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Archive for May, 2011

While away from Bethlehem visiting family this weekend, we were delighted by the sermon we heard that closed a series on the book of Ruth.

Pastor Rick returned several times to this thought:

Don’t just make this book of the Bible into a nice love story.  It is certainly about that, but so much more than that.  This is a story about redemption and about the coming Jesus.

I thought of how often we end with the focus on people rather than on the greater thing: God himself.  Let us keep pressing into the word to find our Lord!

  • John 9 is not primarily about a man being healed – though it is certainly about that as well – but about a God who is sovereign over all things and a savior who works!
  • Mark 2:1-12 is not primarily about one man being healed of his paralysis, or even of loyal friends who will stop at nothing to bring him to Jesus – though it is certainly about that as well -  “but that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”
  • 2 Kings 5 is not primarily about one man being cleansed of his leprosy – though it is certainly about that as well – but about a sovereign God who gives victory to whomever he pleases in 2 Kings 5:1 and who leads a violent, sinful, proud pagan to one of the most glorious statements anyone can make: Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel (2 Kings 5:15).

We would fail to ultimately help anyone if we stop at the thing we think people most want to hear – that God can heal you or your child of disease or disability.  He can certainly do that if he pleases, but what would they have?  “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36).

Let us continue to press into these accounts of his extraordinary ability to do anything that he pleases and show people the best news of all: God wants to give us himself!

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For the most part, I don’t live an angry life anymore.  Doctors, educators, social workers, people on the street – God has helped me see (most of the time) that they are also people made in his image and deserve a respectful, God-honoring engagement.

But there’s still one group I’m too easily willing to see as being incompetent, lazy, corrupt or stupid – elected officials.  My expectations are pretty low in that area, though they are the very ones who make decisions that result in the need for remembrances like Memorial Day and Veterans Day.  And today millions of people live with disabilities they incurred through their military service as well.

As I reflected on the following Memorial Day letter from Joe Scheumann, a young man with whom I work at Desiring God, I recognized (again) I’m just hurting myself with my attitude about elected officials.  Whether or not they hold a life-affirming, God-honoring position on unborn babies with disabilities or special education opportunities, we are called to pray for them SO THAT we may lead a peaceful and quiet life in all godliness and dignity – and it pleases God!

So, on this Memorial Day 2011, let us remember those who have died in military service.  And let us also do something God has said is good for us and pleasing to him: supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings for “all who are in high positions” (1 Timothy 2:1-2).

Email to Desiring God’s Philippian Fellowship, May 27, 2011:

May 30, 2011, is Memorial Day; a day in which the United States pauses to honor American soldiers who have died in all wars. So, in light of this holiday I thought 1 Timothy 2:1-3 is a very relevant passage of Scripture on which to meditate and pray. It says,

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

Paul first calls us to make supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings for all people and for kings and all who are in authority. Paul does not limit our prayers to only people or leaders of the country we live in; instead, he calls us to pray for all men and all authorities.

Next Paul gives the reason for our prayers. The goal of our prayers for all men and authorities is that we might lead peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and dignity. Notice that this is not merely a peaceful and quiet life, but it is a peaceful and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.

This aim of the prayer is then grounded in the character of God. In verse 3 Paul links the goodness of peaceful and quiet life in godliness and dignity with God’s nature. Paul says this is good in the sight of God our Savior and the aspect which Paul chooses to highlight about our Savior is that he desires all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of truth.

So then, this Memorial Day weekend, will you join me in obeying Paul’s exhortation in making supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings for all men and all authorities? Let us pray for them so that we might live peaceful and quiet lives in godliness and dignity knowing this is good in the sight of God our Savior.

Thank you for standing with us in prayer,

Joe Scheumann

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One in six!

WebMD is reporting that one in six children in the United States have developmental disabilities, according to a study in the June issue of the journal, Pediatrics.

One in six!

I knew the number was growing, but that startled me.

Of course, developmental disabilities range all across the board.  Autism and ADHD, for example, are spectrum disorders that range from mild to severely disabling.  And I’d really like to see their survey instrument since they relied on parent reporting.  That’s no knock on parents (since I am one) but I know how easy it is for two different parents to report different things for the exact same condition – or report the same thing when conditions are remarkably different.  Alas, it hasn’t been released to the public yet.

Still, one in six!

That has some significant implications for churches seeking to serve families experiencing these types of disabilities.  And since many developmental disabilities can be hidden, Pastor John’s strong exhortation to ‘see disability!’ in our midst is even more relevant.  We will need to be really intentional to see and welcome the young people who live with developmental disabilities God has given as gifts to the church.

Let us pray, earnestly, for God to provide all that we need!

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Mark Talbot, “True Freedom: The Liberty that Scripture Portrays as Worth Having,” in Beyond the Bounds: Open Theism and the Undermining of Biblical Christianity, p. 88.  Emphases in bold are mine:

Initially, this involved my realizing that my continuing disability was the chief means by which God kept blessing me and keeping me near to himself. As my accident has had more negative consequences—weakening hands from damaging my ulnar nerves when, losing my balance, I fall on my elbows; coming under permanent risk of stroke from dissecting my left-internal carotid while trying to keep in shape; and so on—I have found that, rather than these things becoming occasions for doubting God’s goodness to me, they have become sources of spiritual strength by helping me to see where I cannot place my heart.

In other words, I have come to realize that God is protecting me from idolatrous self-sufficiency by taking various goods away from me so that I am not tempted to rest satisfied in them.  Each morning as I get up, my disability prompts me to trust God rather than to rely on my own strength. And so, in this second stage of my coming to understand how God works in and through our difficulties, I came to realize that some things that are really evil. . . are also really good and that, as such, these evils are actually ordained by God.

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I know I’m a couple days behind in getting this video posted.  Actually, I hope you’ve already seen it through Greg’s blog!  Greg’s blog and book are highly recommended reading.

I’m grateful that God has dropped into my life these examples of Godly men and women who live with disability in their families.  I had lunch with one such man yesterday – I walked away refreshed and renewed, with Bible ringing in my ears and his prayer for me running through my heart!  I want to be like that!

I pray that you have such people in your life as well.  God is our single need and highest treasure, of course.  But it sure is nice when he gives us good gifts like God-centered, Bible-saturated families who understand this life we lead.

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Pastor John got it right when he pleaded with the congregation to see people with disabilities in his sermon, Why Was This Child Born Blind:

This is our natural reflex—see and avoid. But we are not natural people. We are followers of Jesus. We have the Spirit of Jesus in our hearts. We have been seen and touched in all our brokenness by an attentive, merciful Savior.

If you want to be one of the most remarkable kinds of human beings on the planet—a Jesus kind—see people with disabilities.

But he didn’t end there!

See them. And move toward them. God will show you what to say.

I need to hear that!  I usually don’t know what to say or do when encountering a new person with a disability. What should I say, or not say.  I don’t want to offend; it really would be easier just to avoid!

In fact, I think I have more to fear than ‘normal’ people because I remember when I looked for reasons to be offended at the slightest, most subtle word or look from another person regarding my son or his disability.  Depending on my mood, I might decide to take that person apart rhetorically.  And this was after we had returned to church – I still harbored a lot of pain and distrust that I was ready to spill out on people in harmful ways.

Then one day a little old saint, using terms for disabilities she must have learned in the 1930′s and 40′s that we now consider offensive, communicated such tender affections for me and for my son that God quite literally wiped away the bitter heart and biting, sarcastic tongue I used in those situations.  I remember thinking, IN THAT MOMENT, this is strange; why am I not angry about her words?  God did that for both of us.

I have also lashed out at people in evil, vile ways, looking to make people hurt as much as I did.  I’m guessing those folks walked away not thinking they had made a positive difference, maybe even questioning why God had prompted them to talk with me in the first place.  And God used those moments as well, eventually breaking me of my pride and self-righteousness and giving me a heart that wanted to trust him and not do things like that anymore.

My point is simply this: God is not limited in any way by what we know or don’t know or even the words we use.  Nor does he say it will end in ‘success’ when we step out in faith to pursue the good of others.  Jesus did that and they killed him.

That old saint, in faith, pursued me with affection and God protected her and blessed me.  Others were rhetorically punched in the nose.  Both bring glory to God.

And Pastor John has also taught us what to do.  Simply ask, “Jesus, help me.”  Then move.

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In his sermon, Why Was This Child Born Blind?, Pastor John anticipates an objection:

Let me address an objection at this point. There are some pastors and teachers who dislike intensely the idea that God might will that a child be born blind so that some purpose of God might be achieved. One of the ways they try to escape the teaching of this text is to say that Jesus is pointing to the result of the blindness, not the purpose of the blindness.

Pastor John is only scratching the surface of the objection some will make.  For those of us in God-centered, Bible-saturated churches, the idea that God isn’t purposeful about everything is astonishing.  We might not be ready for the not-so-subtle shift of the argument away from purpose.

Yet we should be ready.  There are scholars who take a run at finding new meanings by changing the punctuation.  The influence of these arguments then play out in other arenas, like youtube preachers who think ‘the works of God’ sounds more like the works of the devil.

Pastor John helps us read the Bible more carefully through his three responses:

1.  Pastor John points out the importance of actually reading what is happening, in this case, what are the disciples really asking Jesus to answer, and is his answer consistent with their question?

One is that the disciples are asking for an explanation of the blindness, and Jesus’ answer is given as an explanation of the blindness.

2.  Pastor John reminds us about who God is in terms of his foreknowledge and control:

God knows all things. He knows exactly what is happening in the moment of conception. . . If God foresees and permits a conception that he knows will produce blindness, he has reasons for this permission. And those reasons are his purposes. His designs. His plans. God never has met a child from whom he had no plan. There are no accidents in God’s mind or hands.

3.  Finally, Pastor John uses the Bible to interpret the Bible:

And third, any attempt to deny God’s sovereign, wise, purposeful control over conception and birth has a head-on collision with Exodus 4:11 and Psalm 139:13.  “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?’” “You formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.”

The only thing I would add to number 3 is that God is directly speaking to the issue of disability in Exodus 4:11, and does so again in John 9:3.

We should learn this lesson as best we can so that we can be prepared when objections are raised to God’s sovereignty over disability.  I’ve read various articles trying to reinterpret Exodus 4:11 and Psalm 139.  But the strongest objections typically come against John 9:3, Mark 2 (the healing of the paralytic) and John 5:14.

I’m grateful Pastor John continues to lead us in how to read the Bible carefully for ourselves as we seek to understand more about God and his incredible purposes in his creation.  And that, obviously, includes disability.

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Pastor John’s sermon has been posted here:  Why Was This Child Born Blind?  

If you have the time, I would recommend reading it as well.  There are some really important things Pastor John included that I’ll highlight over the next couple of days, Lord willing.

Here’s how it begins, emphases mine:

One of the reasons I believe the Bible and love the Bible is because it deals with the hardest issues in life. It doesn’t sweep painful things under the rug—or complex things or confusing things or provoking things or shocking things or controversial things. In fact, Jesus sometimes went out of his way to create controversy with the Pharisees so that more truth about himself and about unbelief would come out, so that we could be warned by examples of hardness and wooed by images of his glory.

I am so grateful my pastors prepare me for hard things – not just to persevere, but to live with expectancy at what God is doing for his glory and for my good!

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Pastor John’s opening sermon on John 9 will be posted later today at Desiring God.  Yes, I recommend it!

Pastor John said those of us connected to disability would know what he was going to say, and on the whole he was right.

That doesn’t mean it was old and boring – oh, on the contrary!  What life, what hope!

After some opening remarks, Pastor John lingered over verse one:  As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth.

JESUS SAW A MAN!  That little phrase means so much to me.

Jesus sees us.  And because he sees us, we get to see him.

Does that feel like good news to you?

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Mark Talbot delivered a remarkable address at the 2005 Desiring God National Conference, All the Good that Is Ours In Christ:  Seeing God’s Gracious Hand in the Hurts Others Do to Us.

This short video will introduce you to him.  It is a trailer for the 2009 Desiring God National Conference, but you’ll see why I recommend it within the first minute.  It is an incredible testimony of God’s goodness in the midst of suffering.

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