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The Ring of Belief


The Ring of Belief

Love . . . believes all things.

                                            1 Corinthians 13:4–7 nasb

When you speak truth, you are God’s ambassador.

As you steward the money he gives, you are his business manager.

When you declare forgiveness, you are his priest. As you stir the healing of the body or the soul, you are

his physician.

And when you pray, he listens to you as a father listens to a son. You have a voice in the household of God. He has given you his ring.

By all rules, Skinner was a dead man.” With these words Arthur Bressi begins his retelling of the day he found his best friend in a World War II Japanese concentration camp. The two were high-school buddies. They grew up together in Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania—playing ball, skipping school, double-dating. Arthur and Skinner were inseparable. It made sense, then, that when one joined the army, the other would as well. They rode the same troopship to the Philippines. That’s where they were separated. Skinner was on Bataan when it fell to the Japanese in 1942. Arthur Bressi was captured a month later.

Through the prison grapevine, Arthur learned the whereabouts of his friend. Skinner was near death in a nearby camp. Arthur volunteered for work detail in the hope that his company might pass through the other camp. One day they did.

Arthur requested and was given five minutes to find and speak to his friend. He knew to go to the sick side of the camp. It was divided into two sections—one for those expected to recover, the other for those given no hope. Those expected to die lived in a barracks called “zero ward.” That’s

where Arthur found Skinner. He called his name, and out of the barracks walked the seventy-nine-pound shadow of the friend he had once known.

As he writes:

I stood at the wire fence of the Japanese prisoner-of-war camp on Luzon and watched my childhood buddy, caked in filth and racked with the pain of multiple diseases, totter toward me. He was dead; only his boisterous spirit hadn’t left his body. I wanted to look away, but couldn’t. His blue eyes, watery and dulled, locked on me and wouldn’t let go.

Malaria. Amebic dysentery. Pellagra. Scurvy. Beriberi. Skinner’s body was a dormitory for tropical diseases. He couldn’t eat. He couldn’t drink.

He was nearly gone.

Arthur didn’t know what to do or say. His five minutes were nearly up. He began to finger the heavy knot of the handkerchief tied around his neck. In it was his high-school class ring. At the risk of punishment, he’d smuggled the ring into camp. Knowing the imminence of disease and the scarcity of treatment, he had been saving it to barter for medicine or food for himself. But one look at Skinner, and he knew he couldn’t save it any longer.

As he told his friend good-bye, he slipped the ring through the fence into Skinner’s frail hand and told him to “wheel and deal” with it. Skinner objected, but Arthur insisted. He turned and left, not knowing if he would ever see his friend alive again.

What kind of love would do something like that? It’s one thing to give a gift to the healthy. It’s one thing to share a treasure with the strong. But to give your best to the weak, to entrust your treasure to the dying—that’s saying something. Indeed, that’s saying something to them. “I believe in you,” the gesture declares. “Don’t despair. Don’t give up. I believe in you.” It’s no wonder Paul included this phrase in his definition of love. “[Love] believes all things” (1 Cor. 13:7 NASB).

Do you know anyone who is standing on Skinner’s side of the fence? If your child is having trouble in school, you do. If your husband struggles with depression or your wife has been laid off, you do. If you have a friend with cancer, if the class mocks your classmate, if your son doesn’t make the squad, if you know anyone who is afraid or has failed or is frail, then you know someone who needs a ring of belief.

And, what’s more, you can give them one. You may, by virtue of your words or ways, change that person’s life forever.

Arthur did. Want to know what happened to Skinner? He took the ring and buried it in the barracks floor. The next day he took the biggest risk of his life. He approached the “kindest” of the guards and passed him the ring through the fence. “Takai?” the guard asked. “Is it valuable?” Skinner assured him that it was. The soldier smiled and slipped the ring into a pocket and left. A couple of days later he walked past Skinner and let a packet drop at his feet. Sulfanilamide tablets. A day later he returned with limes to combat the scurvy. Then came a new pair of pants and some canned beef. Within three weeks Skinner was on his feet. Within three months he was taken to the healthy side of the sick camp. In time he was able to work. As far as Skinner knew, he was the only American ever to leave the zero ward alive.

All because of a ring. All because someone believed in him.

I know what some of you are thinking. You’re looking at Arthur and Skinner and wishing your situation were so easy. Skinner was a dying man but a good man, a good friend. How do you believe in someone who isn’t? How do you believe in a man who cheats on you or an employee who swindles you? Does love ignore all things? I don’t think so. This passage is not a call to naiveté or blindness. It is, however, a call for us to give to others what God has given us.

Skinner is not the only person to be given a ring, you know. You have one on your finger as well. Your heavenly Father placed it there. Jesus described the moment when he told the story of the prodigal son.

The tale involves a wealthy father and a willful son. The boy prematurely takes his inheritance and moves to Las Vegas and there wastes the money on slot machines and call girls. As fast as you can say “blackjack,” he is broke. Too proud to go home, he gets a job sweeping horse stables at the racetrack. When he finds himself tasting some of their oats and thinking, H’m, a dash of salt and this wouldn’t be too bad, he realizes enough is enough. It’s time to go home. The gardener at his father’s house does better than this. So off he goes, rehearsing his repentance speech every step of the way.

But the father has other ideas. “When he was still a great way off, his father saw him.” The dad was looking for the boy, always craning his neck, ever hoping the boy would show, and when he did, when the father saw the familiar figure on the trail, he “had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.”

We don’t expect such a response. We expect crossed arms and a furrowed brow. At best a guarded handshake. At least a stern lecture. But the father gives none of these. Instead he gives gifts. “Bring out the best robe . . . a ring . . . sandals. . . . And bring the fatted calf . . . and let us eat and be merry” (Luke 15:11–23 NKJV). Robe, sandals, calf, and . . . Did you see it? A ring.

Before the boy has a chance to wash his hands, he has a ring to put on his finger. In Christ’s day rings were more than gifts; they were symbols of delegated sovereignty. The bearer of the ring could speak on behalf of the giver. It was used to press a seal into soft wax to validate a transaction. The one who wore the ring conducted business in the name of the one who gave it.

Would you have done this? Would you have given this prodigal son power-of-attorney privileges over your affairs? Would you have entrusted him with a credit card? Would you have given him this ring?

Before you start questioning the wisdom of the father, remember, in this story you are the boy. When you came home to God, you were given authority to conduct business in your heavenly Father’s name.

When you speak truth, you are God’s ambassador.

As you steward the money he gives, you are his business manager.

When you declare forgiveness, you are his priest.

As you stir the healing of the body or the soul, you are his physician.

And when you pray, he listens to you as a father listens to a son. You have a voice in the household of God. He has given you his ring.

The only thing more remarkable than the giving of the ring is the fact that he hasn’t taken it back! Weren’t there times when he could have?

When you promoted your cause and forgot his. When you spoke lies and not truth. When you took his gifts and used them for personal gain. When you took the bus back to Las Vegas and found yourself seduced into the world of lights, luck, and long nights. Couldn’t he have taken the ring? Absolutely. 

But did he? Do you still have a Bible? Are you still allowed to pray? Do you still have a dollar to manage or a skill to use? Then it appears that he still wants you to have the ring. It appears that he still believes in you! He hasn’t given up on you. He hasn’t turned away. He hasn’t walked out. He could have. Others would have. But he hasn’t. God believes in you. And, I wonder, could you take some of the belief that he has in you and share it with someone else? Could you believe in someone?

There is such power in belief. Robert Schuller said, “I am not who I think I am. I am not who you think I am. I am who I think you think I am.”2 (You might want to read that twice.) Right or wrong, we define ourselves through other people’s eyes. Tell me enough times that I’m stupid, and I’ll believe you. Tell me enough times that I’m bright, and I might agree. Or as the German poet Goethe stated, “Treat a man as he appears to be, and you make him worse. But treat a man as if he were what he potentially could be, and you make him what he should be.”

Robert Rosenthal demonstrated this in a famous classroom study. He and an elementary-school principal tested a group of students. They then mentioned to the students’ teachers that some of the kids had done extremely well on the tests. The teachers were led to believe that five or six of the students had exceptional learning ability.

What the teachers did not know was that the names of the “exceptional” students had been chosen entirely at random. They were no different from the others, but since the teachers thought they were, the teachers treated them differently. By the end of the year the ones the teachers thought were brighter actually were! They scored ahead of their peers and gained as much as fifteen to twenty-seven IQ points. The teachers described the students as happier, more curious, more affectionate than the average, and having a better chance of success later in life. This was all due to the attitude of the teachers! The teachers thought the students were special, and the students lived up to their treatment. Rosenthal wrote:

The explanation probably lies in the subtle interaction between teachers and pupils; tone of voice, facial expressions, touch and posture may be the means by which—often unwittingly—teachers communicate their expectations to their pupils. Such communication may help a child by changing his perception of himself.

Arthur gave Skinner much more than a ring; he gave him a proclamation, a judgment that said, “You are worth this much to me! Your life is worth saving. Your life is worth living.” He believed in him and, as a result, gave Skinner the means and the courage to save himself.

You and I have the privilege to do for others what Arthur did for Skinner and what God does for us. How do we show people that we believe in them?

Show up. Nothing takes the place of your presence. Letters are nice. Phone calls are special, but being there in the flesh sends a message.

After Albert Einstein’s wife died, his sister, Maja, moved in to assist with the household affairs. For fourteen years she cared for him, allowing his valuable research to continue. In 1950 she suffered a stroke and lapsed into a coma. Thereafter, Einstein spent two hours every afternoon reading aloud to her from Plato. She gave no sign of understanding his words, but he read anyway. If she understood anything by his gesture, she understood this—he believed that she was worth his time.

Do you believe in your kids? Then show up. Show up at their games. Show up at their plays. Show up at their recitals. It may not be possible to make each one, but it’s sure worth the effort. An elder in our church supports me with his presence. Whenever I speak at an area congregation, he’ll show up. Does nothing. Says little. Just takes a seat in a pew and smiles when we make eye contact. It means a lot to me. In fact, as I write the final draft of this book, he is one room away. Made the ninety-minute drive from his house to my hideout just to pray for me. Do you believe in your friends? Then show up. Show up at their graduations and weddings. Spend time with them. You want to bring out the best in someone? Then show up.

Listen up. You don’t have to speak to encourage. The Bible says, “It is best to listen much, speak little” (James 1:19 TLB). We tend to speak much and listen little. There is a time to speak. But there is also a time to be quiet. That’s what my father did. Dropping a fly ball may not be a big deal to most people, but if you are thirteen years old and have aspirations of the big leagues, it is a big deal. Not only was it my second error of the game, it allowed the winning run to score.

I didn’t even go back to the dugout. I turned around in the middle of left field and climbed over the fence. I was halfway home when my dad found me. He didn’t say a word. Just pulled over to the side of the road, leaned across the seat, and opened the passenger door. We didn’t speak. We didn’t need to. We both knew the world had come to an end. When we got home, I went straight to my room, and he went straight to the kitchen. Presently he appeared in front of me with cookies and milk. He took a seat on the bed, and we broke bread together. 

Somewhere in the dunking of the cookies I began to realize that life and my father’s love would go on. In the economy of male adolescence, if you love the guy who drops the ball, then you really love him. My skill as a baseball player didn’t improve, but my confidence in Dad’s love did. Dad never said a word. But he did show up. He did listen up. To bring out the best in others, do the same, and then, when appropriate:

Speak up. Nathaniel Hawthorne came home heartbroken. He’d just been fired from his job in the custom house. His wife, rather than responding with anxiety, surprised him with joy. “Now you can write your book!”

He wasn’t so positive. “And what shall we live on while I’m writing it?”

To his amazement she opened a drawer and revealed a wad of money she’d saved out of her housekeeping budget. “I always knew you were a man of genius,” she told him. “I always knew you’d write a masterpiece.”

She believed in her husband. And because she did, he wrote. And because he wrote, every library in America has a copy of The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

You have the power to change someone’s life simply by the words that you speak. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Prov. 18:21 NKJV). That’s why Paul urges you and me to be careful. “When you talk, do not say harmful things, but say what people need—words that will help others become stronger” (Eph. 4:29).

Earlier I gave you a test for love. There’s also a test for the tongue. Before you speak, ask: Will what I’m about to say help others become stronger? You have the ability, with your words, to make a person stronger. Your words are to their soul what a vitamin is to their body. If you had food and saw someone starving, would you not share it? If you had water and saw someone dying of thirst, would you not give it? Of course you would. Then won’t you do the same for their hearts? Your words are food and water! Do not withhold encouragement from the discouraged. Do not keep affirmation from the beaten down! Speak words that make people stronger. Believe in them as God has believed in you.

You may save someone’s life.

Arthur did. His friend Skinner survived. Both men returned home to Mount Carmel. One day, soon after their arrival, Skinner came over for a visit. He had a gift with him. A small box. Arthur knew immediately what it was. It was an exact copy of the high-school ring. After a lame attempt at humor—“Don’t lose that; it cost me eighteen dollars”—he gave his friend a warm smile and said, “That ring, Artie . . . it saved my life.”6 May someone say the same to you.

May you say the same to God.

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