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 “Fear”

Evil: The Ultimate Opportunist

I recently read a blog post that reminded me of an incident that occurred a few years after Mary and I were married.

I was working for a company that required me to be on-call for one week per month. This was a few years before cell phones were readily available so we still used pagers. I still remember the sick feeling I’d get when I would hear that annoying beeping noise in the middle of the night or during holiday celebrations. I had to drop everything and immediately drive the 30+ miles to work.

Around two o’clock one morning, that annoying beeping noise woke us from a dead sleep. After walking over to the sink and splashing cold water on my face, I called the answering service and heard the message that I was needed at work right away.

While getting dressed, I opened my wallet and discovered that I didn’t have any cash. I quickly looked in Mary’s purse and found that she didn’t have much cash either. I told her that I was going to run by the ATM and get some money on my way to work.

Our bank was located on the service road of the freeway, right on my way to work. It was very convenient, but, even though the location was just off the freeway, it was fairly secluded. At that time, it was the only business in that area; a small building surrounded by dense woods. For this reason, and because the bank didn’t have a drive-through ATM machine, Mary didn’t like me going there at night. That night she again asked me to use the ATM in the convenient store near the front of our neighborhood.

I value Mary’s advice, but the convenient store charged a fee for using their ATM and our bank did not. It’s not that I’m cheap, I just hated paying unnecessary fees so I decided not to take her advice that night.

I had been to our bank’s ATM at night before but never at such a late hour. Other than a few dimly lit lights shining up from the landscaping in front of the building and a small light over the ATM machine, the area was dark and the woods surrounding the building were pitch black.

I parked my car in front of the small building and quickly walked up the sidewalk to the ATM machine. I got an eerie feeling like someone other than the ATM camera was watching me as I punched in the numbers on the keypad. I convinced myself that this was my imagination, but I was still so relieved when the cash popped out so I could finally return to my car and get out of there.

When I was about halfway back to my car, I heard footsteps on the sidewalk behind me. “Could you give me a ride?” the shaky voice of a woman asked. Thinking it was a set up and her boyfriend was going to pop out of the bushes and shoot me, I didn’t even turn around until I reached my car and opened the door.

She was young, twenty years-old at most. I looked over the top of the car as she nervously explained that her car broke down on the freeway. I only heard bits and pieces of what she was saying because I was planning a quick getaway and scanning the hedges in front of the building for any sign of her accomplice. Before even getting my answer, she began sheepishly walking towards my car as if I had agreed to her request.

Still suspicious, I mumbled something about being in a hurry to get to work and moved closer to the open door of my car. “PLEASE DON’T LEAVE ME HERE, I’VE BEEN RAPED,” she shouted as she rushed to my car and frantically tried to open the locked passenger door. I unlocked the door.

She asked me to take her home so her mom could accompany her to the hospital.

After driving a mile or so on the service road, she pointed to her car parked on the shoulder of the freeway and began telling me the horrifying story.

She was at a friend’s house watching a movie. She stayed later than she intended and later than her mom wanted her to. While driving home on the nearly deserted freeway, her car stalled so she parked it on the shoulder and turned the emergency flashers on. She waited in the car for about thirty minutes hoping that a police officer or a Good Samaritan would stop and help her. She finally gave up on that idea and decided to walk the three miles or so to a gas station to call her mom.

Thinking it wouldn’t be safe walking along the shoulder of the freeway, she decided to walk in the grass on the inside of the service road. She had only been walking for about five minutes when, seemingly from nowhere, a large man grabbed her from behind and carried her into the woods where he raped her. Following the brutal assault, the rapist fled one way and the traumatized girl fled the other way. Thinking that he might return to look for her, she hid behind the bushes in front of the bank to figure out what her next move would be. This is when I entered her nightmare, and she decided that I would be her next move.

Evil is the ultimate opportunist.

“Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)

Evil operates like a lion wandering through the wilderness looking for the young, the weak or otherwise vulnerable prey. An evil lion found a physically vulnerable young girl that night.

But evil doesn’t just search for the physically vulnerable, it also preys on the emotionally and spiritually vulnerable; those isolated by addiction, depression, abuse or one of life’s many other challenges that are so difficult to overcome without the help of others.

I can no longer help those in physical distress, but I can still do my best to help those in emotional or spiritual distress by giving them hope. As Christians, we all have the responsibility to help the hurting, even when, maybe especially when, we’re hurting.

If someone came to your mind when you read that, it’s probably the person that God wants you to help.

What are you waiting for?

Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16)

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.

Why Me?

I’ve become convinced that for a Christian to retain hope in the midst of a trial, he or she must believe that God allowed the trial for a purpose; a purpose greater than what Christ would have been able to accomplish in and through that person apart from the trial.

“…even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith…may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ…” (1 Peter 1:6-7)

They might phrase it differently, but I think every Christian that goes through a difficult trial will eventually ask “Why me?”  But I’ve learned that our motive behind asking this seemingly simple question tells a lot about how we view God and how we view ourselves.

The first man asks the question like this: “Why me; out of over 6 billion people in the world, why did I get ALS (or whatever)?” He’s really asking, “Why didn’t God put this on one of the other 6 billion + people?” This man has a warped view of God and an exalted view of himself. He views his trial as pointless and thought that he was somehow exempt from the suffering of humanity.

I know what I said about this first man sounds harsh and judgmental, but I know this man well; in a spiritual and emotional sense, I wrestled with him for several months after being diagnosed with ALS. Thankfully, with the help of God’s word, wise counsel from Christian friends and a well-timed conversation with our then non-Christian next-door neighbors, I began to see that there was a purpose behind my trial and I defeated that “woe is me” man that was trying to get into my head. (More about our next-door neighbors further down).

The second man asks the question like this: “Why me; what’s God’s purpose behind allowing this horrible trial?” This man has the correct view of God and of his place in the world. As a Christian who knows the Bible, this man knows that God wouldn’t have allowed this trial unless He had a purpose.

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

That verse can only be true if we have an eternal (“Big Picture”) view of our trial. God still heals and performs miracles, and I believe that we should always pray for that result. But regardless of the outcome, God can bring about eternal good from every trial. In a hundred years, the eternal good that came from our trial will be the only thing that matters.

Trials cause the person going through the trial and those that are close to that person, to focus more on the spiritual and the eternal things because, by comparison, the temporal and the material things begin to look more and more insignificant.

god's purpose“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18)

Back to our next-door neighbors: Mike and Lorraine were not followers of Christ when we met them. We did our Christian duty and invited them to church and tried to share the “Good news” with them; even our girls (then 4 and 7) invited them to church, but all to no avail. (They later told us that they mocked us in private. I could relate; I once mocked Christians too. Let’s be honest: making fun of Christians is so easy).

But after I was diagnosed, they began to reexamine the faith that was sustaining our family through this trial. Lorraine told me; “…When you were diagnosed with ALS I began to see a man who held no anger with the God that ‘allowed’ this to happen. Then you began to demonstrate trust in God’s plan, I saw your faith and I saw 2 little girls accept what God was doing in your lives and I began to wonder how such young children could love God unconditionally. I opened my heart first to the possibility that this might be good thing for me as well. Then I finally got it and allowed my brain to accept the basic truth that God is only good, loving and faithful…”

Mike and Lorraine committed to following Christ and now faithfully attend church and share their faith with others. (Now people probably make fun of them). Would they have committed to following Christ if we had not gone through this trial? Only God knows the answer to questions like that. The only thing I know for sure is that this trial has strengthened my faith and given me more confidence for sharing that faith.

But I admit that trials can sometimes feel like you’re serving a prison sentence; especially when you have ALS and you’re imprisoned in your own body. But the Apostle Paul wrote much of the New Testament while imprisoned and many of his fellow prisoners and the guards that observed Paul became followers of Christ. Only Jesus can spread a message of hope through a prisoner!

“Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear.” (Philippians 1:12-14)

Don’t give up!

After reading some of the comments from my last post (“More than just a Dream”), I’m afraid that I might have left the impression that my only hope (for physical healing) is in the next life. If I believed heaven was my only hope for healing, I probably would have checked out years ago. Waiting (for heaven) to be healed is merely my backup plan; it’s my Plan B. Whether it’s through medical science or a miracle from God, even after 16 years with ALS, I’m still hoping for the best outcome here on earth. This is what I believe for others too, regardless of the severity of their trial.

I realize how crazy it sounds for someone who has received a diagnosis of ALS to be hoping for a complete recovery. I’m not naïve; I’ve known so many good Christian people who have died of this and other insidious diseases like Cancer, Heart Disease and Lupus. And I realize that, medically speaking, ALS is 100 percent fatal. Well, technically that’s not true; there are medically documented cases of people being miraculously healed of ALS and even the ALS Association says, “There are people in whom ALS has stopped progressing and a small number of people in whom the symptoms of ALS reversed.”  So maybe it’s only like 99.9 percent fatal – I choose to believe for that one tenth of one percent chance.

As I typed that, a scene from the movie Dumb and Dumber came to my mind (don’t judge me). In this scene, one of the “dumb guy’s” named “Lloyd,” who’s in love with a beautiful and sophisticated character named “Mary,” is asking her what the chances of them ending up together are:

Lloyd: What do you think the chances are of a guy like you and a girl like me… ending up together?
Mary: Well, Lloyd, that’s difficult to say. I mean, we don’t really…
Lloyd: Hit me with it! Just give it to me straight! I came a long way just to see you, Mary. The least you can do is level with me. What are my chances?
Mary: Not good.
Lloyd: You mean, not good like one out of a hundred?
Mary: I’d say more like one out of a million.
[pause]
Lloyd: So you’re telling me there’s a chance… *YEAH!*

Maybe some of you reading this think I’m like Lloyd for being excited about a one in a million chance of being healed of ALS. Maybe you’re thinking that I shouldn’t encourage people to hold onto “false hope.” I’m definitely not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I’m not “Lloyd” either; I’ve been contemplating this for over 16 years and here are some of my conclusions:

  • Miracles by definition defy all natural laws – including statistical probabilities.
  • For the 16+ years of this trial, God has sustained us with miracle after miracle; I don’t think I have the right, nor do I think that I’m qualified to categorize certain miracles as “big” and others as “small.”
  • There’s no such thing as “false hope” when you’re looking to the “God of hope.”
  • Jesus still heals; He “is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Heb13:8)
  • “God doesn’t show partiality.” (Acts 10:34)
  • “The things that are impossible with people are possible with God.” (Luke 18:27)
  • I would rather die looking for a miracle than live not believing in them.

In Daniel chapter 3, King Nebuchadnezzar demanded that the Jews bow down and worship his god. All those that refused to bow would be thrown into the furnace that the Babylonians used to make bricks. As most people know, three young Jewish men refused to bow and this is what they told the king; “…our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

For me, this is more than a great example of strong faith; I believe this is a pattern of faith that all Christians should emulate regardless of challenges we might be facing. We can proclaim that, “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from [insert your trial here]. BUT EVEN IF HE DOES NOT… we are not going to serve…” doubt, fear, worry, hopelessness or anything else that destroys faith, hope, joy and peace!

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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