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)

Thanks-living

Even though I cannot eat (by mouth) anymore, I still love the Thanksgiving Holiday. (I no longer have to worry about that gluttony thing).

Over my 21 year journey with this horrible disease called ALS, I’ve become a more grateful person. I also seem to notice ingratitude in myself and in others more than I did before ALS entered my life.

Through my observations, I’ve concluded that ungratefulness and unhappiness go hand-in-hand. Think about it, have you ever known a happy ingrate? Yeah, neither have I.

The unthankful heart discovers no mercies; but the thankful heart will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings.” – Henry Ward Beecher

The Bible doesn’t tell us to be happy, which leads me to believe that not even God could teach happiness. However, the Bible repeatedly tells us to be thankful:

“...let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are all called to live in peace. And always be thankful. Let the words of Christ, in all their richness, live in your hearts and make you wise. Use his words to teach and counsel each other. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. And whatever you do or say, let it be as a representative of the Lord Jesus, all the while giving thanks through him to God the Father.” (Colossians 3:15-17)

I know some people believe that happiness is a choice, but I’m not one of those people. As the above passage shows, we can be intentional about being thankful, and if we succeed in this area, I am convinced that true and lasting joy will follow.

This Thanksgiving Holiday, I will renew my commitment to be more thankful to God for His many blessings and to the family and friends that He’s used to bless us.

I’m especially thankful this Thanksgiving because I’ll get to meet our beautiful new granddaughter, Claire Elizabeth.

Since 1863, when, during the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens,” to be celebrated on the last Thursday in November.

“Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” – Melody Beattie

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A Great Inheritance

Wouldn’t it be great to inherit millions of dollars from a distant relative that you’ve never even met?
Unfortunately, this rarely happens, but I did get an email from Nigeria…


When I was fifteen years old, a great uncle, who I was named after, passed away and left me a gold-plated pocket watch with his/my name engraved on the back and a thousand dollars. I had never met this man, but he instantly became my favorite uncle. I was determined to be responsible with my newfound fortune so I opened a savings account and deposited the check. A few months later I turned 16, got my drivers license, and crashed into a tree in my sister’s car. I had to say goodbye to my great inheritance.

I thought a lot about material wealth while watching horrible images on TV of hurricane’s Harvey and Irma destroying homes and businesses in Texas, Florida, and other states. And, as I’m typing this blog post, I’m glancing at the TV and seeing more horrible images caused by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, and a powerful earthquake in Mexico City. It’s heartbreaking.

We live in Southeast Texas, and we’ve seen the destructive power of these storms. So many people we know were flooded out of their homes from Hurricane Harvey. Thankfully, we were not among them.

A week after Hurricane Harvey destroyed so many homes and businesses in our area, my visiting nurse, Rebecca, came to our home. She visits me every month to confirm that I am still alive. Rebecca is a Christian and a single mother of three young boys. She told us that she and her boys had to flee their rental home as the floodwaters began to creep in. There was no time to move furniture and other valued possessions upstairs. The muddy water quickly engulfed the whole first floor, ruining everything it swallowed up.

Nine years ago, Hurricane Ike swept through Southeast Texas. Even though we live 80+ miles from the coast, we still had hurricane-strength winds at our home. The strong winds left our area without electricity and, because we have a water well, without running water, for seven days. We and most of our neighbors have generators because we’re prone to natural disasters and occasional power outages. My friend, and then next-door neighbor, Les, set up a little window air conditioner in our bedroom and kept our generator running 24/7.

Mary and I were sound asleep in our cool bedroom, while poor Les was yelling for us to call 911; their house was on fire! By the time we made it outside, their beautiful home was fully engulfed in flames; there was little the firefighters could do. We later learned that the cause of the fire was a faulty extension cord running from his generator to a fan in his home. Something so small, took so much. Thankfully, Les’s wife and kids were staying with relatives so everyone, except the family dog, escaped the flames.


How quickly our earthly treasures can be taken from us.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust (earthquakes, floods and fire) destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)

Where is your heart today?

Jesus gave the Apostle Paul, the disciples, and all followers of Christ our marching orders:

“…open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.” (Acts 26:18)     

Jesus wants all people to trust and hope in the inheritance that He suffered, died, and was resurrected to secure for everyone who “calls on His name.” This is the Great Inheritance, it’s an eternal inheritance.

We are living in uncertain times, our wealth, and, as I learned 21 years ago, our health, and even our very lives, can be taken from us In a moment.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you…” (1 Peter 1:3-5)

The Bible tells us that everything we see can, and will, be shaken. Only by putting our faith in Christ will we have Unshakable Hope.

The Man In The Mirror

Can you imagine going a whole month without seeing yourself in a mirror?

If you’re a follower of my blog, you know that I’ve had ALS for almost 21 years, and that I’m totally paralyzed and home-bound. In addition to an excellent nurse visiting me once a month to confirm that I’m still alive, a very nice lady also comes to our home once a month to cut my hair. She came the other day to cut my hair so Mary maneuvered my wheelchair into the bathroom in front of the dreaded mirror (mirrors don’t lie). “Who is that guy with gray hair and big bags under his eyes?” I asked myself.

You see, unless I ask Mary or my caregiver to place me in front of the mirror, which, for obvious reasons, I rarely do, haircut time is the only time I have to face this 56 year old man in a wheelchair (a really disturbing experience).

In some ways, my journey with ALS almost seems like a bad dream, a really long bad dream, even more so when I don’t see myself in the mirror for long periods of time.

Except for the constant reminders of the wheelchair I’m sitting on and the eye-tracking (Look Ma, no hands) computer I’m using, I could close my eyes and almost imagine that I am still the healthy 36 year old man that I was before being diagnosed with this stinkin’ disease.

Then I look in the mirror…

“…we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

Can you imagine someone picking out the clothes you wear every day – for 20 years? On occasion, when we’re having company, Mary will bring out three shirts and ask me which one I’d like to wear. But, other than those rare occasions, Mary or Sharlene, my caregiver and good friend for the last ten years, pick out the clothes I’m going to wear without any input from me.

As I was writing this post, I thought about an old black & white movie I’ve seen, titled “The Picture of Dorian Gray.” It’s about a narcissistic man, Dorian Gray, that, while examining his just-completed portrait, basically makes a pact with the devil that his physical appearance would remain just as it is in the portrait.

Over the period of several years, all of his friends age naturally, but Dorians appearance remains the same as it was the day that he collaborated with evil. However, his now-hidden portrait reflects his soul, and this portrait becomes more hideous with every evil act he commits.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0037988/

If there was such a thing as a mirror that reflected our soul, what would your reflection look like? (I have probably asked myself this question a thousand times since making a commitment to follow Christ some 35 years ago).

When looking into a mirror, we can see our physical imperfections, but for those who call themselves Christians, the Bible is the mirror of our soul. If we’re open to making changes to our spiritual imperfections (if we have “eyes to see and ears to hear”) the Bible will transform us.

But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.”(James1:22-25)

“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

Are you being transformed by the Mirror of your Soul?

If not, I hope and pray you’ll begin doing so today.

A Dispatch From My Cave

I’ve joked for many years that I feel like a caveman. Unfortunately, ALS has turned me into somewhat of a recluse; the weaker I get, the more reclusive I’ve become.

As most of you know, I cannot speak or move. I use an eye-tracking computer to type and “speak.” Light affects the camera tracking my eye movements so I keep it dark in my bedroom, where I spend 95% of my time.

Allow me to paint you a brief picture of this scene: I’m in our large bedroom reclining in my wheelchair. I’m tethered to my breathing machine and a little pump that slowly releases manufactured sustenance into my feeding tube. We have blackout curtains that are usually closed and the only light coming in is from the open blinds of the door leading out to the back patio.

You can see why I’ve nicknamed our bedroom “the cave.”

Most days I’m sitting here on my computer for ten to twelve hours. Technology is an incredible blessing for someone like me. I read the Bible, Kindle books and blog posts. I listen to audio books, sermons and music. I scroll through Facebook, type emails and reply to comments on my blog. And, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, for about the last seven years I’ve been volunteering as an Online Missionary with Global Media Outreach. Daily I communicate with people from all over the world – all from my little cave.

It feels so good to be unhooked from my machines and just sit in the yard for a few hours, especially when my grand-kids are over like this past weekend.

I don’t mean this to sound like “it’s all good.” ALS stinks! Trials are so difficult even for the strongest of Jesus’s disciples. Even if you are not physically isolated as I am, trials, and the depression that often accompanies that trial, can make you feel as if you’re living alone in a dark cave.

Before he became the King of Israel, David had a death sentence hanging over his head. David’s predecessor, King Saul, and a large group of his most skillful warriors were searching for David in order to kill him. David wrote some of the Psalms during this time, including the following Psalm which he wrote while hiding out in a darkened cave:

Psalm 142
“I cry aloud with my voice to the LORD; I make supplication with my voice to the LORD. I pour out my complaint before Him; I declare my trouble before Him. When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, You knew my path. In the way where I walk They have hidden a trap for me. Look to the right and see; For there is no one who regards me; There is no escape for me; No one cares for my soul. I cried out to You, O LORD; I said, “You are my refuge, My portion in the land of the living. “Give heed to my cry, For I am brought very low; Deliver me from my persecutors, For they are too strong for me. “Bring my soul out of prison, So that I may give thanks to Your name; The righteous will surround me, For You will deal bountifully with me.”

The Cave of Adullam, where David wrote the above Psalm. Taken by Ferrell Jenkins
I know the circumstances are different, but it’s so easy to relate to the anguish that David was feeling in the midst of his trials. Sometimes it can actually feel as if the trial is some kind of demonic warrior trying to thwart God’s plan for our life, much like Saul trying to kill David so he wouldn’t become king.

We see this pattern repeated throughout the New Testament; beginning with Satan trying to use temptation, suffering, and finally Jesus’s death in his vain attempt to derail God’s plan for us and our eternity with Christ. This pattern continued with the trials, temptations and ultimately with the martyrdom of all of the Apostles and millions of disciples in every nation on earth over the last two thousand years.

Why did they have to suffer and be martyred?

They dared to obey the final commandment of Jesus; The Great Commission:

“…All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you…” (Matthew 28:18-20).

Regardless of what we’re going through, we should do our best to carry The Great Commission.

I was thinking about this when my friend Heidi asked Mary and me if we would consider being interviewed on a national Christian radio show. Remember, I can’t speak at all and Mary gets nervous just speaking in front of a small group. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention it was live radio.

After a few days of discussing this, Mary and I agreed to do the show. We both concluded that it was worth the risk of making fools out of ourselves if we could encourage even one person that’s going through a trial or maybe give hope to a discouraged caregiver.

If any of you would like to hear our interview with Chris Fabry on Moody Radio click HERE.

Thank you for reading.

TGIF

I was thinking about Good Friday when I woke up early yesterday morning. Then I thought about people using the phrase “Thank God It’s Friday” to celebrate the end of a work week and the start of the weekend.

Even though I haven’t worked in over 19 years, I remember that feeling of being so glad a work week was over as I was sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on a Friday evening or landing at the airport after being gone all week on a business trip.

Then I thought about the darkest Friday of my life.

After three days of grueling tests, which included cutting muscle samples out of my thigh without any anesthetic and a spinal tap that left me with a debilitating headache for three days, the neurologist, flanked by a group of interns, told to Mary and I that I had ALS. He went on to say that I would continually get weaker, be confined to a wheelchair, lose my ability to speak, and that I would die in three to five years.

That was not a Friday I was thanking God for.

Do you think when the disciples were staring up at Jesus dying on the cross they called that day “Good Friday?”

Yeah, I don’t think so either.

I’m sure there was a lot of confusion and crying on that dark day. Maybe they were like Mary and I on the long drive home from the medical center that Friday evening; not even looking at one another for fear of dissolving into tears.

Like Mary and I, I’m sure they were thinking, “This isn’t the way it was supposed to be.”

To add insult to injury, Jesus and the disciples were surrounded by people that were mocking and celebrating His crucifixion.

For the disciples, this day was anything but TGIF.

Jesus knew differently.

…for the joy set before Him (Jesus) endured the cross…” (Hebrews 12:2)

It was “for the joy set before Him” that Jesus was able to endure the insults, the flogging, the beatings, and being nailed to the cross.

It wasn’t until Sunday morning that the disciples understood that God’s plan was so much bigger and better than they could have imagined:

…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who (like Jesus) for the joy set before Him endured the cross…” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

We can endure the cross we have to bear, no matter how heavy it might be, if we “fix our eyes on Jesus” and focus on “the joy set before us” – eternal life with the One who suffered and died for us.

This does not mean that we have to abandon our hopes and dreams for this life – far from it. God wants to bless us in this life too.

But, making a commitment to follow Christ is the only Unshakable Hope that God offers for this life and the next.

Today is a great day to make this commitment or to renew your commitment.

The Will To Live

I almost made it through a whole year without being hospitalized or having any additional health problems. Almost. Then, with just a few days left in 2016, I caught a cold. The “common cold” is not much more than an annoyance for otherwise healthy people, but for someone like me with weakened breathing muscles and only 30% of my lungs functioning, the common cold is much more than an annoyance.

On the morning of the last day of the year, I was having an extremely difficult time breathing even wearing my breathing mask. In addition to that, I couldn’t keep anything down. I was a mess, more than usual. Mary and I both assumed it was pneumonia again so she called 911 and within minutes we were in an ambulance en route to the hospital. ALS has brought us one adventure after another over the last 20 years.

We waited in a small emergency room for twelve hours while waiting for a room to open so I could be admitted. It was during this time that I began thinking about the will to live. I was thinking, “if I didn’t have a sense that God still had a purpose for even a broken down mess like me or if I was an atheist or adhered to some other fatalistic worldview, I would have wanted a doctor to give me a shot that would have ended this suffering. It was as if my opposition to euthanasia was being tested.

Billygraham.org
If you are convinced you’re going to heaven, where the Bible says there will be no more pain, suffering and tears…, why continue to go on fighting to live?

Apart from the fact that the Bible teaches that life, including our own life, isn’t ours to take, it’s a very logical question; a question I’ve pondered at length over the last 20 years.

It’s a question that really confuses atheists.

Years ago I was watching a Barbara Walters special on heaven. She interviewed representatives of many different faiths to get their take on the after life. For some reason her last interview was with an atheist. I remember so vividly the closing sentence of this atheist: (If we believed in a heaven) “we’d all be killing ourselves now.”

But the reverse puzzles me: if atheists believe that this short life is all that there is, why do studies on assisted suicide show that atheists are the most likely to choose that option when facing a terminal illness?

Last year, Mary and I watched a movie titled “Me Before You.” It was a fictional “love story” about a wealthy self-centered 33 year old playboy in England that becomes a quadriplegic after a tragic accident. He’s obviously depressed and becomes a recluse in his parents mansion. He begins researching assisted suicide and finds a beautiful facility in Switzerland that provides “death with dignity” for wealthy people from all over the world (unfortunately, this facility really exists).

I’m obviously not a movie reviewer so let me wrap this summary up: his pretty young caregiver convinces him to travel to many exotic locations and they fall in love, but he still goes through with his plan to end their travels at the Switzerland death clinic. Not a very happy ending.

While watching this “love story,” my mind began to wander. I began thinking about a woman I admire so much. Fifty years ago, this woman was a beautiful and carefree 17 year old swimming with friends in the Chesapeake Bay. She dove into shallow water and hit bottom. This tragic accident resulted in her becoming a quadriplegic, virtually the exact same injury as the man depicted in the movie. Like him, she became depressed, reclusive and also had suicidal thoughts, but…

Joni Eareckson Tada had made a commitment to follow Christ three years earlier while attending a Christian summer camp. It was a renewal of this commitment and the support of family and friends that gave her life new purpose. For 50 years she’s been serving others all over the world while confined to a wheelchair. She shares the Gospel on TV and radio, hosts summer camps for mentally and physically disabled youth and, a ministry that is so needed, she provides wheelchairs to the disabled in third-world countries, like the boy below in Haiti. Her ministry has given away over 150,000 wheelchairs so far.

wheelchair-haiti
It’s really amazing what God can do with broken (humbled) vessels, regardless of our physical state. This year, give God permission to use you – this is the ultimate expression of His gift of a freewill. We are Christ’s hands to help a hurting world.

And, as the Apostle Paul wrote, when we’re done fulfilling God’s purpose for us in this life, it gets so much better:

“For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)

aim-at-heaven
No matter how depressed you might be over your current circumstances, please don’t give up, your story doesn’t have to have a sad ending.

“Therefore we do not lose heart (don’t give up). Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16)

think-of-heaven

Becoming Humble

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1It’s been 20 years since I was diagnosed with ALS, and I’d like to share some of the lessons I’ve learned over these long and difficult years.

The strange thing about being taught lessons from difficult circumstances is that you have no idea that you’re being taught a lesson at the time. This was the case with my learning about humility. Unlike learning lessons from books or teachers, experiences, especially really difficult experiences, teach us lessons that we never forget. These lessons literally become a part of us.

“Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn.” – CS Lewis

I don’t remember giving it a lot of thought at the time, but I suppose that I considered myself to be a fairly humble guy before being diagnosed with ALS. I now know that I didn’t even understand what true humility was back then. I am still learning.

Like taking several different classes in school, trials teach us many lessons at the the same time. Some people call this “The school of hard knocks.” But the other lessons are much easier to learn if you first learn the lesson of humility. Humble people are teachable people.

humility-quote324329332387

My first lesson in humility.

It’s funny to think about now, but I fought so hard to keep from having to use a wheelchair back when I first began stumbling and falling. I vividly remember it taking me like fifteen minutes to walk into church using a walker. I never looked behind me as I was creeping along, but I now picture myself leading a long line of very patient churchgoers walking at my same tortoise-like pace. I’m sure they were asking themselves, why doesn’t this guy just use a wheelchair? (Mary was probably asking herself the same question as she walked alongside me).

I’d like to claim that my refusal to use a wheelchair for so long was me fighting against the ravages of this horrible disease. That was mostly true, but it was partly old-fashioned pride. There was a part of me, the worst part of me, that simply didn’t want to be viewed as a crippled person. (Like I was fooling anyone). I know that sounds shallow, but it’s the truth.

If you ever want to test your level of humility, go shopping at the mall in a wheelchair.

I was reading the Bible every day, going to church and doing all the things “good Christians” do; I had been a follower of Christ for many years, yet I still wasn’t truly humble. I now know that being humble, just like being proud, is a choice. Choosing to be humble is a choice that even the healthiest and wealthiest can and should make. Difficult trials force us to choose one or the other. (If humility wasn’t a choice, God wouldn’t have told us to “humble ourselves” as He does throughout the Bible).

Every Christian has a choice between being humble or being humbled” – Charles Spurgeon

Trials chip away at our pride like a sculptor chiseling away at a rough block of limestone. The difference between a block of stone and a human being is that the block of stone doesn’t have a freewill. The silent choices we make, especially when going through a difficult time, play a big part in determining what the Sculptor will make us into.

Fighting against the process of being humbled is a miserable way to live, especially when you’re dying.

I’m not saying that we should give in to the trial, that’s the last thing we should do. I refuse to allow ALS to take me down without a fight. As of last week I’ve been battling this monster for 20 years and, even though this disease has knocked me down (literally and figuratively) more times than I can count, I still choose not to give up.

Regardless of what our trial might be, we cannot fight alone. We need the help of others and we especially need God’s assistance. Whether it’s for salvation or coping with life’s many difficulties, God’s assistance comes in the form of His grace (favor, goodwill, loving-kindness…).

The Bible tells us that God (only) gives His grace to the humble (James 4:6). It’s not that He doesn’t want to give grace to the proud, it’s just that the proud refuse His grace. Pride is by definition self-reliance, an illusion that keeps God and others at a comfortable distance.

Whether or not you’re going through a difficult time right now, humble yourself and your humility combined with God’s grace, will help you in good times and bad.

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Becoming Perfect

I’ve learned so much about following Christ over the almost twenty years that I’ve been dealing with this frustrating disease known as ALS. It’s been a long and, in every sense, a painful road to travel. But, from a Christian perspective, it’s these difficult trials that are supposed to shape and perfect us:

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)

One word stands out to me when I read the above passage – perfect.

Perfect: being entirely without fault or defect: flawless b: satisfying all requirements: accurate.

Jesus did say that His followers were to be perfect (Matthew 5:48). That’s a tough standard; the toughest of all standards. It’s kind of funny to think about now, but before making a commitment to follow Christ, back when I was still committed to following myself, Matthew was the first book I read; I’m kind of surprised I didn’t throw that Gideon Bible across the hotel room when I came to that part about being perfect.

I was so far from perfect back then, but I’m still so far away; “perfect” seems as far from me as a tiny star in the darkest of nights. But it was a tiny star that led the kings of east across the wilderness to Jesus. Like that tiny star, “Perfect” is unattainable for even the best of Christ’s followers, but it should always be our focus. I think that’s what Jesus meant.

Even late in his life, after suffering through many difficult trials, the Apostle Paul knew that he still wasn’t perfect, but he still had perfection as his goal:

“Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead…” (Philippians 3:12-13)

If I asked for some examples of spiritual imperfections, most of us would give examples like gossiping, angry outbursts, impatience and so many other faults of our words and/or actions.

One would think, as I once naively thought, that if a person was unable to speak or move, it would be easier for him or her to become spirituality perfect. As someone who can’t speak or move, I now know this isn’t the case.

Religion is all about right and wrong actions, but Christianity is a lifelong journey of perfecting the spirit and the soul (mind, will and emotions) of man. Actions are important, of course, but only if done with the proper motives.

“But the fruit of the Spirit (Godly character) is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23)

Before ALS paralyzed my body and silenced my voice, I wrongly believed the above passage only applied to our actions. Now I know different. ALS (not being able to move or speak) has forced me to focus on my spirit and thought-patterns. This can be a frightening process, like confronting long-entrenched demons. But, on the road to becoming perfect, this is a process that we all must go through, and it shouldn’t take a terminal diagnosis to force us into it.

Over these difficult years of struggling with this dreadful disease, I’ve discovered that the fruit of the Spirit, or lack thereof, is more about our inner man. Good actions can just be an act.

How do you know if your actions are directed from godly (perfect) motives?

The first and most important thing is to determine whether you’re doing the act to please God or man.

A people-pleaser will never be viewed as perfect in the eyes of God. Christians motivated by a desire to please God will be viewed as perfect in His eyes. But, their words and actions will not be viewed favorably by all men. Jesus is proof of this.

Jesus is the only perfect (flawless, sinless, righteous…) being that’s ever stepped foot on earth. He was despised by both secular and religious people. Keep that in mind when you’re standing up for what you believe; this is the greatest and most difficult action of all.

“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)

Standing Up For What You Believe

It’s so easy for Christians to feel that they cannot really make a difference for the Kingdom of God or even for improving the lives of people around them. When we’re going through difficult trials, the sense that we are useless to God and others is even greater. I know this first-hand, and I imagine that many of you have struggled with this also.

If you’re feeling insignificant, I hope this post encourages you to believe that you matter and to stand up for what you believe.

I’ve been reading through the New Testament, and I’m now in the book of Acts. I’ve read this book many times, but something new stands out to me every time. This time the thing that stood out to me was an ordinary man, someone that served meals to poverty-stricken widows but ended up changing the world.

I don’t think that even most Christians realize how much the early believers changed the world for the better. Not only did they spread the Gospel message, but they fed and clothed the poor, built hospitals and orphanages, and so many other ministries to help the needy and society’s outcasts. It all began with a waiter named Stephen in chapter 6 of the book of Acts.

Stephen and six other men were chosen by the Apostles to feed the widows – to literally serve them meals. First, men serving women in that culture (like many cultures today) was unheard of. At that time, all of the followers of Christ were Jewish (no Gentiles) but they were from many different parts of the known world. Stephen was Greek. The Bible doesn’t say, but I suspect that Stephen’s mother was one of the poor widows that he was serving meals to.

Pure and lasting religion in the sight of God our Father means that we must care for orphans and widows in their troubles…” (James 1:27)

Many of the Jews that rejected Jesus as the Messiah became frustrated and jealous of the Christians because – “The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.” (Acts 6:7)

One day, these highly-educated religious men decided to take their frustrations out on the young servant named Stephen. They were going to use him to prove to the gathering crowd that the followers of Christ were misled and finally put an end to this new movement that was then referred to as “The Way.” They began by using scripture to make their case, “but they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he (Stephen) was speaking.” (Acts 6:10)

When the crowd saw that Stephen was winning the debate, the religious leaders became even more frustrated and began falsely accusing Stephen of all kinds of horrible things, including blasphemy. At the peak of their anger, they carried him out of the city and stoned him to death. The young waiter’s last words were, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” (Acts 7:60)

Stephen became the very first Christian martyr. Over the two thousand years since his death, millions of Christians have paid the ultimate price for standing up for their faith.

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It was a Jewish leader by the name of Saul that was urging the crowd to stone Stephen. That day, because of the stance of this faith-filled man and the persecution that followed his death, many Christians fled Jerusalem and began spreading the gospel message and doing good works throughout Asia, Africa and Europe.

With permission from the Jewish authorities, Saul began hunting these Christians down.

As most Christians know, after an incredible encounter with Christ while hunting for Christians, Saul himself became a follower of Christ and was transformed into the man we now know as the Apostle Paul. It was Paul that became the Apostle that would carry the gospel message to the Gentiles, including to the people of Greece, very likely some of Stephen’s relatives. Years later, Paul would also be martyred for defending God’s word.

It all began with a humble waiter standing up for what he believed.

In that day, and still some parts of the world today, defending the Christian message might lead to imprisonment or even martyrdom, but in most places we’ll just be told to shut up. Sadly, many of those who call themselves Christians don’t stand up for Christ even when the only cost is being ridiculed.

Stephen’s story shows us that God works through ordinary people. We don’t need to be a pastor or a theologian to make a difference for Christ. Even if you’re a new Christian or you feel spiritually weak, start small and God will expand your work.

doing good

The True Nature of God

It’s been quite a while since I’ve written a blog post or even been involved in the world of blogging. I needed to take a break, but I’ve missed communicating with my blogging friends.

Usually I write a blog post when a spiritual thought, a thought that I think might help or encourage others, keeps coming to my mind. This is the case with the following post.

A person could become really confused about the nature of God while watching TV and viewing social media, especially during political campaigning. I hear politicians on opposite sides of an issue quoting scripture (usually out of context) in an attempt to legitimize their positions.

Add to this news reports about terrorists slaughtering innocent people in the name of God (Allah), and you can understand why people are confused about this being we call God.

Even within churches there is confusion about the character of God. A man from a church we attended told me that he was dying of cancer. He went on to tell me that he believed God gave him terminal cancer for all the bad things he had done before becoming a Christian. I was shocked and saddened that this man believed that God was out to get him.

I wanted so much to change his confused view of God. I wanted to challenge him by asking why he thought that God waited until he was a Christian to take him out with a cruel disease; why didn’t God just strike him down with lightning when he was living an unrepentant life?

The worst aspect of ALS is not being completely paralyzed and wheelchair-bound. Nor is it having to be fed through a feeding tube (no Thanksgiving dinner for me). Not being able to speak, especially at times like this, is by far the worst aspect of this horrible disease. I really wanted to remind this good Christian man that it was when we were at our worst that Christ died for us.

“God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) (If God sent Jesus to die “for us,” than He is for us, not against us).

I was also once confused about the true nature of God. I suppose that I would have been classified as agnostic; I believed that there probably was a God, but I didn’t believe He was a personal God like Christianity teaches. But, as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I was alone and bored in a hotel room one night when I opened the Gideon Bible on the nightstand and began reading the New Testament.

I don’t mean to sound dramatic, but after reading for a few hours, I really felt that my foggy thinking about God began to clear up. For the first time I realized that Jesus Christ defines the true character of God. Apart from Christ, one is free to redefine God into anything he or she desires Him to be.

After finally making a commitment to follow Christ, before even stepping one foot into a church, I made a commitment to myself that I would never allow popular culture, politicians or even priests and preachers to redefine the God I came to know from reading the New Testament.

That was over thirty years ago and that commitment is challenged virtually every day; but it is still the foundation of the hope and peace I feel when going through difficult trials.

confusion
I have so much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, but one of the things I’m most thankful for is that, in this confusing and ever-changing world, “God never changes.”

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)

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