Wednesday, October 22, 2008

"Disability" Defined

"Disability" is a word accompanied with a world of experience that radically affects living OR "disability" is just a word that applies to OTHER people. Just like the saying that into every life some rain will fall, it is equally almost certain that into every family "disability" in one form or another will happen.

Disability can come with happy events like the birth of a child. Disability can occur as a consequence of life as parents age. Disability can come crashing in through an accident or circumstance that suddenly changes everything. Disability can creep up in a genetic disorder that may present at birth or later in life.

Disability stories are as varied as the families and individuals affected by disability, but everyone has a story who lives with disability. "Disability" isn't a label nor is it a wall. "Disability" is a way of living with challenges that may look as different as any of the milions of individual affected by disability in our world.

In truth, we are all disabled or broken in various ways. That doesn't mean we all qualify for that more convenient parking place with the special sign. No! Those should be reserved and even guarded by those more able for others who need quicker or more convenient access to shopping, schools or church.

Recently my husband and I were in California visiting the famed Getty Museum with its vast art treasures and beautiful gardens. We found that our friend (who was with us, who has legs that don't work due to an accident during his birth and who gets around on a skateboard when he isn't in a wheelchair) was scolded by the guard for being there on a skateboard. It is moments like then and when I see someone very able walking away from parking a car in a spot reserved for handicapped parking that I want to roll up my sleeves and jump in with both feet to advocate for mercy and justice!

Often people with obvious or severe disabilities are marginalized or disenfranchised from normal society including the church.
  • Maybe they have a shorter attention span - so do my grandchildren and they don't fit a particular "disabled" category.
  • Maybe they make different noises to express themselves but then, so do my grandchildren.
  • Maybe they just cannot sit still and are prone to wander around in a room - so do my grandchildren!
Recently I heard an uncle tell his nephew that he was glad he didn't drink anymore since the train ran over him and that he (the uncle) had been praying for him. I was horrified both for the uncle's calloused heart and for the nephew's broken life!

Jesus met a blind man one day (John 9) who was stigmatized for his blindness as either being a result of his own sin or his parents. The general conclusion society of that day drew was that blindness was the result of God's judgement on him and his family. Jesus clearly and sharply refutes both views and says simply that the man was born blind so that God's glory could be seen in the world. God's glory seen through blind eyes - now that's a new view of disability, isn't it?

I recently read an observation by Al Condeluci, Pittsburgh human service advocate and teacher, about group homes. Condeluci said that he lived in two group home situations himself: his college dorm and a military barracks. Condeluci says he didn't enjoy either group home experience. His point was that group homes may not be the best way to deal with people profoundly affected by disability. He advocates inclusion rather than exclusion.

Condeluci observes that conditions like cerebral palsy or Down syndrome cannot be fixed. They are conditions of life. Individuals with CP or Down syndrome can be valued members of society and are wonderful friends to be included in community rather than marginalized. They have conditions that limit them in particular ways, but so do people who are overweight or very tall or very short or very young or very old.

We need to change the way we think and act toward our friends who live with life-altering disabilities. We need to see them as valued friends who can contribute much to enrich our lives when we live in community with them.

That's EXACTLY why there is A Restoration Church gathering in the South Hills of Pittsburgh! We welcome the opportunity to live, worship and grow into a caring community of grace, faith and love intentionally including individuals and families affected by disability!

What Does A Restoration Church Look Like?

My husband and his partner in ministry were on the radio this week. The host interviewed them about A Restoration Church on WordFM 101.5 in Pittsburgh. They talked about the fact that one of our core values as a church is to intentionally target families affected by disability to invite and include in A Restoration Church. One of the hosts asked, "What does it look like at A Restoration Church on a typical Sunday?"

The answer: "Surprisingly normal." The answer is spot on. A Restoration Church is surprisingly normal! Are there people there with disabilities? You betcha! 100% of those there on any given Sunday are disabled in one way or another. Do we all sit in wheelchairs or talk differently or have difficulty hearing or seeing? No, but the fact remains that we are all disabled no matter how many or who is there!

The dirty little secret is that since Adam and Eve made a very bad choice in a perfect garden a very long time ago - actually at the very beginning of time - we are all broken spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically. This brokenness is pre-natal, genetic and terminal! It's bone and soul deep! Some brokenness and disability is easily seen - as when a person has no legs or sits in a chair with wheels or walks with a walker or uses a white cane or has a twisted hand. Other brokenness is less apparent on first inspection but equally broken/disabled.

Not all of us think as clearly as others. Some of us need assistance to walk or hear or see. For example, there are a number of people who wear glasses. No one was ever born wearing glasses. Glasses were invented to correct some visual disability or other.

This past Sunday our keyboard player played pretty flawlessly, but today she is having another lazer procedure on her left eye because she doesn't see well out of that eye. Another person sat there looking perfect and beautiful, but she is blind in one eye. No one would know at first glance, however. More than one person there lives with chronic pain. And the list goes on and on ... Not all of us can stand, but we all can rise with our hearts in worship whether we rise with our feet or not.

One more beautiful thing about A Restoration Church: learning where each of us is challenged gives us opportunity to serve each other just like God says the "body of Christ" or church should and must! Starting from the core values of loving God, loving others and serving each other at any particular point of need is God's way to "do church" ALL THE TIME!

In a word, A Restoration Church looks just like YOU! Come gather with us!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Rejection and Restoration

It's terrible business - the stuff of rejection! It hurts! It even feels like death! It is certainly no fun!

Can there possibly be any good in rejection? Can God use rejection to work His Gospel of restoration deeply into a battered heart?

Just this morning a long-time friend sent a second email in as many days with his own story of rejection. In his case he has been rejected by others who call themselves a church. He wrote, "... my heart is broken. God will heal it. For now I am not too interested in being around God's people." His honesty is sad but understandable! Some of the cruelest wounds of all are from those who should love us best!

Rejection is a common experience in life. It comes to all of us in time. Try as we may to avoid those times and places where we might encounter rejection of any of its forms, sooner or later rejection finds us all. It is hard to keep pressing on through rejection. There is sometimes wisdom in just standing still or even backing up.

Our great God of restoration will show us His strategy for each situation we encounter. His way, however, is NEVER the path of fear, failure, uncertainty or insecurity or even just being too tired to fight one more battle. He promises faith for our fears, His direction in our failures, His abiding presence ("I am with you always!" Matt. 28:20) in our uncertainty and insecurity and especially His strength in our weakness.

God gives us many examples of real people on the pages of Scripture who faced rejection in many of its forms and even endured severe adversity in that rejection:
  • Joseph trapped in an Egyptian prison simply because he refused to act against his principles and God's rules for life
  • Moses leading God's people in the desert in spite of their grumbling both against God and their leader Moses
  • Jeremiah and many other of God's prophets who preached to people who shut their eyes and their ears to God's truth
  • Hosea who lived a life of rejection when his wife left his home and children to be a prostitute - God called Hosea be a living parable of God's love in the world of his day.
  • And the best example of all - the Son of God who "put on our skin and walked in our neighborhood" (John 1:14, The Message). Jesus faced rejection over and over again until it finally put Him on a cross beside a pathway outside Jerusalem!
I don't imagine Jesus enjoyed the rejection. In fact the Bible describes Him as setting His face like flint (hard stone) to go to Jerusalem where He knew He faced certain death on the cross. He set His face like flint because He had to intentionally face and walk into that rejection of all rejections He knew was coming! The crucifixion was an attempt to kill God! Jesus knew what was facing Him!
God has important plans for you and me today. He sends us on a special mission to the part of His world where He has put us. Our mission is to model restoration for the watching world. It's the radical, upside-down aspect of the Gospel that speaks of grace and love as nothing else can!

When the world sees believers willing to endure rejection and remain faithful and obedient regardless, they know they are seeing something out of this world! It is a glimpse of heaven as God reaches down and touches rejection with restoration - with love, mercy and grace!

Sometimes God picks particular ones of His servants to experience rejection. God is not so much concerned with the form of rejection as He is with how we respond! It's an opportunity to turn our upside-down world rightside-up for Jesus! It's also a way to experience God's restoring love in your heart and mine!

Monday, October 20, 2008

What Does a Calloused Heart Look Like?

Last week I saw a very impressive callous on a friend's elbow. My friend named Sue has bone cancer and tumors from spreading breast cancer. The cancer has eaten away part of her spine. She has a large tumor at the top of her right leg and a tumor on her back. Because of these tumors and damage to her neck from the cancer, she hasn't been able to sit in a relaxed way for almost a year. She cannot sit all the way back. She has to lean to the left and take her weight on her left elbow. Consequently her elbow has a callous that is bigger than a silver dollar and about the size of a very small pancake. Callouses form to protect our skin and the tissue and bones underneath from injury. Sometimes we get callouses on our feet or hands when we put pressure on a particular point over and over.

When I used to do a lot of pencil writing, I had a callous on my middle finger's first joint just where I held the pencil tightly.

My friend Sue's elbow has this huge callous because she puts all her weight on that elbow as she sits "like a pretzel" - that's how she describes it!

Yesterday the sermon was about the Prodigal son's older brother. We all know about the son who walked away, spent all his father's money, ended up in a pig pen (not a good place for anyone but especially a Jewish son) and finally decided to go back home. When he got home, his father ran to embrace him, gave him a robe and the family signet ring and threw a huge Bar-B-Q for the lost son who was now found.

Big Brother who stayed close to home and worked hard was really angry that his father would celebrate bad Little Brother's return home! He had a calloused heart! He worked at hanging onto his anger at his brother and father for a long time. His anger was well into boiling stage! To hold all that anger up he had to develop a very calloused heart!

We say: "My, my! What a terrible response for a brother!" - to hate his brother so much he wished him to stay dead!(as in gone to a far country never to return or be heard from again)! But we understand the bad Big Brother's heart easily because we know all about calloused hearts, don't we? We do it, too! We like to hold all that anger in against someone or other. Just like Sue's elbow, that's a lot of weight to hold up - so we soon develop a callous - a calloused heart!

My friend Sue is teaching me what a calloused heart looks like with her calloused elbow. The Prodigal's Big Brother teaches me about my calloused heart by how he acted (read the story in Luke 15) toward his brother.

In a calloused heart, the callous is there to support the anger and to "protect" the heart from the pain of REAL love. Like Sue, when we have a calloused heart, we are also all twisted up inside just like a pretzel! Only God can soften and untwist calloused hearts! The good news is that He can and always will soften and untwist calloused hearts if we are willing! God is in the business of restoring calloused hearts! What great news for this Monday morning!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Walking Dogs is a Church Planting Opportunity!

Did Jesus ever walk a dog? The short answer is, "Probably not." Dogs are mentioned in the Bible a number of times. They apparently roamed around since dogs (probably wild ones) ate the body of Queen Jezebel outside the city wall of Jerusalem. Both Matthew and Mark write about dogs under the table. These dogs must have been family pets. Jesus says dogs licked the beggar named Lazarus' sores.

In Pittsburgh at A Restoration Church plant, dog walking is one way one person is building a bridge to Jesus. It's "out-of-the-box" thinking for sure, but it's an easy way to connect with people. Taking a dog to the park or a Saturday kids' soccer game is instant connection with other dog owners.

One person from A Restoration Church is walking two dogs (Timber and Tandy) almost daily for a friend who has cancer. Last night the two dogs were taking the "church lady" on their usual walk when another dog owner "happened" by. Since Timber is a large Siberian Husky/Alaskan Malamute (probably bigger than the lady and certainly heavier), the better part of wisdom seemed to be to let the other dog and owner pass. So the two and their lady waited. It was on a hilly street - in Pittsburgh there are more hilly streets than not! Just as the other dog came opposite, Timber lunged dragging both the other dog and the lady. The lady lost her balance when Timber and his leash went "air-borne." The lady slid some distance (like a "human dog sled") down the middle of the hilly street taking dignity, skin, dogs and glasses on a quick downhill collision course with asphalt.

By the time dogs, leashes and lady were sorted out and scraped off the pavement, there was an opportunity to talk to the other dog walker about Jesus. Sitting in the middle of the street surrounded by three dogs and a strange man isn't a traditional place to witness on any paradigm! But in the process of retrieving the dogs and picking her bloodied self up off the street with the stranger's assistance, a short conversation ensued. He was concerned so asked if she lived near-by, etc.

Church planting lessons learned from dog walking:
  • Be warned that church planting can be messy and even painful
  • Be alert for surprising opportunities
  • Be ready for those "God-moments" that pop up quite unexpectedly
  • Be willing to live "outside-the-box" to find Kingdom encounters

Monday, October 6, 2008

What is GOOD?

Lately I have been pondering - things like how to use my time well, how to love well, how to reach out to people with needs and reach out well. My ponderings need to take on hands and feet! I'm pondering how to do that well, too!

The ancient prophet Micah wrote: "He (God) has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." (Micah 6:8) Those words have to walk off the page and jump deeply into my heart before I can act justly and love mercy and walk humbly with my God!

At A Restoration Church we are gathering people from the South Hills of Pittsburgh who also want to act justly and love mercy and walk humbly with God. Our passion is for that acting and loving and walking to come from deep in our "being restored" hearts.

It is amazing to ride or walk down a street - any street - and think about the closed doors I pass wondering what goes on inside - wondering what pain that closed door hides! That's really the heart of church planting is to find ways to connect inside people's lives - behind those closed doors - to connect with people's hearts and build a bridge to Jesus!

Bridge building for Jesus is hard work getting down into the grime of life representing the Savior Who showed us the way! Take a read through the Gospel of Luke to see how Jesus went about building a bridge to God with the people He met. Sometimes He was so exhausted that He had to sneak away to recharge His batteries by spending time with His Father! It is interesting that Jesus didn't do His "sneak aways" in the day - they were always night journeys while others slept so He could be back "on the job" when the "multitudes" who followed Him woke up in the morning. That's pretty counter to our culture's idea of "time for self" if we follow the steps of our Master Jesus!

The world of 2008 is a scary place. It's filled with people who are far from the church and very far from the Good News of the Gospel! Most people didn't grow up in a church. If they go to church at all, they belong to the "holly and lilies crowd" (Easter and Christmas)! Yesterday I saw a park filled with people just hanging out, having as much fun as they could, listening to music, eating junk food and wandering around. Some - including me - even had their dogs with them. Yesterday was an example of "taking the church" where people are. It was an act of worship and work in church planting to go where people were gathering and be a presence there to do some initial surveying work toward bridge building.

It is not true that people aren't interested in spiritual things. They are. They are seeking. They have a hole deep in their hearts that only God can fill. The "church" they know by experience or reputation has failed to do justice, show mercy and walk humbly with God. The people they meet who carry the name "Christian" for the most part don't do justice, show mercy and walk humbly with God either.

We are missing a huge opportunity! We have the BEST news there ever was! We have all the tools and materials to build that bridge to Jesus. BUT we have to get out of our comfort zones and walk into worlds where we may not be particularly comfortable because that's where people are who need to know Jesus. They are hungry for Him! They just don't know it! They need a bridge to Him! He calls us to be that bridge!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Vision for A Restoration Church

"When did John get the vision for A Restoration Church?" Someone asked me that question yesterday. I gave her a milestone answer but have been thinking about other milestones since. There are significant experiences in ministry and life that brought us both to our own brokenness and then to care deeply about brokenness in others.

The church of Jesus Christ in its institutional form (whatever denomination or flavor) can be a very scary place to be broken. Often the wounded become more shattered by the very people who should be embracing and encouraging!

My grandmother had "heart trouble." I don't know her exact diagnosis. I'm not sure she did either, but some doc along the way diagnosed a certain issue with her heart. I was about two when Grandmother's "heart trouble" was discussed by family members in her presence. I piped up to say, "Grandmother, don't you know the Bible says, 'Don't let your heart be troubled.' ?" (John 14:1) Everyone thought my observation was precocious and cute, but it was also a huge life lesson for me in coming years of life and ministry.

ALL of us experience various forms of brokenness in life resulting in "heart trouble" of various forms. Sadly the place where we should find the most comfort - the church - is often the place where there is the most judgment and rejection resulting in more "heart trouble." It is risky to be real! More often than not being broken or being real or just being a sinner in the process of restoration simply heaps more hurt on hearts already crushed! That's when people walk away from Jesus because people (like me and like you) who carry His name don't have God's heart for brokenness.

Our model is Jesus Who took on our skin (leaving heaven to wear a "man suit" for a time) and moved into our world (John 1:14). Matthew 9:35 describes the heart of Jesus for broken people of all kinds, "He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd."

We are surrounded by brokenness - some visible and some hidden but all very real. God calls us to be moved with compassion - motivated to act and care! Our hearts - like Jesus' heart - must be so moved to care that we step out of our comfort zones to do the sometimes even messy business of loving people! It may be risky and costly but it is Kingdom work Jesus modeled. God's Spirit will walk with us among the brokenness we find to give us the grace to love and to literally put hands and feet on that love!

That is what A Restoration Church is all about! We are broken. We know it. We are in the process of restoration. Jesus said He came to help those who know they are broken not those who think they are "just fine, thank you very much"! Jesus came for the broken! (Matt. 9:12) He walks with us both in our own brokeness and as we reach out to others just like us! THAT'S what A Restoration Church is all about!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Presidential Election 2008

Two very different men are running for President of the United States: Barak Obama and John McCain. There are "multi-many" predictions about who is going to win and what precentage each has in any given poll.

People have strong opinions about each candidate and their running mates. Due to various factors actually unrelated to each man's competency to be elected to this highest office in our land (like race and sex and media coverage), this election cycle has probably been one of the most intense of any ever.

Add to that mix the dire predictions about our economy and numbers beyond my ability to comprehend, there is more than a little fear going around. Then, it seems the "Russians are coming" into the western hemisphere for war "games" for the first time since the "cold war" ended. More fear is going around!

I used to say that if so-in-so were elected, I'd move to Australia but given the state of Australia that's probably not a positive option. So it would be easy to be stuck in fear - like Peter was (Matthew 14:30-31) - looking at the waves crashing at my feet and taking my eyes off the One Who put the stars in place. He can certainly control and rule and overrule in the affairs of men made from the very sod He made (Gen. 2:7)!

A recent email reminds me of the truth that no matter who wins the election there are some unchangeable truths for my heart:
  1. The Bible will still have all the answers for living God's way.
  2. Prayer will still work. God will still be listening!
  3. God's Holy Spirit will still be at work restoring hearts and changing lives.
  4. God will still show up when His people worship.
  5. Faithful pastors will still preach God's truth.
  6. God's people will still have reason to praise Him!
  7. Jesus' work on the cross will still work to restore hearts and lives broken by sin.
  8. God's love, grace and mercy will not change.
  9. Jesus will still be the Friend Who sticks closer than a brother.
  10. God's purpose for His creation will still be working out according to His plan and the earth will be filled with "the knowledge of the Lord" as surely as the water covers the sea (Habbakuk 2:14).
So, yes, it does matter that serious Christians vote their conscience in this election, but we must remember that God is still on His throne no matter who wins!