(Exploring the Book of Ya’aqov, Pt. 27)

[If the distressed one] has committed sins, they will be forgiven to him. So be confessing your sins to one another, and be praying for one another, so that you may be healed; for of great power is a prayer from a righteous man—working effectively. (יַעֲקֹב Ya’aqov 5:15b-16, mjlt)

Whenever we are faced with hardship and distress, we know that “the prayer of the faith will save” us (5:15a)—that in our suffering and sicknesses, “the Master will raise [us] up” (5:15a), especially if we call to others for prayer (5:14). And because God patiently waits for us to reach out to Him for help, we are only alone for as long as we choose to be. But what if our need is more than just physical or circumstantial? Suppose that there is something deeper within us—something intangible and hard to get a hold of—that remains unresolved even after the help comes? What if we are sometimes the cause of our own continued difficulty and pain? What if that cause is our sin? Read more

(Exploring the Book of Ya’aqov, Pt. 26)

Does anyone suffer hardship among you? Let him pray. Is anyone of you cheerful? Let him sing melodies of praise. Is anyone infirmed among you? Let him call for the z’qeniym of the Called-Forth, and let them pray over him, having anointed him with oil, in the Name of the Master. And the prayer of the faith will save the distressed one from his affliction, and the Mas­ter will raise him up… (יַעֲקֹב Ya’aqov 5:13-15a, mjlt)

For all our connectivity through the wondrous advancements of technology, we are more separated now than we have ever been. Though we can travel half-way around the world in less than a day, or instantly see and speak to one another screen-to-screen from opposite sides of the planet, in the ways that really count, we too often find ourselves alone. These modern conveniences ironically keep us quarantined—unmotivated to even drive across town for anything mildly inconvenient. We also use technology to keep us segregated in our politics and religion, and to shelter us from the prying eyes of judgment and accountability. And the loneliness this creates, though generally not the intended result, is often deliberate and self-imposed. We grow accustomed to thinking and being by ourselves, and the distance carries over into the way we relate to God. Read more

(Exploring the Book of Ya’aqov, Pt. 25)

But before all things, my brothers, do not swear—neither “by the heaven,” nor “by the earth,” nor by any other oath—but let your “Yes” be “Yes,” and the “No” be “No,” so that under judgment you may not fall. (יַעֲקֹב Ya’aqov 5:12, mjlt)

Is it ever okay to swear? Not “swear” as in using profanity or foul language (Ephesians 4:29), but as in taking an oath, vow or pledge. Scrip­turally speaking, to swear is to make a kind of promise. But here, the Scriptures say, “do not swear,” and, immediately, the matter becomes confusing. Are we never to make promises? Should we reject all oaths and pledges—like the Pledge of Allegiance? Are we permitted even to speak the promises of our wedding vows? When someone asks for or expects our commitment, are we to simply smile angelically and assure them noncommittally, “If the Lord wills”? Is that really what is at issue here? “Do not swear” seems to be a relatively straightforward command, but there’s definitely more to the story. And if we can’t understand what it takes to make a commitment, then we can’t understand what it means to follow Messiah. Read more

Exploring the Book of Ya’aqov, Pt. 24

Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged. Look! the Judge is standing at the door! As an example, brothers, of the suffering of evil and of the patience, take the prophets who spoke in the Name of Adonai. Look! we call happy those who were enduring with the perseverance of Iyov—which you have heard of—and you have seen Adonai’s goal: that Adonai is very compassionate and merciful. (יַעֲקֹב Ya’aqov 5:9-11, mjlt)

You’ve been gravely wronged. Or, perhaps, not wronged, but definitely deeply offended. Or maybe not so much offended as frustrated or inconvenienced or mildly bothered in general. But they surely have it out for you, and they’re doing it to you on purpose! Or, perhaps, not on purpose, but they’re definitely being incredibly selfish. Or maybe not so much selfish as neglectful or forgetful or just plain oblivious. Well, they’ve got another thing coming! You’re going to give them a piece of your mind! Or, perhaps, not give them a piece of your mind, but definitely complain about it to someone not directly involved. Or maybe not complain about it so much as moan and groan and grumble about it… to yourself. Read more

Exploring the Book of Ya’aqov, Pt. 23

Be patient, then, brothers, until the coming presence of the Master. Look! the farmer awaits the precious fruit of the earth, being patient for it until he receives rain —Yoreh uMalqosh. You al­so, be patient; stabilize your hearts, because the coming presence of the Master has drawn near. (יַעֲקֹב Ya’aqov 5:7-8, mjlt)

Anytime, God. In fact, right now would be good. It’s getting kind of hairy down here, and a bunch of us are starting to feel just a tad bit uneasy. Yep. Getting a little too close for comfort, if you know what I mean. So, what do you say, Master? How about you come back for us now? We are totally ready for you, I promise. Even if we have to stretch it to next Tuesday, I think that could still work for everybody, right fellas? Obviously, God, it’s up to you, and you probably know best and all, but seriously—and I mean this with all sincerity—this place is nuts! Get me out of here! Help! Help! Heeeelp! Read more

Exploring the Book of Ya’aqov, Pt. 22

Go, now, you who are rich! Weep, howling over your miseries that are coming upon you! Your riches have rotted, and your garments have become moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and the corrosion of them will be to you for a testimony, and will eat your flesh like fire. You stored up treasure for yourselves, as if we were not in the last days! Look! the wages of the workmen (…which had been fraudulently withheld by you) cry out…. You lived in luxury upon the earth, and were self-indulgent; you fed your hearts in a day of slaughter…. (יַעֲקֹב Ya’aqov 5:1-6, mjlt)

By now, it may be a laughable statistic: the “good old days,” when the U.S. national debt was only $25 trillion—of which the debt per tax payer was merely $200,000. This, of course, does not even seem real—it is literally unfathomable—given that the average American has enough trouble with his share of our collective personal debt (mortgages, credit cards and such) totaling $14 trillion. With such a heavy weight, then, it is understandable for us to see the accumulation of wealth as a way out—a rescue from a mounting and unsustainable deficit. But what if achieving financial security is not the answer? What if being rich is actually more risky than simply having enough? Read more

Exploring the Book of Ya’aqov, Pt. 21

To him, then, who is knowing how to do good, but is not doing it, it is sin to him. (יַעֲקֹב Ya’aqov 4:17, mjlt)

Sin is one of those tricky subjects with which we, as believers in Yeshua, have a tendency to play fast and loose. We know in our heads and hearts what is right and wrong, but when it comes to applying that knowledge to our lives, we like to lean as far as we can into the grey. It is from that compromised position, then, that Scripture can become twisted or misconstrued in our minds. This is why some believers will defend their sin by saying it’s a matter of conscience, and not all so-called sin is the same. In other words, “it is sin to him” (as the Scriptures say) is actually a statement of relativity (so some of us believe), and, therefore, what is sin for you is not sin for me. Read more

Exploring the Book of Ya’aqov, Pt. 20

Go, now, you who are saying, “Today or tomorrow we will go on to such-a-city, and we will pass the time there for a year, and do business, and make a profit”—you who do not even know the things of the next day! What is your life? For you are a vapor that is appearing for a little while, and then is vanishing. Instead of saying, “If the Master wants, we will live and do this or that,” as it is, you boast in your pride. All such boasting is evil! (יַעֲקֹב Ya’aqov 4:13-16, mjlt)

Though much of life is spent preoccupied by the now, in our hearts, we are always looking forward. While we may not often permit our minds to think or dream or hope too much about the future, deep inside, we live there—longing for the mended, the safer, the better. So when we do get down to deliberately planning, we plan not only for the start, but the end. We move forward—sometimes with trepidation, but most times with expectations—wishing for and predicting our happiness and success. Read more

Exploring the Book of Ya’aqov, Pt. 19

Speak not one against another, brothers. He who is speaking against a brother, or is judging his brother, speaks against תּוֹרָה, Torah and judges the תּוֹרָה, Torah. And if you judge תּוֹרָה, Torah, you are not a doer of תּוֹרָה, Torah, but a judge of it. One alone is the Giver of תּוֹרָה, Torah and Judge who is able to save and to destroy. But you—who are you to be judging the neighbor? (יַעֲקֹב Ya’aqov 4:11-12, mjlt)

In times of tension and stress, it is not unusual to respond aggressively to disagreement and discord. It is not unusual, but it is unhelpful, as aggression rarely yields a harmonious outcome. The words we speak to one another, then, become influenced by our distorted views of our perceived opponent. This unrighteous evaluation affects whether we deem that person worthy of our civility, honesty and respect—as if our judgment should have the power to adjust our kindness. While it may seem natural to have such a bias toward those we view as enemies, it is especially heinous when we practice this behavior with our own “brothers” and “neighbors”—when we speak against our fellow believers in Messiah. Read more

A Special Message for the Feast of Matzah

The religions of man do their best to prepare us for days and times of spiritual significance. Though many adherents do not strictly follow the schedule of their sects, these groups often—with all sincerity—establish systems to guide their followers into times of spiritual preparedness. To that end, many find significance in patterns, leading to the construction of doctrinal and devotional traditions. Read more