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Archive for September, 2012

Get a group of parents of children with disabilities together and it won’t be long before the stories start to come out, frequently about being treated badly. It is rare to run into a parent who doesn’t have a story about a doctor or school teacher or therapist or social worker who talked down to the parent about what the child did or didn’t need, or refused to consider options from the parents’ perspectives.

Bob Horning kindly sent me another story about Krista when she was very young and they were in such a situation – and God demonstrated his might in using a little one for his glory!

Krista was in the Early Childhood Something-or-other program in our local public school when she was little. It wasn’t going well.

They were focusing on things that were not important, and our input was pretty much ignored.

“We are the experts here” is what they said. I’m not making that quote up.

We decided to pull her out of the program, but they wanted to have a meeting before we took that step. So we went over to the school and met with a therapist or two, plus the principal.

Three or four of them against a couple “confused” parents and a four-year-old girl with multiple disabilities.

Krista was in the corner playing with some toys while we were sitting at a table talking – and it also wasn’t going very well.

Finally little Krista walked over and said (I can still hear it today), “Guys, we need to pray about this.

Fortunately I think most schools have improved over the years. But it’s always good to pray about it.

God was, and still is, good.

He hasn’t needed to improve.

Krista still clings to God. She grew up and her family created one of the best resources available on God’s goodness in disability, Just the Way I Am: God’s Good Design in Disability. Krista will also be speaking at our conference, The Works of God: God’s Good Design in Disability immediately following Pastor John.

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Bob Horning is not just the father of Krista Horning and a member at Bethlehem Baptist Church, he also holds a Ph.D. in physics and works as a scientist for Honeywell in Minnesota.  I asked him to take a look at an article in Slate.com, which argued that new technologies are a problem for those of us who hold to the view of unborn life being precious.  Here is his response.

William Saletan writes the column “Human Nature” at Slate.com.  In an article last June called “Fetal Flaw,” Saletan tried to argue several points about prenatal testing, abortion, and the pro-life position, especially in relation to the “problem” of a “defective fetus.”  Briefly, he claimed that:

  1. The developing field of Noninvasive Prenatal Testing (NIPT) will allow earlier, safer, easier and more thorough prenatal screening than current techniques;
  2. Because “earlier tests will almost certainly increase the abortion rate,” pro-lifers must be opposed to the development of such tests.  Therefore, the logical pro-life position is to oppose their implementation;
  3. This opposition means pro-lifers are against both science and public opinion.  He states, “It puts pro-lifers in the politically untenable position of opposing information and health care, not just abortion.”

I believe that is an honest and fair summary of the article.  You can feel free to correct me if you see it otherwise.  I say that he “tried to argue” because he did a very poor job of it, although he obviously did not see it that way.

It’s not hard to see where the logic disappears.

Point 1 is the only accurate part of the article.  It’s actually very true, and people of any political persuasion can see that.  And praise God for good science!  Twenty-five years ago when our daughter was born, things like this didn’t exist.  If they had, it wouldn’t have changed whether or not she was born.  She was and is a human being, our precious baby, and now our dear 25-year-old daughter.  Testing wouldn’t have changed that but it would have helped us prepare for the upcoming days, months and years.  Disability (I will not use the word defective) is not easy, but it is not a reason to kill a human being.

That brings me to point 2.  Saletan says, “The separability of testing from abortion, coupled with the bundling of testable diseases and the ambiguity of how the findings will be applied, makes moral regulation of prenatal testing a logistical nightmare. It puts pro-lifers in the politically untenable position of opposing information and health care, not just abortion.”  In other words, the only position pro-lifers can have is to oppose prenatal testing.  He drags out a few examples (former presidential candidate Rick Santorum and a bill from the Virginia Legislature) to prove his point.  There are three serious flaws in Saletan’s thinking.

  1. An increase in abortions does not have to be an “almost certain” result of NIPT.  It’s true that more abortions are one possible result, but that’s not because of the testing.  That result comes from the unspoken assumption that the fetus has no intrinsic value.  When a physician finds a blocked artery or a malignant tumor or the beginning signs of Alzheimer’s disease in an adult patient, she doesn’t therefore say, “It’s time to kill this patient.  He’s going to either die soon or be a burden to his family.”  Instead she begins to prescribe treatments, therapy and lifestyle changes.  Why?  Because most people in our society (although not all, unfortunately) still believe the patient has intrinsic value and we should try to save his life.  The problem is, the worldview of our society has degraded to the point where “defective fetuses” are no longer accorded that same value.  They are defective, they are a problem – these two words are found in the first sentence of Saletan’s column – and they are powerless.  So don’t bother treating them, abort them.  It is not testing or test results that kills babies.  It is a worldview, mercilessly advocated by Saletan and many others, that leads to this result.
  2. Many pro-lifers are very supportive of good science and good tests. I do, for one, and I can point to many others.  It is true, as Saletan demonstrates, that some pro-lifers do oppose prenatal testing. I suspect many pro-lifers oppose prenatal testing because they haven’t taken the time to think about alternatives other than abortion.  If they do, most of them would agree that the battle isn’t against good science, it’s against a wicked worldview.
  3. Saletan’s final flaw here is that he doesn’t seem to believe there is a viable alternative.  In fact he points to it, albeit rather crudely, in his last paragraph.  “But the best way to separate testing from abortion is to push the technology forward so that we’re fixing defective embryos and fetuses, not just discarding them. Who could be against that?”  Although that last question is meant to be hypothetical, he spent the entire column pointing out that the answer is “pro-lifers, of course.”  He can see the alternative but obviously doesn’t really believe it.  Stated differently, Saletan does believe that defective fetuses can be fixed, and most likely believes that some will.  But the article clearly shows he believes most will just be discarded. And there is not a word in the article suggesting that he thinks there is anything wrong with that.  There are plenty of good alternatives to abortion.  Yes, some babies can be treated before birth, but we all know that most disabling conditions cannot be “fixed.”  Instead, those results can give parents the time to prepare their hearts and their homes, gather support, pray.  The results give us, the Church, time to surround those families with love and compassion.  Yes, the church needs to do better at this.  I need to do better at this.  It certainly wouldn’t hurt if Mr. Saletan would spend more time promoting this kind of “fix” rather than finding reasons to kill another baby.

In answering Point 2, I’ve also answered most of Point 3.  We don’t oppose science, or information, or health care.  Exactly the opposite is true.  In fact, for decades pro-lifers have fought for the right of pregnant women to have accurate and complete information about the child in their womb, the physical and psychological risks of abortion, and the alternatives available.  Pro-abortion forces have vociferously opposed any and all attempts to inform the mother despite (as Saletan details in the article) the fact that most Americans oppose an unlimited right to abortion.  Polls do show that Americans are less opposed to abortion when the fetus is “defective.”  Let’s start using language that isn’t so biased. People of God, put more action to your beliefs (i.e., show your faith with your works).  Let’s start calling those babies children, created in the image of the God of this universe, rather than defective fetuses.  Above all – though I don’t know if  Mr. Salentan would agree with this – let’s teach mothers and fathers and families that there is good news that far outweighs this affliction, and it is found in God’s one and only Son.  And then let’s see how public opinion changes.  And even if it doesn’t change, killing babies is still wrong and always will be, just as killing blacks or Jews or Tutsis is and always will be wrong.

No Mr. Saletan, the best way to separate testing from abortion has nothing to do with pushing prenatal testing technology forward.  The best way to separate testing from abortion is by providing love and care and hope to them and their parents, not just discarding them. Who could be against that?

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I was given the opportunity to speak at the Bethlehem College and Seminary Chapel last week.  Below is the video of my attempt to serve the faculty, staff and students.  It is about 20 minutes.  My manuscript can be found here.

It was based on Luke’s account of the healing of a paralyzed man in Luke 5:17-26.

Note: I had a little trouble with the video actually playing.  If you have similar trouble, turning off high definition by clicking on the HD symbol below (to the left of the word ‘vimeo’ at the bottom of the video) seemed to help.

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Desiring God’s National Conference, Act the Miracle: God’s Work and Ours in the Mystery of Sanctification, begins on Friday.  All of the plenary sessions will be available live via the web at Desiring God.

In describing the conference earlier this year, David Mathis went to one of Pastor John’s books to describe the importance of this theme:

God’s work in us does not eliminate our work; it enables it. We work because he is the one at work in us. Therefore, the fight for joy is possible because God is fighting for us and through us. All our efforts are owing to his deeper work in and through our willing and working. (John Piper, When I Don’t Desire God, 41).

This is what animates a desire to serve and be served by those living with disabilities!  Because God is at work in us, we see and feel and desire things that are not normal, like including people in our lives, homes and churches that the culture wants to eliminate (at worst) or feels only pity towards (at best).

So, I’m praying that through this conference there might be dozens of churches who ‘see’ disability for the first time, and who understand that God has done something incredible by bringing to them some who live with disability.  Yes, I know it isn’t a conference on disability. But I also know some pretty incredible things happen in people’s lives and hearts on this issue of disability when people see God through the lens of the Bible rather than the lens of the culture.  Would you join me in praying for that to happen?

This also marks my 10th Desiring God conference as an employee with Desiring God.  As I’ve noted before, God brings people together in unusual ways at conferences, and I expect God will do so again.  I know of one pastor who emailed me that he has a story to tell me about how his little church has been blessed through a member with disabilities – and I can’t wait to hear it!

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I am prone to anxiety, so Ed Welch’s statement caught my attention!  Struggle – yes. Wonderful?

He immediately follows that with this: the most beautiful things that God says are reserved for people who wrestle with fear.

Ed Welch packs much helpful truth into less than two minutes!

Ed Welch is speaking this weekend at the Desiring God National Conference.  You can watch him live online at 10:30 a.m. (Central) at www.desiringGod.org/live.

I have never heard him speak and am looking forward to his presentation: Sinners Learning to Act the Miracle: Restoring Broken People and the Limits of Life in the Body

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Almost every day Paul’s teachers send home a report that quickly lets them summarize his daily activities.  At the bottom they note something he may have learned or accomplished that day as a ‘point of pride.’

Last Wednesday he came home with a simple note:

His bus aid also serves in his class and told me the same thing, adding, “I felt like I was at a revival!”

Who knows, maybe he was!

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:5-8 ESV)

My Paul needs help with almost everything.  And though we’ve met some really fine Christians at his school, I’m sure there was no prompting from any of them for a hymn.

But when God says, “tell them about me, Paul” – he sings!

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In her contribution to The New York Times Motherlode blog, Pregnant at 49, Erin Kelly lays out the challenges she sees in being pregnant, unexpectedly, at the age of 49.  Rightly, the issue of the baby’s genetic makeup is central to her concerns.  Women at that age (and men, as it turns out), are of greater risk in having children who will be born with genetic anomalies.

Every statement she makes about disability is negative, except one:

Yes, we know disabled people can lead productive happy lives.

Which was immediately followed with this:

But he and I agreed we’d terminate a fetus with genetic defects. Why? Not because we’re crazed perfectionists, or evil. We’re just too old.

Actually, the statements that follow this suggest they are perfectionists:

We’re already almost too old to properly raise a special-needs child. We’ll certainly be too old later. If we live until about 80, that’s 30 more years. This special-needs child would be a special-needs adult with a long life ahead when we died. After my grandmother died, I watched my aunt with Down syndrome move between her sisters for more years than she’d had a mother. Our daughters would automatically be made into their sibling’s keepers. I always wanted three children, but we’d be giving them a lifetime of responsibility for a decision we made to indulge ourselves in having another baby to fill our emptying nest.

There is no statement about how her aunts felt about taking care of their disabled sibling.  There is no statement about what kind of life her aunt with Down syndrome lived; many adults with Down syndrome would say they lead a very good life.  There is no statement about families taking care of each other.  Yet, I’m sure if one of her teenaged children suddenly experienced a traumatic brain injury this mother would be the first in line to take care of that child for as many years as she was given – even into that child’s adulthood.

But there is a lot said about the value of independence and productivity over dependence.  Notice even in the ‘positive’ statement: we know disabled people can lead productive happy lives.

And, curiously, there is no mention of adoption.  If they are too old to parent, maybe somebody would take on the challenge.  I know quite a few of those ‘somebodies’ who have adopted children with special needs – sometimes many children!

Sadly, this baby died through miscarriage, so we will never know what kind of person he or she would have been.  Maybe that’s a kindness from God; Erin Kelly was not put in the position of explaining to her children why she aborted their sibling because he or she was too defective to live.

And she concludes with a statement about who gets to decide things, like what makes up a good family or not:

My experience is just one more reason I believe women must have an absolute right to choose whether to remain pregnant with no exceptions. Some pregnancies aren’t only about the survival of the mother or the fetus, they’re about how the whole family thrives.

Whole families – except, of course, for the one you didn’t want.

Paul taught us there is something worth sacrificing for, including caring for and loving children who will suffer and who will bring suffering to an entire family, because it leads to something of greater worth than anything – Jesus Christ!

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:8-11 ESV)

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About this time every year, the St. Paul Public Schools sends the results of standardized tests that Paul takes.

In previous years, the rather sterile letter would eventually get around to the results.  Paul has never even come close to ‘passing’ the alternative tests that they administer to children in special education.

I guess this year they decided they would make sure I understood what these results meant:

   

I’m all for clarity, and I suppose there are parents who aren’t paying attention and need a precise, bold statement about how their child is performing.

But for children like Paul, and I know quite a few, the educational standards are simply ridiculous.  He doesn’t have the ability.  You can adjust the test all you like; he can’t read in any format.

And that really wouldn’t be a huge deal if there weren’t people, smart people, making the argument that some children already born can be killed.  Pain and suffering is usually the standard that is articulated, but it doesn’t take long for other categories to come into focus: those who have severe cognitive disabilities; those who won’t live ‘productive’ lives; those who, because of their dependence on others, limit the options of people who desire to be independent.

So, children, young people, adults and the elderly who are like Paul are at risk of not meeting some arbitrary standard imposed by people who are stronger than they are.  Ironically, all will eventually be weaker than someone else, and then they will live at risk of the standard that stronger person will impose on them.

No, it is better to see that we are all dependent on someone much greater than we are, but one who rules perfectly and who provided at great cost to himself the very means to rescue us from the perfect standard we cannot meet.  And because of him, we can love – and protect – our most vulnerable members.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.

Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:1-8 ESV)

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Every inch belongs to Christ!

The worship team did me a great favor by having the song, The First Place, before I spoke to the Bethlehem College and Seminary students on Thursday.  May it remind you and bless you about the sovereignty of our great savior:

The First Place by Matthew Westerholm

Jesus, the perfect picture of the unseen God
Maker of things we cannot comprehend.
Wisdom, the earth displays Your strength and beauty.
Sovereign, yes, every throne knows You are God.

Chorus
Every inch of this universe belongs to You, O Christ.
For through You and for You it was made.
Your creation endures by the order of Your hand.
So You must have in all things the first place.

Victor, over sin and death You triumphed.
Firstborn, You’ve shown us life beyond the grave.
Bridegroom, we long for You in expectation.
Jesus, Your church rejoices to proclaim.

 

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On Monday Glen Bloomstrom, my friend and leader of Bethlehem College and Seminary Chapel, asked if I could fill in this week.  Below is the transcript (typos and all) of my attempt to serve the faculty, staff and students yesterday.

My text was Luke 5:23-26, which was read by Johnathon Bowers, who serves as Instructor of Theology and Christian Worldview at the Seminary:

Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God. And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen extraordinary things today.” (Luke 5:23-26 ESV)

Thank you, Johnathon.  I have one confession, one plea, three really bad explanations of this text that I and others have run into, 12 observations from the text, one glorious reality, and two applications to your life. If you’re counting, that’s 20 things.  Let’s pray for help.

Prayer

Confession:  On Monday when Glen asked me to speak here, I said yes because I love Tom Steller and I love my church and I love BCS.  But then I realized who my audience is and I became frightened that I would look foolish.

Thankfully, God reminded me who he is and who I am in him, and that he would help me.  And I realized that this might be the safest place in the world to make a mistake – I am surrounded by brothers who will correct me, and most will do so gently!  And maybe, if I present some error, you’ve made the same error, and it gets corrected in the classroom, or at lunchtime, or during Table Talk.  So, whatever happens here, God is good in all his ways, and I want to honor him today.

There is my confession, now here is my plea – take full advantage of this opportunity to safely lay it all on the line with your faculty and your colleagues.  You are here because God has called you here and you have a purpose.  Many of you will be leading churches or ministries or missions or non-profits or seminaries or families and I need you to get some things right about God and his word.  This is no time for coasting or pretending.

I worked on a college campus for eight years and observed the deadly desire and deadly consequences of wanting to appear smart and wise, when you should be asking questions and wrestling honestly, even risking appearing foolish to your colleagues and faculty.

It is a little curious that Glen asked me to speak today. I am not a member of your faculty or staff. I am not part of the preaching class; I am not in seminary at all.  I am a member of Bethlehem. I work at a like-minded organization in Desiring God. I am married to Dianne and father to Paul, Hannah, Daniel and Johnny.  Paul lives with multiple disabilities – blindness, autism, cognitive disabilities, seizures, eating and sleeping disorders, etc., etc.  And God used that boy to call me into saving faith when I was dead in my sins.  Hopefully that helps you see why I’m passionately interested in the healing passages in the Bible.

To the text: what Johnathon read is part of a longer accounting of a man referred to as a paralytic which also appears in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark.  He is brought to Jesus by men who lowered him through a roof.  I chose this for a simple reason: as one who sits in the pews I need you to point me to the primary purpose of this text because if you don’t, bad things happen.  Here are three really bad explanations I have run into.  (I am making some broad generalizations – we could spend a long time unpacking each but I don’t have the time).

First bad explanation: People of faith always get healed of their diseases or disabilities.  It says so, sort of, that Jesus saw their faith and then somewhere along the line the man got healed.

Conclusion: If you don’t have faith, you don’t get healed – it is your fault if you live with a disability.  But, if you have enough faith, you get something good in this life, like legs that work or a better car than your neighbor or a better job with more money.

This is a wicked theology – and we need to ask why is the prosperity gospel increasing in its influence around the world?  One answer – it makes God accountable to us.  If we have faith, God is contractually obligated to give us what we want.  We are, in this way of thinking, more powerful than God.

Second bad explanation: Charitably, God is confused; uncharitably, God hates people with disabilities.  Less seen in the theological circles we run around in here, but you don’t have to look too hard to find it in seminaries and books and journals. Here is the assertion – Jesus forgave him of his sins, therefore Jesus must think his disability is because of his sins.  Jesus is creating a cause and effect relationship – which makes Jesus wrong-headed, or a product of his culture, or evil.  But since we have John 9 where Jesus denies that sin caused the disability, he must be confused.  For those who argue this point, the entire Bible is confused and illogical.  They argue, “since we can see this confusion and Jesus could not, we are able, even right, to take what we want from the Bible and ignore, deny or remove other things.” Conclusion:  We are more wise than God.

Third bad explanation: Jesus is nice.  He heals people – that’s nice.  He feeds people.  That’s nice.  He tells bullies to stop bullying, cheaters to stop cheating, and doesn’t let that woman get stoned to death.  A little boy gets healed of his epilepsy, a woman gets her back straightened, this man gets to walk and we all get to go to heaven because Jesus is nice.  I like this Jesus because he does nice things for people.  In fact, the reason he does nice things for people is because we are so valuable to him.  Isn’t it clear, we are the most valuable thing in the universe because God serves us.  We are of greater value than God.

This one is simply in the cultural air we breathe, our innate human greatness and inherent goodness. And it is killing people.

So, since my boy hasn’t been healed I either don’t have faith, or a confused God created a chaotic world with no purpose to his disabilities or this nice God isn’t very nice to me and to my son.  No hope, no point, no future.

But, let us read Luke 5:17-26 together and look at all the words. I will make 12 observations while reading the text, which is a little awkward but Lord willing it will work:

On one of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem

(Observation 1: the crowds had come to hear Jesus teach).

And the power of the Lord was with him to heal

(Observation 2: Jesus has unusual power).

And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus

(Observation 3: the men were determined to get to Jesus).

And when he saw their faith,

(Observation 4: Jesus can see things we cannot see)

he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.”

(Observation 5: Jesus can say things we cannot say. And he sees the greater problem in this man’s life, greater than his paralysis.).

And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” When Jesus perceived their thoughts,

(Observation 6: he knows our thoughts; another evidence of his divinity)

he answered them, “Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?

(Observation 7: It IS easier for men to say ‘your sins are forgiven.’ It is harder for one man to say to another man, “rise from your disability”, because we can’t do it and it is obvious we can’t do it. Regarding human beings and legs, however, we know everything was made through Jesus – John 1:3 – and he holds the universe together by the word of his power – Hebrews 1:3. Conclusion: for Jesus healing is easy. But forgiving sins will cost him his life in a horrific way.  Which is easier for Jesus, indeed!)

But that you may know

(Observation 8: Jesus wants us to know things!  He even wants doubters to know things!)

that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”

(Observation 9: he wants us to know things about himself! Breathtaking things! Things that should make us fall down and worship!)

—he said to the man who was paralyzed—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And immediately

(Observation 10: When Jesus speaks, things happen)

he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God

(Observation 11: when Jesus tells us to do something, we should do it!).

And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen extraordinary things today.”

(Observation 12: Yes, they did, but did they really see the most amazing thing. This man has been dead for millennia – his legs died with him.  But his new life in Christ has persisted and will persist because of Jesus.  Now that’s amazing!)

So, this is not primarily about a paralyzed man or about physical healing.  This is about JESUS – and it is about his authority to do something only God can do and which is intensely costly to Jesus.  This is the glorious truth!  Jesus wants us to know that he has authority over sin!  The kind of authority that leads to our ever increasing measure of joy at being with him for eternity!

Let us revisit the three earlier bad arguments:

Can I make God do things?  Without Jesus I am a dead man. God gives the faith and God makes the miracle of new life in Christ happen with spiritual eyes to see him.  I can’t do that and that’s what I desperately need!

Am I more wise than Jesus? No!  Jesus, who knows the ends from the beginning and reveals things beyond our ability to understand – like a Holy God who rescues sinful, wicked people who have the audacity to think they know more than Jesus does about his own creation.

Am I more valuable than Jesus?  Oh, I am valuable, God says so, but I am not more valuable than the one who needs nothing when I need everything. He is the vine; I am a needy branch who can do NOTHING apart from Jesus. He is the Alpha and the Omega. He is the source of hope and truth and life. He is Holy. To be sure, Jesus is exceedingly kind and gracious and loving, but he is not small and nice and pleasant.  He is GOD!

I got that sitting in the pews, these pews, and being encouraged to read my Bible, and encouraged to ask the Holy Spirit to help me know more about this Jesus and this God.

And he does so frequently through the men in this pulpit or the books that God has given through Godly people or conference messages – reminder – November 8, Desiring God will be putting on a conference called The Works of God: God’s Good Design in Disability.  Pastor John, Nancy Guthrie, Greg Lucas and Dr. Mark Talbot will be speaking, along with a Q&A lead by Kempton Turner and a brief testimonial by Krista Horning about the importance of the Bible in her life.

But getting intellectual arguments right about God is only half of the equation, and deadly if we don’t get the heart right as well.

When you love God and treasure God and want to know more about him, you read this book with care and with affections that spill over into other areas of vital importance.  I want to make just two applications among many that are possible here.

1. For yourself:  You know that this God who loves you and has called you from death to life will help you when things are hard in your ministry or your marriage or your parenting or whatever is hard. And life will be hard.  He will not abandon you.  And, you already know you need wisdom greater than you have and strength greater than you have and resources greater than you have.  It is good to be dependent on one who is infinitely strong and wise and who is for you because of Jesus.

2. For others:  When you approach this book with expectation and God increases your affections for him, ask him that his affections for you spill over into action for other people.  And that will include people who aren’t very nice and who want God to be small and comfortable and pleasant and contained.

Here is a small but really important example.  You will need God to help you when men like I was approach you and accuse God and the Bible of things that are not true – because some of those men will be wolves, and some will be broken-hearted sheep.  You will need wisdom to know whether I am speaking from a root of disbelief and bitterness or from a sorrowful heart.

Consider Job 6:26  - Do you think that you can reprove words, when the speech of a despairing man is wind? Sometimes the hurt is speaking horrible things, and it is just wind that you should let go right by you without correction. For some helpful advice from Pastor John, go to desiringgod.org and search for How Do You Talk about suffering with people who are in the midst of it or just search for Job 6:26.

You see, the words from the wolf and from the sheep may be exactly the same words, yet one needs your sharp correction and one needs your tears and comfort.

This Jesus who has authority over paralyzed legs and broken backs and depressed minds and genetic anomalies and cancer and dementia (oh how much you will want a God who has authority over all things when dementia enters your family!) and sin and death, he promised to send you the helper (John 14:26-27):     But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

And that help extends beyond just knowing when you are dealing with a wolf or a lamb.

For those of you who are strong and tough and prone to see wolves and delight in the battle, you could kill a lamb with your words or your attitude. But God can give tough men tears and words that heal and gentleness in correction.

And for those of you who are tender, who are prone to believe all are lambs, he will help you see the wolves circling your people.  And he will help you fight them.

Jesus has all authority.  He demonstrated it here in Luke 5 by healing one man so we could know more about him, and by giving us a book so we could know more about him!  That is the primary, glorious reality of this text, everything else is secondary to that, even the good gift of healing paralyzed legs that turned to dust centuries ago.

Please, use this time at BCS well because God may be pleased to use you to help me see Jesus and to give me a heart that longs to be with this Jesus who has authority over everything – like a boy with multiple disabilities who he doesn’t heal, and a wife with the constant specter of cancer over her, and all the sinful failings of my heart that is prone to wander.  God might be pleased to use you to reveal that, because of Jesus, my son’s life has a great purpose and I am free!

Let us pray.

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