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.