Saturday, July 18, 2015

Never, never, never....never give up

There is a quote that goes something like this, "Never, never, never give up." A little bit of digging (read: Googling) pulled up the name Winston Churchill, the famed Prime Minister of Britian during World War II. Churchill is credited with coining the term, "iron curtain" and keeping Britan from falling into the hands of the Nazis. His 1941 quote urging his listeners to never give up came from his own personal experience. Those words weren't just for the boys at Harrow School, they were for Churchill himself.
As those words were being uttered in October of 1941 Europe was falling. Hitler was taking more land, more territories and more countries. In the month of October alone he overpowered the two largest cities in Ukraine, putting him closer than ever to Moscow. By the end of the year he would have conquered more cities and taken control of the entire German army. Europe was in desperate trouble.
In 1941 the outlook for a victory over the Nazis looked bleak. Hitler was the one making the advances and gaining ground. The Nazi army was getting stronger, larger and more emboldened with each city they conquered. Meanwhile Churchill was doing all he could to keep Britain united in spirit and purpose. He made rousing speeches to boost the morale of Britain. He was the unifying force behind the Allied Forces of United States, Soviet Union and the United Kingdom.
For all of his optimism and will, Churchill was in real danger of defeat in 1941 when he spoke about never giving up. But that wasn't a first for Churchill. Before he even made it to military school as a teenager his future looked doomed. He failed the entrance exam...twice. With the help of a tutor he made it through on his third try.
After his military service he became a war corespondent for a newspaper - a career that almost ended his life. In hostile South Africa he was captured and thrown into a prison camp which he escaped by scaling a wall. But he had no plan. By the grace of God he found a British coal miner who helped him flee by hiding him for a few days before sending him on a coal train back to safety.
He soon entered into his political career in parliament where he would make another gigantic mistake that could have been his ruination. He planned an attack during WWI on the Ottoman Empire. To make a very long story short, it was an utter disaster. Many military members were killed, battleships sank and ground was lost. But Churchill persevered.
By 1941 Churchill had seen his share of defeat. Yet he had also seen how defeat wasn't the end of the story. A lost battle wasn't necessarily a lost war. A failed test score didn't have to be the final number on the books. Churchill had first-hand experience in second chances, redemption and victory.
The famous quote, "never, never, never give up" becomes all the more encouraging and inspiring when set in its context. If Churchill could still believe in determination and tenacity in the face of Nazi Germany, what should ever stop any one of us from staying the course with persistence and unstoppable tenacity?
Well, thankfully, we know how the story of World War II ends. You and I are here as a testimony to the defeat of Hitler. He didn't succeed. By the providence of God, the Nazis lost the war for this world. Their conquest fell as Hitler hid in a bunker. Churchill's words rang victorious as good conquered evil.

In the spirit of Churchill I am claiming his words as my own as I embrace his message of never giving up. On July 30 I will be receiving stem cell therapy to treat my MS. Churchill unified countries and bolstered nations as his act of fortitude and hope. This, stem cells, are my act of never giving up. I've tried so many different techniques and therapies in an attempt to overcome my foe, or at least manage its onslaught. But MS has not let up. Like Nazi Germany in 1941, MS has made further advancements and attacks on my body. Flare ups that were once relapsing now seem to be a permanent fixture in my every day existence. But I'm not giving up.
For the past few days I have been repeating Winston Churchill's quote in my mind. I've been writing about it and pondering it on my walks. As nervous and apprehensive as I am about this upcoming procedure, I am determined to keep up the good fight. I won't let MS steal my joy or stripe me of hope for the future. I've been knocked down more times than I can count but I'm not out. No, I'm very much still in the ring, throwing punches and fighting for dear life. The next step in my fight is to try something drastic. This procedure has worked wonders in the bodies of MS sufferers by taking tissue from the person's own body and extracting the healing benefits of stem cells so that they can be released back into the blood stream where they can get to work on repairing damage. There are no guarantees in this therapy, but there is hope. And as the saying goes, "Where there is hope, there is life." (Thank you, Anne Frank - another inspiration figure worthy of an entire post.)
Churchill must have known when he spoke those words that the deck was stacked against him. That fact was pretty much undeniable. But he had a hope that couldn't be extinguished even when bullets were killing his men and armies were threatening his country's security. His hope sprang eternal.
And so does mine because my hope is not in my body or even my health but it is in God. I believe that He has a plan for my life and I have faith in the promise of a hopeful future. God has not abandoned me or left me to suffer in anguish. He has given me a spirit of tenacity and never-ending hope. A thousand times things can fail or go wrong in my body and yet God's grace and mercy still remains on me. When my muscles spasm and pain radiates up my leg I have the solid rock of God that I am standing upon. I will never give up because God is still at work. His plan is underway. He simply isn't done with me yet.
So onto stem cells. Onto more hope for the future. Onto the adventure God has for this next step in my life. Onto never, never, never giving up.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015


On the Forth of July this year tragedy struck on the Ohio River.
The evening started out in a traditional, celebratory fashion. Nine family and friends headed out on their pontoon boat into the familiar waters of the Ohio River to watch the Independence Day fireworks show. But they never did get to see the sky light up in a dazzling light display. The excitement, and horror, of their night came before a single a single firecracker was lit.
The nine companions were enjoying the river and the beautiful July fourth evening when a rushing current slammed into their boat, sending it into the side of a barge. Amazingly, three children were able to grab onto the barge and even pull one of the adults from the wreckage but the remaining five were no where to be seen.
Rescue crews rushed to the scene in an effort to find and save the missing. It didn't take long for those hopes to be dashed. Two lifeless bodies were pulled from the wreckage while the other three were no where to be found. Yesterday a third body was discovered.
The tragedy that befell that family is beyond words. On an evening anticipated to be relaxing and carefree, their lives were turned upside down. With the whipping of a wave and crashing of a current that little boat, swaying calmly on the placid waters, was dealt a deadly blow. Without an anchor to keep the boat firmly secured and stayed, it didn't stand a chance against the brute force of the waters ferocity.
In all stories, even those that end in tragic death, there seems to always be a lesson for life and how to live it. As I read about the way in which this family was torn apart, so unassumingly and out-of-the-blue, I was reminded at just how sudden trials often appear in our lives. One day we are floating along in our little personal water-craft of a body and soul and then bam! A wave hits us and threatens to send us into a barge-sized catastrophe.
The only way to keep our boat upright and out of harms way is to have an anchor. And there is only one anchor that is guaranteed to withstand every storm - every current, wave, gust of wind and bolt of lightening. Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.
Hebrews 6:19 says that, "We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure." The fact of the sea and of life is that storms will come. That is a guarantee. But not every boat on the waters will capsize when the rains, winds and waves persist. Some boats, some souls, will withstand the onslaught because they have anchors firmly planted in God.
As long as our anchor has found its footing in the Lord we don't need to fear what trials might suddenly appear in our lives. We know that no matter how desperate our situation might appear, our mainstay is unshakable. We may feel swayed and we may get wet, but we will be secure when we fasten ourselves to Christ and never let go.
For the surviving family members of the Ohio River pontoon boat accident my prayer is that they have an anchor for their souls keeping and staying them in this trial. This storm is bound to cause grief and pain but it does not need to cause their hope to sink or their faith to drown in the "whys" and "ifs" of this life. They can choose to hold onto the promises of God and the eternal life that is to come where heartache and mourning will be put to rest in the arms of the everlasting God. This life is but a breath, but it is a breath that we can take peacefully knowing that the anchor we have in Christ will carry us on, through the storm and into the glory of God's perfect Kingdom.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Happy Independence Day, Christian

Happy Independence Day, America! Today is the day barbecuers get to nearly burn down their decks because they are free to do so. Pool goers can scream till their lungs give out, because they are free to do so. Huge, noisy, bombastic fireworks are set off in mind-blowing numbers because, as a country, we are free to do so. We are free to eat too many nitrate-filled hot dogs. Free to throw entirely wasteful water balloons. We are even free to hand small children seemingly innocent sparklers that reach dangerous skin-melting temperatures exceeding 2,000 degrees. 
We are free to do all of these (and more) silly, stupid and sometimes just plain ridiculous activities because on July 4, 1776 fifty six brave men signed their names, and in turn their lives, to the cause of making an entire people free from tyranny and the rule of a government.
There is no doubt that this day in history is significant and important, not a day to be taken for granted. The freedoms we enjoy in this country are traced back to this day and the decisive decision made to stand up and fight for those freedoms. But the meaning of July forth goes beyond the border of this country, the fifty six men who signed their names to the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights that would soon follow. As John Quincy Adams famously said, "… Is it not that, in the chain of human events, the birthday of the nation is indissolubly linked with the birth-day of the Saviour? That it forms a leading event in the progress of the gospel dispensation? Is it not that the Declaration of Independence first organized the social compact on the foundation of the Redeemer’s mission upon earth? That it laid the corner stone of human government upon the first precepts of Christianity, and  gave to the world the first irrevocable pledge of the fulfilment of the prophecies, announced directly from Heaven at the birth of the Saviour and predicted by the greatest of the Hebrew prophets six hundred years before?" 
The importance of a country's freedom, any country, any people, is only a glimmer of the magnitude of the freedom bought and paid for by Christ. Celebrating our country's independence is just a speck of a picture of the independence we enjoy in Christ no matter where we live or what rights we have according to a government or a constitution. Without Christ, without true freedom, July Forth would just be another day in the summer sun. 
But thanks be to God that we have the truest of freedoms. We have freedom from the tyranny of sin and the bondage of slavery that binds us to our lust, greed and selfishness. Jesus wrote the ultimate declaration with His blood shed on the cross. He purchased our right to be free with His very life. 
"For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another." (Galatians 5:13) We are not made free for the sake of doing our own thing - to be silly, stupid and sinful. Christ didn't pay the ultimate price for our lives so that we could make a royal hash of things just like the Founding Fathers didn't fight for a country only to see it elect a ruthless government that would put them in heavy taxation and stifling bondage once again. They signed their names and drafted the Constitution to give their best human effort to maintaining freedom for the people of America.
Christ bought our freedom and it is a freedom that can never be lost because it is not based in human regulation or the law of man. Freedom in Christ is eternal and heavenly, it is not of this world just as God is not of this world. Because of Christ we are free to live holy, blameless and upright lives, righteous in the sight of God. We are not slaves to sin. We are not at the mercy of our every thought, desire and half-baked idea. Christ has set us free from our foolishness and released us into the glory of eternal salvation. 
On this Independence Day those of us in this country have countless reasons to be thankful but two stand out to me and are the cornerstone of my praise today. One is for the freedom to serve God, praise Him and say His name in the public square. Christians all around the world don't know that privilege and would be elated to have the right to express their faith openly. Some still do proclaim publicly the name of Christ and pay the ultimate price for their bold witness. 
Secondly, but really first and foremost in importance, I am thanking God that I am eternally and forever free. I was once wrapped in the chains of my sin and shame. I was unable to break free from the guilt of my rebellion and the destructive path I was walking. But Jesus came and set me free. He signed the ultimate Declaration with His body on the Cross of Calvary. Because Jesus lived, died and rose again I am truly free.