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 “Blessings”

Life Goes On

“Life Goes On”

Whether we’re going through the worst of times or the best of times, history and our own experiences show us that life does go on. This is true, but I don’t recommend saying “life goes on” to someone who is grieving the loss of a loved one.

“There is an appointed time for everything.
And there is a time for every event under heaven —
A time to give birth and a time to die…
A time to weep and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn and a time to dance.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-4)

I thought about the above passage last week when our daughter gave birth to a beautiful seven pound girl on Wednesday, then a close friend died of cancer on Friday – “A time to give birth and a time to die.”

Those who are grieving and those who are rejoicing have this in common – life goes on for both of them.

life goes on quote
It was a beautiful Friday afternoon in 1996 that the neurologist informed me that I had ALS and would likely be dead in three or four years (so much for predictions). I vividly remember driving home that day in stop-and-go traffic. I was exhausted after three long days of examinations so Mary was driving and I spent much of that long drive home staring out the window at the other drivers. I imagined that they were thinking about dinner or maybe they were making plans for the weekend ahead. In the midst of horrible news, when it seems that our life will never be the same, the world seems like such a cold and cruel place when you look around and realize that life goes on just as it always has.

Compared to life’s great highs and lows, day-to-day life can seem so trivial. When we experience the extreme highs and lows, we tell ourselves that we’ll never again settle for the trivial life. But our emotional or spiritual highs and lows gradually find their old balance, and we return to a mundane normalcy. I think this is the root cause of much of the addiction and depression we see around us; “life goes on” is difficult for many people to cope with.

What’s the answer?

Even for someone that’s been paralyzed by a horrible disease and can no longer eat or speak, “life goes on” can be a great message if you truly learn to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15)

I try not to focus on the personal and professional “highs” (or the financial gains) that I’ve missed out on over the last 19 years. Instead, I make a conscious effort to focus on the good things in my life, like our beautiful new granddaughter, and to share in the highs and lows of others. Living vicariously through others is not the life that I envisioned, but years ago I concluded that the only alternative was to throw a pity party and make myself and everyone around me miserable. I’ve been to several pity parties, and I didn’t like the company (me, myself and I) or the hangover of guilt.

Life is hard, but it’s much easier if we surround ourselves with people that won’t only rejoice with us in the good times but will also support us in the difficult times. I’m so thankful that Mary and I have family and friends like this.

For my daughter, her husband, their son and their beautiful baby girl, life goes on.

Lauren and Peyton 2
For the family of our friend that passed away last Friday, life goes on.

But the great news is that the friend we lost was a committed follower of Christ so life goes on for him also.

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.” (John 10:27-28)

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain…” (Revelation 21:4)

Life goes on!

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)

I Can’t Resist A Good Challenge!

Ice Bucket Challenge Donations Top $100 Million in 30 Days compared to $2.8 million during the same time period last year (July 29 to August 29).

Mary looked at me like I was crazy when I told her that I wanted her to dump a bucket of icy water over my head.
“You might gasp and breathe in water and choke,” she warned. But after a few days of prodding she finally agreed to play her roll in the Ice Bucket Challenge. I was hoping that the ice cold water being poured over my head would cause me to jump out of my chair and run, like my Australian friend, Phil, but (SPOILER ALERT) unfortunately that didn’t happen.

Seventeen years ago, almost a year after being diagnosed with this horrible disease known as ALS, I was asked by MDA to participate in the local portion of the Labor Day Telethon. As one of the reporters was asking for donations to help cure ALS, he said, “It’s too late for Bill…” I know that sounds harsh, but it took everything Mary and I had not to burst out laughing on live TV.

Medically speaking, that insensitive reporter was right. I think that’s what made his statement so funny; there’s no need to state the obvious, especially when the dying man is sitting three feet away. Those diagnosed with ALS live an average of 3 to 5 years (I’ve always wondered why they don’t split the difference and just say 4 years). I doubt that the reporter or any of the doctors that diagnosed me would have thought I’d be typing a blog post with an eye-tracking computer 18 years later.

That’s the whole point, nobody really knows what the future holds. We hope and pray for a cure for so many horrible diseases, especially those that have devastated our life or the the life of someone we love. We may not know what the future holds, but we should do our best to leave the world better than we now find it. Yes, dumping a bucket of icy water over your head and/or giving a small donation to the ALS Association, might seem insignificant and even silly in the grand scheme of things, but I’m convinced that these people are trying to shape a better future for those suffering with ALS.

Thank you so much!

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.

 

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.

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)

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)

 

A Temptation I Can Relate To

Do you ever feel as if your Facebook friends have more exciting lives than yours; that by comparison your life is boring?

I recently read about a study, which concluded that Facebook and other social networking sites are leading many users to feel “dissatisfied with their lives.”  The study found that, “Witnessing friends’ vacations, love lives and work successes on Facebook can cause envy and trigger feelings of misery and loneliness.” Additionally, some people admitted that Facebook caused them to feel “frustrated or angry.”

Covet: To desire what belongs to another. (Webster’s Dictionary)   

As someone who rarely leaves home, I can relate to this. If it wasn’t for the Discovery Channel and the Travel Channel, I’d never even have imaginary adventures or vacations. When ALS forced me to quit work and began limiting my ability to travel, I quickly figured out just how dangerous and depressing coveting (the health and lifestyle of others) could be. Thankfully, with God’s help, I’ve moved beyond that temptation and am now genuinely happy when I see family and friends enjoying the health and wealth that God has blessed them with.

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15)

Thankfully, a few years after being diagnosed with ALS, I figured out that one of the problems with jealousy, or what the Bible calls covetousness, is that it keeps you from truly Rejoicing with those who rejoice” and, when you’re having a pity party, it’s also impossible to genuinely empathize with others – we cannot “weep with those who weep” because they’re stealing the spotlight that we think should be on us.

If you are one of the 33 percent of Facebook users that gets jealous when you read posts about your friends successes or see pictures of their fun vacations etc, ask yourself if you would be happy if none of your friends had any successes and never took vacations. I hope, like me, that’s the last thing you would want. In fact, to be honest, I only get frustrated with able-bodied couch potatoes; if I could speak I’d tell them to get up and go enjoy their life – like my mom used to tell me when, as a teenager, I was sitting on the couch watching Gilligan’s Island on a beautiful summer afternoon. If medical science ever makes it possible to do head transplants, watch out couch potatoes – I know of a lot of people with ALS and other disabilities that would make good use of your sedentary bodies.

The problem with sites like Facebook is that most people only post the highlights of the lives; they post pictures of their vacations, but rarely do they post pictures of themselves working. Mary’s sister is an executive with a large airline and for several years she would take our girls on exotic summer vacations; fun places like resorts in the Caribbean and Cabo San Lucas or the mountains of Colorado. Because their Aunt Kathy lives far away in another city, these trips were usually the only time the girls got to spend with her; they never saw her coming home exhausted after one of her frequent long days at work. Like our girls only seeing the good part of Aunt Kathy’s life, I think that Facebook, and the Internet in general, can give us a distorted view of reality.

You cannot be grateful for what you have when you’re focusing on what you desire.

“Thou shalt not kill,” “Thou shalt not commit adultery” and “Thou shalt not steal,” seem to get all the press these days, but “Thou shalt not covet” is still one of the Ten Commandments.

Would you curse God?

At some point in their life, I believe every Christian will face a trial or temptation that tests his or her faith to the point where that person considers leaving the faith altogether and even cursing God in anger over the difficult challenge to their faith.

The story of Job is a good illustration of this. It’s a book that has always fascinated me because, even though it’s the oldest book in the Bible, the questions Job and his “friends” discuss throughout the book are questions that we still ponder today; questions about God’s love and justice and why He allows suffering and heartache etc.

In the beginning of the story, Satan comes to God and tells Him that Job is only serving Him because God blesses him. In other words, that Job’s love for God is conditional love, which of course isn’t love at all. Satan isn’t merely making this accusation against Job; he’s making it against everyone who claims to love God. And, like Job, our claim of loving God unconditionally will be tested at some point in our journey.

After making this harsh accusation, Satan then proposes this wager; if God would allow him to take away all of Job’s blessings (Satan claims), Job “will surely curse You to Your face.” (Job 1:11)

For reasons we cannot fully understand, God accepts Satan’s wager and allows him to take away virtually everything Job possesses and loves. However, the result was not as Satan had predicted; the penniless and depressed Job announces, “I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be stripped of everything when I die. The LORD gave me everything I had, and the LORD has taken it away. Praise the name of the LORD!” (Job 1:21 NLT)

After hearing this declaration from Job, I imagine Satan with a puzzled look on his face; a look like the Grinch had on his face Christmas morning when he heard all the Who’s down in Whoville singing after he had stolen all of their Christmas gifts and decorations.

Satan isn’t one to give up easy; he then doubles-down on his bet with God by predicting; “A man will give up everything he has to save his life. But take away his health, and he will surely curse you to your face!” (Job 2:4-5 NLT)

Again God accepts Satan’s challenge and allows him to inflict Job with horrible pain and suffering. Satan is so desperate to win his bet with God that he recruits Job’s wife to relay a message to him; “His wife said to him, “Are you still trying to maintain your integrity? Curse God and die.” (Job 2:9 NLT)

Nice wife! Maybe she’s the reason they came up with the wedding vows, “For better or for worse and in sickness and health…”

As most people know, God won the bet with Satan; Job never cursed God or said anything against Him. The story ends with Job’s health being restored and his wealth and other blessings being greater than they were before. The lesson is this; whether it’s in this life or the next, “God blesses the people who patiently endure testing.” (James 1:12 NLT)

As I said, all those who claim to be followers of Christ, will eventually have their claim tested by trials, temptations and/or doctrines that are difficult to accept. It is the challenges to our faith that strengthens our faith.

Like Job, the crowd following Jesus had a difficult choice to make when their faith was tested by Jesus’ challenging teaching. The Bible says (after hearing Jesus’ words);  “At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him. Then Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Are you going to leave, too?” Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You alone have the words that give eternal life. We believe them, and we know you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:66-69 NLT)

If there is one advantage to my trying everything except Jesus before committing to follow Him, it’s that, like Peter, I know that Jesus alone has the words of life. And, like Job, even though I don’t know what’s going on “behind the scenes” and, like him, I too have many questions, but even in the midst of a difficult trial, I can still maintain a sense of joy, peace and hope. I’ve discovered that I can maintain this joy, peace and hope (to some degree) even in the emotional down times and the times of spiritual confusion by focusing on the following three simple truths;

  • God is good (Mark 10:18)
  • God is love (1 John 4:8)
  • God has good plans for me (Jeremiah 29:11)

“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)

What would you do if…?

One night, about a year before I was diagnosed with ALS, Mary and I were up late watching “Nightline.” Ted Koppel was doing three nights of interviews with a retired college professor named Morrie Schwartz. Morrie had ALS and was sharing his life-lessons with Ted Koppel just as he had done previously with one of his former students named Mitch Albom. Mitch later compiled these life-lessons and wrote a best-selling book titled “Tuesdays with Morrie.”

I hate to admit this, but even after seeing the three nights of interviews and reading the book, I cannot remember most of the life-lessons that Morrie taught. But, I do have one vivid memory from watching those interviews; it occurred while listening to Morrie describe his daily routine – having to rely on his wife and caregivers for virtually all of his needs. After hearing how helpless he was, I turned to Mary and told her I would rather just go to heaven than live trapped in my own body like him.

About a year after making that statement, I was diagnosed with that same “trapped-in-your-own-body” disease. While I believe words are powerful and can even be self-fulfilling (“Death and life are in the power of the tongue…” Proverbs 18:21), I don’t believe my statement had anything to do with my being diagnosed with the same disease the following year, but…

That hastily-made statement began to haunt and even taunt me when I began needing help from Mary with things I once did with little effort. The statement kept playing over and over in my head, challenging me to either disavow my words or live up to them. In this case, living up to my words meant throwing in the towel and going to heaven.

Obviously I chose to change my view and began trying to do my best to live one day at a time. But it wasn’t really me that decided to carry on; it was the grace of God in me, urging me to keep going. Not like a coach on the sidelines shouting, but more like the team captain competing alongside of me. It was then I knew the full meaning of verses like, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Hastily-made statements (like the one I made about Morrie) that are carelessly uttered by healthy people (like I was) are spoken out of pride. Pride is something we usually don’t know we’re guilty of before being humbled by a severe trial. Pride cannot comprehend the grace of God because pride is self-reliant, self-righteous and just plain selfish. God’s grace (to carry us through a trial) is one of the things people usually don’t factor in before making such statements.

Another thing people (who make statements like that) don’t consider or even understand, is how strong our God-given survival instinct is. Not merely for our physical survival, but also for our emotional and spiritual survival. This is an ironic thing because it would seem that a Christian (who believes in heaven) would be the first to cash in his chips, but the opposite is true. It is usually those that don’t believe in an after-life that judge the quality of their lives by physical, financial and other temporal pursuits and who cannot imagine a life worth living without these things. But the believer can know joy, peace, hope and have a sense of purpose without the worldly blessings. Of course, it’s always best to have both spiritual and earthly blessings, but, to the Christian, the former are essential and the latter are viewed merely as “bonuses.”

Trials cause us to reexamine the hastily-made statements we’ve made before the trial, when we so carelessly said what we’d do if this thing or that thing happened to us. As I discovered, no one really knows what they would do until faced with that situation. This is why the Bible tells us to “be slow to speak” (James 1:19).

This is the only advantage I’ve discovered from losing the ability to speak; I no longer say things that I regret!

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