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Archive for December, 2009

2009 Year in Review

We’ve been at this blog for more than a year and it has changed significantly in that time, particularly when we moved to WordPress and re-branded as The Works of God in September.

I want to publicly thank Abraham Piper, the very talented web content editor for Desiring God and the creator of 22 Words, one of the best personal blogs you will find.  He recommended many of the changes you have seen over the past year.  I was frequently slow to make the changes he suggested, but I have always been glad once I have done so.  Maybe I’ll move a little faster when he suggests things in 2010.

I will continue to trust God to provide the content on a regular basis.  I don’t think a whole lot about ‘traffic’ to the site. It should surprise no one that when Pastor John tweets about The Works of God, traffic increases substantially.  That is also the case when Noel Piper tweets about us.

The posts I labored over the most usually received the least amount of traffic.  Yet a few of those lesser-viewed posts seemed to have greater impact on specific individuals, sometimes months later.  I’m grateful God works like that.

I’m also grateful for friends who regularly feed me content.  God is very kind to me in the many relationships he’s given because of a common interest in disability, the Bible and God’s sovereignty.

So, to close the year, here are the top five most-read posts on the Works of God, along with one more from our old blog on Webjam:

5.  Disability, Disease and Treasuring God

4.  Year-end Reminders of Why I Love Bethlehem

3.  A Young Man’s Testimony to Suffering and the Sovereignty of God (Lord willing, this will end up on the top 5 next year as well.  Joe’s testimony is worth reading multiple times.  I know it will be posted again.)

2.  Wave Four: The Disability Community Fills in the Grave

1.  Helpful Things: Pastors Who Love Their People

The post that received the most traffic over the past year came while we were still on Webjam:

When Do We Get to Talk About the Other Consequences of Abortion, Mr. President?

As we end 2009, to God all the glory!  May he allow us another year to make much of him and his sovereignty and goodness over disability and disease and suffering.

Happy New Year Everyone!  Jesus is King!

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Pastor John wrote his thanks to God for Bethlehem College and Seminary this morning.  I join him in praising God for this initiative at Bethlehem!

Disability ministries need pastors who have been prepared like Pastor John hopes they will be through BCS:

At the heart of this vision is the invincible God, the infallible Bible, and the indispensible Gospel of Jesus Christ. We want future pastors to be stunned by the greatness of God. And stay stunned by living in the Bible. And spread this amazement to sinners, who qualify through faith alone because of the Gospel.

We want them to love the church. The real live, blemished, blood-bought bride of Christ. So we sink them into ministry while they are here.

Why is that so important for a disability ministry?

Because disability is hard.  We need to know that God is sovereign over all things and good at all times in the midst of hard things.

We NEED pastors who are stunned by the greatness of God.

We need our pastors to be rock-solid in their understanding of who God is, able to articulate the truth of the Bible, and able to personally demonstrate how glad they are to be dependent on him.  Then they can love people in the midst of deepest pain and struggle – because God will provide for them and through them what their hurting people need.

So I am excited about BCS and invite you to join me in praying for them, for the sake of churches that may not yet even exist and children with disabilities not yet born and adults who have not yet experienced disability.

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John Piper, from Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, page 25:

It is right and good to pray for healing. God has purchased it in the death of his Son, with all the other blessings of grace, for all his children (Isa. 53:5). But he has not promised that we get the whole inheritance in this life. And he decides how much. We pray, and we trust his answer. If you ask your Father for bread, he will not give you a stone. If you ask him for a fish, he will not give you a serpent (see Matt. 7:9- 10). It may not be bread. And it may not be a fish. But it will be good for you. That is what he promises (Rom. 8:28)

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We altered our usual routine and went to the North Campus for the Christmas Eve Service (we are Downtowners) and then the Saturday Evening Service.  I was overwhelmed with gratitude to God  both times:

  1. I don’t even think about whether my multiply-disabled son will be welcome. I know he will be.
  2. Spending 25 years at one church produces long-term friendships, even if we don’t see folks for months at a time.  On Christmas eve we ran into dear friends who also have a significantly disabled child, members of former and current small groups, and people we’ve just gotten to know.  These dear people have seen us at our worst, and many have prayed for us or served us for years.
  3. I can count on God-centered preaching.  Pastor John was away, and Pastor Glenn provided a solid, biblical, helpful word from Jonah 4.  Pastor Sam blew up a firecracker (and gave a good word from Colossians 2) on Christmas eve.
  4. On Saturday I ran into two men I deeply appreciate for different reasons.  Both have been gifted by God with significant skills and abilities.  More importantly, both have wives who are or have looked death in the face because of serious health issues – and all are standing firm in faith and hope in future grace.  That fraternity of men who have faced hard things is precious to me, and I find their God-centeredness deeply encouraging.

None of these things came immediately.  All required time and a significant amount of grace from God and from other people.  Yet how sweet it is today to enjoy such gifts – even as there is so much to do on this issue of disability.  God is good, for reminders of his grace along with a secure and future hope in Jesus.

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A helpful word on disability, disease and death from Christmas 1983.

As Pastor John has said when preparing to read his Advent Poems, ‘it did not happen this way, but it could have.’

Titled simply, “Jesus.”

“Maria?” “Yes, my love, I’m here.”
“It hurts, O God, it hurts! I fear
The worst for me tonight.” “Rest now
Dear Joseph, God will not allow
Your faith more pain than it can bear.”
“Maria, are the children there?”
“The little ones have gone to stay
With Zechariah for the day.
The eldest keeps his vigil still,
And prays for hours on the hill
Behind the house. He’s fasted for
A week now, Joseph, since before
The priest imposed the quarantine.
He loves you very much.” “I’ve seen
His love. I thought two years ago
When we missed him in Jericho
And had to search Jerusalem
In anger, ready to condemn,
That he would be a callous lad,
But now at fourteen years the glad
And unassuming boy, who reads
The Torah late at night and pleads
For me in prayer, has run the shop
For these two years without a stop,
While I lie here and rot with some
Unknown disease. I’ve heard him hum
A Psalm of David as he changed
My stinking clothes and then arranged
My mat and sat me up to drink
Some broth that he had made. I think
That he’s the greatest joy I’ve had,
Maria, though I’m not his dad.”
“Mine, too, dear Joseph. It’s as though
He bears it all. The children go
To him and cry when I am weak.
He sits them down and helps them seek
Their comfort in the covenants.
He wins complete obedience
For me, and brightens every hour.
He has a strange and winsome power.”
“Maria, do you think that he
Could come and lay his hand on me
And use the power to make me well?
Sometimes I feel like I’m in hell
With these blind eyes and fiery pain.
And worst for me is all the strain
Of seven children you must bear.
Could he not heal me with his prayer?”
“He’s praying now up on the hill.”
“What does he pray? What is his will
For me?” “Pure love, my husband, love.”
“And what is this pure thing made of
If not a father’s health?… Forgive
Me, my Maria, as I live
I love the boy. But if the word
The angel spoke is true, we’ve heard
Messiah in our home for years.
And don’t the prophets say that tears
Will all be wiped away when he
Appears: the blinded eyes shall see,
The deaf shall hear, the lame shall leap
The dumb shall sing and all who weep
Will shout for joy? And should I quell
The hope that he could make me well?”
“I asked him last week, when the priest
Had left, if he could not at least
Relieve your pain, or give you sight,
Or help you sleep well through the night.”
“What did he say?” “He said in sum,
‘Tell Dad, my hour’s not yet come.
The timing of the Lord of Host
Will make a widow and a ghost.'”
“Strange recompense for nurturing
The Son of God, the mighty King!”
“O Joseph, we have seen too much
Of God and grace to doubt that such
A Sovereign plans but for our good,
For he can heal and heal he would
If it were best.” “What does he pray
Up there, Maria? Did he say?”
“He didn’t mention much detail,
But only that your faith not fail.
He says there’s something worse than death,
And loss of faith, not loss of breath,
Is what he fights. He’s gotten slim
From fasting.” “Would you please fetch him?
I want to say goodbye.” “I know
The place; I’ll hurry now and go.”

“Your father wants to see you, son;
I think his life is almost done.
Come, hasten with me to his bed.”

“He’s here, my love, beside your head.”
“I heard you in the synagogue
Once say that there’s an epilogue
To life. And then you looked at me.
You knew. Already you could see
The last short chapter of my days:
The gathering dark and distant rays
Of dawn. And now I thank you, son,
That you fought for my faith and won.
Your intercession on the slope,
Your fasting and your love gave hope.
Nor do I doubt that you and I
Will meet again with God on high.

I bless the night that you were born!
May all the world that night adorn.
Maria, come, light him a flame.
Though darkness gathers, praise his Name!”

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At the ‘weakest’ points of his life – before Jesus was even born and again just before a Roman official ordered him crucified – Jesus’ authority over government is affirmed:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Isaiah 9:6

So Pilate said to Jesus, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?”  Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.”  John 19:10:11

The greatest statement on his authority came from Jesus himself – after he rose from the dead!

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”  Matthew 28:18

Every evil government policy that encourages the destruction of babies with disabilities will end someday.

And Jesus will reign, forever.

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Gather up the shovels

Driving seven hours in the car yesterday allowed me time to think on ‘wave four’ in the campaign to end abortion that I referenced yesterday.  Here are some thoughts:

  • Technologies can identify disabilities more accurately and at earlier stages of pregnancy than ever before.
  • Our culture hates people with disabilities for a variety of reasons: fear, expense, inconvenience, reminder of human frailty.
  • Our culture values health, fame, riches, beauty, independence and convenience above almost anything else.
  • Our legal system is oriented against the rights of unborn children.
  • Too many of our churches are ambivalent, at best, about people with disabilities.
  • With abortion rates of more than 90% for children with Down syndrome, many people who call themselves Christians are choosing abortion.

And I was thinking of that in this beautiful context:

But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;  God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 1 Corinthians 1:27-29

Nobody would believe it possible in this cultural and political environment, but that abhorrent practice will permanently end someday.  And everyone will recognize that only God could do it.

I’m just hoping he’ll let me throw some dirt on that grave.

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Last week Pastor John tweeted this:

Wave 1: Catholics say No to abortion. Wave 2: Evangelicals flood the land with CPC’s.  Wave 3: Blacks and Latino’s bring it down.

Which prompted this excellent post by Jon Ensor: The Third Wave of the Pregnancy Help Movement. That post will help make sense of Pastor John’s tweet.

Mr. Ensor references the good that came through an ultrasound, and I agree that is a good thing in the evidence of thousands and thousands of unborn children who have been spared destruction because of ultrasounds.

But I will continue to raise this caution: when disability is found through ultrasound, babies die, including when the parents are Christians.  We must bring the clear message of God’s sovereignty over all things into the ultrasound room when hard things are discovered.  Parents deserve to know who God is in the midst of what many people believe are hopeless futures, for their children and for themselves.

That is why I pray there will be a fourth wave that buries the abortion industry for good.  And I can see it possibly coming through the community of people with disabilities, their families and their churches that God uses to demonstrate his sovereignty and goodness and care in all things, including disability and disease, for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.

Lord, please make it so!

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Lord willing, my family will be in South Dakota today (Sunday) as we visit extended family.  One of the great blessings of being in South Dakota is attending a really good church, Central Valley Community Church, in Hartford, South Dakota.

What makes it so good?

  • God-centered preaching.  Pastor Chris Gorman just gets better and better over the years we’ve visited.  He takes God’s word seriously, obviously spends time in study and meditation, and demonstrates personal affections for Jesus Christ.
  • Commitment to missions and church planting.  They didn’t even wait to have their own building before they planted another church in a nearby community.  I love that!
  • Elders committed to leading well.  Chris brought his entire elder board to a Desiring God Pastors Conference so they could learn what he was learning and so they could, together, consider how to best lead that church.  Then I met another elder at the most recent Children Desiring God conference.  These men are serious, and joyful, about their leadership roles.

And, equally important to me:

  • They are a kind, welcoming community for my multiply-disabled niece and her parents.  That young woman is known and accepted.

It is a joy to be with God’s people and to soak in his word when away from home.  May God grant you that same blessing this season if you are traveling!

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I first became aware of Matt Chandler when he spoke at the 2009 Desiring God Conference for Pastors.  I have come to deeply appreciate his church and his preaching.  When he first experienced a seizure a couple of weeks ago, his response in the face of uncertainty was God-centered and God honoring.

As I write this on Wednesday afternoon, I just read the post from the Village Church that Pastor Matt Chandler’s seizures were due to a malignant brain tumor.  You can read the Village Church’s statement here.

God is doing an amazing thing in this.  Because Matt Chandler is a ‘rising star’ amongst preachers, people are paying attention to what he is saying about what he is experiencing.  A great deal is already passing around the internet and even some media about how Pastor Chandler is responding: with confidence in his savior and a future hope that is secure.

That tends to be the case – people pay more attention to a person’s faith when things are hard than when things are going well.

It is a good response, and one we should pray God would continue to hold up as we also pray for Pastor Chandler’s health and for his family.

And it reminds me of how Pastor John helpfully wrote about hoping in God in his book, Future Grace:

The grace and kindness of the Lord comes to us in accord with our hope in him: “Let thy lovingkindness, O Lord, be upon us, according as we have hoped in Thee” (Psalm 33:22). We are told, “Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who hope in the Lord” (Psalm 31:24). The reason those who hope in the Lord can take courage is that they are the beneficiaries of the promise of future grace: “The eye of the Lord is on. . . those who hope for his lovingkindness” (Psalm 33:18). The radical lifestyle of strength and courage in the cause of righteousness flows from hope in God’s lovingkindness, that is, from faith in future grace.  John Piper, Future Grace, p. 245.

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