Friday, November 6, 2009

When THE CHURCH Works Against You


Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights. A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. Then they will come to their senses and escape from the devil’s trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants. (2 Timothy 2:23-26, NLT)

My prayer is that you realize that when I put something in writing, I am merely the pencil. God directs the writing. Before a word ever gets put to paper, I submit, "Lord, lead me to what YOU want to tell people today. Show me what YOU would have me write." Oftentimes, God recycles my personal experiences or those of people around me for illustration in these devotional writings. And that is surely the case with today's passage.

Serving in the capacity I do, I often hear parents from every part of the country sharing their frustrations and desires regarding issues at the intersection of faith and disability. It grieves me deeply to admit that I would be a very rich woman if I had a dollar for each parent that has told me that they were asked to leave a church or service because of their child with special needs. Even churches that think they are doing something for the disabled and their families have a long way to go. I am quite familiar with scenarios that include volunteers wanting to pray for this family but not that one, who will be a "buddy or shadow" for this child at Sunday School but not that one. Some churches are open to offering financial support, which is terrific, but stop short of full integration of programming or inclusion in their congregation.

So what is a hurt and frustrated Christian to do when they encounter situations like this that foster righteous indignation? I believe a good part of our prescription is found in this passage from 2 Timothy 2:23-26.

First, don't get caught in petty squabbles. I know. It is way too easy in our humanity and emotions to get sucked into these arguments. While our premise of drawing families with a special needs individual into the church community is biblical, argumentative response to rejection of that premise is not. While I don't want to sound glib, we do catch more bees with honey than we do with vinegar.

Second, while it may get tiresome, we are all called to lovingly teach and gently instruct. Paul calls us to be prepared in season and out of season. (2 Timothy 4:2) A useful tool may be simply asking those in the church how they might feel if something within the church was actually preventing them from attending services and becoming a member of the church community. Often, helping others to empathize through questions like these brings something to their attention they otherwise would have never thought of. Other useful tools may be found via credible organizations like *The National Organization on Disability: Religion & Disability Program. Based in Washington, DC, this network provides sound publications that are denomination-neutral such as "That All May Worship", "Loving Justice", and "From Barriers to Bridges". Also, remember that pastors receive virtually NO training in seminary on these issues. Extend them the grace to patiently educate them over time.

Third, I must ask, are we not mandated as Jesus-followers, to pray for those who persecute us, even if they're within the four walls of a church? (Matthew 5:44) Jesus assured us that "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33, NIV) He didn't tell us in what form that trouble would come. If we remember to keep our gaze fixed on Him, The Overcomer, rather than on the problem, we will find ourselves rising above the problem and able to pray for those who work against us. Only the Holy Spirit can soften hearts and change minds. Acknowledging that in prayer and crying out to Him will yield good fruit in due season.

Fourth, remember that we all fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23) Is there an area where you're less-than-compassionate in your Christian walk? Can you imagine what it would be like to be a core leader of a church, whether a pastor or administrator, trying to meet the wide variety of needs and demands of congregants, each thinking that their concern should receive top-billing? We all face enough ugliness from an unbelieving world. Shouldn't we respectfully express our disappointments and then continue on in love?

When all other avenues have been biblically exhausted, there are still creative ways to connect to the Body of Christ. The Barna Group has researched the growing emergence of house churches in America. Perhaps organizing one is an option. Connecting to inclusive worship through summer camps like Camp Daniel's Mega4Kids and Able Church, located in Athelstane, WI can be an excellent avenue. While not a substitute for church, connecting to or modeling an organization like The YMCA at Pabst Farms in Oconomowoc, WI, who has an integrated inclusion program may prove rewarding. Additionally, discussion forums through groups like LIFT Disability Network can lessen the isolation and offer us fellowship with other Christ-seekers. Of course, SNAPPIN' MINISTRIES is always ready and willing to help you connect and pray along the way.

While we may be trying to work out the challenges at the intersection of faith and disability for the remainder of our lives on earth, approaching these difficulties in a biblical way can only help. May our daily living and our passionate pursuit of The Savior reflect God's glory to all we come into contact with and transform hearts!

*To order publications helpful to dialog with your church administration, visit the National Organization on Disability at http://www.nod.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=Feature.showFeature&FeatureID=99.

**Other publications and resources are available through SNAPPIN' MINISTRIES at www.snappin.org.

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