From the beginning to the end of the Gospel of John, the word “believe” is written 43 times. It is clearly a key word in this book. “31But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” John 20:31.
When you believe in something, you are all in. My 13-year old daughter Katie and I took a trip to Grand Marais to go snowmobiling. We stayed in a hotel right on Lake Superior. Katie is rather adventurous so she said “Dad, I want to do the polar plunge.” Being the good father that I am, I said, “Have fun! I’ll watch you from the shore.” She put on her bathing suit, wrapped herself in a towel, and we headed down to the lake. As she stood by the side of the lake talking, and talking, and talking about going all the way in for an entire minute, a couple out for a walk saw her and said “well, are you going to go or not?” After another minute of waiting they left. Katie turned and asked me if the water would be cold and I said “Of course it’s cold! It’s Lake Superior in the winter!” After another 30 seconds of debating she gave a shout and said “I’m going all the way in dad! Watch me!” And watch her I did. She took two steps into the icy water and by the time it reached her ankles, she screamed and hollered saying she was freezing and immediately ran back to the hotel.
In the same way that Katie had every intention of going all the way in that icy water, Jesus tells us to go all in. We can’t just stick our toes in the shallow end of the spiritual pool. Jesus invites us to jump in the deep end. It is critical to our spiritual walk to, not just acknowledge, but to wholeheartedly believe. This firm belief is the root of all of our decisions and it guides us in our actions like a compass.
God doesn’t expect you to have it all together or maintain a perfect track record in order to jump in. He invites you to believe right now, just as you are. Jesus promises: “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. 26 Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never, ever die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25-26.
Kids just shouldn’t get cancer. That’s my opinion, but it really doesn’t seem to matter much. When my then three-year-old son Joshua was diagnosed with Acute Lymphomic Leukemia (cancer of the blood) I thought my life was over. He is my only son, and I love him more than words can describe. After his diagnosis, my wife Kathi and I were completely devastated and scared, struggling from day to day as we dealt with this horrible, life-changing diagnosis.
Two months into Josh’s rigorous chemo treatment program the initial shock began to wear off, and a dreary reality set in. Life had changed, and we were forced to battle our precious son’s disease from the sidelines. I can’t count the number of times I felt like quitting, self-medicating, eating my frustrations away, or blaming the doctors for not doing enough. I longed to retreat from the misery of reality to the comforts of an imaginary, safe place. But I couldn’t because this nightmare was real and my family, especially Josh, needed me. Instead I made a conscious decision to trust God with every battle every day. Some days I won, some days I lost. For the next three years, Kathi and I panicked every time Josh spiked a fever, cried every time the doctors injected the horrible lifesaving chemicals into his body, and prayed for him as if it were a matter of life and death, because it was. Finally, after three years of chemo, Josh was given a clean bill of health. Now, twelve years later he is seventeen, still doing great, and so are we.
During those dark days, I learned more about how healthy people respond to hurting people than at any other time in my life. I learned the nuances not talked about in textbooks or covered in college courses. How you respond to hurting people matter whether it’s from a physical illness or emotional crisis. You can bring encouragement and hope or isolation and doubt. This is what I learned through my journey:
1. Some people you expect to support and encourage you will not. It’s not that they don’t want to, they don’t know how. They don’t know what to say or do, so they say nothing and do nothing. This can be devastating to those who are hurting. One of my good friends, who I anticipated would call me, never did. He never stopped by the hospital, sent a Facebook message, an e-mail, or even a text asking how I was. I ran into him about six months after Josh’s diagnosis went public, and he said he just wanted to “give me some space.” If “giving space” is the same as “abandoning,” he succeeded. Sure, I could have called, but I was so broken I honestly just needed others to reach out to me. The hurt was so great, and the situation was so overwhelming, that it was about all I could do to function and support Josh, let alone reach out to others. If you know someone who has been diagnosed with a serious illness or is experiencing a serious crisis, the worst thing you can do is to do nothing. Call, e-mail, Facebook, send a card; just reach out in some way. All you have to say is “I’m praying for you,” or “Let me know if you need anything.” They probably won’t take you up on your offer, but they will know you care. Those who are hurting read every e-mail, Caring Bridge post, and letter over and over, finding strength in the faith, words, and actions of others.
2. Sometimes people you don’t know will encourage you in ways you didn’t expect. People we hardly knew gave us food, offered to take care of our daughters during doctors’ visits, and even cleaned our house. This blew Kathi and me away! The outpouring of support we received from those I didn’t consider to be part of my inner circle surprised me more than anything else. Never underestimate the blessing you can be to someone, even if you don’t know them that well. And if you have a hurting friend, step up and be a helping friend.
3. Some people will avoid you because they think whatever is wrong with you is contagious. I thought it was strange that some people avoided us. In a weird way, they thought our problems were contagious, so rather than talking to us, they avoided us. Cancer, accidents, and emotional trauma are not contagious, so don’t treat people who are experiencing these things like they are contagious. Some people will avoid you in your time of need because your problem is more than they can handle. Trust me, you will then run into these people someplace. When you do, cough on them just for fun. And then try to understand they are not trying to hurt you; they just don’t know how to handle you and your problem.
4. When it’s over, you will need to forgive some people. You will need to communicate with the people who didn’t react to you how you thought they should. To this day I can remember everyone who came to see us at the hospital. I can also remember those who never came. I had to work through my own emotions because I was angry with my friends whom I thought would be there for me. I was hurt that they didn’t seem to care. I gently talked with them one by one over time, and shared what I went through so they knew how I felt. I also told a couple other people who avoided me how much this hurt me; one cried, both apologized. When I spoke with others, I simply explained our journey, hoping that by sharing our experience, they would react differently to someone else in similar circumstances. I didn’t condemn them with guilt or shame. I just spoke the truth in love and prayed our relationship would be re-established. Most of all, I had to let go and try to understand that our friends didn’t intentionally mean to hurt us; they just didn’t know how to react.
Jesus says: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” John 15:34-36. If you know someone who is hurting physically or emotionally, I hope I have helped you to see things from their perspective. If you don’t do anything, it is going to hurt them and damage the relationship. Even if you have nothing to say, say something. Write them a note telling them you care. Send them an encouraging email. Bring them dinner. Just let them know you care by doing or saying something. And if you are the one hurting, help people to understand how you feel by being open and honest when you can. Most people who don’t say or do anything just don’t know how to respond. Don’t let their lack of response ruin the friendship. You need to coach them by sharing how to help you right now.
It was the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles. Jesus stood in the middle of a crowd at the temple in Jerusalem in front of the giant torches that were used to light the entire city. He declared, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." John 8:12 NIV
His bold claim provoked three responses from those who heard him. The first response was to challenge Jesus. The Pharisees challenged him, “Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid” John 8:13. According to the Law of Moses, there must be two witnesses to make a legal claim so the Jews tried to trap Jesus with a technical foul. The Pharisees wanted to point Jesus to the law, but he said that His heavenly father testifies on his behalf. He was sent to fulfill the prophecies because he is the Messiah. It is wildly popular to question Jesus' claim to deity. Books have been written to dispute his existence, his authority, his miracles, and his perfect life. Yet even in spite of all the attacks and all the interrogations and investigations, God’s word stands true.
The second response was to argue against Jesus' claim. Jesus claimed that God is His father. The Jews claimed Moses as their father. They were looking at their physical blood line and Jesus is talking on a spiritual level. So they accused Jesus of being demon possessed. “52 At this they exclaimed, 'Now we know that you are demon-possessed! Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say that whoever obeys your word will never taste death. 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?' ”
People still want to argue against Jesus today. Many want Jesus out of public schools and off public property. They want him off courthouses even though our entire legal system is based on Judaeo-Christian ethics. People are still trying to kill Jesus and twist every truth he taught. I have never met a happy atheist. I’m sure there are some out there, but every atheist I have ever met is angry at a god they don’t even believe in.
The third response was to draw closer to Him because of his claim. “30 Even as he spoke, many believed in him” John 8:30. Today people still respond by challenging Jesus, arguing with him or drawing closer to him. From experience, I can tell you that drawing closer to Christ is far more pleasurable than fighting against him or challenging him. Nobody has ever fought God and won, and this isn’t bad because God knows what’s best for us and he wants us to prosper in the biblical sense.
“31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” John 8:31-32.
If you want to experience true freedom, come to Christ. He is the light of the world providing freedom from legalism, shame, and guilt. He offers hope and healing from darkness and despair.
There are three universal spiritual catalysts that seem to keep our hearts ready and willing to make spiritual progress. They are not radical or crazy, just solid principles that will help you make progress. I urge you to take responsibility to do these because they will help you grow.
1. Attend church every week. When we get together with other believers to celebrate what God is doing, there is something about it that helps you stay connected to Christ. Schedule going to church every week on your calendar. That way you won’t be tempted to fill in the time with something else.This time of worship and fellowship is critical to our spiritual growth.
2. Participate in a group. I love my small group because they challenge me and hold me accountable. We usually eat together, study together, and pray together. You need to participate in a group to experience true Christian fellowship. A wise man once said “Everyone needs to sit at a table where nobody is impressed with you.” This way, you can be real, they can be real, and it works toward glorifying God through fellowship.
3. Serve others. The third catalyst is serving others. One time, while serving at a local homeless shelter, God taught me a profound lesson on serving. After leading a worship service and feeding many people, we would clean the facility. One time I was asked to clean the men’s bathroom and it smelled really bad. I think the fan was broken that night. While I was scrubbing the toilet and gagging I started to wonder why I was doing this job and immediately God nudged my heart and said “Because you came to serve and that’s exactly what you need to do to.” It was a humbling moment and I never complained about cleaning the toilets after that. When we serve others, it reminds us that we are not the center of the universe. And when we serve others, we are serving Jesus.
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” Matthew 25:40.
Believers serve an amazing, incredible, awesome, glorious heavenly father who loves us so much that he sacrificed his son, Jesus Christ, for our sins. For that reason, we need to take responsibility for our faith and putting these three spiritual catalysts into play in your life is a great place to start.