Diverse As We Are!

I am resonating on sermon I recently heard. Unity flows out of us learning together how to live out our identity in Christ as His body – diverse as we are!

The apostle Paul tells us, grace is given to each one as Christ apportioned it. Ephesians 4:7

We do not all get the same grace but each one gets what is needed to accomplish His will. The grace the apostle Paul speaks of here, are spiritual gifts.

to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Eph 4:12,13

It was one of those “a-ha” moments for me, as my pastor divided spiritual gifts into four categories: and he said… “you may be surprised. They may be people you would not expect to have certain gifts.” Apostle (sent one) Prophet (teller) Evangelist (proclaimer) Shepherd and teacher (caregiver)

My thoughts immediately went to folks with intellectual disabilities that I am in community with because they ARE spiritually gifted. You may agree but it might be stretching to believe that God would give any of these gifts to someone with an intellectual disability. If so, think of stretching as a “good” thing. When I stretch before exercise, it is to prepare me for the work I am about to do. When I stretch afterward it is to increase my flexibility while allowing my body to cool down and release those good endorphins bringing new energy and readiness to meet the next challenge.

In the same way the Holy Spirit leads me in spiritual stretching, to soften my heart. To prepare me for a change in the way I think, to equip me for work He calls me to do and to strengthen my faith and resolve to be ready for that next challenging step of faith.

When I was introduced to the idea that folks with intellectual disabilities as a sub-culture, it made sense to me. I understood a sub-culture to be a group of people with values and norms distinct from the majority who exist in society. There are countless numbers of groups that fit my simple definition. Sub-cultures can be defined by music, fashion, race, religion, economy, leisure, activities, and the lists go on, So what? Who really cares outside of that group and why should you?

Why as Christians “should” we care whether people with intellectual disabilities are a subculture? Because we “should” want to reach them! Missionaries learn about the culture they enter in to so the gospel can be presented in an understandable way. So must we learn how best to reach folks with intellectual disabilities so that we can deliver the gospel in ways that are clear and easy for them to understand.

Maybe(?) I would not care if I didn’t have Britt, my 35-year-old daughter with Down Syndrome. But because of the gift of her life our family became engaged in a culture we never would have known, and I am thankful for being stretched in this way. I care because I love Britt and want to understand all that I can about how best to reach her about our God who lovingly created her in His image. And who has gifted her to fulfill His purpose and plan in the world she and we live in. And that is also my aim with our Caring Friends.

Because of Britt I have come to know and love and care deeply for others like her who value the things she values, which is often just to fit in. They have similar living and social arrangements. They have related challenges, feeling, likes and dislikes and so much more in common. They even have their own language; if I were to enter gathering of people with intellectual disabilities and I said…Let me win… I am fairly, certain that many in the group would be able to complete that statement.

“Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt”

It is the Special Olympics Oath. It’s beautiful and I have seen it demonstrated. But trust me they are not all good sports! They are just like us, self-centered sinners in need of a Savior. And yet they are one of the largest un-reached people group in the world.

“The Largest Un-reached People Group You’ve Never Heard Of”
By Ryan Falk of Joni and Friends writes this…
Multiple studies show that, all things being equal, people with disabilities are less likely than their peers to attend church even once a month. Of the sixty-one million American adults living with some sort of disability, there are about 2.25 million who—statistically speaking—should be attending church, but don’t. A 2018 study from Clemson University shows that children with any kind of disability are less likely than their peers to attend church, and children with autism are twice as likely to never attend a religious service.

This reality matters to our GOD and Creator who has purpose for every life!

For you created my inmost being you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful; I know that full well. Psalm 139:13-14

GOD loves people with disabilities and blesses those who love them!

But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Luke 14: 13-14

GOD is glorified with people who have disabilities!

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 2 Corinthians 12:9

GOD deems people with disabilities as a necessary art of the body of Christ!

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 1 Corinthians 12:21-26

Sadly, most churches are missing this necessary part of the body. Maybe unknowingly but because the world is, by default, a poor fit for people with disabilities so is the church. Categories of barriers include architectural environment, attitudes, communication, programs, and philosophy. Change philosophy to theology and the barriers are the same in the church.

I pray for unity in the Body of Christ, that leads us to take intentional steps to remove the barriers that prevent us from learning together how to live out our identity in Christ as His body – diverse as we are! Thanks for reading! Next month more about next steps of faith in this journey.

Well, we are Caring Friends

In his book  “Spiritual Disciplines for The Christian Life”  Donald Whitney devotes a full chapter to the spiritual discipline of Serving for the purpose of Godliness.  The chapter ends with this…

WANTED: Gifted volunteers for difficult service in the local expression of the Kingdom of God.  Motivation to serve should be obedience to God, gratitude, gladness, forgiveness, humility, and love. Service will rarely be glorious, temptation to quit will sometimes be strong. Volunteers must be faithful despite long hours, little or no visible results and possibly no recognition except from God in eternity. 

In previous years as I served and recruited volunteers for children’s ministry (with a sort of tongue in cheek) I would often include the words above in my appeal. Today I pulled the book off the shelf to re-read that Want Ad,  it made my heart glad. I am so thankful to have the privilege of working with a team of volunteers who perfectly fit the description above. We are Caring Friends.  My daughter Britt came up with the name for our ministry 7 years ago. I will always remember loving the way she saw and included herself when I asked what we might call our future ministry?  She said…

“Well, we are all caring friends!”

Though Britt was the only person with an intellectual disability at that gathering in January 2014, she didn’t see any difference between herself and all the others around the table. All were present because of their involvement or experience with folks who have intellectual disabilities.  I’m not judging the people around that table, but we were all aware of the difference between us and Britt. I invited each one because I had a dream of what could happen at our church and in our community.  I envisioned our church coming to the realization I had come to, People with disabilities are a “necessary” part of the body of Christ!  

Friendship Ministries has worked for decades to promote ideals of Equality, Inter-dependance, Compassion, and Hospitality within the body of Christ says this…

“Everyone is created in God’s image and is deserving of love and justice—both in our society and in our churches. People who have intellectual disabilities deserve a chance to know about God and feel God’s love. They also deserve to be treated with respect, and to have friendships with others who know and love God. Redemption is a gift to all. It’s a gift from God that is not dependent on a certain level of intelligence. The church is complete only when it includes all of God’s children and when all people are seen as equals—in God’s eyes and in our own eyes.”   

I have been worshiping and serving at Meadows Christian Fellowship since Britt was 3 months old.  Some of our most treasured friendships were born through our church fellowship. I believe both of my kids would say so, yet friendships between normal developing individuals and those with intellectual/ developmental disabilities are understandably very, different if they exist at all.  That is a reality that I have learned to accept. Though heartbreaking at times God has used it to shape our family.  I am thankful for those whom God has placed in Britt’s life (and ours) who truly love and accept her as she is, created in the image of God and gifted for His purpose and glory.

Caring Friends Ministry was launched in March of 2014 with the belief that every single human being, no matter how much the image of God is marred by sin, or illness, or weakness, or age, or any other disability, still has the status of being in God’s image and therefore must be treated with the dignity and respect that is due to God’s image-bearer. They not less than, they are equally as important as every other member of the body.  They are necessary!

1 Corinthians 12:21-26  The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”  On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,  and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it,  so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.  If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

Camp Daniel, another exceptional ministry to people with developmental / intellectual disabilities played a key role in advancing my view of people with intellectual disabilities as a “culture”  They are after all a people group with shared circumstances, experiences, patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.  Though the range of differences among people with disabilities is enormous they ALL have one thing in common.  Weakness!  Camp Daniel believes that all people can serve God and reach others for Christ through their weakness!  Isn’t that the way for all of us?  The apostle Paul said…

 “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

Thanks for reading!  In my next Blog I’ll delve more into the idea that people with intellectual disabilities have their own culture. Suffice to say it has fueled my passion to reach this beautiful, gifted unreached people group. And I would be remiss if I didn’t welcome anyone who would like to learn from a group of rather uncommon teachers. 😉

“Tell me, and I’ll forget,  Show me and I may remember, Involve me, and I will understand.”  Chinese proverb