TGIF

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

Even though the progression of my ALS forced me to resign from my job over twenty-one years, I can still remember that TGIF feeling. Whether I was sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on a Friday evening or landing at the airport after being gone all week on a business trip, it felt great to be done with the work week.

Then I thought about the darkest Friday of my life. After three days of grueling tests, which included cutting muscle samples out of my thigh without anesthetic and a spinal tap that left me with a debilitating headache for three days, I was exhausted. Mary and I sat at the foot of a hospital bed waiting for the head neurologist to give us the verdict. I remember it all so vividly, I heard footsteps, many footsteps, echoing off the walls of the hallway. Then, like a jury returning to a courtroom, the neurologist, flanked by a group of young interns, entered my hospital room. He told us the tests showed that I had ALS. He went on to say that I would continually get weaker, be confined to a wheelchair, lose my ability to speak and that I would die in three to five years.

That was not a Friday I was thanking God for.

Two thousand years ago, as the disciples were looking at Jesus on the cross, do you think they called that day “Good Friday?”

I don’t think so either.

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

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

To add insult to injury, as Jesus was hanging on the cross and, the disciples were surrounded by people that were mocking Him and celebrating His crucifixion:
“Hail, King of the Jews!”
“He saved others; He cannot save Himself.”
“…come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.”

For the disciples, this day was anything but TGIF.

But Jesus knew differently.

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

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

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

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

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

This does not mean that we have to abandon our hopes and dreams for this life. Far from it. God wants to bless us in this life too. But, making a commitment to follow Christ is the only Unshakable Hope that God offers for this life and the next.

If you haven’t done so already, today is a great day to make this commitment.

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

Originally posted April 2017

What Are You Talking About?

Losing my ability to work and earn a living was terrible. Becoming paralyzed and wheelchair-bound was horrible. Losing my ability to eat was a tough pill to swallow, literally. But losing my ability to speak is by far the most difficult aspect of this cruel disease called ALS.

I haven’t been able to speak with my God-given voice for almost twenty years so it might seem strange that I am writing about the power of the spoken word. As one who can only speak through my computer’s Text-to-Speech program, I have become more and more observant of the words of others. For good or for bad, the words we speak are powerful.

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue…” (Proverbs 18:21) 

Studies claim that men speak around seven thousand words a day and women speak a whopping twenty thousand words – in just one day. Mary is my caregiver so I might be treading on dangerous ground here, but, from what I’ve observed over the thirty-three years of marriage, I tend to believe these studies are accurate.

I remember so well when I began to lose my ability to speak. Even though I hadn’t had a drink in twelve years, my voice started to sound like I was drunk. In fact, a police officer pulled me over at 9:30 in the morning and, after speaking with him, he asked if I had been drinking. Because all of the muscles needed to speak became weaker and weaker as the day wore on, by three in the afternoon, I sounded like a really tired drunk. Knowing this, I began to make important phone calls and meet people as early in the day as possible. I also started to choose my words very carefully; I didn’t have the luxury of idle chatter. It was then, two decades ago, that I began to value the ability to speak. Like working, walking, and eating, talking was just one more thing that I took for granted before ALS invaded my life.

“There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, But the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (Proverbs 12:18)

An incredible fact: To create speech, around a hundred different muscles in the chest, neck, jaw, tongue, and lips must work together. Every word or short phrase that is physically spoken is followed by its own unique arrangement of muscle movements. The information necessary for producing a phrase is saved in the speech area of the brain. – Reference.com

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29)

Imagine what a great world it would be if we only spoke “what is helpful for building others up” and to “benefit those who listen.” 

Maybe women do talk more than men, but I wonder what men and women would say, and who we’d speak to, if our ability to speak were limited to just three thousand words a day. At first, there would likely be a lot of quiet dinner tables, but over time I think people would learn to measure their words. I would hope that most of us would learn to save our words for important things, not for gossip and backbiting. I have seen close relationships, even family relationships, ruined by words. And, so many people have been scarred for life from verbal abuse. Maybe we should learn to live as if our speech was limited.

“Everyone must be quick to hear and slow to speak…” (James 1:19)

We might think it’s unfair, but non-Christians judge followers of Christ by the way we speak and the words we use. For example, if you ever want to prove that you are not a follower of Christ, start cursing. This tactic worked great for Peter:

“A little later the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Surely you too are one of them; for even the way you talk gives you away.” Then he began to curse and swear, “I do not know the man!” And immediately a rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the word which Jesus had said, “Before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.” (Matthew 26:73-75)

The Bible has so much to say about the importance of words. In fact, Jesus said that the words we speak define who we are, and how we’ll ultimately be judged:

“…the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. “The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good, and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil. “But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. “For by your words you will be justified, and by your words, you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:34-37)

The best use of your ability to speak is making a commitment to follow Christ, just as I did thirty-six years ago. It’s so easy, and you’ll never regret it:

“…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)

More Than We Can Handle

Have you ever really thought about the statement, “God never gives us more than we can handle?”

This statement sounds so encouraging and so comforting when we’re facing a difficult trial, but…

I don’t believe it’s true.

My living with ALS is more than Mary, and I can handle. I look around me and see others, even family and friends, trying to cope with difficult trials that they don’t seem to be handling very well. Others are trying to battle temptations like drugs, alcohol, gambling, pornography, and so many other “lures” that they don’t seem to have the power to conquer. Still, others are trying to fight what appear to be oppressive spirits that we call Depression, Bipolar Disorder, PTSD, and too many other names to list in this short blog post.

It’s all too much to handle!


“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)

The above verse is where the “God never gives us more than we can handle” saying comes from. The Greek origin of the word “temptation” (peirasmos), used in this verse, can also mean “test” and “trial.”

Pretty much every challenge we’re trying to cope with falls under the category of a temptation, test or trial. But, nowhere in the above verse does it say that “God gives us” these horrible tests, trials, and temptations.

The suicide rate in America has risen 30% since 1999, and deaths from drug overdoses are at an all-time high. Drug overdoses are the leading cause of death in America for those under 55 years of age. So many people are dying from suicides and drug overdoses that the overall life expectancy rate has dropped for the last three years. This three-year decline is the most since World War 1 and the flu pandemic a hundred years ago.

Apparently, many people are going through difficulties that are more than they can handle. In this life, we will undoubtedly face tests, trials, and temptations that are “more than we can handle.” God doesn’t “give us” difficult trials, but, for reasons we can’t fully understand in this life, He does allow them to come against even the most faithful followers of Christ.

The Apostle Paul wrote the above verse, and also the passage below. The passage below gives us the biggest reason that God does allow tests, trials, and temptations to invade our lives. This passage also gives context to the “God never gives us more than we can handle” saying:

“For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope.” (2 Corinthians 1:8-10)

“Affliction,” “burdened excessively, beyond our strength,” “despaired even of life…”

Can you relate to this? Mary and I sure can.

Paul concluded that all of this happened to him (and to us) “so that we would (learn) not trust in ourselves, but in God…”

We will definitely face tests, trials, and temptations that are “more than we can handle,” but they are not more than God can handle – if we seek His help. Part of the grace that God gives in our tests, trials, and temptations comes in the form of people that He prompts to help us. I want to be one of these people, not only because so many people have helped us, but helping others when they’re overwhelmed by things too great for them to handle, keeps me from being “self-focused.”

Since becoming a follower of Christ, I’ve wondered why the non-Christian alcoholic, drug addict, and the suicidal didn’t give Christ a chance to help them overcome whatever their demons might be. “Do they think that becoming a follower of Christ is a fate worse than death?” I wondered.

It’s so ironic to me that many followers of Christ, people who were perfectly happy with the life they were living, chose to be martyred for refusing to renounce their faith in Christ.

The suicidal person ends his life because he has no hope, peace, and joy, while Christian martyr chooses death by refusing to renounce his hope, peace, and joy.

“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)

If it were true that ‘God never gives us more than we can handle,’ Christ suffered and died for nothing.

Picture from Amazingfacts.org

Pressing On

Happy New Year!

Yeah, I know I’m late, but I have an excuse.

I spent the last ten days battling a respiratory infection. For someone who lives with only thirty percent of his lungs functioning on a good day, pneumonia and respiratory infections are, putting it lightly, really bad. So, I don’t care what the date on the calendar is, I’m declaring that today is the first day of my year. Those of you who have already broken your New Year resolutions might want to join me in this do-over.

It may be a weird coincidence, but two years ago I spent the first week of the year in the hospital battling a respiratory infection. If you want excitement on New Year’s Eve, just go sit in the ER at a nearby hospital.

As many of you know, I almost lost a battle with pneumonia three months ago. During that battle, I was put on hospice. Being on hospice is great because I no longer have to go to the hospital. So, even though I was just as sick as I was on New Year’s Eve two years ago, I was able to stay in my quiet bedroom.

It might not make sense to an able-bodied person, but even a guy that lives trapped in a completely useless body makes plans for the coming year. On January 1st, I had plans to hit the ground running, figuratively speaking, obviously. But once again I spent the first week of the year sitting on the sidelines. It’s so frustrating to begin the year playing catch up, but I must press on!

“…forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14)

The context of the above passage is interesting and so powerful. The Apostle Paul is comparing his former life as a highly-respected Pharisee and scholar, to his debasement (in the eyes of the world) as a Christian who spent much of his time in prison. In fact, the first chapter of this book tells us that Paul wrote this while he was “in chains.” It’s so ironic that, before becoming a follower of Christ, Paul would hunt down and imprison Christians, and even oversee their execution, but now he was the one imprisoned for, in his words, “the cause of Christ.”

Suppose that Paul would have sat there in that dark dungeon dwelling on his former life:

  • He would look at the rags he was wearing and remember the fine robes he used to wear.
  • He would look at the mystery slop in the bowl in front of him and think about the delicious foods he used to enjoy.
  • He would look at the hard floor he was sleeping on and think about the comfortable bed that he used to sleep soundly on.
  • He would look around the cell at the dark walls and remember the feel of the sun on his face and the beauty of flowering plants as he used to stroll through the gardens of Jerusalem.

I understand the temptation of thinking about how things used to be before ALS imprisoned me in my own body:

  • I had a good job that I enjoyed and was earning a good income.
  • Mary and I had an active social life and enjoyed fellowship with many close friends.
  • I enjoyed being an active father of our two beautiful little daughters.
  • I was active in church and enjoyed teaching Sunday school.
  • I was able to eat delicious food with my mouth, no feeding tube needed.
  • I was able to speak with my own voice, no Text-to-Speech robot voice needed.
  • I was able to breathe without the assistance of a breathing machine.
  • I was able to operate the remote control for the TV!

Okay, the last bullet point is kind of shallow, but you get the idea. The point I am trying to make is that the life of following Christ is always looking forward. We learn lessons from the past, but we can’t live there in our minds.

Isn’t that living in denial?

It’s not living in denial if Christ and a hope of heaven is your reality. My life’s work is now to spread the message of this reality to others. Even if I were completely healed today, I would continue with this work because it’s what I was called to do. I just didn’t realize it when I was able-bodied.

ALS has taken away so much, but being imprisoned in my body has turned me into the man that God intended me to be. Apart from ALS, I don’t know if I would have ever found that man. It shouldn’t take a horrible trial for us to discover the person that God designed us to be.

In the same chapter as the passage I posted above, Paul calls everything he’s lost as “rubbish:”

“I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ…” (Philippians 3:8)

Hold tightly to lessons learned from your past, and the joyful memories you have. But, let go of guilt, regrets and “baggage” from your past.

Press on with me this year!

The Perfect Gift

Mary and our daughters, Lauren and Leah, have told me for years that I am “the most difficult person to buy Christmas gifts for.” The reason for this is because, in a sense, I am like the man who has everything – I need very little, materially, anyways.

Twenty-two years ago, before ALS invaded my body, I was easy to buy gifts for. If Mary and the girls couldn’t think of anything else, anything creative, that is, they’d just get me a necktie, golf balls, or maybe a some of my favorite snacks. But now that ALS has taken away my ability to work, golf and eat, the old default gifts are no longer an option.

Even before ALS changed our lives, and our finances, Mary and I never spent a lot of money buying each other Christmas gifts. She found a 50% off sale on men’s clothing earlier this month and bought me a nice shirt and two pairs of pants. She gave me the gifts last week, and I’ve already worn the pants. You might be thinking that she should have waited until Christmas morning to give me the gifts. I don’t know for sure, but she’ll probably have another gift or two for me to open on Christmas morning. Maybe she’ll get me exciting gifts like new socks and slippers. I might have a few gifts for her to open Christmas morning, too. But, with ALS, there’s no better time than the present when it comes to giving presents.

As the regular followers of my blog know, pneumonia almost took me out a few months ago. This was just the latest of my many close encounters with death. I am learning to live like every day might be my last day in my rapidly decaying body.

Isn’t this the way that all followers of Christ should live, regardless of the state of our health?

“How do you know what will happen tomorrow? For your life is like the morning fog–it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.” (James 4:14)

Even if we live to be a hundred, that is just a drop in the ocean when compared to eternity. The greatest gift that God could have given man is the gift of eternal life. This incredible gift comes through Jesus Christ, whose birth Christians celebrate every December 25th.

The Bible tells us that Mary, Jesus’s mother, was a virgin and that an angel told her that she was going to be the mother of the Savior of the world. A virgin becoming pregnant? Mary was wondering about this, too:

“Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34)
Answer:
“The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35)

According to the Bible, our sin nature is passed from one generation to another through the father (Romans 5:12). This means that for Jesus to be the “Savior of the world,” He had to be born without a sin nature; only God Himself was qualified to be the Father of Jesus.

Here is the great part of this – Jesus was born sinless and lived a sinless life so that He could place His sinless nature in anyone who asks Him to do so.

Jesus had to be born of a virgin so the prostitute could be born again!

“For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” (1 Peter 1:23)

Jesus is the perfect one-size-fits-all gift. If you haven’t yet accepted this free gift from God, I hope and pray that you will. There’s no better time than today.

I apologize for being pushy about this, but those who live like today might be their last day on earth, tend to be direct about matters of eternity. This might be your last day on earth, too.

“God says,
At just the right time, I heard you.
On the day of salvation, I helped you.”
Indeed, God is ready to help you right now.
Today is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:2)

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

Are you a Christian?

MERRY CHRISTMAS!