Maybe we are all ‘disabled’?

Maybe we are all ‘disabled’?

The way we understand and interpret the word ‘disability’ differs depending on what we’ve heard, read and experienced.

Sometimes the word disability is used to refer to someone who is medically unwell, sometimes it’s used to express that someone with health conditions or impairments is restricted by their surroundings. These are often referred to as models (the medical model and social model are explained briefly above).

As you might know, I have recently been reading a book called ‘Unleashed’ by Gavin and Anne Calver. It focuses on the early church and expresses the differences between the Church then and now. One thought that is repeated throughout the book is that we are all important and needed in the Church as we all have our part to do. It doesn’t matter if you’re young, old, poor, rich, strong, weak or anything else, you are a part of the body of Christ and have your place in the Church. It’s interesting that the word ‘disabled’ or ‘ill’ never comes up in the book, but maybe that’s because it doesn’t often come up in churches either. People with chronic illness and/ or disability are often thought of as ‘other’ – the people who lack faith or who don’t pray enough. ‘What can they bring to the Church?’

I briefly explained the medical and social models of disability above but there are many more. One of these models of disability is referred to as the limits or limitness model. This defines ‘disability’ as ‘with limits’. I have limits as a result of my chronic illnesses. I can’t always eat the same things as others, work as often or do as much in a day as others, or walk and exercise as much as others. However, that medically healthy person down the road has limits too. They might not be able to sing, play a guitar, run, drive, be good at numbers, do DIY etc. We all have things we do well and things we can’t – our limits. As Anne explains in ‘Unleashed’, ‘being overlooked, poor, weak, old, or any other reason, does not mean they are relegated… or not a key part of the unfolding mission of God.’ You might be reading this and thinking, ‘Yeah, I know that.’ And that’s great! I think lots of us know that God loves us and has a plan for us no matter what our lives have been like and the challenges we have had to overcome. More often than not, it’s the Church who don’t understand this.

A major part of the work of YouBelong is to educate the Church that although people with chronic illnesses have limits, everyone does. We are all needed in order for the Church to function as it was intended, with every person playing their part.

There have been a lot of damaging and harmful theologies thrown about in the Church which have affected many people’s understanding of disability and restricted those of us who have health issues and chronic illnesses. But it’s time for us all to be unleashed, no matter who we are, what we do and what our limits our. Where there are limits, there will also be strengths and gifts, and we all need to be given the opportunity to offer all of us to God for the development of His Church and Kingdom.

Unleashed!

Unleashed!

My family and I have two dogs, Moses and Fergal. They are brothers although one is golden and the other is black. When we first brought them home as puppies they were cautious, entering each room in the house slowly, cowering at the slightest sound or movement. Within a matter of hours they were dashing around the house and into the garden, even into the garden pond! Their fears were gone and they were free so they made the most of it!

When I think of the word ‘Unleashed’ which is the topic of Spring Harvest this week (check out the videos here: https://www.youtube.com/user/SpringHarvest), I think of when we used to take the puppies out for walks. They were fairly good at walking nicely on the lead but as soon as they saw an open grass area or a field, they pulled toward it, desperate to get off the lead and investigate it. As soon as we unleashed them, they were off like a bullet! Gone! When we caught up with them they would be sniffing a trail, greeting another dog or a wild dog, picking up sticks or play fighting with each other. When they are unleashed they are free!

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At the start of the New Testament the early Church was planted but it didn’t look like church does now. Back then, the Church consisted of lots of small groups of people who met in houses and out in the streets. The Temple was the place where the Jews went but the followers of Jesus, the Christians, didn’t believe they were meant to be restrained inside a building. They didn’t have a base as such but met together wherever they could to pray and worship God and went out into the city, towns and villages around them to share what they had been told about Jesus, who He was and what He did for them. They also fed the hungry, looked after the poor, healed the sick and generally cared for those around them.
Here is a great video by the Bible Project which sums up the first 7 chapters of the book of Acts: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JQhkWmFJKnA&t=3s

When asking a non-believer what they like about Christians, their answer is often the community aspect of church but when asked what they like least about Christians it is often either the so called ‘bible bashing’ (i.e. forcing religion on to others) or the boring, dull church services. Do you want to know what the best part is? The boring church services don’t have to be a problem! The early church didn’t have scheduled services. Instead, they gathered because they wanted to be together and with God and serve their community. They didn’t always start with prayer and end with worship songs after a 30 minute talk. This is the Westernised version of Church and with it, we have lost so much of what Church was and should still be today.

Jesus wasn’t interested in religion, we know that by the way He spoke to and about the Pharisees and Saducees and about what took place in the Temple. Jesus loved people, not liturgy. The schedules and prepared songs and prayers have their place in helping us shape our meeting time and ensuring we spend time worshipping, confessing, praying and learning/ teaching but it shouldn’t be the focus of our time together as the Church.

At this moment in time,the UK and many other countries, are in lockdown. Shops, parks, cinemas, theatres, stadiums and even church buildings are closed and we are instructed to stay at home and only leave our homes if it is essential to do so. I have read and heard Christians say that without church buildings, Church is cancelled but this is so far from the truth! We are not restrained in our homes, we are being kept safe and helping others to be safe and well too.

The way I see it, the Church is unleashed! We have been freed from the chains that restrain us and lock us to schedules and liturgies and allow us to act in the ways of the early Church – spending time alone in quiet with God, thanking Him for what we have, asking for forgiveness of all we have done wrong, listening for that still, small voice, worshipping Him with song, dance, art and craft, and helping and looking after those who need it whether physically through the provision of food and medications, emotionally and mentally through phone calls and video chats or spiritually through prayer and sharing of Scriptures.

We ARE the Church! I wish I could make everyone read this and know this is true because when we know we are the Church, we know God is with and for us and “ if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” – Matthew 18:19-20.

When my dogs are unleashed, they are happy, they have fun and they enjoy meeting new dogs and playing with each other. We need to remember that although things are scary right now, being unleashed is a chance to be the Church Jesus taught us to be.

At the end of their time unleashed and free, we would call the puppies and (most of the time!) they would coming right back to us, knowing full well that they are coming back to their family who love and care for them. It is the same with us. We should go out and be the unleashed people of God but at the end of the day, we need to go back to our loving Father and review our day with Him, repenting of the things we have done wrong, being reminded that we are loved and asking Him to direct our thoughts and actions the following day so we can be sure that our time unleashed is spent doing things for Him in the way He would want us to.

Praise to Hatred, Celebration to Resentment.

Praise to Hatred, Celebration to Resentment.

Last weekend, many of us would have read/ heard the events of Palm Sunday. There are few different passages in the bible that refer to these events and lots of different versions of the bible but this is the one I read and like the most:

1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.” 4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: 5 “Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ ” 6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”“Hosanna in the highest heaven!” 10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” 11 The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”’ – Matthew 21:1-11

On this day all those years ago, the people were rejoicing and celebrating Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem but a short time later, those shouts changed from ‘Hosanna!’ and ‘Blessed is the Lord!’ to ‘Crucify him!’ (Matthew 27:15-23).

When I was thinking about this blog post, I was trying to work out what this passage has to say to us today, in the current situation and I was immediately reminded of the last two Thursday evenings when at 8pm, clapping and shouting and sounds of praise and celebration rung out from the houses and streets around me in recognition of the NHS and other key workers. Just days before this, I saw multiple posts and articles on social media, and other media outlets, ‘slating’ the NHS and it’s services. I am aware that those complaints are not generally directly aimed at the people in the face to face roles, but during my hospital appointments and stays, I have experienced many situations in which people have been delayed or disappointed in some way, have become angry or aggressive towards doctors, nurses and other staff in the proximity.

We are all humans, even the NHS staff (though they appear to be superheroes, particularly at times like these), so they are not perfect – none of us here on earth are. Most of the time, they will be trying to do their best for everyone they are looking after, and sometimes there just isn’t enough people, finances, equipment, time or energy to do that for everyone – you can bet that when this happens, that the staff and volunteers involved are going to be emotionally affected by it too.

Jesus was perfect and for a moment, the people recognised that. They knew He was the one who could save them, and He was worthy of praise because He is the Son of God. However, the waving palm leaves turned to thorns and flogging, the praise turned to shouts of anger and hatred and the cries of ‘Hosanna!’ changed to ‘Crucify him!’.

I hope you will continue to praise the key workers every Thursday at 8pm (in the UK) as we recognise and celebrate the hard work they are putting in day after day to look after our friends and loved ones, but I ask that you also remember these moments of adoration in 3 months when your hospital appointment is delayed, the medication you were promised would be ready isn’t there or a nurse forgets to bring you your dinner as an inpatient. We can deal with problems like this by asking nicely, reminding politely and being thankful rather than turning our praise into anger, just like the people did on that first Palm Sunday.

So, what is Church then?

So, what is Church then?

Just 1 week ago, people were still gathering inside church buildings on Sundays for group worship, week day mornings for prayer and toddler groups and evenings throughout the week for youth groups. Today, church buildings across the UK are closed in an attempt to contain the current strain of coronavirus, Covid-19, and keep as many people as possible, safe and well.

I spend a lot of my time on social media, specifically Twitter and Facebook, where for the last year I have been gathering Christians to pray, study, worship and ‘do life’ together. When I was first told about the online church, and how it could be an area of ministry suited to my abilities, like many others I know, I laughed. Online church was fine, but it’s not ‘real’ church. Is it? I decided to look into it a bit further and realised that as the people are the Church, anywhere that people gather to worship God together, seek His guidance, study His word and help others to be pointed to God can be church. Therefore, online church is just as real and important as traditional church.

This is particularly true for those of us who would not be able to attend a physical church or who do not feel welcome in our local churches due to theologies and opinions surrounding disability, long term illness and healing (or lack thereof).

In Ephesians 2:20-22 we are told that we are ‘built together to be a dwelling place for God by the Spirit’. In the early church, there were no buildings. Messages, prayers and worship were shared in homes or out in the public areas of towns and villages and the Church grew rapidly in number and faithfulness.

We all have different abilities and gifts (1 Corinthians 12:5) but sometimes the traditional church format doesn’t enable all of us to use them due to theological, traditional or other restrictions. Church should not be one person telling everyone else what to do an the congregation sitting back and listening, seeking entertainment and then carrying on with their day. Church is a group of people who come together, each with their own skills, talents, gifts, abilities and personalities, to build a community of believers and non-believers who seek to be in the presence of God and one another.

Hebrews 10:24-25 tells us to ‘consider how to stir up one another to love and do good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing nearer.’ Our understanding of ‘meet together’ has been made to be physically together but this does not have to be the case. Meeting together is good for us, we are not meant to be alone, but today, we can be physically alone yet be deeply connected to so many others around the world.

We are so privileged that we have computers, phones, tablets, internet and other devices and technology that enable us to be together alone. I am fairly sure that if Paul and the early church had these facilities they would have used them because they did whatever they could to reach as many people as possible, even risking their own lives to spread the good news!

To summarise, Church is not a Sunday morning service, it is not the activities or events we plan and hold, inside or outside of a church building, it is not the traditions or the liturgy or even our theologies. Church is simply God’s people, gathered together, physically or otherwise, to recognise Him by worshipping Him, praying to Him, taking care of each other, mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually, and sharing about who God is and what He has done, and continues to do for us. Whether it is your preference or not, online church is included in the list of possibilities that can make this happen and should be given recognition for the key role it plays in the wider Church – not just now whilst many are in isolation, but in the coming months and years when there are still people unable to attend a physical church or who choose to attend church online.

True Generosity

True Generosity

‘Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.’ – Matthew 6:1-4

In case you were new to this blog, I just want to give some background to this post. For 5 years, I have been signed up to do 40acts, an initiative by Stewardship which encourages us to give to others during lent instead of giving something up. I have found it to life changing and faith building as I have been forced to act in ways I never would have done without knowing God was right there with me.

In recent years, I have struggled to engage with this project due to ill health and have sometimes become frustrated at how little I have been able to do. This has caused me to ask myself why I wanted to do it in the first place – why am I so upset that I can’t do these challenges? Did I sign up because I wanted recognition? Because friends were doing it and I wanted to compete with them? Because it would be a challenge? I had to think about this for a while. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that ultimately, I wanted people to smile, have a better day and perhaps get to know Jesus a little bit more because I handed them a chocolate bar or bought them a coffee without asking for anything in return.

I have recently overheard a conversation in which one person was saying to the other that they aren’t sure about the 40acts concept as it can be confusing for those around you if you are overly generous for 40 days and then ignore others the rest of the year. That’s why it is important to know why we are doing it. Why are kind and generous to others?

In Matthew 6:1-4, Jesus tells us that our generosity should be a secret act, not something we do to gain recognition and praise from others but rather something we do because we love and care about these people, God’s children, and want to bless them. He goes on tell us that when we do it this way, our Father in Heaven will reward us.

When others give, it is often because they want to be recognised and praised or because they want something in return. When we, as Christians, do these acts of generosity with a genuinely generous heart, God knows and it is very possible that He will use that situation to show a little bit of Himself to them through you.

What can you do this week that shows the generosity of God to those around you? Remember that when you act in this way without seeking praise and attention, God will bless and reward you!

Who is my friend?

Who is my friend?

As a child, I wasn’t good at making and keeping friends. I had friends for a couple of weeks or to play at lunch time for one day with, but very few lasted long. My parents tell me that it’s probably because I was controlling and would only play the games I wanted in the way I wanted and wouldn’t let others lead. This was the first sign of the perfectionist/ control freak in me today who wants everything done properly and well and if I can’t be sure someone else will do that, I would rather take the extra pressure and use up my time and energy to do it.

I know that isn’t a good trait to have but I am also aware that my health issues mean I need to take more control in situations as I need to know that I can get to the place I am supposed to be meeting up with a friend, that there will be suitable food available, that I can keep up with people and that’s just the tip of the ice berg!

David and Jonathan are the ultimate example of a Biblical friendship that we can inspire to mimic in our relationships with others today. There are 5 main points to take note of which we can apply to our friendships:

  1. Good friends don’t rule out friendships with people who are different or who would not be an obvious choice.
    ‘As soon as David returned from killing the Philistine, Abner took him and brought him before Saul, with David still holding the Philistine’s head. . . . After David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself’ – 1 Samuel 17:57 and 18:1
    Jonathan was the son of Saul, David’s greatest enemy, yet Jonathan knew that David was a good person and a good friend who made risking his position, and possibly life, for him.
  2. Good friends are there through the good and bad.
    ‘As long as the son of Jesse lives on this earth, neither you nor your kingdom will be established. Now send someone to bring him to me, for he must die!” “Why should he be put to death? What has he done?” Jonathan asked his father.’ – 1 Samuel 20:31-32
    Proverbs 17:17 says ‘A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity’. Jonathan definitely didn’t run away when times got tough. Even when his father was threatening his friend’s life, he stuck by David, even risking his own life to ensure David’s safety.
  3. Good friends recognise a good friend.
    ‘You will be king over Israel, and I will be second to you– 1 Samuel 23:17
    It can be hard to not be threatened by someone else’s achievements and possessions but Jonathan wasn’t threatened by or jealous of David. David was the Giant Slayer, favoured by God, and Jonathan recognised this too, acknowledging he was second to David – a friend of the boy who would be king.
  4. Good friends encourage and support one another in their relationship with God.
    ‘And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God’ – 1 Samuel 23:16
    Choose friends who help you find strength in God. Be someone who helps others find strength in God! Love pushes us to better places. True friendship will push you to God!
  5. Good friends love one another as they love themselves.
    And Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself.’ – 1 Samuel 18:3
    ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ Jesus said. Jonathan, we are told time and time again, loved David as himself. That’s easy to say but not so easy to understand and put into practice. It means recognising our own worth and position as a child of God and that the other person is equal to us in that, it means loving that person, giving them grace and mercy and compassion and supporting and taking care of them (including in their relationship with God).

After what we have discussed above, I think many of you would agree that the ‘friends’ I had as a child were in fact not friends but rather play mates or acquaintances at best. Simply spending time with someone, even if that time is enjoyed by both parties, does not make that person a friend. A friend is so much more! Being a friend is hard at times but also rewarding and so worth the effort if both people are willing and desire to make the friendship work.

What makes you a good friend? What areas do you need to work on in order to be a better friend?

Putting others first

Putting others first

Wisdom’s instruction is to fear the Lord, and humility comes before honour. – Proverbs 15:33

During a large chunk of my time in school, I was one of the quietest, least confident children. Aged 12, I came out of mainstream school, started home schooling and within months I found the person inside me that I had been hiding and protecting for all those years. That person was fun, silly, loud and enjoyed doing things that the majority people find boring or uncool. For a while, I battled with whether I should be the new me that I loved or the me I thought people wanted me to be. If I suppressed myself, I wasn’t happy, but if I allowed myself to talk about the things I enjoyed, do the things I wanted to do and generally be me, I was worried people would say I was arrogant. But I wasn’t those things (As far as I know), I was just happy to be me and to some people, that across as overly confident.

Confidence is a bit like marmite – some of us are drawn to confidence and others are put off by it as it can come across as arrogant. I have mixed feelings when it comes to being around confident people. If they are confident and brag about it (e.g. ‘I am the greatest! I am the greatest thing that ever lived!’ – Muhammed Ali), I am put off, but if they are confident in themselves, their abilities AND humble, they are probably one of the people I spend most of my time with.

Whether you find confidence attractive or not, I think we can all agree that a genuinely humble person is always attractive.

Pride puts us at risk of humiliation, but it also hinders generosity. Humility leads to loving others as we love ourselves.’Stewardship 40acts Study Guide quote

We know God wants us to be humble and that others around us are drawn to humility, but how do we go about becoming more humble? Here are 3 steps to humility, taken from this week’s group study guide for 40acts:

  1. Read the bible: By reading the bible we get to know God and are reminded of how small we are in God’s creation. Ants are tiny to us, but we are tiny to someone who is looking at the Earth from space. Another way of doing this is to go for a walk and take in the size of the trees, the buildings, and the expanse of the skies and seas around you. Take in their magnificence and make yourself aware of how tiny you are in the world because when we see ourselves as small, it is harder to be arrogant.
  2. Avoid the proud, seek out the humble: It is said that we are the product of the 5 people we spend the most time with and are most influenced by. By avoiding people who are proud, and spending more time with people who act humbly, we are more likely to practice humility in our lives too. ‘If we are to grow in love, the prisons of our egoism must be unlocked. This implies suffering, constant effort and repeated choices.’ – Jean Vanier
  3. Put humility into practice: ‘Don’t work yourself into the spotlight; don’t push your way into the place of prominence.It’s better to be promoted to a place of honor than face humiliation by being demoted.’ – Proverbs 25:6-7. If we continue to practice humility, it will soon become who we are.

Confidence does not mean you have to lack humility. I can be my chatty, loud, silly self, appear confident, and still be humble by acknowledging God is bigger than me, I am equal to everyone around me and show my humility through being generous. Generosity shows a heart that desires to loves and support others, no matter who they are, their financial situation, position on the career ladder, where they live or how many friends they have.

If you are signed up to do 40acts this year but are struggling to take that step to carry out a challenge and speak to someone new, maybe you have humility and lack the confidence. Don’t worry – confidence comes from our knowing that our mighty, all powerful, loving God is with us, and sometimes, all it takes is a prayer, a step of faith and a little bit of fake confidence (yes, fake it til you make it really has some truth to it!) and soon you will be ‘Walking justly, lovingly mercifully, and walking humbly with your God’ – Micah 6:8.

The question of the week is: Do you know someone humble? What aspects of their lives or actions make them humble and how could you implement them into your life to practice humility?