Tag Archives: miracles

A New Chanukah Miracle

chanukah

As you are probably aware, Hanukkah (or Chanukah or lots of different transliterated spellings) is coming up. This year it will be commemorated from sundown on Tuesday, December 12 to sundown on Wednesday, December 20.

I was reading Rabbi Kalman Packouz’s commentary on Chanukah earlier and of course, re-evaluated my relation (if any) with the observance. I mean it’s difficult to objectively insert myself as a non-Jew into a purely Jewish historical event complete with miracle from Hashem.

Of course since today President Donald Trump formally recognized that Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish state of Israel barely a week before Chanukah, I suppose this too is a sort of miracle and one relevant to the entire world.

(The real miracle would be if the realm of news and social media wouldn’t have a total anti-Semitic hissy fit and meltdown over it, but I suppose that’s asking too much.)

I read somewhere (I can’t find the source now) that historically, the world has tried to destroy the Jews in two different ways, physically as a people (genocide, ethnic cleansing) and by assimilation into general culture (eliminating Jewish identity and uniqueness). Purim is the Jewish celebration of victory over the former and Chanukah the commemoration of victory over the latter.

But what does any of that have to do with non-Jew? In both cases, it’s non-Jews who are the problem, not the solution. Even those of us to are linked to the Jewish community one way or the other (okay, I’m married to a Jewish wife, but that only links me to her, not the community) and who are pro-Israel weren’t involved in either original event, so what do we have to celebrate, except perhaps in solidarity? It’s not our commemoration.

I visited the closest thing I can find that might hold any sort of answer at AskNoah.org to see what they had to say. Granted, they won’t recognize my devotion to Rav Yeshua as having any sort of legitimacy, but people like me inhabit a sort of spiritual and theological “no man’s land” anyway.

According to the article “Noahides may light Hanukkah candles without a blessing,” not only can we light the menorah to announce the miracles of God (minus the blessings since we are not commanded to do so), we can…

…still mark the days of Hanukkah this year in some of the additional customary ways. This includes the option to say the chapters of Psalms (Psalms 91, 67, 30, 133, 33), reading and thinking about the history and messages of Hanukkah, and enjoying some traditional recipes. You can also attend public lightings of outdoor Hanukkah menorahs that might be taking place near you during the festival.

The article even provides us with this:

The following recitation paragraph, adopted from the Jewish traditional liturgy (version of the Ari Zal), can also be said during the days of Hanukkah:

“In the days of Matisyahu, the son of Yochanan the High Priest, the Hasmonean and his sons, the wicked Hellenic government rose up against the people of Israel to make them forget Your Torah and violate the decrees of Your will. But You, in your abounding mercies, stood by them in the time of their distress. You waged their battles, defended their rights and avenged the wrong done to them. You delivered the mighty into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous, and the wanton sinners into the hands of those who occupy themselves with Your Torah. You made a great and holy name for Yourself in Your world, and effected a great deliverance and redemption for the people of Israel to this very day. Then the Israelites entered the shrine of Your Holy House, purified and rededicated Your sanctuary, kindled lights in Your holy courtyards, and instituted these eight days of Hanukkah to give thanks and praise to Your great Name.”

Granted, none of this takes into consideration our “Judaically aware” perception of Rav Yeshua and our being allowed to partake in some of the New Covenant blessings based on the merit of our Master and our discipleship, however meager in my case, to him. Still, for lack of any better template, this will have to do.

trump jerusalem
President Donald Trump holds up a proclamation to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

It is true that Chanukah is a relatively minor holiday, so there’s not a lot to get worked up over, but for me, this is what happens every time my Gentile faith in the Jewish Rav intersects at all with some aspect of Judaism.

All that said, I suspect the real role of people like me/us in the days to come will significantly eclipse Chanukah. As the world challenges the Jewish right to call the City of David Israel’s capital and hates the American President for recognizing the fact (of course, if Trump said he liked to eat steamed carrots, suddenly eating steamed carrots would become totally evil because, well, you know, just because), we will be called to stand up and stand with the defenders of Israel against her enemies.

The majority of the world, that is, all Gentiles everywhere, are going to oppose Jerusalem vehemently. We must shoulder the burden of standing against our parents, our children, our spouses, our friends, our neighbors, because we will be the few among the nations who stands with Israel.

May Chanukah be a time of miracles and may Hashem continue to protect His people and nation Israel. May He also grant us among the nations the privilege of joining the righteous.

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Bitachon and Hishtadlus for the Rest of Us

How does one balance these two seemingly contradictory ideas? It all depends on the person’s spiritual level. The closer a person is to perfection in his belief in Hashem, the more he is expected to rely on Hashem, and his level of hishtadlus (effort) must drop accordingly. Until a person reaches that level he may — and must — work, to achieve whatever he needs to function and sustain himself and his family. As his belief and trust in Hashem grow — and he must work on this mitzvah constantly, to reach ever higher levels of bitachon (trust) — he must adjust his level of hishtadlus and rely more on Hashem.

-from Torah Thought for the Day, p.56
Commentary for Parashas Mikeitz for Sunday
A Daily Dose of Torah

As I mentioned yesterday, for a person to trust God for his every need and be content in every circumstance as was the Apostle Paul (Philippians 4:10-13), that person would already have to be operating at a very high level spiritually. For the rest of us…well, we worry sometimes.

But I don’t entirely agree with the Rabbinic statement I quoted above. It seems that it could be abused by some people who state that they have achieved so high a spiritual level that they don’t (or shouldn’t) have to work to support themselves and their families at all, and instead, should be allowed to study Torah uninterrupted almost every waking moment. We can see such an example in the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish population of Israel who refuse mandatory military service and many who choose not to work and have the Israeli government providing them with support.

I suppose any principle can be taken too far. The Bible is replete with examples of very holy men who were close to God and who nevertheless also labored to support themselves.

workI do agree with the principle of hishtadus, which is that we are to work to support ourselves and not to rely on God’s miracles for our “daily bread,” so to speak. But I don’t think that necessarily changes as we learn to believe and trust in God to greater degrees over our lifetimes. Sure, God could cause us to win the lottery by a miracle, but don’t count on it.

As I’ve also previously mentioned, we know that at the end of last week’s Torah portion, we saw that Joseph is in prison. After giving the Chamberlain of the Cupbearers a favorable interpretation of his dream, Joseph asked that the Chamberlain put in a good word for him to Pharaoh, King of Egypt (Genesis 40:14-15). But according to midrash, this was a mistake (although what mistake Joseph actually made is debated by the Rabbis) and as a result, Joseph spent two more years in prison.

The plain text of the scripture doesn’t seem to indicate this and it seems more likely that once the Chamberlain of the Cupbearers had regained his freedom, he simply didn’t bother himself with the request of one insignificant Hebrew slave.

But we do see in this example the delicate balance between trust in God and the necessity of our own efforts. Technically, there was nothing wrong with Joseph asking for help and indeed, God may have arranged this very situation. After all, we find that two years later, the Chamberlain does remember Joseph, but only because Pharaoh has a dream that no one can interpret (Genesis 41:1-13). If the Chamberlain had spoken to Pharaoh two years previously, Pharaoh could either have denied the request or in granting it, possibly make Joseph unavailable when he was needed to interpret Pharaoh’s most important dream.

Sometimes bitachon or trust in God isn’t a matter of asking or not asking a person’s help in a tough situation. Sometimes and perhaps quite often, it’s a matter of asking and then waiting.

The true description of bitachon is the belief that there is no coincidence in this world, and that everything that transpires occurs with Hashem’s approval and instruction.

When a person finds himself in a situation which appears dangerous according to the natural way of the world, and he is powerless to help himself, he must overcome his fear by realizing that the One Who controls everything in this world can cause a positive outcome just as easily as a negative one. This is called bitachon.

-from A Mussar Thought for the Day, p.60
Commentary for Parashas Mikeitz for Sunday
A Daily Dose of Torah

Sometimes we know that saying something will make a situation worse. We can tell ourselves to, “Just keep silent.” If we feel tempted to speak negatively about someone, we can strengthen our resolve not to say it by telling ourselves, “Just keep silent.”

The more difficult it is to keep silent, the greater the resulting spiritual elevation. When you tell yourself, “Just keep silent,” your silence isn’t just a passive state of being. Rather, it is an act of remaining silent.

In Tehillim (Psalms 34), King David tells us: “Who is the person who wants life and loves days that he may see good? Guard your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit.” Remaining silent instead of speaking against others enhances and lengthens life.

(from Rabbi Zelig Pliskin’s book: “Conversations With Yourself”, p.145) [Artscroll.com])

-from Just Keep Silent
Daily Lift #194
Aish.com

SilenceThat last quote is more directed at a person who wants to say something to another person, usually something insulting, but who choses for the sake of Heaven to refrain, but I think it fits in our current discussion as well. Sometimes we can only say and do so much, and when we reach the limit of our ability to positively affect our situation, then all we can do is rely on God’s mercy.

The issue though is that even a complete trust in God is no guarantee that the outcome will always be good. True bitachon enables a person to realize that good or bad, everything comes from the hand of God.

And that is a very difficult middah, yet there is hope, at least according to the Sages:

Chazon Ish states that just as there are levels in other middos, such as mercy, humility, etc., there are many levels of bitachon. As long as one possesses even a small trace of bitachon, he is not excluded from the group of believers, and will merit ultimate redemption.

-from A Mussar Thought for the Day, p.60

The Challies Chronicles: Tom Pennington and the Cessationist Argument

Tom Pennington at Strange FireToday Tom Pennington spoke at the Strange Fire conference and provided a case for cessationism. He offered seven biblical arguments for the cessation of the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit. Here is a summary of his session.

The label “Cessationism” is negative, but the real problem is that it has been easily caricatured as believing that the Spirit has ceased his work. But the fact is that we who are cessationists believe the Holy Spirit has continued his work. Nothing eternal happens in a person apart from the Holy Spirit. Temporal things can happen, but nothing eternal. We only believe the Spirit has ceased in one function: the miraculous gifts, such as tongues, prophecy, and healing.

-Pastor Tim Challies liveblogging
Strange Fire Conference: A Case for Cessationism,” October 17, 2013
Challies.com

That’s something of a relief, but sometimes I think “Cessationists” have only themselves to blame for being “easily caricatured as believing that the Spirit has ceased his work.” This is especially true when that category or branch of the Church places specific limits on the work of the Spirit but apparently acknowledges that evil spirits have full reign to do as they please.

OK, that’s probably an exaggeration, but not by much.

So Cessationism teaches that the Holy Spirit has ceased only “one function: the miraculous gifts, such as tongues, prophecy, and healing.” Of course, I haven’t been in a church where prayers for healing haven’t been requested, so I wonder why we’re praying for our friends and loved ones who are ill or injured if the Cessationist viewpoint is correct?

To be fair though, and remember, I’m trying to be fair, Pastor Pennington doesn’t say God doesn’t do miracles anymore, just that the Spirit no longer conveys upon believers any miraculous spiritual abilities or gifts as were given to the apostles. According to Pennington and the Cessationist perspective, “The primary purpose of miracles has always been to establish the credibility of one who speaks the word of God—not just any teacher, but those who had been given direct words by God.”

So the only purpose for miracles was to establish the validity of the prophet or apostle and the words he was speaking that were from God. Now that we have no apostles and prophets, I guess the point of miracles is moot…well, specific miracles such as prophecy, supernatural healing, and speaking in “angelic” languages.

Charismatic prayerI have to admit that I think there’s something to this. A friend of mine came to Christ many years ago at a local church that believed when someone professed faith during an altar call, they would speak in strange languages. Everyone around my friend had their own tutor or helper, a volunteer at the church, who would guide them in this, and my friend heard the others around him making noises that to him, sounded like gibberish. But no matter how hard my friend tried to open himself up to the Spirit, this spontaneous event didn’t happen to him. His helper urged him to try harder, especially as it was getting late and the helper’s wife was waiting for him out in the parking lot.

Now my friend happens to be multi-lingual, so in an act of desperation, he started speaking in the various languages he already knows. Apparently, that’s what this person from the church wanted to hear and the requirement was satisfied…

…except it wasn’t a miracle, my friend just happens to be gifted in this area and he had already learned those human languages (romance languages for the most part) through studying and travel.

I’ve never been to a church where I’ve heard anyone speaking in a non-human language, so if there’s any validity to this practice, it must not be widespread. Also, I’m highly dubious of anyone calling themselves a prophet, since the world is replete with men and women who claim to have made prophesies about the return of Jesus and absolutely none of them were correct (all of the predicted dates have long since passed, and yet Messiah has not returned).

But I can’t say that miracles absolutely don’t occur. True, I think practices such as holy vomiting (I kid you not) and holy laughter seem pretty ridiculous and in the former case, really disgusting, and of course, you don’t see examples of either in the Bible. On the other hand, I do have a copy of Gifts of the Spirit, which was produced by First Fruits of Zion and is a compilation of the presentations made at their Shavuot Conference last spring, which I attended and blogged about extensively (click the “gifts of the spirit” tag to see all related blog posts).

I’ll have to revisit those experiences through my previous blog posts and that book because, as I recall, there’s another side to living a spiritual life besides performing miraculous deeds, and gifts from God can take on many forms, including the ability to write, teach, pray, comfort, and express extraordinary kindness and compassion to others.

I’ve heard Christians, people I respect, say that one of the reasons we don’t experience gifts is because we are not open to the Spirit. I don’t want to reduce God to a formula because I think there are plenty of people who are open to God who do not overtly hear from Him, at least not “on command.” However, Cessationists tend to put God in a box, too. They have made up all of these rules that say what God is and isn’t doing. There is no room for exceptions. Who’s to say that God doesn’t heal miraculously according to His will?

heavenly-manAnd there are reports, presumably credible reports, that God does do miracles in places and through people when it is necessary to further his work of spreading the Good News. True, I haven’t witnessed any of this myself, but then again, I haven’t witnessed demon possession either, and yet people like John MacArthur say that’s absolutely real.

Cessationists say that certain miracles are done away with, such as healing, and they prove their points by quoting scripture. They say (or some of them do) that demons are real and continue to have influence in our world, and they prove their points by quoting scripture.

We live in a real, physical world, but it intersects with some pretty strange places, places I’m not qualified to discuss in any detail, places that, for the most part, are out of my lived experience. But I can’t put God in a box, either. Sometimes I think He does things, including supernatural things in our world, because He’s a Sovereign God. He doesn’t have to have a reason that we understand. All that said, none of those supernatural events in any way can contradict what we read in the Bible. The problem is, from a human standpoint,  correctly understanding what God is saying in scripture. We don’t always get it right.

I think that refuting or bringing to light some of the more outrageous claims of those who say the Spirit of God made them spontaneously vomit is a good thing, but that doesn’t mean God’s hands are tied if He wants to heal someone of cancer. It doesn’t mean He has to heal, but we don’t always understand God and we absolutely don’t get to tell Him what His limits are just because we’ve inferred things from the Bible (and inference of the scriptures is what the Cessationist argument primarily relies upon).

He [the God-fearing person] will not fear evil tidings, his heart being firm in his trust in God.

Psalms 112:7

If we seek an encounter with God, it may not manifest in a dramatic, public event. It may be in the small stillness of the night when your spirit is troubled and you need to be comforted. We don’t get to tell God what to do or how to do it, so neither side of this debate is in full control of God’s truth and His activities. But if we trust in God, then we know that when we need Him, He’ll be with us.

Happy Thanksgivukkah

WonderAmazement never ceases for the enlightened mind.

At every moment it views in astonishment the wonder of an entire world renewed out of the void, and asks, “How could it be that anything at all exists?”

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Wonder”
Chabad.org

As you read this, it is Thanksgiving, an American national holiday dedicated to giving thanks for the bountiful blessings we have each received from God. At least that’s how it was originally conceived. It’s also the first full day of Chanukah (spellings vary), the Jewish holiday celebrating the miracle of the meager Jewish forces defeating the mighty Greeks, and that in sanctifying the Temple, Hashem, God of Israel, allowed one day’s worth of sanctified oil to burn for eight days, thus cleansing and dedicating the Temple for holiness.

Thankfulness and miracles. And yet how often do we fail to appreciate what God gives us, especially in a land of plenty.

I’ve been pondering my conversations with my Pastor as well as the sermons of John MacArthur and the other presenters at the Strange Fire conference. In my recent investigation into the concept (as opposed to the movement) of Christian fundamentalism, I see that at its heart, it is just the attempt to render a basic definition of the essentials of what makes a Christian. It’s the minimum set of standards, so to speak, that one must uphold to be an authentic believer.

Of course, in order to create a minimum set of essential beliefs or attributes, you have to take the vast body of information in the Bible and reduce it down to its bare bones, so to speak. You have to determine what is an absolute must about the Bible, and then consider that most of the other “stuff” is good, but not a deal making or breaking requirement.

But that’s also one of the flaws in Christian fundamentalism. It’s reductionistic. It cuts out things like miracles, and wonder, and awe, and amazement in an incredible, infinite, personal, creative God!

In establishing a core, fundamentalism must eliminate or at least set to one side, thoughts, feelings, and meditations such as those expressed in the above-quoted words of Rabbi Freeman.

Is it wrong to be astonished by God? Is it an error to be thankful for not only the tangibles of the Bible, but the sheer fact that God exists and chooses to be involved in our lives just because He loves us?

For Jewish people, awareness of God goes beyond the generic thanksgiving for the blessings of Heaven. The very fact that Jews exist in our world today after so many thousands of years of effort the world has expended in trying to exterminate them, is a very great miracle.

We say every day during Chanukah in the Shemona Esrei the Al Haneesim (on the miracles), “When the wicked Greek kingdom rose up against Your people Israel to make them forget Your Torah and compel them to stray from the statutes of Your Will.” The order of the prayer mentions that first the Greeks wanted the Jews to forget Torah and secondly to stray from Hashem’s statutes.

The Greeks understood exactly how to undermine Judaism and expedite assimilation. How was this done? The Gemara in Hureous states that a father has an obligation to teach his son Torah from the moment he is old enough to speak. The first pasuk of Torah that a father teaches his child is,”Moshe commanded us with the Torah and this is the heritage of the congregation of Yaakov.” The second pasuk a father is obligated to teach his child is the Shema – “Hear, O Israel: Hashem is our G-d, Hashem, the One and Only.” – Which asserts our belief in the unity of G-d.

-Rabbi Yosef Kalatsky
“The Light of Torah: The Torah Sustains Judaism”
Commentary on Chanukah and Torah Portion Miketz
Torah.org

Tefillin with RabanI know that a lot of Christians support the existence of the Jewish people and Israel, and yet devalue the practice and observance of Judaism. A lot of prejudice has been generated in Christianity against Judaism over the long centuries, and particularly the mistaken idea that much of the Torah represents not the Word of God, but the man-made traditions of the Rabbis. Further, the general (and again, mistaken) belief in the Church that God only gave the Jewish people the Torah to prove to them that no one can attain righteousness by human effort and that they must depend on the grace of Jesus for salvation, re-enforces the idea that Torah observance and therefore Judaism is a “religion of useless works.”

It is beyond imagination to most Christians how a Jew who has faith in Yeshua as Messiah and thus is saved by grace, can still desire and even demand to continue observing the mitzvot and align with the larger, non-believing Jewish community.

But, as Rabbi Kalatsky points out, or at least as I infer from his commentary, God gave the Torah to Israel to sustain Israel, to define and preserve the Jewish people. Being Jewish isn’t just a string of DNA and it’s not just a set of ethnic practices, customs, traditions, and rules, it’s an identity, a life, and a continual experience assigned to the Jewish people by God. A Jew who doesn’t observe the mitzvot is still Jewish of course, but the full blessings and apprehension of the unique relationship between Jewish people and God can only come from a life immersed in Torah and in Judaism. And Rabbi Kalatsky is hardly the only one to make such observations.

It was Judaism that provided the refuge for my parents in the disorienting passage from one society to another. My father’s rabbinic calling transcended borders. Hebrew remained the key to eternal verities. The Jewish calendar continued to govern the rhythm of our home. I never heard my parents lament the money they were forbidden to take out of (1940s) Germany, only the shipment of books from my father’s library that never made it to America.

-Ismar Schorsch
“At-Homeness,” pg 149, December 8, 2001
Commentary on Torah Portion Vayeishev
Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries

As I write all this, I find it strange and even amazing that I, a Gentile Christian, can feel so passionate about supporting a Jewish life abundantly enriched by the Torah of God.

Many Christians see Judaism in more or less the same way I see some fundamentalist Christians: as a faith made up of discrete, definable, finite, quantifiable pieces. A faith that is like listening to an auto mechanic explain what each of the parts of your car’s engine does, who takes it apart, shows you each gasket, spring, and fitting, then puts it all together right before your eyes and starts it up for you. Sure, it’s incredible and amazing, but it is also fully within the grasp of human beings.

Is that all that God is? Is He nothing more?

Consider three things, and you will not approach sin. Know whence you came, whereto you are going, and before Whom you are destined to give an accounting.

-Ethics of the Fathers 3:1

If we thought about our humble origin on the one hand, and the greatness we can achieve on the other, we would come to only one logical conclusion: the potential for such greatness could not possibly reside in the microscopic germ-cell from which we originated. This capacity for greatness can reside only in the neshamah (soul), the spirit which God instills within man.

What an extraordinary stretching of the imagination it must take to think that a single cell can develop into the grandeur which a human being can achieve! People have the power to contemplate and reflect upon infinity and eternity, concepts which are totally beyond the realm of the physical world. How could something purely finite even conceive of infinity?

Our humble origins are the greatest testimony to the presence of a Divine component within man. Once we realize this truth, we are unlikely to contaminate ourselves by behavior beneath our dignity. We have an innate resistance to ruining what we recognize to be precious and beautiful. We must realize that this is indeed what we are.

Today I shall…

…try to make my behavior conform to that which I recognize to be the essence of my being: the spirit that gives me the potential for greatness.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twersky
“Growing Each Day, Kislev 20”
Aish.com

This too is Judaism; the recognition that it is God’s Spirit that imbues us with the ability to strive to be more than who we are right now.

Hashem, what is man that You recognize him; the son of a frail human that You reckon with him? Man is a breath; his days are like a passing shadow.

Psalm 144:3-4 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

sky-above-you-god1David, a King, a man after God’s own heart, gazed up in wonder that God took any notice of human beings at all. Why don’t we do the same? Why can’t we turn our hearts away from our trivial pursuits and in thanksgiving, awe, and wonder, turn to the majesty and magnificence of the One true King of the Universe, Lord and Master of Eternity, and the lover of our very souls? For as much as the food on our tables, and our jobs, and our families, and all that God’s providence has placed in our lives, wonder too is a gift of God.

And when Thanksgiving and Hanukkah coincide we find ourselves doubly blessed. We will be able to offer thanks to God on the same day for both our spiritual and material blessings. Let us delight in this extremely rare opportunity to bless God for the food for our bodies as well as the survival of our faith that grants us spiritual sustenance for our souls.

-Rabbi Benjamin Blech
“Thanksgivukkah”
Aish.com

I’m writing this a full week before you’ll read it. Perhaps you’ll wake up early on Thanksgiving morning and read this “meditation” with your first cup of coffee, or while the turkey is baking and there’s a lull in the kitchen activity, or later, after the meal and the football games are over, as the pumpkin pie is settling in your stomach and you hold a glass of wine in your hand, but I have a hope for the day you read this. I hope that you’ll take a moment, turn away from your computer, maybe close your eyes or turn your gaze to Heaven, and know that you are in front of the Throne of God, a God who loves you, a God you provides, not only for your body, but for everything you can imagine, and for everything you can’t.

Happy Thanksgivukkah.

32 Days: The Rock Moved

One night, a man was sleeping in his cabin when suddenly his room was filled with the light and the Creator appeared.

The Creator told the man he had work for him to do, and showed him a large rock in front of his cabin. The Creator explained that the man was to push against the rock with all his might.

The man did the same, day after day. For many years he toiled from sun up to sun down, his shoulders set squarely against the cold, massive surface of the unmoving rock, pushing with all his might. Each night the man returned to his cabin sore, and worn out, feeling that his whole day had been spent in vain…

Since the man was showing signs of discouragement, the Adversary decided to enter the picture by placing thoughts into the man’s weary mind:

“You have been pushing against that rock for a long time, and it hasn’t budged. Why kill yourself over this? You can never move it,” thus, giving the man the impression that the task was impossible and that he was a failure. These thoughts discouraged and disheartened the man. “Why kill myself over this?” he thought. “I’ll just put in my time, giving just the minimum effort; and that will be good enough.” And that is what he planned to do, until one day he decided to make it a matter of prayer and take his troubled thoughts to the Creator. “Creator,” he said, “I have labored long and hard in your service, putting all my strength to do that which you have asked. Yet, after all this time, I have not even budged that rock by half a millimeter. What is wrong? Why am I failing?”

The Creator responded compassionately, “My friend, when I asked you to serve me and you accepted, I told you that your task was to push against the rock with all your strength, which you have done. Never once did I mention to you that I expected you to move it. Your task was to push.” “Now you come to me with your strength spent, thinking that you have failed. But is that really so?

Look at yourself. Your arms are strong and muscled, your back is sinewy and brown, your hands are callused from constant pressure, and your legs have become massive and hard. Through opposition you have grown much, and your abilities now surpass that which you used to have. Yet you haven’t moved the rock. But your calling was to be obedient and to push and to exercise your faith in My wisdom. This you have done. I, my friend, will now move the rock.” At times, when we hear a word from the Creator, we tend to use our own intellect to decipher what He wants, when actually what the Creator wants is just obedience and faith in Him…. By all means, exercise the faith that moves mountains, but know that it is still the Creator who moves the mountains.

“Push”
Story found at
Morning Story and Dilbert

The end of the story reminds everyone to “push” or to “pray-until-something-happens” as an act of faith, but frankly, that seemed a little too “cute” the way it was expressed, so I truncated the original text into the quote above.

That said, I know exactly how it feels like to push and push against an immovable object and see absolutely no result. I have often felt as if making a difference is impossible and that my life is a failure.

Just watching the latest situation in Israel and how the world press and most of the nations on our planet are castigating Israel for defending itself against bloodthirsty terrorists…um, excuse me, “courageous freedom fighters battling their oppressors,” is enormously frustrating. And yet there’s not one single thing I can do about it. Every time I speak out, usually in some social networking venue, in support of Israel, only a few like-minded “religious nuts” are supportive. The rest of the world is either strangely silent or venomously outspoken against Israel and against anyone who would support her and the Jewish people.

It’s the same in so many other areas of my life. As a self-avowed Christian, I’m used to taking plenty of “heat” from atheists who believe all manner of terrible things about me because of my faith. However, I also recently witnessed an online conversation taking Christians to task for our history of supersessionism against Jews. Granted, this is a valid observation, but to the speaker, it didn’t seem to make a difference who the Christian was or if they had renounced supersessionism. Further, the Jewish person in question is “Messianic” or a believer in Jesus (Yeshua) as the Messiah. While most Messianic Jews I know are friendly toward “Judaically-aware” Christians or “Post-supersessionistic” Christians, apparently there are some who aren’t particularly tolerant of anyone who is a non-Jewish believer.

There’s not a darn thing I can do about that, either.

I skipped going to church last Sunday for a number of reasons not the least of which was my concern over how I would be received again at Sunday school class given my being particularly outspoken (and embarrassing myself in the process) the previous week. It’s now Thursday and Sunday morning is just a few days away. In trying to project myself into the weeks and months ahead, unless something dramatic happens one way or the other, I don’t know that there’s anything I can do to “install” myself as an accepted participant in church, either.

The rock is the rock, after all. It’s big and it’s heavy, and in all the time I’ve been pushing against it…years and years and years, it hasn’t budged an inch.

But according to the anonymous storyteller, it doesn’t have to. My job is to push, or rather, to pray, without necessarily expecting or receiving a response or a result. The “push” acronym says “pray until something happens.” But what if nothing happens?

OK, clearly something recently happened but I wasn’t particularly praying about it or even thinking in that direction. It was just one of those “out of a clear blue sky” events. On the other hand, I’ve also recently said that there are miracles that only happen when we cooperate with God and actively participate in the miracle. That means do something. It also means that one day, I may push against the rock and feel it miraculously move!

Frankly, that kind of scares me. I live in a world of expectations. I expect the Sun to rise in the east and set in the west. I expect to go to sleep at night and wake up in the morning. I expect a particular routine for my days. Pushing the rock and not having it move, frustrating as it may be, is also expected. If it moves, suddenly, I’m out of control and off-balance; likely to fall on my face (not like that hasn’t happened before). I don’t know what to pray for more, that the rock moves or that it doesn’t move.

Strange, I know, but remember, I don’t like change…even when it’s beneficial and necessary.

But God makes changes according to His will and not my will and my only job is to push against the rock. If it doesn’t move, I push at the start of the day and stop at the end. The rock is just the rock and it doesn’t move. If I push and it does move, then it moves, I lose my balance and fall on my face. Embarrassing to be sure, but assuming it doesn’t hurt too much, the worse that happens is that my face gets dirty and I have to get up again and figure out what happened. What did God change and why? What do I have to do with it and what should I do now? Once I figure out what I’m supposed to do, will I have the courage to do it?

Strange, I know, but remember, I don’t like change.

Even when I ask for it.

He is my God, my living redeemer.
Rock of my affliction in time of trouble…

-from Adon Olam

So the rock has moved. I need to move too.