Passover is coming! As I was contemplating the concept of removing leaven over the last several weeks, a man from my congregation shared how he and his roomates scoured the house for leaven last year and thought they had gotten every last crumb. A few weeks after Passover was over, one of them went to clean the toaster and found 6 months worth of crumbs on the bottom. It was a striking lesson to me that sometimes, the leaven (sin) can be right in front of us and we can miss it. It can hide until the Ruach shows us what is truly in our hearts. Sometimes, He will do this in a gentle way through the scripture or perhaps, if we are not 'getting it', He will use pain or difficult circumstances in our lives to help us realize where we need to change. I want to point out some areas where we can have blind spots...as we get ready physically for Passover, let us get ready spiritually also.
- Resistance to correction: Proverbs has a lot to say about people who resist correction. It calls them foolish, simple and proud. Yet, many of us still do not handle correction properly or with the proper attitude. We immediately think of all the faults of the person correcting us as if that justifies our sin. Every prophet YHWH used to correct his people had sin in his own life in some way, none of them were perfect but that still did not discount the message. Even Balaam could only utter the words of YHWH at one point and he was full of trickery and deception. YHWH may use the most unlikely of people in your life to give you correction and if you arrogantly refuse to see it because you are focused on the communicator's imperfections, you will miss the growth YHWH desires to give you. Even if you are certain what they are saying is not true, our attitude needs to be one of humility and gentleness, not anger or pride.
- Deception: I can hear you thinking..."I don't lie! I would not do that!" What about exaggeration? What about concealing the truth from someone or phrasing something in such a way that we could later say that the person must have misled themselves and misundertsood what we said? Lying is a form of deception but it is not the only form. When we hear someone say something about another person that is not true and we say nothing, we are engaging in deception. By saying nothing, we are sliently agreeing with them. I am not advocating arguing or fighting but I think we need to stand up for the truth and not be a part in 'bearing false witness against our neighbours'. Flattery is also a form of deception and this is one I see a lot amongst people. Some people are so quick to praise everything and they think they are just complimenting others, but examine what you are saying! If you really don't like Esther's dress, don't say that it looks gorgeous on her when she asks! If we are to be followers of YHWH, we must speak the truth in love. That's not to say that we should say it's an ugly dress, simply say that although it is not your taste, you are so glad that she likes it and you find her attractive no matter what she wears (if this is true of course). Keep your tongue from evil folks.
- Apathy: This is not a sin you will find listed by name in the commandments but it is surely addressed many times in the Torah. Apathy leads to apostasy as surely as the sun comes up every day. By being spiritually lazy, we set ourselves up for backsliding. YHWH instructs us to dilligently apply ourselves to do ALL that is written in his Torah. If we become lazy, we will be like Aaron's sons who brought strange incense - they likely thought it was 'good enough'. I know some people get very offended when I mention that there was a death penalty for those who worked on the Sabbath. They say I am being judgemental of those who have no choice but to work on that day. Truthfully, we always have a choice. Many Jews have been killed for refusing to break the Shabbat and we are afraid of losing a job or being criticized by others? We say we want to give up all for Y'shua and to live by His Torah and yet we are scared to make even simple sacrifices. I had a thriving wedding photography business that I gave up because it violated the Sabbath. My parents criticized me and threatened to put me out of the house for keeping it. I still kept it and I know that YHWH will reward me - I do not say this to pat myself on the back but to say that if it is truly a conviction, we will keep it no matter what the cost. If our donkey falls in the ditch on Shabbat, we can rescue it because it is a life or death situation (donkeys would be mauled by wild animals if they fell into a pit on Friday night and were not rescued). Working a job on the Shabbat is not a life or death situation. Some people pray that YHWH would open up another job for them before they give up their Sabbath-breaking job. Maybe He wants you to take a leap of faith and obedience? Obedience is always rewarded, but doubt and breaking His commandments are not. I heard someone recently say that they were glad for grace so that they were not stoned for working on Sabbath. Honestly? That is using grace as a license to sin...thanking YHWH for 'looking the other way' while you intentionally sin is not going to cut it. If you look in the scripture, there is NO sacrifice for intentional willful sin and Hebrews warns us that if we continue to sin after we have received a knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for our sins. Sobering? I hope so. Beware of apathy, it is a slippery slope and greasy grace simply does not exist.
- Bloody hands: Ezekiel tells us that if we know the truth and we do not speak the truth to warn others, their blood will be considered upon our hands when we stand before YHWH and He will hold us responsible. I truly believe that our speech needs to be gentle and seasoned with salt but I also know that we still need to speak the truth. There is a saying, 'it is better to be kind than right'. True. However, I think 'it is best to be kind AND right'. Sometimes, when we say the right thing it can seem unkind but it is actually the kindest thing we can do for that person. When people are molly-coddled, appeased and treated preferentially while sinning or offending others uncessarily, they never grow up and they never realize that their behaviour is offensive. I personally have been in this situation many times where a person in a certain setting or group was behaving obnoxiously towards other people - mooching off them, interrupting people all the time, being argumentative, imposing themselves on people, etc. People were saying 'well, we have to bear with them because they aren't mature in the faith yet (even after years of being in the congregation) and they just need gentle guidance'. Sometimes, people need a kick in the pants! They need someone to stand up and say, 'you can't treat people this way and if you do, you are not welcome among us'. Paul even taught people to kick people outside of the assembly if they would not listen after several people warned them. We don't even get to the warning stage! When I worked in the nursery (back when I attended church), once in a while I would get a baby that would start throwing a temper tantrum. They started kicking and screaming and so of course, I gathered up all the other quiet babies and took them up to their parents saying, "Since there is a screamer in the nursery today, we are bringing all the well behaved babies up to their parents so they won't be bothered by the antics". How absurd! No, I took the screaming baby and called their mother down and she would take the unruly child out to deal with them. Why punish the innocent because of the antics of one unruly person? It is the same inthe congregation. If someone is being particularly negative, demeaning, argumentative, etc. - I would be punishing the innocent by allowing them to continue behave badly. My practice is to gently warn this person and then to take someone else with me. If they still won't listen, I would go to the leadership and then the correct thing to do is to shun them. Why? YHWH resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. If this person is being so proud that they can't accept and apply correction, YHWH Himself will resist them, how much more should I follow in His footsteps? This sounds harsh but the doctrine of love is not a feel-good, sweetness-only doctrine...sometimes true love is tough but for the good of everyone involved. Because I love YHWH, I must hate evil. Because I love my sister, I would fight hard if someone tried to harm her. Because I love my congregation, I would want a proud, evildoer who is not accepting correction to be put out so that the spirit of division would not take root. Please, warn people when you see them in sin or division. We should not be a hypocrite and remove specks when we have logs - referring to accusing someone for the exact same thing you struggle with. If you read that passage carefully, the whole motivation for taking the log out of our eye is so that we may see clearly to remove the speck from our brother's eye!
- Worldliness: We are told over and over again not to be like the pagans and to abstain from the things of this world. All too often we rush after the things that the world has to offer and we make every excuse in the book for it. I laugh when I hear people say things like, "I would die without my microwave" or "I can't live without a cellphone". Really? I am not saying that having these things makes you worldly but saying that you can't live without them? That shows very mixed up prioroties indeed. YHWH says if we have food, shelter and clothing, therewith to be content. So if we say we can't live without anything more than that, we are disagreeing with Him. Does that mean that we can't have more? Nope. It simply means that we CAN live without internet, cellphones, a car, the second car, microwaves, hydro, running water, etc. Millions of people on this planet do. Our priorities should never be dictated byt the world and when we start caving in to the pressures to have the latest and greatest, we become a slave to fleshly desires. Why do we have 5-6 coats each? Why do some women have 20 pairs of shoes? Y'shua said let him who has two coats give to him who has none. We have a lot more than two of many things so why do we hold onto them when we see people in need? My sister and I have made a decision to live simply and to not practice buying things that are frivolous. Once in a while I will treat myself to something nice and I will enjoy it. Nothing wrong with that, but making a lifestyle of self indulgence and buying things that we don't need just because we want it, is not wise and you will be called into account for how you spend your money. Do you think that you can justify the 'junk' in your house to YHWH when He asks you why you had to have it instead of storing up and helping your neighbour? When people complain to me that they have no money or they are buried under debt, I begin to really listen to their conversations from then on. I will hear about vacations, eating out at restaurants, buying new brand-name clothes, wasted food from the fridge that they threw out, how they drive a gas-hog vehicle, the cost of their cable, interenet and cellphone bills, the price they pay to have their hair coloured and/or the amount they spent on gifts for their kids. Honestly, I don't give people money when they express a need to me until I have checked out their style of living. Even Paul said that regarding widows, there were qualifications they had to meet in order to receive financial support. When the scripture talks about giving to someone in need, it means genuinely in need. To be genuinely in need, you should have used up all of your resources first. Otherwise, what you need is a loan (interest free to brethren of course), not a hand out. I try to help people find jobs, start a business, etc. more than just giving money. Give a boy a fish and you feed him once, teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. That proverb is so true - we are not helping people by bailing them out so they can go right back to their overspending habits. Beware of the leaven of worldliness, it will creep in and choke out the word of YHWH in your life. Be content with little and you will never lack.
- Hypocrisy: Y'shua warned us about the leaven of the Pharisees. He said they were hypocrites to the core and did not practice what they preached. We should be very careful to be sure that our life lines up with our actions. I remember saying that I would rather work for worldly people than for Christians because they paid lousy and expected everything done yesterday. They did not give good raises, they hoarded money and on Sunday morning they would give large tithes and dance in the aisle while their employees were overworked and underpaid. Maybe you don't do that but what about stealing things from your office? What about gossiping and bad mouthing people at work? How about watching films that you shouldn't be and then talking about them with your unbelieving friends? What message will you be giving to the world around you when you are like them in every way except for the fact that you go to assembly on Shabbat, you keep the feasts and you don't eat pork? When you claim to be one of YHWH's chosen people, they are looking to see how it is making a difference in your life. If they see very little difference between you and them, they will not see the need to live in the light themselves. This is related to the worldliness that we just talked about but I can't stress it enough that we are to be salt and light. Some of us have a barely flickering flame and lukewarmness is not spoken well of by our Father. I exhort you to be careful that your words and claims are lining up with your actions. You can't have one foot in YHWH and one in the world, it's impossible.
So friends, I encourage you to rid yourselves of the leaven in your homes and hearts. No-one is perfect but we seek to be like Y'shua and in that way, we are seeking to attain perfection. I look forward to the day when we will stand before Him and He will clothe us in perfection. Until then, we have to search for the leaven and humble ourselves before Him and be willing to make changes in our lives no matter how difficult. Be blessed this Passover with the amazing gift of life and the exodus of our souls from darkness into light!