Joni Erickson Tada at ACSI Tacoma (Nexus)
Joni described flipping the pages of her bible with a stick in her mouth looking for words like suffering, affliction, pain. What she found was how often Jesus was in the vicinity of afflicted, weak, ill-equipped, unfit people, choosing the inept, the unlikely, the timorous, the youngest, the last, and makes them his firsts.
Why does he do this? God chose these people because of their weakness, not in spite of it. He, and he alone would get the glory when the job gets done, done his way, by his means, and for his glory.
This is not the way we do things, is it? We bring together the best. Weak people need not apply. Folks with physical handicaps, no way. But this is not God, the sovereigns way. He opens his arms to the poor and ungifted, the unlovely, those who are not of noble birth, not wise, not influential, so that when the work is done all the glory goes to God.
For Joni, the first decade of her life in a wheelchair, she had to learn that God works this way. He uses the damaged the unwhole, they lead with power because of their weakness. Jesus himself led with power because he was a nobody in the world’s eyes. He became a servant, washed their feet, even Judas’s feet. Always modeling the vision to empower the weak that gathered around him.
Sent his disciples out into the highways and byways to bring in the riff-raff. The disciples were bewildered by this. Who cares about a blind beggar beside the road? Jesus. She has come to appreciate that all her afflictions, even her recent breast cancer are God’s means of his power showing up best in weak people. She wants to be a powerful visual aid of this. She wants to show people the heart of Jesus with her life.
God is not interested in my strengths. God’s power shows up best in weakness. This is real for Joni every morning. She has to constantly be reminded of this. Her daily routine is daily reminder. Bed bath, friend coming in to attend her. But what she feels is incapable of doing this again. O Jesus, I have no resources for this but you do. I have no strength for this but you do. I can’t do quadriplegia today, but you can. Lord Jesus, let me borrow your smile, do this through me. A miracle happens every day, hard fought for and straight from heaven.
Maybe the really handicapped are those who hop up under their own steam and feel their strength and take pride in it. But God is against the proud, resists the proud. God can even be against Christians who live proudly, neat tidy, God figured out in a box. But he gives grace to the humble. Those who wake up knowing they need God desperately. The right way to wake up in the morning.
She described next her cancer treatment, everything fell out. She almost purchased that Brooke Shields eyelashes deal, but the fine print: leads to thoughts of suicide. Suffering is like a little splash of hell to remind us what Jesus has rescued us from. And then what are the splash overs of heaven? Finding Jesus in your hell. That is precious and lovely.
There’s a lesson in this for ACSI teachers. Celebrating weakness in Christian schools. Funding is always the problem. But maybe deeper. Something huge is missing in education of our young people are barred from the weak and ill. Told story of handicapped girl who became essential part of her Christian school. Jessie died and over a thousand people at that funeral, students with more heart and enthusiasm for their weak sister.
Disability is costly, slows down the process, but the lessons it teaches cannot be calculated. Let God bring into the classroom who are not normal, who are weak, who don’t fit the norm. The value to the students is immeasurable. CH Spurgeon “The knowing of things is not education. Ed does not have a finish line. It is an endowment, to teach young people how to live contented lives in the face of adversity…. Always anxious to come to the end of things, until things come to an end.”
She concluded with Paul, “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; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (I Corinthians 1:27-31).
“Join me in being weak and finding your boast in the Lord, and you don’t have to break your neck to do it.” She concluded singing My Jesus I Love Thee, while we hummed along. She has a lovely voice. I doubt there was a dry eye anywhere in the hearing of this. Mine aren’t.