Christian Devotionals

Hope - A Message that Cannot be Denied - (Part I)

Important Note: This message was originally intended to be shared at a local cancer fundraising rally. The committee in charge felt that my message and all the references to God would offend people and turn them off. I was asked to remove most of those references to God and substitute them with examples of human strength and hope. I declined.

Hello, my name is Joe Rieger and I’m a 13 month stage IV cancer survivor. Yet I don’t wish to define myself as a cancer patient. There are much better terms that I’d prefer to use to define myself: husband, father, friend and last but not least – servant of God. You see three years ago, God called me to leave the corporate world and go into full-time Christian ministry. My calling is to share the love of God and draw people into a deeper relationship with their Creator through biblical teaching and entertainment. Our name is “Faith, Hope, Love & Laughter. Little did I know that the Lord would use cancer to get me to share these very things - faith, hope, love and laughter - with the people who needed it most – people with cancer and other hurting people.

What’s totally ironic is that I’m being used to spread hope of all things. Sure, I always had the ability to make people laugh – my quick wit and dry sense of humor got me many hours of school detention. In the business world, my “well-timed” wisecracks ensured that I’d be passed over for many a promotion. “Funny” I could do, but be a spreader of hope and cheer – what are you kidding me? Leave that to Mary Poppins. If you wanted to compare me to a fictitious character, I’d be a cross between Eeyore and Fog Horn Leghorn. In this world we have optimists and pessimists and everything in between. If you were to ask me if the glass was half empty or half full, I’d say “Who knows, I can’t even get past the germs festering on the glass.” Yet God - the Master thrower of curve balls – allowed cancer into my life in order to bring about much needed changes in me and use this disease to encourage others. The same God who called a stuttering Moses to be the spokesman for the nation of Israel, was calling me to be a hope-filled encourager through this period of adversity. What a great sense of humor God has. He also has an uncanny ability to see our God-given potential regardless of how we or others see ourselves. Leave it to God to find a way to use this wretched disease to not only improve my character, but also encourage and bless those people around me.

You see prior to my diagnosis, I was going through a bout of depression. I was also angry with God for not taking good enough care of me. The ministry was struggling and not going according to MY plans. I wanted more and I wanted it faster. Looking back, I cringe at what an ungrateful baby I was. I also started to feel physically sick and spent way too much time in the bathroom. After months of pain and discomfort, on April 28, 2006, I had a colonoscopy. This revealed a large cancerous tumor in my rectum. Ironically, rather than having this news cast me deeper into depression, the diagnosis got me to finally appreciate all that God had blessed me with. I treasured my wife and three children as never before. I found out just how many friends I really had and how loving and generous they were. I also saw each day as a gift not to be taken for granted or squandered away. This revelation that life is a gift from God catapulted me out of depression and into a place of gratitude and believe it or not, it gave me hope.

You need to know something else about me. I spend a lot of time with God. When I was in the corporate world, that meant rising very early each day and spending quality time with Him. I read my Bible, memorized scripture and prayed. Praying doesn’t have to be fancy and formal either. Often I pour out my heart to Him and other times we just talk. This is how I coped with a high pressure job and a fast-paced over-committed life. More importantly, this is how I connected with God. One simple, but very important thing hat I’ve learned from God is that He wants a personal relationship with each of us through His Son Jesus. This means more to Him than our being “religious” – which often times results in self-righteousness and intolerance. God doesn’t want religion, or doctrine or WWJD bracelets, He wants you and me … He wants our hearts. When I asked Jesus to be my Savior, I was not only forgiven of my sins, but also adopted into God’s family. The Bible tells me that I am a child of God and because of that wonderful reality, I will one day be with Him in paradise. Wow, talk about the ultimate hope. This life is not all that there is … there’s an eternity of paradise in the future of every believer. As a servant of Christ, I choose to spend time with my Savior. How else can I become intimate with Him? In the process, I’m learning to become the man He created me to be. And it’s God working through me that enables me to accomplish more than I could ever imagine. I can’t imagine trying to do life – cancer or no cancer – without an intimate relationship with the Lord. When you spend this much time with God, He speaks to you. Often it’s through the Bible, another person, our circumstances, or sometimes it’s a still small voice in my heart. It’s hard to describe, but when God speaks to me, there’s no mistaking His voice. We’re friends you know. Well two days before this cancer was even diagnosed, I was alone with God in a time of prayer and meditation. I was overcome by fear about what might be going on in my body. Something was seriously wrong here. What if it’s cancer? “Lord am I going to die?” It was then that God spoke to me. I just so happened to be reading my Bible and was in the Book of Judges chapter six. As I read the next verse – verse 23 – this was God’s response to me: “But the LORD said to him. Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.” The fear and anxiety instantly left me and was replaced by that peace that the apostle Paul tells us “transcends all understanding.”

(Please join us next week for the remainder of this true story. The road gets more difficult and my faith is put to the test).

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