Torah Today?

NOTE: The intended audience of this post is/was the participants of an X44 marriage conference in Mexico on Covenant Relationship, but I think everyone can appreciate the “Challenge!” Regardless of who you are, perhaps imagine you were just on the magnificent white beaches of Mexico with your spouse for a week where you completely focused on is your covenant relationship and now your back to your “previous life” trying to “flip” what you consider your “real” world from a backwards kingdom perspective.

…Well you have been home for almost 2 days now are you doing? Have you been “challenged?”

For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.  Romans 15:4 NASB

Well, if you haven’t figured this out yet, I glean a lot from overanalyzing or “over studying” things. You might want even say it is in my DNA and perhaps it is or should also be in yours!

Sometimes knowing Greek and Hebrew is a tremendous blessing, and sometimes it’s a curse! This particular verse, I can’t simply just skim over. I find myself diving in before I can move to the next verse. The problems of syntax!!!

What’s interesting to me (or what makes me stop or get hung up on a verse like this) is the Greek (single) word, proegraphe. The problem is English doesn’t work like Greek and so we probably need five or six words to understand exactly what the single Greek word meant. In Greek syntax, it’s essentially the prefix pro added to the verb grapho. One word in Greek essentially takes on the idea in English of saying, “what was written before this particular time.” You may have interpreted that way, or you may not have. 

But when you’re thinking, like a Bible student, you ask the question what was written before this time? Any good Hebrew, listening, or reading from Paul would understand that it must be the Torah. In Hebraic mind it’s the only thing that was written for our instruction, everything else is simply a commentary. When Paul writes the statement, it’s the only established word of God, “the only completed Old Testament” at that time, and New Testament won’t come to existence as we know it or in the way that we read it until several hundred years later. Sure, there are scrolls that are considered sacred (like Isaiah for example), but they aren’t the Torah and much of them are only in oral form to the commoner, so they aren’t studied like the torah was. Interesting to think that what Paul is saying is that simply the Torah (not what we think of the complete Bible) is intended to preserve and encourage us that we might have hope. I bet no one reading this has ever consider that before!!! Most Christians, reading, the Torah simply think it isn’t very invigorating! But perhaps we should consider returning to the original word that God gave for those to follow him each and every day as a recipe for intimacy with God. We just don’t usually sit down with our spouses and start devotionals in Leviticus, but maybe we should! Perhaps that is part of the wayward problem of modern Evangelical Christianity seeming like a watered-down version of the kind of devotion Jesus was asking for.

In the first century, whether you were a Jew or gentile, if you followed Yahweh, you were taught the Torah constantly, and you had most of it, memorized and gave it careful and deliberate practice. When did we lose that?

Paul’s message would’ve sounded like a broken record to those that grew up with it. However, to us 2000 years later, the message is almost lost in translation because we no longer have any idea of what it meant to live in such devotion. This message of devotion should really be more relevant now than ever; but it seems, we’ve walked further and further away from the sacred approach to God and his son Jesus, than we have brought ourselves closer to it. Our Trajectory since the cross was intended to have become more devout as disciples of Jesus but in actuality, we have gone the other way and are less devout than Israel. Thats a problem. The evangelical American church is likely less devout than wayward Israel and has no concept of what Jesus described as leaving everything on the beach to completely follow Him.

Paul’s message is that if we put Torah into our heart, we won’t be hopeless. First century followers of Christ, understood that without being dedicated to the Scriptures stored in the depths of our heart it would be almost impossible to exist and persevere and therefore, hope. The context of all scripture is based in the Torah and gives foundational application for what Jesus taught.

Jesus was a devout observer and teacher of the Torah and encouraged us to live by His example. 

People often ask me do we still need to follow the Torah or live by the Old Testament Judaic standards… I usually think what a silly question!!! But to be clear, of course we don’t “have to” we’re complete and free from the law in Jesus… but that’s likely the wrong question for a devout follower of Jesus! Unfortunately, much of the law over 1000 years turned into religious hypocrisy… they completely missed the mark!!!! The law served as a stopgap to hold them sacred and holy until the messiah could complete what was given to them and truly reign in and through their lives. Today since we have the Messiah, it’s important to realize that He still observed Torah. This is what is written in His heart and should also be written in ours. 

Some people miss this, but in the Torah context, all of the scriptures were stored in the temple; when our bodies become the temple of the Holy Spirit, it doesn’t just mean that God himself dwells in this place; it means that all of this Word is supposed to do well in this place as well! How are you doing with that? Are you a walking Bible?

Last week, as Pastor Dr. Steve and I preached covenant community, you might have noticed that nearly everything we taught had its roots in the Torah. What’s even “worse” is that some of it seemed brand new! It’s a return to the foundation that God provided for us, that we might live by the covenants in truth that were established to guide us and might be completed and fulfilled and made alive (literally) in the Messiah, King Jesus! 

The word of God and specifically the Torah is our access to God’s purposes and our compass for hope.

The goal of the Torah was perseverance and encouragement, and we need that more than ever today…. And you and your spouse in your marriage might specifically need it more two days after a marriage conference than any time before. I bet you’re feeling the pressure already! 

I’m sure you’ve never considered the Torah in your life before now, but I want you to consider it as the “you can do it” cheer to your covenant. 

A good friend of mine puts it like this,

“Torah is not the 613 regulations. It is the lives, the songs, the stories and the history of all those who previously attempted to follow. They are just like us—in need of motivation and support. You and I are just like them—seeking purpose and meaning in the chaos of life. Paul reminds us that the good news of God doesn’t begin with Matthew. It begins with Moses.”

Perhaps you’re struggling today, perhaps you’re longing for the beach to be intimate with your spouse again…Perhaps you realized that what we call returning to the “real” world is actually just the world you are passing through and your “real” world in this backward kingdom is actually these moments of devotion. This mindset starts with the word of God… perhaps if you’re in turmoil or tribulation today, specifically with your spouse, it’s a reminder to start each day with the word of God and dive in!!! Being completely whole means to study each day… perhaps a five-minute devotion is a good start, but the context of the Torah was more like an hour a day… and the context of Jesus’ discipleship picture for us that the apostles carried out looked more like 4-5 hours of study a day. The way of the Messiah was to be a disciple completely emerged, each and every day in the scripture and intimate relations of the kingdom stored as a temple deep within you that was exuding in life action; that all of your “nephesh” might scream out the image of God to everyone you came in contact with. Together you can encourage and challenge your spouse to be fully devoted, “all in” and on the road to be a disciple, and it starts with a deeper understanding of scripture! 

May you be blessed on your journey!

Dr. Ryan

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David’s upbringing and the Midrash

One of my good friends Jana Diaz (who has been on some x44 films and taught at range nights with us) recently shared at our churches woman’s breakfast on the strength and upbringing of David’s tumultuous youth and transition as a king. Unfortunately, being a male, I was not allowed to attend although I am so very thankful for her incredible giftings as a teacher and her heart for a better Jesus understanding to a culture that seems lost in so many ways (-and I am not speaking merely salvifically.) So, as I did not hear her presentation, I am familiar with the content and traditional Jewish context of David’s upbringing. Whenever something is shared from a perspective of Jewish tradition there are always a lot of evangelical Christian eyebrows raised. Evangelicals often wonder, “if this is true, how can people that have been attending church their whole lives have no knowledge of things like this.” Then sometimes you get people questioning the source or even going as far as alluding that any information not found directly in the pages of the Bible is heretical. That way of thinking is always devastating to the unity of the church, and luckily to my knowledge there wasn’t any thoughts like that going around with my friend’s particular message. I only heard raving remarks and how much impact it had on the lives of the women gleaning from such a beautiful message. But at some point, nearly every Christian that dives into a biblical discussion with details they have never heard, they begin to question where someone learned about things. In this case and many others, it lies in the Jewish Rabbinical thought passed on mostly orally from generation to generation. In many ways it isn’t much different than the story of job that took many generations of being passed before it was penned or several other scriptural examples. Of course, Job is soundly part of the canon, and the Jewish rabbinical sources are not nor would anyone that is familiar with them treat them in the same way. But they are still incredibly useful to scholars and lovers of the Bible alike. I have been profoundly touched and strengthened in my discipleship as a result of reading them. Many of my messages of first century culture and older have been influenced by such works. So first let me share the story of David and his tumultuous upbringing. Then let me circle back to discussing the sources from which the following information comes from and shed light on how we might use or treat them.

First, let’s refamiliarize ourselves with much of the themed messages that we get from the biblical writings of David.

-I am wearied by my calling out, and my throat is dry. I’ve lost hope in waiting . . .

-More numerous than the hairs on my head are those who hate me without reason . . .

-Must I then repay what I have not stolen?

-Mighty are those who would cut me down, who are my enemies without cause . . .

-I have become a stranger to my brothers, an alien to my mother’s sons.

-Out of envy for Your House, they ravaged me; the disgraces of those who revile You have fallen upon me . . .

-Those who sit by the gate talk about me. I am the taunt of drunkards . . .

We know of David’s hardship later in life, being pursued for 14 years after being promised to be king and often associate his feelings in the psalms with the turmoil of this stage of his life. But it seems these psalms aren’t limited to his later in life experiences, many of them describe his early life rather than later situations. Many remember when Samuel was looking for the next king that David was not presented. We get an inkling that he was being shunned by his family (“I have become a stranger to my brothers”), by the Torah sages who sat in judgment at the gates (“those who sit by the gate talk about me”) and by the drunkards on the street corners (“I am the taunt of drunkards”)? It seems that Davids’s hardships started long before he was being hunted by King Saul. In fact, when you dive in, you find that the 28 years of his life leading up to him being coronated as the king might not have been any better than the stories we know of his despair as he ran for his life.

David was born into the family of Jesse, who was the head of the sanhedrin. It might surprise you in such a prominent family that David was not permitted to eat with the rest of his family but was assigned to a separate table in the corner, or even treated like the animals. It is also thought that he was given the job of a lowly shepherd in hopes that he might be devoured by the lions and bears. Typically speaking a family of such stature would have likely hired help for those jobs. To understand the situation better I would point you towards the Midrashim; or specifically the Yalkut HaMachiri, as well as Sefer HaTodaah (section on Sivan and Shavuot) where you get the idea that David was more of the unwanted stepchild than one fit for a king. These sources also share that it was David’s mother, Nitzevet bat Adael, who continued to pour life into David and didn’t give up on him.

David’s father (translated as Yishai) was the grandson of Boaz and Ruth. The story of Ruth is interesting as it hardly mentions faith in God. I would suggest starting with our video series here. Yishai was likely ridiculed for his lineage from Ruth as she was a Moabite and according to the Torah, Boaz would have been forbidden to marry her. According to the sages, many devout Israelites were doubtful about the legitimacy of Ruth’s marriage to Boaz. You will notice when you read Ruth in the Bible there is a matter of a distant relative, however when you try to find record of this law in the Torah you likely won’t, at least it is unclear. Some scholars believe it to have been a rabbinically accepted and transmitted “oral law” that not all would have been familiar with or accepted, and certainly would have not been admirable in the Sanhedrin. You might remember that you were connected or personally responsible to 4 generations behind and 4 ahead. To make matters even worse, most evangelical Christians are not aware that Boaz died the night after his marriage after Ruth had conceived a son that would later be known as Oved (Obed) the father of Yishai. As you can imagine during that time the supposed marriage to a woman described by the amazing term “ESHET CHAYIL” was steeped in rumors and contempt with every scenario possible being alluded to. Was Boaz duped and murdered? This was likely worse than your typical Soap Opera of the 1980’s. There was also an idea of the retribution principle coming from God, that you get what you deserve and perhaps God had taken Boaz’s life because he was outside of the Torah.

In an ancient context they that lived by the idea of the retribution principle to mean that the only way you could essentially prove God was with you and you were honorable before Him, was if blessings reigned on you to 4 generations. In other words, time would tell over the next 4 generations displaying whether or not God had smiled on the union. In this case, it was said that most eventually considered Jesse’s household to have been blessed or redeemed or to be considered as of honorable decent, but many would still question him three generations later (because 4 had not been reached yet). As the ancient tale is told as handed from one generation to another; Yishai chose to make an honorable decision not continue to engage in marital relations with his wife. Surprisingly according to the acceptable situations of Rabbinical law, he could engage in relations with his Canaanite maidservant. This is where we start to see how the Rabbinical law was tainted and far from what God wanted of his people. This is also why the trajectory of Jesus treated much of the pharisaical contingents to be more opposite of His father than for Him.

This is where the story gets bizarre but is reminiscent of several of Biblical stories that are also a bit messed up based on the accepted culture. The maidservant felt compassion for Nitzevet and the two of them plotted a conspiracy saying, “Let us learn from your ancestresses and replicate their actions. Switch places with me tonight, just as Leah did with Rachel.” That night, Nitzevet conceived and Yishai remained unaware of the switch. Genesis 38 and Midrashim commentaries would tell us that as her pregnancy became apparent, Nitzevet would not embarrass her husband by revealing the truth of what had occurred. In the same way that her ancestress Tamar, who was prepared to be burned alive rather than embarrass Judah. Nitzevet took a vow of silence (which has parallels to the story of John the Baptist and Elizabeth) and like Tamar, would see blessings as her offspring would be the seed of the Messiah. By law Nitzevet could have been killed along with the fetus, but Yishai decided against it but is believed to have said that this child may not marry an Israelite which was the cultural way of disowning an illegitimate child without killing them. It was the expected action of a father which parallels the opposite response of the father in the story of the prodigal son that Jesus told and would no doubt have had the Pharisees understanding the implication to have been pointed at his 4th generational ancestry. It is also notable that David and Nitzevet may not have been allowed to live in the main house, but likely lived in the lower room or stable, which I am sure has your head spinning with messianic implication.

As you can imagine, now you can understand why David was nowhere to be found when Samuel visited the family to choose a king. It was common knowledge that he was treated as an outcast which is also confirmed in the psalm where David says he was a “stranger” to his brothers, the Hebrew word for stranger, muzar, is from the same root as mamzer—bastard, illegitimate offspring. In the psalms it was a recognizable idiom or play on words. He was likely the “butt” of every joke and probably even abused by his brothers and other family members and that is likely where the words “repay what I have not stolen” come from. You also may recall when Samuel came to choose the next king the text tells us:

At last Samuel said to Yishai, “Are there no lads remaining?”

He answered, “A small one is left; he is taking care of the sheep.”

If you read this in Hebrew you would notice something, Samuel says, “Are these all the lads?” Had he asked if these were all Yishai’s sons, Yishai would have answered affirmatively, that there were no more of his sons, since David was not given the status of a son. But he asks are there no lads remaining? In Hebrew this is very telling. It meant that either Samuel knew or God gave him the knowledge. We also might read into some of the other text,” David’s physical appearance alludes to the differing aspects of his personality. His ruddiness suggests a warlike nature, while his eyes and general appearance indicate kindness and gentility.2

It is said that Nitzevet ended her 28 years of silence that day as she wept for David in Joy. It showed that the lineage of her son was pure and undefiled. 3 and that Nitzevet exclaimed, “The stone that was reviled by the builders has now become the cornerstone!” as we read requoted in Psalms 118:22. 4

The Midrash tradition tells over and over how it was Davids mother that gave him the fortitude to face his adversaries and the dignity to rise above the worst of accusers. In fact, it is thought that David’s mother was the strength of His Psalms and the source of his incredible heart’s connection to the Lord.

It is also said that she spoke truth over him, and it came to be through the power of the Lord God almighty.

Why haven’t evangelicals ever heard this. Well, one reason is because scripture was written in a man only context. I am an Egalitarian and truly believe that the Bible and especially Jesus taught a very woman forward way of thinking compared to the cultural context. I love this aspect. But I also think that sometimes evangelical are afraid to open the floodgates. They may not truly believe that the bible can stand alone. This is unfortunate to me because I think as we examine the known biblical commentary, we expand our insight and love for Jesus and the father. David was said to have spoken a voice many years before his time that would go on to console and empower the remnant believers during the exile and diaspora. You likely picked up that this is an exodus like redemption story that will give way to David’s descendent the Messiah and the redemption of the world often described as the NEW EXODUS. The details on David’s mother don’t change the Biblical story, but they help us to understand what could be more of the full spectrum the grace of God has shown outside of the scriptures we accept as inerrant. I have also found that they lead me to a better understanding of the lens of God’s complete love for His people.


The final part of this article is intended to address concerns of Midrash source. As you have witnessed much of this story most evangelical Christians won’t know. Yet most traditional Jews and Messianic Jews will accept openly, nearly as if it were infallible scripture. Most of the Midrash was written from 400-1000AD. They are traditional rabbinical information and tales handed down from one generation to the next orally and finally put to writing when writing became dramatically easier. As I alluded to earlier, it isn’t much different than how we got the other parts of scripture handed down to us, these just came a little bit later and most scholars feel they take the shape more of historical documentation or commentary than they resemble scripture. If you follow the sources I have provided and are able to read them, you will quickly understand what I mean by this. I personally would hold them one step less than the regard I hold for a Josephus writing that most people are considerably more familiar with and pretty openly accept as factual history. Is every story real, likely not, but we may never know. Some are more believable and hold better context than others, but many paint a beautiful picture or mosaic that we can glean from such as the details of the story of Davids mother. If you are wondering if the story is true or accurate, you’re probably not seeing it for the beauty that it is.

  1. Siftei Kohen, Vayeishev
  2. Malbim
  3. Bereishit Rabbah 63:8
  4. Midrash Tanchuma
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Who are you pledging allegiance to?

No King But Christ.

Over the last few years, I have become increasingly less confident in America (and most non third world countries) as any kind of formidable place for God to co-exist. Many want to “bring back” the notion of God into our country and schools but it is no secret that we (those that hold to a no king but Christ perspective) don’t ever see that America was “God’s country” or having been founded with the notion that it might become that. It was simply founded as a free country and for that I am grateful; but it isn’t Israel, nor should it be viewed as an entity of Christ’s kingdom. My only reservation in this way of thinking is to the notion that I believe all things are being and going to be either reclaimed to this kingdom or simply annihilated (which by biblical definition means to mercifully put to a final rest.) make no mistake, the people in this “foreign” kingdom and all the others should be redeemed to Christ within “HIS KINGDOM,” but the nation itself is a “rival” to the Kingdom of God.

Recently I was doing some research for a potential Facebook marketing campaign for Covenant Theological Seminary (CTS) and came across this ad from Hillsdale Academy. As I have no issues with Hillsdale, and in fact, think the call to Christian Education is ESSENTIAL in Jesus’ Kingdom, the ad didn’t sit well with me. It shows an image of a small boy and girl with apprehensive looks on their face pledging allegiance while the ad asks if they will become good citizens. It didn’t sit well because I have 4 boys that we have home schooled in part, because of “allegiance” problems with our local (Christian) school. My point is why would we be training our children to be “allegiant” to a Rome like anti-god system of the world as Christians? Regardless, when we teach you can pledge loyalty to kingdoms today it severely muddies the waters of teaching what it means to truly be an undivided fully obedient disciple of Christ. Why as Christians are we trying to serve two masters?

As I continued to raise my eyebrow at this ad it opened some dialogue between myself and Matt Mouzakis from X44 (who by this time is helping me write the article) and we started getting deeper into framing the everyday issues with Christian’s approach to this kind of nationalism. You might be surprised to learn that the “Bellamy salute is a palm-out salute created by James B. Upham as the gesture that was to accompany the American Pledge of Allegiance, which had been written by Francis Bellamy. It was also known as the “flag salute” during the period when it was used with the Pledge of Allegiance. Bellamy promoted the salute and it came to be associated with his name. Both the Pledge and its salute originated in 1892. Later, during the 1920s and 1930s, Italian fascists and Nazi Germans adopted a salute which was very similar, attributed to the Roman salute, a gesture that was popularly believed to have been used in ancient Rome.[1] This resulted in controversy over the use of the Bellamy salute in the United States. It was officially replaced by the hand-over-heart salute when Congress amended the Flag Code on December 22, 1942.”(

The US switched from a “Heil Hitler” style Bellamy salute and Congress amended this “code” on December 22, 1942, when it passed Public Law 77-829, stating among other changes, that the pledge “be rendered by standing with the right hand over the heart.”[2]

As you can see, I carefully alluded to above, our flag salute was borrowed from Rome. It is exactly what the Bible was referring to as not taking two masters. In other words, this isn’t a maybe or might have been, our salute comes precisely from Rome and is EXACTLY what the Bible is talking about when it is challenging us to be “ALL IN” in our devout allegiance to Christ and not the systems and kingdoms of this world.

“Our identity is SOLELY with the King of the universe, not with any country or nationality or political party. When we are re-born into this new life, we are transferred into a new kingdom with a new citizenship.”

Dr. Will Ryan – This is the Way part III (2023)

The elephant in the room in this conversation is Paul’s citizenship. Not everyone in the ancient world had citizenship. It could be acquired through purchase or through birth. We need to ask what Paul made of it and how he viewed it because it is important to this conversation. Paul’s citizenship comes up in 3 instances in Acts: Acts 16:37-38, 22:25-28, and Acts 25. 

In Acts 16 Paul has been beaten and imprisoned and when it looks like something worse may be happening he pulls his Roman citizen card to escape. The privileges enjoyed by full citizens were wide-ranging: They could vote in assemblies and elections; own property; get married legally; have their children inherit property; stand for election and access public office; participate in priesthoods; and enlist in the legion, on top of that, according to Julian Law, a citizen could not be beaten without a trial. Why didn’t Paul pull the citizen card to avoid being beaten by the crowd earlier? The text shows the jailer’s family coming to Jesus, Paul seemed to elevate Kingdom priorities over citizenship and “rights”. It almost seemed like he didn’t want to mention it except to use it to continue his mission from Jesus. 

In Acts 22 we see Paul pull the citizen card to avoid being beaten and we find out this was something Paul was born into not something he acquired or purchased.  Paul seemed to use his citizenship to avoid beatings and being killed but he never seemed to use it to lift up allegiance to the empire. Previously in Acts 17 we see Paul in Thessalonica and a riot breaks out for proclaiming Jesus is king (and Caesar is not). The mob is angry because “these men who have turned the world upside down, have come here also,… they all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus “ (Acts 17:6b-7). When Paul writes to the Philippians he says they are “citizens of heaven”. This would be shocking to a Roman colony (Where many would have been granted citizenship as a Roman colony versus a Roman territory). Paul is undermining their Roman citizenship and saying that their true citizenship was elsewhere. The Church is a colony of heavenly citizens and not Roman citizens. In the time of Rome, you would have been considered to have renounce your pledge to Rome if you desired to make an obedient pledge of faith to Jesus. Although, it seems the thorn in Paul’s flesh was likely a person, it could have been his personal inability to give up his Roman citizenship seemingly coming off as double mindedness or even as hypocritical when compared to His teaching of obedience solely to Christ. Some also frame this issue as if he is not able to rid himself of it due his the role as a Jewish Shliach prior to his transformation.

In Acts 25 we see Paul using his Roman citizenship to appeal to Caesar. But this is weird because not all citizens could appeal to Caesar, but Paul as a Jewish Shliach (undercover cop before his transformation on the Damascus road) likely could. Again Paul uses his citizenship to undermine the empire and get an audience with Caesar. At the end of Acts 28 Paul is under house arrest and preaching the gospel of the Kingdom unhindered. Did you get that? Paul used his citizenship to usurp the Empire right under Caesar’s nose with the gospel of the kingdom. Paul never used his citizenship to further the Roman’s agenda but the Kingdom of God’s. Paul was still beaten and faced many hardships for the kingdom and didn’t seem to pull the citizen card as often as we might think (see 2 Cor 11- much of this would not have happened if the citizen card was pulled). 

Jesus Christ, therefore, is our absolute Lord, KING OF KINGS. We swear absolute allegiance to him and to no one and nothing else. All other commitments must be within that relationship, or they are opposed it. Jesus was clear that we shouldn’t be making oaths to the world.

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’  But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:33-37)

Many Christians take this part of the Sermon on the mount to simply be about telling the truth. At surface level this is true, we are to be a people above reproach and full of integrity, but at a deeper level oaths get to the issue of allegiance. To take an oath is “a solemn promise”, likewise to make a pledge is “a solemn promise or oath of loyalty”. When we pledge allegiance or make and oath we are promising by an object (i.e flag) our loyalty to something (the Republic- our nation).

Jesus condemned taking an oath/pledge/promise using an object such as heaven (God’s location), God’s footstool (the temple), God’s City (Jerusalem as the seat of the Nation), or even by your head (God’s image) to make a promise or oath to something by your word. This is being connected to breaking covenant with God. This is why, right before this section on the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talks about divorce- the breaking of covenant. He’s playing off this picture when it comes to oath taking, saying that it is adultery and a rejection of the commandments to have no gods before Him (or literally in His face) and idols (thing representing the rule or location of a god), and this is part of bearing God’s name in vain.  Deuteronomy 6:13 say that we should swear by Him alone- this is a connection to our covenant with God and nothing else. 

This section of the sermon on the mount, that many look at as the antithesis’ of the Law, are all about how to bear and represent God’s name. It is the fulfillment of the 1st and 2nd commandment: to have only one God (Yahweh) and to not make idols, and to not bear/use (carry) his name in vain. Our loyalty is to Yahweh alone.  The Prophets spoke of oaths in this way, 

Though you are a whore, Israel, let not Judah become guilty.  Do not come up to Gilgal, nor go up to Beyth Awen, nor swear an oath, saying, ‘As YHWH lives!’” Hosea 4:15

Reading the words of YHWH in the mouth of Hosea is shocking, to say the least.  Israel is a whore?! “Do not come up to Gilgal, nor go up to Beyth Awen, nor swear an oath”, this oath is also connected to making an oath to a location (like to America).  “As YHWH lives.”  It’s the equivalent of our modern “I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God.”  Hosea’s prophetic judgment is this:  if the one who proclaims such an oath does not live according to God’s instructions, the oath is worthless!  

Calling on the name of the Lord to vouch for our testimony means absolutely nothing unless our actions are aligned with His instructions. Once more we see that saying something has little consequence unless it is backed with doing something. How many times have we sworn an oath that doesn’t match our behavior?  “Until death do us part.”  What does such a promise mean when half of the time it is broken?  

Likewise Amos 8:14 says, “As for those who swear by the guilt of Samaria, Who say, ‘As your god lives, O Dan,’ And, ‘As the way of Beersheba lives,’ They will fall and not rise again.”

Amos is speaking to God’s people and telling them that swearing by a nation who is separate from God results in destruction. Again, Amos links oaths and actions connected to God’s covenant. What about those who swear/pledge by America (and her guilt), what awaits them? This is why John says to the churches of Asia Minor in Revelation, who were entangled with Rome (Babylon), to “Come out of her, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues” (Rev 18:4).

Blasphemy is not cursing.  It is using God’s name to vouch for something that isn’t true no matter what the subject or the circumstances.  “Let your ‘Yes’ be “Yes’ and your ‘No’ be ‘No,’” said our Messiah.  Jesus knew why, do we? Lying, bending the truth, and making false oaths of allegiance is breaking a covenant with God.  Lying is spoken adultery.  

When we say “one nation under God”, are we telling the truth? By the way, this line was added to the pledge of allegiance in 1954 and “In God we trust” was legislated to be added onto our money in 1955. Are we lying when making an oath to a nation and declaring that it is under God or is in a special covenant with God (despite what Kirk Cameron says)? The Kingdom of God is the only kingdom of God. The New Testament continually says that the Principalities and Powers control the nations and Satan is the “Ruler of this World” and the “Prince of the power of the Air (another way to say this world)”. Jesus was offered all the nations of the World if he would worship (pledge?) the Devil and Jesus doesn’t deny the Devil owned them. Yet, he refused to and said we should “worship the Lord and serve Him [God] only”. This should cause us to pause and think.

Oaths are loyal proclamations to keep your promise. As a Christian, when you pledge to America are you making a promise of allegiance that goes against your baptismal pledge to the Kingdom of God? When Paul says don’t be unequally yoked this implies something about partnerships and oaths or covenant agreement with the world. In an ancient biblical context an oath meant to mix blood with someone and literally a covenant was cut. Israel made covenants with the world and eventually was handed over to exile because of they put other Gods before Yahweh continually. The law commanded to “fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made”. Jesus, sets the record straight as we notice that he does not say, ” Do not swear an oath and then break it.” No, he says: “Do not swear an oath AT ALL”!!!

This is why the Early Church, prior to Constantine and the entanglement of Christianity with the State, held a firm stance against oaths/pledges and flags. Tertullian (160-220 AD) summarized the thoughts of the early church saying this, “Shall we carry a flag? [NO] It is rival to Christ.” 

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (Matthew 6:24)

If you are giving your allegiance to your country or anyone else, you are slapping Jesus in the face.

Whether the choice is between God and money, God and man, God and a government or nation, the choice is always the same, one or the other. Jesus also said ” My kingdom is not of this world”. Jesus has a kingdom, and I can’t be loyal to two kingdoms at once. It would be impossible to be loyal to the USA and NAZI GERMANY during WWII at the same time! It’s the same with being part of the kingdom of God. Jesus calls us to be loyal to his kingdom, and if we have given our loyalty to God’s kingdom, how then can we try and give it to America or any other worldly kingdom? (This is a modified quote from Matt Young)

Some would say that in the same way we can have a covenant under God and a covenant relationship with our wives we can have a covenant relationship with God and our country. The problem is that marriage is a Biblical covenant imitated under the covenant of God. It is part of that Kingdom and should rightly align with all of the pledges and ideals of that covenant. You can’t simply bring in another covenant of oaths and allegiance under God’s covenant that is un-arguably ANTI-GOD or what His covenant is about. That is the definition of idolatry. It is taught from Old to New Testaments throughout the pages of the Bible as CONTRARY to what God wants and Jesus so clearly re-affirms.

How is it that Christians have become so blinded to this? How have we let the idea of Nationalism slip in and defile this covenant? I don’t think Jesus is smiling when you raise a hand in the air or over your heart to pledge your allegiance to anyone or anything other than him; especially when the entity you are embracing is so unabashedly “RIVAL” or against Him and His kingdom.

  1. Winkler, Martin M. (2009). The Roman Salute: Cinema, History, Ideology. Ohio State University Press. p. 2. ISBN 978-0-8142-0864-9.
  2.  Ellis, Richard (2005). To the Flag: The Unlikely History of the Pledge of Allegiance (illustrated ed.). University Press of Kansas. pp. 116–118.
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Was “Satan” in the Old Testament?

Today many people (Christian and non) understand the adversary of God to be Satan. In our modern culture we sometimes even view this cosmic bad guy to be an equal opponent to God in terms of power and dominion. It might Suprise you to know that the Old Testament didn’t (& doesn’t) read this way. In fact, if I handed you a Bible and you were able to read the Old Testament in ITS original language (Hebrew) you would be hard pressed to find “SATAN” as a singular or personal proper name being anywhere in the pages. However, in the New Testament, we get a clear picture of Satan being the leader of the fallen spirits and therefore have a tendency to read that concept back into the Old Testament. As Jesus and the New Testament often gives clarification or fulfillment to many aspects of the Old Testament, most readers are hermeneutically guilty of reading too much into the older text. It is important to first understand how the original audience understood the word given before applying any kind of later revelation or further meaning to a text. This is called a texts primary meaning.

In Hebrew, the specific noun and verb שׂטן (satan) usually take on an English translation of an accuser or adversary. Today in English, we sometimes use the word “satan” similarly when we say, “get behind me satan.” But in the New Testament the same term more often than not, referred to a specific person that is referred to by the proper name of “Satan.” Here is a basic example of the term “satan” used as the term for accuser. In Zechariah, “Joshua the high priest was standing before the angel of the Lord, and the satan [הַשָּׂטָן] was standing inat his right hand to accuse [שׂטן] him” (3:1). So essentially, the accuser was there to accuse him. In Hebrew this is exactly how it reads, but in English the interpreters have changed it likely to better fit with a New Testament view or perhaps even an interpretational bias for some reason or another. This is actually quite common and why I think every committed believer should have some understanding of the original Biblical languages and at least understand how to use an interlinear. Can you imagine being married to someone and not caring to understand any of their original language.

before we got too far into this conversation let’s also dispel a common notion. Some want to think of Satan as an “office” in the same way they talk about an Elder being an office position. Let’s just expel those notions. The Bible doesn’t clearly say there are any “offices” and we shouldn’t view these words that way. We don’t have a constitution or set of bylaws we are given with the Bible, and there aren’t offices, only a king of all and His name is clearly JESUS. X44 has done an entire episode on this.

Most English Bible translator’s pickup up on the “singular cosmic bad guy leader” to be represented at least in some way in the OT. That’s why every English translation (right or wrong) simply uses “Satan,” throughout the Old Testament such as in Job 1-2, Zechariah 3:1-2, and 1 Chronicles 21:1. It’s been the traditional understanding for many years that Satan was the leader of the fallen degenerate spirits even before the New Testament. But as a scholar, I would say that most translators have “back read” the singular cosmic bad guy into the story, having the New Testament at hand and likely taking more liberty as a translator than I would prefer. By that I mean, that in the above verses the Hebrew word would actually be better translated (as it is in some versions) as an accuser or challenger, and sometimes this even takes on a positive connotation which leaves some scratching their head. I have also written on this concept about being a positive challenger to your covenant community. I thought about naming that article “how to be a good Satan” but didn’t think that would go over well. You can read that here.

Would King David have had an understanding of a singular proper named entity of Satan? I doubt it.

Here’s why: In every case in Job and Zechariah, the Hebrew is “hassatan [הַשָּׂטָן],” that is, “the satan.” Translations do not reflect this well in English, they simply read “Satan,” as if it is a proper name when it isn’t written that way in Hebrew. On the other hand, there is a chance that this reference “could” be the singular person (ie SATAN) of the New Testament, the Hebrew text just doesn’t specifically say that in the way that you likely understand because of the English translation. In other words, we don’t have the hermeneutical merit to go one way or the other. It isn’t wrong to come to a conclusion, or have an opinion, but we don’t have concrete evidence to go either way.

In Job, the accuser or challenger (satan) appears among the divine council — although most assume this is the Satan figure of the New Testament; I would caution that way of thinking. The text is vague or ambiguous for many reasons, and we just don’t have all the cards. Is this a story that takes place before the fall? (Well, if you believe in a pre-Adamite race [and I do] -you can go this way, but you also don’t have to) does the accuser of Job become Satan? Maybe, or maybe not, we don’t need him to, but he might be. There is a link below to an x44 video on this as well.

Although scholarship is divided on the interpretation of who the satan is in specifically Job and Zechariah, (divine council good guy functioning like a district attorney in a court scene as one of the [fallen or unfallen] powers and principalities, or the singular bad guy etc… we don’t really know and again it doesn’t matter much imho. “WE DON’T HAVE THE ANSWER IN THE TEXT” – The best interpretation in my view is he may or may not be.

1 Chronicles 21:1 seems to be the ONLY verse in the Old Testamant that would clearly use the term “satan” as a proper name: “Satan [שָׂטָן]” and not “the satan” or Hebrew “hassatan [הַשָּׂטָן].” One of the basic laws of Hermeneutics is to not use any one singular occurrence of something to make a doctrine or concrete statement based solely on the one situation, although people do this all the time (it isn’t good theology.) There are many reasons for this hermeneutic. Without getting into too much of a conversation on inerrancy, there are too many possible variations that could’ve led to this one thing being slightly off. It may be a scribe error, or perhaps a more modern translation with second temple thinking of Satan read into it as being the most modern manuscript we have and likely being different than the original manuscripts. to name a couple options. I’m careful not to completely discount them, but I also don’t want to give them too much merit. But the singular text of I Chronicles 21:1 doesn’t answer the question in contention of whether the singular Satan is represented in the Old Testament based solely on this verse, but hermeneutically it may give you a hint as to the consideration of your view. You should be “influenced” by it or consider the notion even if it is a singular occurrence.

as I stated with David above, personally, I don’t think any of the pre 2nd temple period audience had a concept of a singular bad guy named Satan. The Old Testament nearly always READS MORE as a powers and principalities description of fallen degenerate spirits rather than a singular super bad guy.

By the intertestamental period writers started to think of a singular proper named leader of the degenerate spirits and recognized him based on the text of the Torah as simply “satan.” (That type of etymology is common in Hebrew, a name was given that described “what” it was.) During this period, we see many names being used to describe the cosmic leader of Evil in extra biblical source and influences from the heavily mythic Greek cultures with names emerging such as Belial, Mastema, Satanail, and the devil (interesting how this term is usually not capitalized), but the term Satan is the likely the most prevalent. Some of these writings such as the Wisdom of Solomon, 1 Enoch, the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, Jubilees, and the Dead Sea Scrolls all speak to the increased interest in the demonic realm. Jewish apocalyptic literature was common during the intertestamental period and often described stories within the realm of spiritual beings.

At this point in the article, I am sure you are wondering about the serpent in Genesis 3, and I held off on this conversation point because it ties into the 2nd temple period. The serpent in Genesis three might be the singular bad guy described in the New Testament. Whether it is or isn’t the case, we are likely reading a dual fall; or the story of the fall of humankind at the same time we are reading the story of the first fallen spiritual being that many propose ends up being the Satan of the New Testament. It does seem to be the story of the first fallen spiritual being as the tempting serpent appears to be sinning and likely would not have been allowed in the garden after he sins and is cast down. But these statements are scripturally informed hypotheses. We don’t get that for sure anywhere in the Biblical text to be clear. But by the intertestamental period many writers had made this deduction, that the serpent of Genesis 3 was the first of the fallen and the leader of the degenerate spirits. For example, in The Wisdom of Solomon 2:24, we read, “through the devil’s envy death entered the world,” which identifies Genesis 3 and also at several points connects the Devil with the proper name Satan.

There is also an argument that the New Testament authors assumed the same; in Revelation, we read, “And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him” (12:9). John says, “the devil has been sinning from the beginning” (I John 3:8), and that the “evil one” influenced Cain to murder Abel (3:12). Paul states, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” in a Genesis 3:15 connection. Getting back to our inerrancy inference, we do need to consider the personal beliefs or influences of the writers and possibly keep these separate from the doctrine of the scriptures, but again this is a whole other conversation, and one that is a heated debate.

It’s obvious that by the New Testament, there was an understanding, of a leader of the fallen evil forces, being recognized as the proper name, Satan (the person who tempted Christ in the wilderness.) Do we have the merit to backwards read this into the Old Testament? Personally, I would say no… but I would also say that he – the Satan figure (proper name) was there and possibly in the garden.

Can we assume or give Him (Satan) the credit for several of the evils of the Old Testament? Why would we?

It’s also worth noting that even in the New Testament, there is a powers and principalities feel, that they weren’t just concerned about a singular bad guy, they were concerned about all of the fallen oppressors, the entire realm of evil and the fallen world.

Personally, what I don’t have a lot of interpretation for, is when anyone wants to make the cosmic ruler of evil (Satan) out to be greater than God or Jesus or even equal as if he was or is a worthy opponent. I do believe we are in a spiritual battle, but our King has won this fight generations ago. The keys have been reclaimed, the fallen bound, and the trajectory is towards reclaiming joy within the kingdom we “live” and reign in here and now and eschatologically to come.

If you want to explore this topic more, here are some great videos to get you started.

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If you haven’t noticed I have a deep regard for the broken, hurt, poor, and broken of our world and my heart aches that they may be renewed in the Joy of Christ. I wish the modern church was moved with a deeper conviction (And I know that many local churches are); but unfortunately, our ungodly government usually does a better job caring for the poor and needy than the local church does. In the New Testament church, it would seem that nearly all the money given to the church was to go towards the poor, afflicted, needy, homeless, orphans, and widows and some redirected to the planting of new congregations by Apostles. Seems like the modern-day church is quite off, usually spending a large part of their budget on mortgages and salaries. Sometimes I feel like our modern church models enable us to make excuses to not give properly according to scripture, they aren’t modeling very well. But don’t let that be a crutch. Give with relentless compassion according to what you have been blessed with. I’m thankful for many of you that have continue to give in this way and for the churches that continue to be “ALL IN” by discipleship and supporting of the first church’s endeavors.

But I am poor and needy; may Adonai think of me. You are my helper and rescuer; my God, don’t delay! Psalm 40:18 CJB

You should read the chapter to get the context, but the author goes from singing praises one moment to the depths of despair the next moment. This is common is wisdom and apocalyptic literature. Sometimes this is the author stating his condition but then moving forward in faith and trust speaking life into and over the situation in the name of the Lord. There is alot of power in the Name. The popular song “SPEAK JESUS” echoes much of the same intentions.

The Hebrew phrase above for poor and needy is va-ani ani. (Notice the repetition, in Hebrew reiteration means listen or take special note of!) The first word is usually translated something like “I am” & the second word is “poor”, but in English we miss the context, without getting way into the Hebrew, it is “well or correctly” translated; however, it’s worth understanding that there’s a better word in modern English. It takes on the definition more of being oppressed or afflicted than economically strapped, some translations say poor and afflicted which give you this idea, but it typically carries a tone of chance rather than something an opponent has dealt. Sometimes it was thought that the “gods” brought the calamities of the world. Yahweh would say that was one thing that made him different than “their gods.” He was “good” or TOV in Hebrew. (This is one major problem I have with Calvinism; God is not the author of Evil and his character is only capable of goodness.)

Have you ever been so constrained that your financial climate was just a small portion of the detriment that you were in? In other words, this scripture using the word poor is not so much about the money, that’s may or may not be a part of it, (and particularly in our American mindset we want to think money would fix everything); but rather, it is a description of the pit of despair and destruction. Most of us in America have never truly experienced that feeling. Sometimes the condition has nothing to do with money. Some believe that if you have never been there, you have never truly experienced the redemption of the Love of Jesus.

As I write this my heart is burdened by the “affliction” of a family in my covenant community called Tres Dias. Their teenage son was in a car accident and died yesterday morning. Our Oldest Son Ty is almost the same age, and they had a lot in common, so this has hit home in many ways. This family may be financially well off, and some might even say very well off; but today, and likely for very many days to come, they are not well off. My heart is broken for them.

Even though this family is strong with the Lord (as was their son) and knows the Lord is Gracious and compassionate and longs for restoration and joy, they are still afflicted.

In thinking through their situation yesterday it occurred to me that people understand that this family can look forward eschatologically to the day they are reunited with their son, but they still hurt now and need more than ever the hands and feet of Jesus to permeate their life. We “get that” as Christians in this family’s situation but sometimes we forget this with the rest of the broken world.

The scriptures speak more to the “now” in terms of deliverance and need than they do the eschatological or future heaven which is the way most people want to make everything out to be.

The primary message of HOPE in the Bible is for consolation of Jesus through the church (body of believers) here and now –not in Heaven.

In other words, through the body of Christ there can be deliverance for the hurting & the broken right here through the hands and feet of Christ. Perhaps not full healing of their hurt and deliverance from their affliction; but perhaps enough to truly experience the joy of Jesus Here and now as a foreshadow of what is to come. The intention of the Scripture is that we might image Christ himself and that redemption will come partly on this earth here and now in terms of bringing resolution and light into the pains of the destitute.

How will you be part of their exodus out of the darkness if all you want is a way out for you and them (they will be renewed in heaven)? Are we not called to restore and renew (here and now)? What percentage of your time treasure and talents have been given to what Christ said, was one of the most important aspects of the kingdom? We talk all the time about being the hands and feet of Christ, but are you? Would He look at you in this area and say well done thy good and faithful servant? The church of Acts sold everything to give to those that were destitute. How are we doing today as the communal body of believers, the church?

Start today with a small step. You don’t have to know this family, you just have to know Jesus… or even just be a “good” person, which likely won’t get you into heaven, but it could bring you closer to Jesus (I am hopeful!); and I like those people too, sometimes more than the “Christian’s” I know!

Please join me in a prayer for my friends the Shermans who lost their son yesterday and my other friends the Vawters who are experiencing great affliction. If you want to give financially please contact me here.

A prayer of intercession for the afflicted speaking truth over and through using the Hebrew names of God by Dr. Will Ryan

Father God of the Beer-lahai-roi, may you see into the deepest places through your compassionate eyes and deepest love towards my brother and sister and their family. May El-Shaddai sustain the depths of the groaning of their hearts and may You wrap Your ever-loving arms around them in consolation. Everlasting Eternal El-Olam may your refuge and hands cover this family through and through and provide spiritual and physical provision that knows know limit of their yearnings. Oh, Yahweh Yireh we have no provision for such deep loss and hurt yet you have made your way clear to us that we will be renewed in your wings and our countenance will once again be made to be shone upon. Adonai Rapha we cry out to you and plead that you ease the hurt that cannot be bored. We lay our hands out and exclaim that your spirit fall down and rain over us into the chasms of our affliction. Nissi may we hold you high in our lowest hour and ask that we be transformed into towers of your great image in our darkest hour that all may hear and see testimony of. Qedosh Yisrael Tsuri, may you be our strength our rock our camp of solace that we might fall at your altar and exclaim Yahweh sali umesadati umepalti eLi suri eheseh as we call out day and night and ask that you will be glorified as our king, restorer, as our horn and shield the source of the only One that may give the consolation of life and eternal rest. Elyon your mercy and compassion is unmatched may it be so in my brother and sisters life. Your purpose and prayers are true and right and despite this world and the lack of our understanding, we know that your ways are love. Shammah you are here in our midst moving among us drying every tear and comforting every wayward thought. May you be the restorer of our soul and the presence of my devotion. Miqweh, you never let us down. You give us sustenance in our rocky places and provision even when we don’t know what we need. May you meet us in our expectation to find our hearts full of your almighty gracious unfailing hope. But you, O Lord, are a shield around me; may you be our glory, the one who holds our head high. You have promised your ever giving spirit to us. Atik Yomin-The Ancient of Days divine everlasting God who rules in sovereignty may your heart be moved, may your hand be forgiving, may your provision be as mighty as your very name over and into my covenant brothers family. may this battle be given over to you. Basileus Basileon LORD OF LORD KING OF KINGS, LORD OVER ALL may you meet us in this sorrow and may your name be made great because of your compassion for us into eternity and the heavens of your great kingdom reigning forever and ever. Amen

 γυνή – Woman? Mexico Marriage Conference

Woman, what do I have to do with you?”  John 2:4

Men and Women are different. Hopefully you didn’t have to come to Mexico for a week to learn that! One of the most basic Bible words is Shalom which means to have peace that comes from relational balance. It is described as something that is innately in all of us through God but also often as a gifting endowed to us. It is the basic idea that peace and contentment is found only in our relationship with God at the center when we are in balance with him. Our goal is to be made complete in His likeness.

We should all strive for peace, harmony, and contentment (which means to be whole or perfectly complete) in Jesus and pray that we may also demonstrate this balance as a gift of the covenant kingdom to others. Did you ever notice that women seem to do this better than men? I know this is a very general statement and not true in every situation; but there are likely more examples of women attributed as gentle peacemakers in the Bible than men.

It seems that when situations arise, women do their best to calm the situation.  Men, on the other hand, seem to be more stern or think they need to be strong or in control. In some ways men are always preparing for battle. We were created differently. One way isn’t necessarily better; we are just different, and we might learn something from the other.

Notice that John shares this story in the second chapter of his gospel which means He is making a point that is foundational to the rest of His story, and I am afraid much of His point has gotten lost in translation. We simply know this story as Jesus’ first miracle but that isn’t the point of the passage. The first miracle in the gospel of John is about hope and peace. Jesus’ mother is trying to keep the peace.  Jesus attends a wedding where Mary is also there (but they took separate cars!)  It becomes obvious to her that the wedding party will soon run out of wine. She observes and wishes she was gifted to bring peace and reduce conflict. She doesn’t have the ability but wonders if someone else that she is in covenant relationship might be able to.

I am going to challenge you that you have likely misinterpreted this story based on your cultural conceptions. You think like a western 20th century American, not like a first century Jew. We might think Jesus is insensitive, like a typical 20th century male, or too busy to care. You might even think his response is cold. You will be surprised to find out that when he calls her “Woman” the Greek word He uses is gunai and it usually meant wife. Strange Jesus would use this with His mother? That is our cultural interpretation. We interpret Mary as nagging Jesus and in reply we interpret Jesus likely with a harsh tone back to His mother because that is how we act in our culture, but that isn’t what the original language of the text conveys. Without getting too far into Greek, the English translation is correct but it opens the door for a “tone” to the interpretation of an unfortunate western audience that is typically not very nice to each other and especially the way we sometimes treat our mothers and wives.

I can relate to this verse personally. I lost my father many years ago. I was very close to Him and so was my mother. My mom has never remarried and in many ways I not only function as her son but also must fill the shoes that my father left. In our culture this sounds strange, in Bible times, it didn’t. Mary is relying on the man of the house at the wedding – Jesus (Her husband Joseph had passed by this time.) She turns to Jesus as the one who is gifted to take care of things. Does Jesus respond with attitude towards here? We want to read this into the story with our 20th century eyes as if Jesus is saying, “MOTHER PLEASE!” but in doing so we would be greatly mistaken.

When we look at the other times Jesus used this Greek word “woman” we learn something that may give us a better interpretation of the story. When Jesus is dying on the cross and asks John to care for Mary or when he speaks to Mary Magdalene at the tomb, He uses the exact same Greek word of intimate entreating tenderness. Rather than to interpret it cold or brashly like we do in English it reads more like a love language. In Greek, the phrase reads literally, “What to me and to you, woman?” I want you to particularly notice something that is lost in English, the solution involves both of them, its circular in Hebraic thought. – Me and You. What should “WE” do? But wasn’t it just Jesus that turned the water to wine? (Hold on I am not turning Mary into deity like the Catholics have done…)

By his expression “to me and to you” Jesus is inviting her into the solution.  He seeks her cooperation as she has sought a gift in Him that she isn’t capable of. In Hebrew thought it is completing the circle 9which what a wedding ring is representative of.) Therefore, two are better than one and a picture from the beginning of John’s gospel that says to each of us need Jesus in our covenant intimate circle of relationships (and actually all of our relationships.)

In other words, this isn’t 20th century Jesus, and He isn’t carrying a sword to the wedding or barking commands, Jesus is not playing the stern male that we want to read into this.  He is not correcting her or belittling her.  He acknowledges her concern with tenderness.  With tenderness, he honors her role in his life.

This week as a foundation I want you to ask the question, how can every experience be better together? How were we designed in a cord of three strands to function better than what we could by ourselves? What if you become conditioned that in every situation of life you ask a question that includes you and your spouse in the solution, a question that asks about your relationship to each other and Jesus before both of you decide what to do.

Jesus puts the same question before each of us and especially in our marriages.  Something may not even be our problem but perhaps a situation in life.  When we give these to Jesus and our spouse, the response shouldn’t be “What do you want me to do about it?”  but rather, “How does this thing bring us together?”  It’s about the willingness to enter into the circle of life together in the gifts that we have been given that complement each other. You will also start to find that as you approach life in this way, your gifts not only are strengthened, but by combining your gift set with your spouses, you will also create and find new gifts in the partnership that you couldn’t have had on your own. Have you experienced this in your marriage? Today I want you to discuss times that have emerged as giftings together. Jesus’ mother was perceptive and had the compassion to help, Jesus had the physical ability, together “they” made wine. What are you and your spouse together in Jesus capable of for the kingdom when you start thinking and acting this way, when you believe and speak life into each other?

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Epistle of James: Introduction

Today Matt Mouzakis of x44 and I took a slight break from our HUGE series on the church to do a miniseries on the epistle of James. I love the writing of James for several reasons. It has an ancient book of Wisdom feel to it, is very Hebraic in thought, and speaks right to the heart of discipleship. If you know me at all you know that these three things are nearly a life mantra to me.

The beginning of James doesn’t identify the author as some NT writings did, it could be several people. There two apostles with the name James, one was the brother of John, son of Zebedee and the other was the son of Alphaeus (Matthew 10). But the more likely candidate is the oldest half-brother of Jesus identified as James in Matthew 13:55 as Origen quotes around 200 A.D. It is interesting that as this letter has a bit of a historical Jewish flare because it was believed that James may have doubted Jesus as the Messiah until Jesus appeared to him after Christ rose (I Cor. 15:7.) He was present in Acts 1:14 and later became a leader in the Jerusalem church from 45-62 A.D. (when he was martyred) and is known in tradition for his prayer life and was said to have knees as calloused as camels. In Acts 21 we have Paul receiving advice from Him. He spent much of his life winning the Jews over to Christianity.

James reads like a piece of Jewish wisdom literature but is closely tied with the message of Jesus’ sermon on the mount with an eastern Hebraic mindset. Most scholars date James at 62 right before he would have been martyred. I would date it much earlier for several reasons, but my primary reason is that he seems to know Paul but pre-dates Paul’s leadership in many ways. I would agree with NT Wright on a much earlier date than his martyrdom. Consider the linking of “justification” to “works” as opposed to “faith alone” (James 2:24). Personally, I don’t think they conflict, but if these three aspects are in fact borrowed from Pauline letters, then James must be later than Romans and Galatians, for Romans 3:28 and Galatians 2:16 are the key passages in which Paul asserts that one is justified by faith and apart from “works of the law,” which would be the statements James is opposing. I don’t think this is the best option.

James was aware of Paul, but likely was not immediately familiar with Paul’s specific ongoings. Galatians was written as early as 49 CE, and Romans was written during Paul’s final stay in Corinth around 56 CE—not enough time to have traveled from Corinth to Rome and become influential enough to make their way back to Palestine, where James would have been writing in the 50s, and certainly no later than 62 CE, when he was martyred. In my mind, it makes the most sense to stay early with the dating in terms of harmony of scripture. But I am also influenced to go this way for another reason.

Some have proposed that the anonymity of the first sentence in the Epistle shows that James was a very well-known super prominent leader of the Jerusalem church. I have heard “normal people – not scholars” say things like Acts 2:41 tells us that Peter’s Pentecost sermon resulted in approximately 3,000 souls getting saved and baptized. These new believers then “…continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” and then Acts 2:47 we read that new converts were added daily. Consequently, Acts 4:4 says that not long after Pentecost, “…the number of the men came to be about five thousand.” By this thinking, many would assume that Jerusalem was a “MEGACHURCH” by these estimations. The problem is we are thinking with Western minds. Most scholars will tell you that the Biblical example of the first church would be to send apostles out to grow new churches as quickly as the number hit 70. As Jerusalem was likely one of the largest congregations, I doubt it resembled a mega church meeting of today. It was far more similar to a seminary of today’s design where people traveled to study and then GO OUT and plant churches as apostles after their study.

The closest thing in America we have to a first century church is likely a small seminary that communes and learns with each other several hours a day and then after a few years sends the students out to replicate the model they learned under.

This was called discipleship and it was why the church existed!

By this design we get James backwards in his intro. It isn’t a vague intro because everyone knew who he was as a megachurch hierarchical leader, but rather because he emptied himself of humility making the writing of that described as a slave (Doulos) rather than a king or CEO. In other words, he was saying follow me humbly as I follow Jesus. When we make James out to be a superhero pastor, we do the exact opposite of what he wanted adn personally promoted in this book. He understood his role as he describes himself as a bondservant in absolute obedience, absolute humility, absolute loyalty & All in discipleship!

This idea is also echoed in his mentioning of 12 tribes when only ten were scattered. It means that his understanding of the Diaspora was that ALL OF ISRAEL were to reclaim what was lost. This is metaphorical for Jews and Gentiles being regathered. At the end of Galatians, Paul sends his blessing to the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16). Peter calls Jews and gentiles in 1 Peter Exiles. Paul calls Jews and Gentiles the one new man and inheritors of the promises (Eph 1 & 2).  This notion comes through Jesus being the fulfillment of Israel and the true Jew and all those on Him are considered to be Jews. 

James teaches from 2 main sources: The sermon on the mount/plain and the sage wisdom of Proverbs 1-9. James is rhetorical mix of Proverbs and the teachings of Jesus. James 2-5 has 12 teachings (possibly a word play on the 12 tribes and Diaspora) that fall under the 3 categories we just covered and call the church to wholehearted devotion to the way of Jesus. All James teachings are grounded in what he calls the law of liberty or the Royal law: Love God & Love your Neighbor (The summary of the Torah).

The Big Idea of James:

·      Be wholly devoted to God (not the World)

·      Speak in Love

·      Serve the poor

Today the body of Christ needs more than ever to heed the words of this amazing letter. To be completely devoted in faith and allegiance, speak love, and live in the humility of Christ.

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It’s a New Year!!!! Today I played a game of scrabble with Kade and scored 585 points with three 7 letter plays, (probably my highest score ever) but the one thing I’ll remember was a 6 point play that stunted me (couldn’t make it 7) with the word “content”. It made me think about words and dual meanings as well as our American struggle with “content” and being content. I love word plays. Ironically, I have been considering a word play that Jesus used since church last night.

Being content is a tough proposition as an American Christian. At Mount Zion this weekend Pastor Dave preached on the rich young ruler and it’s interesting when Jesus quotes the commandments in Mark 10, he seems to sort of misquote them… he says “Do not defraud”, rather than “don’t covet”; scholars have been baffled on this for a long time, but my take on it is that Jesus goes on to shrewdly confront the rich young ruler on the covetousness of his heart as what makes him “fraudulent” as a follower of Christ. Consider the implications to the church today as we are supposed to be bearing His image but are considered fraudulent by Christ if we aren’t content in Him… (It also could regard Him as “God”, but that’s another subject.) In my opinion it’s a very intelligent play on words in Greek and still challenges our carnal hearts 2000 years later.

There’s a lot in the Bible that points to contentment (within the heart of discipleship) as being the main goal in Christ in terms of a communal kingdom perspective.

The sages would pray daily, “Lord, make my heart so malleable that I am ready and willing to accept whatever You provide for me.”

Consider Hebrews 13:5 Let your way of life be free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,”

We need to learn contentment as a Christian virtue as the body of Christ regardless of what the world says. The Greek word used in Hebrews 13 for content is arkeo and means to be completely satisfied with the provision of God; in context this is directly at odds with the world.

In Hebraic thought life was about balance and each person affected the balance of the whole community. May I be restless to do His will – and to rest in Him. May I contribute to the balance of the kingdom. This is the sacred balance: that His purpose becomes my driving force and His character becomes my contentment. The entire message of Scripture can be read in these words: May I find rest in You, O Lord.

I would encourage you, as you make your New Year’s resolutions today that your sentiment might be that you find rest in the lord and in Him, you might be content as an intricate ingredient of the kingdom and the body of Christ.