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.


Sunday, September 29, 2013

Why I Don't Eat Shellfish

Not too awfully long ago, when my husband and I would go to our favorite Cajun restaurant, I would order my usual...a huge platter of royal reds shrimp. Heads, shells, veins, and all! I absolutely loved them! I also loved ham, and sausage, and bacon...mmmm...bacon...everything was better with bacon.

Then, sometime last fall, all that changed forever.

This journey of faith has taken me to places that I never dreamed I would go. In a year's time, it's brought into question things that I've known and loved all my life. From the Sabbath, to holiday traditions, right down to the things I eat. Food was actually one of the first issues that caught my attention when studying the Torah (Genesis through Deuteronomy, or the "Law"), so I had to look a little further into what the Bible says about it. If not for one particular event in my life a few years earlier, though, I may not have been concerned at all about the issue of food.

Several years ago, I reconnected with a good friend of mine from high school. She was my best friend, in fact. Way back when, she was always different from everyone else. Very intelligent and funny, she was also into "punk" music, which is really what set her apart from your typical 80's teenage girl. Instead of big hair, heavy eyeliner, and neon jelly shoes, she opted for short hair, no make-up, a leather jacket, and wing tips. I'll never forget her little white Toyota Corolla with a bumper sticker on the front windshield that said "Why Be Normal?" It was placed on the window upside-down.

She was a year ahead of me and started to college when I began my senior year. We didn't see much of each other that year, and as the months and years went by, our visits became less and less. I heard through the grapevine sometime that year that she had come out of the proverbial closet not long after starting college. And the strange thing is, I never saw it coming. I guess I was more naive than I realized.

So, anyway, we reconnected and had lunch together one day. It was obvious when I saw her again that she had completely embraced the homosexual lifestyle. Our views on that subject were obviously polar opposite, so I tried to avoid that topic all together. It was like the big pink elephant in the room. But, as the saying goes, "love the sinner, hate the sin." Since this was relatively early in my walk with God, I was careful not to bring up anything that I wasn't able to back up with scripture, so I just let it go.

Several months passed after our lunch together, and because of a Facebook group that I "liked" (I believe it was called "Marriage: One Man-One Woman" or something to that effect), an online debate ensued between the two of us after she e-mailed me, expressing her disappointment that I would "like" such a group. I guess she thought that since I was friendly and accepted her back into my life as a friend, that meant that I condoned the lifestyle she chose.

By this time, I was a little more zealous in my faith, and e-mail makes it a whole lot easier to be bold. So, I proceeded to write her a long e-mail dissertation about why I considered her lifestyle as wrong as any other sexual sin - homo- or hetero-sexual. She, in turn, gave me scriptures from whence she gleaned that her lifestyle is okay and pointed to me as being in the wrong. I knew enough about the Bible to see through that attempt, but one thing she said to me that I couldn't explain was, "the Bible also says that eating shellfish is an abomination." I'm sure I gave her some lame, half-informed excuse for that, but deep down, it bothered me. I wondered, "why is it that it's okay to eat pork and shellfish when the Bible says it isn't?" It really didn't make any sense to me, either. I buried her statement in the recesses of my mind, and didn't really give it a whole lot of thought after that. She and I haven't communicated since.

Little did I know that years later, I would revisit the issue of shellfish in my diet, but for a totally different reason. When I began studying the Torah last year, this was something that I earnestly sought the truth about. In my zeal, I had tried unsuccessfully to minister to someone about the sin in their life, and if what she said was true about the sin in mine, I wanted to know the truth.

As I searched for answers, what I found was enough to convict me. I've heard people say that since Jesus went to the cross for us, we're no longer under the Law, but we are now under grace, and that all our sins are nailed to the cross. While that sounds good on the one hand, and I believe that to be true to a certain degree, I have a hard time accepting that to be proof that God doesn't frown upon my eating a plateful of those yummy royal reds.

There are several reasons why I decided to refrain from eating foods that God deems "unclean." Here are just a few:

Jesus Didn't Nullify the Law

Jesus said himself, as recorded in Matthew 5:17, that He didn't come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. Really, I could have stopped here and been just fine with that. If Jesus said it, it stands to reason that if Paul or anyone else says otherwise, there must be a wrong interpretation somewhere. I understand his work on the cross to be the atonement for my sins, not the sin itself. He didn't go to the cross so that I could do whatever I want. He went to the cross to pay the penalty for me, because ultimately, I will stumble, and His grace is there to cover me.

The Law is Still Valid

God has shown us how to live holy lives in His Law. He says to be holy, for He is holy. (1 Peter 1:16). Grace was there when He gave the Law to Moses, otherwise the Israelites wouldn't know what was sin and what wasn't, nor would they know what it meant to "be holy." That part, I believe, hasn't changed. Grace is still there to catch us when we fall...we just don't have to make blood sacrifices anymore because Jesus' blood was the ultimate sacrifice. All we have to do is to believe in Him. I believe, however, that as a result of His sacrifice on my behalf, my response should be that of obedience to what He has already established for me as holy-living, which is found in the Law.

Some people say that we can't abide by the Law because there's no temple and because we no longer have to make blood sacrifices. True. But does the Bible not say that our bodies are the temple of God? (1 Cor. 6:19-20). And do we not offer up the sacrifice of praise and worship of Him? Granted, it's not as involved as killing a bull, but praise and worship still involves sacrifice on our part, especially during those times when we may not feel like praising Him. Things have changed as far as the sacrificial system goes, but the Law is still alive and well.

Eating is an Important Issue in the Bible

What was the first thing that Adam and Eve were instructed not to do? They were told not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. They had one Law, and it had to do with food. I've read somewhere before that if you want to know the true context of a topic in the Bible, go to the very first mention of it. Good enough for me.

Mis-Interpreted Scriptures

There are several scriptures in the New Testament that are frequently used by the "under Grace" lot to prove that God gave us the freedom to eat whatever we want - that He "changed His mind" about food. Scriptures such as Acts 10:9-13, Mark 7:14-22, and 1 Corinthians 10:25, for example, when read out of context, seem to imply that we can eat whatever we want. However, if taken in the proper context, they actually have to do with Gentiles (whom the Jews thought to be unclean), hand-washing before eating (a man-made law), and food offered up to idols, respectively; not "clean," consumable food. Understanding that the Jews only considered "clean" animals to be food, per God's instructions in the Torah, there was no question about the consumption of clean or unclean animals. They just didn't eat unclean things. When the Scriptures are read in context and not with a particular denominational slant, it is clear that God never changed the status of unclean animals to clean.

So, for me, at least, the dietary laws found in Leviticus 11 are fully operational. It just doesn't make any sense to me to think otherwise. I don't know why God chose certain animals to be food and others to not be food, but He did, and again, that's good enough for me. He did, after all, create well as all the He would know better than anyone what's good for me, I think. Besides that, a little research will reveal that those "unclean" animals are scavengers that eat pretty much whatever they can find - including the waste of other animals. Not something I want to put in my body, regardless of how good it tastes.

I will close by saying that I know fully well that my salvation is not dependent on whether or not I eat a pork chop. My salvation comes from my faith in Jesus, and from nowhere else. My desire to follow His Laws comes from a sincere desire to please Him and to be obedient because He is eternally faithful to me. It's a matter of sanctification, not salvation. It's an act of love for my God and my Savior.

"Come out and be separate from the world; touch no unclean thing and I will receive you." 2 Corinthians 6:17


Saturday, September 28, 2013

Fall Festivals

I didn't write about the biblical holidays as they came around the way I had intended, but this being the end of the season of Sukkot, the last of the fall festivals, I thought I'd share what I've learned about it so far.

First off, I didn't push the issue of observance of the fall festivals this year with my family because I'm still learning all this for myself and how it fits into my own life. The Spring festivals were a little easier because much of the meaning to those is similar to that of Easter. It was just a matter of observing on a different day and getting rid of the bunnies and eggs...and ham.

There is so much more to know about this festival, but in a nutshell, Sukkot, also known as "Tabernacles," or "Booths," (which I will use interchangeably) is an eight-day festival, celebrated on 15th day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei (varies from late September to late October). It commemorates for the Jews the time when God dwelt among their ancestors in the wilderness and led them safely out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. To celebrate, observant Jewish families will build a Sukkah, which is a tent-like structure symbolizing the temporary dwellings in the wilderness, and they decorate the inside with greenery. For eight days, they gather inside their Sukkah for Torah reading, prayer, meals, and in some cases, even to sleep.

Ancient Hebrews also held a ceremony during Sukkot called a "water libation," wherein water was sacrificially poured out by the High Priest as a drink offering to the Lord.

Sukkot is a time to celebrate and be joyful in the Lord - to celebrate his protection and provision. The eighth and final day of the festival is to be the most joyful!

What does the Bible say about Tabernacles?

The most detailed descriptions of Tabernacles are found in the Old Testament. In Leviticus 23:33, the Bible says this (all quotes are from the NIV):

The Lord said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘On the fifteenth day of the seventh month the Lord’s Festival of Tabernacles begins, and it lasts for seven days. The first day is a sacred assembly; do no regular work. For seven days, present food offerings to the Lord, and on the eighth day hold a sacred assembly and present a food offering to the Lord. It is the closing special assembly; do no regular work.

Continuing in verse 39:

“‘So beginning with the fifteenth day of the seventh month, after you have gathered the crops of the land, celebrate the festival to the Lord for seven days; the first day is a day of sabbath rest, and the eighth day also is a day of sabbath rest. On the first day you are to take branches from luxuriant trees — from palms, willows and other leafy trees — and rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days. Celebrate this as a festival to the Lord for seven days each year. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come; celebrate it in the seventh month. Live in temporary shelters for seven days: All native-born Israelites are to live in such shelters so your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in temporary shelters when I brought them out of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.’”

As you can see from this passage, the Lord says that we are to rejoice before Him - for seven days! Seven! And we are to do it each year, for generations to come.

Numbers 29:12-32 goes into detail about the sacrifices and offerings to be made for each day of the festival, and then verses 35-38 say this:

“‘On the eighth day, hold a closing special assembly and do no regular work. Present as an aroma pleasing to the Lord a food offering consisting of a burnt offering of one bull, one ram and seven male lambs a year old, all without defect. With the bull, the ram and the lambs, offer their grain offerings and drink offerings according to the number specified. Include one male goat as a sin offering, in addition to the regular burnt offering with its grain offering and drink offering.

Deuteronomy 16:13-17, again tells us to celebrate Tabernacles and to be joyful!

Celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles for seven days after you have gathered the produce of your threshing floor and your winepress. Be joyful at your festival — you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levites, the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns. For seven days celebrate the festival to the Lord your God at the place the Lord will choose. For the Lord your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your joy will be complete. Three times a year all your men must appear before the Lord your God at the place he will choose: at the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the Festival of Weeks and the Festival of Tabernacles. No one should appear before the Lord empty-handed: Each of you must bring a gift in proportion to the way the Lord your God has blessed you.
(emphasis mine).

So, you may be asking yourself, as I did...what's this got to do with me as a believer in Jesus? After all, these passages pretty much appear to apply to Israelites who lived in the wilderness and their descendants, the Jews. But I'm not Jewish. I'm a Gentile. How does all this apply to me? Consider this...

In Romans 11, Paul tells us that the Gentiles, by believing in Jesus as the Messiah, are grafted into the olive tree (His chosen people -Israel). We are, by virtue of that belief and faith in Jesus, heirs to the promises of God to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the same as the Jews. So, in the spiritual sense, before we came to know Jesus as Messiah, we, too, lived in the wilderness. A spiritual wilderness. Without him, life was pretty pointless. No hope, no joy. Just existence. But when He came to live inside us - inside our earthly tents - we were finally able to experience the fullness of joy, and we received the hope of being heirs to the promises He made to our (adoptive) forefathers. Since the Bible says our bodies are the temple of God (1 Cor. 6:19) and He dwells inside of us, we don't have to pilgrimage to the temple, because He's right there within us. We don't have to pitch tents because our bodies are our tabernacles. So, we are, in a sense, walking, talking Booths.

Taking a deeper look into the New Testament, we find that Jesus did, in fact, observe this Festival (and the others, as well). And, in His infinite wisdom, He used the most joyful day of the festival to reveal a very important truth about himself.

Take a look at John chapter 7. Jesus goes to Judea for the Feast of Tabernacles. Verses 37 and 38 say this:

On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.

Notice that he waited until the last day of the Festival of Tabernacles (the eighth day), which is supposed to be the most joyful day of the whole festival - the day of the special assembly - to reveal that His Spirit would be a river of living water to all who believe in Him! No one who believes in Him will ever thirst again!

In Matthew 3:11 and 12, John says this: “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

Throughout the Scriptures, water is symbolic of Holy Spirit. Is this what the water ceremonies, and originally, the drink offerings, of the ancient Hebrews symbolized?

And since Jesus baptizes us with the Holy Spirit and fire, is this what the burnt offerings symbolized - the chaff (sin or unbelievers) is consumed by fire? These are things I'm still learning, but at first glance, it makes sense to me.

It's beautiful how it all connects! It all points straight to Jesus! The Spring feasts have been fulfilled by Jesus already, and he will fulfill the Fall feasts, as well. Specifically, in regards to Tabernacles, when He returns, He will once again physically dwell with us - only at that time, everything will be perfect, just as God intended in the very beginning. If that isn't something to celebrate, I don't know what is!

I believe that as non-Jewish believers in Jesus, we have two very good reasons to observe this and all the biblical feasts:

(1) Because God commanded us to; and
(2) Because Jesus did.

Not to mention, because in doing so, we set ourselves apart from the world in a way that no other religious group can. His way.

So, why do we choose not to observe these times?

That's a topic for another day.


Sunday, July 21, 2013

Erev Shabbat Experience

Since roughly October of 2012, I've been on a search for truth.

It started with an inexplicable draw to a Messianic Jewish congregation in my area. Since I was raised primarily in a Pentecostal church, interest in Messianic Judaism was something totally different and unexpected for me. We left our church a few years ago and had not found another "home church" to attend. We had visited a few, but never really found one that fit. My husband (raised Baptist) and I had not discussed it much before I told him one day that I felt like we needed to visit this new church. To my surprise, he agreed, and soon thereafter, we went to a Friday night service.

Everyone was extremely nice to us. From the moment we were greeted at the door with a warm smile and an enthusiastic "Shabbat Shalom" (Peaceful Sabbath), we felt totally welcome. We found that "Shabbat Shalom" was the greeting of choice, and it was quite awkward for us to repeat it back to the many people who offered it to us - especially since, at the time, we weren't sure what it meant. Nonetheless, there was a warmth and sincerity in that place that I'd never felt at any other church I'd been to. I was impressed. We both were.

After we found a seat, a very nice lady came over to speak to us and she asked what brought us there. My husband and I looked at each other, and he told her that he had been thinking about visiting for a while and that I just happened to call him up one day and suggest we go. Her response: "So...God brought you here." I started to cry because, in our 12 years of marriage, we had never been "on the same page" regarding which church we should attend. Ever. I had no idea he had been thinking about it prior to my mentioning it to him. I felt as though we were exactly where God wanted us to be at that particular time. What a great feeling that was!

The service was different, to say the least. It began with what I call a Jewish-style meet and greet. Their small worship band played a joyful "Shabbat Shalom" ditty and everyone came out of the pews, dancing through the aisles, shaking hands, and greeting each other. It was like they truly were one big, happy family.

This was followed by the liturgy and the reading from the Torah (first five books of the Bible), the Haftarah (Prophets) and Brit Hadasha (New Testament)as the congregation stood, listening respectfully and reverently. It struck me how much honor was given to the Word, as it should be. Everyone stood at its reading, and I found throughout the whole service, a lot of it was read and then explained in context of what is written, as well as given in the practical means of life-application. This is contrasted to what I'm used to, which is typically a sermon written around a few key verses to drive home a particular topic - usually slanted toward a particular denominational doctrine.

Then it was time for praise music, singing and dancing, shofar blowing, and flag waving. I had participated in many a praise and worship service, but none like this. It was like the entire congregation broke out into a big party! On the floor in front,on either side of the stage, was a group of people dancing in large circles...adults and children, alike. (Later, I learned this dance is called the Hora) A petite woman dressed in white flowing clothing danced all over the sanctuary, skillfully waving two big, colorful flags above her head. Smaller flags were passed out to those who wanted them. People were clapping and smiling and obviously feeling free to just enjoy the presence of God however they felt led. Everyone was filled with the joy of the Lord. It was so refreshing!

Things calmed a bit after the praise song was over. The children were dismissed to their classes, and worship began. The music was more somber, and the altars were opened for those who wanted to pray. Twenty people or more went to the altars to pray, some wearing prayer shalls over their heads, which was a totally foreign concept to me. They would pray for a while and then one-by-one, quietly trickle back to the pews as they finished.

After a few worship songs, the sermon began. The teaching was straight from the Bible...lots of Scripture...and it was all about Jesus (or, as they call him "Yeshua," which is his actual, Hebrew name). The service was a little long - almost two hours from beginning to end - but for me, that wasn't an issue. For my 16-year-old, fidgety son, it was a different story. Two hours was a little too long for his taste. But they didn't get into a big hurry, which is something I loved about it.

After that visit, my interest in the Messianic faith peaked. I began what would become a six-month study of the Torah - from Genesis to Deuteronomy - every single verse. The more I read and learned of the Torah, the closer I felt to God. I began to look at the Scriptures in a totally new way. The New Testament even made more sense to me after learning what the Old Testament said. Things I'd been taught growing up - things about the Sabbath and holidays and food, for instance - started to look very different through this new lens called the Torah. I could see from the Scriptures how certain things I always believed to be true could have been taken out of context. I'll go so far as to say that I believe in my spirit that some things were, in fact, taken out of context to align with certain doctrines...but I'll leave it at that for now.

I began to question all these new things I was learning, weighing it against things I was taught my whole life, and ultimately, some confusion set in. I felt like God sent my husband and I to this new place of worship for a reason, and He led me to the Torah for a reason. He put the unquenchable desire in me to seek the Truth. At the same time, though, everyone I know and love doesn't seem to know anything about any of this stuff, nor do they seem to care to hear it. Some are open to listen and discuss, others, not so much. I found out how very defensive some Christians can be when you start messing with their holidays. I love Christmas as much as the next person, believe me. But more than my love for Christmas, I love God and I want to know how He feels about Christmas. I want to know the Truth, no matter what.

In any event, new beliefs were developing in my heart from my reading of the Word and these beliefs caused me to wonder what all this meant for me. If I'm not a Pentecostal or a Baptist or a Jew, by virtue of their doctrines, then what was I? Am I a wanna-be Jew as some would suggest?

I struggled with these questions for a while before I realized that I don't need an earthly label to identify me as a child of God. No, I'm not Jewish and I'm not trying to be Jewish. I'm a believer in the Most High God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who has placed in me a love for the Jewish people - His people - and He is teaching me what to believe about Him and His people through His Word. I believe He gave us His Word - all of His Word - for a purpose, and not just to give us a history lesson. I believe the whole Bible is true and relevant to us today.

I'm digging deeper and I will share what I find here. That's the purpose for this blog.

Finally, I know.


Sunday, May 19, 2013

Feeling a Bit Radical This Morning...

I'm wondering who among us has actually read the blessings and curses for obeying God's commandments found in Deuteronomy 28?

I was reading them this morning and thought how absolutely horrifying the curses are...

25 The Lord will cause you to be defeated before your enemies.

28 The Lord will strike you with madness and blindness and confusion of mind, 29 and you shall grope at noonday, as the blind grope in darkness, and you shall not prosper in your ways. And you shall be only oppressed and robbed continually, and there shall be no one to help you. 30 You shall betroth a wife, but another man shall ravish her. You shall build a house, but you shall not dwell in it. You shall plant a vineyard, but you shall not enjoy its fruit.

32 Your sons and your daughters shall be given to another people, while your eyes look on and fail with longing for them all day long, but you shall be helpless. 33 A nation that you have not known shall eat up the fruit of your ground and of all your labors, and you shall be only oppressed and crushed continually, 34 so that you are driven mad by the sights that your eyes see.

36 The Lord will bring you and your king whom you set over you to a nation that neither you nor your fathers have known. And there you shall serve other gods of wood and stone.

45 All these curses shall come upon you and pursue you and overtake you till you are destroyed, because you did not obey the voice of the Lord your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes that he commanded you. 46 They shall be a sign and a wonder against you and your offspring forever.

...and sadly, how familiar some of them are because of things going on in America right now.

It made me think about how far the body of Christ has drifted from the early church, before so many changes were made to suit the church's anti-Semitic agenda.

I believe we need to quit hanging onto man-made denominational doctrines and traditions and return to biblical truth. I say "return" loosely because I don't believe the current generation was ever there to begin with.

God didn't do away with the Laws that He expected us to obey, and Jesus himself is clear about this in Matthew 5:17-20: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."

He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. As much as we'd like to think it, He hasn't changed.

Yes, we are saved only by belief in Jesus and His selfless work on the cross, but that grace his death provided doesn't release us from our obligation to obedience, and there are very real consequences for our disobedience, as Deuteronomy 28 points out.

For generations, we have pretty much embraced our own comfortable and familiar interpretations of what we should and should not obey in lieu of what Scripture actually says - because that's what we were taught to do and we wouldn't think of questioning it. That would be heresy!

It's no surprise to me at all the things happening to us now as a nation, given our apathy and blatant disobedience. We may say we love God, but do we love Him enough to find out what He has to say about our beloved traditions and doctrines? And do we love Him enough to abandon those beloved traditions and doctrines when we find they are wrong?

Don't take someone else's word for it (not even mine) and risk one day hearing "depart from me, I never knew you." Read the Bible and find out for yourself what's in there. It's good stuff.


Sunday, April 28, 2013

A Prayer for Restoration

I'll admit it. I want a better marriage. What woman doesn't?

How easy it is for us, when things go wrong, to pray for God to "fix" our men. That He will help them to see the error of their ways. That He would restore our marriage and change them.

While changing the male heart in a marriage may be a part of the over-all equation, I submit that, for the believing wife who desires a better relationship with her beloved, change should first take place within her own heart.

That's a hard truth to swallow for me. But when I really examine what the Word says about how women should live with their husbands, I can't deny the truth. It's my responsibility as a wife to stay with my husband, to love him, and respect him, whether or not I feel he deserves it. If there are problems, I need to take them to God and ask Him to intervene.

But the change I seek begins with me. After all, the Bible says to first remove the plank from your own eye before trying to remove the speck from your brother's eye. (Matthew 7:5). When my thoughts become skewed with selfishness and pride, I have to take a few steps back and go to the Word for a reminder of how God wants things done.

That's where I am right now...tossing aside my pride and ready to say yes to whatever my Savior leads me to do.

I'm praying this prayer for restoration in my marriage:

Father, thank you for my husband; for his hard work in providing for our family; for the love he has for me; for the special bond that we have; for his long-suffering throughout the years of trials we've experienced; for all the goodness he brings to my life. I lift up our marriage to you for restoration to what you intended it to be.

I pray that you will change me. I relinquish to you my pride and unforgiveness, and ask that you cleanse me of all unrighteousness. Search me, O' Lord, and know my heart; try me and know my anxieties. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Forgive me, Father, for the times when I've allowed pride to hinder my submission, honor, and love to my husband.

You love him more than I do, and I pray that, by the power of your Holy Spirit, you will help me to love him as you do. Help me to see him through your eyes. Help me to honor him and submit to him in everything, as the head of our household, just as your church submits to you. Please give me right words and actions so that in places where he needs to grow, he may be won over by my respectful and pure behavior. Infuse me, Lord, with good character and a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great value in your sight. Help me to be dignified, not slanderous; sober-minded and faithful in all things. Make me into a trustworthy wife so that his heart can trust me in all things. Whenever I open my mouth to speak to him, help me to speak with wisdom and kindness. Help me to do him good and not harm for all the days of my life. Search my heart, Lord, and purge it of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, and every form of malice. Help me to be kind and compassionate to him, forgiving him, just as in Christ you have forgiven me.

Bring us into alignment with your will for our family. Help us to operate as one mind and feeling, united by your Spirit, loving as brothers, being compassionate and humble-minded in dealing with one another. Let us bless and not curse one another. Soften our hearts toward one another. Let us build one another up, not tear each other down. Help us not to repay insult for insult, but rather, with blessing. For it is this that we have been called.

I ask this in Jesus' Holy Name. Amen.