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Thursday, April 29, 2010

How will my son be saved?

“For by grace you are 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.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

The more I try to comprehend the sovereignty of God in salvation, the more I am astounded by His grace. That even the faith to believe is a gift given to those who deserve only His just wrath.

So the sovereign Lord gives us faith in His Son and we believe that Jesus came, lived a perfect life and died a sacrificial death for the payment of our sins. All the wrath of the Father justly reserved for us was cast upon His Son. All the righteousness of Jesus is transferred to us by grace through the work of the cross.

As one preacher so simply stated, “On the cross, God treated Jesus as if He had lived your life, so He could treat you as if you had lived His.” A profound paraphrase of 2 Corinthians 5:21

All of this is obtained by grace through faith. I understand that.

What I don’t understand is how this is applied, or better yet, how this works itself out in the life of an individual who cannot respond in faith, who cannot even speak, or who does not have the ability to comprehend the truth of the gospel.

I’m not thinking of the native in a far unreached part of the world that at least has a general revelation to point him towards more specific revelation.

I am thinking about my 17 year old son who has the mental capacity of a 2 year old.

I know Jake is a sinner—boy do I know. And I know that he is in desperate need of a Savior. I also know that salvation comes through repentance and faith, neither of which have I ever seen or could imagine seeing in my son’s life.

He does not understand the cross, or the sacrifice that was made. He knows nothing of his Adamic nature or fallen state. I’m not even sure that he treasures Christ above Jelly Belly’s or Santa Clause. So how can he be saved? How is the gift of faith applied to his lack of comprehension of the gospel?

I believe it all comes back to the main application of salvation for each of us—God’s undeserving grace. Yes, Jake is sinful. And yes, he is in desperate need of a savior. If he is saved from the just wrath of God, he will be saved by faith, but how that faith is gifted to him and in what capacity it is made manifest is still only through the mystery of God’s amazing grace.

I rest in that grace, not only for my own salvation, but for the salvation of my son.

I’m sure there is a lot of systematic theology that could be applied at this point, but I am not a theologian, I am a father. However, I do hope that no one mistakes my emotional parental response for a lack of searching the scriptures diligently for a solid answer to this important question.

I have poured over God’s promises like a doctor searching for a cure of the deadly disease in his own child, looking for hope and confidence in this grey area of my son’s life. There are many passages that give hints to the question I pose, but in the end I believe the passage in Ephesians 2 brings the most peace to my own soul—that Jake’s state is really no different from my own.

We are both separated from God by sin, in desperate need of a savior, and even if it is faith that appropriates our salvation, this faith is not our own doing—it is the gift of God. So that in the end our boast and our only hope is in the mysterious, amazing grace of God.

How will my son be saved?

“For by grace you are 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.”

I rest hopeful in God’s promises.

Monday, April 26, 2010

"The strength of patience hangs on our capacity to believe that God is up to something good for us in all our delays and detours." John Piper

Friday, April 23, 2010

Great Grace In The Small Things of Life

“Flip a coin.”


“Rock, paper, scissors?”

I joke with my wife in a humorous attempt to decide whose turn it is to handle bath time for Jake.

“I’ll do it.” She replies, with slight resignation in her voice.

“No, I’ll do it.” I respond accordingly to her weary tone. Such a mundane decision for most parents is actually an act of chivalry in our house. One of the most powerful phrases in our love language to each other is often, “I’ll give him his bath tonight.”

Admittedly, she has told me, “I love you” many more times than I have told her.

As I walk up the stairs to Jake’s bedroom I roll up my sleeves and literally stretch my shoulders, back and neck to prepare for the match.

He’s watching TV—flipping through the channels in a rhythmic pattern. The calming effect that the television has on Jake is amazing. Even more amazing is the complete and instantaneous evaporation of composure that occurs when I turn the TV off and begin running the bath water.

I have never bathed a cat, but I know what it’s like to bath a cat—even a family of cats, because I have bathed my son for 17 years. Jake does not like to get naked, he despises getting clean and he fears water. Combine the three and the unholy trinity surfaces for an epic battle, scheduled nightly, usually around 7:30PM.

I approach his bedroom like a UFC fighter entering the ring. My mental focus intensifies as the physical strategies begin sorting themselves out in my mind:

“Gloves on, water drawn, towel down, clothes off…butt cleaned, fight on, in the water, scrub down…wash hair, rinse hair, out of water, towel dry…lotion, commotion, tears like the ocean…dressed again.” It sounds like a strange rap song inside my head. Actually rap music would be more inviting than the noises I am about to hear.

Maybe I’ll wear the iPod tonight…put on the noise cancellation headphones and turn up the music to drown out the wailing and gnashing of teeth. There is something inspiring about putting human drama to a soundtrack. I imagine my life played to a Derek Webb song…or perhaps a Bob Kauflin hymn.

But much to my surprise tonight will be different; gloriously different.

Truth is you never know when or where the wind of God’s grace is going to blow. Grace is like that—unexpected, undeserved and unpredictable. Tonight God would reveal some of that mysterious grace in the peaceful blessing of His presence…at bath time.

As I reach the top of the stairs the wind of God’s grace blows through our house. No less for me than it did for Moses as he stood before the Red Sea, Joshua at Jericho, or Gideon at Jezreel.

To my utter amazement, Jake voluntarily, with a smile, walks into the bathroom and begins to get undressed…on his own.

Miraculously, his pants are not soiled. There is no wiping or fighting. I run the bathwater and he steps in without being coaxed. He motions for me to put some bubble bath into the water and the tub quickly fills up with suds. He’s happy tonight.

Then Jake does something that I have never seen him do; he lies back in the water and relaxes. I mean really relaxes. The ticks and twitches all but stop as he lies motionless in the warm bath. He does not whine. The room is perfectly quiet.

Taking advantage of the rare moment, I get the opportunity to just sit there and look at my son. He looks different tonight, almost like he has no disabilities at all. His glasses are off, his eyes are clear and the continual torment of anxiety has left his face for the moment.

The refraction of the light on the water makes his legs look straight and strong. His complexion is perfect in the soft glow of the bathroom lamp and for the first time in a long time at bath time—his demons are cast out and replaced with a tranquil peace.

I stared at Jake for a long time imagining what he would look like or be like without his afflictions and handicaps. For a brief moment I was given a picture of my son without his disability. It was a wonderful gift from a gracious God.

He stayed in the bathtub till the water got cold and then he stood up on his own to be dried off. As I wrapped the towel around him and lifted his 130 pound body from the water, I embraced him tightly.

He shivered slightly from the cold transition of the water to the warmth of the towel as he allowed me to hold him longer than he usually does. I smelled the strawberry shampoo in his hair and the clean scent of Dove soap on his cheek.

“Thank you.” I whispered in his ear…“And thank You.” I whispered in His ear.

Grace in the small things of life, is never small grace.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

A Birthday Letter to My Son

Dear Jake,

It’s hard to believe that you are 17 years old today. I woke up this morning wondering what happened to that little red headed boy that used to sleep on my chest at night and ride around on my shoulders everywhere we went during the day.

It seems like only yesterday when your mom came to me with the news that you would be our son. You were so tiny. We named you Jacob, after the grandson of Abraham, the youngest son of Isaac in the Bible; the son who was born small, weak, and insignificant but who was nonetheless chosen by God to be a Patriarch of a nation.

I still have the picture of you nestled inside of my old baseball glove wearing that miniature Cincinnati Reds baseball uniform. I didn’t have dreams of you actually becoming a patriarch, but I was sure you would grow up to be an All Star.

I can remember coming home from work late at night (actually early in the morning), just in time for your 2 AM feeding—getting you out of your crib, warming up a bottle and holding you all to my self. It was one of my favorite times of the day.

There in the peace of the morning, I was so content, just sitting in a dimly lit room watching you watch me—your eyes glued to mine—both of us speaking in deep, father-son conversation, without ever saying a word.

As you lay there on my lap taking your bottle, I would fascinate over your tiny, perfect hands, your smooth white cheeks and your fine strawberry hair. I couldn’t believe that I was a dad and you were my son. I was twenty-five when you were born and it was one of the happiest times of my life.

Then, just after your first birthday, you got sick and had to spend a lot of time in the hospital. Your mom and I were young and scared and didn’t know what to do when you stopped breathing and had seizures. We spent that entire year in hospitals and doctors offices trying to figure out what was causing you to be so sick. No one could give us any answers. No one could help you get better. We cried a lot that year. It was one of the most difficult times of my life.

Then, just as we were about to give up, we found someone who could help. He picked us up off the floor of our hopelessness, held us up with His strong arms, wiped away our tears with His gentle hands, and healed your seizures with His mighty power. He changed our lives forever. His name is Jesus, and you know Him well—for it was you that introduced us to Him.

From that point on, everywhere I went I told people your story, which has become my story, which is still today God’s story. He turned your tragic disability into a wonderful ability to impact lives and spread His fame. I am still amazed at your one simple life, so well lived in His amazing grace, with such a display of His fantastic glory. You were (and still are) an All Star on His team.

In John 9:1-3 Jesus proclaimed that a certain man’s disability existed, not because of sin or tragedy or misfortune, but that “the works of God might be displayed in him.”

Today, as you turn 17, the works of God have clearly been displayed throughout your life.
Today, thousands of people have heard your story. Many have been helped, healed and even saved. Someday, perhaps millions will hear of the power of God in your life. I’m working on it.

I am now 43, and as I sit here writing this letter to you I cannot help but wonder where the past 17 years of my life have gone. I found a box of pictures yesterday that took me back. You were so little; I was so young. Today you stand eye to eye with your dad, and I can no longer carry you in my own strength.

Your strawberry hair has turned rust and your face is in need of a shave. Your voice is a deep baritone and your hands are as big as my own. But as I look into your eyes I still connect with the silent conversations we had at those 2AM feedings—when all our dreams were so young, fresh and new. And I wait patiently, in hopeful anticipation, for the time to come when you are set free from your disability—a moment of eternity where we will walk steady and talk of deep things like father’s and sons do.

The past 17 years have been most difficult for us all. But I am amazed that when I look back, especially in pictures, I don’t see the difficulty. I see your smile and your magnetic personality. I see the moments where you and your brothers (the“Three Amigos”) did everything that brothers do. I can hardly even find your disability in those pictures. I guess that’s what it means to live life forward and to understand it backward.

It has not been easy being your dad, but it has been great. Greatness never comes with ease. I am proud that you are my son. I love you more than you will ever know this side of heaven. I cherish the memories of the past 17 years, and I look forward to the adventures to come in your life as you display more and more the works of God for all to see.

Happy birthday buddy,

Love Dad

Friday, April 2, 2010

Therefore, Clothe Yourselves...With Humility

I used to pray for humility in raising my disabled son. I tried praying for patience once and that was a disaster (smile if you know what I’m talking about). Then I discovered that humility comes naturally with disability. You don’t even have to pray for it (I say that loosely). It just shows up when you need it most or when you think you don’t need it at all—which is usually when you need it most.

I am by nature a very prideful person; my son Jake is by nature a pride killer. I love that about him—usually not at the moment, but always afterwards in reflection. I love that about him because God loves humility and hates pride. I love that about him because even in his disability, he has the ability to be used by God as a messenger for my good and a vessel for God’s glory.

Truth is, sometimes we are so self-centered that we fail to see the most important things in life. Therefore, we fail to find true joy in things that are truly satisfying because we are so tied up with superficial cares. We are all guilty of this at one time or another. Jake takes my shallowness away and leaves me with real, lasting, eternal reflection.

And that’s exactly what humility does; it causes us to see what is actually significant in life—and what is not.

I remember hearing a pastor tell the story of the time he was invited to speak at a conference to hundreds of people about humility. He was going to be speaking to executives and CEOs as well as big church pastors and seminary presidents. So, he went out and bought a brand new suit just for the occasion.

He only paid $89.99 for the whole suit, but it looked like one that could easily cost $500.00 to $1,000.00. He was sure that all his contemporaries would be impressed and no one would know the difference between a cheap suit and an expensive one. The suit fit him nicely, probably nicer than any other suit he had. It made him look ten pounds lighter and ten years younger. As he got dressed in front of the mirror he thought, “I love this suit!”

When he arrived at the conference, he spent much of the evening before his sermon flaunting around the entire room shaking hands with important people, dignitaries, executives and such, thinking much of himself and his new suit.

Then, just before he was scheduled to speak, one of the pastors standing beside him pointed out something hanging from the sleeve of his brand new suit. There, dangling for all to see was a huge, 3x5 inch price tag with the numbers printed in bold “$89.99”.

Instantly, God made the humbled pastor the illustration for his own sermon.

Sometimes we are so concerned about what other people think and about our outward appearance, that we forget the message we are to deliver. And make no mistake, every parent of a disabled child has a message. It is a message of humility, dependence and grace. And from time to time we need someone to point out our pride so that our message will be more authentic.

Our message to the world is not, “I have it all together and I can handle anything that comes my way”. The message that should be preached by every parent of a disabled child is, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength”. There are many other messages that follow, but all originate from the strength of God given to weak people for the magnification of His fame.

We carry this message to make much of God, not ourselves. And in making much of God, we allow people to experience His grace and love through us.

Parenting a disabled child is a mighty message of love, patience, servant-hood and humility. If you think about it, your child is actually the preacher of this message. You are just the translator to an audience that cannot understand the mysteries of God borne in trials they have yet to experience. But what an illustration of humble grace your family becomes to those silently watching.

So the next time your disabled child makes a mess of your image, think about the real meaning of the message God is speaking to you and those around you though this unlikely preacher of humility, dependency and grace. And keep the price tag on for all to see what a great deal you really got.