I grew up in the era of black-and-white television (1950s), when Westerns were the most popular action genre. There were no computer graphics or other hi-tech special effects in shows like The Lone Ranger, Gunsmoke, and Wanted: Dead or Alive—and no cars for the now-obligatory car chase. Instead, the action often peaked when a stagecoach or train was attacked by bandits in black hats (to distinguish them from the white-hatted good guys). Horses pulling a heavy stagecoach didn’t stand a chance of outrunning bandits on horseback, but trains did. As the music reached a crescendo, the tension mounted and the scene alternated between the hero holding the bad guys at bay, the engineer gritting his teeth, and the fireman frantically shoveling coal into the furnace that powered the train’s steam engine. The more coal the fireman could pile on, the hotter the fire and the faster the train would go. As long as there was coal to feed the fire, there was hope.
We all get sick from time to time. When that happens, what we choose to do about it has a direct bearing on how quickly and fully we recover. If it’s only a common cold, getting extra rest and waiting it out may be enough, but more serious illnesses generally require more from us. By the time we are adults, we’ve learned to recognize when something isn’t right in our bodies, and we pay attention to those warning signs. We may not know what they are symptoms of, but we know that our condition will likely worsen unless we get it diagnosed and do something about it. If we’re too proud to admit we’re sick and need help, or if we’re lackadaisical and fail to take action, we inevitably suffer more in the long run. Pain has taught us to pay attention to our health, to do what we can to stay healthy, and to get help when we do get sick.
The need for healing, great or small, at some time or another, is universal. That’s just a fact of life. And that’s probably why Jesus spent so much of His time on earth healing the sick. The four Gospels are full of accounts of miracles of healing that Jesus performed—lepers were cleansed, the blind received sight, the mute talked, the lame walked, and the dead were raised to life again. “Great multitudes followed Him,” we are told, and He was “moved with compassion” and “healed them all.”1
No one can read those accounts of supernatural healings without consciously or unconsciously making a decision that puts them in one of three general groups: those who think the miracles never happened or can be explained scientifically, those who believe they happened then but couldn’t happen today, and those who understand and embrace the wonderful truth that Jesus is just as ready, willing, and able to heal us today as He was the multitudes long ago. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”2 I hope that reading this issue will inspire you to strive to be in the third group, if you aren’t already.
I was 21 when I read from the Bible for the first time. Someone had suggested I read the Gospel of John first, but I knew so little about the Bible at the time that I didn’t understand the Gospels were four separate accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry. So I started at what seemed the more logical place, at the beginning of the New Testament, with the Gospel of Matthew.
By the time I got to the Gospel of John, I was fascinated with Jesus. He had the perfect answer to every question and always knew exactly what to do. But more than that, He seemed to understand me and know exactly what I needed. His words were powerful and alive. He was alive! His words reached across nearly 2000 years and touched me in a way I had never experienced before. When I finally came to John 15:15—“I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you”—I felt He was speaking directly to me. Jesus called me His friend! I got so excited I couldn’t sit still. I wanted to tell the whole world.
Twenty-five years ago I came across a gem of wisdom that was to save my sanity. The thing that amazes me now is how easily I could have missed it. I was feeling happy and fulfilled at the time, satisfied with my life and where it seemed to be taking me. I could have brushed it aside as not applying to me, but I was soon glad I hadn’t. Things took an unexpected downward turn, I lost my job and the security it had provided, and those words became a reference point that helped me get through the next few difficult months.
“If we would find our security in the knowledge that God loves us and has a plan for our lives, instead of relying on other things to meet that need, He could make us very happy. But we sometimes make ourselves unhappy by being dissatisfied, because we haven’t learned, as the apostle Paul did, to be content in whatever state we’re in.”1
Few events capture the world’s attention like the World Cup does every four years. The 2006 final attracted an estimated television audience of 715 million, and the entire process, including qualifying and elimination rounds, a total of over 26 billion—the equivalent of nearly four views for every person in the world. Even those who normally pay little or no attention to sports are drawn in when Cup results are front-page news.
Life is full of problems—sickness, accidents, financial problems, family problems, loss of loved ones, and on and on the list goes. “Hasn’t there been some sort of mistake here?” we ask. “If God truly is love, as the Bible says in 1 John 4:8, and if He truly cares for us like a father, as the Bible says many times, then why all these problems?”
The first thing to understand is that God doesn’t cause these problems; they are the result of people’s bad decisions—others’ or our own. God doesn’t cause our problems, but He does allow them to befall us, and for reasons that are nearly as varied as the problems themselves. Sometimes He uses them to remind us how incapable we are of solving our own problems, so we will turn to Him for help. Sometimes He lets them happen so He can show us how much He loves us by working things out. Sometimes they happen to test and strengthen our faith. Sometimes they happen to make us pray more earnestly. Sometimes they happen to teach us lessons of patience or positiveness in the face of adversity. Sometimes they happen to keep us humble. Sometimes they happen to make us wiser. Sometimes they happen to help us appreciate our other blessings and all the problems we don’t have. Sometimes they happen to draw us closer to others who are going through similar things. There are all kinds of reasons for troubles, but whatever the reason, God always wants to turn them for our ultimate good. “All things work together for good to those who love God.”1
If you were told that a brand-new palatial mansion was yours, bought and paid for, would you believe it? What if it was guaranteed in writing? Wouldn’t you believe it then, and wouldn’t you want to find out where your new home was located and what it looked like? Wouldn’t you ask about the view, the neighbors, the climate, and every other detail you could think of? Wouldn’t you start dreaming of the day you would move in? And how do you suppose that news would change your life and priorities in the meantime?
Well, someone has promised you such a mansion—Jesus—and He has put it in writing. “In My Father’s house are many mansions. I go to prepare a place for you, that where I am, there you may be also.”1 If you have received Jesus, it’s all yours—no payments, no taxes, no upkeep. Sound too good to be true? Well, that’s just the beginning.
Have you ever noticed how some people can stay afloat when engulfed in troubles and hardships, while others sink to the bottom? What sets the swimmers apart from the sinkers? From what I’ve seen, the biggest factor seems to be faith in God’s love. When those who understand how much God loves them find themselves in over their heads, they know He won’t let them drown. So, unlike those who don’t have such faith, they don’t wear themselves out struggling just to keep their heads above water—or worse, panic and go down all the quicker. Buoyed by their faith, the swimmers can concentrate their energy on getting to solid ground.
There is a common force that drives most of us: we want to be successful. Regardless of who we are or what our specific goals may be, we want the security and comfort that material success provides, as well as the satisfaction of knowing that our lives are turning out well and count for something.
If we all want the same basic thing, why then are some people so much more successful than others? Circumstances alone aren’t the deciding factor, because some people succeed despite incredibly difficult circumstances. Neither is success determined by natural ability alone, because many gifted people fail, while others who seem less likely to succeed do.