Why Do Bad Things Happen To Good People? (Part 2 of 4)

Does God Create Suffering?

I have a good friend named Coral, a godly woman with developmental disabilities. Coral has taught me so much about faith and disability. She has faithfully volunteered with our special needs ministry for over ten years. Through the course of our friendship we have shared many meals together. Her favorite place to eat is Wendy’s. I noticed that Coral always orders her burgers plain, so one day I asked her why she never adds any condiments to her burger. She replied, “You only need to add those things if something doesn’t taste good.” She is right! Sometimes I notice my kids living out this principle. When they have to eat something they don’t enjoy, they cover it in a sea of ketchup – making it easier to swallow.

Something that can be tough to swallow is the reality that God allows suffering and disability. The truth that we address today might be more like trying to swallow an elephant in one single bite. No amount of ketchup will help it taste better or go down easier. Let’s get right to it, because there is no easy way around it.

God creates suffering.

Ugh. I’m choking already. I feel uncomfortable even typing that. I mean, that makes it difficult to want to follow and trust God. I thought God was supposed to be nice all the time?

Some people who have experienced hardship and suffering believe that God hates them. If God isn’t cruel and doesn’t hate them, the only other option is that He is completely disconnected from His creation, right?

God is not disconnected from His creation, nor does He hate His creation. So, why would God create suffering?

Let’s look at the facts.

Lamentations 3:38, “Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?” God comes right out and says it. Both good things and bad things come from Him. That means that, at times, He is the author of the suffering we experience.

Isaiah 45:7, “I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things.” I think I was a bit more okay with the word “calamities” than I am with the word “disaster.”

When I think of “disaster” I think of natural disasters and tragedy on a large scale. These are things that I don’t want to attribute to God. I don’t want to because my finite mind can’t always make sense of it. I also don’t want this to be true because I don’t want people to think that I am some crazy, sadistic, right-winged, fanatical Christian. But, if we accept that ALL scripture is true and inspired by God, we don’t get the liberty to pick and choose only the easy passages that make us feel warm and fuzzy inside.

So, why would God create suffering?

Ephesians 1:11 says, “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will…”

God has a plan. God is not distant or disconnected. God knows what He is doing. We don’t always get it, and there are things that we will never understand. But, if we understood everything what would be the point of faith? We must trust that God knows what He is doing even if we cannot make sense of it. The concept of God creating “disaster” and “suffering” is one of those areas for me.

If we continue to read Ephesians 1:12-14 we gain some insight into God’s ultimate plan, “…in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.”

There it is again. God desires our praise. God wants to be glorified above all else. In the end, as we attempt to swallow the difficult truth that God creates suffering, we must conclude that He does so to accomplish His will for us. His will is ultimately that we would praise Him and put our trust in Him. Maybe, just maybe, the only way that some of us will open our eyes to this is through disaster and suffering.

* First posted on http://irresistiblechurch.org/bad-things-happen-good-people-part-2-4/#

Why Do Bad Things Happen To Good People? (Part 1 of 4)

Does God Allow Suffering?

My family sometimes jokes about having a “black cloud” constantly hovering overhead. We joke because laughing is sometimes better than crying. Recently our garage door broke, costing over $1,000 to repair. Then the toilet in our bathroom stopped working, followed by the bathroom sink. If those repairs weren’t bad enough, we found bees living in the side of our home just outside our daughter’s bedroom. We used three full cans of “bee spray” to kill the hive, but inadvertently had over 40 angry bees escape into our house. To top it all off, our roof started leaking in our son’s bedroom. We crawled into the attic to inspect the leak and found that we had carpenter ants. Each of these things happened within a span of several weeks!

After the dust settled, I could recognize that these problems were fixable. A financial burden, yes, but at the end of the day, fixable. This recognition helped me cope with the “bad things” I was experiencing.

What about the “bad things” that have unfixable consequences? Hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, police shootings, terrorism, people shooting police… the list goes on. Simply turn on the news, and you’ll see all the “bad things” happening in our world.

I’d like to take it a step further. Some of my friends were born “typical” per society’s labels, but through illness or an accident, they became permanently disabled and lost their “typical” label. If I’m honest, when I hear their stories, I want to question God. I think to myself, They are good people that come from good families. Why, God? Why would you allow this to happen to them? It doesn’t seem fair, it isn’t right. I’m left confused and, at times, angry.

Why do bad things happen to good people?

As I searched Scripture trying to find the answer to this age-old question, I discovered a somewhat shocking reality – God allows both suffering and disability.

This wasn’t the answer that I wanted to find. I wanted to find that it was Satan’s fault; blame the bad guy! I wanted to find that God is our mighty protector, and that He would never allow bad things to happen to us. Unfortunately, that wasn’t what I found.

Take for example the classic exchange between God and Satan surrounding the treatment of Job in the Old Testament. First, it is mind blowing to consider that Satan can walk into heaven to talk with God. Secondly, God allows Satan to inflict suffering on Job.

It can be hard to make sense of this. Perhaps it is an Old Testament thing – weird stuff happened in the Old Testament that makes little sense. Can we chalk it up to that? Surely when Jesus arrived on the scene in the New Testament, the concept of God allowing suffering went away, right? Wrong.

Luke 13:11 describes another situation where God allowed Satan to afflict someone with suffering and disability, “…and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all.” (NIV)

Why would a loving God allow bad things to happen to good people? Why would God allow His people to suffer and become disabled? These are tough questions.

I love what Joni Eareckson Tada says about this dilemma, “God allows what He hates to accomplish what He loves.” How true is this? We find repeatedly that God is more interested in our holiness than our happiness.

Both Job and the woman in Luke 13 were being tested. Both were given an opportunity to either grow in their faith or become bitter. I love what Scripture tells us in Luke 13:13, “Then He put His hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.” God was praised by this woman. God was glorified. God desires our praise and trust. God wants to be glorified above all else.

Because God is God, He has the power to heal. But God doesn’t always choose to heal. We possess the ability to choose our response to our circumstances. We can choose to praise God, trust God, and give Him glory despite our suffering. The question is, will we choose to praise Him if He doesn’t bring the healing we desire?

* First posted on http://irresistiblechurch.org/bad-things-happen-good-people-part-1-4/

Disability Inclusion on Mission Trips

Inclusion is one of the top buzz words in the disability community. Extensive research has been done on inclusion, countless articles have been written and everyone seems to have an opinion on appropriate levels of inclusion in schools. I think we can all agree that there are clear benefits to inclusion.

In the church world, the conversation on inclusion almost always is centered on children and the world of children’s ministry. Obviously, there are more possibilities for inclusion outside of children’s ministry.

Many in the church world are waking up to the fact that children with disabilities don’t stay children forever. Special needs ministries often struggle to keep children engaged when they grow older. We must continually look for more opportunities for inclusion as our friends age.

Have you ever heard someone say, “They may be 20 years old, but have the mental ability of a 5 year old.” Too much emphasis is placed upon cognitive ability and social and emotional needs often get ignored. This mentality not only stifles people with disabilities from achieving what God wants them to do, but also puts up roadblocks to meaningful inclusion opportunities.

At First Christian Church in Canton, OH we took the conversation of inclusion to a whole new level. For the past few years we have been talking about a philosophical switch in our approach to disability ministry. The conversation is about moving beyond just doing disability ministry “for” or “to” people with disabilities. We realized that this approach made our friends the objects of our ministry and that was never our intent. We wanted to move beyond that and become a place where we do disability ministry “with” people with disabilities. They are our ministry partners as our brothers and sisters in Christ. Ultimately we simply want to empower our friends to “do” ministry.

We finally saw this play out in a very unique way through my friend, Nick. Nick is a young adult in our Hidden Treasures Sunday morning adult class. Nick was going through a difficult time last December. He found himself stuck in depression. After weeks of counseling I challenged Nick to go into the worship service and to simply pray. I asked him to pray that God would help him discover what he could do that would be positive. Nick was so consumed by negatives in his life at the time. After the worship service that Sunday, Nick’s entire countenance had changed. He was no longer slumped over and dragging about. He was completely upbeat and wore a smile on his face as he approached me. He could barely contain himself as he told me that God had answered his prayer. He felt convicted that God wanted him to plan a mission trip.

A mission trip planned by and for people with disabilities was exactly what we were hoping for as we were making our philosophical switch. Note that it was not something anyone from my leadership team came up with. It was an idea that was birthed by God through our friend Nick.

Mission trips are incredible experiences that have the ability to accelerate spiritual growth. Persons with disabilities rarely go on mission trips - a typical experience that should be made available to “all people.”

We wanted to see inclusion work here too, so 9 months of planning started after that conversation with Nick. Trust me - along the way I had all the reasons why it couldn’t work bouncing around in my mind. Who gets to go? What are we going to do? What about medications? Am I going to be able to get consent from families or guardians? What about traveling out of state? What if we had an emergency? How are our friends going to be able to raise the money necessary? And the questions kept coming.

During our planning stages we were blessed to find Dutton Farm, The House of Providence, and Woodside Bible Church. All three ministries are located close together in Michigan. All three ministries also shared our same philosophical approach to Disability Ministry and were excited to play a part in our trip.

Along the way God answered all of our questions. On August 25-28 we went on our first-ever Disability Ministry Mission Trip. God was faithful to Nick. God spoke to Nick. Nick listened and acted in obedience to God. Because of his obedience, God blessed our little adventure.

So inclusion is even possible on mission trips!

If you’d like to see some of the highlights from our trip check out our video on the home page. 

Why God? (Part 4 of 4)

Why won’t God heal my child?

(First posted on http://irresistiblechurch.org/god-part-4-4/)

One of my greatest joys as a disability ministry pastor and church consultant is when I get the opportunity to work with other churches as they grow their disability ministry. On one consulting call, I spoke with a volunteer who started the ministry at her church because of her daughter who has a disability.

The call was pleasant as we discussed strategies that she could try at her church. As we were wrapping up our conversation she anxiously asked if I had time for one more question – I sensed that our pleasant conversation was about to take a different tone. She asked me what my beliefs were about healing, particularly healing her daughter’s disability. I shared that I believe God is able to heal anyone He chooses to heal, but I didn’t know what God’s will was for her daughter; if it is His will that she be healed God would do that in His timing.

That was not the answer she wanted to hear. She spent the next twenty minutes screaming at me through the phone telling me that I was wrong – that God wants to heal every person of their disabilities and that He would heal her daughter, something she prayed for every day.

I tried to reassure her that her persistent prayer was good – Scripture is clear that we should pray without ceasing. I also tried to tell her that Scripture teaches us to pray that God’s will be done, and not necessarily our will. This can be tough because our will and God’s will don’t always align.

Paul gives us encouragement in Philippians 4:6-7. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Notice it doesn’t promise that God will answer our prayers the way that we want. It simply says that God will guard our hearts and minds – He wants to offer us protection from our angst.

If not healing for our children or ourselves, what does God will? God’s will for us is obedience to Him. God wants us to trust and obey Him. He wants us to understand that He is enough for us, that His power shines through our perceived weakness.

Therefore, if He does not will that our loved one or ourselves are healed in this life He still has purpose for us.

Before this passionate volunteer hung up on me, I tried to help her consider Jesus’ perspective in the classic “through the roof story” (Luke 5, Matthew 9, Mark 2). Jesus did not pity the man with the disability who was lowered down on the mat. Jesus didn’t even acknowledge the man’s disability. He did not define the man by his disability; He was concerned with the man’s heart. Jesus healed the man of his true disability, sin, by forgiving him.  It wasn’t until after the religious leaders started complaining that Jesus healed his physical disability too. Notice that it wasn’t primarily for the benefit of the man with the physical disability that Jesus performed this miracle. It was for the benefit of the others in the room. I tried to share with this mother that perhaps Jesus has a bigger plan – He wants to heal her daughter’s heart. She unfortunately couldn’t hear that possibility.

The truth is, even if God willed for all disability to be healed in this lifetime it would only be temporary. We would still eventually get sick and die. Sorry to be a downer.

Disability, on some level, is something that everyone will likely experience in this. People with disabilities are the largest minority group in the world. It is a minority group that crosses all races, religions, gender, and demographics. It is also the only minority group with open enrollment. Any of us can join this minority group at any moment in our lives, and most of us will join it as we age.

Reality check: our perspective is often different than God’s. His primary concern is the heart because that is what determines whether or not we spend eternity with God after death.

May we place our hope in true, lasting healing – and in the meantime, trust in God’s sovereignty.

Why God? (Part 3 of 4)

Did you do that on purpose?

“Did you do that on purpose?” Parents often ask this when they already know the answer – like when my kids wrote with permanent markers on the interior of my car, or when they cut the hair off a brand new doll. In these instances I knew they had done these things on purpose, but I asked the question because I was trying process what they had done. I wanted to know what they were thinking when they committed those acts.

As we continue to build our theology of disability ministry we must ask, “Does God really create people with disabilities on purpose?” After recognizing that people born with disabilities are not an accident and are not being punished by God, we can only assume that God is creating them with disabilities on purpose.

Here we find ourselves in another “Are you serious, God?” moment.  

A tainted worldview says that disability is bad – we must not let this influence our perception. Scripture shows us that this is not true. We can see that disability is part of God’s plan. It is something that He creates on purpose, for a purpose.

Let’s turn our attention to Exodus 4 where we see God and Moses engaged in conversation. God is trying to build Moses’ confidence by establishing a clear plan for him and providing him with miraculous signs that will prove to everyone that God is with him.

You’d think this would be a pretty cool moment for Moses, right? Wrong. This moment caused Moses a lot of stress as he struggled with self-confidence. “Moses said to the Lord, ‘Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.’” (Exodus 4:10)

Moses is essentially saying, “God… Sorry for interrupting, but have you forgotten who you are talking to? It’s me… Moses. Did you forget that I’m not good at public speaking? In fact, I’m not good at speaking at all.”

Moses felt that because of his disability he was not qualified for the job. Moses couldn’t see past his own disability.

Naturally, God was not amused by Moses’ excuses. “The Lord said to him, ‘Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord?’” (Exodus 4:11)

We see here that the Lord creates disability on purpose, for a purpose.

This is a moment where God could not be clearer; He lays the groundwork for a healthy theology of disability ministry. This passage should be a great encouragement for anyone born with disabilities. They are not a mistake. They are not being punished. God created them on purpose, for a purpose!

Many of us know the end of Moses’ story. God does use Moses to do great things. Through his leadership God leads the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, gives them clear guidelines for righteous living, and leads them to the doorstep of the Promise Land. God’s strength is made known through what is viewed as Moses’ weakness.

Genesis 1:26 also tell us that God creates people with disabilities on purpose, “Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…’” Notice that God didn’t say, “Let us make people with high IQ’s and able bodies in our image.” Genesis 1:26 is an inclusive scripture. It makes it clear that all of us are made on purpose in the image of God.

So, if we are made on purpose, for a purpose, we must ask what that purpose is. Let’s turn again to John 9 for our answer. Note what it says at the end of verse 3, “…but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Our purpose is simple – to bring glory to God by allowing His works to be displayed in our lives. God can do this beautifully through disability.

Why God? (Part 2 of 4)

(First posted on: http://irresistiblechurch.org/god-part-2-4/#)

Punishment

Okay, we get it. People born with disabilities are not an accident. But, if this is true and God knows about it, maybe even God did it. What’s up with that? Some people conclude that people born with disabilities are being punished. Or maybe their parents are being punished for something – perhaps that’s the reason.

This might sound like a ridiculous assumption, but this conclusion was widely accepted in biblical times. Even today, there are parts of the world that hold this belief.

Throughout Scripture we see a biblical basis for disability ministry. John chapter 9, specifically speaks to the question, “Are people born with disabilities being punished?”

Jesus is confronted by His own disciples with this very question after they see a man who was born blind. Think about that – Jesus’ own disciples were indoctrinated with the belief that disability was a punishment from God. This view was something that was both believed and taught by the religious leaders during Jesus’ life – but this is a flawed worldview.

Side note… You will encounter churches and church leadership today that operate with flawed worldviews and bad theology. This shouldn’t be a surprise to us. Jesus encountered it, and so will we. When we see it, we must be able to correct it just as Jesus did.

Jesus’ answer to the disciples’ question was classic. It is one that everyone in disability ministry should remember. “‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life’” (John 9:3).

There is so much we can learn from this powerful statement!

First, we can conclude that people born with disabilities are not being punished. People who are born with disabilities are not a punishment for some one else’s sin. In sum, disability is not a punishment.

Second, we can conclude that disability is actually an opportunity to display God and His power. The disciples probably took one look at the blind man and were filled with pity thinking, “What a shame that someone sinned in that family. Now the dude can’t see as a result.” Jesus surprised them and challenged the way they were taught to think by essentially saying, “Hold up one minute. You are looking at this the wrong way. Your theology is all mixed up.”

We often don’t realize that our way of thinking is flawed – clearly the disciples didn’t realize they were off. Jesus helps them see the flaw in their belief system. He helps them see a bigger picture, one that they had never considered. In the disciples’ minds, disability was a negative thing. It was a punishment. It was a billboard that read, “Look at me, I’m a sinner!” or “Look at me, I’m really unlucky because my parents are sinners.” With one statement Jesus changes everything. He helps the disciples realize that disability is an opportunity for something amazing!

Jesus goes on to heal the man who was born blind sparking an epic debate with the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. In the end, God is glorified because this debate reveals the true identity of Jesus. All because the man was born blind so that the “works of God might be displayed in him.”

What if we stopped looking at disability negatively and believed it was an opportunity for something positive? What if we looked at disability as an opportunity to encounter God? What if…

Why God? (Part 1 of 4)

First posted on http://irresistiblechurch.org/god-part-1-4/#

Whoops!

Accidents are part of life. Some people are more accident-prone than others – I am one of them. And my children are every bit as accident-prone as me, to the point that several years ago I took out a special Accident Policy with Aflac. This has proven to be a great investment. My children over the past two years have broken two bones, had a concussion, and knocked out two permanent teeth. I, myself, cashed in on a choking accident.

An accident is an unplanned event that often has undesirable outcomes. Accidents are a normal part of our existence. Perhaps this is why some conclude that people born with disabilities are accidents. When people have children they generally don’t plan for them to have disabilities. Many consider the outcomes of having a child with a disability undesirable. Dreams are often shattered the moment parents receive a diagnosis for their child. Yes, new dreams emerge and perspectives change over time, but in the moment people may struggle for answers asking, “Are you serious God?”

 

Looking through the lens of theology, what should we say when people ask if those born with disabilities are an accident? We are quick to answer, “No!” But, why is it “No?”

We can find our answer in the character of God. But before we jump into that, allow me to make your head spin by pondering a question from a philosophy class I once took:

Can God create a stone too heavy for Him to lift?

If you answered, “No” – are you saying that God is not all-powerful? That He can’t actually do anything He wants?

If you answered, “Yes” – you are actually saying that God is not all-powerful. Why? Because He is not powerful enough to lift the stone.

Some call this a trick question; I call it a flawed question because there is no right way to answer it. It forces you to come up with an answer that is contradictory to the very character of God. The question does not work because God cannot contradict Himself.

Are people born with disabilities an accident? As we look at the theology behind this question, we must draw on what we know about the character of God.

Let’s jump in with a big church word – omniscience. This word is hard to spell, hard to pronounce, and at times hard to understand. It simply means “all-knowing.” This is an attribute of God.

If God is “all-knowing,” then is it possible for someone born with a disability to be an accident? Remember, an accident is something that is unexpected and typically has undesirable outcomes. Based on God’s character I suggest that, no, it is not possible for people who are born with disabilities to be an accident. Because if they were, we would be saying that their disability was a surprise to God. This would be contradictory to His character.

Isaiah 46:10 says, “I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do what I please.’”

There is nothing from the beginning of time to the end of time that happens apart from God’s knowledge and will. He is omniscient. He is all-knowing. Therefore, He knows when someone is going to be born with a disability.

1 John 3:20b says, “God is greater than our hearts, and He knows everything.”

God knows what will happen because He has willed it to happen. I know it can be a bit of a mind-bender to consider the ramifications of this, but Scripture is clear.

Because of the character of God and what we see in Scripture, we can conclude that people born with disabilities are not an accident.

Let’s look at another attribute of God to answer whether or not people born with disabilities are an accident. God is all-powerful, or omnipotent. He can do whatever He wants to.

Scripture tells us in Job 42:2a, “I know that you can do all things.” Matthew 19:26 says, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

So yes, God is powerful enough to do whatever He wants, even create someone with disabilities. This isn’t a surprise to Him or an accident because He willed it.

Next, we must begin to ask the question, why?

Disability and the Gospel (Part 5 of 5)

(First posted on http://irresistiblechurch.org/disability-gospel-part-5-5/#)

First Christian Church in Canton, Ohio, has always been progressive in the field of disability ministry. They have had a class for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities for over 35 years. I am honored to be the full-time Disability Ministry Pastor at this church. Despite being disability friendly and striving to create inclusive environments there have been obstacles for people affected by disability at our church when it came to baptism. Several years ago, I remember hearing a story from a family that had attended First Christian for several generations. Their son wanted to be baptized, so they approached a pastor that was on staff at the time about arranging a baptism for him. The family was surprised to learn that the pastor would not agree to baptism him. Why? Because the pastor said the boy was not capable of giving a verbal confession of faith. You see, while their son was able to communicate in different ways he was nonverbal. This became a huge stumbling block for the family. It wasn’t until years later when this pastor was no longer on staff that an elder of the church stepped in to make the baptism happen for this boy.

I would like to believe this was an isolated incident at my church, and it didn’t happen anywhere else. I know, however, that this is an all-too-common occurrence. Not only are people not granted the opportunity to become baptized believers, but many are not even welcomed into a church because of their disability. The gospel message, in a church setting, is unfortunately often not accessible.

This saddens my heart, and I believe it saddens God’s heart too. We see that in Jesus’ ministry He predominantly spent His time with people on the fringes of society. The vast majority of people that received healing were people who had disabilities.

In His final instructions to His disciples and followers, Jesus gives an inclusive message saying; “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15, NIV). Notice that Jesus didn’t say “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to anyone that that you think can cognitively understand it.” Jesus also didn’t say “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to anyone that can give a verbal confession of faith.”Jesus clearly told His followers to go “everywhere” and tell “everyone.”

Why were these instructions important? They are important because they are consistent with what we know about the condition of our hearts. We are all broken on the inside. Romans 3:23 is clear, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (NIV). Paul doesn’t qualify some who have sinned; he says “all” have sinned.

Even though scripture is clear about the gospel being inclusive, it is surprising how many church leaders will argue against disability ministry. Let me explain.

Having worked at churches my entire career I know how things are measured. There is a phrase in the church world about the only two metrics that really count. Can you guess what it is? It goes like this – “People in the seats and cash in the plates.” I recognize this is a very cold and heartless approach to ministry. And, while no one would ever openly admit that this is the only thing that matters, it is true that these are two very important components of a church. As strategic plans and annual budgets are determined by church leadership much is determined by projections on attendance and giving.

So having said all that, I often have conversations with church leaders from other churches who do not see the need for disability ministry. They don’t see how the ministry will bring in new people. And even if it does, those people likely won’t be “high-capacity” people. “High-capacity” people are individuals who have influence, financial or otherwise. In fact, some church leaders may argue against disability ministry because it would cost the church more money to become accessible and inclusive. It may mean paying for reconstruction of facilities or purchasing new sensory tools.

Beyond the “classic church metrics argument” I have also heard leaders oppose disability ministry based on Romans 3:23. The argument goes like this, “What’s the point of disability ministry if people can’t learn?” This viewpoint comes from a worldview driven by ignorance. The idea behind this viewpoint asserts that even if people with intellectual and developmental disabilities know they have sinned, how can they possibly understand how to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior? I have even heard others say “How do we really know if they’ve sinned? I mean they’re non-verbal, they use a chair, and they need total personal care.” Essentially, these people believe that Romans 3:23 doesn’t apply to “all people.” They believe that individuals with varying degrees of disabilities are not capable of sin because of their condition, and therefore, there is no need to share the gospel with them through disability ministry. Anyone ascribing to these viewpoints is holding onto faulty theology.

We can either accept Romans 3:23 as true, or not true. I believe that it is true – that “all” means “all.” Romans 3:23 gives no qualifiers. All have sinned, and all are in need of a Savior. We are called to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” – there are no exceptions.

Disability and the Gospel (Part 4 of 5)

(First posted on http://irresistiblechurch.org/disability-gospel-part-4-5/#)

I grew up as a child of the 80s. A fond memory of mine was being allowed to stay up late and watch the A-Team. One of my favorite characters on the A-Team was Mr. T. There were a lot of things that made him unique – things like his outrageous haircut, or the ridiculous amount of gold chains he wore, or the fact that that he was undoubtedly the toughest guy on the show even though he was afraid to fly. The thing that people remember most about him though is a phrase he repeated over and over again – “I pity the fool!” This phrase would be followed by whatever had upset Mr. T.

Pity can be a powerful motivator. Pity can make us go out of our way to do something that benefits someone else. Pity compels us to correct injustice or right a wrong allowing us to feel better. Ridding ourselves of the feeling of pity becomes our motivator. While this is not the right reason to do something it is often the reason people act.

Pity could have been the motivating factor in the biblical account of the men lowering their friend, who was paralyzed, through the roof so he could meet and be healed by Jesus (Luke 5, Matthew 9, Mark 2). The friends may have felt sorry for the man who was paralyzed, or maybe they were just tired of carrying him around! Either way, they were motivated to do something about it when they heard that Jesus was nearby.

The men carried their friend on a mat, but upon arriving at the home that Jesus was visiting they found that it was incredibly crowded – so crowded that there was no way in. They proceeded to take their friend all the way up to the roof of the home, tear a hole in the roof and lower the mat through the roof to place their friend directly in front of Jesus. Talk about motivation and perseverance!

This was a huge interruption to Jesus, but He was in no way disturbed by it. What Jesus does next is surprising, and it gives us insight into how God views people with disabilities. Remember, the men were motivated to see their buddy healed. They wanted him to be able to walk – possibly because they had pity on him, possibly so they didn’t have to carry him around anymore. Jesus takes one look at the man who was paralyzed and said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven” (Luke 5:20, NIV). What? Are you serious, God? Did you not get the memo from the friends on the roof? They were hoping their buddy would be healed, but they did not mention anything about his sins.

The insight that we gain from this account reveals that not only did Jesus not pity the man who was paralyzed, but He did not even acknowledge his physical disability. Let that sink in for a moment. No pity. No acknowledgement of the physical disability. Jesus looks straight to what is most important – the heart.

It is only after the religious leaders of the day almost had a heart attack that Jesus decides to heal the physical disability. The man who was once paralyzed is now able to get up and walk out of the crowded house. Do not overlook who Jesus performed this healing for. Jesus restored the man’s ability to walk not necessarily for his benefit, but rather for the benefit of the religious leaders. He was making a point to them and everyone else present. He was declaring that He is indeed God and worthy of being praised.

Giving the man the ability to walk was, at best, secondary in this situation. One of the beautiful lessons from this story is the fact that Jesus did not define the man on the mat by his disability. For all others present the man was defined by his disability, but Jesus looked at his heart.

Jesus’ perspective in this account harkens back to an Old Testament story. In this Old Testament story we once again see the perspective of God as He looks at mankind, as he looks at us. In 1 Samuel 16:7 we read, “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (NIV). God gives this eternal perspective to Samuel as he is charged with the task of finding a new king for the nation of Israel. This shows that God’s perspective of us is consistent from the Old Testament, to the New Testament, and even to today.

It is possible then to draw this conclusion – God does not view people with disabilities as broken or in need of being fixed. This is a bold theological statement. We are embracing the fact that all of us are wonderfully made. We are all God’s works of art, His masterpieces. When God views us, He does so without pity. When God looks at us He does so with both pride and joy. Rather than focusing on our exterior, He looks upon what is most important – our hearts.