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Archive for February, 2010

God’s gift of siblings

For some reason, God has put the siblings of other children with disabilities right in front of me the past couple of weeks.

  • A friend emails with a sweet description of his non-disabled older son’s treatment of his younger brothers
  • A dad blogs about how his non-disabled son treats his brother
  • Friends invite us over for dinner and I watch how siblings help their parents with their youngest brother’s many care needs
  • Young children speak with confidence about their youngest brother’s potential
  • Of course, my own daughter with her older brother

These children and young people are demonstrating gifts of care and attention that should embarrass most adults.

There is another side, of course, and that includes the siblings who feel ignored or neglected by their parents and the rest of the world because the needs of their disabled sibling get so much attention.  Or those children who resent that what was a relatively normal life has been turned upside down – permanently – because of their disabled sibling.  Parents feel deep pain at these types of reactions, on top of the pain they already carry.

But that isn’t the end of the story.   I have also heard of children who embrace their disabled sibling later in life.  We should never stop asking God to help us with these hard things.

My growing up was pretty easy – great parents and older sisters, stable home life, many Christian influences.  But I also wasn’t prepared for some very hard things that God has mercifully carried me through.

So I wonder: given that these siblings have already taken on hard things, what things will they tackle later in their lives?  What is God preparing them for?

And that is another good reason to pray for entire families experiencing disability, and not just the member with the disability.

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Hermeneutics is defined by Random House as:

  1. the science of interpretation, esp. of the Scriptures.
  2. the branch of theology that deals with the principles of Biblical exegesis.

A few years ago I was introduced to the term ‘hermeneutic of suspicion’ in the book, Copious Hosting, by Jeanie Weis Block:

“Therefore, scriptural exegesis of the disability passages begins with a “hermeneutic of suspicion,” asking a question not unlike the question posed by many feminist theologians when they inquire if Scripture, with its decidedly patriarchal bias, can be relevant and meaningful to women. Likewise, disability advocates must ask difficult questions such as: Do the Scriptures have an ‘ableist’ bias that ultimately oppresses people with disabilities?” p. 101

While it was buried 100 pages into the book, statements like that just jump off the page.  The arrogance that we have greater wisdom than the Scriptures is stunning – but very, very common.  And not new.

C.S. Lewis wrote a series of essays addressing the idea that we get to judge God and Scriptures rather than see ourselves as standing before God deserving his judgment.  He titled it, God in the Dock.   And he wrote those essays between 1940 and 1963.

We can keep going back into history.  I actually thought of the above quote from Weis Block’s book while reading Luke 6:

On another Sabbath, he entered the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was withered. And the scribes and the Pharisees watched him, to see whether he would heal on the Sabbath, so that they might find a reason to accuse him.  Luke 6:6-7

The scribes and the Pharisees wanted to SEE A MIRACLE so they could accuse him.  Even observable evidence of omnipotent authority over creation only fueled their certainty that Jesus couldn’t be who he said he was. Talk about a hermeneutic of suspicion!

God does not fit into easy categories because only God is free and righteous and just and holy – all in infinite proportions.  When he says he creates some who are disabled,  he is speaking and acting out of his infinite depths of knowledge and righteousness, not our time-centered, sin-filled, finite perspective.

A ‘hermeneutic of suspicion’ of the Scriptures?  No, never.  Please, when certain passages are hard to understand, take the opportunity to dig deeper rather than become suspicious of the author and his authority to do whatever he wills with his creation.  For his glory and our good.

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One of those ways is showing up at conferences related to disability.

A friend of mine and a fellow dad in Alabama let me know about a conference he is attending on special needs ministries – and a couple of his staff ministers are attending with him!  I was encouraged and I don’t even know those men.

Another way is hanging in there with our unusual families.

For the next five weeks Bethlehem is focusing on Spiritual Parenting, and I’m really looking forward to the preaching from five different men.  Their topic isn’t disability and they probably won’t be making many references to disability, but I know their hearts and am grateful they will be filling the pulpit these next weeks.  Here’s why:

David Michael, Pastor for Parenting and Family Discipleship: he supervises the Disability Ministry and we couldn’t have a better, God-centered advocate for families in our situations.  He’s been walking with and advising me for more than a dozen years.

Kempton Turner, Pastor for Young Adult Discipleship: he’s the fellow on the cover of Just the Way I Am and a father of a multiply-disabled boy.  You can hear him preach on this subject of disability and bible here (and I recommend that you do!).

Russell Moore, Dean of the School of Theology at Southern Seminary: Dr. Moore isn’t a pastor at Bethlehem, but I had the chance to ask him about his experience with disability a few weeks ago and he has plenty as a pastor.

Bud Burk, Pastor for Child and Youth Discipleship: Pastor Bud loves all the children under his care, ours included, as well as their families.  We had breakfast a few weeks ago to talk about some pretty difficult issues with regards to children with disabilities – and I saw again his heart for wanting all to experience the love of Jesus.

Pastor John finishes up the series on March 20/21.  You already know my affections for him.  If you haven’t listened to his sermon, Born Blind for the Glory of God, please pause now and do so.  You will be encouraged.

God is kind to provide such men in leadership who care about this issue.  May he multiply them in churches around the world.

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Sam Crabtree, one of my pastors, has started a blog at Bethlehem’s web site and talked about a recent turn of events that left him incapacitated for a time.  He was no longer ‘temporarily able-bodied.’

That term, ‘temporarily able-bodied’ shows up now and then in things I read.   Generally it is used to poke at anyone who thinks ‘normal’ physical and mental functioning is, in fact, the norm.  If we live long enough, most of us will experience a loss of function, and eventually we will all die.  Thus, being able-bodied is termed by some to be the temporary state of our lives.

Pastor Sam wrote two blog posts following his hospitalization that firmly state what he hopes in – and it isn’t physical functioning, normal or otherwise.  Here is an example:  

5.    My disappointment in this deteriorating body is soaked with hope. While in the emergency room I looked Vicki in the eyes and quietly said, “I might not be around tomorrow.” Because of Christ, we both know I’ll be around Tomorrow. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.—2 Corinthians 5:8

Disappointment - yes!  We do experience disappointment when our bodies fail us.  Or when we watch our children with disabilities struggle with their  bodies or their minds.

Soaked with hope – yes!  Like the post yesterday of Pastor John’s greeting, we can hope in God (Psalm 42:5) in all circumstances, particularly when things seem at their worst. 

Because of Christ, we both know I’ll be around Tomorrow – yes!  Our current state will be replaced with a great and permanent and increasingly joy-filled eternity with Christ.  But only because of Christ – not through anything we did or could hope to do to earn it.

Paul, writing to the Corinthians, put it this way:  sorrowful, yet always rejoicing (2 Corinthians 6:10). 

Thank you, Pastor Sam, for living like you preach – with integrity, good humor, and deep affections for Jesus.  You are a great encouragement!

You can read his two posts here:  

Eight Ways to Not Waste the Blood Clots on My Lungs, Part 1

Eight Ways to Not Waste the Blood Clots on My Lungs, Part 2

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I was looking around the newly redesigned Bethlehem website and found this short (49 seconds) welcome from Pastor John where he talks about our hope in God.  It is a great word for those of us living with disability in our families!

John Piper: welcome to hopeinGod.org from Bethlehem Baptist Church on Vimeo.

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I love to find other men who write with a passion for God as they parent their disabled children.  One such dad is Greg Lucas who writes the blog Wrestling with an Angel.

Here’s an excerpt from his recent post, “Sovereign Solution to a Cold Case Crime.

My son is not a pitiful tragedy blamed on negligence or ignorance. He is a mysterious element of a divine plan. A predestined purpose of God’s will to the praise of His glorious grace. A display of the immeasurable greatness of God’s power according to the working of His great might.

Amen, Greg.  Thanks for writing, for loving your son, and for making much of Jesus.

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If you were to have asked me “what do you think the combination of autism, blindness, failure to thrive and mental retardation would be like” back in February 1994, I’m not sure how I would have answered.  But I’m sure I would have described it as unpleasant, maybe even horrifying, and certainly sad.

Fast forward 15 years and I live with a boy with all that stuff.  Yet he lives with more freedom than I do, personifying Jesus’ command:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.”  Luke 12:22-23

Paul doesn’t even think about tomorrow, let alone worry about it.  

Of course my boy must have his mom and dad consider his needs.  He is one of the most vulnerable boys on the planet.  But what he doesn’t know (or at least cannot articulate) which I know from God’s word is that the creator of the universe, the maker and owner of everything, allows me to come to him.

The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:5b-7

Unlike my boy, who naturally lives without anxiety about tomorrow, I have to fight anxious thoughts.  I’m grateful God answers, frequently and supernaturally, with peace that guards my heart and mind.

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The man featured yesterday on the cover of Just the Way I Am is Kempton Turner, a pastor at Bethlehem.  God has made him into a remarkable man.

God gave a special gift to my family, which is echoed by all the families with disabled children, when he called Kempton and Caryn and their children to Bethlehem over two years ago.  They are a joy-filled, God-centered couple who fill up our network of families with encouragement in the word and confidence in God.  I count it a privilege to know them.  And I recommend Caryn’s blog as well!

Pastor Kempton was interviewed last year on a local radio station regarding his multiply disabled son and the sovereignty of God.  That interview was included in this week’s Bethlehem Star, our weekly church e-newsletter.

You can read the entire article here.

Here is an excerpt:

So, how are you able to hold up in the midst of such a heavy and painful and life-long trial?
We are not able to “hold up.” We are “held up” by the God of Isaiah 41:10 who says, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Jesus, our Creator-Savior, who “holds all things together,” holds us up “by the word of his power”! (Colossians 1:17, Hebrews 1:3). Are we sometimes depressed and discouraged? Yes. But we preach the Word to ourselves, “Soul, hope in God!” (Psalm 42:5–6) and God’s word produces a happy hope in our hearts again and again, even unto this day.

So God allowed this (his son to be born with disabilities)?
No, God did it, not just allowed it. The Bible says so in passages like Exodus 4:11, Psalm 139:13, and John 9:3. It was God’s good and purposeful design to create Christian just the way he is for our good and His glory.

Now that’s the way to talk about God!

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I don’t know exactly when it will be ready, but we are now weeks rather than months away from having it, Lord willing.

Here is the cover.

That is Pastor Kempton Turner with his oldest son, Christian.

There is more I will say about this cover later.  For now, just enjoy.

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Miracles are not enough.

Paul and Barnabas go to Lystra in Acts 14, and God performs a miracle:

Now at Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet. He was crippled from birth and had never walked.  He listened to Paul speaking. And Paul, looking intently at him and seeing that he had faith to be made well, said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And he sprang up and began walking. Acts 14:8-10

The crowds literally go wild:

And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” Act 14:11

Shortly after, the people of Lystra respond differently:

But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. Act 14:19

I believe God has the sovereign authority and ability to do whatever he wants with his creation, including miracles of physical healing in our present day.  I don’t believe they are the norm, however.

And the above example from Acts 14 demonstrates that the presence of miracles is not enough to change hearts.  Those people in Lystra observed the healing, proclaimed Paul a god, and then tried to kill him!

So, I pray, earnestly, for my wife that God would keep her cancer at bay.  But neither she nor I need a miracle to believe that God is who he says he is.  God did that work when he gave us faith.

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