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 “Forgiveness”

The Greatest Christian I Know

Who is the greatest Christian you know?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Examined Life

When a person goes through a severe trial and/or is immobilized from an accident, old age or a dreadful disease like Cancer or ALS, that person will likely become more introspective than he or she might have been when they were healthier and busier.

Looking back to when I was “normal” (physically anyway), I now think that many of my activities, including my workaholic nature, could be classified as introspection avoidance techniques. I might not have been conscious of it at that time, and, even though I was a Christian, I don’t think I really wanted to contemplate my so-called innerself back then. Maybe this is at least partly why I fought so hard to stay active; working for a year after being diagnosed, enduring painful falls, which caused a bad concussion, knocked-out teeth, broken bones and more cuts, bruises and embarrassment than I can or want to remember.

Obviously I also fought so hard (to stay mobile) because, like any able-bodied person, I didn’t want to be confined to a wheelchair. And I’m sure my stubborn pride played a big part too. Regardless of the reasons, the transition from avoidance of introspection to forced introspection was physically, emotionally and spiritually painful. But it’s also been rewarding to discover truths about myself and about God that I don’t believe I would have found had I not gone through this trial.

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” Socrates

Whether forced by circumstances, as in my case, or the easier and wiser way of choosing to examine our inner-self, looking into this kind of emotional and spiritual mirror can be gut-wrenching; like the man that pumps out our septic tank, you might not like what you find. But, for the Christian, spiritual and emotional introspection is not optional; it is a must for spiritual growth. As Jesus told the hypocritical religious leaders (in Matthew chapter 23), for us to be right with God, man and ourselves, we must “first clean the inside” (our thoughts and motives…) so “the outside (our words and actions…) will become clean also” (CH 23:26).

I believe this is why, like so many other people, I repeatedly failed to keep my New Year’s Resolutions (dealing with outward actions) – it’s like washing the outside of the septic tank when the toilets won’t flush. (Sorry for the crude example).

I’ve personally observed or know of people who have gone through this reflective process and have overcome years of anger and unforgiveness and/or addictions; they’ve become more peaceful, joyful and hopeful. On the other hand, I know of people who have gone through this process and have become angry (at God and people) and some have even become addicted to drugs or alcohol.

What can account for these varying results?

I realize there are exceptions like a chemical imbalance, but generally speaking, from what I’ve observed in myself and in others, is that we have “tools” available to us that will either help or hurt us (make us more or less Christ-like) on this introspective journey, and I believe the tools we choose will determine the outcome.

Some of the harmful “tools” are:

  • Reading, watching or listening to critical or otherwise negative messages or people – “Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.” (1 Corinthians 15:33)
  • Comparing yourself to those who are healthier, wealthier or anything else that we might have a tendency to be jealous of or to covet – “…the message (of God) is crowded out by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life. And so they never grow into maturity.” (Luke 8:14)
  • Comparing yourself to your “old self,” the younger, healthier and overall (physically) better you. (I cannot think of a verse for this one, but everyone who has done this knows it is depressing).

Some of the beneficial “tools” are:

  • Surround yourself with encouraging people, especially those that have gone through the introspection process and have emerged more joyful, peaceful and hopeful – “…encourage one another and build up one another… (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
  • Comparing yourself to and helping those less fortunate than you; supporting or volunteering with an organization that helps those going through difficulties – “For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me…Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.” (Matthew 25:35-40)
  • I’ve discovered that the most important “tool” is reading the Bible; it is a daily dose of knowledge, wisdom, understanding and encouragement. You don’t just learn about God’s nature when you read the Bible, you also learn about human nature – our nature and therefore the Bible is the ultimate introspection “tool” – “For the word of God is full of living power. It is sharper than the sharpest knife, cutting deep into our innermost thoughts and desires. It exposes us for what we really are.” (Hebrews 4:12 NLT)

Whether you’re currently going through a trial or everything is fine with you right now, I hope you’ll accept the challenge to suspend the blaming of your circumstances or the blaming of others and just focus on who you are in Christ. It took a severe trial for me to figure out that this kind of healthy introspection was the only way I could conquer my “demons” and finally “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:14)   

If you’ve gone through this kind of introspective journey (in the comment section) please share the “tools” you found helpful and those that you found to be harmful.

In my next post I will share how, through this process, I learned to deal with guilt and regret.

A Lesson about Forgiveness

The need to be forgiven by God and forgiving those who’ve hurt us is an indisputable doctrine of Christianity. Denominations might differ on many points but this isn’t one of them. But forgiving those who’ve hurt us (emotionally, physically, financially or even spiritually) can be a really difficult thing to do sometimes, especially if that hurt was inflicted upon us at a time that we were physically helpless or in other ways vulnerable.

Such was the case with Mary and me a few years after I was diagnosed with ALS. I had lost my ability to speak and was confined to a wheelchair. We were both emotionally and physically exhausted, financially broke and spiritually confused; in every sense of the word, we were vulnerable. It was in this weakened condition that someone took advantage of us financially. It was especially hurtful because this act was committed in the name of “helping us.”

This was the greatest test of forgiveness I had faced since committing my life to Christ. I had never before been hurt to the extent of not wanting to relinquish my anger. Looking back I realize that this situation was made worse because the physical weakness that resulted from the ALS had already made me feel emasculated so, in addition to the emotional, financial and marital stress this situation caused, I felt somewhat like a victim of bullying. I did NOT want to forgive this person!

After weeks of allowing my anger stealing my joy, peace and hope, I began praying for God to help me move on. It was about this time that I read or remembered the words of Jesus; “…pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6:28). But the last thing I wanted to do was pray for this person. I faced a clear choice; hold on to my anger with no hope, joy and peace or step out in faith and obey Jesus’ command to start praying for this person. I chose the latter, and it was a conscious choice; it was the last thing that I “felt” like doing.

“Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions.” (Mark 11:25-26 NASB)

Through clenched teeth I told God that I forgave this person but only because He told me to do so. Then I began praying that God would bless this person’s marriage, health, finances and every part of their life. It was really difficult the first few times I prayed for this person, but it gradually became easier. Then, after several days of praying, a strange thing began to happen; it was as if the Holy Spirit opened a window and allowed me to begin seeing the situation from this person’s point of view.

I knew this individual was also in financial trouble and had been “robbing Peter to pay Paul.” Unfortunately this person chose me to play Peter’s role. But I gradually began to see how much stress this person was under and how it affected every aspect of their life. I actually began feeling sorry for this person and began praying earnestly for God to bless them every time they came to my mind. I still do this today and I can honestly say that I sincerely hope this person’s life has been blessed since that time.

The simple fact is that hurting people, hurt people. But having insight into the troubles of those that have hurt us and our forgiving them for their wrong behavior should not be viewed as excusing or in any way justifying their wrong actions. Like everything else that Jesus commanded us to do, forgiving others is for our benefit – so that we can have joy, peace and unshakable hope.

I’m sure there are those reading this post who’ve been victims of physical, sexual or emotional abuse or other horrible things that are much more difficult to forgive than my relatively minor example. I realize that some things are harder to forgive than others, but Jesus didn’t offer exceptions to this rule; His command couldn’t be more straightforward – “…if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” (Matthew 6:14-15 NASB)

Jesus didn’t merely speak these words; He lead by example by forgiving those that mocked, tortured and nailed Him to the cross (Luke 23:34).

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