Monday, November 26, 2012

What We Believe

A statement before I begin: What Rebecca and I believe has absolutely no bearing on what you should believe or the holidays you should celebrate or how you should raise your children. We do not condemn anyone for disagreeing with us or choosing to believe differently than we do. We know what God has called us to and are trying our best to walk that path and do not expect anyone to walk it with us. That being said, in the interest of being as brief as possible, I am not going to lay out any arguments or cite any evidence. The information is pretty easy to find if you are interested in looking for it. We are always open to productive discussions, so if you have any questions, please ask.

"Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.    For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished." - Matthew 5:17-18

A couple of years ago, Rebecca and I started examining our beliefs with an eye on the history behind them. It started with simple things, like what did the early Church really look like? From there, it snowballed into why do we, as Christians, worship on Sunday, when, biblically, Saturday is the Sabbath. Or, why do we celebrate Jesus's birth in December, when many historians agree he was likely born in September/October? And what exactly does Jesus mean by what he said above? If the vision Peter had in Acts regarding the clean and unclean animals was a metaphor for preaching to Gentiles as well as Jews, then why is it used as a basis for throwing out the dietary laws?

What we started to find was that the history behind our beliefs isn't so noble or even based on biblical truth. What we found was that many of the decisions made in the first 3 to 4 centuries of the Church were made to make the faith more appealing to pagans or as a way to separate a fledgling faith from Judaism, which was being severely persecuted at the time. The more we dug, the more we began to feel like God was opening our eyes to what he wants us to do.

Years ago, there was a fad of wearing bracelets with WWJD on them. It stood, as I'm sure you remember, for "What Would Jesus Do?" and was meant to remind us to treat others with love at all times and in all situations. As Rebecca and I explored the roots of our faith, we kept coming back to a similar theme: What Did Jesus Do? When did he honor the Sabbath  What holidays did he celebrate? What food did he eat? The more we looked, the more we saw that Jesus, not surprisingly, was Jewish and therefore followed the Law. We started to ask ourselves, "If we are supposed to live as He lived and walk as He walked, shouldn't we be doing exactly that? If He followed the Law, shouldn't we follow the Law?" We decided at that point that we should be doing exactly that. So we started looking at what the Law actually was and what it had to say about how to live our lives. Does that mean we threw out Messiah? Absolutely not! Exactly the opposite! As we looked at the Law we saw how every aspect of it pointed to just how much we need Jesus. Over and over, we saw that God set the Law up just so that we would know Messiah when He came. No normal human could possibly keep it all without failing. If one could, then there would have been no need for things like atonement sacrifices or even a messiah. God would have said, "All you gotta do is..." and we would be able to do it. We made the decision that we would do our best to follow what is outlined in the Bible, but that we would not stress if circumstances didn't allow us to be perfect. That is exactly what Messiah came for.

What it comes down to for us is that we use the Bible as our guide for how to live. Here are a few of the ways we try to follow the Law:

-We celebrate the Sabbath starting at sundown on Friday night and do as little work as possible until sundown Saturday. It's supposed to be a true day of rest, different from the other six days. In practice, it means we don't do yard work, housework, or schoolwork. We try not to do anything that would make someone else have to work, either, so we don't go shopping or eat out. We still cook, mostly because we love to and don't think of it as work. We also wash our dishes just because I think the stress of seeing them pile up is less restful than just taking 5 minutes to wash them. Go read our good friends blog post on the Sabbath.

-We do our best to stick to the dietary laws, which means no pork (which is really tough, considering sausage used to be a food group for me), non-scaled fish (catfish or eel) or shellfish (which kills me, since I LOVE lobster and crab). However, we do take Paul's words to heart when he says to not worry about the food we eat when we are a guest in someone else's home. If we come to your house and you cook us bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin with a side of crab legs and lobster tails, rest assured, I will eat them.

-We celebrate the Biblical feasts and festivals. We don't celebrate Easter or Christmas in our home. Instead, we celebrate Passover with an eye on the Last Supper and remembering the crucifixion and glorious resurrection that followed. We celebrate Christ's birth during the Feast of Tabernacles in the fall and Hanukkah in December. No Christmas trees, no presents, at least in our home. We still celebrate Christmas with our extended families since it is one of the best holidays for gathering together. To our families: Just because we have chosen not to celebrate certain holidays in our own house does not mean that we will not share in the joy that you take from that holiday by not joining you for celebrations. You guys mean the world to us and we always look forward to family gatherings, no matter when they are. Uniquely American holidays like Thanksgiving and July 4th are also ones we enjoy immensely.

-I have grown a "Biblical beard" which means I don't trim the edges at all. The length of the beard isn't important, just that if I have one, it's all or nothing. No goatee, iron jaw, Fu Manchu, mutton chops, handlebar mustache, etc...

I'm sure there are other aspects of that Law that we follow that I'm forgetting to mention and some that we don't either through ignorance, a lack of understanding or just not quite sure how to implement them. We do not get into things like Talmudic or rabbinic regulations since those are not listed in the Bible.

Are we Jewish? No. We are Christians who happen to believe that our faith's Jewish roots should not be ignored or thrown out and cannot be separated from our Messiah. Our salvation does not rest in the Law; our salvation comes through Christ alone. We believe that just because he did it perfectly doesn't mean we shouldn't honor God by doing our best to emulate Him.  We believe that the old testament and the new testament are one story, one heart and one desire of the One True Hebrew God and not an old story with old ways and then a new story that overrides the old.

You might be wondering how the kids do with it? Wonderfully. They love the richness of things like Sabbath blessings and prayers, building our sukkah, the miracle of the Hanukkah story, and all the neat ways that the Torah shows us how much we need Jesus. Ask the kids what their favorite day is and they'll gladly tell you "Shabbat!"

Ultimately, for us, what it comes down to is:

"As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." - Joshua 24:15b

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Nutty Kids...

The boys just love to wrestle.
Emma's not exactly immune from wiggling, either.
Sometimes they'll sit still (mostly) for a story.
Leaves are a great way to burn off that energy.

They successfully reduced a nice, neat pile to a shambles in no time flat.
"Take a pitcher me!"
Gabe's best Joker impression. "Why so serious?"
This was a bowl of "rabbit" oatmeal. 
All that playing sure wipes them out...sometimes.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Sukkot 2012

"You shall celebrate the Feast of Booths seven days after you have gathered in from your threshing floor and your wine vat; and you shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter and your male and female servants and the Levite and the stranger and the orphan and the widow who are in your towns. Seven days you shall celebrate a feast to the LORD your God in the place which the LORD chooses, because the LORD your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you will be altogether joyful." -- Deuteronomy 16:13-15

Every year, around the beginning of Autumn, is the Festival of Sukkot, or Feast of Booths. This is a time of remembrance, thanksgiving and celebration, when the tribes of Israel were commanded to remember that the Lord brought them through the wilderness and their clothes and tents did not wear out and He provided them with food daily. For 8 days, we are supposed to celebrate with feasts and gatherings of friends. One tradition is to build a "sukkah" or temporary shelter and eat your meals, if not live, in it for the whole festival.

 Something our family does as part of Sukkot is to celebrate the birth of Messiah. According to a number of scholars, this is the most likely time of year that Jesus was actually born rather than in December. As part of that, we decorated our Sukkah with a bunch of ornaments and a star. Olivia was so excited to get to place the star on its post. :) At home, we baked a cake and made a banner to celebrate Jesus's birthday. In what has become a tradition in our home, we put up our Nativity the night before Sukkot began. We do not, however, put out the wise men until later because we know from the book of Matthew that they didn't arrive until Jesus was older, possibly as old as 2 years. We also sang traditional hyms of the season, which pleased the kids to no end. They just love celebrating our Messiah's birth! :)

We decided this year to camp out at Hagan-Stone Park in Pleasant Garden. It's our first time camping as a family since before Ezra was born and we had a really fun time. We bought a new tent, since ours was too small for the six of us and our other plan was to set up 3 or 4 small tents. Without going into the whole story (I could write a book!), we wound up driving all over creation to get the right tent and didn't get to set up our site until almost midnight! The kids were real troopers, enduring chilly nights, pouring rains (just the first 2 days), vicious mosquitoes (thank God for citronella) and aggressively hungry Yellow Jackets. We actually wound up making a de facto offering to the wasps to keep them away from the table and, surprisingly, it worked!... Mostly. One nice bonus was that Olivia and I have been studying insects, so we got to really observe the Yellow Jackets up close. Olivia even had one land on her thumb, which was covered in sugar from dried fruit! She got to watch it walk around "licking" the sugar from her finger.

Hagan-Stone is a wonderful park with playgrounds and hiking trails. We camped in a huge group camping site so that we could spread out and have room to build our sukkah. We even had our friends come out almost every night to share a meal, fire and roast marshmallows. 

Gabe took a dive and got a mouthful of mud.
The kids sitting in the sukkah frame. They were huge helpers, getting me screws and holding the wood for me.
When we decorated the sukkah, Olivia got to put the last decoration on: a star. 
Our finished sukkah and the decorations.
Olivia strung the beads and the fruit below.

We certainly made the best of our camp site. All-in-all, it was rather comfortable.
Our portable "condo". If you want a great tent, get the 16x16 Ozark Trail 3-room, 12-person tent. I set it up by myself in the rain and dark in about an hour.
Our daily offering to the Yellow Jackets. 

They certainly like applesauce...
One of the joys of camping is the confusion that often occurs when people are sharing living space. Olivia got dressed that morning in a pair of capri pants that turned out to be Gabe's carpenter jeans.