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 “Temptations”

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.

Opportunities In Trials

In the midst of a trial, the greatest temptation we face is to hunker down and wait for the storm to pass. I don’t believe this is ever God’s will.

We tend to view trials as a kind of imprisonment, thinking our life is on hold until the day we’re released from the grip of the life challenge. ALS has made me a virtual prisoner of my own body for the last 18 years. It has been a very cruel warden. But I look around me and see other people fighting illness or trying to overcome addictions, depression, abuse, debt and so many other cruel masters.

We must continue to hope and pray for freedom from whatever is trying to “hold us,” and we should do everything in our power to move toward that goal. But, in the meantime, we should look for opportunities for God to use us right where we are. This is what the Apostle Paul did, and I’m convinced it’s what God wants us to do.

It was from prison that Paul wrote the following: “Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel…” (Philippians 1:12)

We don’t usually associate the word “progress” with imprisonment or any kind of trial, but I believe that we should. If we wait until we “have it all together” before we try to help and give hope to others, many will go without help and die without hope.

Would I be a hypocrite telling people that God still heals when I’ve been held in the grip of a terminal disease for 18 years?

Let me answer that with another question: Was Paul a hypocrite for writing about freedom in Christ from the depths of what was likely a rat infested dungeon?

Paul was almost stoned to death by an angry mob and severely beaten other times. He also suffered from what he called “a thorn in his flesh” (many Bible scholars say this “thorn” was poor eye sight). Regardless, it’s unlikely that Paul was the handsome and strong man depicted in the Bible movies. After spending much of his time in prison and enduring countless beatings, he was likely pale and scarred, and probably in pain 24/7. Yet, God used this suffering servant to heal and give hope to others.

The Apostles faced the same trials, temptations and human frailties that we face. Yet, in the midst of trying to overcome their own trials and temptations and battling their own demons, they were feeding the poor, healing the sick and giving hope to others by spreading the good news.

People don’t care about how much we know until they know how much we care. Maybe we wouldn’t have truly learned to care apart from our suffering.

I hope you’re successful in keeping all of your New Year’s Resolutions, and 2015 is the best year you’ve had so far. But we cannot wait for all of our hopes to be fulfilled before we offer help and hope to others.

helping_others1
We overcome as we help others to overcome.

Viewing Ourselves in the Third-Person

I’ve heard people tell self-centered kids or those who otherwise feel entitled that “It’s not all about you.” We might not be that blunt, but I think all parents that are trying to raise selfless and grateful kids try to convey this message to them in one way or another.

Like many from my generation, my parents had more subtle ways of conveying this message; like when we didn’t eat all the food on our plate, they’d remind us that people in China were starving. Or when we asked for new shoes they would tell us about African children they saw in National Geographic that have never even worn shoes (I don’t know if my mom brought up the African women in National Geographic when my sisters asked for a new bra).

Regardless of how it’s said, the message is that we should be grateful for what we have and that the world doesn’t revolve around us; we have to view lives in the context of the whole world.

I thought about this recently while reading the Bible. I hadn’t really noticed it before, but I now believe this “It’s not (just) about us” message is Biblical. I think this is the reason that most of the New Testament, including all four Gospels, were written in the third-person.

For instance, Mathew wrote the following (about himself) as if he was a casual observer watching this unfold from fifty feet away: “As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man called Matthew, sitting in the tax collector’s booth; and He said to him, “Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him.” (Matthew 9:9)

In his Gospel, John adds some mystery to his third-person account by referring to himself as “The disciple whom Jesus loved.”  John never reveals that he’s the author of the fourth Gospel until the end of the last chapter.

But my favorite example of this third-party writing is the Apostle Paul. If you didn’t know his writing style and something about Biblical history, you might think he’s schizophrenic when you read the following: “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago…was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words…” (2 Corinthians 12:2-4) It’s only when you read the whole chapter that you discover this mystery man that Paul was referring to was himself. It seems that Paul had what people today would call an “Out of Body experience.”

Paul wrote about everything that God did in and through him in the third-person. As he says in the first verse (of the same chapter) that “Boasting [in the first person] is foolish.” But he goes on to say that speaking (in the first-person) about his “weaknesses” (sins, temptations and overall human frailties) is good and necessary (in order to relate to others). A few verses later, Paul gives God’s answer to his prayer about one of his weaknesses. It’s one of my favorite verses, but it can only be fully understood if read in the context of this whole chapter:

my grace

By speaking and actually viewing themselves in the third-person, I believe that Paul and the other Apostles were following the example of Christ. Jesus referred to Himself (in the third-person) as “The Son of man” or “The Son of God” when speaking of His mission and when He performed miracle etc (“For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” Luke 19:10), but He spoke in the first-person in regards to His human weaknesses; while hanging on the cross, He didn’t say “The Son of man is thirsty;” He said “I thirst” (John 19:28).

I thought about how different this was from many people today. We hear many people (think politicians) boasting about their accomplishments in the first-person and speaking about their human frailties in the third-person – as if some literal third-person was to blame.

Here are a few other things that I learned from this study:

  • First-person thinking is natural; third-person thinking is intentional.
  • Those who view their life in the third-person filter everything through the eyes of God and through the eyes of others; this is why John identified himself as the “The disciple whom Jesus loved.”
  • To fulfill verses like the following, we must take a third-person view of ourselves “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you…” (Matthew 7:12)
  • Hypocrisy and self-righteousness are sins only committed by those who view themselves in the first-person.
  • Legalism/religion is for those who view themselves in the first-person; grace comes to and through those who view themselves in the third-person.
  •  Those who view themselves in the third-person (through the eyes of God and others) have a much easier time ignoring their negative first-person thoughts.

I think Christians should follow the example of Jesus and His disciples – we should own our weaknesses and credit God for the good He does in and through us. To be a Christian is to be a servant of God and of others; It’s not (just) about us.

Why are so many Christians Depressed?

Depression, even among Christians, seems to be rampant today; it’s as if some kind of emotional black plague has crept into the Church.

I read several blog posts and articles every day, but last week was strange; virtually every day I found myself reading posts and articles written by or about Christians battling depression. But by far the most heart-wrenching news of last week (regarding the impact of depression on Christians) wasn’t found on a blog or in a news article; it was a phone call from a close friend telling us about a friend that had committed suicide.

The young man that committed suicide was named Jordan and he was a very talented artist and musician and, more importantly, he was a Christian. (You can see one of his music videos here and his testimony video here). From what he says in the testimony video, Jordan had battled depression for most of his life, but he seemed to be winning his battle. I don’t know what occurred in his life that caused the depression to come roaring back; maybe only God and Jordan know the answer to that question. But, as someone that believes he is called to offer hope to the hurting, I feel that I must learn more about the enemies of hope. Whatever else depression is, it definitely qualifies as one of the greatest enemies of hope!

As I suppose it is with most people that are diagnosed with a terminal disease or going through other difficult trials, I’ve experienced some difficult days of depression. I don’t remember the order or the full impact, but I imagine to some extent I went through all of the so-called “Five stages of grief” (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance). But I find myself wondering what it must be like when the most difficult of those stages, depression, IS the trial, as it was with Jordan and it is with so many others.

Despite having every aspect of my life turned up-side-down by ALS, I know little about the kind of deep and dark depression that Jordan suffered from. But, I know from reading the Bible and from my own experience as a follower of Christ, that Christianity offers genuine lasting peace, hope and joy. I wouldn’t be wasting my time typing these posts if I wasn’t convinced of this. Peace, joy and hope are definitely great benefits of the Christian life, but that’s not the “Good News” message that Christ commanded us to preach – Jesus didn’t suffer and die just to make us happy – “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…” (1 Timothy 1:15) Salvation is the good news.

depressed

I think this is an important fact because many “seeker friendly” churches preach a message of happiness and prosperity and, if Christians don’t feel happy and/or prosperous, they can feel un-Christian. I cannot help but wonder if the “feel good” gospel message might be exacerbating the feelings of depression among Christians.

The New Testament is an education in how to be Christ-like. But unfortunately this “Narrow path” includes trials and tribulation. My trial is ALS and for others it’s depression. As I said, I know little about that kind of oppressive depression, but I’ve concluded that it’s every bit as crippling to the soul as ALS is to the body.

I don’t feel qualified to offer spiritual advice to those suffering with this kind of depression, but I do have some general hope-building advice for Christians.

The early Christians “…were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching (reading the Bible…) and to fellowship (getting together with like-minded Christians), to the breaking of bread (church/taking communion) and to prayer.” (Acts 2:42)

One of my blogger friends has suffered from depression for many years. She told me that when she’s feeling depressed, she doesn’t feel like reading her Bible, going to church, getting together with people or praying. This is exactly why doing these things is so necessary. We must do the things our soul (mind, will and emotions) doesn’t “feel like doing” to build hope in our spirit – so our spirit can “preach” to our soul. The spiritual part of us preaching to the mind, will and emotions, isn’t some kind of spiritual schizophrenia; I see examples like the following throughout the Bible; “Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him.” (Psalm 42:11)

God also comforts us through other believers; I see examples of this throughout the Bible also. As you can see from reading verses like the following, even the Apostle Paul and the disciples dealt with depression; “…we were afflicted on every side: conflicts without, fears within. But God, who comforts the depressed, comforted us by the coming of Titus…” (2 Corinthians 7:5-6)

Like most of you, I didn’t know Jordan, but, as you can imagine, his family is really grieving his loss so please pray for them – “…pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” (James 5:16)

Having the Right Perspective

I’ve discovered how essential it is to keep things in perspective in order to maintain hope when you’re in the midst of a trial. The first and most important lesson I learned was focusing on what I have and not on what I’ve lost.

blog family pic

Our family before I was diagnosed with ALS. (Mary still had BIG hair).

Perspective: the capacity to view things in their true relations or relative importance. (Webster’s Dictionary)

I know of many people close to my age, even some close friends, who have died of ALS, Cancer and other diseases or were killed in tragic accidents. These moms and dads have missed being able see their children growing up. They weren’t there to take pictures before prom, to watch with pride as their child graduated from high school and/or college or to witness their son or daughter’s wedding.

I force myself to think about these friends and acquaintances when I begin feeling depressed about my inability to fully participate in this thing we call life. At times like last year when my daughter got married, and I was unable to walk her down the aisle or dance with her at the reception. During difficult times like this, I make a conscious effort to think about some of these people that are no longer with us; people like my friend Rick, who died of Cancer, leaving a wife and two teenage sons. I think about another blogger named Patrick, who died of ALS in December leaving a wife and a teenage son and daughter. Sadly, Rick and Patrick won’t get the opportunity to watch with pride as their children go through graduations, weddings and other landmark events in their lives.

I think about these people every time I’m tempted to complain or get depressed about my situation. I ask myself what they’d say to me if I was to complain about things like not being able to walk my daughter down the aisle at her wedding. Would they tell me that I should be grateful for just getting to be there to watch as she walked down the aisle? Of course, Rick, Patrick and the others have gone on to heaven so I don’t know what they might say to me. But I know they would be right if they were able to tell me to be grateful that I was able to be there for all the events that they’ve missed and will miss. In a sense, I feel that I owe them; that, if for no other reason, I must be grateful for their sake.

james and girls

Our son-in-law and daughters (January, 2012).

I know it’s strange for me to imagine what deceased people might say to me (to give me the proper perspective), but it works for me and, regardless of the trial that you find yourself in, we all must find ways of coping; ways of changing our perspective and attitude – ways of convincing ourselves that our life isn’t so bad after all.

“…I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.” (Philippians 4:11)

The aim of every Christian should be learning to be content in the good times and in the bad times. But, for those that hope in God, contentment does not mean we stop believing for better days ahead; it just means we’re grateful for today and that we’re going to live it to the full – even if we have to live today in a wheelchair!

Wedding

“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)

A Temptation I Can Relate To

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is the Internet Evil?

I know people might read the title of this post and think I’ve decided to take a break from my usual hope-centered posts, but I haven’t; this post is also about hope.

A few years ago I was watching a show about ancient Rome on the History Channel. One of the most fascinating segments was on the incredible highway system the Romans had built throughout their empire. These Roman Roads were built to exact specifications to handle cart and foot traffic. This intricate network of roads facilitated trade and commerce as well as making it much easier for people to travel.

After several commercials, the show resumed and the subject was crime along these roads. Along with the increase of legitimate business – shops selling meat, produce and manufactured goods etc – came an increase in criminal activities. Prostitution, sex/slave trafficking, gambling, robbery, scams, murder and every other crime and temptation that was known at that time was available along these roads.

Suddenly I had a revelation; The Internet is our generation’s Roman Road!

Because many of us grew up seeing depictions of the Apostles dressed in shimmering white robes with halos around their heads, we tend to think they lived above or somehow outside of the filth of Roman society. But we know that Paul, Peter, John and millions of other Christians living throughout the Roman Empire used these crime-ridden and temptation-filled streets to travel and spread the “Good News.” These men and women faced dangers and temptations every day; many of these early Christians were once among those robbing or tempting travelers along these dusty roads just like many Christians today once participated in the dark side of the Internet. Even the setting for one of Jesus’ most well-known parables, “The Good Samaritan,” (Luke 10:30-37) took place along one of these dangerous Roman Roads.

I copied the following quote from an article (about the evils of the Internet) that I read online; “Because the Internet is as broad as the human psyche, it naturally encompasses all of the darkest manifestations of evil imaginable…”

I agree with this quote, but whether it’s a road system, television, radio or the Internet, the thing that facilitates or depicts both good and bad behavior, cannot itself be good or bad; it’s what we do with a medium that’s good or bad. So, even though there’s a lot of evil on the Internet, the Internet is merely a vehicle for what’s in the hearts of man.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, for the last 3 years I have been volunteering as an “Internet missionary” with a non-denominational Christian ministry called Global Media Outreach. Via the Internet and Cell phones, GMO reaches people with the Good News of Christ who cannot be reached in traditional ways. On a regular basis I receive emails and texts from people living in nations like Iran and Saudi Arabia, countries where it’s illegal to practice the Christian faith. In most cases these people find a GMO site through viewing one of our online ads or from doing an Internet search containing words such as God, Jesus, religion or Christian etc. Last week GMO emailed all of the volunteers a summary for 2012; over 195 million people were reached last year and over 26 million people made commitments or re-commitments to follow Christ.

Recently I read that the two most searched subjects on the Internet are those dealing with pornography and those dealing with matters of faith. As a Christian, this makes perfect sense to me – “…the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another…” (Galatians 5:17).

The “soldiers” (thoughts and spiritual influences…) of this war that’s going on inside of all of us are always searching to gain more territory. And, like the Roman highway system of two-thousand years ago, the Internet offers numerous opportunities for doing this. While pedophiles, sex-traffickers, pornographers, terrorists, scammers and other “soldiers of the flesh” are exploiting this modern-day Roman Road, Christians don’t seem to be capitalizing on this like I think we could and should be. Sitting on the sidelines and cursing the darkness is not an option for the “soldiers of the Spirit.” We must be engaged in this battle for the sake of the Gospel and to support and protect legitimate business and innocent people regardless of their race, religion or nation of origin. I get furious every time I hear about a marriage being destroyed because of Internet pornography or someone losing thousands of dollars through some online scam, and I believe we can do more to battle these tragedies.

To some extent, I am probably preaching to the choir here because many of those who read my blog are other Christian bloggers that are already engaged as soldiers in this war. And, as I mentioned, through GMO, this blog and in other ways, I too have been engaged in this battle. But I’m going to recommit and be more determined this year than ever before, and I hope many others will join me.

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)

Would you curse God?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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