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Archive for October, 2011

A few weeks ago I wrote a post for Desiring God expressing my gratitude that God has helped me to see that disability ministry is not in competition with other good things God is doing in the church.

But more recently I’ve been seeing evidences that God uses disability to encourage cross-cultural missions:

  • On Sunday we prayed for a family who are following God’s call for them to use their interpretation gifts for deaf people in Asia.  They have served our deaf members at Bethlehem for several years.
  • During Bethlehem’s missions emphasis Sundays, I saw the picture of a young woman who previously served as a sign language interpreter at Bethlehem who now serves in that capacity in South America.
  • Several friends from Bethlehem were part of a Joni & Friends short-term missions trip to Africa earlier this year.
  • The Elisha Foundation is exploring how to serve in Eastern Europe.  Justin (TEF’s executive director) and Tamara Reimer spent a couple weeks in the Ukraine this summer.  And their most recent update indicates other countries might be open to them!

My first reaction when encountering disability in my own family was to get really focused on me.  But when God lifts our eyes to see Jesus, he helps us see other things as well – like the needs of our brothers and sisters with disabilities in other parts of the world.  I find God’s ability to do that simply amazing!

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21 ESV)

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Sometimes I search the DG website for terms related to disability and find interesting things Pastor John preached or wrote years or even decades ago, like this from his 1982 sermon, Calling All Clay Pots:

Your ordinariness is not a liability; it is an asset, if you really want God to get the glory. No one is too common, too weak, too shy, too inarticulate, too disabled to do what God wants you to do with your gift.

He comes back to this idea as he concluded the sermon:

(B)eing ordinary or disabled is not a liability in the kingdom, but may be an asset if your aim is to glorify God and not yourself in the use of your gift. Therefore, no one is excluded from the call to all clay pots.

No one is excluded.  All have gifts.  Disability can be an asset to glorify God.  Pretty radical stuff for a 36-year-old preacher with healthy, typically-developing children in his home!

Of course, the Bible is full of radical stuff like that.  So my title for this blog post is probably inaccurate and should read something like: God has ALWAYS gotten disability right and Pastor John helpfully points me to God.

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I’ve thought a lot about my St. Louis Cardinals-loving Great-Aunt Ella during these past couple of weeks of baseball.  So in honor of her and the World Series Champion Cardinals, I’m reposting something I wrote in May of 2009: Persevere to the end, like Ella.

Memorial Day brought up thoughts for me of other people who have since passed from this life to the next.  I am blessed to have many in my extended family who are easy to respect and love.  One of the best who went to be with Jesus a few years ago is my Great-Aunt Ella. 

Ella was a pistol.  She was a product of the South, living her entire life in Missouri.  She loved her church and she loved her baseball Cardinals.  Her southern accent tickled my northern ears – I remember many happy gatherings at my grandparent’s cabin in southern Minnesota that included Ella.  After her brother, my grandfather, died in 1991, she told my mother that she had never liked the name Ella and wanted to be called Francis.  And that’s what they called her until she died.  In her 70’s she traveled to Haiti on a short-term mission with her church.  Well into her 80’s – maybe even longer – she was active at her church.

I write about her on this blog because Ella was also the mother of a severely disabled daughter.  Dorothy, my mother’s cousin, suffered a severe injury at the hands of the doctor delivering her. There were no lawsuits against rural doctors in those days; it just happened.  But there were institutions for such severely disabled children, to relieve the burden, and probably the shame, that was foisted upon these families.

That wasn’t how it was going to be for Ella.  Dorothy was her child, and Dorothy would live at home and be raised by her parents.  In the early 1960’s, Ella’s husband suddenly died of a massive heart attack.  If I’ve done my math correctly, Ella would have been in her 40’s, and Dorothy nearly 20 when that happened.  Now a widow, Ella would take care of Dorothy on her own for the next 20 or so years, until Dorothy also died in the early 1980’s.

This was all before Section 504 of the Voc Rehab Act, mainstreaming, Americans with Disabilities Act, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or even curb cuts and ramps.  It was a time of great prejudice against African Americans and an expectation that people with disabilities be hidden away from public view.  And my Aunt raised her daughter and cared for her for more than 40 years.

I never once heard her complain about her daughter.

I only met Dorothy a couple of times – she couldn’t travel with my Aunt – and she had very little language.  To my childish eyes, she was scary, with sudden movements and loud noises.  I was afraid to ask questions, and didn’t quite know what to think about her.  Dorothy was not hidden away; when we visited Ella in her home, there was Dorothy.  When Dorothy died I was a teenager, and not sure if I should be happy that Dorothy was gone, or sad for my Aunt.  When we traveled to Missouri, I saw that Ella grieved deeply, but as one who has hope.

When my Paul was born, it was my Great Aunt who understood how my wife was feeling because she had been there.  When Dianne would talk about people staring at Paul and at us, Ella had her own stories, and that beautiful Missouri accent was a balm to my soul.  She loved me, my wife, and my son deeply.

Most of all, Ella loved Jesus.  She understand “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.”  And she persevered, right to the end, not wasting her life, because she believed in the promises of her God, for herself and for her daughter:

Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation. Psalm 68:5

I look forward to seeing her, and Dorothy, again someday – worshipping together our God who gave us my Paul and her Dorothy to help us see Jesus more clearly.

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Normally I put things in bold or capitals to highlight something I found particularly helpful.  In this case, the emphasis at the end was made by the author himself!

The time is very short. A few more years of watching and praying, a few more tossings on the sea of this world, a few more deaths and changes, a few more winters and summers, and all will be over. We shall have fought our last battle, and shall need to fight no more.

The presence and company of Christ will make amends for all we suffer here below. When we see as we have been seen, and look back on the journey of life, we shall wonder at our own faintness of heart. We shall marvel that we made so much of our cross, and thought so little of our crown. We shall marvel that in “counting the cost” we could ever doubt on which side the balance of profit lay. Let us take courage. We are not far from home. IT MAY COST MUCH TO BE A TRUE CHRISTIAN AND A CONSISTENT BELIEVER; BUT IT PAYS.

J.C. Ryle, Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, and Rootsp. 158.

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Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
(Isaiah 40:28-29 ESV)

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J.C. Ryle has been dead for more than a century.  But he is still relevant for suffering people today!  Paragraph formatting is mine.

A saved soul has many sorrows. He has a body like other men–weak and frail. He has a heart like other men–and often a more sensitive one, too. He has trials and losses to bear like others–and often more. He has his share of bereavements, deaths, disappointments, crosses. He has the world to oppose–a place in life to fill blamelessly–unconverted relatives to bear with patiently–persecutions to endure–and a death to die.

And who is sufficient for these things? What shall enable a believer to bear all this? Nothing but “the consolation there is in Christ.” (Phil. ii. 1.)

Jesus is indeed the brother born for adversity. He is the friend that sticketh closer than a brother, and He alone can comfort His people. He can be touched with the feeling of their infirmities, for He suffered Himself. (Heb. iv. 15.) He knows what sorrow is, for He was a Man of sorrows. He knows what an aching body is, for His body was racked with pain. He cried, “All my bones are out of joint.” (Ps. xxii. 14.) He knows what poverty and weariness are, for He was often wearied and had not where to lay His head. He knows what family unkindness is, for even His brethren did not believe Him. He had no honour in His own house.

And Jesus knows exactly how to comfort His afflicted people. He knows how to pour in oil and wine into the wounds of the spirit–how to fill up gaps in empty hearts–how to speak a word in season to the weary–how to heal the broken heart–how to make all our bed in sickness–how to draw nigh when we are faint, and say, “Fear not: I am thy salvation.” (Lam. iii. 57.)

We talk of sympathy being pleasant. There is no sympathy like that of Christ. In all our afflictions He is afflicted. He knows our sorrows. In all our pain He is pained, and like the good Physician, He will not measure out to us one drop of sorrow too much. David once said, “In the multitude of my thoughts within me, Thy comforts delight my soul.” (Ps. xciv. 19.) Many a believer, I am sure, could say as much. “If the Lord Himself had not stood by me, the deep waters would have gone over my soul,” (Ps. cxxiv. 5.) How a believer gets through all his troubles appears wonderful. How he is carried through the fire and water he passes through seems past comprehension.

But the true account of it is just this–that Christ is not only justification and sanctification, but consolation also.

Oh, you who want unfailing comfort, I commend you to Christ! In Him alone there is no failure. Rich men are disappointed in their treasures. Learned men are disappointed in their books. Husbands are disappointed in their wives. Wives are disappointed in their husbands. Parents are disappointed in their children. Statesmen are disappointed when, after many a struggle, they attain place and power. They find out, to their cost, that it is more pain than pleasure–that it is disappointment, annoyance, incessant trouble, worry, vanity, and vexation of spirit.

But no man was ever disappointed in Christ.

J.C. Ryle, Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, and Roots, p. 262.

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A guest post from my friend, Chris Nelson.  He is the dad of three (one of whom has severe disabilities) and the husband of a remarkable, Godly-steel-in-her-spine woman.  Everything he writes is worth reading!

“Daddy?”

“Yeah, Joe?”

“Why did God make Andrew’s brain work different?”

That profound question was lobbed my way by a four-year-old theologian who happens to be my middle son, as I sought to shake the cobwebs from my Monday-morning-mind while cleaning up the lower half of my 10-year-old son after a particularly explosive situation.

Joe is getting to the age where he understands that Andrew isn’t like “normal” kids.  He’s different.  God made him that way.  And God is good.  And Joe wants to know why God, a good God, made Andrew the way that He did.

“Well, Joe, the Bible teaches us that God chooses the foolish things of the world to shame the wise.”

That’s the first thought that popped into my mind.

“And I don’t know all the answers, but sometimes God does things to teach us things about ourselves, to show us our sin.”

Perhaps it was poetic that I was cleaning up feces at the time.

“What’s sin?”

“Sin is when we do and think and say bad things.  Those things come out of the bad in our hearts.  Sin is always against God.  But you know what?  God loves us and sent Jesus to pay for our sin so we could be forgiven and we could be God’s friend.”

“Oh.  Daddy?”

“Yeah, Joe?”

“Do we have any yogurt?”

“Yeah, Joe.”

As I’ve thought about that 20 second interaction, I am really encouraged by Joe’s first question.  Perhaps I am reading too much into it, but he is asking about Andrew through the lens of God’s sovereignty over all things.  Even hard things that don’t always make sense, at least to us.

I’m not sure if Joe understands any of what I told him or even if it was the right response in the moment, but he’s asking God-centered questions and as his dad that warms my sin-stained soul.  And hopefully, through the gift of a brother with various disabilities, he is learning that “good” is not necessarily synonymous with “easy.”

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