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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

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

A Quick Reminder

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!

 

Living Like You’re Dead

The title of this blog might seem like an oxymoron, but I hope to convince you otherwise.

I have come close to death several times even before ALS entered my life 21 years ago. With each brush with death, the more I am able to identify with death and eternity and live my life accordingly.

You might think that viewing my life as having one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel would be a depressing way to live, but I’ve discovered just the opposite; it’s a very liberating way to live, at least, from a Christian point of view. I think it’s also the viewpoint that Christ intended us to have.

In the days leading up to Christmas every year, Mary and I always watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” and the 1951 version (the best version) of “A Christmas Carol.” After watching these movies this last Christmas, I was thinking about why I love these two holiday classics. I concluded that it was because, in each of these movies, the central character learns about what’s really important in life after seeing themselves as dead.

Virtually every morning when I wake up, I remind myself that this might be my last day on earth. I am a long way from perfecting this, but I try to let this reality govern every aspect of my life. Before ALS, even though I was a Christian and was supposed to be “eternally minded,” I’m ashamed to admit that I did not always allow my own mortality to influence my daily life. Even back then in 1996 when I was diagnosed, before smartphones, Facebook and so many other distractions and time-wasters, it was so easy to lose focus on the realities of life.

The Apostle Paul said, “I die daily.” (1 Corinthians 15:31). It was miraculous that Paul lived to be an old man. He had come close to death so many times. Even after suffering through numerous trials and brushes with death, Paul lived his life with joy, peace, hope, contentment and so many other spiritual and emotional strengths we all long for. Yet, he seemed to go through a daily exercise of visualizing himself nailed to a cross:


“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20).

Many well-meaning Christians have empathized with me by saying things like “ALS is a heavy cross (for you) to bear…” I’m thankful for everyone who empathizes with my having to go through this horrible trial that has cost me my career, my health and so much more. But this trial is not “my cross to bear.” I took up my cross the 35 years ago when I made a commitment to follow Christ.

“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. “For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits his own soul?” (Luke 9:23-25)

In today’s narcissistic “selfie” culture, “Denying yourself” is a tough message to sell. Christianity, true Christianity, has always been a counter-cultural belief system. But in a society where just about anything goes, those who make a commitment to follow Christ, to live like they’re dead, are today’s ultimate rebels.

Buying into this living like you’re dead life will cost you everything you’re holding onto, but the benefits are joy, peace and unshakable hope; hope that will carry you through trials, temptation, and tribulation.

“Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:2-3)

Thanks for taking the time to read,
Bill
picture credit: https://jaytharding.com/

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.