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Archive for June, 2010

Cancer is about God

Cure Magazine is a free magazine and website for those dealing with cancer.  They describe themselves as “combining science with humanity, CURE makes cancer understandable.”  We’ve received it for nearly five years, and it frequently has articles that are useful and helpful.

Recently, though, they explored the issue of faith and its role in the lives of cancer patients and survivors.

It reflected the culture’s understanding of religion:

  • People with ‘faith’ were treated respectfully, but God was referenced generically or as a higher power.
  • There was not one mention of the conflicting truth-claims of different religions.
  • There was not one mention of Jesus.
  • Religion is just one ‘frame,’ and the frame you choose “matters less than the opportunity to find a safe place to go inward and see what is in your heart – what truly matters to you.”

Contrast that with how Joni Eareckson Tada has been communicating about her new issue with cancer, including this encouraging news from yesterday:

Joni’s surgery was completed successfully yesterday evening, and she is resting comfortably, preparing to begin the rest of her course of treatment in the next few days,” Mazza said. “She is appreciative of all the prayers on her and her husband Ken’s behalf and is grateful to God for His sustaining grace and extra measure of strength during this time.

She has Stage II cancer and will require chemotherapy.  Please continue to pray for her.

Her journey with cancer is new.  But her message about God and his sovereignty remains the same:

Of course, I believe that God can and does heal and I covet your prayers to that end. Most of all, please pray that God will pour out grace-upon-grace on Ken and me. We’ll be posting regular updates on “Joni’s Corner” here on our website – also posted here you will find an article called “Don’t Waste Your Cancer” by John Piper and David Powlison, both of whom are cancer survivors. I can’t begin to describe how encouraged I’ve been just reading their insights – I’m sure you’ll say the same after you read it. We join you in resting in the assurance of Psalm 62:5-6, “Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.”

Note the differences between how Cure Magazine deals with faith and Joni’s response to her cancer diagnosis, even in the above paragraph:

  • God is personal and powerful.
  • We look outside ourselves for comfort and meaning – to God and to his word.
  • We can find encouragement from the experiences of others who are anchored in the word.
  • Joni doesn’t mention Jesus here (but often elsewhere!); John Piper and David Powlison certainly do in Don’t Waste Your Cancer.

Faith in Jesus is wonderful.  Faith in faith is less than useless; it will destroy.  Joni knows that, so she helps us by being clear on who God is rather than offering a generic statement about faith.

I’ll let Pastor John and David Powlison have the last word, from Don’t Waste Your Cancer:

6. You will waste your cancer if you spend too much time reading about cancer and not enough time reading about God.

John Piper: It is not wrong to know about cancer. Ignorance is not a virtue. But the lure to know more and more and the lack of zeal to know God more and more is symptomatic of unbelief. Cancer is meant to waken us to the reality of God. It is meant to put feeling and force behind the command, “Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord” (Hosea 6:3). It is meant to waken us to the truth of Daniel 11:32, “The people who know their God shall stand firm and take action.” It is meant to make unshakable, indestructible oak trees out of us: “His delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers” (Psalm 1:2). What a waste of cancer if we read day and night about cancer and not about God.

David Powlison: What is so for your reading is also true for your conversations with others. Other people will often express their care and concern by inquiring about your health. That’s good, but the conversation easily gets stuck there. So tell them openly about your sickness, seeking their prayers and counsel, but then change the direction of the conversation by telling them what your God is doing to faithfully sustain you with 10,000 mercies. Robert Murray McCheyne wisely said, “For every one look at your sins, take ten looks at Christ.” He was countering our tendency to reverse that 10:1 ratio by brooding over our failings and forgetting the Lord of mercy. What McCheyne says about our sins we can also apply to our sufferings. For every one sentence you say to others about your cancer, say ten sentences about your God, and your hope, and what he is teaching you, and the small blessings of each day. For every hour you spend researching or discussing your cancer, spend 10 hours researching and discussing and serving your Lord. Relate all that you are learning about cancer back to him and his purposes, and you won’t become obsessed.

Lord, please, let none of us waste what you have given us, for your glory and for our good!

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Abortion and disability just seem to go together.  Too many people assume that when disability is identified in the womb, the answer is abortion.

Disability-rights advocates find that argument abhorrent.  So do I.  But maybe for different reasons.

Disability studies as an academic pursuit is experiencing a huge expansion on colleges and universities across the United States.  Some of that expansion is being fueled by the idea that disability should not be confined within a medical model, but should more accurately be described as socially constructed.

For example, under this social theory, a person who is blind cannot see; the severity of the condition can be described in medical terms.  The problem comes from how other people behave towards that blind person, limiting his or her ability for educational development, employment and the like.  Blindness simply exists; discrimination based on the blindness is socially created.  Thus, the disability is not the blindness, but the response of the community to the person who is blind.

Thus, for disability advocates under this theory, if an unborn baby is discovered to have a disability that would lead to blindness, the automatic response should NOT be to abort.  Killing a child based solely on the physical characteristic of a disabling condition is inherently a sign of discriminatory attitudes against all people with disabilities.

I find that argument interesting and worth considering.

Not so fast, argues Becky Cox-White, Ph.D., RN and Susanna Flavia Boxall, in their peer-reviewed article, Redefining Disability: Maleficent, Unjust and Inconsistent, in the Journal of Medicine and Philosophy (only the abstract is available online).  They argue that it is actually ill-advised to consider disability as a socially-caused phenomena.  And then they construct an argument for easy access to abortion.

It was entirely utilitarian in its approach, which I find troubling because it always ends up allowing the strong to dominate the weak.

But it was well presented.  In fact, for most of their paper, I found myself needing to think carefully.  They were maintaining a level of seriousness and academic integrity that required thoughtfulness if I was to address their central argument directly.

Then they got silly.  Not intentionally so, which made it worse.  But silly nonetheless.

For example:

If any act that devalues impairments must be forbidden, consistency generates implications far beyond the reproductive arena. Good reasons exist for believing that harms would be multiplied rather than diminished, particularly if one considers the implications for preventive care.

And what are these ‘harms would be multiplied’ if one were consistent about not wanting to kill babies with disabilities through abortion?

  • “Insofar as prenatal care is encouraged for the purpose of preventing children being born with impairments, logical consistency requires activists to denounce prenatal care as disabling (under the social construct theory of disability).” (Cox-White, p. 569)
  • “The disability activist’s argument, taken to its logically consistent conclusion, would preclude vaccines. For vaccines, just as surely as pregnancy terminations, prevent impairments.” (Cox-White, p. 570)
  • “Examples could be multiplied: Treat glaucoma to avoid blindness. Treat otitis media to avoid hearing loss. Treat arthritis to avoid immobilization. Treat hypertension to avoid paralyzing strokes. Activists must denounce all these efforts — indeed, much, if not all, preventive health care — as disrespecting persons with impairments and contributing to disability.” (Cox-White, p. 570)

It is really hard not to respond sarcastically here.  Pregnancy terminations have not prevented impairments – they have prevented a living human being from being born.

The disability activists’ argument is about NOT KILLING A PERSON because that person has a disability.  It does NOT logically follow that one would then also argue against vaccinations which prevent disability.  The opposite is true – vaccinations allow more children to live.  The additional benefit of not having to live with a disability, which even Cox-White and Boxall freely allow is difficult in this culture, is only available if one is allowed to live.

At least they didn’t try to sugar-coat it as they concluded:

Society’s causal responsibility can be challenged. But even if this responsibility were granted, continuing disability of persons with impairments seems likely: Ensuring less disabling circumstances for those with impairments is likely to cause harm to many others. Because justice requires — absent compelling arguments to the contrary — society to avoid harming all citizens, a society has no in-principle reason to preferentially avoid harming persons with impairments. (Cox-White, p. 571)

They spent 13 pages in a peer-reviewed journal making the case for destroying unborn children with disabilities from a philosophical and practical viewpoint.  They dismissed the role of God, the experiences of parents of children with disabilities, and the experiences of people with disabilities as having any value toward dissuading others from aborting their children with disabilities.  They placed a high value on people’s ability to predict what kind of life they will have, their children will have, and society will have.  Based on no evidence, of course, because none of us can accurately predict our future.

The result from this type of thought: even more children will be aborted simply because they have a disability.  And that’s more than just discriminatory against people with disabilities.

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God sent three brilliant warning flares across my sky the past two days.

The first was reading a stunningly self-centered, self-justifying and self-righteous communication on a long-resolved issue.  Even the language that attempted at god-talk pointed back to the person writing it.  I had not seen anything like that for a long time.

The person writing it had experienced suffering of a kind.  But in letting his own sense of reality govern everything, unanchored to anything except his own, finite understanding of events, almost everything he had experienced was turned into a personal affront, virtually every perceived hurt a rationale for sin.

He is stuck in his own head, and surrounded by people ready to help him stay there rather than fight it.  Our culture celebrates such self-justifying behavior.

Yet, it was not so far from where my heart wants to go.  I understand that desire to be “right.”  I know how ready I am to justify my actions.

I need something – or rather, someone – bigger, stronger, and better than me to keep me from going in that direction.

The second was in watching the young couple I mentioned on Friday keep themselves anchored to something much bigger than they are.  Watching their son struggle in his discomfort, knowing he had a major surgery coming in a few hours, I remembered the temptation to despair.  Yet, they did not despair.  The young dad referenced or quoted scripture.  The young mom talked of God and his goodness in making their son just the way he is.  And the tears came.  “Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” is no contradiction.

The third flare came in my one-year Bible reading for Saturday, from Psalm 119:97-104.  See how many times the writer of this section references something other than himself:

Oh how I love your law!
It is my meditation all the day.
Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies,
for it is ever with me.
I have more understanding than all my teachers,
for your testimonies are my meditation.
I understand more than the aged,
for I keep your precepts.
I hold back my feet from every evil way,
in order to keep your word.
I do not turn aside from your rules,
for you have taught me.
How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Through your precepts I get understanding;
therefore I hate every false way.

I know my heart is prone to sin, so I am grateful that God sent these three warnings to help me:

  • I do not want to be governed by my sinful heart; the example I saw was entirely ugly and hopeless.
  • I was encouraged by a younger couple remembering the promises of God.
  • And I was reminded by the Psalmist that it is God who provides, protects, guides and teaches.

All for God’s glory, and for my good.

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I met an extraordinary young man earlier this week.  He came into the world on May 15.

This morning (Friday) he will have surgery on his heart.

His young parents are clinging to Jesus.  They are the very picture of ‘sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.’

I was humbled to be in their presence at the hospital and grateful God gave me the opportunity to pray for and with them.  Would you join me in praying for him today?

And I was amazed at how much God has given to us in the common grace of medicine, medical technology and trained medical personnel.  They know what is wrong with this boy’s heart.  And they know how to address the problem.  And they have done it many, many times.

But they don’t know what God knows.  He knows how and why he made this boy, he knows this boy’s days, and he loves this boy more than anyone.  How sweet it is to cling to hope here, in the one who knows all, commands all, and has given us many gifts, like medical care.

After seeing this young family, I watched this video, thanks to Abraham Piper and his blog, 22 Words.

I was just amazed at this as well.  God has made us far more complicated than I can begin to comprehend!

Thank you, Lord, for letting me see and feel a bit of your extraordinary abilities today!  Truly, we can rest in you and all the promises you have given us because you are able to do everything you have said you will do.

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Sorrow is better than laughter,
for by sadness of face the heart is made glad.

Ecclesiastes 7:3

Really?

Sadness is often a happy means of seriousness, and that affliction which is impairing to the health, estate, and family, may be improving to the mind, and make such impressions upon that as may alter its temper very much for the better, may make it humble and meek, loose from the world, penitent for sin, and careful of duty.  

Vexatio dat intellectum—Vexation sharpens the intellect. Periissem nisi periissem—I should have perished if I had not been made wretched. It will follow, on the contrary, that by the mirth and frolicsomeness of the countenance the heart is made worse, more vain, carnal, sensual, and secure, more in love with the world and more estranged from God and spiritual things. . . 

From Commentary on the Whole Bible by Matthew Henry.

In other words, that me-centered part of me (which is basically all of me) wants an easy, simple, unconcerned, unconnected, self-centered, self-justifying existence. I avoid need and run to comfort. God doesn’t even enter the picture.  

And I would perish.

But when suffering comes, ‘improving the mind,’ I see how small I am and how much I need a God who is big and free and powerful and good.  

That leads to life.  And a happy heart.

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Lord willing, as I write this Dianne is about to go to a committee meeting at my dad’s church on their disability ministry.  She and our children are visiting my parents the next couple of days.

Dad’s church is in that awful early place of most discussions like this: where do we start?  There is need, there is desire, and there is so much that could be done. There are more ideas than resources. The desire to do it ‘right’ from the beginning is very strong, and can actually slow things down or derail an effort entirely.

As Dianne and I talked about it this morning, we both landed on how important it is to look at who is right in front of you, then pick one and do something.  Doing something for one family starts a church down the road of serving the next family.  Pretty soon, the church is serving several families.

And that isn’t easy.  In fact, I made the comment this morning, “we try things, and we frequently do it badly!”  Children don’t have good experiences.  Parents become discouraged.  Volunteers are disappointed.  Brenda, our disability ministry coordinator, is overwhelmed by the complexity of requests and the depth of the pain in families.

It often feels like a mess.

Yet – praise be to God! – we learn things and God helps us.  Over time, volunteers understand how to serve in ways that make sense.  Bonds frequently develop between a volunteer and a child.  Parents gain confidence that their child with disabilities is not just being served, but is loved and respected as the unique individual God made him or her.

That’s pretty sweet!

And then another family comes, or a volunteer needs to step down, or a new situation shows up in a family, and the process of praying, learning, failing, and, Lord willing, finding that sweet engagement starts all over again.

We constantly need God’s help!  I am grateful he is a big God who loves to be needed and leaned on as the sovereign, omnipotent, omnipresent, loving, good provider he is.

I didn’t always understand that.  There are some old emails I sent to Pastor David Michael that make me cringe inside over the slights I felt we were experiencing at church.  I am very grateful he, and others, looked to Jesus rather than in my negative responses as they sought to serve the Knight family.  There really wasn’t much positive relational payoff in serving us those early days!  Over the years God has frequently used Bethlehem to change my heart, encourage me in dark days, and help me to see the preciousness of his word.

It wasn’t a perfect disability ministry program that drew us and kept us at Bethlehem.  It was the people, always the people.  People who trusted Jesus above everything.  People who knew that Jesus would supply every need of theirs and of ours.  People who were quick to forgive.

And that’s why I have hope that a church in Winona, Minnesota will get started in serving some of their own families experiencing disability.  Because my dad loves Jesus, he wants others to love Jesus, too, and he particularly has a heart for other moms and dads and grandparents with children with disabilities.

And that’s better than the perfectly designed program any day.

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I’m glad to introduce you to another dad from Bethlehem today, Chris Nelson.  If you are fortunate to have a copy of Just the Way I Am, you can see Chris with his oldest boy on page 45.

I could say a lot about this man who I deeply respect, but I’ll just share this one fact about his family.  He and Katie adopted Andrew and then learned about his significant disabilities.  That was a hard blow. A few years later, with the full knowledge about what could happen, they adopted AGAIN, trusting God to provide all they would need.  Today they also have a third son God gave them through their own pregnancy.

In other words, God has called him and sustains him through hard things.  Thank you, Chris, for writing today.

The Pursuit of Happiness

The depth of human depravity is readily apparent when we are “me” centered rather than God-centered.  When the pursuit of personal happiness trumps the pursuit of holiness.  When we are so busy pursuing our sin-saturated mud puddles that we neglect to even consider what it might mean to embrace God’s offer of an eternal holiday at the sea.

On June 8 it was reported in a story on startribune.com that a Colorado woman was accused of killing her 6 month old baby.  Her motive?  “She believed the boy was autistic and thought his condition would ruin her life.”

She killed her own baby, knitted together in her womb by her Sovereign and Loving Creator, because she thought he might cramp her style.  She reportedly considered taking her own life instead, but didn’t want to unduly burden her husband with the child.  That’s chilling.  That’s real.  That’s the overflow of the human heart un-broken and un-repentant over sin, and un-surrendered to the restraining and sustaining and transforming mercy and grace of God as revealed in Christ Jesus.

As I reflected on this story, and my own struggle to mortify my sin as it is daily revealed to me through the gift of a mentally disabled son, Pastor John’s word from his sermon Sustained by Sovereign Grace-Forever, came to mind:

Not grace to bar what is not bliss,
Nor flight from all distress, but this:
The grace that orders our trouble and pain,
And then, in the darkness, is there to sustain.

True and abiding joy isn’t in being burden-less.  It is in being upheld and transformed through the burden by the grace of God.  It is, when facing often weighty temptations to wallow in despair and anger and self pity, to repent afresh of our sin and gaze up from the foot of the cross to marvel at the one who paid our debt, and to freshly turn our focus to the risen Lord and His purposes, rather than our pathetic pursuits of momentary and fleeting escape from hard things.

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Saturday evening reminded me that I have something very precious at Bethlehem, and I want more people to have it as well.  One of the many blessings is that I am not remotely tempted to stay away from church when things don’t go well because of Paul’s disabilities.

I decided our family should attend the North Campus on Saturday evening as Dianne was out of town for a wedding.  The North Campus is accessible, parking is easier, we know lots of people, and Paul has even been known to make it through an entire service there.  I like it when Paul can be with the family during the regular worship service, and summer is a good time to see how things go.

Such was not the case on Saturday.  Paul was in full voice early.  I think we made it through three minutes in the sanctuary before I knew he would be vocalizing happily and loudly through the whole service.  I could see the body language of people around us as he talked.

So we shifted to the restless child room. Let me be clear, nobody was unkind, nobody shot a look my way.  I was the one who was uncomfortable staying.

Paul continued his happy noises in the restless child room.  At one point we even got a version of ‘let is snow.’  I don’t know if that was Paul editorializing about the air conditioning.

Since this is our life, I tuned Paul’s noises out (for the most part) and tuned in to Pastor Kenny.  After almost 15 years, sometimes we just have to tune out the vocalizing to get anything done.

I loved Pastor Kenny’s sermon on prayer – it was very helpful!

But when he started wrapping up, I looked down and saw a very little girl staring at Paul because of his noises and realized her mom had been distracted the whole service.  This little one was quite interested in Paul, so was no longer restless.  Well, I thought, embarrassed at my lack of attention to this young mom’s inability to enjoy worship, its time to go and hauled my crew out.

So, I felt embarrassed a couple of times.  But I love my church and know I’m welcome with my family.  I like the fact that Paul is known by many, and loved by lots of those who know him.  I’m glad to know the North Campus has a restless child room, and nobody thinks twice about my using it with my kids.  Time with this people of God has resulted in many benefits, including chalking up another interrupted service with Paul as just that – just one service of many more I hope the Lord grants to me and my family.

But such is not the case for every family with a child like mine.  Some churches are not as welcoming or persevering.  Families get trained that if their child cannot fit a particular mold, that child isn’t welcome.  One bad experience at a church, and they are gone, long before all the benefits of long-term attendance begin to accrue.

So how do we do two things:  1) let families know that there are biblical churches like Bethlehem that are imperfect, make huge mistakes, and deeply want to love and welcome that child just as Christ loves the church; and 2) encourage those families to hang in there with those same churches through all the ups and downs of disability, until the benefits and blessings start to become more apparent?

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God has unexpectedly provided the opportunity for every family at Bethlehem to receive a copy of Just the Way I Am: God’s Good Design in Disability this Father’s Day weekend.

Family Discipleship Pastor David Michael, the over-seer of the Disability Ministry and a mentor to many men (happily including me) asked me to introduce this book to the congregation.

And if anyone noticed or cared, I’m NOT the director of resources at Desiring God.  The version that people are seeing today at Bethlehem is correct.

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Disability manifests itself in a thousand different ways.  Sometimes a child matures as he should physically, but cognitively never develops.  Sometimes a child’s mind thinks clearly, but her body has significant physical differences.  And some children experience both.

My boy is one who will never develop either physically or cognitively.  Things can be hard for him at times.  He can’t tell us where things hurt when he’s sick, or why he’s frustrated.  We frequently don’t know why he’s laughing, either.  For some reason, spontaneous laughter doesn’t rise up temptations to worry like other behaviors do!

And God, in his kindness, lets me be comforted by his word at unexpected moments.

On Friday, Dr. Mark Struck used this passage from Matthew 11:25-30 in his devotions with Desiring God’s staff.  Jesus is talking to the Father, and we get the help and encouragement:

At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.  Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

It was a sweet word for me.  Jesus knows it all.  Jesus has ALWAYS known it all.  ALL things have been handed over to Jesus by the Father.  Jesus promises rest for ALL he has chosen.

My boy is known completely, and he has been from before creation.  Jesus knew what he was doing when my Paul’s life was prepared, for God’s glory and for the good of God’s church.

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