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)

How to play the Dreidel game at Chanukkah

The traditional Chanukkah dreidel is a reminder of the times when the armies of King Antiochus controlled the Holy Land. This regime passed a series of laws making it illegal to study or practice Judaism. The Jews decided to do their Torah learning secretly in outlying areas and forests. The children brought along small tops to pull out and play with after hiding their texts, so that they could pretend to be playing games instead of studying if a patrol came by.

Playing the dreidel game reminds us to always be true to our faith even when it is dangerous. This is a valuable thing to remember for all faith traditions.

Here’s how to play the dreidel game –

Things you need –

1 Dreidel (or several to speed up the game play)
2 or more players
The “Ante” Chocolate coins, nuts, or pennies, for instance.
A flat surface to spin the dreidel on, such as a table top or floor.

A platter of Latkes (hash browns) and/or Sufganiot (jelly doughnuts) add to the fun. Fried foods are part of the holiday. They commemorate the miracle of the one small jar of oil lasting eight days during the re-dedication of the Temple.

1. All players sit around the playing area.
2. All players get an equal amount of the “ante”
3. To choose who goes first, everyone takes a turn at spinning the dreidel. The one with the highest spin has first turn. (Nun is highest, then gimmel, hey, and shin.) Spin again if there is a tie.
4. Everyone puts one unit of the ante (Chocolate coin, penny, etc.) into the pot. (A bowl is useful for this)
5. Player A spins the dreidel and does the appropriate action according to the result.
6. The play proceeds to the left.

Nun looks like נ
It stands for the Yiddish word nul, which means nothing.
Take nothing from the pot.
This letter also refers to the Hebrew word “nes” – which means “miracle”.

Gimel looks like ג
It stands for the Yiddish word gantz, which means whole.
Take everything in the pot.
This letter also refers to the Hebrew word “gadol” – which means “great”.

Hay looks like ה
It stands for the Yiddish halb, meaning half.
Take half of what is in the pot.
This letter also refers to the Hebrew word “haya” – which means “happened”.

Shin looks like ש
In Yiddish, Shin is for shenk, which means give.
This means put one item from your ante into the pot.
This letter refers to the Hebrew word “sham” which means “there”.

These four letters together are an acronym for the sentence “nes gadol hayah sham” which means “a great miracle happened there.”

In Israel, the letter “shin” is replace with a “pey” פ – which refers to the Hebrew word “po” – meaning “here” , saying “A great miracle happened here.”

May we all be ready to receive miracles at all times and in all places.

Do your duty

The apostles asked Jesus to show them how to increase their faith. He replied “Would any of you tell your servant to come and sit down to eat when he comes in from a hard day of plowing or tending the sheep? Wouldn’t a master say this instead – ‘Make something for me to eat and then wait on me. After I’m through you can have your supper.’ Do you think he is going to praise the servant for doing what he was commanded to do? Just like that, when you do everything you are commanded to do, you should say ‘We are merely lowly servants; we’ve only done our job.”

LK 17:7-10

On not setting up idols of other people and events.

I feel there’s a lot more behind this work transfer than I’m being told. I feel that it’s being done to keep someone else happy. I feel that it is being done to get me out of the way. While I would appreciate honesty, I’m not letting this get to me anymore because I believe that God is in charge of everything.

God uses people, even faithful people, to advance the kingdom. Even to say that the four layers of managers above me are in charge of my future is to give them more power than God. It is to set them up as idols. No, I’m not worshiping them. But to think they are truly in charge fundamentally ignores and negates the fact that God is in charge.

The same is true of a disease or an accident or a disaster. To say it controls your life is to say that it is your god. Yes, you are affected. You are forced to react, to change position and place. But if you truly believe that God is in charge, you know that everything is from God and that it is happening for reason, and that the reason is good because it is from God.

This does not mean that everything will be awesome and wonderful for you. This does not mean that because you are a follower of God that you will have everything go well, you’ll be healed of your sickness, you’ll have the best things. Your will is not the point. God’s will is. You are a player on the stage, a pawn, a puppet. But with God pulling the strings and directing the play, everything will come out exactly as it should.

These lines from Psalm 119 speak to me right now
ט Tet
65 LORD, You have treated Your servant well,
just as You promised.
66 Teach me good judgment and discernment,
for I rely on Your commands.
67 Before I was afflicted I went astray,
but now I keep Your word.
68 You are good, and You do what is good;
teach me Your statutes.
69 The arrogant have smeared me with lies,
but I obey Your precepts with all my heart.
70 Their hearts are hard and insensitive,
but I delight in Your instruction.
71 It was good for me to be afflicted
so that I could learn Your statutes.
72 Instruction from Your lips is better for me
than thousands of gold and silver pieces.

Poem – the low places

I asked Jesus to come soon,
to fill the hearts of everyone
with unity and love,
so we would work together.

And he said
that “Just like water
cannot easily
get to the top of a mountain
because it is so high,
people must
lower themselves
so they can receive
the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

And then I said
“But there is rain
which covers
all things
equally.
Can’t you fill them
with yourself
that way?”

And he said
“Yes, but it won’t last.
Rain is there and gone.
People have to have a way
of holding it,
of keeping it.
They have to make
cisterns in themselves,
to be vessels of love.”

In dry lands,
in areas without worship or observance
people must dig deep,
make wells of themselves.
They must be like
carrots among the vegetables,
deep-rooted.
Not like the oak, which falls over,
exposing all its roots
in a messy storm.
With deep roots
you can withstand
any storm.

We must grow our own roots.
We must dig our own wells.
We must lower ourselves
to be able to let God in
and not just in for a moment
but to stay.

The power of faith over a demon.

A large crowd met them when they came down from the mountain the next day. Scribes were arguing with the rest of the disciples. Jesus asked them “What are you arguing with them about?”

A man in the crowd answered, saying “Lord, have compassion on my only son. He has a spirit that makes him shriek instead of being able to speak normally. Often the spirit seizes him and makes him have convulsions. He foams at the mouth, grinds his teeth, and becomes rigid when this happens. The spirit often throws him to the ground or into fire or water. I asked your disciples to drive the demon out of my son but they couldn’t.”

Jesus said “You unbelieving and corrupt generation! How long will I be here with you to help you out? How long must I put up with your lack of faith? Bring your son to me.”

They brought the boy, and when the spirit saw Jesus it immediately made the boy have convulsions. He fell on the ground, rolling around, and was foaming at the mouth.

Jesus asked the father “How long has this been happening?” “From his childhood,” said the boy’s father. “It has often tried to destroy him. If you are able to, have compassion on us and help us.”

“’If you are able’? Everything is possible if you believe.” The boy’s father immediately cried out “I believe! Help my unbelief!”

Then Jesus noticed a large crowd was quickly gathering around them. Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, saying “You deaf and mute spirit, I command you to come out of him and never enter him again.” It came out of the boy, making him violently convulse and shriek. Many people in the crowd thought he was dead. But Jesus took him by the hand, helped him stand up, and gave him back to his father. The boy was healed from that moment on. The crowd was amazed at the greatness of God.

Later the disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” He told them “This kind of spirit can only come out by prayer and fasting.”

MT 17:14-21, MK 9:14-29, LK 9:37-42

A Gentile mother’s faith.

Jesus traveled to the area of Tyre and Sidon. A woman who wasn’t Jewish approached him and kept crying out to him “Have mercy on me Lord, son of David! My daughter is tormented by an unclean spirit.” Jesus didn’t reply to her, but his disciples approached him and asked him to make her go away because she kept following them and yelling for help. Jesus said “I am called to help only the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

But the woman came and knelt before him begging him to drive the demon out of her daughter. He said “Let the children have their fill first, because it isn’t right to take their bread and throw it to the dogs.” But she replied “Yes, but even the dogs under the table eat the crumbs that fall.” Jesus answered “Your faith is great, woman. Because of how you answered you will receive what you have asked for.”

Her daughter was free of the demon that very hour.

MT 15:21-28, MK 7:24-30

Why believe in God?

I had a friend who I decided was God blind. Like color blind but for God. He couldn’t see any reason to believe in God. This blew my mind. I’ve always known of God.

The time when I was a baby in the crib, and I knew. I just knew.
The rescuing by an angel when I was flying too high on the swings.
The answers to questions. The feeling of being held, of being safe.

It is like being a fish and not believing in water.

Some people are color blind.
My dad couldn’t see purple. We were in the car together and he saw another car. He asked what color it was. That made no sense to me. How could you not see this? It is such a simple question. But he had an inability to see reds and greens. I’d forgotten, and to be honest I’d never really understood. How can I understand something so basic as an inability to see color?

Perhaps it is the same with God.

We have Buddhist neighbors. The mom was sick with kidney disease and it was really worrying the son. He cried while he told me how concerned he was for her. I know a little about Buddhism but couldn’t remember if praying was part of it. I asked him if he could pray for his Mom. No, he said. So I did. God took mercy on her and she is better. It has been three years now. She’s on dialysis, but alive and happy and still working in her garden. Her spirits are better.

I don’t pray with the idea that God is my waiter. God doesn’t give me everything I ask for. I ask and I receive whatever comes, or doesn’t come. I pray because I know there is someone on the other end of the line who is listening and who cares. This is the most important part.

Sometimes I think of God as standing at the top of a pit I’ve fallen in. He isn’t in sight, but if I call to him, he can point out a handhold that I can’t see from my angle. Sometimes I pray to remind God of how small we are – that the big storm we are in is bigger to us, and we are so small.

This applies to thunderstorms and tornadoes as well as life in general.

God listens. That is why I believe in God. Not as an abstract thing, but as a real, living entity, a force, a power, that is active and present.

The parable of the sower explained

Jesus said “Do you not understand this parable? Then how are you going to be able to understand any of them? The seed is the word of God. The sower is the one who shares it with others. The people along the path are those who have heard the message about the kingdom and don’t understand it. Satan has snatched away the words that were sown in their hearts so they would not believe and be saved.”

“As for the seed sown on rocky ground, this represents the people who hear the word and immediately receive it joyfully. However, because they are not rooted in their faith, they believe for a little while but stumble when troubles come because of the word.”

“Regarding the seed sown among thorns, these are the people who hear the word but are distracted and paralyzed by worry and greed, and the word is not able to take root in them and produce any fruit.”

“But the seed sown on good ground represents the people who hear the word with honest and open hearts. They understand it, welcome it, and through endurance are able to bear much fruit, even up to 100 times what was sown.”

MT 13:18-24, MK 4:13-20, LK 8:11-15

Healing the Centurion’s servant

There was a centurion in Capernaum who had heard about Jesus. His favorite servant was paralyzed and near death. The centurion sent some of the Jewish elders to Jesus asking him to save his servant’s life. The elders argued his case to Jesus, pointing out that he had built a synagogue for them.

While on the way to the centurion’s house, Jesus was met by other messengers who told him that the centurion felt he wasn’t worthy to have Jesus at his home – that’s why he didn’t come on his own to talk with him. Through his messengers, he asked Jesus just to say the word and his servant would be healed. He said that as an officer he could say “Go!” or “Come!” to a soldier or a servant and he would do what he said. He knew that Jesus had the same kind of authority.

Jesus was astonished. Turning to the crowd he said “I haven’t seen such faith like this anywhere in Israel!” The servant was healed right then.

—–
MT 8:5-10,13, LK 7:1-10