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

A Special Yom Kipur Message

Having, then, a great כֹּהֵן גּ‬ָדוֹל‬, Kohen Gadol passed through the heavens—יֵשׁוּעַ, Yeshua, the Son of God—let us hold fast to the profession of faith. For we have a כֹּהֵן גּ‬ָדוֹל‬, Kohen Gadol not unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one tempted in all things likewise as we are, yet remaining apart from sin. Let us come near, then—unhindered—to the throne of unmerited favor, so that we may receive loving-kindness and find unmerited favor—for timely help. (עִבְרִים Iv’riym 4:14-16, mjlt)

Each year on Yom Kipur—the Day of Atonement, the holiest day on Israel’s annual calendar—it is the responsibility of the lone Kohen Gadol (high priest) to take the lives of innocent animals and, with their shed blood, make atonement for himself and all the people of Israel. And for that brief moment, he and the people for whom he stands as mediator before God, are clean—their sins covered by the blood. Read more

Exploring the Book of Ya’aqov, Pt. 7

Therefore, having put aside all filthiness and superabundance of evil, in humility be receiving the ingrafted word that is able to save your souls, and become doers of the word, and not hearers only, thereby deceiving yourselves. Because if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, this one has been likened to a man viewing his natural face in a mirror, for he viewed himself, and went away, and immediately forgot what kind of man he was. But he who looked into the perfect תּוֹרָה, Torah—that of liberty—and continued there, was not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of action. This one will be happy in his doing. (יַעֲקֹב Ya’aqov 1:21-25, mjlt)

The word of truth—that sweet, sweet, powerful sound—lies dormant and useless before us. We sit. And listen. And hear. We revel in the sound it makes, and it stirs us up… inside. Though we invite it in and absorb its perfection, it ultimately does nothing but serve as fodder for our minds’ feeble and fruitless activities. The word is rendered wholly weak and inert… unless and until the time we begin to put the word into action.

With the best of intentions and the humility of hope, many of us start our walk toward obedience by making room for the word in our lives. At great displeasure to our selves, we “put aside all filthiness and superabundance of evil”—turning our backs on sin and the ongoing corruption of our souls—and in its place, receive the word. But then, the ingrafting having taken hold, too many of us mistakenly believe that the work is over. Sadly, the saving word, now firmly set in place where it may begin its eternal work, remains unactivated. Read more

Exploring the Book of Ya’aqov, Pt. 6

Know this, my beloved brothers, and let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for the anger of a man does not accomplish the righteousness of God. (יַעֲקֹב Ya’aqov 1:19-20, mjlt)

Have you ever had that feeling during an intensely heated argument or disagreement when your vision starts to narrow, and you begin to actually feel the inside of your ears start to close up, and you start getting super hot in your face and body, and you have this sensation of being surrounded—closed-in, trapped—while the pressure inside of you keeps mounting and swelling and building and magnifying until you feel like your head is about to implode?

Yeah. Me neither.

For those of us fortunate enough to be unfamiliar with this experience, that lovely feeling is what’s known in certain circles as anger—that strong, volatile emotion some of us get when we feel that we’ve been seriously wronged. Read more

Exploring the Book of Ya’aqov, Pt. 5

Every good act of giving, and every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of the lights, with whom is no variation or turning shadows. Having so intended, He brought us forth with a word of truth, for us to be a certain kind of first-fruit of His created things. (יַעֲקֹב Ya’aqov 1:17-18, mjlt)

Far too many of today’s followers of Messiah are plagued by a tendency toward self. In many quarters, what currently passes for a gathering of sincere believers is, in actuality, just a biblically-laced, motivational-speaker-led self-help seminar. Whether the auditorium seats fifty, five hundred, or five thousand, too many of us continue seeking and coming back for these existential encounters because they shroud our own self-oriented motives under a spiritual-ish garment—and we believe we are benefitting and growing from what we are being fed. No one can fault a disciple of Messiah who desperately desires to find spiritual health and wholeness, but—believe it or not—a sense of well-being or self-worth, while important, is not the goal of our faith in Messiah. No, the purpose of your life in Yeshua is far greater than you realize. Read more