Being Human, Church, Humanity, Jesus Stories, Moral Lessons, Stories About Faith, Uncategorized

Believe for Others, Too

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Written by: Dean K. Thompson

A plane ride, a conversation, an insight.

Normally, I don’t talk to people much when I fly. Too uptight. But this time was different. I was sitting beside a scientist from the University of Peking. SHe was probably in her middle years of life. Throughout our lengthy conversation, she was somewhat shy, but she wanted to talk very much. She explained that her study was not the type of work that allowed her much time or opportunity for conversations with Americans.

We talked about Karl Marx, Ronald Reagan, dialectical materialism, Chinese communism, Chiang Kai-shek, Taiwan, Chou En-lai, Chairman Mao, the Cultural Revolution, democracy, totalitarianism, and higher education.

We talked for more than three hours. Sometime along the way, she asked, “What is your work?” “Presbyterian minister,” I answered, hesitating a bit. I’ve always hesitated, ever since my college classmates razzed me when I told them near the end of my senior year that I was going to seminary.

“Presbyterian minister. That means you are a Jesus person.” “Yes, I suppose I am a Jesus person,” I responded with some nervousness. Although she was an atheist, she seemed curiously pleased to be talking with a “Jesus person.”

“I knew many Jesus people when I was a child,” she said. “I sometimes attended their services at the mission schools, specially the Christmas play.”

“Is that a nice memory?” “Yes, the Christmas plays are a nice memory. They are a good memory for me, too. I went to them when I was a boy. Still do. I also know about the mission schools in your country. Do you know that Chou-En-lai and many of the older Chinese communist leaders were educated in the missionary schools of the Jesus people?”

“Most of the Jesus people I know are now very old,” she said. “They are nice, but I do not understand their beliefs.”

There was a long silence, and then she said, just as a scientist would say, “Tell me, please, tell me two basic things Jesus people believe.”

That kind of question puts preachers on the spot. We’re used to preaching long sermons about the many things Jesus people believe. Now a scientist/atheist from China was asking me to boil it all down.

“Well, the first thing we believe is the result of a question with which both scientists and Jesus people have struggled through the ages,” I said. “The question is: Why is there something instead of nothing? It seems to me that there are three possible answers.

“One answer is that the world is a funny coincidence or an absurd accident.”

“That is my answer,” she said.

“A second answer is, ‘I don’t know.’ That’s the agnostic’s answer,” I said.

“A third is ‘God.’ That is my answer. God made it all; and somehow, although I can’t see God, God is in control of it all. God puts purpose into human history and God puts meaning into your life and into mine.”

“And the second thing?” she asked.

“Well, the second thing Jesus people believe is that we are all in the same family. Despite all the tensions and wars, despite the radical differences between communism and democracy, we all are in the same family.”

Long silence. Then these words.

“Is that why you Jesus people call each other brother and sister?”

“Yes, sister,” I said.

I shall never see her again. And, although I would like to, that is OK; for that is how life appears to work. The family of humankind is a quickly passing parade, and we are allowed to see some of God’s family in only a twinkling of an eye.

Sometimes, as I travel in those planes over which I have no control, I find myself hoping about her, even praying. Hoping that she, too, will come to believe that God is the reason there is something instead of nothing, and that God is in control. Hoping that she, too, will come to believe that we are all in the same family.

Once, four strong believers carried their paralyzed comrade to a house where Jesus was. The crod was so thick that they had to lower him down through a hole in the roof. Then amazingly, Mark records these words about the incident: “When Jesus saw their faith,” He forgave the paralytic and healed him.

Their faith, not necessarily the paralyzed man’s faith; their faith prompted the forgiveness and the miracle of new life and new health.

I believe these words very much, specially since my plane ride. We who follow Jesus are supposed to believe for other people who can’t believe or won’t believe or are too broken down to believe. Believing for others is a hopeful part of what it means to follow Jesus. So, I will believe for that woman whose name I do not even know. I will believe for her as long as I live.

Why? Because somehow, through the unfathomable providence of the One who is in control, she is in the family. She is meant to be my sister.

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Church, Jesus Stories, Stories About Faith

What the Blind Man Did Not Say

When you want to ask Jesus for help, remember the faith of Bartimaeus and take the direct approach

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To meet Jesus was to know that something was afoot. To see Him pass was to sense, if you had the faith to sense it, that your chance-in-a-lifetime was passing by. The blind Bartimaeus was one who sized his chance (Mark 10:46-52)

Bartimaeus, of course, didn’t see Jesus pass. He only heard of His coming. In his darkness, he listened well to the reports about this rabbi from Nazareth. As Jesus’ arrival was announced – Bartimaeus could hear the bustle, the gathering crowd – his heart leapt within him. He cried out for an audience with the traveling preacher. Overcoming initial timidity and then opposition, he heard himself summoned.

What plausible responses could Bartimaeus have made?

And Jesus said to him, “What do you want Me to do for you?”

And the blind man said to Him, “Begging your pardon, Sir; you will forgive my audacity. I have heard much about You. They say You do miracles. I have also heard – indeed have been taught – that the last time there was anything like a significant number of miracles around here was in the time of Elijah and Elisha. That was a long time ago. And people were credulous then. They believed almost anything. We’ve become wiser since then – and sadder. The official word is that there are no more prophets. Well, it’s been nice chatting with You. You sure do have a reputation.”

But Bartimaeus did not say that.

And Jesus said, “What do you want Me to do for you?” And the blind man said to Him” “Nothing! If You are truly the Son of God, You would know what I want without asking me. I don’t feel I should have to get specific about my personal needs.” But Bartimaeus did not say that.

And Jesus said to him, “What do you want Me to do for you?” And the blind man said to Him, “Nothing, really. I thought for a moment that I wanted to ask You for my sight. But on a second thought, I feel that would be very selfish of me. I know enough about true religion to realize that I must stop thinking about myself and become more concerned about others. So, never mind. excuse the interruption.”

But Bartimaeus did not say that. And Jesus said to him, “What do you want Me to do for you?” And the blind man said to Him, “Oh, nothing. On reflection, I realize that You may not be able to – or may not want to- heal me. Frankly, I’m afraid to risk asking You, for fearing of being disappointed. I guess I’d rather not push it. Let’s just leave it be.”

But Bartimaeus did not say that. And Jesus said to him, “What do you want Me to do for you?” And the blind man said to Him, “Oh, nothing I guess. As I was stumbling up here – (thanks, anyway, for calling to me, that was thoughtful of You) – it occurred to me that I really don’t want to see. I’ve grown accustomed to the dark. I’m afraid the light of sight would frighten me. You see, I’ve learned to cope. Thanks anyway.”

But Bartimaeus did not say that. And Jesus said to him, “What do you want Me to do for you?” And the blind man said to Him, “Nothing, Lord. Forget it. What if You heal me and not others?” You should have seen – did You? – how angry they got back there when I merely started calling for You. If now I do receive my sight, think of how many more people and jealous blind people there will be. Why, they’d be angry with You, too. Some would be upset with You because You did heal me, others would be angry because You didn’t heal them. We’d better think of them. We’d better forget the whole thing.”

But Bartimaeus did not say that. And Jesus said to him, “What do you want Me to do for you?” And the blind man said to Him, “Master, I realize that faith is far more important than mere physical sight. So, I do not ask for my sight. I ask that my faith be increased.”

But Bartimaeus did not say that. The blind man said, “Master let me receive my sight.” 

And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.”  And immediately, he received his sight and followed Him on the way.