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 “Spiritual”

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 feels as if the trial is some kind of demonic warrior that’s 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)

Standing Up For What You Believe

It’s so easy for Christians to feel that they cannot really make a difference for the Kingdom of God or even for improving the lives of people around them. When we’re going through difficult trials, the sense that we are useless to God and others is even greater. I know this first-hand, and I imagine that many of you have struggled with this also.

If you’re feeling insignificant, I hope this post encourages you to believe that you matter and to stand up for what you believe.

I’ve been reading through the New Testament, and I’m now in the book of Acts. I’ve read this book many times, but something new stands out to me every time. This time the thing that stood out to me was an ordinary man, someone that served meals to poverty-stricken widows but ended up changing the world.

I don’t think that even most Christians realize how much the early believers changed the world for the better. Not only did they spread the Gospel message, but they fed and clothed the poor, built hospitals and orphanages, and so many other ministries to help the needy and society’s outcasts. It all began with a waiter named Stephen in chapter 6 of the book of Acts.

Stephen and six other men were chosen by the Apostles to feed the widows – to literally serve them meals. First, men serving women in that culture (like many cultures today) was unheard of. At that time, all of the followers of Christ were Jewish (no Gentiles) but they were from many different parts of the known world. Stephen was Greek. The Bible doesn’t say, but I suspect that Stephen’s mother was one of the poor widows that he was serving meals to.

Pure and lasting religion in the sight of God our Father means that we must care for orphans and widows in their troubles…” (James 1:27)

Many of the Jews that rejected Jesus as the Messiah became frustrated and jealous of the Christians because – “The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.” (Acts 6:7)

One day, these highly-educated religious men decided to take their frustrations out on the young servant named Stephen. They were going to use him to prove to the gathering crowd that the followers of Christ were misled and finally put an end to this new movement that was then referred to as “The Way.” They began by using scripture to make their case, “but they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he (Stephen) was speaking.” (Acts 6:10)

When the crowd saw that Stephen was winning the debate, the religious leaders became even more frustrated and began falsely accusing Stephen of all kinds of horrible things, including blasphemy. At the peak of their anger, they carried him out of the city and stoned him to death. The young waiter’s last words were, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” (Acts 7:60)

Stephen became the very first Christian martyr. Over the two thousand years since his death, millions of Christians have paid the ultimate price for standing up for their faith.

stand up

It was a Jewish leader by the name of Saul that was urging the crowd to stone Stephen. That day, because of the stance of this faith-filled man and the persecution that followed his death, many Christians fled Jerusalem and began spreading the gospel message and doing good works throughout Asia, Africa and Europe.

With permission from the Jewish authorities, Saul began hunting these Christians down.

As most Christians know, after an incredible encounter with Christ while hunting for Christians, Saul himself became a follower of Christ and was transformed into the man we now know as the Apostle Paul. It was Paul that became the Apostle that would carry the gospel message to the Gentiles, including to the people of Greece, very likely some of Stephen’s relatives. Years later, Paul would also be martyred for defending God’s word.

It all began with a humble waiter standing up for what he believed.

In that day, and still some parts of the world today, defending the Christian message might lead to imprisonment or even martyrdom, but in most places we’ll just be told to shut up. Sadly, many of those who call themselves Christians don’t stand up for Christ even when the only cost is being ridiculed.

Stephen’s story shows us that God works through ordinary people. We don’t need to be a pastor or a theologian to make a difference for Christ. Even if you’re a new Christian or you feel spiritually weak, start small and God will expand your work.

doing good

The True Nature of God

It’s been quite a while since I’ve written a blog post or even been involved in the world of blogging. I needed to take a break, but I’ve missed communicating with my blogging friends.

Usually I write a blog post when a spiritual thought, a thought that I think might help or encourage others, keeps coming to my mind. This is the case with the following post.

A person could become really confused about the nature of God while watching TV and viewing social media, especially during political campaigning. I hear politicians on opposite sides of an issue quoting scripture (usually out of context) in an attempt to legitimize their positions.

Add to this news reports about terrorists slaughtering innocent people in the name of God (Allah), and you can understand why people are confused about this being we call God.

Even within churches there is confusion about the character of God. A man from a church we attended told me that he was dying of cancer. He went on to tell me that he believed God gave him terminal cancer for all the bad things he had done before becoming a Christian. I was shocked and saddened that this man believed that God was out to get him.

I wanted so much to change his confused view of God. I wanted to challenge him by asking why he thought that God waited until he was a Christian to take him out with a cruel disease; why didn’t God just strike him down with lightning when he was living an unrepentant life?

The worst aspect of ALS is not being completely paralyzed and wheelchair-bound. Nor is it having to be fed through a feeding tube (no Thanksgiving dinner for me). Not being able to speak, especially at times like this, is by far the worst aspect of this horrible disease. I really wanted to remind this good Christian man that it was when we were at our worst that Christ died for us.

“God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) (If God sent Jesus to die “for us,” than He is for us, not against us).

I was also once confused about the true nature of God. I suppose that I would have been classified as agnostic; I believed that there probably was a God, but I didn’t believe He was a personal God like Christianity teaches. But, as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I was alone and bored in a hotel room one night when I opened the Gideon Bible on the nightstand and began reading the New Testament.

I don’t mean to sound dramatic, but after reading for a few hours, I really felt that my foggy thinking about God began to clear up. For the first time I realized that Jesus Christ defines the true character of God. Apart from Christ, one is free to redefine God into anything he or she desires Him to be.

After finally making a commitment to follow Christ, before even stepping one foot into a church, I made a commitment to myself that I would never allow popular culture, politicians or even priests and preachers to redefine the God I came to know from reading the New Testament.

That was over thirty years ago and that commitment is challenged virtually every day; but it is still the foundation of the hope and peace I feel when going through difficult trials.

confusion
I have so much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, but one of the things I’m most thankful for is that, in this confusing and ever-changing world, “God never changes.”

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)

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!

Uncomfortable Truth

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

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

So I really appreciate physical comfort, but…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CS Lewis

CS Lewis

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

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

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

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

Opendoors.org

Opendoors.org

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

What Kind of Tree Are You?

Some might be disappointed, but this is not one of those quizzes like I see posted on Facebook. (There actually is one of those quizzes with this same title, but I didn’t take it because I was afraid that the results would show that I was Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tree).
tree-onlyTen or twelve years ago, let’s just say eleven, Mary and I were shopping at Home Depot. After finishing our shopping in the store, we wandered out to the garden department to look for some small trees. It was November, and most of the plants were marked down because they were making room for Christmas trees.

Mary got hung up looking at wreathes and other boring items, so I cruised my wheelchair over to go look at trees. As it turned out, there were not many trees left, and I didn’t see anything I was interested in. Just when I was about to return to Mary and tell her not to bother coming over there, I spotted a tiny tree that was hidden behind two huge trees. With the footrest of my wheelchair, I pushed one of the large tree pots aside so I could get a better look at the little tree.

The tag on the tree identified it as a Bald Cypress, but it just looked like a two foot high vertical stick that sprouted a few tiny horizontal twigs. Other than a few yellowed leaves, there was no foliage on it at all; it was pitiful. But, it was marked down to only five dollars.

About that time, Mary walked up and assumed that I was looking at one of the large trees in front. Before I even noticed that she was there, I heard her voice, “That won’t fit in the van.”

ALS had already robbed me of my ability to speak, so I kicked the pot of the scrubby tree in back so she would know what I was looking at. After bending to see beneath the foliage of the trees in front, she rolled her eyes and began to walk away, thinking that I was joking.

When she finally figured out that I was serious about buying the tree, she dug it out and put it in her shopping cart. Couples (hopefully) learn to pick their battles after years of marriage and I’m sure she figured that a five dollar tree wasn’t a battle worth fighting. But I’m also sure that she felt vindicated when the cashier joined her in laughing at the tree.

After getting home, we looked for a place to plant the pathetic little tree. We finally agreed to plant it between the shed and our neighbor’s fence (I don’t remember, but Mary probably chose that spot because it was kind of hidden). After planting it, I had her place rocks around it so the men that mow our yard didn’t run over it thinking it was a weed.

He (Jesus) presented another parable to them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven (the Christian life) is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; and this is smaller than all other seeds, but when it is full grown, it is larger than the garden plants and becomes a tree…” (Matthew 13:31-32)

I didn’t have the ability to voice it at the time, but I was in total agreement with Mary and the cashier that the tree was pathetic. But I wasn’t focusing on the tree itself, I was looking at the picture of a mature Bald Cypress on the plastic tag that was attached to the stick-like trunk of the tree.

As Jesus said in the parable above, the walk of faith begins so small; like my tree, the beginning of our spiritual life is often pathetic. There will be storms that batter us as we grow, but if we remain focused on Christ and on the picture of what God designed us to be, we will conform to that image – just like my tree conformed to what I envisioned it to be:
cypress tree

“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the LORD rejoices to see the work begin…” (Zechariah 4:10)

God Has Friends In Low Places

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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