Tag Archives: food

Must Christians eat kosher? (how God’s list of clean and unclean foods in Deuteronomy 14 matters to Christians, part 4)

1 Nov
Photo by Prudence Earl on Unsplash

As I mentioned yesterday, God details his kosher law in his covenant with Israel.  This week we are studying Deuteronomy 14:1-21, and yesterday we looked at the fairly extensive list of animals that God declares clean or unclean for Israel.  But what about Christians?  Are we to apply kosher law to our lives?  Let’s look at a few places in the New Testament that refer to kosher law.

First, Jesus mentions the cleanliness laws in Mark 7:1-23.  Go ahead and read that before continuing here.  What did you notice?  In Deuteronomy 14 we see that it was certain animals that God said made the people unclean.  Things, animals, outside the people made the people unclean.  Jesus flips that and says, “No, it’s what is already inside you that is unclean, and it is revealed when you let it out of your heart.”  See that list of evil actions in Mark 7, verses 21-22?  When you notice those actions coming out of you, that should concern you, Jesus says, not pig’s meat. 

Interesting, then, Mark’s little comment there in verse 19, saying that Jesus declared all foods clean!  Yes, we can eat pork and ham!!! 

Now turn to Acts 10, where at this point, the church is still very new, very Jewish, and very much centered in the city Jerusalem.  They’ve made little inroads outside the borders of Israel, but not much.  Because God’s mission was to reach the whole world, to accomplish that mission those original Christians needed a little push. In the Jewish mindset people were clean if they Jewish and unclean if they were anyone else.  So to this point, maybe 3-5 years old, the church hadn’t taken much initiative to follow Jesus’ command that they were to be his witnesses not only in Jerusalem and Judea, but to the whole world.  Those original Christians were thinking Jewish. Kosher. 

So God needs to step in and remind them of what Jesus already taught back there in Mark 7.  But here’s a shocker: when God steps in, who does he first reach out to?  A guy who isn’t Jewish and who isn’t Christian!  Read Acts 10:1-8 and see for yourself.  God gives a guy named Cornelius a vision telling Cornelius to find and talk to a guy named Peter.  But Cornelius isn’t a Jew.  Instead he is a Roman Centurion, a soldier, the very people that have persecuted Jews, occupying their land!  Here’s the thing though: Cornelius isn’t your average Roman soldier.  We read that he was actually God-fearing and very generous to the Jews in the area he controlled.  God’s choice, then, to reveal himself to Cornelius is perfect, and we’ll see why as the story unfolds.  God isn’t done!  Read Acts 10:9-16, and you discover that God reaches out to Peter too, also in a vision, and in that vision God specifically refers to the kosher lists in Deuteronomy 14.  It’s quite a dramatic scene, and Peter is shaken to his core.

You see what God is doing?  He is saying, “Peter, all those lists of clean and unclean animals were for a day that has come and gone.  That was kosher thinking.  You are under a new covenant.  I define holiness a different way now.”

Peter should have known this, as he would have heard Jesus talked about it a lot, like the time I mentioned above in Mark 7.  But when you are dealing with a deeply entrenched cultural value, it is hard to see things a new way.   Peter tells God that he had never, ever, in his whole life, eaten something unclean.  I don’t believe Peter is exaggerating. So for Peter to have a vision is shocking enough, but for the message of the vision to be an overturning of the practice of holiness, it seems wrong to Peter.

A few years ago at Faith Church, I had a man from the congregation approach me with an outreach idea.  He was a ballroom dance instructor in his professional life, and he felt that if the church offered beginning dance classes for free to the community, it would be a big hit, and a great way for the church to connect with the community.  He would teach a 4-week series of classes as an experiment.  Inwardly, I doubted his opinion, but I loved his creativity and initiative and said, “Let’s propose the idea to the Outreach Team!”  One of the people on the Outreach Team was extremely concerned with the idea, having a super hard time with the image of dancing in a church fellowship hall.  This person said to me that growing up, there was no dancing allowed in the church.  The perspective was very much like Peter’s, except that while Peter’s was based on actual law, the person in my church grew up with a no-dancing perspective based on tradition.  I responded to the person that it is absolutely okay to dance in a church fellowship hall, that the perspective they grew up with was actually wrong, and further, this was going to be tasteful, classy dancing.  The Outreach Team approved the idea, publicized it to the community, and to my surprise and delight, on the first night, so many couples showed up, we had to turn some away!

Over the next few years, I believe God opened the eyes of some people at Faith Church who grew up in a no-dancing tradition.  In Acts 10-11 God  opened Peter’s eyes too.  At the time, Peter was the leader of the church, and motivated by God’s vision, begins a new initiative pursuing the mission of God to love all people.  God has been using the kosher law as a metaphor, encouraging Peter not only to see that now all foods are clean, but also that all people are clean in God’s eye, “clean” in the sense that God wants Peter and his church to reach out to pagan people like Cornelius.  So for Peter it is now not just okay to eat all foods, but also to share the message of the Good News of Jesus to all people.  You can read for yourself how Peter and the church respond to this shocking news.  What I  want us to consider here is the ramification for our lives.  Because Jesus has reversed the kosher law for us, does that mean we are now free to live however we want?

Jesus himself addressed that question in Matthew 5:48 when he quoted a famous passage in the Old Covenant, “Be holy, as your heavenly father is holy.”   Originally, when he preached that, Jesus was talking to Jews who were still living under the terms of the Old Covenant between God and Israel.  At the time, Jesus himself, had not died and rose again, and thus God had not fully enacted the New Covenant with the Church.  So are we Christians to live holy lives?  Check back in tomorrow to part 5, and we’ll see!

Eating fish heads (how God’s list of clean and unclean foods in Deuteronomy 14 matters to Christians, part 1)

29 Oct

What do you consider disgusting food?  Brussels sprouts?  Tomatoes?  Hot dogs?  Fast food?  Fish?  We all have our likes and our dislikes.

For me, some of the most disgusting food I’ve had was on mission trips.  In India it was some kind cow intestine or worse.  In Malaysia I had Tom Yum soup which is actually from Thailand.

I spent the whole summer between my junior and senior year of college on a missionary internship in Guyana South America.  Much of my summer I worked alongside a Guyanese pastor, helping to start a new church in a neighboring town.  Toward the end of the summer, he and his wife had me over for dinner, and they served fish.  Their menu choice was no surprise, as they lived on Guyana’s coast where fish are abundant.  Mostly the Guyanese men fished with nets, but also, amazingly, with their hands!  Nearby sugar cane plantations built canals throughout their fields, and they used the canals to float harvested cane to the processing plant.  The canals were a great habitat for many species of fish, including some that would find safety in the muddy walls of the canals.  My Guyanese friends would hop in the canal, get down on their hunches, and start rummaging through the mud.  I was blown away the first time I watched this, as they pulled fish after fish out of the water, seemingly by magic.

As you can imagine, I ate fish often that summer, including the meal at my pastor friend’s house.  For dinner, the family prepared one whole fish for us to share: my friend, his wife, their young son, and me.  I was the guest, and they treated me with honor.  In Guyanese culture it is customary to offer your guest the head of the fish because they considered it a delicacy to suck the eyes out.  I had so many cross-cultural experiences that summer.  I had foregone deodorant because many Guyanese did.  I tried learning their dialect and changing my accent to match theirs.  I had many new foods, fruits and vegetables.  But when it came to fish head, and especially the eyeballs, I just couldn’t do it.

Food is amazing, isn’t it?  It can be so good, and so bad.  I was amazed in Guyana, which was exceedingly poor, how they enjoyed rice and hot spices with every meal.  I grew to love their rice, curry and daal.  But I also missed my American favorites.  One time we traveled to the capital city for some meetings, and we visited a KFC, and I was so ready for fried chicken!  My Guyanese friends considered it a treat too, but afterwards some of them were ho-hum about it, and they said they missed their rice! Another time the missionary I stayed with made a delicious mac & cheese, and my Guyanese friends said it didn’t have any taste.  I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.  You know what they were referring to?  Spice.  It had no hot spices in it.  To them, that mac & cheese was bland.

They had their idea about what food was good and what food was bad.  We all have our ideas of good and bad food, right? Did you know that God also has some ideas about good food and bad food?

As we continue studying Deuteronomy, we come to chapter 14, verses 1-21.  Go ahead and open your Bible to that passage. As you’ll see, this very unique chapter focuses on food.  For the people of Israel, God said food is either clean or unclean.  In other words, some food is good, and some food is bad.  But God’s menu had nothing to do with taste or preference.  Have you heard of the word “kosher”?  What is kosher?  Deuteronomy 14 is basically God’s menu of kosher food for Israel.  For the rest of the week, we’re going to see how God’s menu for Israel matters to us!

As we’ll see tomorrow, when God wants to talk about clean and unclean food with Israel, he starts in a curious place: their identity as his children.

What can satisfy the soul? part 2

23 Oct
Photo by James Coleman on Unsplash

You are what you worship.  Agree?  Disagree?  If I had said, “You are what you eat,” that would be a bit easier to agree with.  Food goes in, metabolizes, fuels and shapes the body.  You actually are what you eat.  But what about worship?  Does worship have the same affect on us as food? 

All week long we are seeking to answer the question, “What can satisfy the soul?”  Clearly, food satisfies a hungry belly.  Food is also a delight to the tongue, and for many food is emotionally satisfying.  Have you ever heard of the phrase, “stress eating”?  But no matter how much food we eat, there is no perfectly satisfying meal, as within hours we’re hungry again. 

But what about worship?  Does worship shape us?  Does it satisfy?  Is it true that “you are what you worship?”  It’s an intriguing question, and the answer to that question is at the heart of what God is saying to the people of Israel as we continue studying Deuteronomy 12. 

As we saw yesterday in our first post on Deuteronomy 12 & 13, God has to be strict about requiring Israel to worship him and him only. This is why the very first thing he says, in chapter 12 verses 2-3, is that Israel is to destroy any and all pagan centers of worship and idols in the Promised Land.

That might sound harsh.  But again, remember the slave mentality? If you don’t know what I mean by “slave mentality,” please pause this post and read What can satisfy the soul? part 1 as there I explain what I think was going on in the hearts and minds of the nation of Israel.

It seems to me that what God is saying to Israel here is that sometimes it is best to take drastic action in your life.  I once encountered a situation like this in my own life. It was the summer after my freshman year of college, and I was going through what I call my adult conversion, where for the first time, I was totally surrendering my life to God, to follow his ways.  I looked at the many verses in the New Testament like Philippians 4:8 where one of the earliest followers of Jesus, a guy named Paul, says, “whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things,” and I wanted to follow that.

One area where I was allowing impurity into my life, and my thoughts, on a regular basis, was the music I listened to.  So some church friends and I got together, and a bunch of us agreed that this was a concern.  We went through our music collections, grabbed anything that we felt we needed to get rid of, and we threw it into a 50 gallon drum, poured gas on it, and lit it on fire.

I will tell you that Michelle and I have, in the years since, bought some of that music back, thinking, “Why did I get rid of that one, there was nothing wrong with that????”  So maybe I was overzealous.  I will admit it.

But at the time it was absolutely the right thing to do.  I would do it again, and I would recommend others of you to do the same.  Who wants to have a bonfire?  Get rid of the porn, get rid of stuff that tempts you, get rid of stuff that is holding you back.  Sometimes you need to take drastic action to break the power of the stuff that has a hold of you.

Also what we see in Deuteronomy 12 is the concept of being set apart.  God wanted Israel to live a different way, which was a far better way, than the way of the pagan nations around them.  If the people of Israel, who had a slave mentality, were to be set apart to follow this new way of God, the major first step was that they needed to remove the pagan false gods.  Look at verse 3, at how specific God is, when he says that he wants the names of those other false gods to be wiped out. That’s not just removing an idol, that is removing the memory of that false god.  Verses 1-3, therefore, show us clearly that Israel was to be set apart, different, following Yahweh, the one true God.

He adds to this in verses 4-6 saying that they must not worship in their way, they must worship in God’s way, and they must worship in God’s place.

Notice that he never names the place.  That should jump at out you, because there was a place. The tabernacle. They had been using it for a long time by this point.  Because he doesn’t mention the tabernacle, because he uses the generic word “place,” that means he wants them to have a different focus.  The tabernacle, or the temple that would follow, or the city of Jerusalem where it would be located, those are place names.  God, because he doesn’t use a place name, intends the focus not to be on the place, but for the focus of their worship to be where?

On him!  God wants their focus to be where it should be, on him.  He knows how easily people become enthralled with buildings and cities and places, and how our hearts and minds can get caught up in the wrong things. He knows how especially starry-eyed we become with the work of our own hands.  You know the emotional boost you get when you make, create or fix something?  It is a human tendency, and the feeling would only be more intense for Israel, considering their journey from slavery to independence.  God is quite aware that Israel, when entering the Promised Land, will be very tempted by their victory, their success, and be lured away from him.

Because of that temptation, he wants them to be very aware that the place of worship is not so important, as is the fact that he will be there.  His name will be there.  This is why he tells them to wipe out the places of worship and even the names of the false gods, and focus solely on God and his name.

God continues in this vein in verse 7. Worship in the presence of the Lord.  Be there, eat there, rejoice there.  Why? Because God has blessed them.  Which is a tie-in back to chapter 11 which we studied last week. Remember that? Obedience brings blessing.

Verses 8-14 describe that the people of God are not to do as they see fit, they are not to worship how they want.  Instead they must worship God’s way.  Again, God must be the focus of their worship.

We can learn from this too.  We need to focus on worshiping God, and in his way.  The conclusion is that worship does shape us.  In a very real, physical and emotional way, we are what we worship. God is saying to Israel, if you do you take drastic action to clear away false worship from your land, you could easily be tempted to indulge in what is false, and that will destroy you.  Place your focus, therefore, on God.  Worship him.  God isn’t saying that we will become gods.  But the more we focus our lives on him, the more we worship him, the more like he we are inclined to be.  He does want to shape us to be conformed to the image of Jesus.  So I urge you to consider what it might look like for you worship Jesus more? 

The hope of the world….fertilizer!

2 Mar

I once listened to a very thought-provoking audio book called An Edible History of the World by Tom Standage.   I learned a lot about seeds, food development, and especially fertilizer.  Standage does an excellent job digging through the history and progress of fertilizer.  Many of you have gardens and you know what a wonderful difference fertilization makes to your flowers and vegetables.  Here in Lancaster County fertilizer is an aroma we know quite well.  The other day, I thought for sure someone had done something very awful in our bathroom, or perhaps worse that a sewage pipe was backed up.  I should have known better.  The farmers around us were applying winter fertilizer to their fields.

Standage convincingly shows that without fertilizer, we would not be able to feed the world.  Fertilizer is, in a very real sense, the hope of the world.

Jesus knew about fertilizer and he discusses it in a parable.  In preparation for tomorrow’s sermon, read Luke 13:1-9.  Perhaps you need a little hope, a little fertilizer!