Unshakable Hope

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)

Good Intentions

With all the bad going on in the world, I was thinking about how much better it would be if we acted on most of our good intentions. Not only would the recipients of the good actions be better off, but I’m convinced that the doers of those that act on their good intentions would experience a greater sense of joy, hope and overall contentment.

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

Jesus did say that the southbound road is really wide and the northbound road is extremely narrow (Matthew 7:13), but I don’t remember Him ever mentioning what the pavement was made of. I think legalistic religion would tell us that the road to hell is paved with evil actions (sin). The opposite extreme would tell us that this dark road is paved with legalistic bricks that have impossible-to-keep rules imprinted on them. Like most things, I believe that the truth is somewhere in between the extremes.

When I read the Bible, especially the New Testament, it becomes clear that God views our wrong actions (sins of commission) just as harshly as He does our failure to act on our good intentions (sins of omission). For example, in the Matthew’s gospel (25:31-46), Jesus paints a scary picture of what judgment day will be like:

“…for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ “Then they themselves also will answer, “Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ “Then He will answer them, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’

The frightening thing about the above passage is that these people who Jesus sent down the dark road, considered themselves to be Christians. If you read between the lines it becomes obvious that these people had developed a habit of not following the promptings of the Holy Spirit or their God-given conscience–they simply quit acting on their good intentions.

james 417

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of (good) works…” (Ephesians 2:8-9),

The Bible is clear that we are not saved by good deeds; we’re saved by grace through a commitment to follow Christ. But that commitment (if genuine) should bear fruit in the form of good works (James 2:18). It’s so easy for Christians to come to a place where we believe that we’re good because we’re not behaving badly. By definition this is self-righteousness. But we don’t overcome evil (in ourselves and in the world) just by not trying to do wrong; we overcome evil by doing good:

“Don’t let evil get the best of you, but conquer evil by doing good.” (Romans 12:21 NLT)

When going through a serious trial, it’s tempting to think that we should somehow be exempt from having to do good works; we might think that we should only be the recipients of the good works of others during these difficult times. Don’t believe this, it will only lead to despair. Our good works might seem insignificant (compared to others) when life’s challenges limit our physical, emotional and/or financial abilities, but, as Christians, we’ll never become exempt from doing good works. This poverty-stricken widow set the perfect example for those going through a trial:

“And He (Jesus) sat down opposite the treasury, and began observing how the people were putting money into the treasury; and many rich people were putting in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent. Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:41-44)

Mary and I are so thankful for the family, friends and even people we didn’t know personally, that have helped us in so many ways throughout this almost 18 year battle with ALS (you know who you are). We don’t even want to think about how much worse this trial would have been had you not acted on your good intentions.

There are so many people in need, but maybe you feel, like I’ve felt at times, that you only have a penny’s worth of help, prayers, words of encouragement or even money to give. Think about the poor widow and just do what you can. I know that God will bless the person you help, and He’ll bless you for acting on your good intentions.

 

Happiness :-)

happy baby

From what I’ve observed, healthy babies, like my 6 month old grandson, are generally happy babies. It seems that we are created to be happy, so why are so why are many adults unhappy?

I recently read a thought-provoking article titled “10 Things to Give up in Exchange for Happiness.” The article wasn’t written from a Christian perspective, but I think everyone, regardless of their beliefs, would probably agree with the author’s following suggestions.

exchange for happinessThey’re good suggestions, but…

According to research, only about 10% of those who make just one New Year’s Resolution will succeed in keeping that resolution. I think the problem with the list is that the author is essentially asking us to make multiple resolutions in our pursuit of happiness. What are the odds?

Even if some strong-willed person succeeded in overcoming every one of these 10 happiness thieves, do you think they’d really be happy? My experience with battling and, to some extent, conquering some of my many character flaws, is that, like to-do lists, it’s never-ending. My almost 18 year battle with ALS has confirmed this. ALS has completely taken away or greatly reduced almost every item on the above list. Let me give you some examples:

1. Give up caring what other people think of you. If you’ve been through a trial that has diminished your physical appearance and/or your abilities (having to use a wheelchair or losing your hair to chemo, etc.), you quickly discover just how image-conscious you are. You either decide to give up caring what others think of you or lock yourself away in a remote cabin in the woods. (I considered the latter, but I knew that Mary and the girls wouldn’t come with me so I reluctantly chose the former). Over the years I’ve become really good, maybe too good, at not caring what people think of me. I laugh to myself when Mary or my caregiver spend time trying to fix my hair and become frustrated if a few hairs won’t cooperate. As they’re fussing with my hair, I’m thinking to myself; I’m completely paralyzed, wheelchair-bound and can’t speak, I don’t think people will be looking at the hair.

2. Give up trying to please everyone. It’s hard to please anyone when you’re completely helpless.

3. Give up participating in gossip. I don’t think that I was ever a gossip (that’s probably what all gossips say), but it’s been so much easier not to gossip or say hurtful and dumb things since ALS stole my voice 17+ years ago. With the help of my new eye-tracking computer, I am still able to blog and email, etc. so I haven’t completely lost my ability to gossip or say dumb and hurtful things (my family and friends can attest to this). But, like most people who’ve been humbled by a difficult trial, gossip has hopefully been replaced by words of hope and encouragement.

8. Give up spending money on what you don’t need in effort to buy happiness. Before ALS, like most people, I spent money on unnecessary things and activities, like taking vacations, eating at nice restaurants and buying sporting equipment, etc. I don’t think that I was “attempting to buy happiness,” I just thought, and still think, that I was enjoying God’s blessings. Since ALS, I cannot go on vacations or go out to eat, and I certainly have no use for things like sporting equipment.

10. Give up control. I really fought thisone, but ALS finally forced me to give into Mary wearing the pants in the family. (I do still control the TV remote most of the time).

The problem I have with the list of “10 Things…” is that it’s advising us to give up emotional highs and weaknesses in exchange for happiness. But happiness is just another emotion, and, like all emotions, happiness is subject to our circumstances. For instance, sadness over the loss of a loved-one or other bad news, immediately destroys any happiness that we might have had.

Joy is much different. For Christians, joy might be hidden for a time, especially -
when we hear bad news or at the onset of a trial, but it’s always there. Hope in God is like a compass that leads us back to joy. And, as Webster’s dictionary defines it, joy is “the source or cause of great happiness.”

Don’t go crazy trying to balance your emotions in a pursuit of happiness; just look to God for hope and you’ll find true and lasting joy and that joy will result in happiness.

What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could ‘be like gods’—could set up on their own as if they had created themselves—be their own masters—invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history—money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery—the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.
God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.”
CS Lewis Mere Christianity

 

Thinking About Death

This is my first post with my new eye-tracking computer. This computer is a real blessing; it feels like I’m making a fresh start, like I’ve been given a new lease on life. How ironic it is that I felt that this post should be about death.

When I was a kid, I had a friend I’ll call “Bubba.” (There were no kids called Bubba where I grew up so I figure that’s a safe name to go with). Bubba was a high-maintenance friend that never called before coming over and always seemed to show up at my house when I was in the middle of doing something important, like watching Gilligan’s Island. He was hyper and never stopped jabbering on about stuff I wasn’t the least bit interested in. No matter how disinterested I acted, he would stay for hours and would even invite himself to dinner. To my immature and selfish mind, Bubba was annoying.

Before becoming a follower of Christ, I viewed thoughts and discussions about death much like I viewed Bubba knocking at my door – an unwelcome annoyance. After becoming a follower of Christ and coming to believe that my eternity in heaven was secured, I basically put the issue of death on a shelf thinking that one day, when I was old and gray, I would have to take it down, dust it off and deal with it. Even as a Christian, I still viewed death as “Bubba.” I never thought that welcoming death into my thoughts and prayers every day would be one of the best decisions of my life.

Old age, tragic accidents and horrible illnesses remind us that invincibility (in these bodies) is a deadline1myth; we are deceiving ourselves. ALS jolted me out of that denial comfort zone and forced me to face death head on and it’s been the most life-transforming experience. I hope to convince others that thinking about death on a daily basis is good for us emotionally and spiritually. This is the exact opposite of what I believed before ALS invaded my life.

“…we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead…” (1 Corinthians 1:9)

A few months ago I read an article that listed the top 5 regrets of the dying. They are as follows:

I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

I wish I had stayed in touch with friends (Bubba, where are you?)

I wish that I had let myself be happier.

I suppose everyone’s list of deathbed regrets would vary from the above list, but in truth we’ll only have one regret on our deathbed: “I wish that I hadn’t lived in denial that this day would come.” All of our regrets grow out of denial about our death. One would think, as I once thought, that thinking about our death, putting ourselves on our deathbed, every day would be depressing, but I’ve discovered that the opposite is true.

Scrooge at His Own Grave in Like me, Ebenezer Scrooge wasn’t changed by reflecting on his past or even by discovering how others viewed him; he was only transformed when he came to terms with his own mortality. Obviously “A Christmas Carol” is not based on the Bible, but I believe Dickens got that part right.

“…that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death…forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead…” (Philippians 3)

We rightly associate Easter with life, but Jesus’ whole mission was about defeating death. He had to face death before He could defeat it and so must we.

The Importance of Purpose

 

In my last post I wrote that my eye-tracking computer crashed and I was without a computer for three weeks. I also mentioned that MDA was nice enough to lend me the computer I’m now using until I can obtain a replacement. As I said, I am very thankful to MDA for lending equipment and for everything else they do. This isn’t a complaint, it’s just a statement of fact; like me, this computer is old and extremely slow. It is so slow that technical support recommended that I not add any programs (I am typing this post as an email because I thought adding Microsoft Word might kill the computer). So having to learn the new system and having many other limitations has challenged my patience.

For “normal” people, having a broken computer for any period of time would be an inconvenience. But imagine how much more inconvenient that would be if you didn’t have a smart phone or access to any other computer. Now imagine that you’re bound and gagged and for three weeks the only thing you could do was listen to audio books or watch TV. That pretty much describes what my time without a computer was like.

My nephew, Patrick, using his communication device

367 My nephew, Patrick, using his communication device

I know that the technology revolution has brought about many negatives for society. The Internet and smart phones have turned many people into social misfits. Even among family and friends, many people now retreat into their own little world of texting or playing games on their phones. But technology has been a true blessing for those with physical and/or mental challenges – people like me and my Autistic nephew.

Since ALS began to paralyze me, I gradually began spending more and more time on the computer. After it became impossible for me to use a standard computer (16 years ago), I discovered software that would allow me to control the computer using a “head mouse.” It is a little box with a beam of light that tracked a mirror-like sticker attached to the front of a cap I would wear. I could move the cursor and type by simply making slight head movements. This system worked well for about four years until my neck started getting too weak to hold my big head up. I was so determined to make it work that I bought a neck brace and, if I had Mary adjust the brace just right, I could still make slight head movements. That worked alright until one day my chin slipped off the front of the brace and I almost choked to death.

It was then that I discovered eye-tracking computers. Instead of a beam of light following a sticker on my cap, eye-tracking computers have a camera that follows eye movements – no neck brace needed! After getting used to using the eye-tracking computer, I was able to use my computer to read the Bible and books, listen to audio books or music, type emails and surf the web, etc. I gradually felt confident enough to volunteer as an Internet Missionary with Global Media Outreach. Then I started this blog.

Even after all these years of using this technology, it still amazes me that we are living in a day when a completely paralyzed person, someone that cannot even speak, can still text and email family and friends and communicate with people all over the world. I appreciate this technology so much more after going three weeks without it. I am really looking forward to getting my new computer so I’ll be able to once again type in Word, read the Bible/books, work with with Global Media Outreach and everything else I was able to do with my other computer.

I had a lot of time to think over those three boring weeks. I realized that, other than a few days of being sick or in the hospital, I’ve never really watched daytime TV and I now know that I wasn’t missing anything. After a while, the TV became more annoying than my mother-in-law’s white noise machine!

My whole adult life, even with the extreme fatigue of ALS, I’ve always been an early riser. I envied people who could sleep-in and take naps. During the time I was without a computer, one of the first things I realized was that I’ve always gotten out of bed early because I had a purpose for doing so. If I was just going to listen to an audio book or watch TV, I could do that from the comfort of my bed. I began losing my desire to even get out of bed and became kind of depressed.

Over the years I’ve learned to look for the lessons in every challenge I face, and this challenge taught me about the importance of purpose. Ilearned that a lack of purpose, or not being able to fulfill your purpose, is a big cause of depression. I also believe that God has a purpose for everyone, even for the “least of us.”

 

Purpose: the feeling of being determined to do or achieve something: the aim or goal of a person: what a person is trying to do, become, etc.

In 1 Corinthians chapter 12, Paul uses the human body as an analogy for the body of Christ (the Church): “But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired…there are many members, but one body…the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary…” (1 Corinthians 12:18-22). That is so encouraging to “weaker” members like me.

Our purpose doesn’t have to be great, by man’s standards, but I don’t believe it’s possible to live with joy, peace and hope without feeling like you’re giving others a reason to have joy, peace and hope. God’s purposes for us always involve the betterment of others. If you don’t know God’s purpose for you, begin helping and encouraging others. Ultimately this is His purpose for all of us.

 

Another Lesson in Patience

1

 


Patience:
the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.

For those of you that might not know, I use a special computer that tracks my eye movements. I have been using this type of computer for about the last ten years and have learned to do virtually everything a “normal” person can do (with a computer:-). But about a month ago my computer crashed.

Unfortunately the company that made the software I have been using for 10+ years was bought by a larger company that did away with the software. I am now having to learn a completely new system and it has been a real challenge, but it’s a challenge that I’m determined to conquer.

This is why I have been so slow in replying to blog comments and email… I was without a computer for three weeks and the computer I’m using now is a loaner from MDA (I am so thankful for MDA). I am in the process of ordering a new computer, but it’s a slow process.

I hope to get back to blogging soon.

What Are You Seeking?

I follow a Bible reading plan every year, and the plan I’m following this year begins with John’s Gospel. I’ve always thought it was much more than a coincidence that the first words spoken by Jesus (in John’s Gospel) come in the form of a very profound question; it’s a question that everyone should know the answer to:

“What are you seeking? (John 1:38)

When I read that question on January 1st, I paused to think about what I should be seeking this year. I believe that our New Year’s Resolutions, or lack of, tell a lot about what we’re seeking. The following is a list of the top ten New Year’s Resolutions for 2014. Other than showing that we smoke too much, spend too much, sit too much and eat too much, what does this list tell us about the American people?

  1. Lose weight.
  2. Improve finances.
  3. Exercise more.
  4. Get a new/better job.
  5. Eat healthier.
  6. Manage stress better.
  7. Quit smoking.
  8. Improve a relationship.
  9. Quit procrastinating.
  10. Set aside time for yourself.

Besides being obsessed with our bodies and being guilt-ridden over repeatedly doing the things we don’t like, it seems to me that we’re focused on treating symptoms instead of the disease. I think all of these resolutions are good, but notice that none of the top 10 resolutions are in any way spiritual. Maybe that’s why only around ten percent of those that make resolutions succeed in keeping them. And of that ten percent that succeeds at conquering a habit or addiction, a large percentage of those will simply replace that habit or addiction with an equally destructive behavior. It seems that we’re trying, and mostly failing, to fight the flesh with the flesh.

Jesus and the Apostles tell us that we should be seeking the things whichpeace quote lead to peace. Not “world peace,” but our inner-peace. I’m not a psychiatrist or an addiction counselor, but it seems to me that a lack of inner-peace is at least partially, if not mostly, to blame for the majority of our bad habits, addictions, bad attitudes and other negative behaviors.

“For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace…” “So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.” (Romans 8:6 & 14:19)

I haven’t yet perfected this inner-peace thing, but I’ve come a long way over the last ten or fifteen years. I’ve discovered that seeking peace through doing things like reading the Bible, prayer, listening to sermons and having like-minded friends, including blog friends, will greatly increase our sense of peace. If our primary focus is on seeking peace—the Prince of peace, we make Christ our partner in overcoming addictions and bad habits and bad attitudes.

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

Even if you’ve already broken your resolutions, reset your priorities and start over again. Make seeking peace your number one goal and it will increase your joy and hope and give you the strength to conquer your “demons.”

“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)

Thankful

When I was diagnosed with ALS in 1996, at the age of 36, the Neurologist’s prognosis was that I probably would not live to see my 40th birthday. Our girls were only seven and four years old at that time.

Lauren, Leah and me about the time I was diagnosed

Lauren, Leah and me about the time I was diagnosed

I naturally thought of everything I would miss; like high school and college graduations, interrogating their dates, giving them away on their wedding day and the birth of my grandchildren.

I am so thankful that the Neurologist’s prediction was wrong:

I’ve lived to see both of our daughters graduate from high school and college.

Lauren and Leah

leah graduation

I gave Lauren away on her wedding day two years ago.

Lauren and James

Lauren and James

And last week I became a Grandfather!

Lauren and Jude

Lauren and Jude

Because heaven is our ultimate future and Christ is our hope, the following verse is true for all Christians – even those of us that are facing difficult trials and those who’ve gone on to their ultimate future at an early age:

“For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, “plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

Remembering the Other “Jack”

Fifty years ago today, two famous men with the nickname “Jack” died. The first and most well-known of these “Jacks” was, of course, President John F. Kennedy. I don’t think it’s still the case today, but in JFK’s day, “Jack” was a common nickname for someone named John. Sadly, this Jack was shot dead in Dallas on November, 22nd, 1963.

time kennedyJFK was a big deal to our family, being that we were an Irish Catholic family living in Boston at the time he was elected. I even campaigned for JFK. Actually, that’s not really true; my mom was a volunteer for JFK’s campaign and she was pregnant with me at the time so I campaigned with her up until my birth four weeks before JFK was elected. But I doubt that my mom and I had to campaign very hard; convincing people in predominantly Irish Catholic Boston to vote for JFK was probably about as difficult as persuading the Klu Klux Klan not to vote for Barack Obama.

The world’s news was so focused on the tragedy unfolding in Dallas that horrible day fifty years ago, that the death of the other “Jack” went virtually unreported. Many of you know that “The Other Jack” I’m referring to is C.S. Lewis. This Jack died at his home in Oxford, England about an hour before JFK was assassinated.

time_cslewis_cover C.S Lewis’ first name was Clive; a name he hated even as a little boy. His dog was named “Jacksie” and when Lewis was four years old, his dog was run over by a car near his home in Belfast, Ireland. After the death of his dog, Lewis told his family that from then on he would only answer to the name “Jacksie.” Thankfully his family and friends shortened his nickname to “Jack.”

While thinking about the deaths of these two “Jacks,” I began wondering which of them had the greatest impact (for good) on the world. Of course, this is a question that only God knows the answer to. In this respect, they’re no different from any of us. We can only testify about people that have had an influence on us personally.

As most of you have seen, there are many television programs commemorating the death of JFK this week and there’s nothing much any of us could add to the coverage. But, like fifty years ago, I haven’t seen anything on TV commemorating the death of C.S Lewis. Through Lewis’ books, and the movies that were made from his books, Christians of all ages feel a personal connection to “the other Jack.”  It’s a rare person that can captivate children with stories like The Chronicles of Narniaand turn around and challenge cynical adults with books like “Mere Christianity.”

In commemoration of “The Other Jack,” I’d like you to read about three well-known men whose lives were transformed after reading the words of The Other Jack.”

The former “arrogant atheist:”

francis 2Dr. Francis Collins: former leader of The Human Genome Project, current Director of the National Institutes of Health

“Somebody pointed me towards C.S. Lewis’s little book called Mere Christianity, which took all of my arguments that I thought were so airtight about the fact that faith is just irrational, and proved them totally full of holes. And in fact, turned them around the other way, and convinced me that the choice to believe is actually the most rational conclusion when you look at the evidence around you. That was a shocking sort of revelation, and one that I fought bitterly for about a year and then finally decided to accept. And that’s a book I go back to regularly, to dig through there for the truths that you find there…”

After finishing his work with the Human Genome Project, Collins wrote a book titled, “The Language of God.” “The God of the Bible is also the God of the genome,” he writes. “He can be worshiped in the cathedral or in laboratory.”

The former corrupt Presidential adviser:
chuck 2Charles “Chuck” Colson: Nixon adviser who was snared by Watergate

Colson described his conversion to Christianity as a post-Watergate moment when a friend read him a passage from C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity about pride.  “I spent an hour on the side of the road right next to my friend’s home, crying, thinking about my wife, wanting to know God, wanting to be clean. ”  

After serving seven months of his prison sentence, Colson founded Prison Fellowship, a Christian outreach to prisoners and ex-prisoners that would eventually become the largest ministry of its kind in the United States.

“As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on thing and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down you cannot see something that is above you.”
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

The former pride-filled businessman:
Monaghan 2Thomas Monaghan: Founder of Domino’s Pizza, Chancellor of Ave Maria University

Monaghan had just finished reading Mere Christianity and could not get the chapter titled “The Great Sin” (pride) out of his head. “[It] hit me right between the eyes.” “I realized that all I was trying to do was have more than other people…I thought, ‘If pride is the greatest sin of all, I’ve got to be the greatest sinner of all.”

That night, Monaghan was barely able to sleep. He awoke the next morning and proclaimed that he was taking what he calls a “millionaire’s vow of poverty.” He immediately stopped construction on his new mansion and began selling his “toys;” expensive cars, yacht and even the Detroit Tigers baseball team.

Even if a person lives to be a hundred, it’s nothing compared to eternity. For good or bad, the legacy we leave influences people for generations. They might have phrased it differently, but I believe this is what all three of these men came to realize. It’s something we all should keep in mind.

A Lesson We Learned From Our Honeymoon

Last Saturday (11/2) Mary and I celebrated our 28th wedding anniversary. Recently we were telling someone about our crazy honeymoon and I thought my blog friends might find interesting too.

I suppose to varying degrees all marriages have a mix of the good and the bad; memories you cherish and other times you wish you could forget. Our honeymoon was some of both also.

We bought our first home three months before our wedding and I moved in and began fixing it up. Buying a home and fixing it up turned out to be more expensive than we anticipated so our honeymoon plans had to be drastically scaled back.

I found a good deal for a week at a resort in a popular destination south of the border (for reasons that will become clear, I won’t name the location). The first four days of the trip were great; beautiful weather, great food and fun activities like snorkeling, parasailing and other fun things honeymooning couples do, but then came day five…

After a nice breakfast by the pool, we wandered into the hotel lobby and began browsing through the rack of activity brochures. Most of the local activities were either too expensive for our limited budget or uninteresting to us. But then we saw a brochure that interested both of us; a four hour guided horseback riding trip up a mountain trail along a beautiful flowing creek. The trip even included lunch at a picturesque mountain-top restaurant before turning around for the trip back down the mountain.

We handed the brochure to the concierge and asked him to book us. He made a call and informed us that activity was already sold-out for that day, but he knew of another guide that could take us up the mountain to the same restaurant shown in the brochure. Without asking questions, we told him to call and book us.

We became a little concerned when we arrived at the “stables” and saw that the location was a long way from the scenic mountain trail located behind the large stable featured in the brochure. We became more concerned when our “tour guide” turned out to be a skinny teenager that didn’t speak English. And we became even more concerned when we realized that we were the only people going on the trip with our young guide.

Pushing aside the cautionary voices in our heads, we mounted our docile horses. Our guide’s horse wasn’t as cooperative as our horses were; it moved from side-to-side and bucked as he was trying to get on.

After finally getting on his horse, our guide led us along the shoulder of the busy street, away from the entrance to the mountain trail. After waiting for a lull in the traffic and galloping across the street, we started up a dirt road. It quickly became clear to us that this was not going to be anything like the romantic horseback ride shown in the glossy brochure. The dirt road didn’t lead to a trail, it was the trail; a switchback road weaving by shack after shack. We had never seen such poverty.

About halfway up the mountain, we passed a dead and very bloated cow with a mangy dog chewing on its head (Mary hates when I tell that gruesome part). Our guide pointed to the cow as if his hand was a gun and shouted, “BANDITOS” and began nervously looking around and then picked up the pace.

After finally arriving at the restaurant, we saw a large group of people briskly crossing a footbridge; the footbridge that was strung across the stream we never saw on our way up the mountain. They were all American tourists like us; the horseback riding group we originally wanted to go with. It turns out that it was a good thing we didn’t join them because they were robbed at gunpoint by bandits just minutes before arriving at the restaurant. The robbers took all their jewelry and money; one older man had to be led by the hand because the thieves even stole their glasses.

Through a translator, our tour guide told us that the authorities were sending a truck to pick up the terrified people, but he felt that we’d be safe riding our horses back the same way we came up. When he saw the panicked look on our face, he shouted “Banditos go” and then pointed up at the mountains. The translator told us that our guide thought the bandits were probably hiding out in the mountains so he believed we’d be safe riding back down.

Nervously, but quickly we mounted our horses for the steep descent down the dirty switchback road. The ride up took about two hours, but we were going to make it down a lot faster than that, or so we thought.

We were making good time down the steep and winding road, but about a third of the way down, our tour guide was thrown violently from his temperamental horse. We heard a loud “SNAP” as he hit the ground and screamed out. He was one tough kid because he immediately stood up and began calmly examining his broken arm. It was bad, the bone was sticking out of his forearm and he was bleeding profusely. I quickly got down off of my horse to see if I could help him.

He began motioning for me to grab his hand and yank his arm to reset the broken bone. I didn’t think this was a good idea because the bone was clearly shattered and wasn’t going to simply go back into place. But he insisted so I planted my feet and began pulling as hard as I could on the poor guy’s arm. He screamed louder than I’ve ever heard someone scream and for an instant I wondered if I had misunderstood what he had motioned for me to do. But he insisted we give it another try and this time he screamed even louder. If the banditos were taking a siesta in their mountain hideaway, I was sure our screaming tour guide had woken them up.

For all we knew this kid was in shock and wasn’t thinking straight so I decided to take charge of the situation. We had to get him down off of the mountain and to a doctor right away. I wrapped his arm with a cloth and helped him get on the back of Mary’s horse. I pulled his unpredictable horse behind me.

After a long slow trek down the mountain we finally arrived back at the busy street. We tried repeatedly to flag down a car to take him to a doctor, but there were no Good Samaritans on the road that day. He finally motioned for us to bring him back to the stable, which we did. I insisted on giving him some cash to help pay his medical expenses, but he refused to take my money.

We were hot, exhausted and extremely thirsty when we finally arrived back to our hotel room. Because the cost was so outrageous, we had agreed not to eat or drink anything from the mini fridge in our room, but we decided to make this one exception. I quickly grabbed a bottle of Sprite and we took several large gulps. When the bottle was almost gone, Mary stopped me as I went to take another drink – the bottle was full of tiny bugs, hundreds of them. Obviously the bottle washing machine was broken the day this bottle was filled.

We decided to put our crazy morning and afternoon behind us and make the most of that night. We made reservations at a casual restaurant that the concierge, the same concierge, had recommended.

After a shower and a short nap, we were surprisingly rested and refreshed when the cab picked us up to take us to the restaurant. The drive up to the oceanfront restaurant was beautiful with the tree-lined mountains on one side and the sun setting over the ocean on the other side. Finally something that qualified as romantic on our honeymoon, but it was short-lived…

honeymoon pic 2We forgot to bring Mary’s good camera on the trip, but even with the cheap camera we picked up at a drug store, you can see from the picture that the view from the restaurant was spectacular. The food was as good as the view, but taste and appearances can be deceptive…

By the time Mary and I arrived at our hotel room, we were violently ill; it was obviously a severe case of food poisoning. From then on out, the only contact we had with each other was brushing by one another as we exchanged places in the bathroom. It was horrible; we were like Protestants visiting a Catholic Church – we didn’t know whether to kneel or sit.

I was somewhat better the following morning, but Mary was getting worse. I booked us on the next flight home and took Mary straight to the hospital. After a 24 hours in the hospital on an IV and antibiotics, she was finally well enough to go home.

Our honeymoon turned out to be a kind of a metaphor for the years that followed; there have been good times, but also some difficult mountain climbs.

Life is so unpredictable; it’s like a switchback road, you never know what will greet you around the next turn. But, if Christ is our guide, He’ll give us the grace we need to deal with any and everything that awaits us.

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? …in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.” (Romans 8:35-37)

 

The Greatest Christian I Know

Who is the greatest Christian you know?

I will give my answer to that question at the end of this post.

I realize that questions such as this could be classified by some as judging others. But the Bible does tell us to “test ourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5) and to test spiritual claims and people (1 John 4:1 & Revelation 2:2). The Bible also gives us attributes to look for when conducting these examinations of ourselves and others.

Here are some of the attributes (of great Christians) that I’ve found in the Bible:

  • Compassionate, Kind, Humble, Gentle, Patient, Bearing the burdens of others and Forgiving (Colossians 3:12-13)
  • Encouraging and Building-up others (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
  • A reader and a “doer” of God’s word (James 1:22).
  • Hospitable, Sensible, Just, Devout and Self-controlled (Titus 1:8).
  • Loving, Joyful, Peaceful, Faithful (Galatians 5:22)
  • Prayerful, Thankful (to God and others) and Hopeful (Colossians 1:3-5).

If you tested yourself by the above criteria and concluded that you deserve an A+ on every one these virtues, you’re either delusional or off-the-charts self-righteous. Everyone, even the person I chose as “The Greatest Christian I Know,” struggle with some of these.

But, according to Jesus, a truly great Christian possesses one quality that sets them apart; “But the greatest among you shall be your servant.” (Matthew 23:11)

“True greatness, true leadership, is achieved not by reducing [people] to one’s service, but by giving up oneself in selfless service to them.” Oswald Chambers

“True greatness, true leadership, is achieved not by reducing [people] to one’s service, but by giving up oneself in selfless service to them.” Oswald Chambers

When I read passages like the following, I think of caregivers; “For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me…to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least [most helpless] of them, you did it to Me.” (Matthew 25:35-40)

I think of people like my sister and her husband who care for their 18 year-old severely Autistic son. People like my mother-in-law who took care of her ill husband until he recently passed away. And even paid caregivers, like the woman that helps Mary take care of me, qualify as “Great” in my book.

But the Greatest all-around Christian I know is Mary, my wife and best friend of 28 years. Since being diagnosed with ALS years-ago, she’s also been my full-time caregiver. She is the best example I know of a truly selfless servant.

And, no, I didn’t just choose her as the greatest Christian out of fear that she’d stop feeding and clothing me.

“…whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve…” (Matthew 20:26-28)

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