A PASTOR’S OPEN LETTER TO MY FRIENDS WITH UNIQUE ABILITIES @SPBCMD
I love you. I am thankful that I have the opportunity each week to look you in the eyes, shake your hand, extend an arm to give and receive hugs. I sincerely try to arrange that each week. This is just one of my many privileges of serving as pastor at SPBC. SPBC is glad you are present among our church body. We know it may not be easy and sometimes requires extra energy or work. Please communicate to help us identify our blind-spots and perhaps areas to either our physical building or our ministry service for being of help to you.
I know that life is not easy for you and your family. Having unique abilities (I try not to use the term “disability” so to communicate God’s unique purpose for every person) often presents physical, emotional, social and spiritual challenges for you. As I have grown more aware of these challenges I would like to share a few observations with you and reminders to our church body.
First, do not let anyone tell you that you are not normal. God has created each of you “in his image” (Genesis 1:27), and you are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). Sure, I have heard the statistics that about ten percent of our population is “disabled”. I’ve heard that about a quarter of our population struggles with some form of mental illness. Yet, your life is not defined by statistics. Our value should never be measured by what one can or cannot do. Your worth and identity is established in the fact that you are a living, human person and created to display the glorious image of God. God has placed a portion of His intrinsic splendor and specialness inside of you– your face, your body, your personality, and all that makes you being you. Further, Jesus died for us when we are at our lowest (Romans 5:8). The price God paid to free us from sin and death was not a low-ball number because of our weakness but instead was the highest price of purchase – the death of God’s perfect and only Son (John 3:16). Therefore, from God’s point of view you are worth every bit of weakness you own. It is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ you can become a beautiful blessing to reflect and declare the light and love of Jesus. You are who God says you are, not what others say. Trust in Him, your Heavenly Father who loves you and gave you Jesus.
The Bible has many great individuals of faith in the Bible. People like Abraham & Sarai, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Deborah, Samson, and King David. There’s also Peter, Thomas, Mary & Martha, and the Apostle Paul, among so many others. Each of these may be familiar heroes but the truth is they were not great because of their courage or strength. On the contrary, they were great because they greatly needed God’s help. Scripture highlights their limitations, their inabilities, and their brokenness. When we are weak, God is strong (2Corinthians 12:10). You see, some of us know we are weak while others have yet to discover this human reality. I pray that you are using this advantage each day to help others in their own discovery and need for God’s help and hope.
I hope you know that God is using your life every day and especially each week in our church. Some might downplay or demean your uniqueness but your presence and perseverance is shining forth the power of God. So do not give up in the midst of your challenges. In fact, SPBC is thankful you are part of our church family. We would miss out on seeing God at work if you were not among us. You remind us that “those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty…But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1Corinthians 12:23-26).
German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer expands this idea in his book Life Together (p.94), writing, “In a Christian community everything depends on whether each individual is an indispensable link in a chain. Only when even the smallest link is securely interlocked is the chain unbreakable. Every Christian community must realize that not only do the weak need the strong, but also that the strong cannot exist without the weak. The elimination of the weak is the death of fellowship… Once a man has experienced the mercy of God in his life he will henceforth aspire only to serve. The proud throne of the judge no longer lures him; he wants to be down below with the lowly and the needy, because that is where God found him.”
Just as Jesus touched and healed lepers, the lame, and the least of these, so we are to be His servants. I ask that you forgive our members when we walk past you in the hallway without stopping to at least say hello or to shake your hand. SPBC, may I encourage all of us to remember the depth of where God found us that it may motivate us to a greater depth of service to these friends of ours, not only in our church but also in our communities, and even in our own extended families. May we see with the eyes of Jesus and love with His heart that these may not too easily get discouraged or doubt their status in God’s kingdom. There is much we can do to share the journey as a church family. If we are honest, we are all fragile and shattered jars of clay that need touched by the Potter’s hand (Isaiah 64:8; 2Corinthians 4:7).
I also want the family members and caretakers of those with unique abilities to know the touch of Jesus. Your normal life is not without daily challenges either. I can imagine that you wonder where the next ounce of energy and strength will arrive. Your fears, hopes and family life experience have as much stress as anyone. Jesus wants you to hear these words fresh, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29). In every tiresome moment Jesus is calling you to trust. God’s rest and redemption is not just available in the far future but in the present moment, waiting for you to call upon Him. May you be reminded of His unfailing love through His Spirit, His Scriptures and in hopes too of His Saints at Severna Park Baptist Church. You are not alone in this journey. We are family.
Undoubtedly, this letter leaves some things unsaid. Perhaps too, it raised questions for you. I am sharing this to initiate the conversation. In all, I wanted you to know your pastor sees and is thinking of you, and loves and prays for you. Know that Jesus loves and is praying for you more.
Growing Godly Generations,
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 Michael Bates. Disability and the Gospel: How God Uses Our Brokenness To Display His Grace. Crossway, 2012. p.17.