“Spiritual friends” are exactly what the name says. We are friends, who encourage each other in our spiritual life. We prayed for Miranda a few weeks back. She had a very challenging opportunity with her work. God enabled her to complete a very difficult assignment in such a way that her company recognized her with the Employee of the Quarter award. Miranda has a quiet, shy and winsome sense of humor. She is certainly not typically “religious,” but co-workers are aware of her life with Jesus Christ. She whistles at work and often plays Christian workout music on her phone while doing complex tasks as a low-voltage electrician.
As Miranda was telling the group the good news of her past few weeks, Johnny said, “Miranda. I have had that read to me a few times.”
Miranda turned to Johnny, laughed, her face reddening a little and said, “My parents named me after the Miranda case.”
At that the whole group smiled and some laughed out loud. Miranda laughed a little and said, “My parents were sort of hippies and they thought it was fun to call their daughter, ‘Miranda.’ Someday I’ll tell you all about the times when I had the Miranda Rights read to me, too.”
Good natured joking followed and I finally called the group to a time of prayer. Mike C. led us in prayer and asked God to help the various needs of the spiritual friends around the table. Then, we turned our attention to the antique TV set in the church’s library, turned out the lights and began playing the fifth chapter of John’s Gospel from the Visual Bible.
The value of watching a video presentation is that it helps us visualize ourselves as part of the scene. John five reads like this: “Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids — blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, ‘Do you want to be made well?’
“The sick man answered, ‘Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.’
“Jesus said to him, ‘Stand up, take your mat and walk.’ At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk” (John 5.2-9).
Stories of divine healing often stir up radically different emotions. Some people rejoice profoundly over these stories, while others grieve because someone they loved was not healed. Almost immediately after the video ended, Mike C. spoke up with something that resembled an accusation. He said, “Why did Jesus heal this man and leave all of the others around the pool to keep on suffering? He’s got all the power, but I just don’t know how to explain why some get healed and other don’t.”
This was not the direction I wanted the group to go, but Mike had a very valid argument. He kept on speaking with the entire group listening intently to his words. He said, “Just think about Josh (see Josh Monk Tribute on this blog for more information). We really need him around here. He was living such a righteous life. And he died. I know another guy – a football player, a great Christian, good student – he was driving home and bang! He was gone. It just doesn’t seem right.”
Mike had the group stirred up. Ricky, who was seated to my right, leaned forward so he could look more directly at Mike C. He quietly said, “My son died at twenty-four from a heroin overdose.” Ricky went ahead and told the group how God comforted him and helped him to believe that his son was alright through a series of the number thirteen that cropped up almost daily in Ricky’s life.
Mike C. wasn’t finished with his thoughts. He turned his attention to a well known and very capable jail chaplain. Mike C. said, “God powerfully healed Gene Purtle. Gene used mountains of crack cocaine every day. One day God healed Gene on the spot. He was healed, didn’t do any Twelve Step Programs or anything like that, and started doing God’s work. That’s all it took. But for so many of us there is this revolving door between addiction and recovery and addiction all over again. We’re like the people at the pool that Jesus left behind.”
Lena sits to my left. I don’t know if anyone else in the group heard her, but me. Lena very quietly said, “I have lots of questions, too.” There was most certainly volumes of experience and emotions behind Lena’s six word sentence.
It is difficult for me to not be the “answer man.” However, there are times when I have helpful answers and I thought it was a good time to share some thoughts that I hoped would help. First, I addressed the issue of healing versus not getting healed. I said, “One of the best quotes I have ever read is: ‘Don’t write cheerful graffiti on the tomb of my sorrow.’ I never want to have a simplistic answer for anyone who is in the midst of suffering. The best thing I can say is that I just don’t know why God lets some things happen.”
After I checked with the group to see if that thought soaked in, I said, “I don’t know why Jesus only healed one man at the pool that day. I don’t know why guys like Josh and the man Mike C. mentioned didn’t get healed. When I look at the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, I know this. God is good. He is loving and just. He is always doing the best for us, whether we can understand it or not.”
I talked at length about C. S. Lewis, a great Christian and theologian of another generation. Lewis married late in life. Shortly after his marriage, his wife died. Lewis almost lost his faith over the grief he experienced. He had to work very hard to overcome his feelings of doubt and grief. I told the group, “In the midst of great sorrow we often have to work very hard just to stay near God, so he can help us through it.”
Mike C. chimed in again. He said, “I know that. The kind of stuff we’ve been talking about is way above my pay grade. I just have to accept it and work on the the stuff I already know I should be doing.”
I had one more important thought to add to the thinking of my spiritual friends. I said, “When Josh and Gene Purtle got sober, God did it BANG!” I said this slapping my hands together. “For most of us it doesn’t happen this way. God works with most of us in little steps over time. I think he does it that way, because he wants more than sobriety. He wants a relationship. As we keep on coming to him every day, he is able to develop a deeper friendship with us than if he just fixed us in one powerful event.”
Mike C. nodded in affirmation. I was very happy to see he connected with that thought.
I changed the topic to the one I had originally planned to discuss and said, “Jesus asked the man, ‘Do you want to get healed?’ Do you know anybody that if Jesus asked them the question they might hesitate to answer ‘yes’?”
Peter answered quickly. Peter is currently the assistant manager of the best recovery house in our area. He is a champion when he is sober. When he is drunk, he is very hard to handle and usually requires a trip to the hospital for detoxification. Peter is very honest and often insightful. I have learned much from Peter both about addiction, recovery and life in general.
Peter said, “In my addiction, I liked the attention I got. People genuinely cared for me and I used my addiction to get help from them. At that time in my life, I had no desire to get sober. I had become comfortable living as a drunk. The truth is that I didn’t know what I was doing until I finally got sober.”
One of the favorite sayings in western Independence is, “If he knew better, he’d do better.” Those were the exact words Johnny said to the group with his award winning smile.
Ricky’s gravely voice was next to speak. He quickly said, “Living in the problem and not the solution was my issue.”
It was time for another question, so I said: “Did you notice that Jesus asked this man to do exactly what he was unable to do for thirty-eight years? Isn’t that crazy? Have you ever been asked to do something that seemed totally impossible?”
Again, Peter was the first to respond. What he said illustrated the power of spending time with spiritual friends. We learned something that we would never have known if we were not in a weekly relationship with each other. Peter started off by said, “My daughter.”
I immediately thought what probably everyone else thought, “What about your daughter?” I had absolutely no idea of what he was about to say next.
Peter said, “My daughter is not actually my biological daughter.”
So, I thought, “Your wife cheated on you and produced a child.” This was definitely news to all of us.
Peter continued his story and said, “Right after her daughter was born, my wife left her daughter and me to go out and do drugs. I thought it would be impossible to raise a little baby girl all on my own. I knew I could not do it, but God and my grandmother knew I could.”
Vivian had been silent the entire evening. She said with her customary insight way, “That girl you raised from a baby has now produced your first granddaughter. What was impossible with you was certainly possible with God.”
Peter beamed, reaching for his cell phone. He treated his spiritual friends to the newest picture of his beautiful granddaughter.
Mike H. had been working very hard for the past few days on a large commercial carpet job. He was clearly tired, but wanted to share God’s work in the realm of doing the impossible. He said, “I have friends who were told that having children was impossible for them. One year after being told they would be childless, they had a beautiful baby girl. They named her ‘Miracal’ for the miracle she was.”
Mike C. spoke about the very thing that came to my mind, when I asked myself if God had ever challenged me with an impossible situation. He said, “You know that Shane guy?”
I said, “Yes. Shane Kampe. I was thinking about him, too.” I knew Shane’s story best, because I was the only one of our group around when it happened. “In 2001 Shane and Whispering Danny were both very drunk on 39th Street in Kansas City. Shane had a new motorcycle and was so drunk he couldn’t keep it upright while trying to start it. Danny tried to prevent him from driving, but Shane would have nothing of it. He drove off in his drunken condition. A few block from where they were drinking, Shane wrecked his bike and literally spilled his brains on the concrete. About an hour later, Danny drove down the street where Shane was lying, saw him, and called 911.”
Shane should have died and his family was very close to removing him from life support and donating his organs. Shane obviously was healed or we wouldn’t have been talking about his story. A few months after Shane was healed, I had lunch with his father. His father was called, “Crazy Carl” and owned a barbecue joint in Clinton, Missouri. Carl was a General Motors auto worker before he retired and started the restaurant. Carl told me about a friend, an African American auto worker, who came by an prayed for Shane in the hospital.
Shane’s friend, Whispering Danny, was present when this man came and prayed. Danny said, “This back man with great spiritual authority came into the waiting room and said we were going to pray. He couldn’t get in the room to see Shane, so he stood in front of Shane’s door and prayed loudly and powerfully for God to heal him and to do it right now.”
Danny’s heritage is Jewish. He came to the United States from Latvia as a child to receive medical treatment for tumors that grow in his esophagus. Danny had never heard anyone pray like this man. That night following the prayer for Shane, Danny walked the floors of his house that was located not too far from where Shane had his motorcycle wreck. He considered what he had to give up to become a follower of Jesus Christ. In the middle of the night he typed “salvation” into the Google search engine. The website that came up was http://www.salvation.com. There he read how to become a follower of Jesus Christ. He committed his life to Jesus and is now one of the leaders at Maywood Baptist Church and is the the best preacher/tattoo artist I know.
The next morning God did the impossible. Shane Kampe awoke from a coma. Two nurses were talking about the tattoo of a frog on his foot and he gave them a “thumbs up” motion. I would love to have there to see the surprise on their faces, when he did that. Shane now works as a custodian for the Independence School District and is a valuable partner in the work at Maywood Baptist Church. I have visited with Shane’s nurse from St. Luke’s Hospital on two occasions. With great passion, she has told me how miraculous it was for God to do the impossible in Shane’s life.
The “I Am Second” ministry contacted Whispering Danny and Shane and produced their story on video. If you search for “I am Second – Whispering Danny” and “I am Second – Shane Kampe” you will find a very engaging presentation of the story I have just related.
There was a fair amount of discussion about Shane and Danny after I told the story. When everyone had finished speaking, I wanted to give the group one more insight. I said, “There is a powerful principle working here. First, Jesus stated what was the will of God for this man. When Jesus gives us the word of God, we really need to take notice. God’s word to us is a sign that our loving God wants to do something in our lives. The man’s response was perfect. He tried to do exactly what Jesus called him to do, even though it was humanly impossible. Here’s the principle: When we hear God’s direction for our lives and respond in trust and obedience, then the power of God is free to operate.”
If you read the Gospel of John, you will discover two reactions to Jesus. There were people who trusted Jesus and followed him as disciples. There were others who were very satisfied with their lives and resisted the change that Jesus offered. These people were often religious leaders, who benefited from the existing system of religion. The next time our spiritual friends got together, we discussed the way religious authorities hotly criticized Jesus, even in the face of a lame man walking for the first time in thirty-eight years.