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 “Joy”

A Great Inheritance

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


How quickly our earthly treasures can be taken from us.

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

Where is your heart today?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Man In The Mirror

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

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

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

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

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

Then I look in the mirror…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you being transformed by the Mirror of your Soul?

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

A Dispatch From My Cave

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why did they have to suffer and be martyred?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for reading.

TGIF

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

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

Then I thought about the darkest Friday of my life.

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

That was not a Friday I was thanking God for.

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

Yeah, I don’t think so either.

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

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

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

For the disciples, this day was anything but TGIF.

Jesus knew differently.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Will To Live

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a question that really confuses atheists.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

think-of-heaven

Becoming Perfect

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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)

Happiness :-)

happy baby

From what I’ve observed, healthy babies, like my 6 month old grandson, are generally happy babies. It seems that we are created to be happy, so why are so why are many adults unhappy?

I recently read a thought-provoking article titled “10 Things to Give up in Exchange for Happiness.” The article wasn’t written from a Christian perspective, but I think everyone, regardless of their beliefs, would probably agree with the author’s following suggestions.

exchange for happinessThey’re good suggestions, but…

According to research, only about 10% of those who make just one New Year’s Resolution will succeed in keeping that resolution. I think the problem with the list is that the author is essentially asking us to make multiple resolutions in our pursuit of happiness. What are the odds?

Even if some strong-willed person succeeded in overcoming every one of these 10 happiness thieves, do you think they’d really be happy? My experience with battling and, to some extent, conquering some of my many character flaws, is that, like to-do lists, it’s never-ending. My almost 18 year battle with ALS has confirmed this. ALS has completely taken away or greatly reduced almost every item on the above list. Let me give you some examples:

1. Give up caring what other people think of you. If you’ve been through a trial that has diminished your physical appearance and/or your abilities (having to use a wheelchair or losing your hair to chemo, etc.), you quickly discover just how image-conscious you are. You either decide to give up caring what others think of you or lock yourself away in a remote cabin in the woods. (I considered the latter, but I knew that Mary and the girls wouldn’t come with me so I reluctantly chose the former). Over the years I’ve become really good, maybe too good, at not caring what people think of me. I laugh to myself when Mary or my caregiver spend time trying to fix my hair and become frustrated if a few hairs won’t cooperate. As they’re fussing with my hair, I’m thinking to myself; I’m completely paralyzed, wheelchair-bound and can’t speak, I don’t think people will be looking at the hair.

2. Give up trying to please everyone. It’s hard to please anyone when you’re completely helpless.

3. Give up participating in gossip. I don’t think that I was ever a gossip (that’s probably what all gossips say), but it’s been so much easier not to gossip or say hurtful and dumb things since ALS stole my voice 17+ years ago. With the help of my new eye-tracking computer, I am still able to blog and email, etc. so I haven’t completely lost my ability to gossip or say dumb and hurtful things (my family and friends can attest to this). But, like most people who’ve been humbled by a difficult trial, gossip has hopefully been replaced by words of hope and encouragement.

8. Give up spending money on what you don’t need in effort to buy happiness. Before ALS, like most people, I spent money on unnecessary things and activities, like taking vacations, eating at nice restaurants and buying sporting equipment, etc. I don’t think that I was “attempting to buy happiness,” I just thought, and still think, that I was enjoying God’s blessings. Since ALS, I cannot go on vacations or go out to eat, and I certainly have no use for things like sporting equipment.

10. Give up control. I really fought thisone, but ALS finally forced me to give into Mary wearing the pants in the family. (I do still control the TV remote most of the time).

The problem I have with the list of “10 Things…” is that it’s advising us to give up emotional highs and weaknesses in exchange for happiness. But happiness is just another emotion, and, like all emotions, happiness is subject to our circumstances. For instance, sadness over the loss of a loved-one or other bad news, immediately destroys any happiness that we might have had.

Joy is much different. For Christians, joy might be hidden for a time, especially -
when we hear bad news or at the onset of a trial, but it’s always there. Hope in God is like a compass that leads us back to joy. And, as Webster’s dictionary defines it, joy is “the source or cause of great happiness.”

Don’t go crazy trying to balance your emotions in a pursuit of happiness; just look to God for hope and you’ll find true and lasting joy and that joy will result in happiness.

What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could ‘be like gods’—could set up on their own as if they had created themselves—be their own masters—invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history—money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery—the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.
God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.”
CS Lewis Mere Christianity

 

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)

Prioritizing Our Hopes

When you go through a trial, especially an extended trial that disrupts or even destroys your earthly hopes and dreams, you either learn to focus and depend more on your eternal hope or slide further into despair.

I imagine that every Christian that has gone through an extended trial will remember coming to this difficult crossroad and facing this choice. In truth, seek firstit’s a decision we should have made when we committed to follow Christ – whether or not we were going through a trial at the time. By definition, a Christian is someone whose primary hope is an eternal hope in Christ.

“…we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast…” (Hebrews 6:18-20)

I know that God wants us to have hopes in and for this life, but, for the Christian, those hopes must be secondary to our heavenly hope. Our heavenly hope must govern our earthly hopes. This is the only formula that leads to the “Abundant life” that the Bible talks about. If Jesus is not the Christian’s primary hope, he or she will have a really difficult time when (not if) a trial comes. Even when everything is going great (by the world’s standards), the Christian that does not have his or her hopes in order will not be experiencing the inner joy and peace that the Bible tells us we should have.

Unfortunately I speak from experience. If asked, I probably would have said that eternity was my primary hope before being diagnosed with ALS, but aim at heavenlooking back now I really don’t think it was. It’s so easy to get caught up in our career, our marriage, raising kids, our homes and so many other things involved in day-to-day life that, without even realizing it, our earthly hopes and dreams can become our primary focus.

In this context, I think it’s fair to say that hope and love are synonymous. If Christ isn’t our primary hope, He is not what the Bible calls “our first (most important) love” either. I remember when I began reading the Bible, I had a real hard time with the following verse: “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” (Matthew 10:37)

Probably because I didn’t understand Christ’s nature at that time, His demand seemed harsh and even narcissistic. After reading the whole New Testament and getting a better understanding of His selfless nature, I realized that His demand had nothing to do with harshness or ego; it is a simple matter of priorities. It’s only by loving Christ more than anyone or anything that we are able to demonstrate His unconditional love to and for others. Likewise, it’s only when Christ is our greatest hope that we are able to fully appreciate and enjoy our earthly hopes. And, it’s only when Christ is our primary hope that we will know if our secondary hopes are also God’s hopes for us.

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