A Special Message for the Fall Feasts

[F]or everything that is revealed is Light. Therefore it says, “Awaken yourself, you who are sleeping, and arise out of the dead, and the Messiah will shine upon you.” Look diligently, then, at how you walk—not as unwise but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. (Ephesians 5:14-16, mjlt)

In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, He set in motion a perpetual cycle of seasonal changes. Mankind, then, responded to and lived closely in accordance with those changes—changes many of us can largely ignore today, as we shuttle ourselves from one climate-controlled building to the next. But before there was the Internet or cars or supermarkets, people had to truly labor for their food. Literally, we had to harvest our own grains and raise our own livestock, and the longest and hardest season for working was summertime. People didn’t take vacations or time off from work or school like they do today—they toiled in the fields, in the exhausting heat of the sun, to bring in the life-giving harvest.

This was especially true for the ancient Israelites. Sum­mertime, which was the second major harvest time of the year, dragged on monotonously and uneventfully for months. Though it gradually produced a yield, it also induced the fatigue and lethargy that can come from hard, hot work. But then suddenly—virtually out of nowhere—the summer harvest season would abruptly come to its end. As the Israelites stood in their fields, bleary-eyed from the sun and sweat, heavy from the listlessness of unending labor, the faint sound of a shofar would begin to cut through the stupor. The workers would awaken from their laborious sleep to find that God was calling again.

According to the Torah, on the first day of the seventh month, the silence of summer is broken by the sudden, blasting sounds of Yom T’ruah. A dramatically different observance than the stoic Rosh Hashanah of Judaism, the Scriptures signal a day of t’ruah that is replete with the percussive praise of cymbal and drum, shofar and trumpet, stringed instrument and uplifted voice. The jarring explosion of sound generated by the people on Yom T’ruah interrupts the sleepy pace of summer, and reminds Israel that their purpose is more than just scythes and sheaves.

Sufficiently awake, all eyes are then directed toward a most austere event. As the cacophony of Yom T’ruah fades, the focus turns inward, and the inevitability of Yom Kippur—the Day of Atonement—becomes palpable. In less than ten days’ time, the high priest alone will perform all of Israel’s annual atonements—spilling innocent blood for the sake of the people, and prefiguring the singu­lar sin-covering work that the Messiah has accomplished once and for all. No one walks away from that day unchanged.

Finally, almost immediately following the conclusion of this 24-hour soul-searching pause, Israel begins to bustle with activity once again, this time in celebration of the renewal of their redemption. During the seven-day Feast of Sukot—with an eighth day tacked on for good measure—the people rejoice in the remembrance of Adonai’s everlasting provision. By way of a throwback to earlier, simpler times, the people live for a week in primitive, temporary huts, as Israel is reminded of her long, desert-wandering history, and given cause to rejoice and look forward to a settled and certain future.

This trio of special times in the latter half of Israel’s yearly calendar reveals a remarkable pattern for life in the Messiah. In response to the Master’s call, we must arise from our slumber, reform from our sin, and rejoice in Yeshua’s salvation. Don’t miss this special season, when we are given such a unique opportunity to look back, gain some perspective, and then realign ourselves with God’s will.

Evil days are upon us, and we give greater reign to that evil when we exhaust and fatigue our spirits through the busyness and distractions of life. Let us be diligent, then, to be found awake in wisdom, instead of asleep in the light. It is time to be revived and hear the sounds of the shouting and shofars. May we give in to spiritual lethargy no more, but rather arise, reform and rejoice!

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Exploring the Book of Ya’aqov, Pt. 14

In this manner, the tongue is set in our body’s members as that which is polluting our whole body, and is setting on fire the course of our fleshly nature, and is itself set on fire by the גֵּיהִנֹּם, Geihinom. For every kind of animal in nature… is subdued, and has been subdued, by the human’s nature. But the tongue, no one of men is able to subdue. It is an uncontrollable evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Master and Father, and with it we curse the men who have been made according to the likeness of God; out of the same mouth comes forth blessing and cursing—it is not necessary, my brothers, for these things to happen this way! Does the fountain—out of the same opening—pour out both the sweet and the bitter water? Is a fig-tree able, my brothers, to make olives? or a vine, figs? Nor can salt water make fresh. (יַעֲקֹב Ya’aqov 3:6b-12, mjlt)

The tongue—that small, yet powerful instigator—seeks to wield control over our whole being. It finds its fuel in our innermost thoughts and emotions, and then overwhelms our self-control, unleashing its unrighteous destruction upon others. Nevertheless, the tongue has no authority of its own. It is only able to do according to that which we allow and provide. And yet, we supply the tongue not only its power, but also the means to spread its poison. Read more

Exploring the Book of Ya’aqov, Pt. 13

If anyone does not stumble in word, this one is a perfect man, able to also bridle the whole body. Now if we put the bits into the mouths of the horses for their being persuaded by us, then we can also turn about their whole body. Look! also the ships of the sea—being so great, and being driven by fierce winds—are led about by a very small rudder, wherever the impulse of the helmsman wants. So also the tongue is a little member of the body, yet it boasts greatly. Look! such a little fire—yet how great a forest it sets aflame! And so the tongue is a fire—the world of the unrighteousness. (יַעֲקֹב Ya’aqov 3:2b-6a, mjlt)

The ability to speak—the capacity to formulate thoughts in our minds, and then to express those thoughts vocally in a way that other people can understand—is a miraculous gift from God to man. One would think that the mouth and the tongue are necessarily subservient to the mind—that one is only capable of saying what he is thinking. But many times—too many times—it seems as if our tongue has a mind of its own. We speak “without thinking,” and then claim we didn’t mean what we said. Or we say exactly what we’re thinking, although we didn’t intend to say it out loud. How is such a phenomenon possible? Can our tongues actually speak independently of our minds? Read more

Exploring the Book of Ya’aqov, Pt. 12

Many of you should not become teachers, my brothers—having known that we who teach will receive greater judgment—for we all make many stumbles. (יַעֲקֹב Ya’aqov 3:1-2a, mjlt)

It can be an exhilarating experience to see something new in the Scriptures—to be reading through or studying a familiar passage, and then suddenly have the words leap off the page and grab our attention, as if for the first time. It is a stirring reminder that the Word of God is alive—that the Scriptures are a thoroughly spiritual document—and that through it, God is actively speaking to us, engaging us, and interacting with our daily lives.

But sometimes, some of us will make a dire mistake. Read more

Exploring the Book of Ya’aqov, Pt. 11

What is the profit, my brothers, if anyone speaks of having faith, but he does not have actions? Is that faith able to save him? [T]he faith by itself, if it does not have actions, is dead. But someone might say, “You have faith, and I have actions.” Show me your faith apart from the actions, and I will show you by my actions, the faith! [B]y actions is man declared righteous, and not by faith only. [F]or just as the body apart from the רוּחַ, ruach is dead, so also the faith apart from actions is dead! (יַעֲקֹב Ya’aqov 2:14-26, mjlt)

We sit and listen; we study and read. We pray. We praise. We seek. We believe. How, then, could it be possible that our faith might actually be dead? How, with all our prayers, all our devotion, all our time spent in the Word, all our focus on the things of God, could the ability of our faith to save us be honestly called into question? Surely, we are doing all that God expects of us. Undoubtedly, He merely desires that we believe. What could we possibly be missing? Read more

A Special Passover Message

The cup of the blessings that we bless—is it not the sharing of the blood of the Messiah? And the bread that we break—is it not the sharing of the body of the Messiah? Because there is one bread, we, the many, are one Body, for we all share of the one bread. (1 Corinthians 10:16-17, mjlt)

Often times, when we find ourselves in trouble, we look to family to bail us out. Conversely, when a close family member needs us, we rush to their aid; or when there is a conflict between two events, and one of them involves family, we choose their event—because that’s what family does. This is what we mean when we invoke the old adage, “Blood is thicker than water.” Friends may come and go, we say, but family is forever. Yet the original meaning of this expression may actually mean the exact opposite—that it’s not familial blood that binds us so permanently, but rather the bond that is forged when two parties ceremonially exchange each other’s blood to seal a promise; that is, they make a blood covenant. And there has never been more precious covenant blood exchanged than that of the Lamb of God—our Master, the Messiah Yeshua. Read more

Exploring the Book of Ya’aqov, Pt. 10

For whoever keeps the whole תּוֹרָה, Torah, and stumbles in one point, has become guilty of breaking it all. For He who is saying, “YOU MUST NOT COMMIT ADULTERY,” also said, “YOU MUST NOT MURDER.” And so, if you do not commit adultery, yet you commit murder, you have become a sidestepper of תּוֹרָה, Torah. Therefore, as ones who are about to be judged by a תּוֹרָה, Torah of liberty, so speak, and so do; for the judgment without loving-kindness is shown to him who has not done loving-kindness to others; loving-kindness triumphs over judgment. (יַעֲקֹב Ya’aqov 2:10-13, mjlt)

Everyone—everywhere—yearns to be free. Strangely, the definition of freedom changes from one person to the next, and what you may perceive as boundless freedom might be a dungeon-like prison to me. But regardless of the type of thing we each call freedom, no one disagrees that in order to be truly free we must be free of anyone telling us what to think, what we can say, or what we can do… no one disagrees, that is, except for the true disciple of Messiah.

For many believers, their reaction to the idea that “whoever keeps the whole תּוֹרָה, Torah, and stumbles in one point, has become guilty of breaking it all,” is to say, “See! We don’t need to keep all those rules! It would be unjust for God to tell us we have to do all those things, and then to find us guilty when we can’t. And God is not unjust!” But this is not the point at all. Read more

Exploring the Book of Ya’aqov, Pt. 9

My brothers, do not hold the faith of the glory of our Master יֵשׁוּע, Yeshua the Messiah in favoritism. For if there comes into your synagogue a man with a gold ring, dressed in bright clothing, and there also comes in a poor man in shabby clothing, and you look upon him wearing the bright clothing and say, “You—sit here well-situated,” and to the poor man say, “You—stand there,” or “Sit under my footstool,” did you not make distinctions fully among yourselves, and so become ill-reasoning judges? Listen, my beloved brothers: did not God choose the poor in the world to be rich in faith, and heirs of the Reign that He promised to those loving Him?… If, indeed, you bring the King’s תּוֹרָה, Torah to its goal according to the Scripture, “You must love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well; but if you show favoritism, you enact sin, and are being convicted by the תּוֹרָה, Torah as sidesteppers. (יַעֲקֹב Ya’aqov 2:1-9, mjlt)

My favorite ice cream is peanut butter and chocolate—hands down. Sure, the Sea Salt Caramel gelato from Talenti is unbelievable, but if you put the two in front of me and forced me to choose (“What? I can’t have both?“), I would pick the peanut butter and chocolate all day, every day. Why? I don’t know. It’s yummy. That’s the one I like. It’s my favorite.

We all choose favorites at one time or another. We have favorite foods, colors, clothes, books, songs, sports teams, movies, weather, pets, you name it. Sometimes—probably more often than we should—we even have favorite people. Read more

Exploring the Book of Ya’aqov, Pt. 8

If anyone thinks himself to be devout—not bridling his tongue, but rather deceiving his heart—the devotion of this one is vain. Devotion pure and undefiled with the God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their oppression, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. (יַעֲקֹב Ya’aqov 1:26-27, mjlt)

If you were truly devoted to God—if you were devout—how would you conduct yourself? What would you do? What does that mean? Does it mean that you would spend an hour each morning at dawn reading your Bible, praying, listening to music, and sipping Starbucks? Does it mean that you would be religious—regularly attending worship services, reciting the prayers or affirmations, and embracing the rituals, accoutrements and calendar of the established traditions?

But what if devotion is deeper than that? Simpler? What if true devotion has nothing to do with religion or “devotions” at all, but is instead about being consumed with God in every single thought, word and action? Read more

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything—by prayer and by asking for help, with thanksgiving—let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which is surpassing all understanding, will guard your hearts and your thoughts in Messiah יֵשׁוּעַ, Yeshua. (Philippians 4:6-7, mjlt)

In today’s uneasy and tumultuous world, there are plenty of things to worry about. Unfortunately, for many believers in Messiah—far too many of us—we find ourselves struggling with worry and anxiety right along with everybody else. This, of course, is not unexpected, as evidenced by the numerous sayings of the Master Yeshua Himself instructing us to not be anxious for tomorrow (Mt. 6:34), or for our life (Mt. 6:25, Lk. 12:22, 21:34), or even for the anxiety of the day and age in which we live (Mt. 13:22, Mk. 4:19, Lk. 8:14). But sadly, the admonition to “be anxious for nothing,” as Paul puts it, goes widely unheeded among the faithful. Instead, anxiety and worry choke us and weigh us down, and—in addition to being absolutely destructive to our physical and mental health—they keep us from being fully effective and useful in the service of our Master. So while worry and anxiety may come naturally, they must be refused—and not allowed to build up and overwhelm us, or to hold sway over our hearts and minds. Read more