Author Archives: Bill Sweeney
I finished this post on perseverance on the 23rd of last month and was planning to post it the following day. But it seemed that I had another lesson on perseverance to learn and more paragraphs to add before I posted it.
I woke up that Monday morning and was not feeling well, but I stuck with my routine of Mary getting me dressed and out of bed at 7:30. I found it so difficult to breathe, much more difficult than usual when Mary removed my breathing mask. Still, like thousands of times before, I lied to myself about being a tough guy and surged ahead.
When Mary finally got me propped up in my wheelchair in front of my computer I couldn’t breathe, even after Mary put my breathing mask back on. I struggled even to open my eyes, which is a real problem when you control your computer’s mouse with eye movements.
Somehow, by God’s grace and Mary’s adrenaline rush, she got me back in bed and called my visiting nurse Practitioner, Rebecca. She came right away (she’s the best). After checking my vitals and listening to my chest, she heard fluid in my right lung. She then called for an X-ray tech to come out to look at my lungs. On my best days, only 30% of my lungs are functioning; apparently this was not one of those “best days.”
The X-rays showed that I had pneumonia in my right lung. Even with my breathing mask on, I was gasping for air through my mouth, kind of like a Goldfish just before you scoop him out of the tank and flush him down the toilet. Rebecca later determined that my kidneys were no longer functioning and that I would probably not survive the short trip to the hospital; that I would likely die of heart or respiratory failure before even arriving. I knew that she was right.
With our agreement, Rebecca handed me off to hospice. I was so relieved with our decision. To understand my relief, you have to realize that, with my skinny arms and bony hands, it usually takes several Phlebotomists to find and puncture a vein for the IV; and that’s using the tiniest of needles, the needles they use for premature babies. They try so hard to be gentle, but it’s like a torture treatment, and my arms and hands end up looking like a pin cushions. The “stab a vein” contest is just the first step of my previous hospital visits. I’ll spare you from hearing about my catheter insertion stories. I am so thankful for nurses and caregivers, especially the caregiver I’ve been married to for the last thirty-three years.
The following is the original post that I planned to post the day I got pneumonia. I’ll give a brief update on my current health condition at the bottom of the post. Thank you for reading.
Among other things, perseverance is one of the lessons Mary and I have learned through this challenging Twenty-two year battle with my having ALS. In a protracted trial, the greatest temptation is giving up. So many times, Mary and I have come to a place that continuing the fight seemed impossible, but God’s grace steps in and carries us further down our narrow, bumpy path.
Have you ever been to a place where you felt surrounded by enemies and continuing the battle seemed to be impossible?
If yes, I hope and pray this simple post will strengthen your perseverance to keep “fighting the good fight.”
The definition of perseverance:
(The) continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition.
Critics of Christianity, like I once was, say that followers of Christ are weak-willed for having to rely on God for strength to go on. To this charge, I plead guilty. In every way, I am pathetically weak.
To be honest, it takes perseverance for me to get out of bed every morning. I’m comfortable, and I have my breathing mask on so I’m breathing well. It’s so tempting to stay in bed. But, except for the times I’ve been sick, it’s not a temptation I succumb to because, like all that temptations we give in to, it gets easier and easier to do so every time we face it. Thankfully, this works the other way also; when we do not give in to temptation, we find greater strength to overcome that temptation as well as other temptations we face down the road. Learning to overcome temptations, even minor temptations like saying “Shut-up” to the ice cream screaming your name from the freezer, is vital for perseverance.
“No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)
Forming good habits and routines is also necessary if you are to persevere. Mary gets me dressed every morning, and, using a transfer lift to get me out of bed and dumps me into the wheelchair. She then makes me presentable and gets me set up on my computer. It’s a thirty-minute process that we have to finish before she goes into her office to start work at 8:00. This has been our routine for the last twenty-one years. Sounds very monotonous, you might be thinking. Yes; day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year – for two decades. You can see why I call my best friend and wife of thirty-three years an angel. Even though she isn’t usually angelic until after her morning devotions and a cup of coffee, which she starts at six every morning.
I don’t know if she got the joke at first, but, as was typing this post, I told Mary that perseverance is the most difficult of all virtues because it requires a whole lifetime to finally grasp.
I learned even more about perseverance writing this post. It took me so long to write what follows because I kept getting knocked off track by distractions and diversions. The truth is that I allowed those distractions and diversions to keep me from staying focused on writing this post. Do you ever allow the trivial to get in the way of the important things that you should be accomplishing? This seems to a part of our human nature.
As a devout follower of Christ and a member of the British Parliament, William Wilberforce tried and failed, for many years to put an end to the slave trade. Likely the following quote was recorded in a meeting with his fellow abolitionists. He became so ill with Colitis that he was forced to continue his fight from his bed; in so much pain that he was forced to use Morphine just to get through the day. I think he used this quote echoed through his head throughout the day:
“Our motto must continue to be perseverance. And ultimately I trust the Almighty will crown our efforts with success.”- William Wilberforce (If you’ve never seen the movie, “Amazing Grace,” the story of his, please watch it).
Followers of Christ should have a vision and goals for what we believe God wants us to accomplish in this life. To achieve these short-term and long-term goals, it takes God-given perseverance. To persevere, we must “just say no” to other things. That seems to be a hard thing to convince people of in this Twitter culture of ours. It’s something I have to recommit to every morning and usually throughout the day.
I don’t think it’s mere coincidence that the first time that the word “perseverance” appears in the Bible is in the eighth chapter of Luke, “The Parable of the Sower.” For those of you that might not know, this parable is about what followers of Christ now refer to as “The Great Commission.” It’s spreading the “Good News” to a world full of bad news. For Christians, this is, or, at least, should be, our number one priority.
In this parable, Jesus explains to the disciples that the seed being sown is the word of God – the Gospel message. He then tells them (I’m paraphrasing), “Your responsibility is to spread the word, you’re not responsible for the results you get; the hearers of your message will be held accountable for their response to hearing the message.”
When I was in sales, my boss never told me anything like that. In sales, it’s understood that, if you want a roof over your head and food on the table, you better get results. Fortunately, my dad was in sales and told me the first and most important rule to be successful in sales. This rule applies to sharing the Gospel message too: “There’s no secret to being successful in sales, the more doors you knock on, the more successful you’ll be.” I told the salesman that I managed the same thing.
Through this blog, my work as an “Online Missionary” with Global Media Outreach, and through other “fields,” I spread the Gospel message. Other than trying my best to make the “Good News” message as understandable as possible, I have no control over or responsibility for the response of the reader. “You can lead a horse to water…”
“Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.” (1 Timothy 4:16)
In this parable of the Sower, Jesus also explains that several distractions and diversions hinder the message from being received and growing inside the hearers. These same distractions and diversions are also the enemies of perseverance in the follower of Christ. You might have heard the phrase, “The world, the flesh, and the devil.” That phrase often used sarcastically, is a summary of the hindrances that Jesus lists in this parable.
The disciples didn’t understand this parable about a person casting seed the first time they heard it, so Jesus had to sit them down and explain it. It’s kind of funny to me because I can so relate to the confusion disciples.
(Jesus explains) “Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God…”
(The first group hears the message) “…then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they will not believe and be saved.”
(The second group hears the message) “…when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away.”
(The third group hears the message) “…and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity.”
(The fourth group hears the message) “…these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance.” (Luke 8:11-15)
Notice, only the fourth and final group perseveres.
This is the difference between churchgoers and disciples of Christ. It certainly does apply to first-time “hearers of the word,” but also to those who so proudly saw themselves in the fourth group. Are you “holding firmly” (to the “seed”)? Are you “bearing fruit with perseverance?”
While reading the Bible or when praying do you ever find your thoughts wondering or find yourself worrying? Yeah, me too. Go back and read what “destroyed the seed” in the first three groups. I bet you’ll find every wondering thought that is trying to destroy your daily devotion. Among other things, discipleship is a daily battle of the thought-life. We have to stay focused like those in the fourth-group. This is perseverance.
Two-decades of being imprisoned in my body, unable even to speak, I’ve learned that I didn’t need a body or even a voice to be a disciple of Christ – being a disciple is a matter of the spirit and soul (mind, will and emotions) of man.
This kind of God-given and daily renewed kind of perseverance includes grace, joy, peace, hope, and strength to get us through the most difficult of trials and temptations; even the temptation to give up, the strongest of all temptations while in the midst of a trial.
“But he that shall persevere to the end, he shall be saved.” (Mathew 24:13)
I know that trials are a tough way to learn about perseverance and hope, and the strength of our faith. I wish there were an easier way, but only “…tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint…” (Romans 5:4-5)
This is Unshakable Hope.
If you feel you are on the wrong road, go back to the foot of the cross and begin again. I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve found myself taking wrong turns too many times even to remember. I went back to the cross, and Christ accepted me every time. If He accepted and forgave this pathetic creature, I know He will accept and forgive you.
“God knows our situation; He will not judge us as if we had no difficulties to overcome. What matters is the sincerity and perseverance of our will to overcome them. We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.” C.S. Lewis
As you might have guessed, I’m still alive. Except for the brief moments I died in 2015 (it was incredible), this latest case of pneumonia was the closest I’ve come to going home. It’s now been eleven days since pneumonia tried to take me out, and, while lying in bed in pain and gasping for during the first six days, I felt like God was giving me a choice to stay or go. I had no fear, just the opposite, I had to fight the excitement of being released from this pitiful excuse for a body.
I chose to stay because I’ve been working so hard on writing a book and desperately want to finish it. Maybe only my family and friends will read the book. That is fine with me; it would have been more than worth the effort for me. This is a goal I have; it’s something to make me persevere.
I’m still on hospice; our bedroom looks like a hospital room. But I feel great, or, at least as great as a guy that’s had ALS for twenty-two years can feel. The hospice nurse told us yesterday that my lungs are clear, and, I know it’s TMI, but my kidneys are functioning great. She was able to yank out the catheter yesterday morning so, except for my feeding tube, I’m completely untethered.
I was diagnosed with ALS just weeks after my 36th birthday. The neurologist explained to Mary and I that I had 3-5 years to live and most of that time I would be voiceless and confined to a wheelchair. He was right about everything except the living 3-5 years part.
My 40th birthday was a big deal, not just because I was turning forty, but because I was still alive.
As I sat in my room studying the Bible and reading books, the years clicked. I tried my best to keep an active role as the father of our two beautiful daughters, Lauren and Leah. I would type simple Bible studies and life lessons that we would read and discuss over dinner. It wasn’t the father-role I had envisioned, with me playing basketball in the driveway, teaching them to drive and walking them out on the football field when they were on Homecoming Court.
The list of things I couldn’t do as a non-disabled father increased as the years clicked by. My hair became grayer and grayer. My 50th birthday was a big deal. It was the best birthday I’ve ever had. I was so thankful that God allowed me to live to see my little girls grow into beautiful women.
I was born October 5th, 1960. Which means – Today is my 58th Birthday!!!
Please don’t feel bad if you forgot to send me a gift. But if you’re feeling guilty, click the link below and make a small donation to my Go Fund Me Account 🙂 Just kidding, I don’t even have a Go Fund Me Account.
A simple “Happy Birthday” in the comment section will do. Please be patient with me in replying to your comments. I’m still building up my strength and, it’s my birthday weekend!
I so appreciate your continued prayers. It’s inexplicable, but I literally felt the prayers of family and friends suspending me in the darkest hours of this latest trial. Mary and I both felt this, as we have so many times before.
Thank you so much!
God is good!
As of last month, this Unshakable Hope blog is six years old. Thank you so much for following my blog!
I began this blog to give hope, Unshakable Hope, to those who were feeling hopeless. I don’t know how successful I’ve been at spreading the message of hope in Christ, the only real Unshakable Hope that exists, but the followers of my blog have strengthened my hope and faith so much over these past six years.
My family and old friends follow my blog; I am blessed with such a great family and great friends. To those of you that I’ve met through this blog, you are not merely “blogging friends,” you’re friends. You have encouraged me when I needed encouragement. You’ve prayed for Mary and me when we were in need of prayer. Through your comments and your posts, you’ve taught me so much; great lessons I needed and continue to need. Isn’t that what friends do?
As most of you know, I’ve had ALS for twenty-two years, I’m paralyzed and have not been able to speak for the last twenty years (I was able to speak like a drunk for two years after being diagnosed). I use a special computer that tracks my eye movements to an onscreen keyboard. Writing is a tedious and often frustrating process. As you can imagine, typing an eight hundred word blog post (my average) is time-consuming. But God teaches me so much through typing these simple posts, so they help me more than they do those of you who follow my blog.
Now for the quick reminder.
I said all that to say, this is the first post I’ve written without forethought and study (this is about as extemporaneous as I get). I woke up this morning and thought someone needed this message today. I needed this reminder today also. It’s such a simple message – why is it so stinkin’ hard for Christians to remember?
If you are a born again follower of Christ, you’ve made a commitment to believe God’s word over every other voice – including the lying voices in your head! When you hear ungodly voices cutting you down or you have thoughts that contradict God’s word, dismiss them – they are lies! Believe this:
“…if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
If you’ve drifted away from Christ, come on back, He’s waiting for you. Believe this:
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9)
Maybe you’ve never made a commitment to follow Christ. What are you waiting for? I hope and pray you’ll believe this:
“…if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.” (Romans 10:9-10)
This song (“You Say”) is SO GOOD!
I saw the movie, “I Can Only Imagine” the other night. It’s a great biographical story about salvation and forgiveness. Writing movie reviews is not my thing, but I highly recommend this movie.
After seeing the movie, I began thinking about the title of the song and the movie, “I Can Only Imagine.“ Bart Millard, the man who wrote the song and the one that the movie is about, was imagining his dad in heaven as he was writing the song.
I started thinking about the imagination, especially when it comes to heaven and eternity.
What is the imagination?
(It’s) “the ability to form a mental image of something that is not perceived through the five senses. It is the ability of the mind to build mental scenes…”
The imaginary realm is not just the stuff of kids; for good or for evil, our imagination is a powerful force. For Christians, the renewing of the mind (Romans 12:2) also refocuses our imagination and we begin to see God’s vision for man and the whole of His creation.
Being wheelchair-bound, hooked up to a pump that feeds me, and not being able to speak for the last 20+ years, I use my imagination much more than I did before ALS invaded my life. Even my vacations are imaginary, lived out vicariously through family and friends, or through Rick Steves on PBS.
Before making a commitment to follow Christ at the age of twenty-three, the rare times I even thought about heaven, the picture in my mind was bleak. Back then, I wasn’t sure that I even believed in heaven. But, to the extent that my spiritually confused mind could imagine a heaven, I pictured it as an ethereal place where disembodied spirits were floating around aimlessly.
Can I sign you up? No thanks.
After making a commitment to follow Christ, I, like all Christians (I hope), began reading the Bible regularly and a much different picture of heaven, the true picture of heaven, was formed in my reborn imagination.
Just imagine this exciting place – a very real place:
Disembodied spirits floating around aimlessly? No way!
Don’t believe most of what well-meaning people tell you at the funeral of a loved one; God did not “need another angel.“ But, Jesus tells us that we will “be like the angels.” And, we’ll be (physically) like Jesus Himself after He was resurrected from the dead (Matthew 22:30 & 1 John 3:2).
What were the bodies of the angels like when they visited earth? And, what was Jesus’s body like when He appeared to more than five hundred people after His resurrection?
If you said they looked like men, you’re right.
The Bible tells us that we wouldn’t know the difference between men and angels even if they were our house guests (Hebrews 13:2). (I suspect that I’ve been married to an angel for 32 years).
Just imagine a body that defies the laws of physics. A body that can appear and disappear in a blink of the eye, but a body that can eat real food and drink wine (Luke 24:36-43 & Mark 14:25). I’ll have to take it slow because I haven’t had wine or any drink containing alcohol in over thirty-two years – a champagne toast on our wedding day.
Just imagine a heaven on earth. A lot of people, even many Christians, don’t realize that the permanent heaven will be on a “new earth.“ (Isaiah 65:17, 2 Peter 3:13, Revelation 21:1).
Just imagine no more sickness, no more cancer, ALS or any other stinkin’ disease. No more heartbreaking St. Jude and Shriners commercials! No more need for feeding tubes and wheelchairs! (Isaiah 35:5-6 & Revelation 21).
“I saw a new heaven (earth’s atmosphere) and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away…And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and 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; the first things have passed away.” And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” Then He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost. “He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son.” (Revelation 21)
After reading this, you might be asking, Bill, if you really believe this, why don’t you stop using your breathing machine and remove your feeding tube and move on to this beautiful heaven you’re talking about?
It’s a fair and logical question.
Believe me, there have been days, really bad days, days when pneumonia left me gasping for air. Days when my whole body was aching from the flu. Many days when I’ve wanted to die, even prayed to die, but…
And, I remembered that God still has a mission for me here. Like all followers of Christ, my mission is The Great Commission; persuading others, maybe even you, to join me in heaven for eternity.
Can I sign you up?
“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no heart has imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9).
Over the years I’ve had ALS, I’ve become convinced that for a Christian to retain hope in the midst of a difficult trial, he or she must believe that God allowed the trial for a purpose; a purpose greater than what God would have been able to accomplish in and through that person apart from the trial.
“…even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith…may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ…” (1 Peter 1:6-7)
I think every Christian that goes through a difficult trial will eventually ask “Whyme?”
But, I’ve learned that our motive behind asking this seemingly simple question says a lot about how we view God – and also a lot about how we view ourselves.
The first man asks the…
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I’m sure it’s the little boy still hiding in my 57-year-old paralyzed body, but I enjoy trying to pull off a good April Fools Day joke on Mary. In our thirty-two years of marriage, I probably have a 75% success rate.
It can be a real challenge to carry out a successful April fools joke with ALS because I can’t speak so I have to attempt to fool her via email or using my computer’s (no inflection) robot voice (the only “voice” I’ve had for the last twenty years).
As I’m sure you know, April Fools Day and Easter (the day we celebrate Christ’s resurrection from the dead) fall on the same day this year. The two have not fallen on the same day since 1956.
Are Christians fools for believing that Christ was literally raised from the dead?
Atheists, agnostics and those of other faiths, believe it is foolish to believe that a man who had been dead for three days would rise up and walk out of His tomb.
Lee Strobel (author of “The Case For Christ“) put it this way:
“When I was an atheist and legal editor of The Chicago Tribune, I would have smirked at the fact that Easter this year falls on April Fools’ Day. Because back then, I thought that anyone would have to be a fool to believe that Jesus literally rose from the dead.”
Lee Strobel is now a Christian Apologist, an Associate Pastor of a large church in The Woodlands, Texas, and a best-selling author. His latest book, “The Case For Miracles” came out on March 27th.
Back when Lee was an atheist, he became furious when his wife told him that she had become a Christian. He set out to prove that Christianity was the biggest hoax in history. He began his research by rightly determining that the foundation of Christianity is the resurrection of Christ.
As an award-winning investigative journalist and a Yale-educated attorney, he reasoned, that he was more than qualified to expose this hoax. Lee spent two years researching historical documents and interviewing experts on the resurrection for the book he planned to title “The Case Against Christ.”
“A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading” C.S. Lewis
Way back when I was young and knew everything, I considered myself to be an agnostic. I really didn’t have an interest in anything that had to do with “religion” so, without even knowing the definition of the word, It seemed like a safe and non-offensive thing to be so I chose that label for myself.
“The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, But a wise man is he who listens to counsel.” (Proverbs 12:15)
For the record, the definition of agnostic is: a person who holds the view that any ultimate reality (such as God) is unknown and probably unknowable; one who is not committed to believing in either the existence or the non-existence of God or a god.
“The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God…” (Psalm 14:1)
But, Lee Strobel, C.S. Lewis and so many others have demonstrated that “ultimate reality,” like the resurrection of Christ, is not “unknowable.”
“Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell — and great was its fall.” (Matthew 7:26-27)
We’re all fools in the eyes of someone; either in the eyes of man, or in the eyes of God.
It’s not a great selling point, and it’s a very humbling thing to do, but a follower of Christ is one who chooses to be a fool in the eyes of an unbelieving world. Yes, Christians know that we are viewed as fools in the eyes of an unbelieving world. The Bible told us about this too:
“We are fools for Christ’s sake…we are without honor…when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things…”
(1 Corinthians 4:10-14)
Sign up here________________ 🙂
Seriously, this Easter, I really hope that atheists, agnostics, and all those who have dismissed the resurrection of Christ would take a new look at this event that has reshaped history and transformed millions upon millions of hearts and minds in every corner of the world.
Placing your hope in Christ is truly Unshakable Hope. It’s hope for this life, and for the next.
“…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)
Please watch this three minute video by Lee Strobel