Changing attitudes about differences

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Changing attitudes about differences

The email was to the point. “The student services department at Crown Point Christian is putting on a chapel on March 21. The theme is friendship and accepting those who are different.”

They wanted a speaker to help them spread the message. However, I would only have 10 minutes, and I knew a thorough presentation of The 5 Stages would be too much for that time. So I decided to do my fallback: talk about Ephesians 2:10.

This verse has proven to my failsafe way to Biblically ground attitudes toward people who have disabilities. Ephesians 2:10 says:

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Usually I tell people about four things I notice, and that one of the things I notice is not even there.

What are they?

Well, the three things I notice are:

  1. If we are God’s handwork, that means We were made on purpose.
  2. If we were made in Christ Jesus to do good works, then We were made for a purpose.
  3. And if those good works were prepared by God in advance for us to do, then Our purpose is not optional.

But then there’s one more thing that I notice that’s not there.

There is no asterisk. There’s no asterisk that exempts or absolves people with disabilities from the calling God has placed on their lives.

He has created each of us on purpose, for a purpose, and that purpose is not optional, whether we are disabled, poor, the same as others, different from others, rich, ethnically different, powerful, weak, old, young, sick, healthy, living in a poor mountain village in Peru, or living in Abu Dhabi.

I told the Crown Point middle schoolers that whether or not they were the same as others, or different from others, didn’t really matter. What mattered was how we treated others: like image-bearers of God each created to answer His call.

Crown Point Christian School, in Crown Point Indiana, is a ministry partner of Elim Christian Services, birthplace and inspiration for The 5 Stages.

 

 


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Las Cinco Etapas en Nicaragua

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Churches have many objections to doing disability ministry, including:

  • We don’t have enough volunteers.
  • We don’t have the money.
  • We don’t have people with disabilities here.
  • Wouldn’t they be happier in their own churches?

And that’s just to name a few. You can find some other great “myths about disability ministry” in this post by Jeff Davidson over at Disability Matters.

You would think that resources would not be a problem for most American churches. Yet the objection still arises every time a new opportunity or challenge comes up.

Even more, though, we would expect this objection in a less prosperous country. Say, in Nicaragua, where the average wage-earner lives on an income of about $150 a month (WorldBank data). What resources might they have available in their churches? Would they even consider making the effort to include people with disabilities?

These challenges didn’t stop Tesoros de Dios from sending out Paul Blas, who just a few years ago translated The 5 Stages into Spanish and set about meeting with churches near Managua and challenging them to become 5 Stages churches. There is so much more to tell, and fortunately, we have Paul to tell us himself.

Outreach Video 2015 from Elim Christian Services on Vimeo.

Isn’t that amazing? Paul not only challenged these churches, but despite the resource challenges they faced, they committed to becoming the church homes of people who have disabilities. They have been convinced that they are called by God to have a co-laboring attitude toward people who have disabilities. What about you? What about your church?

Check out our resources and see how you can help your church become a welcoming place of inclusion, just by changing attitudes.


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What the Heidelberg Catechism is Missing

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In 1563, two young men were charged with creating a question and answer synopsis of the Christian faith and its practice. The resulting Heidelberg Catechism has been used as a reliable companion to the Scriptures for over 450 years.

The catechism aims to draw the believer’s attention to the crucial elements and questions of the faith, and to answer those questions directly from Scripture. These questions range from the practice of the sacraments to observance of the Law to basic theology.

Why Do Good Works?

One of the age-old questions for Christians is why we should do good, if indeed Christ has already done all the good that’s needed to satisfy our Creator. In the 86th set of questions and answer that make up the Catechism, the authors ask, “Since we have been delivered from our misery by grace alone through Christ, without any merit of our own, why must we yet do good works?”

The answer is given with reference to specific Bible passages:

“Because Christ, having redeemed us by his blood, also renews us by his Holy Spirit to be his image, so that with our whole life we may show ourselves thankful to God for his benefits, and he may be praised by us. Further, that we ourselves may be assured of our faith by its fruits, and that by our godly walk of life we may win our neighbors for Christ.”

So the reasons we should do good work are found in:

  • Romans 6:13–Because we are thankful.
  • I Corinthians 6:19-20–So that God might be praised because of what we do.
  • Matthew 7:17-18–So that we might be assured of our faith.
  • Matthew 5:14-16–So that others might be drawn closer to Him.

That Answer’s Not Enough

All of these are very good, and Biblically-based, reasons for doing good works. But they never quite fully answered the question.

I do think we do good works because we’re grateful for all our Lord has done for us, so that others will praise Him and be drawn to Him, and because these works are a sign of our faith. But all these reasons miss what Paul writes in Ephesians 2:

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which have been prepared in advance for us to do.”

So, this would add a fifth item to the 86th answer in the catechism. We do good works because that’s what we were created to do.

Still Missing Something

Maybe this is missing from the Catechism, but there’s something else missing too. But it’s not because it was overlooked by the authors, but because we overlook it to this day.

In both 1563 and in 2015, the Heidelberg Catechism, its authors and its readers, are missing something. We are missing this very explicit call from the apostle to build God’s Kingdom, to do the work we were called and equipped to do.

But we’re missing something else too. We’re missing the opportunity we have to draw others to Christ by including them in that call.

We are all called to more than belief, to more than thankfulness, to more than being nice people. We are, every one of us–from different economic and social backgrounds different countries, different races and yes, different capabilities–called to do the good works that have been prepared in advance for us to do.

And by everyone, I mean people who we normally do not include in that call, people like Nick.

Nick is God’s Workmanship

Nick has cognitive delays and behaviors that warrant a specialized education to help him reach his potential. Yet, my friend Nick greets me boisterously every time he sees me. He smiles, yells “Mr. Vander Plaats!,” and gives me a high five or even a hug. Nick blesses me. Nick is following God’s call.

For Nick is God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God has prepared in advance for Nick to do.”

The Heidelberg is missing this, but the Bible isn’t. Are you missing this Biblical command, this imperative to following Christ? How are you helping Nick, and other people who live with disabilities to answer God’s call?

 

 

danvp_avatarDan Vander Plaats is the Director of Advancement at Elim Christian Services in Palos Heights, Illinois, a ministry that exists to equip people who live with disabilities to answer God’s call on their lives. He is also a member of the advisory committee for Disability Concerns for the Christian Reformed Church. In 2009, he developed “5 Stages: The Journey of Disability Attitudes” as a resource for Elim. The 5 Stages helps churches and individuals assess their attitudes toward people with disabilities. He is married to Denise (Hiemstra), and is father to Ben and Emma. They are members of Orland Park Christian Reformed Church in Illinois.


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An Opportunity Missed by Too Many Churches

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Life with a Disability is Difficult and Lonely

Life always includes tragedy. And tragedy can be a time of loneliness and deep despair. But when you are part of a church, that tragedy can become an opportunity.

Tragedy and difficulty, whether temporary or long-term, is an opportunity for the church to truly be the church. Not every aspect of life with a disability involves such tragedy, or even difficulty, but it still provides the church with a unique opportunity to respond in a way that only a church really can.

So what keeps us so often from being that kind of church?

The church isn’t a country club. We’ve heard this before. We don’t pay dues (offerings) to pay for the club pro (the pastor) and the grounds crew and caddies (ministry staff) to make sure our tee-offs (services) are on time and everything is done efficiently.

A church whose members think of themselves as ‘belonging’ to a country club want a certain kind of clientele. They have their seat. They have their social clubs. They have their favorite preacher and worship-leader.

When tragedy befalls our country club-church, we respond with pity, with bitterness, and even an awkward social silence that says your kind of tragedy isn’t welcome here. This is particularly so for people who have disabilities. Disability is a constant difficulty, a reminder of sin and brokenness, and its presence in our church not only makes us uncomfortable, it mocks a self-righteous church life.

But it also Presents an Opportunity

It can be helpful to instead think of church as a hospital. Even better, perhaps, it’s a learning hospital. All of us need healing, but we also all need to learn how to heal others.

In tragedy and difficulty, the church-hospital to which we have been called becomes a place of healing, and, hopefully, a place where we learn how to heal.

Even–and perhaps, especially–for people who have disabilities, this kind of environment has profound potential. To see what God sees in the broken person, to call that person into His Kingdom, to equip that person to serve and worship Him with every fiber of their being. That is when the church truly becomes the church.

This all sounds fine in the abstract, but what, more precisely, does it mean?

Fortunately, God’s Word provides some very specific characteristics of the kind of hospital-church community we’re talking about:

  • I Corinthians 12: Christ’s church is not homogenous. It is not made up of one kind of people. It is made into one people from many. Those many come from different economic backgrounds, social classes, ethnicities, levels of ability and education, and genders.
  • Acts 4: That church shares everything, especially with those in need. In fact, the needy are not just an opportunity; they are a priority, for all time.
  • Luke 14: The hospital-church is one that includes everyone, so that God’s house might be full. Everyone, the lame, the blind, those who are weak in body, weak in spirit, hungering and thirsting–all are invited to His eternal banquet.
  • I Thessalonians 5: That church encourages one another, both those who have plenty and those who have nothing, into the work that God called them to do. Everyone is encouraged, not just those who have no troubles, but those who are in great need, are also encouraged to respond to God’s invitation.
  • Matthew 28: The disciples were told to baptize, but even before that, they were called to make disciples. The church is about the business of making disciples, and again, not just of the clear of mind and the strong of limb. Everyone is to become a disciple, a living ‘epistle.’
  • Ephesians 2: That church is full of people who do good works, not just because of what God did for us, or because it is an evidence of our faith, but moreso because that is precisely what God created us to do–to do the good works He has prepared in advance for everyone of us to do.

This is not the Kingdom of this World

The hospital-church is a place this world cannot understand. The kingdom of this world is where capability, difference, and wealth define the person. But in God’s kingdom we are defined, valued, encouraged, and equipped for one reason. We are all His. We all belong to Him. We are all called and equipped. We are all broken, and we are being and have been healed.

And in the process, we are simultaneously called not just to be healed, but to heal others. We are not just called to be disciples, but to make disciples. Not just to be encouraged but to encourage others.

This is the Kingdom of Heaven…and it is at Hand

This is something the church can do that no other entity has the call to do, nor the power or authority to do. And it is an opportunity that is starkly evident in the lives of people who live with disabilities. Don’t just seek our healing; equip us to heal others. Don’t just teach us about Jesus, equip us to teach others. Don’t just encourage us, come alongside us and together, we can encourage others, and continue to build His kingdom.

 

 

danvp_avatarDan Vander Plaats is the Director of Advancement at Elim Christian Services in Palos Heights, Illinois, a ministry that exists to equip people who live with disabilities to answer God’s call on their lives. He is also a member of the advisory committee for Disability Concerns for the Christian Reformed Church. In 2009, he developed “5 Stages: The Journey of Disability Attitudes” as a resource for Elim. The 5 Stages helps churches and individuals assess their attitudes toward people with disabilities. He is married to Denise (Hiemstra), and is father to Ben and Emma. They are members of Orland Park Christian Reformed Church in Illinois.


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Use a Little G.L.U.E. to Help Your Church

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I just don’t know HOW. This is the statement that I often hear when I speak with church leaders about including people who have disabilities. How do we move from pity to care, or from care to friendship? How do we move through the five stages of being ignorant of those with disabilities to becoming co-laborers in Christ with those who have disabilities? While the process of changing attitudes and the atmosphere at your church may seem daunting, CLC Network (Christian Learning Center) has a tool available to help you and your church in this process.

We offer a planning process called G.L.U.E, which stands for giving, loving, understanding, and encouraging. G.L.U.E. is a manual that comes alongside churches as they strive to be an inclusive community. CLC Network desires for you to do “ministry with” individuals who have disabilities, rather than “ministry to” individuals who have disabilities. We desire for churches and communities to see each person as a co-laborer in Christ.

Our G.L.U.E. Training Manual and DVD is a three hour long training session, broken up into four segments. This training will walk you through the biblical and theological thinking for viewing all people as an important part of the Body of Christ. It will focus in on appointing a special needs coordinator, getting to know the person(s) with a disability, sharing the vision of G.L.U.E. with your church, developing an inclusion action plan, and training a support team for the person(s) with a disability. If your church is able, we ask that you purchase the training materials on the CLC Network website.

We are aware, however, that some churches may not be able to afford these materials, and, because of this, we offer a grant that allows churches to purchase our G.LU.E. Training Manual and DVD for free. To apply for a G.L.U.E. grant, visit our website, www.clcnetwork.org/GLUEgrants. Here, you will fill out a short application form. Once your grant is approved, you will receive a DVD and training manual in the mail.

Because we are each different, G.L.U.E. is meant to be adaptable to each person’s differences, rather than a cookie-cutter program. It is a planning process that is flexible for each church, each community, and each individual. Whether you are in charge of ten churches or one, whether your faith community is big or small, you can make G.L.U.E. your very own.

And, it is a process. It’s a process that not only speaks to the individual, but it also speaks to everyone else as we work to become an example of God’s body—as we work towards God’s Kingdom as co-laborers in Christ.

Go here to get an overview of the G.L.U.E. Process: http://www.clcnetwork.org/church_services/glue_process.

 

JackiSikkemaJacki Sikkema has a background in Special Education and currently serves in the Church Services Division at CLC Network, a ministry that, like Elim Christian Services, is devoted to equipping people who live with disabilities to answer God’s call on their lives.


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Lies the World Tells People with Disabilities

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I am Disabled

I have a disability. It’s a slight speech impediment as a result of damage to some nerve centers at the base of my brain. Only one vocal chord works, my tongue barely moves, and I have to work hard to manipulate my lips and teeth to form words. It has always been this way.

I not only grew up with a speech impediment, I also grew up hearing the story that I wasn’t supposed to live for very long.

The World Tells Me I am Valuable

So, as I grew up (and lived beyond those first few rough years), I became accustomed to being a child who ‘succeeded despite the odds,’ who ‘overcame so many difficulties.’ It became enticing, even a challenge, to keep proving what I could do despite my disabilities.

I never realized I was buying into one of the world’s lies.

The Values Preached by the World are Lies

The world lies to those of us who have disabilities. It tells us what makes us valuable, or attractive, or important. It does these things by focusing on what makes us different, or even what makes us the same. It defines all our value based on extrinsic characteristics. It lies to us.

So what are the lies that the world tells us?

  • You are valuable because of what you accomplish. This was the sticky one for me. I could prove that I wasn’t that disabled, I thought. I am actually able to do so many normal things that you might as well think of me as normal, I thought. When we read stories about a lady with autism who overcomes the odds to graduate from college, we are seeing the subtle lie. You are accomplishing ‘despite your disability,’ therefore you are valuable. Or, conversely, if you cannot accomplish anything, you are therefore not valuable at all.
  • You are valuable because you have a disability. Pride used to be one of the seven deadly sins, now it is somehow ‘good’ to have pride. The mobilization of different people groups to have ‘pride’-based parades has also permeated the culture of people living with disabilities. In fact, people with certain impairments seek to build up a culture where those impairments are actually celebrated and valued, persuaded that what makes life worthwhile is living with that specific impairment.
  • You are not disabled. You are just different. Who wants to be disabled? I sure didn’t. Many parents feel the same way about their children who live with disabilities. Perhaps as a way to accept their child’s disability, they re-interpret the reality of disability as though it is no different from life without a disability. While in my case, many parts of my daily life are ‘normal,’ the reality is it has hundreds of impacts every day, from whether or not the person on the other end of the phone takes me seriously to how I’ll be treated by the teenaged clerk at the local hardware store. Disability is not just another ‘difference.’ And even difference itself should not be celebrated (and neither should sameness).

The World Lies to Us All

But these lies aren’t just being told to and accepted by those of us who live with disabilities. They are preached to all of us. We are all accepting these lies by believing things like:

  • You are valuable because of what you own.
  • You are worthwhile because of how you look.
  • Your life means something because of your job title.

But our God is a God of Truth

Paul talks about ‘exchanging the truth of God for a lie. (Romans 1:25)’ The truth of God comes from Him, and is found within His Kingdom. The lie comes from the kingdom of this world. It is pervasive and it is a poison. It is fleeting and temporary. It is the wind. Today, I accomplish something, but tomorrow, I am emptied of accomplishment. Today I look great, twenty years from now, my looks have faded. Today, I don’t feel all that different from everyone else. Tomorrow, I will feel like every little task is a major challenge.

When we base our ‘truth’ on extrinsic qualities: how we feel, how we perceive ourselves, where we feel most comfortable, we once again accept the lies of this world, instead of the Truth of God: that He created us. That He has a plan for our lives. That He uses that which is external to shape, to direct, and to make us into what He has called us to be.

The Truth of God is that our Value Rests in Him

So what is God’s truth about what makes us valuable? For all of us, what makes us valuable is that we are children of God, made in His image.

  • I am not valuable because of what I accomplish. I accomplish things because God has called me into the service of His Kingdom.
  • I am not valuable because of my disability. I have a disability, and God uses me, sometimes despite my disability, and sometimes because of it, to draw myself and others closer to Him.
  • I am not valuable because I am different, or because I am not different. I am valuable because God uses me, in all of my uniqueness and in all the ways in which I am part of a community.
  • I am not valuable because of how I look, or how important or wealthy I am. I am valuable because I am a child of the Living God, a servant of the Heavenly Kingdom, and a co-heir in Christ.

Don’t believe the lies of this world, that our value ebbs and flows on the whims of man. Whether or not you live with a disability, your value is, always was, and always has been defined and given by our Creator God.

 

 

 

danvp_avatarDan Vander Plaats is the Director of Advancement at Elim Christian Services in Palos Heights, Illinois, a ministry that exists to equip people who live with disabilities to answer God’s call on their lives. He is also a member of the advisory committee for Disability Concerns for the Christian Reformed Church. In 2009, he developed “5 Stages: The Journey of Disability Attitudes” as a resource for Elim. The 5 Stages helps churches and individuals assess their attitudes toward people with disabilities. He is married to Denise (Hiemstra), and is father to Ben and Emma. They are members of Orland Park Christian Reformed Church in Illinois.

 

 

 


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7 Signs That You (Or Your Church) Are Ignorant

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As The 5 Stages has been presented and used by more and more churches and individuals, one of the most common questions we receive is: What does it look like when a church is at Stage 1 or 3? What’s the difference?

I thought it might be helpful to offer some characteristics that you can find in churches where ‘ignorance’ is the prevailing attitude about people with disabilities.

But ignorance is such a harsh word. I know, but it is even harsher to consider how it feels for people with disabilities when these attitudes persist, and–oftentimes–pervade. So, while I’m asking for your grace as I might point out some things that hit close to home, I am at the same time asking you to set aside your defenses, and seek God’s will for your relationships with people who have disabilities.

Please note that the following list is simply an attempt at a list. It is not exhaustive. I provide the list, not to make you feel bad, but in the hopes that it will be a tool to aid conversation with other members of your church, your family, or your community.

That said, here are seven signs you (or your church) are ignorant:

  1. Shunning. People with disabilities are not welcomed or prioritized because they have a disability. Some people believe that the presence of disability is somehow connected to a lack of faith or a curse upon that family or even that church. Such a church lacks the ability to see that no life on this earth can be free from difficulty or from the impact of sin and brokenness, and that it is, in some mysterious way, that brokenness that allows God’s grace and strength to permeate our lives. (2 Corinthians 12:9)
  2. Inconsiderate language. Sometimes, we use language that implies ‘lesser status’ for people who live with disabilities. We talk of ‘those people,’ ‘the handicapped,’ or even use words like ‘retard.’ Yet, we are all created in the image of God, and we are called to reflect His glory. All of us. Every last one of us. If we are all equally called and gifted as full image-bearers, then that applies to people who live with disabilities, and it means this: We might still say “She’s Down syndrome” or “He’s a cripple,” but we are always trying to do our best to speak about people in a way that honors their status as image-bearers. Even more important, we’re getting to know these brothers and sisters in Christ, so that we don’t speak of them as strangers, but as family members.
  3. Annoyance. Accessible parking spaces. The physical demands for elevators, ramps, hearing loops. It seems like people with disabilities are always demanding more accommodation and frankly, people get tired of it. If your first thought is to be annoyed by the presence and demands of people with disabilities, you may need to reconsider your attitudes (you may also need to have a conversation with the person(s) that are causing you to be annoyed).
  4. Lack of Spiritual Maturity. When our children refuse to share toys, we correct them for their immaturity. When we refuse to make space for people with disabilities to be part of our lives and communities, are we not doing the very same thing? When we make our church about us, and about what we want, have we changed it into something other than what God wanted? Is it God’s church, or our church? And if it is God’s church, then what does He want us to do to accommodate and include others?
  5. Lack of Awareness. Did you know that roughly 1 in 5 families in America is affected in some way by disability, whether physical (and obvious) or mental/emotional (often hidden)? That’s 20% of our population that is in some way impacted by a life with disabilities. Most people are surprised to find out the percentage is so high. When we think disability is only affecting a few people, we don’t prioritize the need, nor do we prioritize sensitivity to that need.
  6. Physical inaccessibility. Okay, so this is an easy one, I admit. If you don’t have wheelchair ramps, if the only way to get into church is up a flight of steep, concrete steps, you are telling everyone in a wheelchair or a walker that they are not welcome. But there are other accessibility issues. Will you accommodate people with vision impairments, or hearing impairments? How about people who need sensory breaks or who have a gluten allergy (with regard to communion)? This leads to the final sign.
  7. General insensitivity. This is a tough one, because it touches just about everyone. We all have moments (and sometimes lots of moments) when our first and only concern is our own life, our time, our plans. This self-focus inherently makes us less sensitive to others. Why? Because investing in the life of someone else (being sensitive to their needs) is hard work, even when no disabilities are involved. How much more challenging is it when we are investing in the life of someone who can’t talk, has a hard time getting around, or who just demands more than a few minutes of our time?

Remember, being ignorant is simply a lack of knowledge. It can be surpassed, you and I can stop being ignorant. I share these signs in the hope (and the relative certainty) that you will find yourself somewhere in here (just as I do), and that you will be encouraged to move in a new direction.

But what new direction is that? Here are some practical things you can do to move beyond ignorance:

  • Reveal and accept your own brokenness (to yourself and ideally even to others). We want to believe we are strong and capable, traits which should distinguish us from people who have disabilities. Accepting our own failings is a step toward identifying with people who experience brokenness in a more immediate and obvious way.
  • Consider how you would want your family to be treated. Maybe we can’t just throw all kinds of energy and resources into making our churches and houses accessible, but we can start asking what might be a good first step. Ask yourself what you would want to see in a church if you were a visiting family with a child who had disabilities. (Better yet, ask a family from your neighborhood to evaluate your church).
  • Be ready. If and when someone with a disability comes into your life, whether they struggle with speech, with physical movement, with hearing…be welcoming, ask questions, seek to serve and encourage that person as a child of God.

Maybe, right now, you are ignorant, but you don’t have to stay that way.

 

 

danvp_avatarDan Vander Plaats is the Director of Advancement at Elim Christian Services in Palos Heights, Illinois, a ministry that exists to equip people who live with disabilities to answer God’s call on their lives. He is also a member of the advisory committee for Disability Concerns for the Christian Reformed Church. In 2009, he developed “5 Stages: The Journey of Disability Attitudes” as a resource for Elim. The 5 Stages helps churches and individuals assess their attitudes toward people with disabilities. He is married to Denise (Hiemstra), and is father to Ben and Emma. They are members of Orland Park Christian Reformed Church in Illinois.

 

 

 

 

 


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There is no Asterisk

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The concepts discussed in this blog and on this website are not new, but are sometimes received as though they are revolutionary. Yet there is nothing truly unique about these thoughts.

And I’m not just talking about the fact that similar attitudinal structures have been developed by people like Jean Vanier and Bill Gaventa, though they have been, and long before we developed The 5 Stages.

It’s in the Bible

I’m talking about the fact that the foundation for The 5 Stages is found in the Bible. It’s found in the way that Paul, specifically, talks in his letters to Timothy, to the Thessalonians, and to the Ephesians. It’s simply not news.

From 2 Timothy 3:16 & 17:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

1 Thessalonians 5:11:

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

Ephesians 2:10

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

So what do those verses have to do with anything? How do they show us that people with disabilities are supposed to be part of our churches, our communities? More than that, how do those verses tell us that people with disabilities are called to the work of the Kingdom?

It’s really simple, actually. There is no asterisk.

People with Disabilities are Called to Kingdom Work

There is no asterisk on these verses. Like an asterisk that would send your eyes to the bottom of the page, where you would see ‘except for people who have disabilities,’ or ‘except for people who are depressed,’ or ‘except for children who can’t communicate.’

But even though there is no asterisk, we often subconsciously put an asterisk on these verses. Are we assuming that people who have disabilities are not called by God to do His work? Do we believe, even slightly, that people with different abilities are not supposed to be challenged, equipped, and encouraged for every good work, “which God has prepared in advance for them to do”?

Who Do You Know that Doesn’t Understand This?

Maybe these questions are for you, and maybe they are for you to ask other people. Are you putting an asterisk on these verses? Are you absolving people with disabilities from the Kingdom work of God?

Because there is no asterisk, unless we put it there.

 

 

danvp_avatarDan Vander Plaats is the Director of Advancement at Elim Christian Services in Palos Heights, Illinois, a ministry that exists to equip people who live with disabilities to answer God’s call on their lives. He is also a member of the advisory committee for Disability Concerns for the Christian Reformed Church. In 2009, he developed “5 Stages: The Journey of Disability Attitudes” as a resource for Elim. The 5 Stages helps churches and individuals assess their attitudes toward people with disabilities. He is married to Denise (Hiemstra), and is father to Ben and Emma. They are members of Orland Park Christian Reformed Church in Illinois.

 

 

ThereisNoAsterisk_The5Stages


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Did God Make Me This Way? (Part 2)

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Two weeks ago, I posted a personal perspective on God’s purpose in disability. In it, I postulated that it is not a question of whether or not God made me this way (as a disabled person), but that He has a redemptive purpose in each life.

I want to follow that up by sharing what I’ve learned from others.

Disability and the Sovreign Goodness of God Free E-Book

In addition to several great blog posts on the issue of disability, Desiring God Ministries compiled this free e-book for you to download and enjoy

In the post “Why Was This Child Born Blind?” from Desiring God Ministries, John Piper says:

The decisive explanation for this blindness is not found by looking for its cause but by looking for its purpose. [John 9] Verse 3: Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Piper offers a very specific application of John 9:3, to point out that:

  1. [The disciples] want to know: Why is he blind? And Jesus really does give an answer. This is why he’s blind—there is purpose in it…
  2. God knows all things. If God foresees and permits a conception that he knows will produce blindness, he has reasons for this permission. And those reasons are his purposes. His designs. His plans.
  3. And third, any attempt to deny God’s sovereign, wise, purposeful control over conception and birth has a head-on collision with Exodus 4:11 and Psalm 139:13.  “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?’” “You formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.”

Though its very mandate is somewhat constricted to the pursuit of the “Great Commission,” the Lausanne Movement (and its subsequent ‘conversations’ – all of which can be found at the website for the Lausanne Movement) are very helpful as we dissect the issue of disability in relation to the Kingdom of God.

How Does God View Pweople with Disabilities; The Lausanne Movement

The Lausanne Movement has several resources related to the connection between disabilities and the Great Commission, including this paper.

Instructively, the authors of “How Does God View Disability?” (a subsection of ” Hidden and Forgotten People: Ministry Among People With Disabilities” written by  Joni Eareckson Tada and Jack S. Oppenhuizen) tell us that “Of course, Satan sometimes causes illness (Job 2:7; Luke 13:16) – but in these references, as everywhere, Satan unwittingly serves God’s ends and purposes. No trial, no disease or illness, no accident or injury reaches us apart from God’s permission…God may not initiate all our trials, including diseases, birth deformities and injuries, but by the time they reach us, they are His will for us for whatever time and purpose that He determines.”

These distinctions, however small they seem, are important, and are also reflected in the serious theology presented in Steph Hubach’s “Same Lake, Different Boat,” a book in which Steph tells us stories about her son who lives with Down Syndrome (Tim) and her son who doesn’t (Fred). Throughout, Steph builds a step by step approach to thinking theologically about disabilities.

Ultimately, Steph draws these distinctions, but talks about them in a very unique way. These distinctions are very important for us today, and she attributes them to certain world views. It is helpful to remember that, while some of these are secular world views, they can have a significant impact on religious thought and theology.

  • The first view, the ‘historical view’ on disability (even among Christ-followers) has long been: “Disability is an Abnormal Part of Life in a Normal World.” This view informs the disciples’ question about sin and the man born blind. It says, this person did something wrong, that’s why he has a disability. It also implies that in some way God’s sovereignty does not extend over disability, and therefore that person has no place, no value, no work to do in the redemption of the world.
  • "Same Lake, Different Boat" provides an excellent theological overview of disability issues, and provides other resources to encourage the discussion of these issues.

    “Same Lake, Different Boat” provides an excellent theological overview of disability issues, and provides other resources to encourage the discussion of these issues.

    The second view is referred to as postmodern and postulates that “Disability is a Normal Part of Life in a Normal World.” Broken down into Christian thought, this leads to the view that God created this person, and created him as he is. He is blessed with a disability. He is okay as he is, and there is nothing wrong with him. This thinking does a great job of acknowledging God’s sovereignty regarding disability, but it unfortunately overlooks the brokenness of creation, the need for restoration to ‘life as it is supposed to be.’

  • The third view, the biblical view, goes like this: “Disability is a Normal Part of Life in a Abnormal World.” Essentially, disability is a symptom of the brokenness of Creation. Things are not as they are supposed to be – Creation is groaning (Romans 8:22) because sin, disability, broken homes and relationships, economic inequality, war-mongering, and other ailments (both large and small) still impact our lives.

I heartily recommend the book “Same Lake, Different Boat,” by Steph Hubach, but I also encourage you to check out the other resources she offers, including an amazing DVD study for you to use in education courses related to the issue of disability, in small group or adult education courses at church, or just with your disability and leadership teams at your church.

So, what do we learn, then?

  • Disability is not a blessing, nor it it a curse. Disability is a symptom of a broken world, and yet is still redeemed to His purposes.
  • God is sovereign over disabilities and the people who have them.
  • Even if God gives, or permits, a disability, it is only as a tool for His redemptive purposes, not as an end unto itself.

As always, The 5 Stages is built on a biblical view of disability. If nothing else, The 5 Stages exists to point the very discussion of disability and inclusion in the direction of Christ. But I wonder what our readers think. Does disability come from God? Why do you think of it as a curse, or why do you think of it as a blessing?

 

 

 

danvp_avatarDan Vander Plaats is the Director of Advancement at Elim Christian Services in Palos Heights, Illinois, a ministry that exists to equip people who live with disabilities to answer God’s call on their lives. He is also a member of the advisory committee for Disability Concerns for the Christian Reformed Church. In 2009, he developed “5 Stages: The Journey of Disability Attitudes” as a resource for Elim. The 5 Stages helps churches and individuals assess their attitudes toward people with disabilities. He is married to Denise (Hiemstra), and is father to Ben and Emma. They are members of Orland Park Christian Reformed Church in Illinois.

 


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White Paper: Building a Special Needs Ministry

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In 2012, Elim Christian Services lost a great member of its team when Vinnie Adams agreed to take on a new challenge. Our good friends at Faith Church, a large, multi-site church (and member of the Reformed Church of America denomination) in Dyer, Indiana, and longtime friends and supporters of the mission and vision of Elim, had asked Vinnie to build a special needs ministry there.

It didn’t take long for Vinnie to cast his vision for that ministry. Here’s a short excerpt from a recent interview we conducted with Vinnie:

It was literally the first document that I brought to Pastor Bob. It was my third day in the office, and we did a peer-learning day downtown Chicago. It was me, Ryan, and Bob. When I shared it with him, he just said “This is it.”

Your church can have all the resources in the world, but if your church doesn’t have the attitude for this, it’s all for naught,

What the 5 Stages brings is that church-wide assessment tool to say ‘we have to do this together, change our whole church attitude.’ It’s almost scary to think about a church without the right attitude. Imagine the experience of that family, and all they could think afterwards is ‘this is how the church responded,’ if they don’t have the right attitude, what does that mean for all our churches and how they are responding to families who want to be there.

Here’s The 5 Stages in a nutshell: act like Jesus.

That’s all there is to it. Churches might strive to have a disability ministry, but if they don’t have the attitude and the mindset, they’re missing it. It’s the pre-assessment tool for every church before they do anything with disability ministry.

It provides a framework to think big-picture about each aspect of your ministry. Is this exemplifying care or pity or co-laboring or something else?

In a very short time, we at Elim were asked to participate in the launch of Faith Church’s new special needs ministry. Today, that ministry includes:

  1. Reflectors Worship – provides a safe place for worship and scripture lesson and social time as an alternative to the regular worship service
  2. Prayer partner ministry – part of Reflectors ministry, it is truly a co-laborer ministry because you partner off (a person with disabilities and someone who does not identify as disabled) and you pray with and for each other
  3. Respite and Parent Support – Co-laboring with and empowering families to raise kids to know Christ
  4. Frontlines team – This is a greeter team comprised of people with different abilities
  5. Treasureland – full inclusion of students with different abilities (seeing true mutuality and gift using by people with special needs)

2014_0818_The5StagesasaMinistryFramework-1These efforts testify to the value and utility of The 5 Stages as you and your church not only assess how you include and minister to people who live with disabilities, but also as you actually build those ministry efforts with the 5 Stages as your source document. Because of their success and momentum, we asked Vinnie to share how Faith Church used The 5 Stages as a framework for building their disability ministries. That interview is completely recorded in the first in our new series of White Papers.

Click here to download and read this white paper today.

Click here to find out more about the Reflectors ministry and other special need ministries at Faith Church.

 

 

 

 

 

danvp_avatarDan Vander Plaats is the Director of Advancement at Elim Christian Services in Palos Heights, Illinois, a ministry that exists to equip people who live with disabilities to answer God’s call on their lives. He is also a member of the advisory committee for Disability Concerns for the Christian Reformed Church. In 2009, he developed “5 Stages: The Journey of Disability Attitudes” as a resource for Elim. The 5 Stages helps churches and individuals assess their attitudes toward people with disabilities. He is married to Denise (Hiemstra), and is father to Ben and Emma. They are members of Orland Park Christian Reformed Church in Illinois.