Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Ten thousand reasons

The priests then left the Holy Place. All the priests there were consecrated, regardless of rank or assignment; and all the Levites who were musicians were there—Asaph, Heman, Jeduthun, and their families, dressed in their worship robes; the choir and orchestra assembled on the east side of the Altar and were joined by 120 priests blowing trumpets. The choir and trumpets made one voice of praise and thanks to God—orchestra and choir in perfect harmony singing and playing praise to God: Yes! God is good! His loyal love goes on forever!
Then a billowing cloud filled The Temple of God. The priests couldn’t even carry out their duties because of the cloud—the glory of God!—that filled The Temple of God.
(2 Chronicles 5:13, MSG)
You might know the chorus I sang as a child:

"God is so good,
God is so good,
God is so good, he’s so good to me."

It’s one of those that’s so simple it can stay in your head and heart for days. In my memory as I write I can hear the voices of my whole family joining together unaccompanied at the end of a day together; simple to begin with, building harmonies and gusto as we continued singing with fervor, Granddad banging out the rhythm on the arm of the chair. All ages together, all of us could manage these words and get caught up in the momentum of the tune and the emotion of the heartfelt voices.

"He took my sin,
He took my sin,
He took my sin, he’s so good to me."

And in the singing peace filled me – that knowledge that everything in my life knew its rightful place in His hands. Sometimes we paused and filled in verses of our own going round the room for things we were thankful for; He helps me stand; He hears my prayer; He knows my name… of course one of us little ones always wanted to fit in something like ‘He gives me ice-cream’ too – and why not!

"Now I am free,
Now I am free,
Now I am free, he’s so good to me."

Then the song would fade and a new song of praise would begin; ‘How great is the God we adore’; ‘Great is your faithfulness’; ‘I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene’…

Some of those in my memory have already joined the choirs of heaven – I wonder if Granddad is still banging out the rhythm of God’s praise for that choir! – and some of us are left here to continue passing on the baton of praise to our God, drawing in the little ones, gathering the family to sing with one heart and voice that ‘God is so good’. Our voices join with the choirs of heaven, and the cry of creation. In all circumstances, in my every emotion and every breath, in my joys and sorrows, the doubts and questions, the hopes and longings ‘God is so good’. Unchanging. Ever faithful. Overflowing with reckless love. Pouring out overwhelming mercy. Emmanuel, God with us.   
  • How am I singing God’s praise in my life today?
  • What am I full of thanks for?
  • What is the choir of heaven singing?
Father, Son, Holy Spirit fill my heart with remembrance of your goodness today. Lift me to sing your praise with all the choirs of heaven full of thankfulness for who you are, and all you have done for me. Amen

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Faith More Important Than Healing?

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One day Jesus was teaching, and Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there. They had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal the sick. Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.

When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”

The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God. Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, “We have seen remarkable things today.”
(Luke 15:17-26, NIV)

I sometimes get asked what my views are on divine healing; whether I believe that God heals people, why he might heal one person and not another, even whether I’ve ever prayed for healing for my son James (15-years-old, Autistic, with Learning Disabilities). At a recent conference that I was speaking at, I was asked again in the context of whether it is right to pray for the healing of someone else, someone who may not have even given their consent to be prayed for, in this case a child.

A lot of questions here; big questions, big implications for them… So, here we go…

Can God heal? Yes, there are many examples in the Bible, particularly but not restricted to the Gospels, where people are healed of a wide range of conditions. The blind see, the deaf hear, those that cannot walk are able to walk again, and many more. Some of us will also have contemporary accounts of healing that we have witnessed. Not the fake healing of the TV evangelist, but genuine divine healing of someone brought about through earnest prayer. God can and does heal.

So why some and not others? Isn’t that unfair? Of course, none of us can know the mind of God… that’s not a cheap cop-out, it’s reality. Perhaps God heals some and not others because in eternal terms this is the wisest, best outcome. Perhaps by healing someone, the opportunity for others to be reached with the good news of Jesus might be lessened.

Let me give you an example of this, while at the same time answering the question about whether I’ve ever prayed for James to be healed of his Autism…

James, was 2½ when he was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC) and associated Learning Disability. It came as an enormous shock, and at that time of course we asked many questions; “Why our son?”, “Why our family?”, and yes, I did at that time ask God that James be ‘healed’ of his Autism. Looking back, I think that prayer was as much a selfish act as being a plea on behalf of James… Life with a son with significant additional needs was going to be hard; at that time I could only see all of the challenges and difficulties that lay ahead.

I soon learned, however, not only to accept James for who he is, but to love his differences, to celebrate the changes that he brought to our family, to our worldview, to our faith journey, and to how God started to use us. I stopped praying for James to be ‘healed’; if James didn’t have ASC, he wouldn’t be James, he wouldn’t be the same boy, he wouldn’t be the same inspiration to me that gets me up every morning excited at the opportunities ahead. If James had been ‘healed’ of ASC, I doubt I would have the same motivation and drive to lead an additional needs ministry at Urban Saints, to have co-founded the Additional Needs Alliance, to work hard to make life better for the one-in-five children who journey with additional/special needs. There could have been significant negative impact if James had been ‘healed’ of ASC.

When I pray about James now, I pray also for myself; I pray that I might understand his world better, to be able to support and help him more effectively, to be able to understand and help him to develop his limited communication. I don’t pray for James to be ‘healed’ so that he can fit neatly into my world, I pray that I might be able to join him in his world and appreciate it better. And in praying in this way, perhaps it is me that receives the healing…

In Luke 5:17-26 (read it in your favourite translation), a man who couldn’t walk was brought to Jesus by his friends. There was quite a crowd and they couldn’t get near to Jesus, so they went up to the roof, made a hole and lowered their friend through. What happened next is significant… Jesus saw the man, recognised his faith and that of his friends, and… forgave him for the wrong things he had done. The man’s faith, his eternal salvation, these were the things that were important to Jesus. He subsequently did heal the man’s legs, but only to prove his authority on earth…

So what does all of this say to us about what our attitude to healing should be? Well, perhaps there are three take-aways for us from what we’ve explored together:

1.     God is more interested in our eternal future than our current physical or mental situation. Perhaps we should focus more on how we reach everyone, including those with additional needs or disability, with the good news of Jesus Christ, than whether God is going to heal us, or our loved ones, in this life.
2.     Maybe we should think about our own motivation for praying for healing for others; is there a risk that we are praying for healing for a loved one because that might make our life a little easier? Would healing actually be the best thing for our loved one? What should we really be praying for?
3.     We should celebrate all that is different for us because of our journey with someone with additional needs or disability. Think about all the positive ways that our lives, our worldviews, have changed. How can we use these changes to help others, to be God’s blessing to others on a similar journey, to see God turn what we might have seen as a negative into a positive? And in doing this, perhaps it is us that receives the healing…

We’ve grappled with some big questions here, and pondered on some big answers… You may not agree with all I’ve said, and that’s fine, we’re all different; but keep asking, keep praying, keep searching for your answers, and let’s keep walking on the journey together…

Prayer:  Father, you teach us through your word the Bible, and through our lived experience and faith journey, that you love us; that you care about us and our eternal future with you.  You care about these things much more that whether we, or our loved ones, are healed or not in this life. Help us to know and share your love, to know and share your will for each other; help us to know what we should be praying for and how. And help us to celebrate all that is wonderful, unique and positive about each person we pray for, and through this let us experience the healing of our souls. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Monday, November 20, 2017

My word against His

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I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.
Psalm 139:14 (ESV)

Recently, I’ve been thinking about seeing myself as God sees me. I confess that I’m close to clueless in that regard. I’ve used my own biased, inaccurate perception of myself for… a lifetime. Like most issues with perception, you see what you look for, so most of my biases and skewed perceptions have been confirmed by my own actions. As God has challenged me to change my glasses and see things from His perspective, I confess that, in this matter, I’m a special needs student.

Recently, J. has started communicating his desire to develop skills that he doesn’t yet have. Since my biased, shrunken self-perspective doesn’t extend to my son, it’s easy for me to see the potential for him, and to encourage him to work hard in areas that are on the boundaries of his current skills. His perspective is not as steady. Some days, he really wants to work on the skills. On other days, he struggles to believe its possible, as he is absorbed by the challenges of autism. Convincing him to try, when he’s feeling despondent, can be very difficult. I wish he would just believe me.

I feel the same way, a voice whispers to my heart.

Believing what we don’t (yet) see is the story of faith. I often remind my kids about what God has said about them, encouraging them to live up to what’s really true. As I walk J. to the school bus, and tell him that the power that raised Jesus from the dead lives in him and will enable him to regulate his body and control his impulses. I seldom offer myself the same gift, the nourishment that comes when I say to myself what God has said about me.

Let me start again today. I am who He says I am. I’m fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps. 139:14). I am a priest to God (1 Peter 2:9), a co-heir with Christ (Gal. 4:7). The Anointed One lives in me and His presence surrounds me. His plans for me are good (Jer. 29:11), to prosper and not harm me. His works are truly wonderful and all His promises are yes and amen.

Lord, may we believe what you have said.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Stay Humble ~ #SacredSunday

When our kids have additional medical, social, and educational needs, it's way too easy to walk around with a chip on our shoulders. While only God knows our kids better than we do, we can become so arrogant that we scoff at the insights of doctors, therapists, educators, and even other parents. What if God is trying to help us through other people? Staying humble and keeping our own selves in proper perspective opens us up to Divine wisdom and sage advice from others that we may not have otherwise considered. For your sake, the sake of your child, and the sake of your witness, embrace humility today. 
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Friday, November 17, 2017

Practicing Thanks-Giving in Word and Deed

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
Colossians 3:17 NLT 

Can you believe it???? Thanksgiving is next week and Christmas is just a blink away. I'm reminded by the verse above- that all we do — in whatever season we're in — we're to be thanking our good, good Father. 

Word and deed. With our mouth and with our hands. Thankfulness and gratitude aren't reserved for a couple of designated days each year! Sometimes the hardships and challenges that come with being a parent of a child with special needs can blur my vision concerning our many blessings.

I fight the "poor me," "life is so hard" attitude. Thankfulness in word and deed helps me defeat the "buying stuff helps me enjoy life more" lie. I especially have to prioritize at this time of year as I'm bombarded with ads and bargains before Thanksgiving through the night before Christmas.

Instead of ignoring Black Friday, I've decided to use it as the catalyst to prioritize our giving with intentionality. Thankfulness says, "I have been given so much, I want share my abundance with others."

What better way to teach Bethany to be grateful for her blessings than to help her put her focus on others in need and help her pay it forward? 

   So BEFORE the shopping games and holiday feasts commence, we make a Merry Black Friday List!s
We make a different list and check it twice.
We know we're blessed by God and we want to be nice.
Sometimes our Christmas presents are meager but fun.
We gladly celebrate God's Holy Son!
This year before lots of presents are bought or they're ordered
I'm determined I'm gonna do my best to pay my blessings forward!

Bethany did some extra chores and earned money. Then we went shopping! Hot Wheels, socks, jump ropes, and hard candy are going to fill our Samaritan's Purse Christmas Shoe Boxes! Just look at the joy on the face of those children! We packed 360 boxes at our church's packing party!!!

Ring Those Bells ~ All spare change goes in my purse or car to be given to Bethany or the grandkids when we're out and about. We just can't pass those merry bell ringers and the red Salvation Army bucket. It's important to learn that a little from many makes a difference.

Samaritan's Purse

I used to buy Christmas presents and then make a donation to somewhere. For the past couple of years, I've decided to make my Samaritan Purse Gift list for BEFORE I make my giving list for our family. This reins me in from impulse buying things just because they're a "good deal" that we don't really need. It focuses my heart on the true Spirit of giving.

In less than a minute of perusing the gift catalog, my heart was captured in the timeless truth — It is more blessed to give than receive.

As I read about children and families sleeping outside after a storm, earthquake, or other disaster, I thought about "what if" it were us? What if those were my grandchildren?
Two years ago, I spied warm, snuggly blankets for only $6.00 each! I quickly bought 11 in honor of our 11 grandchildren. Warmth, shelter... things we take for granted. Thankfulness for our abundance should propel us to give to those who have so little.
The next thing that made my heart beat faster was sponsoring a Medical Missionary Doctor!

Recently, our dentist had overwhelmed us with his generosity. Bethany was born without 6 permanent teeth. She just lost the last of her baby teeth and was left with a large gap on her left upper and a gap on her middle lower. The cost for bridges for Bethany would take us at least a year or two to save for. (Can you say not covered by insurance?)

Our dentist (God bless Dr. Markway!!!) gifted Bethany bridges and all the dental work to make her smile beautiful!  WHO DOES THAT? Count your blessings, name them one by one.

We decided sponsoring a Medical Missionary Doctor would be a great way to honor him and pay it forward!
Last thing on my Merry Black Friday Giving list? Finding something to donate in honor of our kids and their spouses!
It's so hard to decide!!! Providing care for orphans? Food and warm clothing? Clean Water? We finally decided on a gift that keeps on giving! Chickens and Goats. They not only provide much needed food, but help lift whole families out of poverty by their own work.
We've made our list. We've checked it twice. 
Our hearts feel full at such a small price.
Such joy to share, with those in need.
To do God's word in thought and deed.

Don't forget — Thanks-Giving is a Verb.

 Have a Grateful Thanksgiving that leads to a Merry Black Friday!

Prayer:  Father, open our eyes to see your goodness and grace in our lives! Help us count our blessings, give thanks, and make our Thanks-Giving both word and deed. In Jesus Name, Amen.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Thankful for What?!?

 Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy!” 
James 1:2 (NLT)

My life seems to be a constant game of dodgeball against “troubles of any kind.” Whether it is having four teenagers under one roof, or leading a blended family, or simply navigating the craziness that our calendar becomes at times.

Granted, busyness might not qualify under the category of troubles that James was referring to, but this summer, I was faced with a huge trouble that threatened to tear apart my home. The pain was deep, the ramifications huge, and except for the grace of God, it could have been a trouble that truly never ended.

How do I view a time of crisis as an opportunity for great joy?

How do I keep a perspective of gratitude in the midst of deep pain?

How do I worship and praise God as the very ground around me feels like it is crumbling and falling away?

I wish that I had some profound answers here, but let me share where I am at. 

First, I am grateful for the crisis because it drove me back on my knees at the feet of God in a way that, quite honestly, I have not experienced in quite some time. I had become very passive in my faith and apparently was coasting on past experiences instead of coming boldly before God every day. I would love to say that I am now approaching God confidently in my sacred space that is daily set aside, but that would not be true. However, the awareness and the desire and the need for God’s presence in my life is larger than I can remember in quite some time.

Second, the crisis has drawn my wife and I into greater conversations, greater time together, and more of a “let’s face the world together” mentality. We are determined to win and, by God’s strength, we are winning and will continue to win. I cannot live this life alone. It is not how God wired me, and it is just simply no fun to walk a path in solitude for any extended amount of time. I am reminded daily of how amazing my wife is and I am grateful.

Finally, I have been reminded that the enemy truly hates me and my family. He wants to see us fail and fall apart. He is completely against the story of redemption that our blended family is writing. I must remain vigilant in praying for my home, my wife, and our kids. I cannot take a day off, I cannot put our home in cruise control, and I cannot forget that I live daily in a battle between holy and unholy.

Would life be nicer without crises? Maybe, but it is often the time spent in the valley that reminds us how amazing the mountaintop is. Paul wrote his most joyful epistle in the shadow of prison bars. Maybe we just need the reminder that we live in a broken world that is filled with sin. When storms come, when crises threaten all that we hold dear, let us ask God to help us see the opportunities for great joy.
Great joy in remembering that God is in control!

Great joy in being drawn back into his presence!

Great joy in being compelled to focus on our many blessings!

What do we have to be thankful for? A relationship with God, a security of eternity with him, and the assurance that he is right beside us in every circumstance regardless of how dark the clouds are.

Be encouraged, be blessed, and be thankful!

Lord, I am so grateful that you are on the throne. Remind me daily to lean on you, to trust in you, to spend time in your presence. When the crises of life come, may they not cause my home to crumble; rather, help me to stand firm on your foundation so that when the waves pass, I know exactly what I have to be thankful for. Amen!
~ Mike

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

What I Am Thankful For As A Special Needs Parent

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"Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.... And be thankful." 
Colossians 3:15 NIV

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I just love the opportunity to gather with family and reflect on all the things we are grateful for, realize how blessed we truly are, all while eating some amazing food.

Although I don't always love the special needs parenting journey I am on, there are plenty of things I am thankful for about it. Today, I'd like to share with you the five things I am most thankful for in this special needs journey.

1) Progress

It's so easy to focus on all the areas our children are struggling, their weaknesses, how far they are behind their peers.

In the Genesis account of God creating the world, He said “it was good,” after everything He created. He didn’t just say “it was good,” when it was all done. We must do that too. Celebrate the little victories as well as the big. Celebrate not just the huge milestones, but every little inch in between. And whether they've made a lot of progress, or just a little, progress is progress and I'm very thankful for it!

2) Strength

Being a special needs parent molds you into a different person. Stronger, more determined, more resilient, more passionate about a world you hadn't experienced before. I'm thankful for that.

But the way I've grown the strongest? Is my faith. Sure, I've questioned God a lot in this journey, but I also trust Him more than I ever did before. I need to rely on God like never before. My faith is totally different now, than it was six or seven years ago when my older son started getting diagnosis after diagnosis, and I am so very thankful for that.

3) Community

I'll admit, I've lost a few friends in this special needs journey. But I've gained so many more. Whether I met them online or God's allowed our paths to cross in real life, I've met people I never would have had the opportunity to meet otherwise.

And I'm so thankful for each and every one of my friends, family members, my children's teachers and therapists. They say it takes a village to raise a child and I'm so grateful for mine, for all the people who pour into my children in ways I cannot and celebrate with me every new bit of progress.

4) Education

I was a middle school English teacher before becoming a special needs parent. The things I've learned since this journey began are priceless to me. I devour books on sensory processing and speech and language as if they were the middle school books I used to love and recommend to my students. I appreciate all the new things I've learned that have helped me care for my own children. And I'm always thankful when I'm able to share my new insights with others.

This new education I've attained has opened my eyes to a bigger world than I had previously experienced. A world where I now have more compassion, more understanding, more passion for advocating for what is best for each and every child. I know that if I were to ever return to the classroom, my teaching would be totally changed because of everything I've learned on this journey.

And last, but definitely not least,

5) My Children

I loved my children even before they were born. And when each of them received diagnosis after diagnosis, I grieved. I cried. I feared for their future. I've compared them to other kids and felt devastated at how far behind they are their peers.

But I'm thankful I have the privilege of watching them blossom in their own way. I'm proud of how hard they work to learn what comes so easily to others. I love joining them when they get to do something they're excited and passionate about and watching them come alive. I love their own ways they show me they love me. I love celebrating with them when they learn a new word or a new skill. They bring so much joy and purpose to my life and I am so thankful that God gave them to me.

Prayer: Dear God, it is so easy to focus on the challenges in my life, but please help me to see all the things I have to be thankful for. So many blessings that I couldn't even list them all. Help me to have an attitude of gratitude every day, not just at Thanksgiving.

By Jenn Soehnlin