Archive for the ‘Book Commentary’ Category

When Paul was very young and I was deeply struggling with who God is in light of Paul’s disabilities, Pastor John sent me an article entitled, “Is My Child One of God’s Mistakes?”

I stopped everything to read that short article by Dr. Michael Beates, who was writing about his daughter with severe disabilities in light of the Bible.

And God dropped an atomic bomb on my heart through Dr. Beates:

I believe that one of the most frequently-quoted but least-believed verses in Scripture is Romans 8:28. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” If we really believed that verse, if we really believed it to be truth, we could rest in peace even in the midst of painful realities of life, such as children born with genetic anomalies. (emphasis mine)

I lingered over that first phrase for a long time; the ‘most frequently-quoted but least-believed’ reality of it was so horrible because I felt it in my own heart.  Yet it opened a door to the possibility that it WAS possible to REALLY believe it to be true, with God’s help.  God used those two sentences to push me a little farther down the road to embracing his sovereignty over all things.

I was reminded of that article and that quote just yesterday when Ligonier posted a brief interview with Dr. Beates, which is worth the five minutes to read.

Dr. Beates included much of the content of his article in an appendix in his book, Disability and the Gospel.  The entire book is worth reading, but the first appendix alone is worth the price.  I just re-read it, and I’m serious – those 11 pages are worth the price of the book.

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Another book to consider reading as we prepare for The Works of God: God’s Good Design in Disability is Michael Beates’ new book, Disability and the Gospel (paragraph formatting and emphases in bold are mine):

God creates some people with genetic anomalies simply for the sake of his glory.

Scripture teaches that all things are made by him (John 1:3) and for his glory (Isa. 48:10–11; Rom. 11:33). Many people are not willing to bear the truth that everything God makes and does he uses to glorify himself. It is too much for many to believe that all that happens to them is for the sake of the glory of God’s name.

That is a hard teaching, but in it there is great comfort, and by our very affirmation of it, we further glorify our awesome sovereign God.

The comfort is that when we embrace the truth that God will glorify himself through everything that happens, we know that in the providence of God nothing is lost or in vain. Nothing we experience is meaningless; everything is significant, the bitter and the sweet.

We may not see the sweet side of it in this life. We may not be able to say at the time of the death of loved ones that their death glorifies God. However, we can rest absolutely certain that such things are not mistakes nor do they happen by chance.

We can also be certain that even such awful things will glorify God because he has said so, and he keeps his promise.

Michael S. Beates (2012-07-10). Disability and the Gospel (p. 162). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

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I asked Pastor John to use Mark 2:1-12 as his text for our upcoming conference, The Works of God: God’s Good Design in Disability.  I know he’s considering it, but I’ll be happy with whatever God gives him that day for us!

I asked him to consider that text because I’ve read too many articles that try to make Mark 2:1-12 (the accounting of Jesus healing a paralyzed man) into something that it is not.  In summary, some writers use this text to assert that Jesus made sin the cause of the man’s disability. They write for academic journals, and thus are influencing future pastors and professors.

So, I was a little worried when I stumbled upon The Encyclopedia of Disability by Gary Albrecht.  Thankfully, his brief summary of Mark 2 clearly separates the two issues. Emphasis in bold is mine:

The earliest account of the healing of the man with paralysis is probably that found in the Gospel of Mark (first century CE ). Here a clear distinction is made between sin and disability. The Markan evangelist does not tell us why the man’s friends brought him to Jesus. Jesus’ act of compassion is the forgiveness of sins, which he sees as the man’s true need. The act of healing, which is separate from the act of forgiveness, is meant solely as a sign of power for the religious leaders who are watching the event. The accounts of the same event in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke share this focus on the forgiveness of sins.

Yes, this man’s primary problem (and ours) was his sin!  I appreciate that Dr. Albrecht gave a summary faithful to the Biblical text.  His summary of John 9 was a little too perfunctory, but still on the right track.  Unfortunately, this encyclopedia is only available online through academic institutions.

Here is the full text of Mark 2:1-12 (ESV).  The sentence in bold is Jesus’ own words about why he healed the man; there’s really very little room for misunderstanding if we just read the text itself!

And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door.

And he was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay.

And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.”

And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”

(Mark 2:1-12 ESV)

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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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I was excited to learn recently that a new revised edition of The Pleasures of God will be available soon along with a DVD and study guide.  It is a tremendously helpful book in understanding what makes God happy.

Pastor John also reveals some of his own suffering in it, which has been a comfort to me in knowing my pastor understands what pain looks like as he continues to cling to Jesus.

For example, he offered this following the sudden, shocking death of his much-loved mother in an accident (emphases in bold are mine):

What was my comfort in those days? There were many. She suffered little. I had her for twenty-eight years as the best mother imaginable. She had known my wife and one of my children. She was now in heaven with Jesus. Her life was rich with good deeds and its good effects would last long after she was gone. And underneath all these comforts, supporting all my unanswered questions, and calming my heart, there was the confidence that God is in control and God is good.

I took no comfort from the prospect that God could not control the flight of a four-by-four. For me there was no consolation in haphazardness. Nor in giving Satan the upper hand. As I knelt by my bed and wept, having received the dreaded phone call from my brother-in-law, I never doubted that God was sovereign over this accident and that God was good. I do not need to explain everything. That he reigns and that he loves is enough for now.

John Piper, The Pleasures of God, pp. 74-5.

It is a reminder to me that suffering people are credible with other suffering people, even if the circumstance of the suffering is not the same.  Let us use our suffering well, for the sake of other hurting people and to bring glory to Jesus.

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I’m reading a wonderful biography by Eric Metaxas of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian and pastor who stood against so much evil in Nazi Germany.  God gave him the ability to see things that others simply could not, and it frequently put him in the middle of danger.

Metaxas points out that, though well educated and part of an influential, wealthy family, Bonhoeffer could see the needs of the poor, the powerless, and those with disabilities.

When he went to Bethel with his friend, Friedrich von Bodelschwingh, he was introduced to the Bethel community in Biesenthal.  This community, started by Bodelschwingh’s father, served hundreds of people with disabilities.  Metaxas describes it as ‘the antithesis of the Nietzchean worldview that exalted power and strength. It was the gospel made visible, a fairy-tale landscape of grace, where the weak and helpless were cared for in a palpably Christian atmosphere’ (Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, p. 184).

It moved Bonhoeffer to a deeper understanding of God’s purposes through and God’s care for people with disabilities (emphases in bold are mine):

Bonhoeffer attended services and wrote his grandmother about the people with epilepsy: their “condition of being actually defenseless may perhaps reveal to these people certain actualities of our human existence, in which we are in fact basically defenseless, more clearly than can ever be possible for us who are healthy.” But even in 1933, the anti-gospel of Hitler was moving toward the legal murder of these people who, like the Jews, were categorized as unfit, as a drain on Germany. The terms increasingly used to describe these people with disabilities were useless eaters and life unworthy of life. When the war came in 1939, their extermination would begin in earnest. From Bethel, Bonhoeffer wrote his grandmother: “It is sheer madness, as some believe today, that the sick can or ought to be legally eliminated. It is virtually the same as building a tower of Babel, and is bound to avenge itself.”  (Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, p. 184)

We live in that sheer madness again today.  May God be pleased to raise up more leaders, preachers and theologians who see it, name it and act against it.

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Last week Justin Taylor posted on The Best Christian Novel You’ve Never Heard Of.  Wow, was he right!

The Hammer of God is more than I expected.  It is excellently written, deeply moving and very clear about the realities of the Christian life.  Each of the three main characters experiences God in fresh, wonderful ways that makes much of God in the midst of temptation to doubt or self-righteousness.

Mostly, I enjoyed it because Bo Giertz loves God and God’s word and he communicated truth in compelling, worshipful ways:

In his death all woe was turned into blessing. The very suffering became a gate of Heaven, and the cross, that instrument of torture, became a sign of victory and spring of mercy.

Walking with him is going to glory through suffering itself and seeing the springs rush forth everywhere through the valley of weeping and the deserts of thistles.

Bo Giertz, Hammer of God, p. 315.

I could hardly put it down.

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Paul woke up in a mess on Wednesday, the kind that demands attention before he can be ready for school.

It was a moment ripe for a ‘why me, Lord’ thought.

God, instead, reminded me of Greg Lucas’ son, who frequently also woke up in a mess.  In his book, Wrestling with an Angel, Greg articulates the road I was going down:

Many mornings I leave Jake’s room dejected, hurt and emotionally drained. (Lucas, p. 22)

But he doesn’t stay there!

The only way to make any sense of this kind of relationship is to experience it through the unconditional love of the Father. (Lucas, p. 23)

Greg then unpacks what that means, in a God-centered, humble, grateful way.

And because Greg told his story about God in the midst of rotten circumstances, I was encouraged to fight my discouragement and run to God in my rotten circumstance.

If you are living in discouragement over disability right now, I highly recommend you buy and read (or read again) Greg’s book.  God is honored in this book, and I know many people personally who have understood their own circumstances differently after reading it.

And if you have a story of God’s goodness – tell it!  We honor God when we give him glory in hard circumstances.  And your story may come back, months or even years later, to encourage a hurting brother or sister.

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Joni Eareckson Tada is such a gift to the church!  She wrote her book, A Place of Healing, in the midst of terrible chronic pain – there is nothing light or breezy about this book.

And there are great encouragements to be found.  Like this one, in which she lays out the miracle God provided when he refused to heal or take away her chronic pain:

A ‘no’ answer has purged sin from my life, strengthened my commitment to Him, forced me to depend on grace, bound me with other believers, produced discernment, fostered sensitivity, disciplined my mind, taught me to spend my time wisely … and widened my world beyond what I would have ever dreamed had I never had that accident in 1967.

My affliction has stretched my hope, made me know Christ better, helped me long for truth, led me to repentance of sin, goaded me to give thanks in times of sorrow, increased my faith, and strengthened my character.   Being in this wheelchair has meant knowing Him better, feeling His pleasure every day.

If that doesn’t qualify as a miracle in your book, then-may I say it in all kindness?-I prefer my book to yours.

Joni Eareckson Tada, A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God’s Sovereignty, p. 55-56.

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My heart sank as I read over the recommended reading list from one of the speakers at a seminar last week.  I was familiar with most of the authors and many of the books on that list, and there were few I could commend as being faithful to the Bible or helpful in building up the faith.

But I had forgotten where I was.  This was an academic discussion on a university campus.  The rules are different.

During her presentation, the seminar speaker pointed out the basic problem with many of those books on her list.  It was refreshing.  And it did not diminish these books’ importance in the subject area.  Competent academic engagement with the subject requires one to be familiar with the arguments presented in those books.

Thus, “recommended” meant something different than commending them as being edifying or helpful.

I compared her list to the list Brenda Fischer has put together for the library at Bethlehem.  Not one book or resource appeared on both lists.

I wonder how we can bridge this gap.  Ideas discussed within colleges and universities have a tremendous impact on the culture.  The church needs to be engaged.

What do you think?  I’ll share some of my thoughts tomorrow, Lord willing.

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