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)