Keep calm and trust in God

I was reading this passage from James 1:2-6

2 Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing. 5 Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without criticizing, and it will be given to him. 6 But let him ask in faith without doubting. For the doubter is like the surging sea, driven and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 An indecisive man is unstable in all his ways.

I was really struck by the verse that says the “doubter is like the surging sea, driven and tossed by the wind.”

It reminded me of these stories from earlier in the New Testament –

Matthew 14:22-33
22 Immediately He made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side, while He dismissed the crowds. 23 After dismissing the crowds, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. When evening came, He was there alone. 24 But the boat was already over a mile from land, battered by the waves, because the wind was against them. 25 Around three in the morning, He came toward them walking on the sea. 26 When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost!” they said, and cried out in fear. 27 Immediately Jesus spoke to them. “Have courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” 28 “Lord, if it’s You,” Peter answered Him, “command me to come to You on the water.” 29 “Come!” He said. And climbing out of the boat, Peter started walking on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the strength of the wind, he was afraid. And beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Immediately Jesus reached out His hand, caught hold of him, and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 Then those in the boat worshiped Him and said, “Truly You are the Son of God!”

Note verse 30 in particular. Peter becomes afraid – and THEN he begins to sink. He isn’t afraid because he’s sinking. He’s sinking because he’s afraid. The fear came first.

And there is this, an earlier story. This story is in Matthew 8:23-27, but I like the version in Mark 4:35-41 better.

35 On that day, when evening had come, He told them, “Let’s cross over to the other side of the sea.” 36 So they left the crowd and took Him along since He was already in the boat. And other boats were with Him. 37 A fierce windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking over the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But He was in the stern, sleeping on the cushion. So they woke Him up and said to Him, “Teacher! Don’t You care that we’re going to die?” 39 He got up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Silence! Be still!” The wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40 Then He said to them, “Why are you fearful? Do you still have no faith?” 41 And they were terrified and asked one another, “Who then is this? Even the wind and the sea obey Him!”

Is it possible that the storm came about because of the disciples fear?

Is it possible that if we keep calm, the world around us will keep calm? I feel that the politicians want us to be afraid. When we react in fear or anger or disgust at their actions, they are controlling our behavior. They are calling the shots. They are leading the dance. We are Re-acting, instead of Acting.

Be calm, trusting in the One who is in charge – God. Not a politician. Listen to the still small voice of God to tell you what to do – not the shrill shouts of politicians.

I leave you with these words from the prophet Micah (in Micah 6:8) to know how to act in these difficult times (and every other time)

“Mankind, He has told you what is good and what it is the Lord requires of you:to act justly,to love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with your God.”

If we do these things, we will be fine.

(All Bible verses are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Thomas the disciple

Most of us think of Jesus’ disciple Thomas as “Doubting” Thomas. His nickname in the Gospels is “Twin”, but he gets the nickname we know him by through his actions towards the end of the Gospels. He’s the one who didn’t believe it when the other disciples were saying that Jesus had resurrected. He had to see him and touch his wounds for himself.

JN 20:24-29 (HCSB)
24 But one of the Twelve, Thomas (called “Twin”), was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples kept telling him, “We have seen the Lord!”But he said to them, “If I don’t see the mark of the nails in His hands, put my finger into the mark of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will never believe!” 26 After eight days His disciples were indoors again, and Thomas was with them. Even though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace to you!” 27 Then He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and observe My hands. Reach out your hand and put it into My side. Don’t be an unbeliever, but a believer.” 28 Thomas responded to Him, “My Lord and my God!”29 Jesus said, “Because you have seen Me, you have believed. Those who believe without seeing are blessed.”

He’s usually seen in a less than favorable light because of his doubt. Jesus said that he would come back, and he did. The other disciples had no reason to lie to Thomas. Thomas has seen Jesus do some pretty amazing miracles before, so he has no reason to doubt. Surely he could accept their testimony?

Yet remember that the disciples didn’t believe Mary Magdalene and the other women when they saw Jesus. They had to see him for themselves. They weren’t called ‘Doubting” apostles.

Note that Jesus didn’t make fun of Thomas, but in fact accommodated his wishes. He offered himself as proof and didn’t try to hide anything.

Very little is written about Thomas, but his strength stands out in this verse that comes several chapters before. Jesus has been called to the village of Bethany, which is just a few miles away from Jerusalem. He knows that this is very dangerous because the Jewish leaders want to arrest him and put him to death. Yet, his friend Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha is near death. Not only does he have a chance to save him, but also to prove to his disciples that he is who he says he is. He wants to go, but the majority of the disciples are opposed to it, thinking it is too dangerous.

Yet Thomas says something amazing in JN 11:16 (HCSB)

16 Then Thomas (called “Twin”) said to his fellow disciples, “Let’s go so that we may die with Him.”

Instead of “Doubting” Thomas, perhaps he should be called “Brave” Thomas. He is willing to risk being killed, just for associating with Jesus. That is a faithful disciple!

Doubting Thomas

Thomas, the disciple known as “Twin” was not with the others when Jesus appeared before them. They kept telling him “We have seen the Lord!” He kept saying “I’ll never believe unless I see the nail marks in his hands with my own eyes and touch them with my own fingers and put my hand into the spear wound on his side!”

Eight days later the disciples were again indoors, but this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked, but then Jesus suddenly stood among them, saying “Peace to you!”

Looking at Thomas, he said “Look at my hands – touch them! Put your hand into my side as well. Don’t be without belief – be a believer!”

Thomas replied “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus said “Have you believed only because you have seen? Blessed are those who believe without seeing.”

JN 20:24-29

Fortunate stamps – the background

I’ve got a lot of stamps, and a lot of fortune cookie messages. The stamps were easy to come by – I bought bags of them from craft stores. The fortune cookies weren’t so easy. I like Chinese food. I eat it at least once a week. And once a week I get a fortune. I get a little overwhelmed when I think of how many meals my collection of fortunes represents.

Recently I started to go through both of these sets and sort them into themes. From that I’ve been making art. I’ve done some of this over the years, but after sorting them I have a bit more focus. I found an “empty” book that I bought years ago and started arranging some of them there. I’m only filling the right-hand pages.

Of course, I’m doing this amid all my other craft projects. Either I’m getting distracted or I’m clearing my head so I can finish the other main project (my book). Perhaps I really am into the “jigsaw” method of life – do a little here, and a little there, and then it all comes together.

I wasn’t sure if I was going to do this, to put them together like this. I thought I was going to paint and put them in art, kind of like Nick Bantock does. But this empty book seems to be a good way to hold it all together. It is clean and simple too. All the focus is on the subject. It isn’t “busy”.

I had a bit of a pause – what if I put it in the “wrong” order? Then I realized I can scan it and re-sort it later. Sometimes I over think things, but I think that is part of being an artist. What matters is that I won that argument by deciding to just do it anyway. Half the part of making art is getting over the need for things to be perfect. Something is better than an imagined thing that ends up being nothing because I over thought it and was too scared to start.

I’ll post the pages in a separate post so I can add to it later and have the whole thing together for you. But I want you to see what I’ve been creating.

You keep using that word “Christian”. I do not think it means what you think it means.

I didn’t want to be Christian. Who would? Everybody that I saw who said they were Christian were jerks. They are rude, self-centered, self-assured. Sometimes they seem like zombies – they just do what they are told by their pastor. They all dress the same and talk the same. They get all twirly-eyed when they talk about their “Savior and Lord”. And worst of all – they read “safe” books and listen to “family-friendly” music.

Even now that I am a Christian, it is kind of embarrassing to admit that I am a follower of Jesus, because there are so many other people who wear the same badge who are flat out rude or crazy. Why would I want to be associated with them?

I don’t, really. I want to follow Jesus. I don’t follow the followers. When I read the New Testament, I’m careful to make sure who said what. The apostle Paul said a lot of really amazing things that help build up the early church, but he also said some pretty judgmental things about anybody who wasn’t a straight male. According to his letters, if you were female, you’d better be quiet in church and subservient to your husband. If you were gay, well, forget it. Pretty much, he excluded anybody who wasn’t him – and that seems to be the trend today. “If you don’t do things my way, you are doing it wrong”, seems to be the way a lot of Christians think.

But Jesus didn’t say anything like that. Jesus said a whole lot about loving (he was for it) and a whole lot about judging (he was against it).

Before I became a Christian, I’d read a lot of books about other faiths. I’d learned a lot about Buddhism, and Sikhism, and Taoism. If it was a world religion, I was there. But then I thought that I was not being fair. If I’m going to give equal time to all these other ways of understanding The Big Questions, then I need to see who this Jesus guy is and what he says.

I decided to give the Episcopal Church a try. My parents had raised me as an Episcopalian but they quit going when I was very young. The service was familiar, if a little confusing. Turns out I’d picked up the service bulletin for the week before in my desire to get there early and settled in. So I had the wrong readings, and the hymns were off, but the rest of the service was straight from the Book of Common Prayer and that was familiar enough. After the service I cornered a priest with this statement – “Buddha is awesome, Gandhi is with the program, and Lao-Tsu also has it figured out.” This was a make-it-or-break-it moment right here. I knew I’d found truth in their teachings. If he dismissed them, then I knew I was done with this foray. So he surprised me. He said “Cool!” with a huge smile. OK, now we were talking. He wasn’t part of a church that acted like it had a monopoly on the Divine.

I then decided to read the Bible. Well, let’s be honest. Very few people can wade through the entire Bible. There are a lot of “begats” that slow most folks down. And there is all that interior decorating micromanagement going on with building the first Temple. So I skipped to the Gospels.

The more I read of the Gospels, the more I wanted to quote from the movie Princess Bride to the folks who said they were Christians but didn’t act like it. “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” They kept saying Jesus, but turning it into a dirty word. Their Jesus was hateful and judgmental. Their Jesus was all about getting a ticket to heaven and you were done. Their Jesus was closed-minded and thoughtless. This wasn’t the Jesus I was discovering. The Jesus I was discovering was about love, and more importantly, showing love through service to others.

What would Jesus do? I’d think he’d be totally down with the idea of having friends from all different religions. And I don’t mean having friends just so he can try to convert them. I think he’d learn how to say “thank you” in a bunch of different languages. I think he’d volunteer at a food bank. I think he’d carry around extra bottles of water so he could give them out to folks he saw. I think he’d encourage people and raise them up.

I think being a Christian is about service. It is about living the life of Jesus. It is about taking up the yoke. Sometimes people need a sandwich, not a sermon. I think “being Christian” means to be Christ in this world – to take up where he left off. Saint Theresa of Avila tells us “Christ has no body now on earth but yours.” Go forth. Be Jesus, and be the nice one. Be the one that heals and feeds and clothes.

(I have now turned off comments for this post, and updated my comment policy in my About section.)