Archive for the ‘Special Events’ Category

The conference is only for women, though. Bummer for me, but I’m still excited she’s coming back to the Twin Cities.

In addition to writing one of the most helpful books on suffering and God’s sovereignty, Holding on to Hope, and regularly speaking on the topic of suffering, Nancy Guthrie and her husband, David started a ministry for families who have lost a child.

And if that doesn’t convince you, please read this interview with Mary Horning on the impact Nancy Guthrie has had on her life.

The Bethlehem Women’s Spring Conference, is Friday and Saturday, April 25 and 26, 2014. Nancy Guthrie will be speaking on, “Be Holy For I Am Holy; Growing in Holiness…How?”

More information and online registration can be found here.

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I had the opportunity to speak to some folks last Friday in Rochester about God’s sovereignty in disability.  Shawn Pierce, the volunteer coordinator for Joni & Friends put the two sessions together. Hopefully it is the beginning of new things in churches who want to serve families experiencing disability in that area.

Shawn has a pretty remarkable testimony of God’s faithfulness to her through much hardship in her daughter’s disabilities and a troubled marriage. Thankfully, I was able to capture it in audio. It is about 5 minutes:

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Pastor Ryan Franchuk of Christ Fellowship Church invited me to speak this Sunday, July 14 at 10:30 a.m. in Baltic, South Dakota.  I’d love to see my South Dakota friends and family!

The topic won’t surprise you: God’s Good Design in Disability.  We’ll have a meal together and a time for questions afterward.

I’m grateful for the opportunity, and would also appreciate your prayers as I bring God’s word on this topic to these friends.

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Emancipation: freeing someone from the control of another; especially a parent’s relinquishing authority and control over a minor child.

Dear Paul,

Eighteen years ago today, a boy was born.  More specifically, YOU were born.

And my journey from slavery to freedom began.

The day of your birth was not a happy one for me; disability was not part of my plan. I’m ashamed at the memory of my thoughts from that day.

But here you were: blind, helpless, needy, entirely dependent on parents who didn’t understand your world.

Foolishly, I did not trust the promises of God, which I had been taught since I was a child. I went my own way.

Even this was part of God’s plan.

At the right moment, God breathed life into me:

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-7, ESV)

My son, you are still blind, helpless, needy, entirely dependent on your parents who don’t understand your world.  Over time we added autism, cognitive impairments, epilepsy and more. It has not been easy for any of us.

But God understands your world. He made you for a great purpose, or 10,000 purposes. God has kindly let me see a few of them.

And God is happy to provide help every day, for you and for me.  That is exactly what he has done for the past 6,575 days of your life.  I expect God will do it again tomorrow. He promised he would.

I am your guardian, responsible for all decisions concerning your life and health.  You don’t seem to mind.  From that standpoint, today is like every other day of your life.

But in a tangible way you are my champion, the very means through whom God called me to himself.  Maybe someday Jesus will tell us the stories of how he used you to change people all over the world.  Or maybe that won’t be important any longer because we’ll be so happy to be with him.  Either way, we’ll be happy!

So, today you may not be emancipated as other 18-year-old young men will be.

But you live a mostly contented life.  You do not worry about tomorrow. You do not hold grudges from past wrongs. You expect your needs will be met today.

You are free in ways most people can only dream about, in ways I long for.  Your happy confidence in your parents isn’t warranted, but it is a great picture of how I should trust our Father-God.  I’m glad for that picture.  And I’m glad to have you.

Happy birthday, son!  Daddy loves you very, very much!

Dad and baby PaulPaul by TreePaul on Rojo0001-1P1010994IMG_0804P1010163IMG_2481493IMG_2095

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17-18, ESV)

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I delivered this at the 2013 Children Desiring God Conference on May 3: The Splendor of Holiness.

God and His Creation: His Holiness and Splendor Displayed in Disability

John Knight presenting

I’m going to propose an argument with regards to disability and God.  In essence my argument is this – because God is holy, he makes some to live with disability in this life.  He does so intentionally, purposefully, and graciously.  He does so knowing the suffering that will be involved.  He does so for our good.  He does so to magnify his holiness.

Before we begin, let us pray for help:

Lord, help us to see you in your beauty and your intentionality, how you make your name great and how good it is that you burn with a passion for your own glory.  Please, Lord, help us to see your work in disability and help me to make much of you. In Jesus Name, Amen.

Pastor John very early in his ministry had this to say about God and his holiness:

When we say that God is holy we mean that, along with the immeasurableness of his greatness, his character is unimpeachable. He cannot be charged with any wrong.

Now, this was not my first reaction to disability when it entered my family 17 years ago.  My son was born with no eyes and my reaction was to charge God with wrong, to reject God and the people of God, to deny any good purpose in disability, to deny that God could possibly be good in all his ways. I was consumed with my own definition of goodness and did not trust God at all.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:4-5, ESV)

In other words, God cracked me open, showed me the depths of my own depravity and my desperate need for a savior.  He returned me to church, gave me a desire to know him and his word more accurately, and set me on a different path.

It has not gotten easier as we’ve added more things to Paul’s complicated life; autism, cognitive impairments, growth hormone deficiency, eating and sleeping disorders, epilepsy and orthopedic issues. Disability is expensive in every conceivable way things are measured – financially, relationally, emotionally.  On top of that, my youngest son was born 2 months prematurely in 2003, and my wife was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer in 2004.

So, I do not offer this as simply an interesting question over which one can think on – every day I am confronted with the question of my son’s disabilities and the impact he has on my life and the life of my family, my church, and my community.  I invite you into this question of God’s holiness and disability with that in mind – this is both deadly serious and incredibly joyful. God has used disability to radically change how I think about God and his word.

So far we have heard an incredible word from Pastor John and from Bruce Ware.  I love the strong, Biblical call to delight in the holiness of God – what a promise and an experience that we are called to be like God in the strength that God provides!

And everything points to God’s goodness in his holiness.  I must also be clear here; I do not mean that disability magnifies the holiness of God because it stands in contrast to that holiness.  I mean that disability itself shows us something about God and his holiness.

If there is a contrast, this view of God’s holiness in disability is in sharp contrast to the chaos that naturalists or secularists proclaim over things like disability, disease and natural disasters.  In that worldview, things just happen – there is no higher purpose.  It also stands in contrast to the health and wealth prosperity gospel because it identifies a deeply profound and good thing inherent to God’s allowing disability over the course of life or creating little human beings with life-long disabilities.  This life is not ultimately about our comfort, no matter what those charlatans and thieves would try to sell us as being God’s word.

I do not mean to romanticize disability. The pain and suffering is real, both in the person experiencing disability and in those who love that person and long for them to experience relief and even normalcy.

And we live in this culture with what I call the great divide – a sense of ‘them’ vs. the rest of society.

It is reflected in the ever-more-precise definition of quality of life, which excludes increasing numbers of our frail elderly and severely disabled as living lives that are worthwhile. Suffering, even observed suffering and not experienced suffering, has ever lower levels of tolerance in this culture. Quietly, new technologies are being developed and implemented by thousands of doctors to identify unborn children with disabilities at earlier and earlier stages of pregnancy, for the express purpose of eliminating them from existence. I have lost track of the number of stories from parents who observed the change in medical personnel when a disability is discovered, moving from care and excitement for and about the child to preparing the family for that child’s termination.

It is an old story.  In the Old Testament, God warns against abusing those who live with disabilities:

You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:14, ESV)

The implication is clear that this proclamation is necessary because people have been abusing those who are blind or deaf.  The warning is crystal clear as well: fear God who will see your bad behavior and he will respond.

The culture question was brought into stark clarity in John 9, where Jesus heals a man born blind.  It begins with the disciples wondering:

“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2, ESV)

They were not intentionally being cruel but were really wondering, because in that cultural air the notion of sin and disability went naturally together.  Imagine being that man or being that man’s parents – “who sinned” was around him his entire life.  And he was relegated to begging even though we see evidence of a clear-thinking, articulate man as the rest of John 9 unfolds.

And there are hard passages in God’s word, like in Leviticus 21:

 . . .but he shall not go through the veil or approach the altar, because he has a blemish, that he may not profane my sanctuaries, for I am the Lord who sanctifies them.” (Leviticus 21:21-23, ESV)

Consider those words: that he may not profane my sanctuaries. Those are hard words, and words which I needed to wrestle with before seeing the beauty of what God is communicating.  We’ll come back to Leviticus 21 later.  It actually reveals a spectacular reality that should give us hope rather than be a discouragement.

So, whether considering our culture or the time in which the Bible was written, the reality of disability is not an easy thing.  My own initial response to my son’s disabilities is representative of how it is perceived today. Nobody has ever questioned whether that bitter, angry response was real or not; many have expressed surprise at my response today that God is good and right to have created my son the way that he did.  And it is not just a social construct – his epilepsy causes him real pain.  My wife’s cancer caused her real pain in her body.

It is fairly easy to see how developments like discrimination or genocide through abortion are evil and work against the interests of people with disabilities.  But we must admit that when we breathe this cultural air, those of us who don’t live with disabilities are tempted to place those living with disabilities into the ‘other’ category as well.  There is this category of normal, which we expect and see as part of God’s good design. There is the category of unusual capacity – intelligence, wisdom, drive, athleticism – which we celebrate.  And then there is the category of those who are ‘less than’ we are. We can make ‘rational’ judgments about things, while ‘they’ can’t; we can determine the best course of action for ourselves and for others; ‘they’ need us.  We can serve them; ‘they’ will be recipients of our service. We are strong and ‘they’ are weak.  We can begin to identify ourselves with certain God-like qualities that place us in a different reality than our brothers and sisters with disabilities, especially cognitive or intellectual disabilities.

But God does not make that same association that strong bodies and rational minds have greater standing before him.  In fact, the opposite can be seen in scriptures:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, ESV)

Paul again puts physical health into a lesser category in 1 Timothy:

for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. (1 Timothy 4:8, ESV)

Unless Jesus returns, all of us will experience decay in our bodies, which results either in death or in a loss of capacity.  All of us.

But it is not just that in a broken world there will be disabilities of all kinds – physical, emotional and cognitive.  God has stated he is intentional in creating some who will be disabled:

Then the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? (Exodus 4:11, ESV)

If we hold to the truth of scripture, we must see that God is, without embarrassment or apology, stating that he creates some who will live with disability.

And he clearly states that he does so for a purpose as we revisit John 9, adding vs. 3 to vs. 2:

And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. (John 9:2-3, ESV)

Here Jesus helpfully moves the question beyond cause – Who’s sin? – to purpose – the works of God might be displayed in this blind man so that he, and we, could know something about Jesus.  Again, unashamedly, God is stating that making much of Jesus is of such extraordinary worth that God will create a man to be blind for decades and live in a culture that only allows him to beg so that we can know something about Jesus as God.

But God also makes the point that we all share certain things in common, such as:

  • Our greatest capacities are less than God’s: For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Corinthians 1:25, ESV)
  • Sin and death is common to everyone: Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— (Romans 5:12, ESV)
  • We are all created, not creator: You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, “He did not make me”; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, “He has no understanding”? (Isaiah 29:16, ESV)

This in no way denies that there are different levels of capacity and of giftedness in this world. The Bible speaks clearly on this reality as well:

  • In the parable of the talents, Jesus recognizes that different people have different abilities: “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. (Matthew 25:14-15, ESV)
  • Paul recognizes differing gifts: Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone (emphasize everyone – includes those with disabilities). (1 Corinthians 12:4-6, ESV)
  • For the body does not consist of one member but of many. (1 Corinthians 12:14, ESV) The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor… (1 Corinthians 12:21-23, ESV)

Indispensable means it can’t work without the weaker member!  God has ordained it to be this way!  Paul introduced this counter-cultural reality of God’s using weakness intentionally way back in chapter 1 of 1 Corinthians:

  • For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. (1 Corinthians 1:26-29, ESV)
  • Paul brings this all together in his own life in 2 Corinthians: So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10, ESV)

So, to draw this all together, a holy and righteous God, for the purposes of making his name great, creates people of all different kinds of ethnicities and backgrounds and colors and mental and physical abilities to display his glory in his holiness.  The things we share in our humanity are sin and death and weakness and incapacity!  Yet God who gives us faith also gives us things to do:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10, ESV)

Those who are given certain kinds of gifts and certain kinds of work to do, should do it in faith, knowing both the gift and the work has come from God himself. And those who need to receive the gift of that service should receive it, knowing they are created and sustained by God through the means that he deems best.

But it also means that those who are stronger – in health, intelligence, leadership or wisdom – should be on the lookout for the gifts of the weaker member so that those gifts they have been given can be expressed in the body, for the good of the church and for the glory of God.  Remember, God calls the ‘seem to be’ weaker member indispensable.  And there is a reason Paul used the term ‘seem to be.’  He recognized that in our finiteness, breathing the cultural air that we breathe, we will sometimes see someone who is different because of disability and assume they are weaker, when in fact God has granted them capacities for the good of his church.

And God goes out of his way to warn the stronger member, even when he is calling them to act in strength:

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9, ESV)

Clearly, the source of hope comes right back to God, not their own strength.  And that is repeated time and again.

For those who live with physical disabilities alone, frequently we just need to get over our discomfort about the difference.  I have met blind directors of programs and deaf leaders of ministries.  Joni Eareckson Tada, of course, has lived with quadriplegia for more than 40 years and leads one of the most dynamic Christian ministries of any kind in the world, not just related to disability.  We must ask God for help to see those gifts and then let them be used.

My greater concern is for those who live with cognitive disabilities.  They truly are vulnerable in this present age.  Even liberal theologians have abandoned them, focusing on a ‘liberation theology of disability’ that ultimately points toward utility rather than God’s mysterious and good design.  I don’t have time to expose all the evil that is embedded in that theological construct, but it leaves people with cognitive disabilities behind and even more vulnerable to abuse and destruction.

But embedded in that vulnerability is something profoundly beautiful and helpful, revealed in scripture and from my experience in light of scripture.

One of the things my son doesn’t worry about is. . . anything.  Let me repeat his diagnosis: blindness, autism, cognitive disabilities, epilepsy, eating and sleeping disorder, growth hormone deficiency, and orthopedic issues.

This boy expects me to provide for his needs, and he doesn’t worry about it.  He lives a life of happy dependency.  He doesn’t worry about anything.  This is very Biblical:

The words of Jesus: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? (Matthew 6:25-28, ESV)

Paul repeats in even stronger terms:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-7, ESV)

How many of us can say that we behave entirely dependent on God?  It is rare, and it is very beautiful – so one of my son’s gifts to the church is his happy, unashamed dependency on his earthly father who fails frequently – which actually helps me fight my anxiety.  I fail a whole lot more than he does on this question of happy dependency, so I think it is reasonable to ask who the weaker member is in this case.  It isn’t him.

He is also the happy recipient of service from those with different giftings than he has, which is related to his happy dependency.  He doesn’t worry a great deal about reciprocity or what people will think about him.  He just accepts the service!  And in God’s extraordinary economy, those who serve him walk away feeling like they have been served, because God is honoring their acts of generosity done in faith.  Because of his autism and his other disabilities, my son is not always pleasant to be around, but he is deeply loved by those who have eyes to see as God provides it to them.

There is another gift that comes, which is sometimes not seen as a gift.  When we are confronted with someone who is other than we are – disability, economically, ethnicity, addictions, whatever – we don’t know what to do or to say.  This should lead us to our knees to ask for help from the one who does know everything about everything, and who has promised to supply for us, and who has promised to send the helper.  And this honors the Father when we come to him in our desperate need and simply say, help.  In suffering, in disability, in confronting the issues around another person, we can join with all our heart and mind and soul with Jehoshaphat:

We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” (2 Chronicles 20:12, ESV)

That’s a good prayer when you have a young adult with severe autism in your church who runs, or hits or spits – and you really don’t know what to do and none of what you have done has worked and you are ready to quit.  Don’t quit. Lean into Jesus.  Trust promises. Then act in your vulnerability.  That displays the splendor of God’s holiness in ways that would not otherwise be available to you if all your children were the same and acted the same.  And the world will notice.

There are a few things I always recommend to churches regardless of size or the kinds of disabilities you are experiencing in your church or family:

  1. Pray – get people praying about what is best for this body of believers; ask for God’s help in determining what your church is being called to do (which could take many different forms: respite, buddies, inclusion, adapted Sunday Schools, aides, groups for moms or dads, etc.)
  2. Train your people about what God says in his word about disability
    • Some churches do disability Sundays.
    • I have been helped by my pastors working it in when appropriate to create a culture of understanding and engagement
      1. Child dedication example – one of my pastors makes the specific point, whether there is a disabled child being dedicated or not, that ALL children are gifts – and then he names some disabilities to make his point that these children are gifts as well.  You can’t avoid that he means all children.
      2. Every January we celebrate life through a sermon dedicated to life and ending abortion.  Pastor John chose John 9 as his pro-life platform one year, making the specific point that babies with disabilities also deserve to be born.  That’s helpful when an entire congregation can hear that from their pastor.
      3. Pastor John and now Pastor Jason preach through books of the Bible.  When Pastor John came to John 5 and then John 9, he preached about disability.  Pastors can have a huge impact on their churches when they build it into the regular stream of things like this.
    • I would also suggest that you use your spiritually mature members living this life to help educate and orient that this is primarily an issue about God and his word and not about methodology.  They have credibility – use them!  But also be careful not to take advantage or to force anything; there was a time when asking me to do something like that would have been very, very bad.
  3. Know your members – who do you have already in your congregation who lives with disabilities?  What would love look like for those members? (Example: one family adopted us when I was angry and bitter; they had been prepared well by the church to do hard things in love, expecting God’s help.  What love looked like for us was being invited to dinner and being lavished with hospitality.)
  4. Act in faith.
    • Recognize that the need, like other needs in your congregation, will never be entirely met.
    • Recognize that you will fail; let them be active failures done in love (example of not having right volunteers at BBC)
    • Try to orient everyone (have it part of volunteer training and orientation; alert volunteers when a child will be part of their group; make statements about how important it is to include such children)

I said I would come back to Leviticus 21 and I want to close with this:

No man of the offspring of Aaron the priest who has a blemish shall come near to offer the Lord’s food offerings; since he has a blemish, he shall not come near to offer the bread of his God. He may eat the bread of his God, both of the most holy and of the holy things, but he shall not go through the veil or approach the altar, because he has a blemish, that he may not profane my sanctuaries, for I am the Lord who sanctifies them.” So Moses spoke to Aaron and to his sons and to all the people of Israel. (Leviticus 21:21-24, ESV)

It was this passage that many years ago got me interested in what the Bible has to say about disability.  I was attending a conference on disability and the church, which was mostly about access to church buildings and methodology in programming.  Very little Bible.  But in the afternoon during a panel discussion the question was asked, what do we do with the hard passages of the Bible that involve disability.  A Jewish Rabbi responded, ‘oh, you mean like the passages in Leviticus. We just ignore those. We know better now.’  I didn’t know much then, but I knew that wasn’t the right answer.

So I started to dig.  This passage is one of the most difficult passages in the Bible concerning disability, if not the most difficult, because it appears to suggest that God is against people with disabilities based solely on their disability.  But we must consider the whole counsel of God before we come to an easy conclusion.

There is much to say about this passage that makes it hopeful but I will focus on just three.

First, those of the sons of Aaron would know Exodus 4:11 and God’s intentionality in creating some to live with disability, and later would know Psalm 139 where God takes credit for intimately knitting babies in the womb.  They would have known that their disability or blemish had come from God, and that God is entirely good and trustworthy.  God had both made them part of the lineage of Aaron – which qualified them to be a high priest – and he had disqualified them because of their disability or blemish. They would be required to cling to God in ways that others would not, and thereby demonstrate God’s goodness and their confidence in him in a special way.

Second, God does not take away their birthright – he may still eat.  Nobody can disqualify the one with a disability from that, even from the most holy and the holy things.  God has embedded right in the middle of this hard passage the right for them to enjoy the benefits of their birthright – who would want to just ignore that?

And the third is the best of all – it is pointing to Jesus. In that day and that time, God was making a statement about purity and holiness, and doing so in ways we could understand.  But when Jesus came, everything got better and deeper and more profound about this passage.  Jesus as the Great High Priest has no moral stain that would disqualify him which is far, far worse than a physical blemish or disability.  He is the perfect, unblemished sacrifice for our sins.  This is not primarily a statement about God and disability; this is primarily a statement who has the authority to forgive sin!  And Leviticus 22, with its focus on sacrifice, is about the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!  And that makes it breathtakingly beautiful and hopeful.

And think of how Jesus behaved; he pursued those with disabilities!  He touched a leper, and rather than become unclean himself, he made the leper clean!  He was touched by a woman who had a discharge of blood – and again, rather than him becoming unclean, she was healed!  He worked on the Sabbath to rescue those who were paralyzed, or had a limb too short.  All of these were pointers to Jesus as God; we make a grave mistake if we make it about the healings or about Jesus being ‘nice.’ We must remember that every one of those people Jesus healed, including Lazarus who he raised from the dead, eventually died.  Without the ultimate cleansing of their sins, the short-term healing of their afflictions would have meant nothing.

This isn’t something new we’ve just discovered in our enlightened state about disability.  Matthew Henry put it this way more than three hundred years ago as he considered Leviticus 21:

Under the gospel, 1. Those that labour under any such blemishes as these have reason to thank God that they are not thereby excluded from offering spiritual sacrifices to God; nor, if otherwise qualified for it, from the office of the ministry. There is many a healthful beautiful soul lodged in a crazy deformed body. Yet, 2. We ought to infer hence how incapable those are to serve God acceptably whose minds are blemished and deformed by any reigning vice. Those are unworthy to be called Christians, and unfit to be employed as ministers . . . whose sins render them scandalous and (spiritually) deformed…

This is amazing in how clear it is about what is truly good and truly evil and it isn’t disability.  There is no disqualification because of physical or cognitive disability.  God does the work of saving faith regardless of physical or intellectual capacities. God must do it; God is pleased to welcome childlike faith that he gives!

Back to God’s holiness, I appreciate this teaching from R.C. Sproul in his book, the Holiness of God:

“When we understand the character of God, when we grasp something of His holiness, then we begin to understand the radical character of our sin and hopelessness. Helpless sinners can survive only by grace. Our strength is futile in itself; we are spiritually impotent without the assistance of a merciful God… Even Edwards’s sermon on sinners in God’s hands was not designed to stress the flames of hell. The resounding accent falls not on the fiery pit but on the hands of the God who holds us and rescues us from it. The hands of God are gracious hands. They alone have the power to rescue us from certain destruction.”  R.C. Sproul, The Holiness of God

Is God strong?  Yes!  Is God intentional in all he does?  Yes!  Is disability hard?  Yes!  And God is greater and kind to help us understand more about his persistence in pursuing our good in every circumstance as he deems best.  Even the relentless nature of disability pales in comparison to the infinite ability and goodness of God to carry his people.

So, for the health of your churches and your families, embrace this God as Lord over all things including disability, and that he is holy and righteous in all that he does.  Pursue the good of your neighbor in your service, but also look for the God-given gifts he has given to those the world would destroy.  If you need to, ask for God’s help in changing your heart to see the gift of all his human creation he brings to your church.  Then act in faith, and when you stumble, ask for forgiveness then act in faith again.  By doing so, you honor God and increase your own opportunity to enjoy the gifts he has given to you, for his glory and for your own joy.

There are a few resources on this subject that I recommend and which are available in the bookstore:  Just the Way I Am: God’s Good Design in Disability by Krista Horning; Wrestling with an Angel by Greg Lucas; Disability and the Gospel by Mike Beates, A Place of Healing by Joni Eareckson Tada, and The Works of God: God’s Good Design in Disability conference messages available at www.desiringGod.org.

Prayer to close our time together

Time for questions.

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From Thursday through Saturday, Children Desiring God’s national conference on The Splendor of Holiness is being held at Grace Church in Eden Prairie.  Pastor John, Bruce Ware, and Pastor Jason will join David Michael (founder of CDG) as the keynote speakers.

Once again Brian Eaton and David and Sally Michael have included disability topics amongst the 35 seminars, for which I am very grateful.  They have done so since their first conference in 2005!

Mary Horning (mother of Krista) is returning on the subject of Loving like Jesus: Children with Special Needs in the Classroom.

I will be presenting on God and His Creation: His Holiness and Splendor Displayed in Disability.

We would both appreciate your prayers as we seek to make much of God in all that he does in his creation, including (and, I will be suggesting, especially) through disability.

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A friend of mine who lives in a hard place and who is surrounded by suffering people emailed to say he had just found the 2005 Desiring God National Conference messages:

It’s been one of the best resources to help me, ever.

He recommended I post it, so here it is:  Suffering and the Sovereignty of God.  There is also a free ebook available that includes these conference messages.

It has been a helpful resource for me as well.  I don’t know how many times I’ve returned to these messages.  I was first introduced to Mark Talbot at this conference, who spoke at our disability conference last November.  I heard Joni live for the first time at this conference.  I’ve given away dozens of Pastor John’s message, Ten Aspects of God’s Sovereignty Over Suffering and Satan’s Hand In It.  It does not feel like more than seven years have passed!

I highly recommend these messages to you.

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I was surprised to realize that I started blogging nearly 5 years ago on a different platform, which was buggy and full of spam and generally difficult to use. As I’ve finally closed it out, I’ve found some old blogs that made me smile, and even encouraged me. I’ll be posting some of them in the coming weeks.

The following was from June 2009:

Reading Noel Piper’s entry on Desiring God’s blog today reminded me of a favorite reference that Pastor John made to Esther-like women.

Pastor John made several thousand men howl with laughter during his address at Together for the Gospel last year when he talked about his affections for the women of his church, at about 19:45 of his talk (and not in his manuscript). It was a light moment guiding to a serious point about suffering and sacrifice and the extraordinary beauty and power and majesty and worthiness of Jesus Christ.

And what a blessed thing to know that my pastor has an understanding of and an appreciation for women parenting children with disabilities. God is very kind to us dads to give us a pastor who encourages our wives to treasure Jesus above everything – including good things like husbands and children:

The supremacy of Christ is not just his perfect fitness to bear our sins, and not just the supremely valuable future Reward that frees us from fear and greed and worldliness, but in his supremacy he is also now our present, personal Treasure. (Piper, Together for the Gospel 2008)

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I know many of you were praying for me as I prepared to speak to parents at Lakeview Baptist Church in Auburn, Alabama.  Thank you for doing so!  The time there was sweet.

The audio of that talk is available here: Near His Heart Dinner – Feb 22 2013 (there’s about a 30 second delay before the audio begins).

You can watch the entire event online here.

Below is my manuscript.

John Knight
Near His Heart Dinner
February 22, 2013

Thank you Julie and Anthony for your hospitality and for organizing this evening.  And thank you to the more than 130 volunteers who are caring for the children, serving the meal and making all these table conversations possible.  This is a great gift.

My name is John Knight.  Dianne and I have four children.  The reason I’m here is our oldest, Paul, is multiply-disabled – blind, autistic, cognitively impaired, has epilepsy, eating and sleeping disorders, orthopedic issues.  My youngest son, Johnny, was born two months early.  And my wife lives with Stage IV breast cancer.

And I want you to know that God is good in all his ways, and all his works, he is glorious beyond imagination, he delights in all the ways he creates human beings.  I did not always know that, and I want you to know that.

This will come in three parts – the early days of disability, God’s glorious rescue, and God’s persistent help since then.

But first, I want to pause to thank God and to ask for his help.

Prayer: Lord, you have gathered us here for your glory and for our good.  Please, come Lord, help us see you and experience you and love you.  Please help me now to make much of you, for your name’s sake and for these friends.  I ask in Jesus’ name, amen.

I’m not going to demand anything from you tonight – you are safe here.  This is not an IEP meeting with the surprise announcements and decisions and reams of paperwork and processes. I’m not a doctor who will attempt to tell you things about your child that aren’t accurate or about your parenting which isn’t helpful or about your attitude which isn’t true. I am not a social worker.  I do not work for an insurance company. You can relax here; you can even rest here.  I will not cast stones.

Or, maybe more accurately, I won’t cast stones because I want to avoid being called a hypocrite.

I was a good boy growing up.  I gave my parents little trouble – I didn’t get detention at school. I got good grades, attended church, and had decent friends. Though I was something of a whiner, I would do what was expected of me.   My parents could not have done a better job in raising me – attentive, high standards and high expectations, but gracious and kind and godly.  I went to a Baptist college in Minnesota and again did well academically while avoiding the worst excesses of many in college.  I met a beautiful girl.  She attended a ‘known’ church in our area and I decided I should attend as well.  We eventually married.  I completed a graduate degree, spent a short time in government service then landed in non-profits.  We did not accumulate debt, became members of that same church, joined a small group, attended Sunday School, memorized verses and volunteered.  We were the type of young couple that people say they really enjoy having at church.

We ran into a little problem having children; we were surrounded by pregnant women and would sometimes get the question about when we would have children.  That was painful, but we didn’t talk about it openly.  As each month passed without a pregnancy and medical professionals not being able to tell us why we couldn’t conceive, the tears of disappointment came more quickly from my wife, and my own bewilderment grew.  This was not as it was supposed to be.

Then, one day, those tears stopped and my bewilderment ended, because a child had been conceived.  Our “long” season of suffering had ended.

On July 3, 1995 we needed to get to the hospital because our first baby was on the way.  Nothing terribly out of the ordinary was happening – this was just days before our baby’s due date.  On July 4 this child finally decided to enter this world and we discovered we had a son; a beautiful son.  Dianne cuddled him for a moment and then handed him over to the nurse to clean him up.  The next stage of our orderly life had begun.

And then I heard those words that changed the course of my life: I think we have a problem here.  There was a quality in the nurse’s voice, some tone or something that caught my ear – this was not a small problem.  The issue was significant enough to call in the neonatologist and the news came – he had no eyes, or his eyes were so small they couldn’t be detected.  He was just a few minutes into the world and we knew he was blind. As that news came crashing over us, he also immediately became interesting to the young doctors and interns and residents at that teaching hospital where he had been born.  It seemed every time we turned around there was another person poking at him.  The medical tests and specialists started almost right away.  The questions to us started right away. This wasn’t what I had imagined.  I had no category for it.

This was a nightmare.

That first night of his life, I was standing outside the hospital, under an awning because it was pouring rain and wondering about all this, especially the question – who am I?  I had been a son and grandson my entire life. I had been a younger brother.  I had been an uncle since I was 14.  I was a husband of several years at this point.   But this? I had already heard all the gentle teasing and sometimes serious observations about how much children would change our lives – but nobody meant this, nobody warned me about this.  This boy would not experience the world like I had experienced the world.  I already didn’t know how to parent, and now I was responsible for a boy I didn’t understand with an issue I didn’t want in a life I didn’t expect.  But a father I was, his father.

There’s something interesting about thinking oneself a good boy and then a good young man and experiencing all the benefits of following the rules for 29 years, a kind of momentum that carried me through those first days, then weeks.  The hospital chaplains, who were frankly pathetic in their attempts to provide comfort or spiritual care, would walk away amazed at the way I prayed, at the scripture I had memorized, and how I talked about God. But you go to a church like mine long enough and you know how to do such things.

But things weren’t right inside of me. This wasn’t right. This wasn’t part of the deal I had with God. God owed me after how I had behaved.

Paul was just under three months of age when we took him in for what I thought was out-patient surgery on his nose and palate.  The doctor expressed some annoyance at my annoyance when I learned he would be in the hospital overnight, maybe two.  The surgery was not complicated. The medical facility was highly regarded.  The surgeons were all first-rate.  So we handed our baby off, and waited.

A couple hours later a very sober-looking surgeon found us in the waiting room and explained things had not gone exactly as planned. I still wasn’t used to things not going as planned. The work on his face and palate and nose had proceeded, but something had gone wrong. The doctor would lead us to the intensive care unit at Minneapolis Children’s Hospital, to a particular glass-encased room with a bed surrounded by monitors and lights and equipment – and in the midst of all that technology was my tiny baby boy hooked up to more tubes and probes than I thought a body could tolerate.  And something died inside of me.

The good, God-fearing, rule-following, pleasant, affable man died in that moment.  The lifetime momentum had finally run out.  I had followed the rules my entire life and this what I had gotten in return.

I did not deserve this.  My son certainly did not deserve this.  God was still real, but he was not good, not kind, not purposeful, not merciful, not fair.  He was capricious.  He was cruel.  He was most certainly strong, but he was not to be trusted or believed.

So I ended my association with my church and my small group and my Sunday school and took my little family away from church.  I stopped reading the bible and listening to sermons and praying.

I had every intention of taking care of my son and being a responsible husband.  But my life was basically over.

Still, that desire to be known as a good person was so strong that even my drug of choice was socially acceptable – television.  Work, whatever basic needs for my family needed to be addressed, then hours and hours of television.

Hours of frivolity and banality pouring into my head because that was better than actually feeling what I was feeling – the anger, the bitterness, the loss of control as doctors and social workers and educators always had a better idea of what should be happening for this child, the realization that dads don’t really get a say with these experts because we’re too inattentive or too stupid or too in denial or too distant to have an accurate picture.  To those systems, regardless of their pamphlets and their dad groups, and their talk about family, I was at best a checkbook and insurance card and at worst the source of even greater pain for my wife. And the culture, man, I began to see things I had never seen before directed at me – the pity, the sadness, my horror at understanding they thought I was broken and needy, which I hated, but knowing I was even more broken and needy than they could ever begin to know.

And the well-meaning but deeply flawed things people said: God only gives you what you can handle. Have you ever heard that? Or you must be very special to have been given such a special child. Statements like that were like gasoline being thrown on the constant little flame of anger and anxiety I kept constantly burning in my soul. The flash of anger would sometimes spill out right onto them.

So do you see why you’re safe here?  I have said things out loud that you have probably only thought. If you’ve said things out loud, well, you aren’t going to frighten me and I’m certainly not going to wag my finger at you. But I hope it is also clear why I won’t be particularly impressed by your church attendance or your attentiveness to your children or your volunteering as I did all those things.  But I will probably embrace you as a brother or sister who understands.

Now, you might be thinking to yourself, this isn’t exactly the story I was expecting.  We are at church after all.

Indeed we are.  The church of a bloody, suffering, abandoned, despised, maligned savior who did not have to be any of those things, but in perfect obedience and perfect agreement with the Father pursued the glory of the Father by becoming a man. We should never forget, for those of us who cling to Jesus in faith, that the church is the bride of the lamb who was slaughtered.  Jesus knows pain.

So, what happened?  Clearly Julie would not have invited me here if I was still in that God-blaspheming, rage-filled, hopeless state.  30 years of playing the part of the good boy would not be able to cover up that kind of despair and anger – something must have changed.

You might have noticed that everything that has preceded this was about me and how I felt and I how I understood the world.  And that was the problem – I interpreted everything through the lens of me.  That distorted lens could take anything, including God’s word, and make it about me.  I was the central actor in this play, I was the creator of reality, I could predict the future, I could discern the good from the evil – and God had come up lacking.

God, however, was both not impressed and not phased by any of this.  Nor was he surprised.  I am tempted to say that God began moving at this point but it is clear that God had been moving me the entire time. And so the next phase of God’s plan in my life began.

The first thing he did was to give me a father who refused to stop loving me and who immediately understood his grandson as being a gift to him and to the world.  I know not all of you have that, so I do not mean to make this yet another point against God but to point out that God knew that his glory would be magnified through a man refusing to let his son slip quietly away into hopelessness and despair.  That man happened to be my father; it could be anyone.

The second thing God did was have one family from our church notice that we were gone and basically adopt us into their lives.  I do not to this day know exactly why.  Nor do I completely understand their dogged persistence – I would sit at their dining room table, enjoying extraordinary hospitality and say vicious things about God and his ways, using my son as the evidence of his capriciousness and cruelty.  And their children, then ages 9 through 16, also sat at that table hearing these things.

Yet they kept inviting us, and praying for us, and just showing up in our lives.  They confounded me with their care and concern.  And they continued to love us without any evidence that anything was changing; several years after all of this I asked Geralyn if there was any evidence of change during these days and she quite honestly stated, no, we saw nothing.  That was humbling – and I also realized the old man was still lingering in here, craving the desire to earn my righteousness.

But the key moment came in a hospital in Indianapolis.  Even though I live less than 90 miles from the Mayo Clinic, one of the finest medical facilities in the world, there was no surgeon in Minnesota who could do the kind of work on my son’s face that he needed.  And that is how I ended up in a basement corridor of a hospital in Indianapolis, thinking murderous thoughts about a doctor which I had every desire to fulfill and to which I indeed knew I would fulfill. I was not out of control; I knew exactly what I was thinking about.

It is important that you get this picture of who I was clearly in your head – I had rejected everything about God and his people and his word, I was actively hardening my heart against him and openly defying him. I removed myself from godly influences and influencers – and in that moment with my murderous intentions, without anything in me seeking God, nobody talking to me about Jesus, God cracked me open and let me see the depths of my sinful heart without any opportunity to appeal to my supposed comparative goodness.  In that moment I knew not only was I not good, I was an entirely sin-filled, violent man, separated from God, entirely lost, entirely without hope.

But for Jesus.  Jesus was no longer an idea but a person, a real person with a real solution.  A real person I needed.  I knew I could not earn his favor – I had been given a glimpse of who I really was – but he was not asking me to earn it – he offered his grace freely.  He had lived a sinless life in perfect obedience and perfect agreement with the Father’s plan. All those lost years in church were valuable – that knowledge was now connected to the real experience of desperate need.  By grasping him in faith my sin is transferred to him and his righteousness is wrapped around me so that when the Father looks at me, he sees the righteousness of Jesus, his faithful son.  So, in desperation, I grabbed hold of Jesus.

I’d like to say that everything immediately became perfect and here we are.  But it wasn’t like that.

My son was still disabled; in fact, we kept adding things to describe how he experiences life.  The eating and sleeping issues almost from the beginning. The autism diagnosis and cognitive issues came at about the age of 6. The growth hormone deficiency at about 8. The epilepsy at 16.  Today he has orthopedic issues in his hips and knees.  And we haven’t even gotten to my wife’s health issues yet.  Nothing has gotten easier over time.  Nothing has gotten less expensive or less complicated over time.

Nor did all my anger and pride issues immediately go away.  I truly marvel at the stories of God’s immediately releasing people from things like addictions to alcohol or drugs or money or whatever.  God has that power and that authority; I absolutely believe that.  For me, God’s path would be different – the sinful rage was still there.

Get this: I knew I had experienced the forgiveness of Jesus, I knew my sins were covered, yet I was angry and bitter, weighed down with it, in fact.  Yet, this little seed of affection for God had taken root, which God was nurturing.  God was helping me along.  Do not despise little affections for God; they are as real as big affections for God.

I returned my family to church, desiring to experience this Jesus in ways I had never been desiring before.  It was a year before I could get through a sermon without crying because I knew what God had saved me from.  Yet, the anger was still there.  I understood, really understood, what Paul said in Romans 7:  For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. (Romans 7:18-19 ESV)

I love that descriptor of Jesus as the Great Physician.  We let our doctors do incredible things to us, things that really hurt us badly, to help us experience improved physical health.  And sometimes we as parents have to make that call for our children, knowing we will cause them great hurt on the path to something better.  Jesus did that for me with my anger.

Sometimes it would bubble over and I would seek to hurt people who loved me at church. Sometimes I would deny it was even there and push it down; that never worked for long.  But what God was doing was exposing and cutting away this cancer on my soul, the desire to have my way all the time, the desire to be in control, the longing to be God which was getting in the way of me experiencing God.

It was bloody and painful – I didn’t really want to let that anger go and this culture tells me constantly that it is ok for me to be angry about my circumstances.  But God didn’t want me to have that sad, small life.  He wanted me to have more of him.  He wanted me to be free.

God did that for me – not me.  Yes, I had good people around me who helped steer me to God!  God’s word became more precious to me.  And I began to understand some things I had never understood before, by the grace and the power of the Holy Spirit.

I realized that while I had never intellectually embraced the health and wealth prosperity gospel, I certainly had done so functionally.  I had put God in a little category bound by my own definition of what is good and right and happy.  My son’s disabilities ruined that definition – I didn’t have a category for God being good and my son being disabled.  But I also didn’t really have a category for me being that sinful and Jesus being for me, until Jesus showed me that I was that sinful and he was for me.

Though I had read the Bible most of my life, I started to read the Bible really for the first time. And it says some radical things:

Like, Jesus was driven by something more than determination, more than just obedience:

Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross. Hebrews 12:2

For the sake of joy – and we are told to look to him as our example.  And because of him, I could be free:

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. (Romans 8:1-2 ESV)

Now, right now, no condemnation!

That sounded pretty good – but could this possibly include disability?  Didn’t Jesus just go around healing people?  Disability seems like and feels like God is either not in control or he’s not good.

No, God is in control and he is good and he is intentional about disability:  Exodus 4:11

Then the LORD said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?  (Exodus 4:11 ESV)

No excuses, no embarrassments – just a statement of fact about what he chooses to do.

or John 9:1-3:

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.  (John 9:1-3 ESV)

God, intentionally giving a man blindness, not as a specific consequence of his sin but that something greater could happen.  Much greater – the works of God might be displayed in him then and serve as encouragement to us today about who Jesus is!

Or Psalm 139:

For you formed my inward parts;

you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. (Psalm 139:13 ESV)

God is knitting together, purposefully and actively and uniquely, some who will be disabled.  But he isn’t finished – see v. 16

Your eyes saw my unformed substance;

in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me,

when as yet there was none of them.

(Psalm 139:16 ESV)

Every day, every rotten day of treatments and therapies and bills and loneliness and tears are known by God – he is not surprised by any of this that we are experiencing.  In fact, he is keeping a record even of your tears:

You have kept count of my tossings;
put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your book? (Psalm 56:8 ESV)

And he wants us to bring our whole, authentic selves to him.  He already knows when we’re angry or bitter or doubting or troubled, we might as well admit it when we come to him.  He is not afraid nor is he surprised.

But I frequently come back to this point: Jesus can relate to our pain!  He knows pain!

And (Jesus) prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.  (Luke 22:41-44 ESV)

He knows our days, he knows our pain, he knows everything about everything – and it is for a great purpose in bringing many more to him.

Suffering has purpose! Our sufferings clear away the things that would charm us away from God – the money, the stuff, the easy life, the lack of suffering tend to put our eyes on almost anything but God.  But in suffering, we know we are not in charge and long for something better and those things lose their ability to charm us (at least for a season – sin is so strong in us).

But there is more – he doesn’t just leave us in that suffering state!

But he said to me (the Apostle Paul), “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.  (2 Corinthians 12:9-10 ESV)

Do you see it – in our weakness we get something that will last forever – more of Christ’s power resting on us, more of God.

And this comes as the free gift from God.  You have probably heard this before, but I want you to hear this again:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10 ESV)

We are his workmanship, all of us, including those we love who live with disability.  The most vulnerable, weak, supposedly incapable child was created for good works; the child who is violent or depressed or without any mood at all was created by God for a good purpose.  In fact, that is especially true for those the culture considers worthless.  Hear how God talks about his weaker members:

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, (1 Corinthians 12:21-22 ESV)

You know what indispensable means, right? It means it can’t work without them.  And notice the ‘seems to be weaker’ phrase – Paul recognizes that in our sinful state we will overemphasize some things and denigrate others.  Yet that is not how God sees things:

But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”  (1 Corinthians 1:27-31 ESV)

Is life hard?  Yes!  This life is hard.  Jesus warned us of that.  Paul warned us of that. Peter warned us about suffering in this present age.  There are days when I wake up and do not want to do what I need to do to take care of my family, or more specifically to take care of my son’s many needs.  My heart still leans into comfort over compassion, and anxiety about what is in front of me rather than clinging to God’s absolute, loving authority.  God has been merciful to let me come to him again and again and ask for help – in fact, that honors him because he is the source of all help and all good things. And after asking for help and knowing that he has promised to supply all that I need (not all that I think I need – there is a difference), the day begins.

To show you how radically God has done this surgery on my heart, in 1995 after the birth of my son and only knowing he was blind, I cursed God and took my family out of church.  In October 2004 when my wife was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer, with mets in her spine, ribs and lymph system, we do not remember doubting his goodness or his love toward us.  God had removed my heart of granite and replaced it with one that is soft and alive and beating. This happened over time.

He keeps showing me I have a long way to go in my sanctification. I wish I didn’t have to struggle with sin as much and as hard as I do, but he has also shown a daily ability to give me what I need.

Disability is hard.  And God is good.  He is ready to help you.

Maybe this evening has helped you see him.  Consider even the miracle of this evening – Julie and Anthony live this hard life with disability in their much-loved son.  They didn’t have to do this evening for us, but they did because they love you even if they have never met you before.  The scores of volunteers who are helping serve the meal and watch the children and make us comfortable don’t have to do it – but God brought them here to serve you.  And you know what will happen, don’t you – some of them will thank you for the privilege of being in the presence of your disabled children; they will be blessed.

This church is not a perfect place; it is full of people still struggling with their sin.  But it is a place where I have encountered people who know Jesus and want to help you know him as well – as savior, as redeemer, as helper, as friend.  Just because this feels like a common thing – we’ve all been to many such dinners – shouldn’t make it any less a work of the very God of the universe who wants you to know him better.

And maybe God might be pleased to do for you what he did for me.  For a season I thought my son was a curse.  Now, I live in the reality that God used my son to reveal the depths of my own depravity, my desperate need for a savior, the beauty of Jesus Christ, the daily help he provides, and the desire to make him known so others can experience this life of ‘as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.’

In doing so he helped me see – my son’s disabilities are not a curse, but an incredible blessing because at the end of every day and because of that boy, I have been given more of God, my wife has been given more of God, my other children understand God more accurately, my church is a different place because God is at the center in making Paul the way he did.  It didn’t happen for me immediately, and it didn’t happen without much painful rooting out of sin in my life, but it did happen, because God is good in disability, because he has purpose in disability, and because he doesn’t want us to cling to things that will end, but to him who will never end.  He will keep all his promises to us. And he offers himself to us all, freely.

On the CD you received is a message from Greg Lucas where he makes the point that we should run to Jesus.  He is absolutely right – run to Jesus!  I encourage you to listen to that one and all of them for encouragement about our God.

I’m willing to stay until they kick me out to talk to anyone about this God.  Thank you, again, Julie and Anthony, for this privilege of being with my extended family.

Let us pray.

Lord, thank you for these people, for their children, and for this evening.  Please, Lord, let us see you more clearly, trust your promises over our perceptions, and help us cling to Jesus with all our might.  Please, Lord, this world is hard.  We need a savior, we need the helper you promised.  Come, give us more of you.  In Jesus name, amen.

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  1. The death of the little girl and her mother through a third-trimester abortion two weeks ago has been heavy on my heart.  I’m not sure what hurts more, the fact that this little girl went from being wanted to being killed because they found an anomaly, or because that little girl was later in her development (33 weeks) than my youngest son was when he was born (32 weeks).  I wrote a blog post for Desiring God but I fear there is more heat than light offered; it is now in the hands of the young man who edits my blog posts for DG.  Please pray that he would find something he can work with, and if so, it would be a help to the church.  And if he can’t work with it, I’m going to make another attempt – this issue must be addressed by those of us who live with children who would otherwise be discarded in this horrible way.
  2. I’m headed to Auburn, Alabama later this week for an event for parents experiencing disability in their children.  I’ll also have the chance to meet with the pastoral staff and interns of the church hosting the event.  I would greatly appreciate prayers as the audience, I’m told, is a mix of people – Christians, non-Christians, and all kinds of understandings of God’s sovereignty (or lack thereof) in disability.  Please pray that God would be glorified, Jesus would be seen as greatest treasure, and that many would come to know God as good and sovereign over disability.  And if you’re near Auburn, I understand they could still take a few people – I would love to see you!

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