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)

Archive for the tag “Beliefs”

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

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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.

stand up

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

Uncomfortable Truth

It seems that America is obsessed with comfort these days. Have you noticed all the mattress commercials? They all claim that their brand is the most comfortable and tell us that we need to replace our mattress every eight years to maintain that optimum comfort. One mattress store will even finance your mattress for eight years. (I don’t care how comfortable the mattress is, if you finance it, you’ll probably be up half the night worrying about making your mattress payment).

Don’t get me wrong, I’m probably more obsessed with finding physical comfort than most people. One of the most difficult things about being paralyzed by ALS is trying to get comfortable because my body is literally dead weight. There’s no turning over or even turning my head in order to get more comfortable when I go to bed. I recently got a new mattress, the one that I see the most commercials for, and it’s every bit as comfortable as the manufacturer claims, and I really do sleep better. (Don’t tell the mattress people, but the mattress I replaced was twelve years old).

So I really appreciate physical comfort, but…

It also seems that much of the Western world is seeking a more comfortable (politically correct…) form of Christianity. Even if I wanted to do so, I’ve concluded that I’m just not clever enough to make Jesus and the New Testament into something more “comfortable.” Even writing this post is out of my comfort zone.

Like a lot of non-Christians, before making a commitment to follow Christ, I viewed Christians as narrow-minded, judgmental and hypocritical. My cynicism about Christians (churchgoers) was so deep that, even after committing to follow Christ, I wanted nothing to do with church or churchgoers (“organized religion“). For about five months, I read the Bible for an hour or two every night. With no preachers or churchgoers to influence me, I learned to just take the Bible at face value – I became convinced that it is God’s word.

truth and comfort
I eventually accepted an invitation to go to church and discovered that most Christians are not narrow-minded, judgmental or hypocritical. I also came to realize that non-Christians can be all of the things that I was accusing Christians of being.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (John 14:6)

How does one make words like Jesus’ above quote more “comfortable” for the Jew, the Muslim, the Buddhist, the Hindu or for anyone else of a different belief system? As I said, I’m not that clever. Even if we “speak the truth in love,” as the Bible instructs us to do, verses like this and so many others can be taken as fightin’ words by many people.

Jesus is not a unifier; He is the most divisive figure in all of history. Trying to make His words more “comfortable” will only serve to strip them of their life-transforming and hope-giving power. Besides that, people deserve honesty not comfortable condescension.

Other than His most devout followers, the only people that Jesus succeeded in unifying was/is His political and religious enemies: “Herod and Pilate became friends with one another that very day (the day they crucified Jesus); for before they had been enemies with each other.” (Luke 23:12).

CS Lewis

CS Lewis

What would a “comfortable” (acceptable to all religious and political groups) “Christianity” look like? China has already given us the answer. The following are just some of the rules the Chinese state-approved “churches” have to follow:

• The Communist Party has the final decision on who can preach and what can be preached.
• Preaching about the resurrection and the second coming of Jesus is forbidden.
• Gathering to worship outside approved churches and official “meeting points” is forbidden.
• Evangelizing or giving out tracts is forbidden.
• Importing Bibles is forbidden, even if they are given away for free.
• Printing Bibles is forbidden, even if they are given away for free.
• Government officials cannot be Christian.
• Teachers cannot be Christian.
• Soldiers cannot be Christian.
• Police officers cannot be Christian.
• Children and teenagers cannot be Christian.

Obviously the above is not Christianity, but sadly there are many churches in North America and Western Europe that could relocate to the middle of Beijing without having to change what they preach.

China is officially an atheist country, including the education system. But the truth is that China will soon have more Christians than any other nation on earth. The majority of these Chinese Christians meet secretly in house churches that teach the true message of the Gospel. They risk beatings, imprisonment, losing their homes, jobs and even their lives. Like the early Christians and so many oppressed believers around the world today, they’ve chosen the uncomfortable road.

Opendoors.org

Opendoors.org

With the increasing pressure from governments, the education system, the media and even some Christian denominations to make Christianity more politically correct and comfortable for all people, which road will you choose?

God Has Friends In Low Places

The other day I was sitting out in the backyard listening to an audio book and getting a much-needed dose of vitamin D. Two Mockingbirds were darting back and forth just feet in front of me and were making so much noise that it was becoming difficult to hear my audio book. I knew that they had a nearby nest and were only trying to protect their young from a potential threat (apparently Mockingbirds don’t understand that paralyzed people in a wheelchair don’t pose a threat).

Then I saw two beautiful Bluebirds sitting in a nearby live oak tree just minding theirbluebird in tree
own business. Like me, they seemed to be doing their best to ignore the noise and the antics of the paranoid Mockingbirds. Every five minutes or so, one of the Bluebirds would fly over and land on the roof of a dilapidated birdhouse that Mary’s been meaning to replace. After observing this for almost an hour, Mary came outside and told me that the Bluebirds have a nest in that old birdhouse.

 

bluebird picI was thinking that there must be a serious birdhouse shortage in our area for these beautiful Bluebirds to have chosen this run-down dwelling to build a nest. Then I remembered that Jesus was born in a smelly stable. Maybe there was a pair of Bluebirds was nesting in that stable too.

I had somewhat of a revelation about the beautiful and holy taking up residence in dwellings that are far beneath them. It’s the one thing that distinguishes genuine Christianity from every other belief-system that can be named; the Holy Spirit (literally) resides in the followers of Christ.

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?” (1 Corinthians 6:19)

It’s not a coincidence that Jesus was born in a place that most homeless people would have avoided. But, even if Jesus would have been born in the greatest palace on earth, it would have been far beneath Him. It’s as if God chose the lowest of places to emphasize this.

It’s also not a coincidence that we see this same pattern with the birth of the Church (Acts chapter 2). The Church began with the Holy Spirit indwelling a bunch of very ordinary men and women that were gathered together in a room. From a Holy God’s perspective, that “upper room” was a very “stable-like” scene. But even if the Holy Spirit began His work in the hearts of the holiest of men on earth, it would have been far beneath Him.

The disciples were grief-stricken after Jesus explained to them that He would have to die. He comforted them with the following words:

“I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.” (John 1:16-17)

Later Jesus told the disciples that all of them would abandon Him. Peter stated emphatically that he would die with Jesus before denying Him. We now know that, out of fear of being arrested, Peter ended up denying Jesus three times within hours of making that vow.

But after being indwelt with the Holy Spirit (the “helper” and “Spirit of truth”), this same Peter stood before thousands of the very people he once cowered before and boldly declared that Jesus is “both Lord and Messiah.”

This man that was so afraid of being associated with Jesus on the night that He was arrested that he denied even knowing Him, years later would ask to be crucified upside down because he didn’t feel worthy to die in the same manner as his “Lord and Messiah.”

Biblical knowledge is so important, but theological knowledge alone cannot transform a person the way Peter and the other disciples were transformed: only the Holy Spirit can do that. And this kind of radical transformation is the true and lasting message of the Easter story.

But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” (Romans 8:11)

Trials Can Make Us Stronger

makes us stronger
I never thought that I would be using a quote from the atheist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in one of my blog posts, but…

This quote came to my mind the other day and I began thinking about it and the man that wrote it. I spent most of February sick or recovering from the flu and other health issues. What little strength and energy I had before the illness has finally returned in the last few days. I’m definitely not physically stronger than I was before the illness. But I do feel spiritually stronger than I was before my battle with “that which did not kill me.”

As an atheist, Nietzsche only believed in the physical world so I can only assume that this quote was referring to trials making people (himself) physically and/or emotionally stronger. I wonder if he still believed those words while lying helpless and suffering from the effects of Syphilis for the last eleven years of his life.

As someone who has relied on caregivers for even longer than Nietzsche had to (ALS, not Syphilis), I empathize with the helpless, the suffering and their caregivers. But I feel great sympathy for those that do not place their hope and strength in Christ, regardless of the state of their health. I feel sympathy because, like Nietzsche, the “strength” and “hope” that they derive from physical/temporal pleasures do not provide genuine and lasting joy or peace. As King Solomon concluded, it’s “all vanity.”

I am convinced that the following is the only strength that can be gained from “that which does not kill us”:

“…we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed (strengthened) 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)

There are so many great earthly pleasures and blessings, but not even the best of them deserve our hope. If Christ is our hope, the pleasures we enjoy on earth will be so much more enjoyable because we’ll have our priorities in order and we won’t have to rely on the physical/temporal things for happiness.

aim at heaven
“For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.” (Romans 8:24-25)

The Greatest Event in History!

What would your answer be if you were asked to name the greatest event in the history of the world?

I suspect that your answer would depend on your overall worldview. A Christian, who fully understands the Gospel message, would say that the resurrection of Christ was the greatest event in history. But I don’t think any non-Christians would agree with that answer. Regardless of what their religious or ideological beliefs might be, all non-Christians have one thing in common; they don’t believe in the resurrection of Christ.

Lee Strobel has been a follower of Christ and a well-known Christian apologist for over 30 years. Before becoming a Christian, Lee was an award-winning investigative journalist and the legal editor for the Chicago Tribune. He was also a self-professed “drunk” and an “angry atheist.”  His wife, Leslie, was agnostic when they married, but later became a Christian. Leslie’s conversion to Christianity infuriated Lee to the point that he was considering a divorce.

Lee wanted the agnostic Leslie back so he devised a plan; he reasoned that if he could prove to Leslie that Christianity wasn’t true, she’d ditch her newfound faith and her new friends from church and return to her agnosticism. As an investigative journalist and Yale-educated lawyer, Lee was qualified to gather the evidence and also prosecute his case against Christianity. He rightly concluded that to successfully prove (to Leslie and the world) that Christianity was based on myths and superstition, the only thing he had to demonstrate was that the resurrection of Christ never occurred.

Lee took a two year leave of absence from his job at the Tribune and began traveling all over the world interviewing experts in many different fields. As many of you know, Lee’s research is now compiled in his best-selling book, The Case for Christ. Through his research, Lee became a firm believer in the resurrection of Christ and found that it took more faith for him to maintain his atheism than it did for him to commit to following Christ.

empty tomb

As Lee says, when you accept the resurrection of Christ as a historical fact, it leads to hope and transformation“It gives me hope that as Jesus was resurrected from the dead, so I will someday be too. It gives me confidence in the teachings of Jesus, that I can apply them to my life, that they’ll make a difference in my life. They’re not just the teachings of a bright and loving individual; they’re the teachings of the Son of God himself. It means to me that Jesus deserves my worship and my allegiance. It also means that I want to spend my life helping other people see the evidence for the resurrection, that they too may experience what I’ve experienced, which is a 180-degree life change from my days as an atheist, to my days as a Christian.”

Jesus wasn’t merely resurrected; Jesus IS the resurrection! Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)

At the top of my blog, I have a page titled Christian? For two-thousand years the verses on this page have been used to explain what committing one’s life to following Christ entails. The final and key verses are the following – “…if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.” (Romans 10:9-10)

The resurrection of Christ is the greatest event in the history of the world!

HAPPY EASTER!

More than just a dream

I had a vivid dream last night –  In this dream I was completely healed and whole.

The dream began with me simply stepping out of bed, which is something I haven’t been able to do in over 15 years. I could walk, talk, eat, dress myself and do everything else that I was once able to do. Mary and I were so excited that we began calling all of our family and friends and then we began visiting people at their homes and offices (Mary drove the car because I don’t have a driver’s license and the only thing I’ve driven in last 15 years is a wheelchair).

The dream was so real-to-life that I was telling Mary all the places I wanted to travel to and all the restaurants I wanted to try. I was even making practical plans like getting a driver’s license and making an appointment with the doctor to have my feeding tube removed etc. As you can probably imagine, this was so exciting; more so than winning a billion dollar lottery! But that incredible excitement soon turned to great disappointment when I awoke from this vivid dream at 4:15 this morning and realized I couldn’t even uncross my feet, let alone get out of bed.

Then my great disappointment turned back into incredible excitement when I remembered that, regardless of what happens in this life, one day I KNOW that I WILL be healed and whole! One day “…there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain…” (Revelation 21:4)

There was a time in my life that I feared death and the unknown in general. I later found out that these fears are quite common. But, as strange as it might sound, ever since I committed to following Christ and began believing the promises of God’s word, my fear of death has been replaced with an excitement of what lies in store for me after this brief and fragile life is over. Christ died and rose again to free us from sin AND from the fear of what lies ahead – “…only by dying could He (Jesus) break the power of the Devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could he deliver those who have lived all their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.” (Hebrews 2:14-15 NLT)

Why are you afraid?

“And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being covered with the waves; but Jesus Himself was asleep. And they came to Him and woke Him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing!” He said to them, “Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?” (Matt 8:24-:26) 

I suppose that even the most faith-filled Christian would experience some level of fear if they found themselves in a situation like the above. But I know that a doctor delivering news of a life-threatening diagnosis, a loss of a job and insensitive debt-collectors calling day-after-day, can instill that same kind of “Save us, Lord; we are perishing” fear.

Unfortunately, we don’t really know if we have genuine faith until that faith is tested. I believe this is the reason that Jesus allowed His disciples, and us, to go through so many of these nail-biting situations. Trials force us off of the proverbial fence. Tested faith is enduring and overcoming faith; it’s faith that can empathize with and encourage others who find themselves in the midst of a raging storm – those who are feeling as if Jesus is asleep in the boat.

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” (James 1:2-3)

Faith (in Christ) is the opposite of and the antidote to fear. But like all antidotes it takes time to work and the quicker we start building faith, the more effective it will be. We build faith (overcome fear) by reading the Bible, through prayer and by surrounding ourselves with faith-filled people.

Faith is also preventive medicine. When faced with a life-altering situation, the person of great faith will experience little fear and the person of little faith will experience great fear. So, if you’re not going through a trial now, start building your faith because the Bible tells us we’ll all face trials.

“Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NLT)

It seems that Jesus attempted to strengthen the faith of His disciples before getting in that boat. That day, the disciples saw Jesus heal a leper, a paralyzed man, Peter’s sick mother-in-law and then, for a grand finale, just before stepping in the boat and sailing into the storm, “…they brought to (Jesus) many who were demon-possessed; and He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were ill.” (Matthew 8:16)

Obviously Jesus knew that His disciples would face this test of faith just as He knows when our trials are coming. It might seem like He’s asleep, but if we rely on Him to deliver us from the trial, we won’t wonder, “What kind of a man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?” like the men in that storm-tossed boat; we’ll be able to answer that question emphatically as those same men were able to do soon after this incident; “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16)

As I said above, everyone will eventually face something that they are powerless to handle in their own physical and/or emotional strength. This is the place where we discover how weak and fragile we are and how big and powerful God is.

 “…we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction…that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead…” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9)

 

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