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!
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).
Because we can trace our mother’s and father’s families back to Ireland, my nine siblings and I have always assumed that we were 100% Irish, but…
About a year ago a few of my siblings decided to get their DNA tested. I don’t know how accurate this DNA testing is, but the tests showed that we are only 95% Irish, give or take 1%. Somehow, maybe hundreds of years ago, our gene pool was corrupted, or, likely enhanced, by 5%. Apparently, the relationship between the Irish and the English wasn’t always strained; in fact, it seems that the relationship was quite good for two of my ancestors.
It’s kind of fun to think about the possible scenarios of how and when our ancestor’s blood became mixed with another family’s DNA. I told my brother that it was probably a golfer from London who came over to Ireland to play a–round. Or, maybe my great, great, great grandmother traveled to England and got a job as a chambermaid for a wealthy family and ended up marrying a member of the household staff.
Regardless of how our ancestors got together, these two are probably to blame for my rebellious nature, and I’m pretty sure this is where I get my sense of adventure from. Living with ALS for 21+ years is quite an adventure, but I wouldn’t recommend it.
As I’ve mentioned in past blog posts, I have been an Online Missionary with Global Media Outreach since 2010. Like here on my blog, I have met and become friends with Christians all over the world; Africa, Europe, China, Iran… I don’t like to admit that I’m geographically-challenged, but I’ve even connected with people from tiny remote islands that I had to Google to find the location of.
As I am writing this, I’m thinking about two men that I disciple and communicate with regularly. These two men have become friends of mine. Their names are Claude, from Burundi (that’s in East Africa for my fellow geographically-challenged readers), and Biruk, from Ethiopia. Biruk is living in Japan right now finishing up a Masters program. He’s hoping and praying to get accepted into a Ph.D. program in Australia for the next school year.
I’ve never asked, but I’m guessing that, like most native Africans, Claude and Biruk have dark skin, probably several shades darker than my pasty white skin. I’ve never asked about their race because it really doesn’t matter to me. The strange thing is that both of these men address me as “Brother Bill.” They are both relatively new followers of Christ and genuinely believe that we are brothers, spiritually speaking. And, I believe that we are brothers too. Why? Because the New Testament tells us that followers of Christ are brothers and sisters in the eyes of God:
“There was a crowd around Jesus, and someone said, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” Jesus replied, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” Then he looked at those around him and said, “These are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:31-35)
Claude, Biruk and all true followers of Christ are “strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own…they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.” (Hebrews 11;13-16)
I am so looking forward to living in “a country” with no racism, no human trafficking, no murder, no rape, no child abuse or any other form of evil.
No, I am not delusional, I know this place exists, and I hope that one day you’ll be there with me.
“…you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus…There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. For you are all Christians–you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26-29)
In a very real sense, Jesus has become the DNA of those who follow Him.
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,
picture credit: https://jaytharding.com/
Wouldn’t it be great to inherit millions of dollars from a distant relative that you’ve never even met?
Unfortunately, this rarely happens, but I did get an email from Nigeria…
When I was fifteen years old, a great uncle, who I was named after, passed away and left me a gold-plated pocket watch with his/my name engraved on the back and a thousand dollars. I had never met this man, but he instantly became my favorite uncle. I was determined to be responsible with my newfound fortune so I opened a savings account and deposited the check. A few months later I turned 16, got my drivers license, and crashed into a tree in my sister’s car. I had to say goodbye to my great inheritance.
I thought a lot about material wealth while watching horrible images on TV of hurricane’s Harvey and Irma destroying homes and businesses in Texas, Florida, and other states. And, as I’m typing this blog post, I’m glancing at the TV and seeing more horrible images caused by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, and a powerful earthquake in Mexico City. It’s heartbreaking.
We live in Southeast Texas, and we’ve seen the destructive power of these storms. So many people we know were flooded out of their homes from Hurricane Harvey. Thankfully, we were not among them.
A week after Hurricane Harvey destroyed so many homes and businesses in our area, my visiting nurse, Rebecca, came to our home. She visits me every month to confirm that I am still alive. Rebecca is a Christian and a single mother of three young boys. She told us that she and her boys had to flee their rental home as the floodwaters began to creep in. There was no time to move furniture and other valued possessions upstairs. The muddy water quickly engulfed the whole first floor, ruining everything it swallowed up.
Nine years ago, Hurricane Ike swept through Southeast Texas. Even though we live 80+ miles from the coast, we still had hurricane-strength winds at our home. The strong winds left our area without electricity and, because we have a water well, without running water, for seven days. We and most of our neighbors have generators because we’re prone to natural disasters and occasional power outages. My friend, and then next-door neighbor, Les, set up a little window air conditioner in our bedroom and kept our generator running 24/7.
Mary and I were sound asleep in our cool bedroom, while poor Les was yelling for us to call 911; their house was on fire! By the time we made it outside, their beautiful home was fully engulfed in flames; there was little the firefighters could do. We later learned that the cause of the fire was a faulty extension cord running from his generator to a fan in his home. Something so small, took so much. Thankfully, Les’s wife and kids were staying with relatives so everyone, except the family dog, escaped the flames.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust (earthquakes, floods and fire) 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)
Where is your heart today?
Jesus gave the Apostle Paul, the disciples, and all followers of Christ our marching orders:
“…open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.” (Acts 26:18)
Jesus wants all people to trust and hope in the inheritance that He suffered, died, and was resurrected to secure for everyone who “calls on His name.” This is the Great Inheritance, it’s an eternal inheritance.
We are living in uncertain times, our wealth, and, as I learned 21 years ago, our health, and even our very lives, can be taken from us In a moment.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you…” (1 Peter 1:3-5)
The Bible tells us that everything we see can, and will, be shaken. Only by putting our faith in Christ will we have Unshakable Hope.