ALS, ASL, Hope and Testimony

Years ago, when I lived in Detroit, serving as a missionary for my Church, I met a family who were some of the best examples of being positive in the midst of adversity. Their examples have been, in the years since, some that I have worked hard to emulate. I’ve often failed in that attempt, but… I’d be surprised if they didn’t fail in that attempt sometimes, too.

The father of the family, I’ll call him Bill (it wasn’t bill, but neither can I remember his name, nor would I share it if I could… because  this story is about my experience with them, rather than their experiences directly.) – Bill was a very successful martial arts instructor in Detroit. Very few martial artists get to do more than make an hobby out of their sport. Fewer still actually get paid for that sport. And even fewer still earn enough in that pay to be able all of their bills, and still fewer earn a good living. He was one of the rare few who could. He’d made a lifetime career out of training others in the martial arts, and in some particular forms that were uniquely his; he had customers seek him out from throughout the world to learn from him. He had comfortably provided for his family for many years, doing what he loved; training and performing and competing in the martial arts.

This was all before I met him.

And then he got Lou Gehrig’s. His was a particularly aggressive form of ALS. If my memory is being honest, the way that Bill described it to me was something along the lines of “I’m lucky because, as bad as it is, Lou Gehrig’s Disease only last’s for a couple of years! I can expect to be fully free of the disease in 3 to 5 years!” I was entirely ignorant of the disorder, and for someone who had been such a physically powerful man, the wheelchair laden man who’s arms were bound tightly to his chest by muscle spasms belied his history. “That’s wonderful!” I said…. only to get the sly look of an obviously intelligent man with mischief in his eyes….. he knew that I was ignorant of his disorder… “The only down side,” he continued, “Is that it’s fatal in every case so far….” Most healthy, 20 year old boys don’t know how to respond to that. I was no exception. I stuttered the obligatory “I’m so sorry!” as his wife playfully chided him for teasing the missionaries.

For those who, like I was, are ignorant of Lou Gehrig’s Disease, it’s formally known as ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). It is an aggressive disease, which for most people (Bill being one of them) has no known cause, and no known cure. It is fatal in every known instance. Most people die within 3-5 years of diagnosis, but some live as long as 10 years (or more). It attacks the brain, the nerves, people’s speech (making it very difficult to understand them) and the muscles, causing everything to become progressively weaker until the lungs and heart no longer have the strength to do their job, and the person finally succumbs and dies.

The years since I met Bill have been met with a substantial increase in public awareness of this disease, and a substantial increase in research and understanding of it. Doctors and scientists say of ALS that little is known… and that’s after all of the major advancements we’ve made. When I met Bill, next to nothing was known.

And so here I was, meeting a physically diminished man, who had several days of scruff on his face, because he could no longer shave, and it was hard for his wife to shave him every day, on top of her other responsibilities like bathing, feeding, and helping with bodily functions… She had left her professional career to take care of him full time, and they’d just left their home, which was a beautifully restored house from Detroit’s Golden Motown Era (seriously, do some googling…. the architecture from that time frame is amazing…. simply stunning!) in order to move into a small place  with no stairs where he could maneuver in his motorized wheelchair. The previous 3 or so years had been nothing but broken lives and turmoil, all with the known and foreseeable undesirable end.

And yet, here Bill and his beautiful wife were not only content, but happily joking and teasing those around them. They weren’t just accepting of their circumstances, but thriving in them.

In our Church, once a month we forgo sermons or prepared talks to allow the congregation to share with each other our testimonies of faith and be strengthened by others’.

Just before I completed my mission, and came home to Idaho, we had one of these meetings. Bill rolled his wheelchair to the front of the chapel, and (painfully) stood from it. As he reached the podium, he put his mouth near the microphone (he was getting hard to hear, as his voice’s strength was going too.) He began by telling everyone that he wanted to take every chance he could to proclaim his faith, because he was starting to get too weak to continue to come to church, and he knew that he wasn’t going to live much longer.

Setting this premise for the congregation, who had all grown to love and cherish this amazing man, he continued.

“I know that it’s hard to understand my speech, so I’d like to share my testimony to you in Sign Language.”

He clumsily stepped back from the podium and raised his painfully wrenched arms and hands to shoulder level, the task clearly wore him out, and he had to lean back to do it. Everyone in the congregation felt embarrassed for Bill because we could see what he obviously couldn’t: there was no way he was going to do any signing.

Stepping back to the podium, arms still raised, he awkwardly looked from one hand, and then to the other, as if realizing for the first time that they weren’t working the way that they should.

“Dang it.”

And the congregation, uncharacteristically for our Church, burst out laughing through our tears on his behalf.

Of course Bill knew that he couldn’t sign. And that was the point. He knew that he’d just darkened the mood of the room, and he solved it at his own expense.

He then went on to bare a beautiful testimony of faith, redemption, and of hope.

The reason that Bill and his wife could have such positive attitudes surrounding his rapid decline in health and his impending death, was that they had been married together, not just until death parted them, but for time and all eternity. They had faith that the promise of the Savior for resurrection, perfection, and wholeness would all be fulfilled. They believed the Savior’s promise that they would get to be together with Him. This life, after all, is just a trial period. And that trial might be ending for him, but there was more to come.

I left within the next couple of weeks. I don’t think that I ever saw Bill again. I don’t imagine that he lived much longer… though I’d be happy to be wrong.

But their example has lived on in me.

And so has his faith.

Hopefully it can make your day a little better today, too.

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Broken Covenants; Unrepentant Sin; and Atonement

The gospel of Jesus Christ is full of individual responsibility, personal covenants, distinctive action, and one on one choice to follow the will of God. This holds the basis of Salvation: that each soul must choose for themselves whom they will serve. As Joshua so eloquently challenged: “If serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve… But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Inharently in Joshua’s command is the individual choice to serve God. 

However, a handful of nations have gone above and beyond this command of individual worship and covenant. 

Israel had made the covenant with their foundation. Having rejected it, they spent years in chastising bondage. Before returning to their home, Joshua warned them that he covenant not be taken lightly, and they made it again:

Then the people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods! It was the Lord our God himself who brought us and our parents up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes. He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we traveled. And the Lord drove out before us all the nations, including the Amorites, who lived in the land. We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God.” 

Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, after he has been good to you.” 

But the people said to Joshua, “No! We will serve the Lord.”

Then Joshua said, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to serve the Lord.” 

“Yes, we are witnesses,” they replied. 

“Now then,” said Joshua, “throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.” 

And the people said to Joshua, “We will serve the Lord our God and obey him.” On that day Joshua made a covenant for the people, and there at Shechem he reaffirmed for them decrees and laws. 

On this continent, following a similar apostasy of the covenent people (who were a lost branch of the Israelites), the faithful leader Moroni called for a similar renewal of Godly covenent:

 Behold, whosoever will maintain this title upon the land, let them come forth in the strength of the Lord, and enter into a covenant that they will maintain their rights, and their religion, that the Lord God may bless them.

And it came to pass that when Moroni had proclaimed these words, behold, the people came running together with their armor girded about their loins, rending their garments in token, or as a covenant, that they would not forsake the Lord their God; or, in other words, if they should transgress the commandments of God, or fall into transgression, and be ashamed to take upon them the name of Christ, the Lord should rend them even as they had rent their garments.
Now this was the covenant which they made, and they cast their garments at the feet of Moroni, saying: We covenant with our God, that we shall be destroyed, even as our brethren in the land northward, if we shall fall into transgression; yea, he may cast us at the feet of our enemies, even as we have cast our garments at thy feet to be trodden under foot, if we shall fall into transgression.

Here, a similar covenent was made after years of hardship, termoil, and oppression:

On May 15, 1776, shortly after the Continental Army’s initial arrival at New York, months before the British invasion, Washington prepared his men. Not only did he prepare them physically, but spiritually. He called them to the covenant. In a General Order, he declared:

“Instant to be observed [on Friday the 17th] as a day of fasting, humiliation and prayer, humbly to supplicate the mercy of Almighty God, that it would please him to pardon all our manifold sins and transgressions, and to prosper the Arms of the United Colonies, and finally establish the peace and freedom of America, upon a solid and lasting foundation.”
Then again on July 2, Washington in another General Order would remind his men that “the fate of unborn Millions will now depend, under God, on the courage and conduct of this army…Let us therefore rely upon the goodness of the Cause, and the aid of the Supreme Being, in whose hands Victory is.” Two days later, in Philadelphia, these same sentiments would be immortalized by the Continental Congress in the Declaration of Independence, which concludes, “And for support of this Declaration, with firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”
Washington was so convinced of his utter dependence upon this covenant relationship with God that he would continue to extend reminders and calls to repentance. On July 9, Washington issued another General Order in which he called for chaplains in each regiment to ensure that the soldiers “attend carefully upon religious exercises.” The order concluded with the following: “The blessing and protection of Heaven are at all times necessary but especially so in times of public distress and danger-the General hopes and trusts, that every officer and man, will endeavor so to live, and act, as becomes a good Christian soldier defending the dearest Rights and Liberties of his country.

In each of these cases, and many others, the sincere covenent with God has lead to victory of His covenent people: militarily, economically, in peace, in happiness, and in liberty.

But in each of these cases, we can also see the consequence when the people in question have defied or broken their covenant with God:

The Israelites, turning from God, were chastened with millennia of torment at the hands of the Canaanites, Persians, and the Arabs. After the final rejection and crucifixion of their God, they were dispersed entirely spending nearly 2000 years in exile for their failure to uphold their covenant.

The Nephites spent the better part of the next 1000 years being reminded of their covenent by falling and returning to God; accepting defeat and victory according to their faith. Ultimately they were completely destroyed in a genocidal war because of their failure to return to the God who protected them.

The Americans failure to keep their promise to God, and provide liberty to their fellow men, became embroiled in a civil war that nearly cost the nation, and remains to be the single most deadly war in their history. The following generation saw a turn from God, until they wer chastened by two generations of war, and returned them to the faith of God. However, the current trend is the most blatant rejection of God in American history: no longer do we openly enslave people by race, but we have committed an evil sacrament to Satan which has resulted in the murder of over 50 million innocent children: and we have called that sacrament good. We have turned away from our covenant and called it evil. We have selected leaders to guide us that we know are evil and unrighteousness actors, and called it inevitable.

America, like Israel and the Land of Nephi before them (and others) is ripe for just destruction. We have openly defied the God whom we promised to serve. Ours is a nation that has fallen into the worship of Baal and the grove, just as completely as our predecessors. And the Godly covenant gives us our promised consequence: obliteration.

But there is hope now, as there always has been. Israel is restored: they have turned back to the God who made them, and they have defied all external enemies (see the 7 day war…. And every other Israelie conflict in modern history….) the United States need only return to her Father for the promise of redemption.

Atonement must be made. Christ has made it, but we must accept that atonement, or we will make it ourselves again. That road leads to destruction.

As Joshua, I call on my readers to “choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve.” The salvation of your individual soul depends upon your choice.

But as the Israelites, the Nephites, and the Americans before us, the return to God as a people; the restoration of our covenant; predicates our national security, our collective peace, our economic stability, and our cultural longevity. For the sake of our children, we must choose worthy leaders to lead and guide us. Like our spiritual ancestors, we must declare firmly that “We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God.” 

Resurrection Sunday, Celebrating Life, and Defeating Death

Thank you for walking through Holy Week with me. The final mortal week of the Son of Man started nicely, and just got worse. I’d say, I’ve never had such a rough week. But it ends well. That’s the spoiler here: it ends well for the King of Kings. And perhaps more importantly, He’s made it so it can end well for us, too!

Because of the approaching Sabbath, when the Savior’s body had been laid to rest, it was done in haste. So on the third day, which would be Sunday, Mary Magdalene and other faithful women returned to the tomb so that they could more appropriately prepare the body of Jesus for its final burial. As they walked, they pondered how they would do this thing. “Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre?” Likely they didn’t know of the Roman guards standing watch at the tomb.

Imagine the shock when they found the tomb empty. An angel told them “Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you.” They went and told some of the Apostles that the tomb was empty. It seems that the grieving women missed the important pronunciation that “he is risen,” for Mary was distraught.

She returned to the garden, and crying, was approached by men. They asked her “Woman, why weepest thou?” Her reply was full of despair: “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.” And another man asked her, “Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou?” Again, thinking this man to be responsible for the missing body of her Lord, she begged, “Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.”

In his single word reply, she must have finally recognized His voice: “Mary,” He said. Her tears of despair and sorrow changed in an instant to joy and unbelief as she declared in her happiness, “Rabboni!” Or, beloved Master.

It is perhaps instructive that He first appeared to Mary rather than His apostles. But we will leave it to this: He informed her that she must not touch Him yet, as He had not ascended to His father.

Later, however, as He showed Himself to His Apostles, He invited them to feel the wounds still in His hands, and still on His side. Doubting his own seeing eyes, it wasn’t until he had felt these wounds for himself the Apostle Thomas believed. 

Over the coming weeks the Master spent substantial time with his Apostles and disciples, teaching them and preparing His Apostles to lead His Church, and teach His gospel. But today, this Resurrection Sunday, finished the Atonement, and broke the bonds of death. Because He had never sinned, death held no power over Him. He was the first fruits of them that slept. And most importantly, because He lives, we will live again.

So today, this Easter Sunday, I raise my voice in praise for Him. I join my voice to the countless others who have sung it before me: Hallelujah! Praise to God in the highest!

Let us not forget His Atoning Sacrifice. Let us not forget His burden and trial in Gethsemane. Let us not forget His silence in the face of damning opposition. Let us always remember that the Plan of the Father recognized our sins; that He gave us His Son, Jesus Christ, the Lord of all creation, the Savior, the Redeemer, and our Lord, to make a path for us to return to Him. Because He lives, we will live!

Saturday, the Spirit World, Salvation, the Son of God, and a Call to Act

Saturday was the Jewish Sabbath, and broken in Spirit, the disciples  and apostles spent the day mourning their fallen Lord.

Having died, just as fully as you and I will, The Son of Man’s spirit left His holy, but now lifeless, body. One must wonder where His spirit went in the days after His death. Fortunately, we have that answer: like all dead souls, His spirit went into the spirit world, wherin one awaits the resurrection. The Sinless one, burst the door between that prison and the spirit world, and entered paradise. So he had promised to the repentant thief, “today, you shall be with me in paradise.” Here he taught the deceased who would listen. Some assume that in this time, He had returned to the throne of His Father, but tomorrow, we will see, He affirms that he “[had] not yet ascended to [His] Father.”

Ever the Teacher, Christ ministered to both the spirits in paradise and those in prison. As Peter declared, decades later: “By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient…”

As the day of rest, the Sabbath is a day fitting for the Lord’s body to be unmoved and for His spirit to do the work of the day: bringing souls peace, joy, and preaching the Gospel of Christ.

So the day went by with little action, at least visible to the mortal man. But they prayed, and the mourned, and they mentally and emotionally prepared for the next day, when they planned to return to the Holy Body, and give Him the proper burial robbed Him by the short time on Friday.

So must we prepare for tomorrow. So must we pray, but our preparation is different than our brothers of the past. We prepare instead to celebrate the greatest day in human history: a needed relief from the day mourning the the worst in human history.

Yesterday I learned of something that grieves my soul. And I ask your help:

We know the barbarism currently falling on the followers of the Messiah in the Middle East. It has officially been labeled a genocide. Following the butcher of 15 million souls less than an hundred years ago, we as a people have vowed “never again.” Sadly, we have broken that vow, and stood by during repeated genocides and butcherings in the years following.

I served the Chaldean Catholics on my mission, though having fled this same persecution for their testimony, they were wary to accept to the Restored Gospel, as to them it felt like abandoning those left in their old homes. I am personally invested in these people. It is their families and friends who are now facing death in Iraq. Preparations have been made for over 1000 souls to retreat from the Islamic State, and to find new homes in safe counties. Our own country has refused these refugees, but a place had been found for them throughout Europe.

Following the deadly and dastardly attack in Brussels last week, however, the doors were shut for these people of the Cross: they are not being allowed to flee the death camps and beheading axe that they face now. They are literally in imminent peril. The symbol of the Arabic ‘n’ has been painted on the doors of the believers to mark them as followers of the Nazarene. This mark is literally a death sentence: “convert, pay the price of subjection, or die.” Most have died or fled rather than deny the testimony of the Lord.

The funds are there for their rescue, the homes are there for them to retreat to, these impoverished and desperate followers of Christ are ready and hopeful to leave; but the doors to their rescue have been shut.

So I beg you, as you prepare for tomorrow’s feasting, celebrations, and time with family; pray for a miracle. Pray aloud, pray with your families, and pray in your heart. The very lives of our brothers and sisters are at stake. Pray that the hearts of world leaders will be softened. Pray that the doors that were open will once again open in their behalf. For the love of Christ is charity, and it is not enough that we accept that love, if we don’t have it for others.

Pray, remember, and prepare for the coming of our Lord. For the love of God and His people, pray with me!

(UPDATE – 2018 – One fund, the Nazarene Fund, has worked tirelessly over the last 2 years, since I wrote this article; they had prepared to evacuate those 1000 people. The update they give is as follows: “We have surpassed that goal through evacuating a total of 8,202 people, providing housing for 5,462 people, and giving humanitarian aid to over 35,000. We confidently and proudly report that 95 rescues have been made to date. In 2017 The Nazarene Fund has focused on the task at hand, placing all efforts on the mission – to rescue, rebuild and restore people’s lives. Although much has been done, the work has just begun.”

(There are a few, too few, but some others who are working to rescue and stop the genocides still happening in the middle east against the Christians and Yazidis. While there has been good news, there have been many who have returned home to our Heavenly Father at the hands of murderers intent upon the complete destruction of all of the “people of the book.” There is still so much more to do.)