Dear Church Family,
This weekend on Friday evening and Saturday morning, we will be hosting our fifth annual Midland Reformed Theological Conference at Providence Presbyterian Church. Our speaker this year is Dr. Michael S. Beates, who will be speaking on “Wholeness from Brokenness: Disability, the Image of God in Man, and the Hope of Redemption.” Here is the schedule:
Friday, February 22, 2019
7:00 pm - Lecture 1: Imago Dei and Hard Providence (Genesis 1-2; Job; 2 Corinthians 12)
8:00 pm - Lecture 2: David and Mephibosheth (2 Samuel 9)
Saturday, February 23, 2019
9:00 am - Lecture 3: Paul’s Appeal on Behalf of the Disability Community (1 Corinthians 12)
10:00 am - Lecture 4: The Luke 14 Mandate (Luke 14)
11:00 am - Q&A
For all the details, please visit this page on our church website: http://www.providencemidland.org/mrtc2019.
Dr. Beates is an ordained minister in the PCA, the dean of students at the Geneva School in Winter Park, FL, serves on the International Board of Directors at Joni and Friends, and is the author of Disability & the Gospel: How God Uses Our Brokenness to Display His Grace. He and his wife, Mary, are the parents of seven children, one of whom lives with profound disabilities and two others who face challenges.
Over the course of the last several weeks, our Men’s Discipleship Group has been reading and discussing Dr. Beates’ book during our weekly meetings on Tuesday mornings. While it would be impossible to recount the many lessons that we have learned, I want to share with you just two insights that have struck me as we’ve studied this book.
(1) A Renewed Understanding of the Sovereignty of God and Contentment
Of course, as Christians – and especially as Reformed and confessional believers – we believe in the sovereignty of God. We believe that He made all things out of nothing in the space of six days and that He governs all things according to the counsel of His own will. Yet, when it comes to physical, mental, and emotional disabilities or tragedies in this world, we sometimes want to think that God does not ordain these things, but simply uses these results of the Fall for His good purposes.
Granted, these things are a result of man’s sinfulness and the curse of the Fall. The effects of the Fall (sin, brokenness, pain, and suffering) were not a part of the created order; God made all things good! He is not the author of sin. At the same time, through the examination of the Scriptures in Disability & the Gospel, Dr. Beates reminds us that God is sovereign even over such things as physical deformities and the brokenness that we experience in this world.
Here is just one example. When the Lord called Moses to go back to Egypt in order to be the instrument through which God would rescue and redeem His people from slavery, Moses protests by drawing attention to the fact that he is “slow of speech and slow of tongue” (Exodus 4:10). God’s response to Moses is fascinating, and even a bit surprising. Though I’ve read these verses many times, Dr. Beates’ exposition is illuminating:
While many debate the meaning of Moses’s words, whether or not this meant Moses had a disabling speech impediment, God’s response (in 4:11) is unambiguous. “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?” Consider what God is saying here. Be careful not to miss the full impact of this! If you are like me, when you begin to let this statement settle, you exclaim, ‘What?’ In this startling response, God not only does not deny responsibility for conditions we normally consider disabilities (blindness, deafness, muteness); rather, to our surprise, God takes credit for them! God says these things come from and are made by him. This is a hard statement! And we must accept it and learn from it. (Disability & the Gospel, 29).
Certainly, there is a mystery here. As creatures, it is impossible to fully comprehend the mind of the Lord and His purposes, but as Beates writes, we must accept and learn from these things. You see, a proper understanding of God’s sovereignty in all things is not simply a doctrine that deserves a chapter in a work of systematic theology. Our understanding of God, as He has revealed Himself to us in the Scriptures, profoundly affects how we think, speak, and behave every day as His children. In the “Forward” of this book, Joni Eareckson Tada speaks of the importance of learning to “embrace that which God gives from his left hand.” She writes, “I discovered that a right understanding of God’s hand in our hardships was critical to my contentment.” (Disability & the Gospel, 9-11).
(2) A Renewed Understanding of God’s Grace and Mercy
When I first began reading this book, I assumed that the purpose and intent of the book was to develop a “theology of suffering” and that the lessons learned would be applicable only to those who suffer from profound disabilities and those who care for them. Perhaps you’ve thought similar things about the upcoming conference: “It may be helpful for those with disabilities or those who have family members with disabilities, but the theme of ‘Wholeness from Brokenness’ doesn’t really apply to me.”
Let me tell you: nothing could be further from the truth! Yes, at the conference (as in the book), we will learn lessons from the Scriptures about what God says about disabilities and suffering. And, we will learn about how the church of Jesus Christ is called to welcome and minister to the needs of those who seem ‘less normal.’ But, one of the over-arching themes of the book – which will be explored at the conference, as well – is that those with more visible disabilities remind every one of us of our own weakness, brokenness, inability, and sin. Dr. Beates writes:
While the near goal of this book is that people with disabilities inhabit the worshiping community of God, the ultimate goal of this book is that God’s people will have a renewed sense of what it means to live as God’s children – accepted by his love despite our weakness, brokenness, and inability. Those who live with physical, mental, and other disabilities will help God’s people see those disabilities in themselves in a more authentic way. As we join hands with these brothers and sisters, seeing ourselves in each other, walking in relationship, then we will begin to move forward as a church with new power – transforming power. (Disability & the Gospel, 143).
The good news forgiveness and eternal life through the Lord Jesus Christ is only available to those who recognize their own neediness. As Jesus said, “It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31-32). And only when we come to see our own sin and inability, will we then be able to know and experience the grace and mercy of God.
Those with quite visible physical, mental, and emotional disabilities remind us that all of us are a sinful and broken people; we are much worse than we have ever cared to believe ourselves to be. Only then, may we find forgiveness, healing, and embrace the promise of God: For thus the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, has said, “In repentance and rest you will be saved, in quietness and trust is your strength” (Isaiah 30:15).
I hope to see you at the conference this weekend.
The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch