Author Archives: Bill Sweeney

Uncool

Let’s be honest, Christianity is uncool. If anything qualifies as an uncool worldview, it’s being a follower of Christ. If you are living for Christ, you are not one of the cool kids.

Uncool: failing to accord with the values or styles (as of dress or behavior) of a particular groupnot accepted or admired as cool.

Regardless of where or when we’ve lived over the last two thousand years, followers of Christ are not, have never been, and will never be, a part of the in-crowd. I’m uncool, but I’m okay with that.

It’s kind of funny when I think about it; ALS has forced me to double down on my uncoolness. Being paralyzed, I can’t even dress myself in stylish clothes or brush my own hair. I’m thankful that Mary and others buy me nice clothes to keep me fashionable. After my shower this morning, Mary even sprayed cologne on me after getting me dressed. I think I’m probably one of the best dressed and sweetest smelling recluses in the world. But, I’m still uncool.

I made a commitment to follow Christ in 1983, at the age of twenty-three. This was thirteen years before being diagnosed with ALS. I knew at the time that becoming a follower of Christ was a really uncool thing to do. But, in the thirty-six years that I’ve been a follower of Christ, it’s a commitment I’ve never regretted making. Thirty-four years ago today (11/2/19), Mary and I were married. This is another commitment I’ve never regretted making. She loves me unconditionally, uncoolness and all.

“…everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32-33)

I heard on the news that the famous music artist, Kanye West, confessed that he has become a follower of Christ. Do you think his public confession will make Christianity seem cool in the eyes of his fans? Maybe some will listen to his testimony and choose to become followers of Christ. I sure hope so. But, if his commitment is real and lasting, the majority of his fans will think he has become uncool and follow someone’s that’s cool in their eyes. That’s just the way it works.

“If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.” (John 15:18-19).

Before becoming a follower of Christ, among other things, I did think of Christians as uncool, but I didn’t hate them. I was pretty much a whatever kind of guy. After all, I was raised in America; I didn’t care what you believed or practiced as long as you didn’t tell me how to live or what to believe. However, it’s not that way in most of the world.

Through my work as an Online Missionary with Global Media Outreach and through this blog, I’ve had the privilege of communicating with followers of Christ all over the world. Most people don’t know about this, but the fastest growing church in the world is in – IRAN! (There’s an excellent documentary about this on YouTube).

In Iran, it’s not just uncool to be a follower of Christ, it’s also illegal. The rapidly growing church in Iran is entirely underground. They meet in small groups in the homes of brave men and women. These courageous people are risking their lives for the sake of Christ, just like the first Christians did.

But, it doesn’t matter if you live in an Islamic country or in an open society like America, living as a born again follower of Christ, is the ultimate counter-cultural life. But it’s still uncool. 

I started reading the Gideon Bible that I stole from a hotel room when I twenty-one. As I said, I became a born again Christian two years later. I’m a slow learner. Before reading John’s Gospel, I thought that the term “born again” was like “Jesus freak” – just another term to make fun of Christians. I had no idea that all true Christians are born again. I didn’t say this, these are the words of Jesus:

“Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God…unless one is born of water (natural birth) and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, “You must be born again.’ (John 3:3-7)

Do you consider yourself to be a Christian, but you’re hesitant to call yourself a born again Christian?

Why?

Is it because you’ve spent years crafting an image of yourself that you must uphold?

In a sense, I suppose that Jesus is Lord over a motley crew, from the world’s point of view, anyway. It’s a group that includes those who have been humbled by life’s hardships; disease and despair, addiction and abuse, poverty, and loneliness. As the Apostle Paul wrote, Christ’s followers are viewed by many as “…the scum of the world, the dregs of all things…” Sign me up!

When I was a teenager, leisure suits and flowered shirts with giant collars were cool. You can see where I’m going with this. What’s cool today will be laughed about by the next generation. Only temporary things are cool. Followers of Christ might not be cool, but we have a permanent and eternal hope that will never disappoint.

“Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29).

October

October is my favorite month of the year!

When I was a kid, October was my favorite month because my birthday is in October (5th), and it meant I’d be getting gifts and having cake and ice cream. What’s not to like?

As I grew older, the whole birthday thing became less and less important to me; especially after ALS took away my ability to eat the delicious carrot cake that Mary made me for my birthday. No ice cream needed with her carrot cake, just a good cup of coffee.

ALS has also made it difficult for people to buy me gifts for my birthday. Golf balls? No. ALS has taken away my ability to golf. Neckties? No. ALS has taken away my ability to work. A weekend away? No. ALS has taken away my ability to travel. On and on the list goes. ALS has turned me into a reclusive minimalist.

A year ago, on September, 23rd, I came down with a horrible case of pneumonia. I went downhill rapidly. A few days later, even taking heavy doses of antibiotics, I continued the downward spiral. When my kidneys shut down, my palliative doctor handed me off to hospice.

After a week in bed taking heavy antibiotics, to everyone’s surprise, including Mary’s, she’d later confess, I began to improve. I improved enough to celebrate my birthday with our family. My breathing is weaker, I usually have to use my ventilator most of the day, and I battle extreme fatigue, but I am here to celebrate yet another birthday.

I’m thankful to God that He’s allowed me to be here for yet another birthday. But, as I said, birthdays are no longer a big part of why October is my favorite month, and I why fall is my favorite season.

It’s the weather!

When I was growing up in Chicagoland, October was great weather for riding bikes, playing basketball in the driveway, foursquare in the street, or football on the field behind us. This was before computer games, cellphones, cable TV, and so many other time wasters. The colorful leaves were falling all around us as we played; a constant reminder that the long and frigid Chicago winter would soon be here. We had to full advantage of the October sunshine.

Today, so many years later, I live in Texas, over eleven hundred miles away from Chicago. I have been stuck in the house all summer because it is too hot to go outside! Seriously, I don’t even remember the last time I’ve been outside. I’m thankful for air conditioning. I was so happy to see that the weather forecast said we’re going to get our first “cool front.” The daytime high is only going to be around 80 degrees. Brrrrr.

Over two decades ago, ALS robbed me of the ability to play sports or enjoy other outdoor activities. But I still enjoy sitting outside and listening to audiobooks or watching our three grandkids play. God has truly blessed us.

Get outside and enjoy October!

Breathing And Other Luxuries

Most people don’t think of breathing as a luxury, after all, even the poorest among us can breathe. They wouldn’t be among us otherwise.

Luxury: a condition of abundance or great ease and comfort.

After almost twenty-three years with ALS, which greatly affects my ability to breathe, I believe the above definition of luxury perfectly fits being able to breathe in ease and comfort. But maybe only those who’ve had breathing problems view breathing as a luxury. I hope this simple post will give readers a new appreciation for the ability to just breathe. I think this is important because, if we learn not to take breathing for granted, we’ll begin to view material luxuries for what they really are – just stuff!

Regardless of location, status, race, religion, politics, or anything else that divides people, taking a breath is the first thing we do when entering this world and the last thing we’ll do when exiting this world.

Breathing is a great equalizer.

The ability to breathe was also the first gift that God gave to mankind:

“And the LORD God formed a man’s body from the dust of the ground and breathed into it the breath of life. And the man became a living person.” (Genesis 2:7).

Even though I don’t have the ability to use or the money to spend on the latest gadgets, I am fascinated by technology. I am literally surrounded by incredible machines that add to my quality of life. My wheelchair reclines and is very comfortable. It even has headlights and taillights for cruising around at night. This wheelchair cost as much as a new car. It was donated to the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) after the original owner died from ALS. I am borrowing it from them.

In front of me, attached to the wheelchair with a bar, is my eye-tracking computer. This special computer enables me to communicate, type this post, and do so much more.

To the right of my wheelchair is a little pump mounted on an I.V. pole. This pump is connected to my feeding tube, and for twelve hours a day, its slowly pumping a lab concocted formula into my stomach.

Finally, to my left, is a ventilator that breathes for me through a little breathing mask that’s plugged into my nose.

Now that I think about it, I might be more machine than human.

Because ALS also weakens the muscles needed to breathe, I’ve been relying on a breathing machine when I sleep for the last twenty years. Increasingly over the last few years, I’ve also had to use this ventilator during the daytime. When fighting for every breath, it’s such a relief when Mary puts the breathing mask on me. I am finally able to relax. That’s a luxury.

A few weeks ago, I was watching a television show called “American Pickers.” This is a show about two men who travel America in a van looking for old items to buy and resell for a profit. In the episode I was watching, these two men were in Florida trying to buy old luxury cars from a wealthy man who lived in a mansion near the ocean.

This elderly man owned several once-beautiful and very expensive cars, but because he lived near the ocean, these cars were just rusting away in the salty air. When I was a boy, while playing with my Matchbox Cars, I dreamed about one day owning some of the very cars that this man was letting sit in his garage and rust away. That little boy in me and the adult me were in total agreement; they both had the same thought – WHAT A WASTE!

The “Pickers” made offers to buy some of the cars, but the man refused to let go of his rusting luxuries.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust 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)

In the years following my diagnoses with ALS, I’ve learned to place a higher value on my many blessings. Apart from the rare visits from that little boy inside of me, my definitions of treasures and luxuries are not the same as they once were.

Breathing is a great luxury.

No matter how bad things look to you, there is hope for a better tomorrow if you’re breathing today.

Thanks for dropping by my blog.

Still Living In Hope!

It’s hard for me to believe, but July 7th marked the seven-year anniversary of my Unshakable Hope blog. And, most surprising of all, after nearly twenty-three years with ALS, I’m still alive!

For Christians, the barren wilderness is a metaphor for life’s trials. I like this picture because rainbows, a sign of God’s promises, can be found even in the wilderness times of life. I also like that this wilderness path is wheelchair accessible.

I started this blog to share the hope I’ve found in Christ, with the goal of strengthening the faith and hope of other Christians going through trials. While in the midst of my own trial, this is one of the things that I believe God has called me to do. So many followers of Christ are going through difficult times. If anyone became a Christian thinking they would be exempt from trials, they will be sorely disappointed. Christians and non-Christians go through trials, the difference is that Christians can have peace and hope when life gets hard:

“…I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).

Back in 2012, when I started blogging, I didn’t think about making new friends through my blog or reading posts on other blogs that would strengthen my hope and faith. This has been a great bonus. I now believe this is probably half the reason that God was prompting me to start my blog.

The name of my blog comes from a verse in the book of Hebrews. Seven years ago this month, as I was reading the Bible on my computer, just like I’ve done since losing my ability to flip the pages of a book thirteen years earlier, I scrolled down to Hebrews chapter eleven. This is one of my favorite chapters in the New Testament. It’s a chapter about holding onto faith while going through hardships. So many of God’s people have endured suffering by looking to Him for strength. This chapter lists several examples of true faith. These are men and women who refused to compromise their faith, even when doing so would have ended or lessened the trials they were facing. In short, Hebrews chapters eleven and twelve are about becoming eternallyminded.

The end of chapter twelve sums this up; telling followers of Christ to stay focused on our eternal hope. The temporary and material things can, and eventually will be destroyed. Created things, including the body we’re living in, will decay. In my case, ALS has turbocharged this process.

…the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.” (Hebrews 12:27)

After reading the Hebrews 12:27, I went online and bought the domain Unshakablehope.com and started this blog.

Unfortunately, trials don’t occur in a vacuum. The different parts of our lives are so interconnected that a trial of our health, like my being diagnosed with ALS at the age of thirty-six, affects virtually every other area of our lives. When I was diagnosed, it was as if an earthquake occurred; the career that God had blessed me with, and I had worked so hard to build, was removed. Because of this, our finances were greatly shaken. On and on it goes.

I won’t spend the time or waste the effort to list the “created” and temporal things that were removed or shaken in our life. Either you know firsthand or have witnessed the shock-waves and aftershocks that come from the epicenter of a horrible diagnosis, a job loss, a divorce, the death of a loved one, or another of life’s many earthquakes.

So many areas of our lives, including our health, can be shaken. But, if we look to God during our trials, our hope in Christ is one of the things that cannot be shaken.

Our hope in Christ is an Unshakable Hope!

“My soul, wait in silence for God only, For my hope is from Him. He only is my rock and my salvation, My stronghold; I shall not be shaken.” (Psalm 62:5-6)

Please don’t put your hope in temporary and created things, not even another person, because everything we see with our natural eyes will eventually disappoint us.

“Don’t let happiness depend on something you might lose.” C.S. Lewis

Itching!

Have you ever had an itch that you couldn’t reach to scratch?

This is yet another frustrating aspect of having ALS; being paralyzed by this cruel disease, I cannot scratch my own itches. Over the twenty-two years of my having ALS, I’ve become pretty good at blocking out everyday itching from skin irritations.

The most irritating itches are those caused by insects!

When the weather is nice, I enjoy kicking back in my wheelchair on the patio and listening to audiobooks. This would be much more relaxing if the insects would leave me alone. They seem to know that I am powerless to swat them and take full advantage of this. Several times, mosquitoes have landed right on my forearm and have taken all of the blood they could handle. Their buzzing sounds a lot like laughter as they fly away, leaving me with an itchy bite I can’t scratch. 

But worse than the bold mosquitoes are I demonic house flies. On more than a few occasions, these disgusting flies have conducted coordinated attacks on me. They’d fly into my nostrils and ears and land on my lips. It’s as if Beelzebub, the ancient pagan “lord of flies,” sent them to torment me. I’m only half joking. Sometimes I really do wonder what goes on “behind the scenes.”

Two weeks ago, I had a horrible itch on my left side that, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t overcome the urge to have it scratched. It was a burning itch as if I had been scalded by hot liquid. Mary lifted my shirt to investigate and discovered that I had bright red welts on the side of my waist. It looked like I really had been scalded by hot liquid. These red itchy welts quickly spread to my back.

It turned out to be shingles. The hospice doctor got me started right away on antibiotics and a cream for the welts. It was thankfully a minor case, there was not much pain, just ten days of itching.

Another kind of itching:

Just before he was beheaded under the Roman Emperor Nero, the last recorded words of the Apostle Paul were a warning about itching. Spending years chained in dungeons, with fleas, lice, and likely irritable skin conditions, I’m sure that Paul knew a lot about itching of the body. But he wouldn’t waste his last words on earth recommending essential oils for skin conditions (I get those recommendations from my daughter, Leah).

Paul issued a warning about the worst of all itches – spiritual itches:

…the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith…” “The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” (2 Timothy 4:6-7 & 3-4).

At the age of twenty-three, I made a commitment to follow Christ. I wasn’t attending church at this time. In truth, I was still cynical about the whole“organized religion” thing. I don’t recommend this, but for the first three or four months, I didn’t attend church. However, I read the Bible every day. Some days I’d read the Bible for several hours. Before the first time I attended church, I made a commitment to God that if any preacher contradicted what I had been reading in the Bible, I’d stick with what the Bible taught and never attend that church again.

It’s been thirty-six years since I made that commitment and Mary and I have been members of two churches. Thankfully, we’ve never had any serious disagreements with what’s been preached by the pastors. The same can’t be said about some of the messages I’ve heard on television, the radio, and YouTube.

I know that there have been false teachers for all of the two thousand years of Christianity, but it’s never been as bad as it is now.“The time” that Paul warned us about just before being executed is here; we’re living in times of great deception.

Please read the Bible and walk away from anyone who contradicts it. It’s a matter of life and death –eternal life and death!

You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you.”― C.S. Lewis

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