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.
Over the years I’ve had ALS, I’ve become convinced that for a Christian to retain hope in the midst of a difficult trial, he or she must believe that God allowed the trial for a purpose; a purpose greater than what God would have been able to accomplish in and through that person apart from the trial.
“…even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith…may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ…” (1 Peter 1:6-7)
I think every Christian that goes through a difficult trial will eventually ask “Why me?”
But, I’ve learned that our motive behind asking this seemingly simple question says a lot about how we view God – and also a lot about how we view ourselves.
The first man asks the question like this: “Why me; out of 7 billion people in the world, why did I get ALS (or whatever)?”
He’s really asking, “Why didn’t God put this horrible trial on one of the other 7 billion people?”
This man has a warped view of God and an exalted view of himself. He views his trial as pointless, and he thinks that he should somehow be exempt from the suffering of humanity.
I know what I said about this first man sounds harsh and judgmental, but I know this man well; in a spiritual and emotional sense, I wrestled with him for several months after being diagnosed with ALS.
Thankfully, with the help of God’s word, wise counsel from Christian friends and a well-timed conversation with our non-Christian next-door neighbors, I began to see that there might be a purpose, an eternal purpose, behind my trial. I defeated that “woe is me” man who was fighting to take control of my thoughts and emotions. (More about our next-door neighbors further down).
The second man asks the question like this: “Why me; what’s God’s purpose behind allowing this horrible trial?”
This man has the correct view of God and of his place in the world. As a Christian, this man knows that God wouldn’t have allowed this trial unless He had a greater purpose, a purpose that outweighs the suffering this man would have to endure (from his trial).
“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
That verse can only be true if we have an eternal (“Big Picture”) view of our trial. God still heals and performs miracles, and I believe that we should always pray for that result. (Never give up on God doing miracles!)
Regardless of the outcome, God can bring about eternal good from every trial.
In a hundred years, the eternal good that comes from our trial will be the only thing that matters.
A difficult trial (usually) causes the Christian to focus more on the spiritual and the eternal things because, by comparison, the temporal and the material things begin to look more and more insignificant.
Back to our next-door neighbors: Mike and Lorraine were not followers of Christ when we met them. Of course, we did our Christian duty and invited them to church and tried to share the “Good news” with them. Even our girls (then 4 and 7) invited them to church, but all to no avail.
Mike and Lorraine later told us that they mocked us in private. I told them that I could relate because, before making a commitment to follow Christ, I mocked Christians too. Let’s be honest, making fun of Christians is so easy.
But, after I was diagnosed, Mike and Lorraine began to reexamine the faith that was sustaining our family through this trial. Lorraine told me:
“…When you were diagnosed with ALS I began to see a man who held no anger with the God that ‘allowed’ this to happen. Then you began to demonstrate trust in God’s plan. I saw your faith and I saw two little girls accept what God was doing in your lives and I began to wonder how such young children could love God unconditionally. I opened my heart first to the possibility that this might be a good thing for me as well. Then I finally got it and allowed my brain to accept the basic truth that God is only good, loving and faithful…”
Mike and Lorraine made a commitment to follow Christ and faithfully attend church and share their faith with others. (Now people probably make fun of them).
Would Mike and Lorraine have made a commitment to follow Christ if we had not gone through this trial? Obviously, only God knows the answer to questions like this. The only thing I know for sure is that this trial has strengthened my faith and has also given me more confidence in sharing that faith.
But, I admit that difficult trials can feel like you’re serving a prison sentence, especially when you have ALS and you’re imprisoned in your own body. However, the Apostle Paul wrote much of the New Testament while imprisoned. And, many of his fellow prisoners and the guards that observed Paul, became followers of Christ. Only Jesus can spread a message of hope through a prisoner – this is truly Unshakable Hope!
UPDATE: Sadly, Mike went through a long battle with cancer and is now with Christ in heaven. I am looking forward to seeing him again.
I hope I’ll see you there also.
“Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear.” (Philippians 1:12-14)
(I have made changes to my blog, please let me know if you are having problems with it loading…)
After reading some of the comments from my last post (“More than just a Dream”), I’m afraid that I might have left the impression that my only hope (for physical healing) is in the next life. If I believed heaven was my only hope for healing, I probably would have checked out years ago. Waiting (for heaven) to be healed is merely my backup plan; it’s my Plan B. Whether it’s through medical science or a miracle from God, even after 16 years with ALS, I’m still hoping for the best outcome here on earth. This is what I believe for others too, regardless of the severity of their trial.
I realize how crazy it sounds for someone who has received a diagnosis of ALS to be hoping for a complete recovery. I’m not naïve; I’ve known so many good Christian people who have died of this and other insidious diseases like Cancer, Heart Disease and Lupus. And I realize that, medically speaking, ALS is 100 percent fatal. Well, technically that’s not true; there are medically documented cases of people being miraculously healed of ALS and even the ALS Association says, “There are people in whom ALS has stopped progressing and a small number of people in whom the symptoms of ALS reversed.” So maybe it’s only like 99.9 percent fatal – I choose to believe for that one tenth of one percent chance.
As I typed that, a scene from the movie Dumb and Dumber came to my mind (don’t judge me). In this scene, one of the “dumb guy’s” named “Lloyd,” who’s in love with a beautiful and sophisticated character named “Mary,” is asking her what the chances of them ending up together are:
Lloyd: What do you think the chances are of a guy like you and a girl like me… ending up together?
Mary: Well, Lloyd, that’s difficult to say. I mean, we don’t really…
Lloyd: Hit me with it! Just give it to me straight! I came a long way just to see you, Mary. The least you can do is level with me. What are my chances?
Mary: Not good.
Lloyd: You mean, not good like one out of a hundred?
Mary: I’d say more like one out of a million.
Lloyd: So you’re telling me there’s a chance… *YEAH!*
Maybe some of you reading this think I’m like Lloyd for being excited about a one in a million chance of being healed of ALS. Maybe you’re thinking that I shouldn’t encourage people to hold onto “false hope.” I’m definitely not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I’m not “Lloyd” either; I’ve been contemplating this for over 16 years and here are some of my conclusions:
- Miracles by definition defy all natural laws – including statistical probabilities.
- For the 16+ years of this trial, God has sustained us with miracle after miracle; I don’t think I have the right, nor do I think that I’m qualified to categorize certain miracles as “big” and others as “small.”
- There’s no such thing as “false hope” when you’re looking to the “God of hope.”
- Jesus still heals; He “is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Heb13:8)
- “God doesn’t show partiality.” (Acts 10:34)
- “The things that are impossible with people are possible with God.” (Luke 18:27)
- I would rather die looking for a miracle than live not believing in them.
In Daniel chapter 3, King Nebuchadnezzar demanded that the Jews bow down and worship his god. All those that refused to bow would be thrown into the furnace that the Babylonians used to make bricks. As most people know, three young Jewish men refused to bow and this is what they told the king; “…our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
For me, this is more than a great example of strong faith; I believe this is a pattern of faith that all Christians should emulate regardless of challenges we might be facing. We can proclaim that, “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from [insert your trial here]. BUT EVEN IF HE DOES NOT… we are not going to serve…” doubt, fear, worry, hopelessness or anything else that destroys faith, hope, joy and peace!
“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint… ” (Romans 5:1-5 NASB)
Regardless of the outcome, I don’t believe that Christ-centered hope can ever be categorized as “false hope.” Even in our darkest trials; when we’re hoping (in Christ) for a miracle to bring us through the trial and the miracle doesn’t happen the way we envisioned, we can remain “in hope” if we are truly hoping (unconditionally) in Christ and not merely hoping for a miracle. Regardless of the trials we face, only hope in Christ is “the full assurance of hope until the end” (Hebrews 6:11 NASB)
The Apostle Paul (the man who wrote the opening passage) experienced many difficult trials, but was a living example that hope in Christ never disappoints. He wrote; (I have) “…been put in jail…whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jews gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled many weary miles. I have faced danger from flooded rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the stormy seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be Christians but are not. I have lived with weariness and pain and sleepless nights. Often I have been hungry and thirsty and have gone without food. Often I have shivered with cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm.” (2 Corinthians 11:23-27 NLT)
Like many of us, Paul’s trials didn’t always turn out the way he envisioned and prayed that they would. A great example of this is Paul’s so-called “thorn in the flesh.” The Bible never says what Paul’s “thorn” was, but I believe this omission was intentional so we could read Paul’s words and be able to apply them to whatever “thorns in the flesh” we might be dealing with, whether they are physical, emotional, relational, financial or spiritual etc.
Paul wrote;” Concerning this (thorn in the flesh) I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:8-10 NASB)
God telling Paul, “My grace is sufficient,” isn’t His nice way of saying “No,” but it is His way of saying “Not yet.” The Bible doesn’t tell us whether or not God ever removed Paul’s “thorn” at some later point in Paul’s life and I think this omission was also intentional so we would keep hoping for God to grant our miracle.
I believe that God wants us to get to the point where our joy, peace and hope are not dependent on our circumstances. Learning to love God unconditionally, as He loves us, is the greatest of all miracles.
“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33 NASB)
His grace is sufficient!