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Archive for July, 2012

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia.

For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.

Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death.

But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.

(2 Corinthians 1:8-9 ESV)

A friend who has struggle through much pulled out his smartphone while we were having lunch yesterday and read those two verses.  And those two verses were enough to provide comfort to me.

Use God’s word to encourage somebody today.  If you don’t have a smartphone, an old fashioned Bible will do just fine.  Or even from memory!

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Jon Bloom did a service for everyone who experiences a crisis of faith in writing his most recent blog posting. I’ve worked with him either as a volunteer or as an employee for seven years and  I can’t remember how often he’s reminded me to trust God’s promises over my perceptions.  It is always good advice.

In his blog posting last Friday, When You’re in a Spiritual Storm, Trust Your Instruments, he tells his own story of a season of doubt.  But unlike my own experience of running away from God and the people of God, Jon persevered:

So I continued devotional Bible reading, prayer, church and small group attendance. I opened my heart to trusted friends and mentors and sought counsel. I remember John Piper saying to me: “Jon, the rock of truth under your feet will not long feel like sand.” When he said it, my thought was, “I hope you’re right, but I doubt you are.”

My doubts proved wrong. After a long season of darkness, God pierced the clouds with his light.

None of us can know when our particular season of darkness will end, nor can we guarantee that it won’t return for a time.  Our doubts about God’s goodness do not change the fact that God is good, nor do they change God’s ability to keep every promise he has made.

Read Jon Bloom’s blog posting and be encouraged.  And if you need to dig deeper, Pastor John wrote a helpful short book, When the Darkness Will Not Lift, which is available as a free download.  It is good to persevere in trust, as Jon closed his blog post:

If you or a loved one is flying in a storm and despairing, remember your own perceptions, as real as they feel, are not reliable. As one who has tested them in a number of storms I can say with confidence: fly by the instruments God has provided you. They will not prove faulty.

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So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:26-27 ESV)

A very, very fast man has that verse tattooed on his back.  A man fast enough to qualify for the Olympics.

A man without legs.

Oscar Pistorius has already won Olympic gold medals, in the 100m, 200m (twice) and 400m.  All were won in the 2004 and 2008 Paralympics.

This year he has qualified for the Olympics – something never before accomplished by a person with his disability – and  he will run the 400m and 4x400m relay for South Africa.

Not only did he have to run on his prosthetic legs fast enough to qualify, four years ago he had to fight a court battle with the International Association of Athletic Federations that said his prosthetics gave him an unfair advantage!  Imagine that – a man with no legs having an unfair athletic advantage.  The Court of Arbitration for Sport overruled that decision after doing a more thorough investigation of his prosthetics.  In other words, they determined he was fast because he was fast, and not because he had some technological advantage.

He is not likely to medal; his times qualify him for the Olympics, but he’s not top three fast.  But he’s going to attempt to defend his medals at the London Paralympics next month.

Because he’s so unusual an athlete, thousands of articles have been written about him.  And it appears that hundreds of those articles have referenced that tattoo.

I wonder how God has used the scripture reference in such an usual way to bring others to himself?  Someday we’ll know.

In the meantime, I’m rooting for a South African double amputee to do well at the Olympics, for God’s glory and in recognition that disability is not the same thing as being dead.

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We almost blew it.

Every year we make sure to participate in the Dairy Queen Miracle Treat Day, in which proceeds from the sales of Blizzards are given to the Children’s Miracle Network.

We make this incredible sacrifice as a family to honor our friend, Krista Horning.  Krista works for Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare, which benefits from Dairy Queen’s donations to the Children’s Miracle Network.

Gillette specializes in serving children with disabilities.  Our Paul has received services from Gillette.

But we forgot about it. Until we saw the sign.

Even though we were so very, very busy, we knew we simply had to participate.  For Krista’s sake, of course.

See how bravely my middle son, Daniel, is holding up under all the pressure.  Not one complaint!

We will do it again next year.

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Thank you to Jan Lacher for pointing me to this story.

Wouldn’t it be great if a national politician said something like this?

I do not understand why the unborn are unprotected, permitting them to be aborted, because of the fact that they have some kind of handicap or deformity.

A politician did say it!  Spanish Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón made that statement Sunday in the Spanish newspaper La Razón.

I don’t understand it either!  And he can actually do something about it.

I know only a little about Spanish regulations concerning abortion, nor do I have any idea if the current party in power will actually act on protections for unborn children with disabilities.

But it was encouraging to see that a country that liberalized its laws as recently as 2010 would have a national leader openly say change was needed to specifically protect unborn children with disabilities.

And as we approach the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision in the United States next year, it was a good reminder to me to pray for our leaders, all of them, that God would let them see that we should welcome, protect and nurture our vulnerable little ones with disabilities, not destroy them simply because we can.

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The little phrase ‘for your name’s sake’ showed up in my Bible reading recently and I was so comforted by it that I went looking for other places where that phrase is used.  Here are three:

For you are my rock and my fortress; and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me. . . (Psalm 31:3 ESV)

“Though our iniquities testify against us, act, O LORD, for your name’s sake; for our backslidings are many; we have sinned against you.” (Jeremiah 14:7 ESV)

“And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I deal with you for my name’s sake, not according to your evil ways, nor according to your corrupt deeds, O house of Israel, declares the Lord GOD.” (Ezekiel 20:44 ESV)

Why am I comforted? Because it isn’t about my performance!  God is acting out of a commitment to his own name, and we can ask him to act based on that commitment to himself.

I need that perspective.  God is for me because of Jesus Christ.  God is for my son with multiple disabilities because:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1:1-3 ESV)

Paul doesn’t have to perform to have value to God – he is valuable to God because he was made by God, and God will act on his behalf for the sake of God’s name.

A long time ago Pastor John did a sermon on 1 Samuel 12:22 (For the Lord will not cast away his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself. RSV) where he offered this:

What is the basis of the fearlessness of God’s people according to this verse? First of all it is the promise that he will not cast them away. In spite of their sin in wanting a king, the verse says, “The Lord will not cast away his people.”

But that is not the deepest foundation of hope and fearlessness in this verse. Why will God not cast away his people? The deepest reason given is in the phrase, “For his great name’s sake.” The rock bottom foundation of our forgiveness and our fearlessness and our joy is the commitment that God has to his own great name. First, he is committed to act for his own name’s sake. And then, for that reason, he is committed to act for his people.

God will act FOR us, for his own name’s sake, offering forgiveness, fearlessness AND joy!  I hope you can feel how great this is – God will ACT FOR YOU not because of you (you know how weak you are, really), but because of HIM!

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Dianne and I read a lot of things.  But we can both point to one little xeroxed article shared by Pastor John a long time ago, written by a man named Michael Beates, as having much greater influence than anyone could have expected. The Holy Spirit used that article to build a little piece of foundational trust in God and the Bible.

Dr. Beates has written a book.  You should buy it.

He has lived this life longer than I have.  He has thought about the questions we think about longer than I have.  He has studied the Bible longer than I have.  He has certainly trusted God in the hard circumstances of his family life longer than I have.

And he asks and answers hard questions:

Do you bear the mark of wounds from God’s sovereign hand?

You and I can take heart because this means we are in his hand.

And he promises that no one (and Romans 8 expands on this) can take us out of his hand.

His grasp on those he loves is firm, immovable, eternal, and unshakable.

And at the end of the day, no matter how hard the day may prove to be, that is a good thing!

Dr. Michael Beates, Disability & the Gospel: How God Uses Our Brokenness to Display His Grace, p. 33.

I had hoped to do a proper book review but that just isn’t going to happen. You can read the short article Pastor John sent, and then read an excerpt at Crossway’s site to get a taste.  Then buy and read the rest of the book.

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God gave Pastor John an especially helpful word on Sunday: He Cannot Deny Himself.  I highly recommend it.

And it also encouraged me to reflect on how books have advantages over individual sermons.  Mainly, you can pack more information into a book.

What I mean is this: it is possible to hear this sermon and put it entirely in the category of suffering based on the choice to follow Jesus.  Further, we can be tempted  to make that a superior category of suffering than suffering which isn’t chosen, such as a child with significant disabilities being born into a family.

But I think this sermon can be applied to all kinds of suffering and the five foundation stones can provide comfort in circumstances beyond suffering for the sake of the gospel, moving the emphasis away from the reason for the suffering toward our faithfully clinging to Jesus in the midst of suffering.

R.C. Sproul helped me work this out some time ago when he addressed the question: can suffering in general rather than suffering for our Christian faith be counted as sharing the sufferings of Christ?

I think it can. If the suffering is done in faith – that is, throughout the suffering we place our trust in God – then I think we are participating in the sense that we are willing to suffer and to trust God in the midst of suffering, even as Jesus trusted the Father. . .

In regard to the man born blind (John 9), the question was asked of Jesus, “Who’s sin was it, this man’s or his parents’, that he was afflicted with blindness?”  Jesus said it was neither. In other words, the question was a false dilemma. And those who asked it were trying to reduce to two options something that had more than two. There was another option. Jesus said, “It wasn’t because of his sin or his parents’ sin. This person was born blind so that the power of God and the grace of God may be made manifest.” That person was suffering not from persecution. His suffering was used by God to bring honor and glory to Christ.

I mention this instance because it is a clear biblical case in which suffering has theological value – not merit, but value – insofar that it is useful to the purposes of God. Christ himself tells us that we are going to have afflictions and suffering in this world. He certainly indicates that we are going to suffer persecution, and he gives a particular blessing to that in the Sermon on the Mount, saying that the reward will be great. He also indicates that there will be other kinds of suffering that come our way and that we are suffering in him and with him.

R.C. Sproul, Now, That’s a Good Question, pp. 473-475

I’ve gone back and forth with myself several times about posting this – even I think an argument could be made that I’m applying this particular sermon too broadly.  But I’ve decided to post it to see what you think.

In the end, I hope at least this is clear: God is entirely trustworthy and sovereign.  We can live and work and rest with confidence in him, no matter our current circumstance.

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A few weeks ago Pastor Bud prayed with such power and articulated such a clear, God-centered vision for his people that I approached him afterwards and asked if I could have his transcript, assuming he had written it out beforehand.  He had not.  God had granted him that prayer in the moment.  And those prayers aren’t posted anywhere.

Another man I know prays like that, and when I saw that David Michael was giving the offertory prayer yesterday, I got my phone ready and recorded his prayer.  I’m glad I did.

David Michael Praying July 22, 2012

I’ve listened to it several times and found something fresh each time to help me praise God and orient my heart more accurately toward who God is.  “Prone to wonder, Lord I feel it” wrote Robert Robinson in his great hymn, Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.  Prayers like this help me get back on the path.

I don’t offer it to flatter David (he wouldn’t appreciate that) but rather as a helpful tool in learning how to pray in ways that encourage affections toward and confidence in God.

 

 

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Related to yesterday’s post, another piece of good news for those who find their hope in God in light of all the bad things happening in the world:

Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?

The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying,

“Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.”

He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.

Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying,

“As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.”

I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me,

“You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth.

Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.

Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled.

Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

(Psalm 2 ESV)

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