Sunday, November 3, 2013

Growing Pains

Revelation 18:4: "Then I heard another voice out of heaven say: 'My people, come out of her! so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not be infected by her plagues...'"

You never realize how much a part of the world you really are until you try to come out of it.

I've learned so much about God and the Bible over the last year, and it's been an emotional journey to this point. On one hand, I've never felt closer to God than I do at this very moment. On the other, my heart is grieving over things that I feel it necessary to leave behind. Little-by-little, He is convicting me about letting go of traditions that I've loved my entire life. But, I can sense that in doing so, the blessings will far exceed any joy these traditions ever brought. It's just that "getting over the hump" is the hard part.

It all started with Halloween. It was always one of my absolute favorite times of the year. I recall asking my mom once, "do you think it's wrong for me to love Halloween so much?" It may be that was the true beginning of God's convicting of me about the holiday. When it came right down to it, though, giving up Halloween wasn't all that difficult, I guess because I've had a few years to get used to the idea, and because deep down I always knew that it glorifies all that God opposes.

Last year was the first year that I didn't pull out all my jack-o-lanterns and witches to decorate our home. While that doesn't seem like any big thing, around here, it was pretty noticeable. We moved into our house in 2003, and since then, for nine consecutive years, we threw a huge Halloween party for our kids' friends and our family, complete with campfire and hayride. It was something everyone looked forward to each year and it was always a lot of fun.

Then, the Lord began to convict me about it after probably the biggest party of them all when our church's youth group came. There had to be 20-30 kids that year, piled into the church van, and whisked off to our house to partake in the celebration of death and evil. Well, we never looked at it that way, but I can't deny that the decorations and costumes were all unmistakably Halloween-inspired.

We may have had one or two more parties after that year, but God really started showing me the err of my ways. We now only use fall decorations, and, while we may still get together with our family around this time of the year, it's very understated, and there are no costumes, jack-o-lanterns, witches, ghosts, or goblins in sight.

For the last year, some other convictions have been laid upon my heart. One regarding Easter, another, Christmas, and yet another, Sunday.

For Easter this year, we didn't do baskets for the kids - first time ever! It was actually a little freeing because I've never been a big proponent of the Easter bunny and Easter egg hunts. I went along with it because that's just what our family did. When I learned the origins of all that stuff, though, I was ready to say, "no more." We had Easter dinner with our extended family, but in our home, we held our first Passover Seder. It was a lovely experience, and one that I plan to continue in years to come. So much more meaningful than dying Easter eggs...and it was a great learning experience for my kids.

Christmas and Sundays are next, I suppose, and undoubtedly the most difficult. I'm waiting for God to lead me to the next level where these are concerned, but I have to admit, lately, my heart has already been aching for the traditions I've loved all my life surrounding Christmas. One minute, I feel excited at the prospect of learning and living out God's will, all ready for the big change. The next minute, I'm grief stricken at the loss of the beauty, warmth, and joy that Christmas has always brought to our family. Add to that the reluctance of my family to be as enthusiastic about a change as I am, and the fact that our extended family doesn't understand in the least what's going on with me. I'm sure some of them think I've gone off the deep end, joined a cult, or a combination of the two. That notion couldn't be farther from the truth.

Makes me wonder if that's what Jesus was talking about when he said: "Whoever loves his father or mother more than he loves me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than he loves me is not worthy of me. And anyone who does not take up his execution-stake and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his own life will lose it, but the person who loses his life for my sake will find it. Matthew 10:37-39.

I'll say it again in another don't realize how much the ways of the world are ingrained in you until you try to live out what the Bible says as opposed to what the world has taught you to do, however well-meaning. Most people don't want to give up what's comfortable and familiar, especially when it's the widely accepted norm of the Christian culture. Is this what was meant by the words, "my people, come out of her"? I can't help but wonder.


The Seasons and the Law

Here's a little something interesting I learned recently:

Before I begin, let me add the disclaimer that I am not anti-Christian. I, myself, am a Christian who is merely searching for truth in order to live holy unto God, and I reserve the right to change my mind about things as the Lord directs me. I'm simply sharing things that I've learned so far.

Daniel 7:25 says of the anti-Christ: "He will speak words against the Most High and try to exhaust the holy ones of the Most High. He will attempt to alter the seasons and the law; and [the holy ones] will be handed over to him for a time, times and half a time." (all quotes from the CJB, unless otherwise noted).

In this verse, the Aramaic word used for the word seasons is zeman, which in essence means "appointed times." Since Daniel was Jewish, I understand this to be referring to God's appointed times, the Feasts, found in Leviticus 23. And, of course, the word law would refer to the Mosaic Law.

If you've done a little study of the history of the early church, you know all about the Roman Catholic church establishing Sunday, the first day of the week, as the official Christian Sabbath, rather than the biblical seventh day (Saturday). And then there's the changing of the celebration of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ to Easter Sunday instead of the biblical observance of Passover, Unleavened Bread, and First Fruits.

That's not to say that the Catholic church is the anti-Christ, but I believe the spirit of the anti-Christ was definitely at work in all that change from biblical mandates to man-made rules. And it has been embraced by the Christian church ever since. Any Jewishness in our traditions has been eliminated, for the most part.

While non-Messianic Jews have failed to accept Jesus as their Messiah and rely on Torah keeping as their means of salvation, we Christians fully accept Him, but we have failed in the area of upholding God's seasons and laws because we've been taught by the Church that because of God's grace through Jesus' death, there's no longer a need to keep them. We've been "set free" from the law, they say. I don't believe this because Jesus himself said in Matthew 5:17 “Don’t think that I have come to abolish the Torah [Law] or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to complete."

The Bible says that there was a partial hardening of the Jewish heart; that in the end, all Jewish eyes will be opened and all of them will be saved. Paul says in Romans 11:25-26: I want you to understand this truth which God formerly concealed but has now revealed, so that you won’t imagine you know more than you actually do. It is that stoniness, to a degree, has come upon Isra’el, until the Gentile world enters in its fullness; 26 and that it is in this way that all Isra’el will be saved.

How are we to provoke our Jewish brothers and sisters to jealousy when we embrace non-biblical holidays and a non-biblical Sabbath?

My point is, Daniel prophesied in chapter 7 that the Temple would be destroyed and the anti-Christ would attempt to change the Seasons and the Law, and it's already happened.

Under the leadership of Antiochus Epiphanes, some 200 years before the advent Christ, Jews were forbidden to observe God's Laws and Seasons. Epiphanes' army seized the Temple from the Jews and ordered its desecration. He instituted his own laws, making it illegal for anyone to observe the Laws or Seasons of the Holy Scriptures. One family stood among the Jews and said "No" - the Maccabees (this historical event was prophesied by Daniel in chapter 8 and is recorded in the Apocryphal books of Maccabees I and II). This family led a Jewish revolt which, after a three-year war, eventually led to the Temple being recovered by the Jews. They restored the Temple and re-dedicated it to the Lord. The celebratory event that commemorates this miracle of the victory of God's people is known as the Feast of Dedication, or more commonly, Hanukkah (Hebrew for "dedication").

In Matthew 24, Jesus tells us that we need to understand what happened to the Temple as prophesied by Daniel, because the same thing would happen again in the last days, only on a bigger scale. We've already experienced a change in the times (Sabbath, Easter, etc.), and we've embraced the idea that we're "free from the Law," so there's no reason to really worry about the Law since Jesus will forgive us, anyway.

My question is, since the Christian church has, by and large, divorced itself from any affiliation with its Jewish heritage (our Messiah is Jewish!), and if we say that we are free from the law and a good many of us have never even heard of the biblical Feasts, much less observe them, how are we to recognize when they are forbidden to us? Will we even miss them?

How will we be able to stand in the face of persecution for something we know nothing about? Christmas and Easter, as much as we love them, are not God's appointed times. From what I can tell, we've already let go of His times because that's what we've been taught. The questions is now, since I know the truth, what do I do with it?

This is a subject very near to my heart these days, since Christmas is right around the corner. I'm struggling with these things I've learned and wondering why God has led me down this path. It's truly a lonely road.