men?  What was mine?  Heartbroken, I looked at the stairs that would bring me down to join them, but before I could take my first step, I awoke.

I don't remember how many years ago I had that dream, but sometime in the last seven.  With the key words made known, I looked up their definition:
Pristine (adjective): belonging to the earliest period or state; in perfect condition, completely clean, fresh; not changed by people, left in its natural state; not spoiled, corrupted or polluted; fresh and clean as if new.
Could this mean the tree came from and was preserved in something from long, long ago?
Illustrious (adj): notably or brilliantly outstanding because of dignity or achievements or actions. 
Silver lining (noun): something good that can be found in a bad situation, a consoling or hopeful prospect.
Could this mean that something about the leaves refers to the tree's deeds/actions which somehow shine a light of consolation and hope?
Gothic: style of writing that describes strange or frightening events that take place in mysterious places; or style of architecture in Europe between 12-16th century.
Could this mean the rock fortress is a mysterious place?  Is it a spiritual place because it was not easily perceived?

A few years later, I watched the movie "The Book of Daniel" (one of my favourite movies!!).  In the movie, King Nebuchadnezzar also had a dream about a tree.  I nearly jumped out of my chair as he described it:
"I saw, and behold, a tree in the midst of the earth, and its height was great.  The tree grew and became strong, and its top reached to heaven, and it was visible to the end of the whole earth.  Its leaves were beautiful and its fruit abundant..."  (Daniel 4:10)  

WOW!!!  So I decided to do a word search on tree and fruit throughout the scriptures and was in awe of the following verses.  Here, the prophet Ezekiel has been describing the third temple that is to be in place in the end times and note what is seen:
"Then he brought me back to the door of the temple, and behold, water was issuing from below the threshold of the temple towards the east (for the temple faced east).  The water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar.  Then he brought me out by way of the north gate and led me around on the outside to the outer gate that faces toward the east; and behold, the water was trickling out on the south side.  Going eastward with a measuring line in his hand, the man measured a thousand cubits and then led me through the water, and it was ankle-deep.  Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water, and it was knee-deep.  Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water, and it was waist-deep.  Again he measured a thousand, and it was a river that I could not pass through, for the water had risen.  It was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be passed through.  And he said to me, "Son of man, have you seen this?"  Then he led me back to the bank of the river.  As I went back, I saw on the bank of the river very many trees on the one side and on the other... And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food.  Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary.  Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing."  (Ezekiel 47:1-12 Water Flowing from the Temple)
Compare that with the vision John had in the last book of the bible, Revelation:
"Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city, also on either side of the river was the Tree of Life with its twelve kinds of fruits, yielding its fruit each month.  The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations."  (Revelation 22:1-2 The River of Life)
What I saw in those leaves was not an emitting of its own light (self glorifying), but little mirrors that testified to the validity of the True Light.  This was the consolation and hope!

Yeshua spoke about the Salt of the Covenant (Lev 2:13, 2 Chr 13:5, Num 18:19) referenced from Torah (Law of Moses) on several occasions.  In fact, He said that if we weren't the walking evidence or saltiness of that covenant, we were no longer good for anything.  Makes sense doesn't it?  If we aren't living out lives of faith that declare and proclaim that every single word that has proceeded from the mouth of God (including His law) is truth, how can we be the salt of His covenant?  Yeshua then compared this very saltiness (covenant faithfulness) as a light and concluded with this:
Let your light (covenant faithfulness) shine before men in such a way that they may see your good deed (covenant faithfulness in action) and moral excellence and glorify your Father who is in heaven.   (Matthew 5:16)
This is immediately followed by Yeshua validating the truth of the Law and Prophets!  And He warns that anyone who relaxes the least of the law will equally be considered least in the kingdom!  He then confirms that anyone who DOES the law and prophets (covenant faithfulness in action) and TEACHES the Law and Prophets will be called great.  These have remained "salty."  Their obedience from the heart to the Father:
a) imitates/reflects Yeshua's own obedience from His heart to the Father, which
b) becomes the evidence of Yeshua and His righteousness within us
This faith in God's covenant faithfulness becomes a hope... a brightness!  But not a light that is their own... one that humbly and faithfully reflects (points back) to the True Light that is eternal and unchanging.  A brightness/faith that causes its seers to believe and to seek out its source... the Father!  This is the healing of the nations!!!
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.  He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.  (Psalms 1:1-2)
And so I am left with only one of those dreams I rarely get that become imprinted... it does not leave my spirit.  I wake up wondering why it stands apart.  Perhaps for no reason at all, but for this dream to come prior to my reading the scriptures, seems too strangely similar!  Who is the tree?  When will it bear fruit?  Who were those prisoners?  Was I there among them because that was where I belonged or were all of them waiting for something?

So I did a word search on "prisoner" and was surprised to find that Paul and some of the Apostles referred to themselves as "prisoner for Christ" and/or "prisoner in Christ."
"Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God..."  (2 Timothy 1:8)
"For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey..."  (1 Peter 3:18-20)
"Some [souls] sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, prisoners in affliction and in irons, for they had rebelled against the words of God, and spurned the counsel of the Most High... Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress."  (Psalms 107:10-11 & 13)
"I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness."  (Isaiah 42:6-7)
"For the LORD hears the needy and does not despise his own people who are prisoners."  (Psalms 69:33)
"the LORD looked at the earth, to hear the groans of the prisoners, to set free those who were doomed to die."  (Psalms 102:19-20)

So there you have it, my dear brothers and sisters.  Either a good story, an intriguing mental processing of my brain while sleeping, or something from the LORD.  Thankfully, He is the God who reveals mysteries where there is one to be revealed.  For now, may we all look forward to the living water promised to flow from His heart and the healing of the nations from the Tree of Life!  God bless you all!!

Feasts of YHWH vs Traditions of Men Part 1: It's About the Heart

It's that time of year again... the holiday season.  It has become a unique time for our family.  A few years back, the LORD lead us (despite my reluctance) on a journey of questioning the origins of Christmas: is it a festival that honors Him or ironically, deceptively blasphemes Him?  It was a painful journey... a reluctant journey, but one that revealed the stubbornness of my heart and led us out of one form of worship into another we never dreamed existed in such radiance.

These next few posts are going to be about that journey... one that is not yet complete but that continues to humbly reveal where our own hearts are at towards YHWH.  Don't worry, you don't have to agree or disagree, I simply invite you to walk alongside me as I share with you the stumbling blocks I did not anticipate finding.

I find it fascinating (now) to discuss this topic with anyone who is willing, and my heart goes out in understanding and compassion to the challenge of objectively discussing/questioning what is so deeply ensconced in our hearts, our families, and ultimately our culture and worship.

My journey did not begin with my heart set on putting Christmas to the test.  My journey began when I realized my heart was NOT WILLING to put it to the test!

I don't even remember who it was who called my attention to the possibility that Christmas could be a brilliant deception, but I sure do remember my anger and indignation!  How on earth can you call a festival that promotes a spirit of giving, a spirit of peace and reunion, family and joy... how can any of that be called "evil"?  I was so offended!  Thankfully, I remember this as I try to encourage others to "test" Christmas.  Of course there's going to be anger and indignation and offence.  I get that.  I was exactly there!  I think experiencing those feelings IS the first step!  But what pierced my heart was a simple question:

If God said to me, "Rita, Christmas and Easter are an abomination in my sight," would I be willing to give them up?

I tried to convince myself that I would.  But here I was in the potential moment of exactly that... and was I willing to listen?  You know what I found out my truthful answer was?

No, I was not willing to give them up.

And that was my first moment of realization, something wasn't right.  After all, if my heart is in the full knowledge that it is TRUTHFULLY and beyond a shadow of a doubt a perfectly holy holiday, wouldn't I be EAGER to test it?  Wouldn't I be CONFIDENT in testing it?  Why was I unwilling?  What did my heart know that it wasn't letting me in on?

So I did start examining the roots of December 25th and they shocked me.  Then I caught myself trying to find articles that justified keeping the festivals regardless of their origins!  So in the spirit of still wanting to cling to it for dear life, I moved from resisting to justifying and pleading with the LORD as He gently and patiently kept nudging me through my learning.  I protested, "But that's not what it means to ME!  Isn't it about what I make of it?  Does the history really matter?  Isn't faith all about the fact that we can take what was once evil and baptize it?  Turn it into something good?  Isn't that the heart of Your gospel message?  Isn't it about what's in MY heart that counts?"

And the LORD answered, "It has everything to do with what's in your heart." 

Aha!  See?  Yet... why is it that His answer suddenly did not leave me feeling reassured?
"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick, who can understand it?"  (Jeremiah 17:9)

What??  Gulp!  So basically, all this "follow your heart" and "be true to your heart" could actually be leading us into the kind of deception where we don't even know to question ourselves?  So this really is about the heart and whether or not we are willing to examine/expose it to the light!  Are we willing to ask ourselves if we have been deceived?  Do we want to be free from our heart's deception?  No wonder Paul warned us that we are to "test ourselves in the faith!"  (2 Corinthians 13:5)  If we don't, we risk being ensnared by our own heart, an unsuspecting slave in Egypt!  This is nothing new to the plight of humanity!
"Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the LORD!"  (Lamentations 3:40)

Sometimes I do way more talking to God than being quiet and listening.  Okay, more like most of the time!  But suddenly He reminded me of the depth of this newfound troubling truth and why willingness and action on my part was a must: "I am the God who searches mind and heart." 
"Know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought."  (1 Chronicles 28:9)
"And all the churches will know that I am He who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works."  (Revelation 2:22)
"I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds."  (Jeremiah 17:10)
"O LORD of hosts, who judges righteously, who tests the heart and the mind."  (Jeremiah 11:20)

Okay, okay, LORD!  You've made your point!  Everything about me is fully exposed to You... every thought, every intent of my heart behind my actions, everything.  Nothing is hidden from You, which is both strangely reassuring and yet terrifying!!  But what are You testing for?
"And you shall remember the whole Way that the LORD your God has led you... that He might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not."  (Deuteronomy 8:2)
"Then the LORD said to Moses, 'Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day's portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not."  (Exodus 16:4)

And LORD, what are you searching for?  What is supposed to be in our heart?
"You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul."  (Deuteronomy 11:18)
"These words that I command you today shall be on your heart."  (Deuteronomy 6:6)
"This commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off... But the word is very near you.  It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it."  (Deuteronomy 30:11 & 14) 

But YHWH, if the heart is deceptive above all things, what do you find in our hearts, unbeknownst to us?
"But this command I gave them: 'Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people.  And walk in all The Way that I command you, that it may be well with you.'  But they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and the stubbornness of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward."  (Jeremiah 7:23-24) see also Jeremiah 11:8
"They [false teachers] say continually to those who despise the word of the LORD, 'It shall be well with you'; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, 'No disaster shall come upon you.'"  (Jeremiah 23:17)
"But this people has a stubborn and rebellious heart; they have turned aside and gone away."  (Jeremiah 5:23) see also Isaiah 46:12
"They should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God."  (Psalms 78:8)
"This evil people, who refuse to hear my words, who stubbornly follow their own heart..."  (Jeremiah 13:10)
"'Return (repent), every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your deeds.'  But they say, 'That is in vain!  We will follow our own plans, and will every one act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.'"  (Jeremiah 18:12)
"Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn."  (Deuteronomy 10:16)
"They made their hearts diamond-hard lest they should hear the law and the words that the LORD of hosts had sent by his Spirit through the former prophets."  (Zechariah 7:12)

Abba!  I never sought to be rebellious towards you!  I didn't seek to be stubborn!  If this is the natural state of our hearts towards you and your ways, and we are blind to it, then we as your people are in desperate need of a heart transplant!!  What hope can we possibly have regarding our diamond-hard hearts of stone towards you?
"And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you.  And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules."  (Ezekiel 36:26-27)
"And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them.  I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them.  And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.  But as for those whose heart goes after their detestable things and their abominations, I will bring their deeds upon their own heads, declares the LORD God."  (Ezekiel 11:19-21)
"For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts."  (Jeremiah 31:33 and quoted in Hebrews 10:16 & 8:10)
"At that time Jerusalem shall be called the throne of the LORD, and all nations shall gather to it, to the presence of the LORD in Jerusalem, and they shall no more stubbornly follow their own evil heart."  (Jeremiah 3:17)
"The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks justice.  The law of his God is in his heart; his steps do not slip."  (Psalms 37:30-31)
"I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart."  (Psalms 40:8)
"Listen to me, you who know righteousness, the people in whose heart is my law."  (Isaiah 51:7)
"When Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires... they show that the work of the law is written on their hearts... So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision?  Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code but break the law.  For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical.  But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit."  (Romans 2:14-15 & 26-29)
"For we know that the law is spiritual... For the mind that is set on the flesh (uncircumcised) is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed it cannot."  (Romans 7:14 & 8:7)

And with that, our Gracious Heavenly Father revealed to me the hidden battle of my heart in resisting His ways through justifying myself in my own.  My ways were higher to me than His ways.
"There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death."  (Proverbs 14:12 & 16:25)
"The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice."  (Proverbs 12:15) 

But what are "His Ways?"
"He [the LORD] made known His Ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel."  (Psalms 103:6-7)
"Be strong, and show yourself a man, and keep the charge of the LORD your God, walking in His Ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his rules, and his testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses."  (1 Kings 2:2)
"I have kept His Way and have not turned aside.  I have not departed from the commandment of his lips;  I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food."  (Job 23:11-12) 

So my dear ones, the first step in this journey was not about the historical truths of Christmas... It had everything to do with whether I was willing to consider and accept the possibility that I was wrong in my worship of Him!

So Rita's Stumbling Block #1:
1.  Do I want to know if I am wrong?  (That was the toughest one)
2.  Am I willing to let go of my justification, my ways and to seek out and submit to His?
3.  Am I willing to let go of what I cherish (maybe even idolize?) if God reveals to me it is sin?
4.  Am I willing to pick up my cross and die to myself?
5.  Do I want a heart transplant?  A true baptism of casting off what I have loved in order to become new?

These are tough questions, especially when you don't think there is anything wrong with how you're worshiping God!  It's one thing to be the Prodigal Son aware of the conscious decision to leave the Father to seek after the ways of the world, but it's another when you think you're the son who never left... only to find out you ARE the Prodigal Son!!  The worst kind of "lost" is the kind where you don't even know you are.

And that is deception.

The heart is deceitful above all things... So I lovingly encourage you to embark on that painful journey of asking yourself those same questions and inviting God to expose your own heart, to bring it to His light, so as to find out where you are being resistant and stubborn towards Him without even realizing it.  And don't worry!  He is the most gracious and patient teacher!!  Don't ever forget that while He knew full well our stubbornness and filth, He loved us deeply... even unto death.  So if our Holy God is not intimidated by our filth, neither should you be.  He is a gentle and lowly Shepherd whose sheep follow Him willingly, He never drives us.  He is mindful of your pace, and reveals to you His great love and mercy in how He waits for you.

Indeed, this has always been about the heart!  It is our hidden Egypt.  Is it willing to forsake its own way (a deceptive slavery) to follow Yeshua out of Egypt, to be led through the Red Sea of baptism, to partake of the bread of heaven, and be brought near the Mount of God to be taught His ways as a people redeemed from their old ways?  Baptism isn't about taking our golden calves of Egypt and saying that because we now uphold them in the name of Jesus, they are now good.  Baptism is about shedding the old ways, casting our once-treasured idols into the fire, and becoming a NEW creation.  One that doesn't look back to the ways of the Egypt we've been freed from.  God bless you all out there, my brothers and sisters!  See you in part 2 (God willing!).
Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when it shall no longer be said 'As the LORD lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,' but 'As the LORD lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the north country and out of the all the countries where he had driven them.'  For I will bring them back to their own land that I gave their fathers.  Behold, I am sending for many fishers, declares the LORD, and they shall catch them.  [But] afterward I will send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain and every hill, and out of the clefts of the rocks.  For my eyes are on all their ways.  They are not hidden from me, nor is their iniquity concealed from my eyes."  (Jeremiah 16:14-17)
And he [Yeshua] said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men."  (Mark 1:17)  
"Put false ways far from me and graciously teach me your law!  I have chosen the way of faithfulness... I will run in The Way of your commandments when you enlarge my heart!  Teach me, O LORD, The Way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end."  (Psalms 119:29-30 & 32-33)