Shabbat and Commerce

Today, I’d like to address a common blind spot regarding Shabbat, among those from church backgrounds who would like to live a more Torah-observant lifestyle. Many who grew up in Christian churches see nothing wrong with going out to eat and then stopping off at Costco or Target as soon as the church service lets out on Sunday. It seems normal and acceptable, and it pretty much is – for Sunday. Some of us may hear tales from the old days about how stores and businesses used to close on Sunday, or maybe know of a few more “backward” (usually conservative) communities or just occasional businesses still follow this practice today. To most, this probably seems quaint, at this point in history, in the U.S..

But once you have been convicted by Torah and the Ruach (Spirit) that you need to keep Shabbat on Saturday, you can get into trouble, unthinkingly applying this practice to Shabbat, as well.

Though not explicitly stated in Torah, it is made abundantly clear in the book of Nehemiah that buying and selling are not to be normal activities on Shabbat:

15 In those days I saw people in Judah treading wine presses on the Sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and loading donkeys with wine, grapes, figs, and all kinds of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day. And I warned them about the day on which they were selling provisions. 16 Men of Tyre dwelt there also, who brought in fish and all kinds of goods, and sold them on the Sabbath to the children of Judah, and in Jerusalem.

17 Then I contended with the nobles of Judah, and said to them, “What evil thing is this that you do, by which you profane the Sabbath day? 18 Did not your fathers do thus, and did not our God bring all this disaster on us and on this city? Yet you bring added wrath on Israel by profaning the Sabbath.”

19 So it was, at the gates of Jerusalem, as it began to be dark before the Sabbath, that I commanded the gates to be shut, and charged that they must not be opened till after the Sabbath. Then I posted some of my servants at the gates, so that no burdens would be brought in on the Sabbath day. 20 Now the merchants and sellers of all kinds of wares lodged outside Jerusalem once or twice.

21 Then I warned them, and said to them, “Why do you spend the night around the wall? If you do so again, I will lay hands on you!” From that time on they came no more on the Sabbath. 22 And I commanded the Levites that they should cleanse themselves, and that they should go and guard the gates, to sanctify the Sabbath day.

Remember me, O my God, concerning this also, and spare me according to the greatness of Your mercy! – Nehemiah 13:15-22

We see in this passage that commerce has to do with profaning the day. When we think of “profane” in common understanding, we think of something dirty, or filthy talk – profanity. What it really means, in this sense, is “common.” We have six other days in which we do common things – including working for a living, and spending our earnings. Shabbat is to be unlike the other, common days. In the Havdalah blessings, we bless G-d, “who separates the holy from the profane” (or “mundane”, depending on your translation.) The Torah does say we are to keep the Sabbath holy, and I believe the Nehemiah passage sheds light on how that was understood by the Torah’s original audience.
Shabbat is to be a day of resting – not only from our normal work, but also from acquiring material things. It is a day to be content with what we already have – and thank the One who has blessed us with so much. And more than that – we should aspire to avoid talking about business, or planning shopping trips, or engaging in any more of the workday materialism than absolutely necessary. Setting these as goals will add more Shalom to your Shabbat, without doubt. Just keep telling yourself, “I can do that another day,” and move on.

This commerce avoidance is a discipline, undoubtedly. When my family started to try keeping Shabbat when I was a teen, we didn’t figure it out for awhile. But the Father was faithful and patient with us, and gave us a few lessons we could look back on as markers along the path. The first, we refer to as “Sabbath Jam.” My mom unthinkingly bought two or three flats of strawberries from the local berry stand on a Saturday morning in June. The berries then took top priority, as we went to work cleaning and hulling them all, to turn into our yearly jam supply. We realized our mistake when we were still up to our elbows in strawberries. We were up late in the night, dealing with all the berries, which would have spoiled if we had left them for later. As it was, the jam we made never set, so every time we ate the extremely runny jam for the rest of the year, we were reminded to avoid the common (buying berries and making jam for future consumption) on the holy Shabbat.

Another time, after we were better informed, we went into a store to get some necessary/emergency supplies on Shabbat, and I saw a beautiful shirt I just had to have. It was on sale, and away from our usual shopping locations, so after debating with myself, I decided to buy it while I was there anyway. It wasn’t working, right? And it was so simple – just reaching into my purse for some cash, and it was mine. Well . . . when I got it home, it was still beautiful, but it was sewn wrong. The buttons didn’t line up with the buttonholes, so it never looked right when I wore it. Yes, I could have gone to work and moved all the buttons, but I decided to leave it that way, and keep it as a reminder not to go clothes shopping on Shabbat.
Another problem that engaging in commerce raises is that of paying someone else who IS working, and thereby contributing to their breaking of the holy day that was instituted at Creation (Genesis 2:3). Even if they aren’t convicted that they need to keep this day sacred, if you know better, yet you are contributing to what you know to be their sin, are you accountable?

Just some things to think about, Obviously, this discussion can (and has) gone on for thousands of years, regarding where to draw your family’s lines, what constitutes “emergency spending,” etc.. And this is only one aspect of Sabbath-keeping.

If you are interested in further discussion and examination, I found a couple of neat articles on the topic. The first is really fun, the second is more scholarly, with some great points.

Saturday Without My Wallet

How to Observe a Biblical Sabbath

As always, I welcome discussion and questions.

Thanks for reading, and Shavua Tov!

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THOUGHTS ON UNITY or “Can’t We All Just Get Along?”

It takes lots of strands to make a big, beautiful challah loaf. I like to think of the body of believers as each being a strand that contributes to the beauty of the loaf.

Having just come from a marvelous Shavuot celebration that lasted all through Memorial Day weekend, which included believers at all different levels of background and observance – everyone from what I would call “straight” church through to Orthodox Jewish secret believers, thoughts of unity are much on my heart. Praying through this, I believe they are much on our Father’s heart as well.

YESHUA’S PRAYER

Have you noticed that Yeshua’s prayer for his disciples, recorded in John 17 is all about unity? In context, this prayer is spoken immediately before He goes to the garden of Gethsemane, where his betrayal takes place. This is a crucial moment, leading up to the climax of history, and what is on the mind of the Messiah? Unity. Our unity. In part, as He is praying for His talmidim (students/disciples), He speaks these words:

“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.” (John 17:20-25)

Earlier in the same teaching, He instructs His followers, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

One of my friends remarked that this instruction and prayer give the effect of a father who is about to leave the room, speaking to his children: “OK, I’m going away for a little while. Please don’t kill each other while I’m gone.” As a mother of seven, this reading makes sense to me. Yeshua, looking down through history, knew what our greatest challenge would be: getting along with each other.

DISPUTES BETWEEN BROTHERS

Or maybe we’re more like monkey bread . . . with nuts!

Looking through the Bible, this is hardly surprising. Start with Cain and Abel, and go from there. Moses was wearing himself to a frazzle, settling disputes between the children of Israel, when his father-in-law saw what was going on and counseled him to put 70 elders in place to help relieve him of the necessity of paying attention to the smaller disputes. The children of Israel needed to have 70 more authorities put in place to help them settle things!

This wise provision indicates to me that we are to EXPECT disputes to arise in this life. “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known“ (I Cor. 13:12). In this world, where our understanding is darkened, we should expect to have some differences with people, including other believers, and we should make provision for resolution of these disputes. Notice that many, if not all of the letters in the Apostolic portion of the Bible seem to have been written at least partially to settle disputes that had already arisen in the believing community.

There are so many examples of division between those who are supposed to be loving brothers in Scripture that I don’t need to go into all of them here. I pray that the Father will bring to your eyes and mind the ones relevant for each reader.

To lighten this up a bit, here’s an old but pertinent joke:

A man is rescued after many years on a desert island.

As he stands on the deck of the rescuing vessel, the captain says to him, “I thought you were stranded alone. How come I can see three huts on the beach?”

“Well,” replies the castaway, “that one there is my house and
that one there is where I go to church.”

“And the third one?” asks the skipper.

“Oh, that’s the church I DON’T go to.”

CLUB VS. FAMILY

This may come as a surprise, but after being so long in the Messianic community (24 years, this Shavuot!), I have noticed that those who have grown up in the traditional Christian community are generally less tolerant of each other than those from Jewish backgrounds, whether believers in Yeshua or not. Maybe it’s just that they’ve had so much longer to internalize the lessons of Moses and the elders than we have. Whatever the cause, I think we can learn some things here, from our older brothers and sisters in the faith of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It’s not that they don’t disagree with each other (most of you probably know the saying, “where you have two Jews, you have three opinions”), but they are more likely to have mastered the skill of “agreeing to disagree.”

I have heard the different perspectives explained as a difference between a “club mentality” versus a “family mentality.” Jewish people, in general, no matter what their level of observance, view each other as family members. They might roll their eyes at the loudly declared opinion of their obnoxious Uncle Joe, but they don’t tend to decide that he’s too obnoxious to remain in the family. See this video for a prime example:

Those with Church backgrounds are more prone to view their body as an exclusive one, and pick and choose who gets invited to join up, and even then, keep bickering with those who make it past the initiation, building offense upon offense and taking things personally that aren’t meant that way, getting defensive and causing “church splits.”

To anyone with a basic understanding of Church history, it’s hardly surprising to see this effect at work in the body. While there have only been three major branches of Judaism (Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform) that make room for huge differences of opinion within themselves, the history of the church is like a gigantic, 2000 year old oak tree with all the big limbs splitting, branching off each other, and forming tiny little independent twigs and even splinters. In one town in Georgia, I counted 22 different BAPTIST Churches – and I’m sure each one has its own reason that it’s got a “corner on the truth”! In my observation, this kind of division in the body is one of the main reasons that people give up and leave fellowship altogether. I have a real hard time understanding the point behind “church planting” in the US. Is that really what we need – MORE varieties of church for people to choose from?

BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVE

Several scriptures came to mind, as I meditated on this issue, and all deserve consideration. They are all related, but I’m going to tackle them one at a time.

1.) Though Peter’s vision is usually called in as evidence in arguments about kosher/non-kosher requirements, I would like to reference it here because the whole point of the vision, given directly by the voice of G-d, is “what G-d has cleansed, you must not call common” (Acts 10:15). As Peter interpreted his vision, he said “G-d has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean” (Acts 10:28b). Peter had a huge discrepancy in practice from those he was called to minister to, but G-d Himself instructed him to not regard these things as a barrier between men and interfering with fellowship.

2.) “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:1-5). I have noticed many times that when some issue disturbs me in someone else, if I pray about it, the issue is usually something I need to address in my own walk. His principles hold true! Isn’t He good to have given us this insight? “For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged” (I Cor. 11:31).

3.) “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24). It is amazing how many judgments and divisions are made over outward appearances! We tend to get so caught up in setting up our “club” around things like headcoverings, tzitzit, etc., and only surrounding ourselves with people who look just like ourselves, that we miss a great deal of fellowship with others who don’t have the same convictions in those areas. It is good to have discussions and find out the stories behind these choices that believers make. These are good things, but our motivation to take them on should not be “fitting in.” If you are curious about people’s choices, please ask them about them, and don’t presume they are doing something to be “holier than thou” (even though that is occasionally the case, it usually isn’t). Ask, and prepare to have your understanding expanded by someone else’s journey! I have talked to my children about how one of the enemy’s favorite lies is that we all have to look alike. G-d made each of us with a different role to play, and when we are busy trying to be like each other, our individual lights are dimmed. We get so focused on comparing ourselves to each other that our focus gets off of where it should be – following Him as He has called us to do.

4.) “Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for G-d has received him. Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for G-d is able to make him stand” (Romans 14:3-4) All of Romans 14 is marvelously on-point for this argument, though I won’t quote the whole thing, as I’m sure you each have a copy and will be good Bereans and give it a read. It talks about not judging each other over which feast days we observe, as well as what we eat. None of these things are what some would call “salvation issues.” “The kingdom of G-d is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Romans 14:17). I urge you to give this chapter a read, if you are experiencing unity troubles in your fellowship!

5.) “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of G-d” (Matthew 5:9). Think about it – what is the role of a peacemaker? Usually, the peacemaker is the one that talks to both sides involved in a dispute and helps each of them to understand the other side’s perspective. I don’t know about you, but when I see one of my children peacemaking between their siblings, it makes me so happy and proud that I want to shower the peacemaker with blessings. I am thrilled to call that one “my child”!! (On a side note, Isn’t the L-rd good to give us examples we can relate to? I love that!)

WHAT I’M NOT SAYING

Yes, we are warned against wolves in the flock: “For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember” (Acts 20:29-31a). This does not mean that we cast “wolf accusations” against everyone who is not on the exact same page as ourselves. Think about the characteristics of wolves. Wolves enter not by the gate (“he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber” John 10:1) – they don’t respect the authority that is in place, or ask permission from the shepherd to teach, but go around the edges of the flock, preying on the weak or immature believers. So we should be on our guard against those who use these wolfish tactics, even if they are dressed as sheep.

Also, I am not saying that we have to include all believers in our general area in every meeting we have. The Father puts some in place to walk on the road together, while others need to camp out in the oasis for a while or take time to stop and tie their shoes, or whatever. Some of us are incompatible as traveling companions, but that doesn’t mean we can’t respect one another. Give Uncle Joe the space to be Uncle Joe. You don’t need to meet him head on, unless you are being obviously called to confront him or warn him of danger – and you usually aren’t.

I am also not saying that we shouldn’t disagree with each other. This is where “iron sharpening iron” comes in. As iron sharpens iron, So a man sharpens the countenance of his friend (Proverbs 27:17). But the goal of discussions and debate should not necessarily be to ultimately convince the other to adopt your own opinion. It should be to consider new ways of thinking about a given topic and thereby refine our spirits with another perspective. There is a reason G-d created us with two eyes. If we open both of them, we gain a more complete understanding of what we are looking at. The goal is not to subject each other to increasing levels of “initiation” and grilling.

SO, WHAT ARE WE CALLED TO DO?

“By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). As long as we are judging ourselves, rather than each other, we can’t forget to take a look at this incriminating piece of evidence. We all fail at this standard by doing unloving things toward others on a daily basis, as far as I can tell. I know I do.

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the L-RD your G-d with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” If we never pick another commandment to try to follow, these are enough. For me, the loving G-d part is easy. He is perfect and holy. Our neighbors, on the other hand, are the challenge. They are imperfect, as we are. This is what grace is for. We should also understand, though, that since “all the law and prophets hang on these two,” if we start trying to keep the various laws and instructions in Torah, we will notice that they will teach us what love and grace look like. As long as we focus on internal alignment of our hearts with the commandments, they will tend to drive us toward love and grace, not away from them. The commandments are there to teach us how to love each other, and are chosen as the path of those who love G-d.

“And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25).
Stir each other towards what? LOVE AND GOOD WORKS!! Let me exhort you: both are important! And neither is accomplished by aligning ourselves on teams against each other. Come on, we can do this, people! Stir each other up, but don’t take offense if someone else doesn’t follow your example or do what you encouraged, or even love someone as you would have them do! Encourage them, stir them up, then LET GO!

“He is able to aid those who are tempted” (Hebrews 2:18).
“He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him” (Hebrews 7:25b).

(For additional perspective, see also Romans 12 and I Corinthians 12 for discussion on members of the body having different functions, strengths and weaknesses, and also I Corinthians 13 for what love looks like!)

In the spirit of this post, please feel free to discuss or disagree, below! 😉

And now, for a total departure . . .

Hi again, faithful readers! 😉

So sorry – I’ve been a bit busy lately.  Just to get up to date, my darling 5th boy (and 7th child) joined us on January 28 – 18 days “late.” He is a complete and total joy, and a reminder of why I keep going through all this. We are learning so much on our walk lately, accompanied by the blessing of faithful family and friends who have been joining us for celebrations, observances, and lots of fellowship and growth! Since I last posted, we have come through Purim (a blast, celebrated at the local Children’s Museum), our family’s first Bat Mitzvah/Bat Brachah ceremony for our oldest daughter’s 13th birthday, Passover (hosted by us – a mere 30 people this year, and a wonderful experience), Firstfruits/Resurrection Day (picnic at a fun local park), a visit from my grandparents who live in Florida – in their 80s and still going strong.

Anyway, my honey just walked in the door for dinner, so I’m going to cut this short and paste my note to a friend who asked for recommendations for vacation spots in Washington State.  In case you need ideas, here you go!

Here are our top 10 suggestions (ok, 12):

1. Fort Worden State Park, Port Townsend – you can either camp or rent space in barracks, infirmary or officers’ quarters.  Very fun, not too pricey, close to cute little waterfront town, marine museum onsite, cool old theater, officers’ quarters museum (house preserved historically as 1910-ish), woods, beach, big open field, close to Waterfront Pizza – our fave restaurant in town, plus lots of fun houses to drive around and look at and events going on all summer.

2. Suncrest Resort, Moses Lake – (number one suggestion from my crew) It’s a campground (mainly RVs and trailers, but our friends did tent camp there). There is a very cool pool with waterslides.  Check the weather prediction first. Kinda in the middle of nowhere, with a totally different climate than we’re used to.

3. Washington Park, Anacortes – like being in the San Juans, without the ferry fare – but still with the ferry fog horns – be forewarned! Great playground, beautiful woods, Nice rocks to climb around on.

4. Birch Bay State Park – Fun little resort area, Seaside feel, waterfront cotton candy and fudge, muddy beach to inspect. There is a waterslide park up there, but it was for sale last year.  Not sure if that’s operating.

5. Seaside, OR – a little further, but lots of fun – carnival rides and arcade, a similar option still in Washington is Ilwaco.

6. Silverwood, (Coeur d’Alene?) ID (more pricey, and further away, but lots of fun, if you want to go a little bigger) Just one step down from Disney – half amusement park, half waterpark, and very well done. You can get tickets a little cheaper through Costco.

7. Leavenworth KOA – Close to, but not in Leavenworth. Pool, game room, great playgrounds, short hike to the Icicle River beach, fun to poke around in the hat shop, etc. – More expensive than other camping, though.

8. Coho Ferry line from Port Angeles to Victoria (you’d need passports and/or I.D. pass cards for this) – From Port Angeles, you could drive up to Hurricane Ridge and all over the peninsula, though, and the Hoh Rain Forest, too.

9. San Juan County Park, SJI – A little-known, but beautiful gem close to Roche Harbor (location of fun marina, great little store and donut shop, historic hotel) and lighthouses to walk to, pretty little cove and big grassy field above the Strait of Juan de Fuca

10. Camlann Medieval Faire and Snoqualmie Falls (camp/stay somewhere near Carnation/North Bend?) – Have you guys been to Camlann? They are starting their Medieval Village weekends this coming week, and they run all summer, weekends only. Candle-making, archery, jousting and swordfighting – to watch or participate in, scribe, costume shop, soaps and flower wreaths, iron forge.  It’s just a few miles from the Falls. North Bend, nearby, also has a short train ride on an antique train.

11. Cama Beach State Park, Camano Island – We’ve never stayed here, but have walked through it.  A bunch of little cabins on the water, low, pebbly beach, outpost for Wooden Boat Center (can rent rowboats/canoes), little store. No camping option available, but the nicest state park bathrooms EVER – Cedar ceilings. Amazing. Cute village effect.

12. Kayak Point State Park – We camped here for Shavuot last year. They have a campground, and also nearby yurts that are a great option.  Down the hill (a hike down stairs from the campground) is the beach with huge playground, big fisherman’s dock, picnic shelters, etc. Totally insane on the weekends – I’d say midweek only.

OK, so obviously, my vacation choices revolve around water – but hey, it’s what the kids want, right?  And we’re in the Pacific Northwest – it’s everywhere! Strangely enough, our Israel trip was one long swimfest, too – Mediterranean, Galilee, Ein Gedi, Jerusalem YMCA . . .

You can also look up summer events and festivals for the state, and follow what interests your family.

Let me know what you pick!

“Overdue” . . . again!

Here I sit, in a familiar place.  I am officially “overdue” with baby number 7.   Babies 1-6 were 11, 16, 10, 19, 18, and 9 days “overdue,” respectively.  I am relatively at peace, though I would love for this little one to arrive any time.  I’m getting better at not calling a false alarm every time I have twinges.  I am waiting for positive signs besides those.  The twinges are stronger every day, so I know I’m getting closer, but have learned to hold on to my peace better, the longer I do this.  Trying to control things only results in more false alarms, as we’ve found.  All the “labor induction” techniques in the world are only time killers, at best.  At worst, they set up a pattern of false expectations that come to nothing and end up making me and my family more on edge for a longer period of time – and believe me, I’ve tried most of the methods, over the years.  It just gets to be too much of an emotional roller coaster, the more we set our hopes on anything but G-d to bring the little one.  Ironically, my last baby, after I decided to just wait and not try any kind of intervention, came the earliest of all.  If I match that, it will be at earliest, two days from now when I deliver.

Just for fun, here’s a list of labor induction techniques I’ve tried: Walking, Nipple Stim/Nursing, Homeopathic Gyna-Matrin, Prostaglandin Gel (never again – not kosher!), Spicy food, Pineapple in Vast Quantities, Membrane Stripping, Evening Primrose Oil, Swiss Kriss – (basically herbal castor oil), time with my husband, Pressure Point Massage, Raspberry Leaf Tea, Black/Blue Cohosh, Eggplant, and don’t forget good, old-fashioned Pitocin, which admittedly works, eventually, but at what a painful price!  I’ll leave this open-ended, so I can go on adding things as I remember them. . . (Oh, yes – we attempted to try acupuncture once, but were blocked from it at every turn, and understood we were being led to abandon that one.)

Anyway, I’ve decided it’s not my job to decide when my babies come.  I have evidence all around me that they DO, eventually, join the family.  Frequent check-ins from well-meaning family and friends, asking if anything is “happening” yet, while admittedly kind of fun at first, tend to make me grumpier about it, the longer I go – I TOLD you, I will CALL when it’s TIME!  While I truly appreciate all the prayers and thoughts being sent my way, it tends to make me feel pressured to perform in an area where I have proven I have no real control. G-d knows the perfect time to bring the little ones (although mine tend to be affirmatively not so little, after so long).

I would SOOOO love to be surprised with an early one, just once, but then again, I would probably be totally unprepared, since I count on having this in-between time to get ready.  I also put off lots of back-burner projects until now, partly to keep from going stir-crazy, that would not get done, if I had an early one once.  Thankfully, this month, I also have the distraction of two other birthday boys to focus on.  I made it past the first, already, and the second one is this coming Shabbat.  I still need to wrap some gifts for him, but I think everything else is pretty much ready.  We have the new family picture (taken last July) on the wall at last, the laundry room – and sock basket – are far more empty than usual.  The refrigerator has been cleaned, we’ve had some wonderful read-aloud times lately, and though my “nest” doesn’t stay clean with 8 of us messing in it every day, that’s probably a good thing!

The latest distraction is the beautiful snowfall we’ve had the last couple of days.  We are expecting “Snowmageddon” tonight and tomorrow.  Sounds like perfect baby-delivery time to me! My body doesn’t like to be on stage.  It would prefer that everyone be focused on something else, so I don’t feel like a watched pot that refuses to boil.  Laid-back and alone are how I prefer to labor.  I truly don’t think I would mind being snowbound and doing it nearly on my own.  I have less fear going into this labor than all my others, and am frankly looking forward to it.  I am thankful for all my labor experiences up until now, as they have taught me so much about myself and G-d’s design for my body.

I find it terribly interesting, how birth circumstances, in scripture, seem to have something to do with the character of the person being born.  The naming process is also fascinating, as naming (and sometimes REnaming) people is such a prominent theme, as well.  Just the names, birth circumstances, and blessings of Jacob’s 12 sons are enough to keep studying those topics indefinitely.  And my husband and I have noticed that our own children’s names – for which we asked for guidance – have definite pertinence to who they are as individuals.  The one whose name means “praised,” for example, needs verbal affirmation in his life, and is incredibly sensitive to verbal correction.  Understanding the names G-d led us to for each child has been key for us, as we have learned how best to parent each of them.   All that to say, yes, we’re still working on name selections for the new arrival, as well.  (If this pregnancy lasts much longer, perhaps I’ll post on some of my observations in scripture on these topics!)

I’m sorry if this post has been more navel-gazing than thought-provoking.  It’s just part of where I am these days.  Turning inward to center, focus, and get ready to push! 🙂  Just waiting to see who this little one will be, and how and when G-d will bring about the appropriate birth and name to give us a glimpse into the personality joining us.  I feel it’s an honor and a privilege to be trusted with yet another little life to lead into knowledge and practice of His ways, to the best of our ability!

Happy Birthday, Honey!

OK, so I’m feeling a little left out, since I can’t wish you Happy Birthday on facebook this year.  I’ll try to make it up to you by giving you a blog post all your own!

Happy birthday to the one whose hand I’m holding (sometimes more tightly than others) as we ride this roller coaster of life together.  I am more convinced every day that you are the most fun, easiest man to be married to EVER, and your way of seeing nearly everything as an adventure to be experienced, a challenge to be met, or a reason to laugh at ourselves makes it all great fun to wake up next to you each morning!  I am blessed to be your wife, and want the whole world to know it! I love you!

Thanks for leading our family as G-d leads you, liking lots of children (more specifically OUR children!), eating what I cook, and being my hero in everything from squashing bugs to pulling our trailer through the mountains!

(Hopefully the picture lives up to your online protocol, and hasn’t given away your secret identity! ;0)

Now I’m off to make your German-Chocolate Chiffon Cake and prep for Shabbat!  See you soon!

Our Christmas Journey

I wrote this post last year, before setting up my blog, but a friend who originally read it on facebook recently requested I dig it up and repost. As it is appropriate for this time of year, I thought I’d take the opportunity to share it here, as well. I enjoyed reviewing it myself, and hope you find it thought-provoking!

Once upon a time, our family went “all-out” for Christmas. We shopped for presents for months; we baked goodies and passed them out to friends and neighbors; we all donned our Santa hats (even the baby) to shop for our Christmas tree, and decked it with colorful lights and festive ornaments. We wrote letters to Santa, and left them on the table with cookies and eggnog. We even thoughtfully left a carrot outside for Rudolph. My husband and I stayed up long into the night on Christmas Eve, wrapping presents and drinking eggnog while we watched the “Scrooge” movie. He had the job of assembling the big Santa presents for the kids, and I made big bows for all the packages. Christmas morning, we were awakened by excited children and would all trot downstairs together to open stockings and to see what else Santa had left. After our traditional breakfast of Baked French Toast, we would gather around the tree to read the Christmas story from Luke 2 in the Bible and would reflect momentarily on how Jesus was the “reason for the season,” and tell our children that it was His birthday we were celebrating. Then we would pass out the presents. Each child had a heap near their spot – carefully counted so that we would each have the same number of things to open, which is important when you open the gifts one at a time, and take turns around the room, as we always did. Later in the day, we would go to Grandpa and Grandma’s house for a glorious feast and more presents would be exchanged. I’m sure you know. You’ve probably done similar things yourself all your life.

But in our house one year, things started to change. It started when we watched our children opening the gifts we had so thoughtfully chosen to delight them. Instead of the typical movie-child reactions of surprise and gratitude we were expecting, we saw the ugliness of greed on their faces as each of them would finish opening one gift, immediately set it aside, and turn to the remainder of their mountainous pile, asking “What’s next for ME?” Amid the wrapping-paper carnage, my husband and I looked at each other and said, “Something’s wrong, here.” We started to wonder what kinds of seeds we were planting.

And then there were the questions. Questions about Santa – “How can he fit down the chimney?” “How can the reindeer fly?” “How can he get to every house around the world in one night?” You know the questions. You asked them yourself, as a child. We dutifully passed on the same answer our parents had given us: “It’s Christmas magic!”

But there, we had a problem. You see, our family believes in the Bible. We believe every word is literally true. Jesus said, “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” (Matt. 5:18) And we read aloud from the Bible with some regularity. When we came to Deuteronomy 18, we found our problem:

“When thou art come into the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations.

There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch.

Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer.

For all that do these things are an abomination unto the LORD: and because of these abominations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee.

Thou shalt be perfect with the LORD thy God.

For these nations, which thou shalt possess, hearkened unto observers of times, and unto diviners: but as for thee, the LORD thy God hath not suffered thee so to do.” (Deut. 18:9-14)

So, since we’re trying to do things as scripturally as possible, and are teaching our children the way to live to please the Lord, we asked ourselves, “Why are we lying to them about a non-existent ‘magic man’?” Oh, and why are we telling them Santa “sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake. He knows when you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake!”? Hmm. Doesn’t that make Santa omnipotent? Like God? And the children are supposed to behave in a way that pleases Santa, so he will give them good things – after we let him enter our house un-resisted in the middle of the night. And if we set out our little “sacrifice” of cookies and eggnog he’ll be pleased, and give them what they want (not to mention that he gets the credit for the thoughtful gifts that WE paid for!). Is it just us, or does that sound a bit like idolatry? I hope you see our problem – lying, magic, AND a false god. It really bugged us.

So, Santa got the ax. We managed to disabuse our children of the Santa notion in the car one night, as we drove across a bridge – literally and symbolically. We confessed and apologized to our children for lying. They were rather stunned, of course – more because their parents had lied than anything else. Mostly, though, our parents, who think of Santa as a harmless game, were upset that the kids weren’t “believers” any more. Later, we realized we had just made ourselves the “bad guys” in every Christmas movie on the planet. But if we want them to believe us when we tell them about God and what He has done for us, what else could we do?

So we asked ourselves, “what about the other Christmas traditions?” and looked into them, too. Sure enough, all pagan. I won’t go into them here. If you’re interested, there’s an abundance of information at your fingertips. Just google “origin” and any Christmas tradition you’d care to name – they’re all on the list – yule log, mistletoe, evergreen boughs, and tree included.

And then we noticed a passage in Jeremiah:

Hear ye the word which the LORD speaketh unto you, O house of Israel:

Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.

For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.

They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not. (Jeremiah 10: 1-4)

No Christmas Trees!

And my husband pointed out that every time we went to retrieve a gift from under that tree, we had to bow or kneel before it. What happened to “learn not the way of the heathen”?

Apparently, what happened was that back in history, the Catholic church, in their zeal to make converts, adopted a whole bunch of practices from the people they were “converting” to make it easier for those people to become Christians. The new converts would be able to continue celebrating as they always had, but their God now had a new name – Jesus.

But why were those things still hanging on? Wouldn’t the converts have gradually given up their pagan ways as they realized Jesus was the Way, the Truth, and the Life? And it WAS still His birthday, wasn’t it?

Well, no. Let’s change the subject and talk about Halloween for a moment. Many Christians have realized, over the last 20 years or so, that Halloween is basically a celebration of evil and the occult, and have pulled back from their observance of it. But so that their kids could still dress up in cute costumes and enjoy candy like their neighbors, Christian parents have begun offering Halloween alternatives such as church harvest parties, also held on Halloween night, so they can still have the fun without the scary, bad parts.

Christmas started out sort of the same way. There are actually several pagan festivals that took place on the date that we know as December 25. Among the gods associated with that day are the Roman Saturn, Babylonian Tammuz, and Persian Mithras. It was known as the “birthday of the unconquered sun,” and was an occasion for revelry and debauchery. We noticed in scripture that the word “Christmas” doesn’t appear anywhere, nor does the Bible instruct us to celebrate Jesus’ birth. We learned how early believers showed no concern for celebrating the birth of the Messiah until around the 3rd century, when there were several possible dates being considered – scattered throughout the year. When it came down to it, in the 4th century, Rome decided to celebrate Jesus’ birthday on the same day as these other pagan festivals.

So it’s as if, hundreds of years from now, Christians believed that “Harvest” was a Christian holiday, and imbued it with meanings it didn’t originally have, because it was originally just a substitute holiday for Halloween. We even found out that Christmas-keeping was actually illegal in the American Colonies until the 1850s! That’s why the whole movement to “keep the ‘Christ’ in Christmas” is such a head-scratcher to those who know the background.

In the Bible, we learn that God is really big on making distinctions. He separates things with regularity – light from darkness, clean from unclean, Israel from the nations. He sets things apart to be called “holy” – people (the tribe of Levi), things (the instruments of the tabernacle), places (Mt. Zion), and times (His holy days). He tells His people to “Be holy, as I am holy.” He tells us to come out from among the peoples of the earth and “be ye separate” (2 Cor. 6:17).

The other day, we passed by a house that had a huge jumble of blow-up characters on the lawn, including a nativity scene surrounded by Santa, Frosty, Pooh, Tigger, and Eeyore. Are we really reducing the Messiah of the world to the status of a fictional character and making him compete for the children’s attention to that extent? As my daughter asked, “Mom, can we just call the holiday ‘Chrismush’?”

Though we were uncomfortable with all of this, we still weren’t ready to totally walk away from our childhood traditions, so we decided to pack up the Christmas decorations and leave them in the attic for one year, just to see how we did, and if our conviction on these things would lighten. We would still go out to Grandpa and Grandma’s house for dinner, just for the fun of joining in on the traditional get-together. We thought we might be able to just do it as a family tradition, without religious connotations.

What we found was that there was way too much awkwardness in trying to do things halfway. We would tell people we would come to the celebration, but not to get us any gifts. So, there we would be sitting, as we watched others open their gifts to each other, our kids eating their hearts out as the colorful packages beckoned from beneath the tree. Oh, and the family hadn’t been able to resist getting us “a little something,” since they were doing presents anyway. But we had no gifts for any of them, which made us look cheap and uncaring, and they felt funny doing things in front of us that they knew we had consciously chosen to avoid. We realized with sinking hearts that this was not working out. What were we supposed to do? Just do the Christmas shopping anyway, so we would have something to give our hosts? And then, if we’re doing that, why weren’t we giving anything to our children? That would put us right back in the whole frenzy. Sorry, but Christmas IS largely about the gifts.

We know from the Bible that God wants us to use discernment, and judge things by the fruits they bear.

Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.

A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.

Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. (Matt. 7: 17-20)

When we stepped back a bit and observed, the things we saw as the fruits of Christmas in our family were Greed, Materialism, Perfectionism, and Drivenness – and a whole lot of Nostalgia – none of which are among the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22).

Something else we noticed was that when we pulled back from Christmas, the other holidays got a LOT more attention. We had been participating in celebrating the holy days laid out by God in Leviticus 23 for many years at that point, but hadn’t noticed that we weren’t giving them the attention they deserved as something the Father had actually put in scripture as part of His everlasting covenant.

Because we observe these holidays and steer clear of Christmas, some friends and family have thought we have turned away from our Messiah, Jesus (Yeshua in Hebrew), and are trying to be Jewish. Nothing could be further from the truth! We strive to follow his example in all areas of our lives, which includes celebrating the holidays that were His family traditions, growing up – Passover, Pentecost and the Feast of Tabernacles. Did you know that Jesus even celebrated Hanukkah? (“And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter.” – John 10:22) Christmas isn’t on the list. But we found that if Christmas is still on OUR possibility list, it will always be the King of Holidays, because that’s the way we were raised, and because it takes so much preparation time and attention to do it “right.” When Christmas went away, we did sooo much better at planning and preparing for these festivals, it was amazing!

So, we liked many things about the choice to abandon Christmas – less stress, more focus on the Lord and lessons from Him. It felt like cutting out a lot of clutter from the attic. We just breathed easier, and watched the frenzy around us with peace in our hearts, though the feeling that family was hurt by our absence, and was celebrating without us was (and is) difficult.

The final scripture we read that made us cross the point of no return was the one about Nadab and Abihu, in Leviticus 10. They were priests in the Tabernacle who offered “strange fire,” before the Lord and were struck dead on the spot. What was “strange” about the fire they offered? Only that God had not commanded it. They were offering it to Him, but it was their own idea, and not coming from obedience. As Keith Green put it, “To Obey is Better than Sacrifice.” Christmas, to us, has come to be seen as strange fire. We are uncomfortable offering something different than what He has asked us for. It would be like sending your son to bring you a screwdriver, and having him decide to bring you a cup of coffee instead. A cup of coffee is nice, but it doesn’t do the job you need done. God has tools he has laid out for us to use, and unless we use the right ones, we aren’t getting the full benefit of what He wants to teach us as we practice using them.

We found that a celebration of Jesus’ birth fits much better with a holiday he would have observed – the Feast of Tabernacles/Sukkot. It is an eight-day celebration where we build a temporary dwelling and celebrate the theme of God dwelling with us, as well as appreciating the temporary nature of this life. So when many people are starting their Christmas shopping, you can find us sitting outside in our beautifully decorated sukkah, eating special treats, enjoying fellowship with family and friends (yes, there are others who share our convictions!), and learning the lessons God has for us that are inherent in the things He has actually commanded us to do. We are amazed at what we learn through simple obedience!

His holy days are so rich and stunning and amazing that contrasting them with Christmas reminds me of the time there was a lightning storm on the Fourth of July one year. We were watching the fireworks until the lightning started up. The lightning was sooo much bigger and more amazing than anything man could have designed. The fireworks looked utterly puny and silly next to the flashes that lit up the entire sky!

So, this Christmas Eve, we’ll have a cozy fire, flickering candlelight, the scent of spices and fresh baking in the air, and music, games and great conversation around a richly decked table, but it will be in celebration of Erev Shabbat, a Holy Day Jesus would have observed on a weekly basis.

2011 update: For the record, Erev Shabbat does NOT coincide with Christmas Eve this year, but the 8 days of Hanukkah (another feast Jesus DID celebrate – See John 10:22) will overlap. We are taking advantage of the long weekend this year, and planning a getaway with friends, as we all celebrate Hanukkah together. Chag Sameach!

New for 2013: See https://fruitfulvinewife.wordpress.com/2013/12/03/christmas-journey-update/ !

 

Passover Thoughts about the Sahara

Sahara Desert

just a fraction of the sprawling Sahara

First off, you need to know that I believe that every word of the Bible, in its original language, is literally, figuratively, symbolically, and scientifically true.

If you don’t accept that premise, you’re going to have a hard time reading what I write, and will probably be inclined to mock it.  You should probably find something else to read about now.

I have personally seen too much evidence of the mind of our Creator at work in the Hebrew scriptures to believe anything else, and one of my favorite pastimes is looking for evidence of His hand in the world around me.  I find it everywhere, but most particularly at work in the land, people and language of Israel.

OK – so here comes my first crazy thought.

(You do realize that if you have a crazy thought and you google it and come up with NOTHING, that you are pretty much obligated to blog, in order to add it to the vast universe of crazy thoughts on the internet, right? Just so we’re clear!)

I woke up this past Sunday morning with the thought, “What if the plagues G-d poured out on Egypt in the book of Exodus were the cause of the Sahara Desert?”  I wasn’t even quite awake when the thought occurred, and it jolted me out of my drowsiness to ask, “Wait – WHAT?!?”

(Our family has been celebrating Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread this past week.  We hosted a Seder for 58 people, and I wrote our own Haggadah to go with it the week before – in between cleaning spurts to get all the crumbs of out of my castle.  So the plagues have been rolling through my brain.)

So, I of course grabbed my laptop to do a little research:  Sahara Desert, Northern Africa = the size of the entire US!

Apparently, scientists agree (now, there’s a head-scratcher!) that the Sahara Desert began about 4,000 years ago.  There is an abundance of evidence that says it wasn’t always a wasteland – that there are dry riverbeds and fossils of lush vegetation, as well as human art work and the remains of cities beneath the sand.

What historians can’t agree on is the exact time frame of the Exodus of the nation of Israel from Egypt – but 4,000 years ago is definitely “in the zone,” for my purposes at 6am on a Sunday.

I dug further.

It turns out that the two factors required for the process of desertification (previously useful land becoming desert) are:

1.) death of plant life, and

2.) strong winds, which loosen topsoil unanchored by plant roots.

That got me REALLY thinking.

Hail and locusts killed the plants.

Strong winds occurred – for a night and a day – to bring the locusts into Egypt (from the east), and also to take them out of Egypt (from the west, driving them into the sea).

Then an incredibly strong east wind blew all night – strong enough to part the Red Sea!

I’m thinking it sounds like a viable theory.

So there’s my first crazy thought.  Do with it what you will . . .