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

Exploring the Book of Ya’aqov, Pt. 18

Be submitted, then, to God; stand up against the Accuser, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners! and purify your hearts, you two-minded ones! Be exceedingly afflicted, and mourn, and weep; let your laughter be turned to mourning, and the joy to heaviness. Be made low before the Master, and He will exalt you. (יַעֲקֹב Ya’aqov 4:7-10, mjlt)

The influence of the Accuser is invasive. Given the opportunity, it uncoils within us—tempting, misleading, scheming and lying its way deep into our lives. That ancient serpent, who has the power of death, is able to gain access to us through our “hostility with God” and our complicit “friendship” with the world (יַעֲקֹב Ya’aqov 4:4-6). We are scarcely aware that the world’s wooing is, in fact, such a violent assault on our souls. Read more

Exploring the Book of Ya’aqov, Pt. 17

Adulteresses! Have you not known that the world’s friendship is hostility with God? Whoever, then, wants to be a friend of the world is made an enemy of God. Do you think that, emptily, the Scripture says that with envy the רוּחַ, Ruach that He caused to live in us earnestly desires us? But greater unmerited favor He gives! Therefore, the Scripture says, “God sets Himself against proud ones; but to humble ones, He gives unmerited favor.” (יַעֲקֹב Ya’aqov 4:4-6, mjlt)

It is written that “Adonai, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Exodus 34:14). This righteous jealousy springs forth from the Creator’s desire that His people love Him and not bow themselves to another god—that they not trade their devotions to some strange and foreign deity. His jealousy, however, is aroused neither from a place of insecurity nor codependence, but rather from a rightful possessiveness and ownership. He is jealous because He does not give away His love casually or cheaply. God’s love comes at a cost that no one but He is able or willing to pay. Read more

Exploring the Book of Ya’aqov, Pt. 16

From where do wars and from where do fightings among you come? Are they not from that place created by your passions—which are like soldiers at war in your body’s members? You desire, but you do not have, so you murder; and you are jealous, and are not able to get what you want, so you fight and war. But you have not, because of your not asking; or you ask, and you receive not, because you ask evilly—so that you can spend it on your pleasures. (יַעֲקֹב Ya’aqov 4:1-3, mjlt)

Though we as believers in Yeshua are the many members of one, united Body, we nevertheless seem to have a knack for finding things to fight about. They can be petty disagreements (like over the volume or style of music in our worship services) or more serious arguments (such as disputes over doctrinal differences). Some fights are legitimate and worth having, as we confront sin or seek to defend the fundamentals of our faith. But many controversies arise out of jealousy and factions, which lead to division—these days, often before open confrontation ever breaks out in the first place. We just leave. Either way, infighting and unresolved conflict causes devastation and the weakening of Yeshua’s Body. Read more

Exploring the Book of Ya’aqov, Pt. 15

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by the good behavior—his actions in humility of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, boast not, nor lie against the truth: this “wisdom” is not descending from above, but is earthly, physical, demon-like. For where jealousy and selfish ambition are, there is disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom from above, first, indeed, is pure, then peaceable, gentle, cooperative, full of loving-kindness and good fruits, uncontentious, and unhypocritical; and the fruit of righteousness in peace is sown to those making peace. (יַעֲקֹב Ya’aqov 3:13-18, mjlt)

Who, indeed, is wise? For many of us, wisdom is only for the learned, the scholarly, those well-versed in the knowledge of the ages. For others, wisdom is for the experienced, the aged, those who have learned from the hard teachings of a long life. For others still, having wisdom is knowing the difference between right and wrong, and possessing the judgment or discernment to offer insight and guidance to others. But what if true wisdom and understanding are not simply based on how much we know—and on the nature of those things we know—but on where that wisdom comes from, and how it is put into use? What if what we think of as wisdom is not really wisdom at all? Read more

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