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Archive for the ‘Book Commentary’ Category

One of the things we enjoy as a family is reading together.

A good friend introduced us to Andrew Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga a couple of months ago and during our vacation we couldn’t put down book three – it was exciting, full of adventure and the unexpected.  We can hardly wait for book four to be published!

Two of the main characters live with disability: the grandfather and the youngest daughter.  But it isn’t overwhelming and it isn’t sad.  For each character it is just a physical characteristic that sometimes is relevant to what is happening.

God is also present, as the Maker.  Evil exits, and the Maker is still good:

His heart was black with despair, so the Maker’s magic was most welcome.  It helped him believe there was power pulsing behind the veil of the visible world, pulsing like blood through the world’s veins, sending life and light coursing through everything, surprising and confounding at every turn. When he remembered this, the darkness glimmered with goodness.

Andrew Peterson, The Monster in the Hollows, p. 288.

So, if you are looking for some books for younger readers with strong characters who also happen to live with disability, I highly recommend these.

Justin Taylor endorsed these books and some others we can also recommend.

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Wayne Grudem has rock-star status in our household.  We have his Systematic Theology (and so should you!) and we’ve given away copies of Politics – According to the Bible.  He is a great thinker, clear writer, Biblical scholar and an articulate defender of the unborn.

But he missed an opportunity to come out strong in defense of those living with disabilities in Politics – According to the Bible.  It reminded me that even our supporters sometimes need to be nudged on how they can best help our cause.

In the section titled “Objections regarding personhood of the preborn child” he begins with a strong statement:

2) Birth defects: Another objection concerns preborn children who are known to have birth defects. Should parents not have the right to abort such children, thus saving themselves much hardship and saving the child from a life of suffering?

But the relevant question here is this: Would we think it right to put such a child to death after it is born?

If we have already established that the preborn child should be treated as a person from the moment of conception, then being born or not yet being born should make no difference in assessment of the child’s personhood. If we would not think it right to kill such a child after it is born, then we should not think it right to kill the child before it is born.

Therein lies the problem – it is NOT established that all preborn children should be treated as people.  Even for those who are generally inclined to have a pro-life orientation, disability seems to tip the balance toward abortion rather than bringing that child into the world.

There is also a philosophical line of thinking that sees disability as negating the personhood of a little human being, and that the strong (parents, doctors, government) have the right and possibly even the obligation to ‘humanely’ end the life of a little human being – even one who has already been born!

Secondly, Dr. Grudem wanders into an argument that we can’t win against the culture:

Moreover, prior to birth the “possible” or “probable” diagnosis of birth defects can be in error. Sometimes children can be perfectly normal even though there was a diagnosis of a “possible” or “probable” birth defect. Many birth defects can be very small and not have significant impact on the child’s life. And even when the birth defect is quite significant (for example, Down syndrome) the child can still lead a happy life and bring much joy and blessing to his or her own family and to many others.

Diagnoses of genetic disorders are becoming more accurate and less expensive.  The argument that ‘it might turn out ok’ is of no comfort to a family facing disability if they have no orientation toward God’s sovereignty over all things; they are just as likely to say it isn’t worth the risk.

The fact that most birth defects are not that significant has little weight in a culture obsessed with comfort, wealth, status and beauty.  We’re already seeing the first signs of sex selection in the United States; why would a family put up with a minor disability if they don’t even want to keep a boy or a girl of the ‘wrong’ sex?

Finally, the ‘brings much joy’ argument is certainly true, but must rely on sentimentality.  There are abortionists across the country who are willing to grant that we can be sentimental about our own ‘choices’ with our child, and will even disingenuously agree that people with disabilities have value.  They will not deny for a minute that we experience joy in our children with disabilities.

But in the end, sentimentality will at best be a minor argument (if presented at all) and will not spare the child who’s parents do not want to be subjected to all the expense, suffering and inconvenience.

Even as I re-read my own words I’m feeling like I’m being harsh with Dr. Grudem.  I don’t want that to be the last word – I have deep regard for him and for his work and can happily recommend you buy and read Politics – According to the Bible.

But maybe in his next edition of the book he could re-write that section, putting more of his significant intellectual and writing abilities squarely on this issue in defense of little children with disabilities.

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Over conversation with a friend, he told me that his brother had been taken in by a health and prosperity preacher who taught him that communion is ‘the meal that heals.’  It was easy enough to find what was meant by that, along with the book this preacher would gladly sell to you (emphases in bold are mine):

The Meal That Heals explains the power of the Communion experience to bring physical and spiritual healing to the life of a believer. . .  It shows the power of receiving daily Communion, which allows the life of Christ to work in your body, driving out every sickness, disease, and weakness that hinders your life.

If you watch the video this preacher prepared, you’ll notice that HE’S WEARING GLASSES!

So much for driving out every weakness.

I hate the health, wealth and prosperity gospel.  But there is one thing about the above I will agree with – we should come to the communion table expecting to get something.

But the something we should be longing to get – more than perfect health in ourselves or healing for our kids, more than extraordinary wealth or any sort of prosperity in this life – is more of God.

Pastor John summarized it really well during his sermon this past week, No One Will Take Your Joy From You:

The aim of corporate worship is to awaken and express together our joyful admiration of all the wonders and works of God.

“I will go to the altar of God,
to God my exceeding joy,
and I will praise you with the lyre,
O God, my God” (Psa 43:4).

I do not criticize you for coming to “get.” I think God is greatly honored when people come to corporate worship starving for God. And deeply desiring that they will meet him, and hear from him.

John Piper, No One Will Take Your Joy From You, May 8, 2011

And I think Pastor John would agree that God is greatly honored when we come to the communion table starving for God as well.

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If you still haven’t downloaded Paul Miller’s book, A Praying Life (still free as of Friday for the Kindle and the Kindle app which can work on most computers and mobile devices), I hope this will encourage you to do so:

I was walking down from our campsite to our Dodge Caravan when I noticed our fourteen-year-old daughter, Ashley, standing in front of the van, tense and upset. When I asked her what was wrong, she said, “I lost my contact lens. It’s gone.” I looked down with her at the forest floor, covered with leaves and twigs. There were a million little crevices for the lens to fall into and disappear.

I said, “Ashley, don’t move. Let’s pray.” But before I could pray, she burst into tears. “What good does it do? I’ve prayed for Kim to speak and she isn’t speaking.”

Kim struggles with autism and developmental delay. Because of her weak fine motor skills and problems with motor planning, she is also mute. . .

Prayer was no mere formality for Ashley. She had taken God at his word and asked that he would let Kim speak. But nothing happened. Kim’s muteness was testimony to a silent God. Prayer, it seemed, doesn’t work.

If you’ve ever thought that, I encourage you to read his book.

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At least it was free on Tuesday.  You can download it here.

And if you don’t have a Kindle, you can still read it on a PC, Mac, iPad, etc.  You can get more information about how to do so here.

This is a fantastic book, and the author understands what living with disability is like through his daughter with autism and developmental delays.

Paul Miller spoke at the most recent Desiring God Conference for Pastors:  Helping Your People Discover the Praying Life.  He also lead devotions the next morning, and that was even better.

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We’ve been going through an extended difficult season with Paul’s overall health.  I appreciate firm reminders that God’s wisdom is guiding things to the best possible eternal result.

From Wayne Grudem’s Making Sense of Who God Is: One of Seven Parts from Grudem’s Systematic Theology, p. 83.

God’s wisdom means that God always chooses the best goals and the best means to those goals. This definition goes beyond the idea of God knowing all things and specifies that God’s decisions about what he will do are always wise decisions: that is, they always will bring about the best results (from God’s ultimate perspective), and they will bring about those results through the best possible means.

Scripture affirms God’s wisdom in general in several places.  He is called “the only wise God” (Rom. 16:27). Job says that God “is wise in heart” (Job 9:4), and “With him are wisdom and might; he has counsel and understanding” (Job 12:13). God’s wisdom is seen specifically in creation. The psalmist exclaims, “O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures” (Ps. 104:24).

And some of those ‘all’ will be made by God to live with disabilities (Exodus 4:11).  I’m grateful that God always chooses the best goals AND the best means.  He is entirely worthy to be worshiped for his wisdom.

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After more than 26 years of being associated with Bethlehem, I can say that Pastor John’s preaching has been his primary influence on me.  But a close second are his books.  And of his books, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist lays the foundation for all the rest that are to come.

Through April 7, you can buy a copy of the newest edition of Desiring God for only $5.

A live-streamed web broadcast will take place every Thursday in April at noon (live Eastern Standard Time, rebroadcast at noon during Central, Mountain and Pacific Times), where Pastor John will take questions on two chapters of Desiring God.

Reading the Bible and seeing God as sovereign and good has been massively important in my life in how I understand and respond to disability and disease.  And God has also used Pastor John to help me when he speaks or writes specifically on the issue of suffering:

For (the Apostle Paul) any suffering that befell him while serving Christ was part of the “cost” of discipleship.  When a missionary’s child gets diarrhea, we think of this as part of the price of faithfulness.  But if any parent is walking in the path of obedience to God’s calling, it is the same price.  What turns sufferings into sufferings “with” and “for” Christ is not how intentional our enemies are, but how faithful we are.  If we are Christ’s, then what befalls us is for his glory and for our good whether it is caused by enzymes or by enemies (emphasis mine). John Piper, Desiring God, p. 260.

If the notion of Christian hedonism just seems strange (or even blasphemous) to you, buy the book, read the first two chapters of Desiring God and join in the live-streamed discussion on April 7.  You might think about God’s interest in your happiness in an entirely new way.

You can also read an earlier edition of Desiring God online for free.

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I’ve mentioned the bio-ethicist Peter Singer before, and his arguments to kill infants with disabilities.

Members of the Supreme Court of the United States have also held such views about people with disabilities.

Paul Lombardo’s horrifying history of a case brought before the Supreme Court, Buck v. Bell, includes this statement from Oliver Wendel Holmes, Jr., Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, 1902 – 1932:

As I have said, no doubt, often, it seems to me that all society rests on the death of men.  If you don’t kill ’em one way you kill ’em another – or prevent their being born.

Lombardo goes on to say:

He had no compunctions about ‘restricting propagation by the undesirables and putting to death infants that didn’t pass examination.’  Lombardo, p. 165

For a season the eugenics movement in the United States had the backing of the Supreme Court, powerful members of congress, a couple of United States presidents, influential philanthropists, university professors, scientists, and even members of the clergy.

That season is gone.  The organizations that grew up out of that movement, like Planned Parenthood, have needed to entirely change their message to continue to exist.

May it be so for this evil season of abortion as well.

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Years ago, when Paul was still very young, an older saint stopped to talk with me at church.

She didn’t use any of the ‘right’ words to describe Paul’s disabilities; in fact, she used most of the wrong words!

This was in the days when I was hyper-sensitive about anything connected to my son or his disabilities.  I was more than prepared to take offense at the smallest of things, and using the wrong words would not have been a small thing.

But all I felt were her godly affections for me and for my son.

I thought of that old saint as I read Mary Beeke’s The Law of Kindness: Serving with Heart and Hands:

Oil flows from an oil well. A mountain stream produces fresh water. The source gives its own product. A loving heart produces loving words. Some fountains trickle, some effuse. Whether we speak much or little, let our words be good and kind.  Beeke, p. 179.

Her words weren’t ‘correct,’ but her heart certainly was.  Her loving heart made her words land on me as loving.

The Holy Spirit helped me see something, or, rather, he helped me to feel something real and powerful in the midst of so much chaos and hurt and bitterness in those days.

Why am I a Christian hedonist today? At root, of course, is that God did the miracle of making me finally alive. But God has also used old (and young) saints to pursue us in love, and that love comes from an overflowing joy in and gratefulness toward Jesus.  And I want to be like that.

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Dianne won’t like me writing this, but I’m going to do it anyway.

She gave a great presentation to the MOMS (Making Our Mothering Significant) group at the Downtown campus on Tuesday.  I know it was recorded; I’ll point to it when it is available online.

It was God-honoring and ‘as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.’ She told the truth about how hard it is, and how good God is.  She reminded those 35 or so moms where their real hope must be.

And I get to experience the blessing of that kind of wife!

She had shared her remarks with me before she spoke, but as she spoke I was reminded of something Pastor John had preached about and then wrote about.  It is a great description of Dianne:

The next thing to see about Christian womanhood, after hope in God, is the fearlessness that it produces in these women. So verse 5 says that the holy women of old hoped in God. And then verse 6 gives Sarah, Abraham’s wife, as an example and then refers to all other Christian women as her daughters. Verse 6: “And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.”

So this portrait of Christian womanhood is marked first by hope in God and then by what grows out of that hope, namely, fearlessness. She does not fear the future; she laughs at the future. The presence of hope in the invincible sovereignty of God drives out fear. Or to say it more carefully and realistically, the daughters of Sarah fight the anxiety that rises in their hearts. They wage war on fear, and they defeat it with hope in the promises of God.

Mature Christian women know that following Christ will mean suffering (2 Tim. 3:12). But they believe promises like 1 Peter 3:14, “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled,” and 1 Peter 4:19, “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” That is what Christian women do: They entrust their souls to a faithful Creator. They hope in God. And they triumph over fear.

John Piper, This Momentary Marriage, pp. 97-98.

Is her (or my) first response always fearlessness?  Certainly not.  But I have seen her wage war on fear in the midst of some pretty frightening circumstances: disabled son, prematurely born son, Stage IV cancer. I know where her hope lies.

 

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