Emily Colson: What we saw in New York should chill us to our core. A mother can abort her baby at any point during her pregnancy. And when that passed, well-dressed, well-spoken men and women rose to their feet to cheer.
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John Fuller: That’s Emily Colson reflecting on a tragic, unbelievable moment in the New York legislature. She has a message for you today about the value of every life, and your host is Focus on the Family president Jim Daly, and I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, I agree. I mean to hear those cheers, which I have, of those legislatures high fiving each other about the death of children. That should chill everybody’s soul that even with that vote you wouldn’t be solemn about it. That’s unbelievable. Soon after that bill passed in New York, law makers in Virginia argued that abortion should be legal right up to birth or even just beyond, and lawmakers in other states are now looking to expand late term abortion as well. Last week, we interviewed us Senator, Ben Sasse to talk about his efforts and many other pro-life senators to protect these babies. If you missed it, we’ll post a link to that interview on our website that you can listen.
It was very encouraging because Senator Sasse and his colleagues are doing a great job representing the outrage that is building in the pro-life community, and we feel that this is the time to take action. The Holy Spirit is moving, and many people are saying, “Enough is enough.” And we’re inviting you to sign an online petition that we will deliver to the US congress and the White House. It’s called The Declaration for Life. And it clearly spells out our firm belief that life begins at conception and is worth protecting so please, join us in this important effort.
John: And we’ll link over to that interview and The Declaration for Life at focusonthefamily.com/prolife.
Jim: As we heard at the top of the show, Emily Colson, who’s the daughter of the late Chuck Colson, is also outraged by this recent legislation, and I want you to hear a message that she gave to our staff just a few weeks ago at our chapel here at Focus. She’s an advocate for people with disabilities, and you’ll hear why in just a moment
John: She’s got great heart, and here now is Emily Colson on Focus on the Family.
Emily: It’s a joy to be here. Thank you so much, Jim. It’s a – it’s a pleasure to be here with all of you. It’s great to see you, John. It is wonderful to be among friends. And it’s a joy to be here this morning and share some of my story with you. I have a beautiful son. His name is Max. He’s 28 years old. He’s awesome. And he has a diagnosis of autism. Nothing has been simple or easy in our lives, but God has made it beautiful. I’ve been a single mom with Max for most of those 28 years, which means I drink a lot of coffee (laughter). It also means that God has given me a beautiful perspective on life.
Psalm 100 says, “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the Earth come before him with joyful songs. Know that the Lord is God. It is He who made us, and we are his.”
I have to tell you something about Max, maybe my favorite thing about Max. Max loves church. Oh, that’s such a great statement. It’s huge because for years, we couldn’t figure out how to be in church. We didn’t know how to do it. But only God could unfold His beauty in an impossible situation. Max loves church so much that he even loves other churches. He fell in love with this one church service that’s – that’s played every single morning on television at 7 o’clock.
Well, we’d gone to visit this church several times. It’s in Massachusetts. It’s about 150 miles away. Every time we’ve gone, we have had beautiful blessings. So on this last visit, we invited some friends to come with us. We invited my – my friend Christine and her son, Christopher. Christopher is a little bit younger than Max. He also has autism. And Christopher is blind.
Well, we each drove four hours from our different homes and met up there. We were about 20 minutes early. And I said, “Oh, Christine we just have to go in because Max needs to soak everything up and kind of get used to the environment. And he’s just too excited to sit outside.” So we went in. And sure enough, Max is just looking all over this church and so excited in anticipation of the worship that, every now and then, he’s throwing his hands up in the air. And he’s yelling, “We’re gonna sing God’s praises” (laughter). Shouldn’t we all come into church like that?
Well, there was a woman on the other side of the church in a bright blue shirt. I saw her get up and walk towards us. And she leaned into my friend Christine, and she gave one of those head nods toward Max. And she said, “He doesn’t belong. I can’t think. I can’t pray. Can’t you just leave? He doesn’t belong.” I want to tell you that what happened in that church has nothing to do with any denomination. It has nothing to do with that church. It doesn’t even have anything to do with that woman. It has everything to do with our common human condition.
There’s a story in Matthew that I just love, Matthew 20. Jesus is leaving the city of Jericho, and there’s a crowd around him. And he hears two blind beggars cry out to Him from the side of the road. And do you know what happens? Do you know what the crowd around Jesus does? My NIV Bible says, “The crowd rebuked them and told them to be quiet.”
Now, embedded in that is “you don’t have any value,” right? Jesus doesn’t have time for you, two disabled men on the side of the road. Jesus doesn’t have time for you. You don’t belong. And when the crowd tried to silence them, the two blind men cried out even louder to Jesus, knowing He is their only hope. And then – this moment that I love – Jesus stopped with the crowd around Him and the cross before Him. Jesus didn’t listen to the voices of the crowd. Jesus listened to the two blind men crying out for him. Now, Jesus turned to those men. And He said, “What do you want me to do for you?” They asked for their sight. Now, we know Jesus could have healed those men from a distance and gone on on His mission because He had a lot to do, but He didn’t. He got close. He walked up to those men. He got very close. He put His hands on their place of brokenness and brought them healing. Jesus didn’t listen to the crowd. Jesus stepped in.
The voice of the crowd is very loud today – isn’t it? – telling us which lives have value, which lives do not, pushing people aside – the disabled, the elderly, the prisoner, the unborn, the unwanted, the disruptive, the inconvenient. We see it with assisted suicide. We see it with abortion. We see it with selective abortion in our country. Our number of babies that we abort who are diagnosed with Down syndrome is upward of 67 percent. We know it’s higher. We just don’t have those numbers to track it.
It takes little imagination for me to know who is next. When Max was diagnosed with autism, it was around 1 in 10,000, maybe 4 in 10,000. We just knew it was rare. Now the CDC reports that autism affects 1 in every 59 children, and a new federal study reports that it’s more like 1 in 40 children.
God calls us, His church, to step in to defend life. But I wanna ask you a hard question this morning: Will the church be able to defend life, if the church is not yet able to sit beside that very same life for an hour in the pew on Sunday morning?
Well, I wanna take you back to that little church in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, this tiny little church where this woman in a bright blue shirt kept leaning into my friend, saying of Max, “He doesn’t belong.” Oh, I’m so thankful for a friend beside me. My friend Christine kept looking at this woman. And all she said was, “All are welcome. All are welcome.” We had an advocate. We had somebody standing up for us, somebody saying, “I see this person’s value, and he belongs.” We stayed in that church. And I’m just gonna tell you that I’m not sure they’ve ever seen worship quite like that, quite that joyful. Max was so excited, bouncing up and down, singing at the top of his lungs. He is so thrilled. The priest would say something, and because he’s memorized everything, the priest would say, “Peace be with you,” and Max would answer, “And also with you” – so excited. I don’t know if we looked like church or a soccer match. But at one point, the priest, who was a very serious guy, just burst into this holy joy. He burst into laughter. He couldn’t contain it.
When the service was over, I just put my arms around Max and hugged him, so overwhelmed by God’s goodness, by God’s beauty in every life. And as I was hugging him, I felt someone watching me, and I looked up, and it was the woman in the bright blue shirt, and she was smiling.
1 Corinthians 12, 18 and 22 says, “God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as He wanted them to be. Those parts that seem weaker are indispensable.”
God calls us to Him not because we are worthy but because He is great. God places value in every life, and He calls us, His church, to affirm that value. The voices of the crowd are very loud these days, but Jesus didn’t listen to the crowd, and he doesn’t want us to either. We as the church should look radically different than the rest of society because we’re to be a reflection of the coming kingdom, the hope of the good to come.
John: You’re listening to Emily Colson on Focus on the Family, and you can get her book, Dancing With Max, call 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY.800-232-6459 or request that and CD, or download this conversation at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. Let’s go ahead and hear more from Emily Colson.
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Emily: Now, imagine – imagine if there were a blueprint for God’s kingdom. Imagine if there were a guest list for God’s kingdom. Here in Luke 14:13, Jesus is giving us a picture of the coming kingdom. He’s using a banquet to describe that, and he gives us the guest list. “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed.”
When Max was very young, I could take him to church quite easily. He was a wiggly guy. He was really loud. And then we hit those very tough years that we went through. We stopped going to church. We stopped going everywhere. You know, sometimes it seems like church is made for those with a spiritual gifting of being quiet and sitting still. We don’t have, really, either of those giftings. Sometimes we’re trying to make the church so perfect that we forget that the people who are coming in aren’t.
Max was baptized. He gave his life to Christ when he was 13. My dad had the privilege of baptizing his grandson. He was a Christian. I thought, “We can’t be out of church when my son is a Christian.” So I thought, “I’m gonna take Max back to the one thing he always loved about church when he was young.” He loved it to be over, so we went was church was over.
I’m like, we can do that. We can do that milling around, and it’s the coffee hour. I thought, we can do that. Well, we got there, and Max started helping some of the guys stack chairs. And I didn’t really know what they were doing, but when we were about to leave one of those men came up to Max. He put his hand on his shoulder as if he were knighting my son, and he said, “Max, we could use you on the grunt crew.” That’s the cleanup crew. Well, I didn’t know what it was. Max didn’t know what it was. But he stood so tall and straight. And he gasped, “Yes.”
See, somebody took one minute – one minute out of their life to say, “Max, you’re needed. You’re valued. You’re indispensable.” That one invitation changed our lives. For six years, we came to what we called ‘backwards church.’ We came when church was over. We were there for the worship music at the end. And Max was there to serve.
Everybody got to know and love Max and his joy of service. I want you to know that now he comes – now he comes and he serves on the welcome center. Now he comes and he serves in kids’ church, and he helps out down there. He comes and he serves by vacuuming. He does have the spiritual gift of vacuuming.
And Max is a greeter. Oh, I wish you could see people coming through the doors of our church; they’re carrying their burdens, the burdens of the week, the worries they’re carrying, and they meet his joy, and they are undone. I watch the armor just drop right off. And they are ready to worship. I think Max in front of our church says everything. I think it says, “All are welcome. Disability on the outside, disability – spiritual disability on the inside, come.”
Max has found this spot where he loves to worship. Every Sunday morning, he climbs up on the sound-booth platform. It’s about five steps up in the back of the church, this little plywood platform. And he’s up there every Sunday morning, and he is leaping and dancing. He’s 190 pounds, so he’s airborne more than he’s on the ground. So when he lands, you really, really, really know he lands. He sings at the top of his lungs.
He was up there one morning, and he’s leaping and dancing. And a friend was standing beside me. And I said, “Oh, boy.” I said, “One day, Max is gonna go right through that floor ‘dunk-tank’ style. He’s just gonna – he’s gonna disappear.” And my friend just smiled gently. And he said, “No, he won’t.” And I said, “Well, why not?” And he said, “Because, months ago, some of the men in the church noticed exactly the same thing. Months ago, they got together, and they reinforced the floor.”
Yeah. I so love this. Do you know what I love? Nobody told me. Nobody said, “Emily – Emily, we really – we really love having Max here he belongs, but he just doesn’t belong here. Could you have him belong over there?” – because that’s what we do with people with disabilities. We want to welcome them in, but I’d like to welcome you in over there, people that make us uncomfortable, people who are a little bit different. They didn’t do that. Nobody told me about the inconvenience, about how somebody – how these guys had to get together and take their Saturday and come into the church just specifically to rebuild the sound-booth platform where Max dances. Nobody told me about the inconvenience. They just held him up. That’s what God calls us to do as the church, to hold each other up, to uphold life, to stand for what is good and right and true, to be like Jesus and step in. Our churches need to sound pro-life. And our churches need to look pro-life.
There’s a woman at our church named Kate. She came up to me one day. And she said, “Emily, I’ve been at this church for about a year.” And she said, “I came to this church because I heard how much this church loves Max. And she said she thought to herself, “I think if that church can love Max, then I think that church can love me.” Our pastor said about Max being in the church, “We gave up perfect, and we got something better. And that something better is that lived-out faith that begins to ripple out into the community. And it’s what people are hungry for.”
God has given me remarkable blessings in this journey with Max. And I will tell you that none of it has been easy. There are challenges that are beyond what I could begin to describe. And there are gifts and blessings and goodness, the goodness of God, beyond what I could describe.
This is exactly where God calls us to step in, to rejoice with those who rejoice, to grieve with those who grieve, to step in to the joys and challenges with our families. If you know of a family living with disability, I want to – I want to tell you something that’s kind of old school. Pick up the phone, and call them. You’ll be amazed at how touched they will be. Ask if you can come and visit. Ask if you can do something with the family, something that they really love to do anyway, not out of their comfort zone, in their comfort zone and join them there. `
A friend of mine, Kathy, who is raising a daughter with significant disabilities, said she loves when people say they are going to pray for her. But she said what she really desperately wants is someone to pray with her.
Invite – invite someone to church. Invite someone to stack chairs. You might just change a life. You might just change the church. One day soon, we will detect autism in utero. Please, please help to make the church strong before that day comes, so that when that expectant mother gets that word, that diagnosis that her child she is carrying may have autism – oh, yeah. She’s gonna be scared. She’s gonna be overwhelmed. And then please let her think, “Wait. Wait. I know – I know someone – I love someone with autism. They’re in my church. And I know how the church loves that person.” And may she think, “I think if the church can love that person that I know – I know the church will love my child.”
Many look at disability and question the goodness of God, the big questions around disability. We look at people to try to understand who God is, right? But we have that backwards. We have to look at God to understand who people are. And He is the author of all of life. He is the creator of the heavens and the Earth. He is the Great I Am. So we come to Him. We come to Jesus, our help and our hope, asking Him to help us with our own blindness in our hearts and in our churches that keeps us from seeing the beauty and value in every life. And He shows us not to silence the cries of those who want access to him, even when those cries disrupt our plans and our church services, even our mission.
Every life is precious, unrepeatable, irreplaceable, indispensable, one of a kind and part of God’s grand love story. Keep going, my friends. Keep doing what you’re doing. Keep speaking up for life. Keep defending life. Keep upholding life. I am so very, very thankful for you. God bless you.
John: Emily Colson on today’s episode of Focus on the Family, and we had to end right there on this broadcast, but Jim, after she finished, you asked our staff to join Emily praying for families affected by autism like mine, and that was a really deeply moving experience so thank you for doing that.
Jim: Well you’re welcome, John. That’s what we need to do in the body of Christ. Hold each other up in prayer and in practical ways like Emily talked about. And as the church, we need to make sure that we welcome everyone into our houses of worship. Let’s not shut out people like Max who have such a joyful love of The Lord. And as we said at the top of the program, we feel that we’ve come to a tipping point in the fight to protect every life. And Focus on the Family is taking action and inviting you to sign the online petition that we are going to deliver to Washington DC to show how many Americans feel passionately about this issue. It’s called a Declaration for Life`, and it clearly spells out the pro-life position. So please, join us in this important effort and stay tuned for more ways that you can get involved.
John: You can sign that online petition at focusonthefamily.com/prolife. And as always you can call us. Our number is 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening to Focus on the Family. I’m John Fuller inviting you back next time when you’ll hear how a severely dysfunctional marriage was saved and once again, help you and your family thrive in Christ.