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Isolation

Due to the pandemic, many in America and other parts of the world are living in isolation. As someone who has been living as a hermit due to ALS for more than twenty years, it didn’t take this pandemic for me to discover that living like a fugitive in a hideout isn’t good for you emotionally or spiritually. Living in isolation isn’t good for us physically, either. From what I’ve read, people are abusing food, alcohol, and drugs more often.

The Bible also tells us that isolation is not God’s plan for mankind. The first observation that God made after creating man was, “It is not good for the man to be alone…” (Genesis 2:18). He told Adam and Eve to be “fruitful and multiply.” God made us for fellowship with Himself and with others who are living for Him.

It didn’t take long for Adam and Eve to mess up God’s original plan. The very next chapter records the “fall of man.” Their disobedience introduced mankind to shame, fear, pain, sickness, blaming God and others for our wrongs, deception, spiritual and physical death, and hiding from God–the worst kind of isolation there is.

With a few exceptions, things went downhill from there. But then Jesus, “the second Adam,” came to show us how we can get everything back that the first Adam lost. He paired up His disciples and gave them the “Great Commission”:

“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; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20).

Jesus never sent one of His followers out alone, not even on a simple errand. The only instance I can find of a disciple going out alone is when Judas went to betray Jesus. The night Jesus was arrested, Peter was encircled by an angry mob and didn’t have another disciple with him. When pressed three times, he denied being a follower of Jesus. When a lion hunts, it tries to isolate a weak member of a herd. I wonder if Peter was thinking about that night as he wrote this:

“Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8).

I didn’t attend church for three months after making a commitment to follow Christ in 1983. I still believed the “most Christians are hypocrites” lie. I was afraid that if I went to church, their hypocrisy might rub off on me. I set an all-time speed record for going from unworthy sinner to self-righteous hypocrite. Meeting in my small apartment, the Church of Me, Myself, and I wasn’t working out very well, and the pastor was not very good, either.

“Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment.” (Proverbs 18:1).

“Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up…And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).

The grandmother of a friend invited me to church and lunch after at their home. I agreed to go. Living in Texas, eleven hundred miles from my mother’s cooking in Illinois, the offer of a home-cooked meal was too good to pass up. I kept going back to that church and made many good friends, including my best friend, who I married thirty-five years ago this month.

There are hypocrites attending church, of course, but, from what I’ve observed, most of the people I used to classify as hypocrites are just churchgoers or sincere believers saying or doing something un-Christian. Regardless, the Great Commission is not merely for us to attend church, but for us to become disciples of Christ and to disciple others.

Because ALS has rendered me homebound, I haven’t been able to attend church in years. I miss going to church. Sadly, many of you now know what it’s like to be without your church family. With the death, economic destruction, political division, and the closing of churches and relief organizations, COVID-19 looks as if it was stirred together in a cauldron by demons over the flames of hell.

Where is God in all of this?

He is still on His throne. He is still assisting Christ’s disciples in fulfilling the Great Commission. And He is also working through them to meet the needs of the poor and suffering.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:23-25).

I know it must sound crazy to those who are not followers of Christ, but many of us believe that we are living in the last days. As the above passage tells us, it’s vital for disciples of Christ to gather together and strengthen one another’s faith. The passage ends by telling us that this is even more important as we “see the Day drawing near.” You don’t have to be a theologian to figure out that “the Day” is Judgment Day.

It’s great to attend church, but, as we now know, this option can be taken away. In these difficult days, be intentional to surround yourself with strong disciples. With COVID, we might have to get creative and meet over Facetime, Skype, or Zoom. You don’t need a large group; two or three will do.

“For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” (Matthew 18:20).

(Friends, I have been AWOL from the blogging world the last month or so. I have missed interacting with you. I have been dealing with breathing and exhaustion issues. As most of you know, I type with an eye-tracking computer. I’ve discovered that I have to keep my eyelids open for the computer to work :-)).

I Wasn’t Supposed To Grow Old!

Over the last twenty-four years that I’ve had ALS, Mary and I have learned to take one day at a time. But this day, October 5th, is noteworthy because it happens to be my 60th birthday!  

I was diagnosed just weeks after my 36th birthday. The prognosis was that I’d be dead before turning forty. My 40th birthday was a big deal. My 50th birthday was a bigger deal. But now I am 60!

“Do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34).

Like the manna in the wilderness, God’s grace is only sufficient for today. 

Taking this trial one day at a time, with God’s grace and the prayers and help of family and friends, we’ve been able to cope for over 8700 days. If you’re going through a difficult time right now, focus on today, and God will give you new strength tomorrow morning. 

“The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23).

The picture below was taken in 1996, a month and a half after I was diagnosed. 

That Christmas was bittersweet. We packed up our minivan and drove to Wisconsin and then Chicago to spend Christmas with my family. While staying with my sister’s family in Wisconsin, I took the first of probably a thousand painful falls. 

I woke up before everyone else that Christmas morning and tried to sneak downstairs to get my video camera set up. Apparently, my legs were not fully awake and gave out at the top of the stairs. I rode my tailbone down the stairs and woke up everyone in the house. My tailbone hurt for months. I followed that with a few falls on icy driveways. Physically speaking, it went downhill from there. But, spiritually, I began to grow in faith. 

“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18).

Does the above verse include getting ALS at thirty-six, losing your career, becoming paralyzed, unable to eat, helpless and voiceless? A million times, YES! 

As the Bible says, our lives are like a vapor that appears for a little while and then disappears. It’s eternity that matters. The more we focus on eternity, the smaller our problems seem. 

“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).

As you’ll see in the picture below, sixty years of life and twenty-four years with ALS has caused a lot of decay on my outer man:-)

I often wonder how anyone could have hope, joy, and peace, relying on the temporal things and the decaying “outer man”? More than that, why would anyone want to do this when Jesus suffered, died, and rose from the dead to offer you unshakable hope? 

This is what I’m asking God for my 60th birthday gift – that just one person would read this post and make a commitment to follow Christ as I did thirty-seven years ago. 

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

“Christianity asserts that every individual human being is going to live for ever, and this must be either true or false. Now there are a good many things which would not be worth bothering about if I were going to live only seventy years, but which I had better bother about very seriously if I am going to live for ever.” – C.S. Lewis 

My siblings and their families planned to come down to celebrate my 60th birthday, but the pandemic put an end to their plans. I still had a wonderful birthday celebration with Mary’s mom, our girls, son-in-law, and grandkids. 

To the family and friends who have already sent me birthday wishes and gifts – Thank You! Your messages are humbling. If wealth is measured by the love of family and friends, I am the wealthiest man on earth. 

Small Victories

I haven’t posted in a while, so I thought I would share this short word of encouragement with my friends in the blogosphere.

For the last year or so, I’ve needed to wear my breathing mask 24/7. The last month or so has been more difficult. Even removing the mask to transfer in and out of my wheelchair left me gasping for air. (That’s obviously not the encouraging part:-)

But a strange thing happened to me a few days ago. Mary removed my breathing mask to get me out of bed around 6:30 that morning. After plopping me in the wheelchair, she then pulled the breathing machine over and started to put the mask on me. I stopped her. I was breathing just fine on my own. It felt so good to breathe without the assistance of a machine. I made it to 11:30 without my breathing mask – five hours!

I’m thankful for life’s victories, even the relatively small victories like breathing on my own for five hours. It’s the small victories that give us the confidence to believe for bigger victories. It’s the small victories that build our faith and hope. It’s the small victories that give us the strength to press on.

I’ve had ALS for 24 years, but I’m still believing God for small and BIG victories. I hope that you are, too.

He’s a big God!

“Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:57).