Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Eighteen Years later

Here are some thoughts that I shared with students today in my work as a campus pastor:

Today is the eighteenth anniversary of 9/11.
Some of you were just infants,
Some of you weren’t even born yet.

I remember that day like it was yesterday.

I was living here at the time, but I grew up in New York.
I remember watching the Twin Towers being built in the seventies.
I’ve visited those buildings many times.
I have family and friends who were involved one way or another that day. Many of them also remember it as if it were yesterday.

I still find it hard to believe it ever happened.

Please pray for the families of the victims, the survivors, some of whom still suffer the after effects,  and those who were responsible for the tragedy.

As a memory, 9/11 is in danger of fading. Many students I’ve spoken to in recent years either fail to understand the magnitude of the event or claim that we brought this on ourselves.

Those thoughts are missing one very valuable point: the loss and waste of lives that were created by God.

Thousands of pieces of God’s image were destroyed or damaged in just moments.

How should we, as followers of Christ and lovers of God eighteen years later, reflect on this?

My thoughts? Perhaps, in the memory of 9/11, the meek should claim their inheritance.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Spring Break in NYC - 2015

Recently I traveled to New York City, with a group of college students for a spring break service project.  I grew up on Long Island, so the city was no stranger to me, but none of the students had ever been there before, so I knew it would be rather overwhelming for most of them.  I chose passages from Jeremiah and Lamentations for our week, and this is one of the 1st that we went over:

Jeremiah 29:7 English Standard Version (ESV)
7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. 

The Israelites were far from home and not by their own choice, but still God tells them to pray to the Lord for this foreign city, “for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”  The students were thinking about what they would see and experience in the “city that never sleeps” (which proved true as sirens went past the ministry building where we slept in Brooklyn all night long).  The subways, the crowded streets, Broadway, the Statue of Liberty, Rockefeller Plaza, the NYC Public Library, Time Square, Carlo’s Bakery—all of the wonderful and not so wonderful things that make up New York City.  
They could hardly wait!

I wanted them to think outside of their own heads just as the Israelites had to do while away from their homeland. Some of the students had disabilities, the invisible kind such as learning problems and depression.   In addition what they would take away from New York, what would or could they bring to the city and its inhabitants?  What could they give of themselves?  And what would they take away?

The students soon learned that they could depend on each other for strength and encouragement in low moments, and also for cheers and fun in the high moments.  One student, who has ADHD and learning disabilities, found her visual memory invaluable in matching up dish patterns and toys; she actually found all of the pieces for a large car jumper seat toy that many of the rest of us had thought to throw out, because all of the parts weren’t there ☺  Another student with sensory issues found her limits in riding in a standing room only subway squished with two guys chatting casually about unsavory things.  On return to the church house, she wanted nothing more than to sit down with me and her fellow students for devotions, to clear her mind and remind herself of God’s control.

Our service project for the week involved helping the congregation of Flatbush Dutch Reformed Church ( set up its Spring Rummage sale, one of their major fund raisers for the year.  The students set up the tables, hauled donations out of their storage room, sorted, organized, and put things on hangers.  The building that one of the students called our “home base” (she didn’t want to call it ‘home’!) was the church ministry house, built in the 1920’s.  There was a main floor, an upstairs and a basement, with two sets of tiny bathrooms on each floor, and the kitchen and showers in the basement.  The women slept in class room spaces upstairs, the men in a large storage room on the main floor.  Suffice it to say that we were all well outside of any kind of comfort zone before we even stepped outside of the big wide doors!

Whether working in the church house cleaning, shoveling snow, working on the rummage sale, or out on the streets of Brooklyn helping a delivery van get unstuck from an unseasonable snow ditch (one thing students from Michigan could bring to the city!), the students showed the love of Christ to each other and everyone they met, and learned a new confidence in themselves and their abilities.

This brings me to the close of this story, but not its theme.  I think that we would all do well to consider the words of the prophet Jeremiah to the people of Israel “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”
What can we bring to our circumstances?  To our neighborhoods?  To our churches?

And what will we take away?

Monday, December 29, 2014

"And God bless us all everyone."

Another Christmas has come and gone.

Every holiday season I like to watch one of the many movie versions of Dickens "A. Christmas Carol ". 
I seem to like them all. I like the book better, which goes without saying.

My two top favorite versions are the animated "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol" and the 1951 British version starring Alistair Sim.

All movie adaptations from classic literature take  certain liberties with the material and changes are made.

In all the versions certain aspects remain constant.

In all the many film and stage versions that I've seen over the years the one constant that seems to be fairly consistent is the line where the characters Bob Cratchit is relating to Mrs. Cratchit something Tiny Tim said to him while at church on Christmas Day:

Somehow, he gets thoughtful, sitting by himself so much, and thinks the strangest things you ever heard. He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas-day who made lame beggars walk and blind men see.”

I read the book when I was about twelve years old and that line held me, not understanding quite why, too young perhaps to fully grasp it, but years later, while in seminary I came across the same lines shortly after studying John 9:1-7 which is the account of Jesus meeting a man born blind. The text reads:

"As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"
Jesus answered, "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.
We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.
As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world."
John 9:1-7 (ESV)

Thinking about Tim's statement to his father began to make me think about Disabilties, and my own disabilties in a way that I hadn't before.

I was, as many do, struggling with the purpose that my having disabilities served.

I had, as I still do, hope and assurance that God does restore people. But that's a promise for the consummation of all things. Not right now.

What is God expecting of us with disabilties in the here and now?

John 9 tells us. Tiny Tim tells us.

Our disabilities are here at God's discretion. His purposes are served.  

When we see persons with disabilties, or anything that is normal for a fallen world, we should be reminded of Christ. The one who came to restore things back to the way things were intended before a   bit of fruit was eaten.

The Disciples with Jesus took note of the man's physical blindness, ignoring their own spiritual blindness, cited the man's sin and missed the point. 

People pitied Tiny Tim, some like Scrooge, had a more negative kind of pity  towards such people, noting that they should be incarcerated, out of the way, or die and "decrease the surplus population."

Tim's response was as if to say "don't pity me, remember The One who makes us all whole again."

We live in a crazy world. Values, ideas, and world views are all conflicting with each other. This is the kind of night, perhaps, that Jesus was referring to. 

We need to see past all that and set our eyes, our souls, and our hope one the one whose birth many of us just celebrated.

That's when life finally starts to make some kind of sense.

Monday, December 22, 2014

A Thought for Christmas- 2014

Over the last few weeks, with all the violence and protests occurring, I've found myself humming the little bits and pieces of a Christmas song (at least the little bits and pieces that I'm able to hear) whose words words were originally written as a poem. 

It was composed on Christmas Day on 1863, when the civil war was at its zenith.

It's times like this we are reminder that, no matter how advanced we are or boast that we are, humankind is a violent species. 
Even when the cause is just.
It's easier for us to hate and respond with our aggression than it is to forgive.

Christmas reminds us that God pours Himself into our existence and shows us that not only is forgiveness and grace is not only possible but neccessary.

Here is the poem:

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,

and wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom

Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,

A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,

And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,

And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;

“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A Pocket Reminder

     This blog was written by a articulate and very wise student that I've met in my work as a campus pastor. 
It deals with the question of having faith as a person with disabilties. It's an honest look inside the soul of someone, like many Christians with disabilties, who has to live and adapt in this world as a child of God. 
But beyond that, it's a story that all of us, disabled or not, can reflect on and learn from.


      Earlier this afternoon, while taking a break from studying, I found an item in my purse that I ended up thinking about after reading a few things from On The Level, and something told me to go and look for this little pocket reminder, and after only a moment or two of looking, I found it in a small pouch where I keep things I feel are important for me to carry because of the meaning they have, and this little pocket reminder was one of those items.
     This small rectangular piece of metal was given to me as a graduation gift from my former pastor who I’m still in contact with, and he told me the reason for giving this particular message to me, which I will divulge in a moment. He explained that I prayed almost every evening after choir practice, and he wanted me to continue to do so, even though there were so many times when I couldn’t be there because of me going away for nine months, and dealing with evening classes during the times when they would practice.
     This small pocket reminder has the word, “Pray”, written on the front of it, and engraved on the back is 1 Thessalonians Chapter 5 Verse 17, which says, “Pray without ceasing.”
     It meant a lot to me when he told me what was written on it, but now that I look at it again, it has a deeper meaning for me, and as a disabled person, I’ve been told to pray for and forgive those who are ignorant and who don’t see me for me, but see me as a blind person who’s in college and who should be praised above everyone else because of doing so much in order to try and pass my classes and do the work involved with it, when it’s really just one simple word, which is adaptation.
     Every professor has a different way of handling things, and I always have to end up adapting to his or her style of learning, and that’s when I have to end up praying for and forgiving those around me who are ignorant about the potential people like me have since not a lot of people who are in my shoes go to college. That’s correct, because only about 25% of blind people actually end up going to college and getting jobs because they want to push for it, and want to live a life on their own instead of having to allow people to hold their hands every day in order to go through life day by day, but I have a feeling that this statistic is slowly changing, and it’s people like me who want to see that change take place, and that’s but one out of several reasons of why I want those who look upon me to realize that I don’t want to be defined by my disability, but the world can’t be changed all at once, and this is where the word, “Pray”, comes into play. For those who’ve been looked at by just their disabilities and nothing more, this is something that’s easier said than done, and it goes for me as well, but I sometimes wonder if prayer is our only solution to the problem, along with forgiving them through God’s help and guidance, because it’s by his grace that he forgives us for every wrong we’ve done in our lives.
     There are times when I feel like I’ve failed him, and other times when I feel as though I’m completely fallen and can’t get up because of what people want to put on my back, when being blind, having a boyfriend, and being in college is enough for one person to handle and worry about. A close friend of mine told me to only worry about those three things, and to allow God to let everything else fall into place, and the one prayer he told me to say before anything else is, “God, who am I before you?”
     He told me I’d get an answer from God, and it may not be something I’d like or want to hear, but I know if I listen for his word and his response, I’ll know what I need to do in order to better myself in his eyes, and as a Christian. So, with the words on this pocket reminder in mind, I leave with this hope that all of us, including those who are ignorant of us to keep praying, and through God, forgiving those who turn away from us since they don’t seem to notice who we truly are as people, and just see the disability.

- Sarah Stanford

Monday, May 26, 2014

A Simple,yet profound, thought about God.

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children. 
Hosea 4:6 (ESV)

Recently an old high school friend of mine and I have reconnected and we've been using the wonderful opportunities  of the social media offers to catch up, after several decades after losing touch since our high school years growing upon Long Island in New York.

We will sometimes have short Facebook messages every now and again to sometimes comment on each other's Facebook status postings. Being a pastor, I'll usually post a lot of things that are religious and spritual in nature. 

One evening I received a message from my friend and he commented as a old friend would about 
My most recent postings about living a Believers life, and he said something that stopped me in my tracks mentally. Here's what he wrote;

I like the positive God-centered posts that you put up, but I wanted to share a small thought with you that always comforts me when I am depressed or feel lost.  I like the idea that when I talk (pray) with God, the Almighty takes the time away from running the entire universe just to listen to me.  What an awesome and comforting though, huh?

Like with writing these blogs, and the work I do as a campus pastor it's a daily struggle for me, as it is for any of us, to know my faith and articulate it. Life is complicated and, as a result, our lives become complicated. Speaking as a person with disabilties to other persons with disabilties there are complications enough in just trying to live a daily life.

What my friend said was that he was amazed that God could love us enough that He could create and sustain this whole universe and still care for the needs of one person.

In this thought is the overwhelming idea of Gods grace and mercy, and His sovereignty.

What my friend gave to me was something I once knew but had forgotten. A simple but concrete thought with deep implications. My busy, self absorbed life had caused me to forget.

The prophet Hosea had a similar problem when he was called to speak to Israel about forgetting God. They forgot God and His Word as a nation, and they seemed complacent about it. They began to forget even the simple things about God, the things written about Him in the Law.

When the simple facts are forgotten the complicated ones are forgotten eventually as well with, unforeseen, consequences . Israel lost its right in the priesthood. They lost the right to bring sanctification to the world on the behalf of God. They lost the right to speak for God. They ignored even the basics. 

To be fair to my friend, I'm sure he didn't mean to impart a dark thought, such as Hosea threatened the wrath of God. I was just immediatly struck by how our faith is built on simple thoughts of God. My friends words were meant as comfort. Oddly enough, so were Hosea's words. He meant to call a nation back to Gods way of doing things, Gods way of remembering who He was. Hosea just went further than my friend did to warn us of the consequences of forgetting. Once we start to foget then he we often easier for us to keep forgetting because it's easier to go our own way than someone else's. 

The simple thoughts are forgotten in our time as they were in the prophet Hosea's time.

The thoughts of prophets are often simple.

God's Law begins with this simple thought: "in the Beginning God..." .  

No other religion starts the same way or has the same thought. It is a thought that runs though the whole of scripture. The whole of scripture is a letter to all of us and says "remember me? God?"

Unfortunately sometimes we don't remember the things we should. Thank my old friend, for reminding me.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Being "on The Level"

Make level paths for your feet, so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.
Hebrews 12:13 (NIV)

I've been often asked why this blog is called "on the level". Since this blog has been launched fairly recently, I thought an explanation would be in order. A good way to start the New year perhaps.
This is a blog for Jabez Ministries. Jabez Ministries is, in short, a ministry of pastoral care, spirituality, and disabilities. 

The approach that that Jabez ministries takes is somewhat different than most tend to view disabilities.  
There are two predominate, generalized veiws that are taken towards understanding disabilities. 
One veiw sees disabilities as "not normal". Using this world as a template for "normal" some have decided that a person who has a disability is outside of what is considered  "normal".
Others say that disabilities are just a normal occurence of a normal world. 

Both views state, in short, bad things just happen to good people.

But we are to take Scripture seriously enough then we realize its testimony to us is that we are broken by sin, this world, the whole of created order is broken by sin. Therefore it begs the question of what is truly normal, that is to say, how is normal really defined.

Some may call me simplistic, but I take normal to be the way God has established in the creation of the world. The creation before the fall into sin. Since the fall, the created order is not quite what was intended originally by the one who created it. This is not the "normal" world, free of sin, that God had. Intended.

You might say that the world we now inhabit and exert our influence over is, indeed, abnormal.

In light of this view, bad things are happening because it is the consequence of living as a fallen creation. In an abnormal world, disabilities are normal.

To paraphrase Francis Schaefer, how, knowing this, should we then live? More specifically, both as those of us with disabilities and those who are more abled bodied?

It means this perhaps, if continue to think as the world teaches that disabilties are something abnormal then then standard by which we've established to define what is normal is, theologically speaking, very flawed.

This flaw become apparent when a communty of believers, though having the most Godly of intentions, attempts to "include" persons with disabilties into themselves. This "culture of inclusion" is a popular concept in today's Church. As a system of ethical belief it is broadly applied to any group that is disenfranchised, for our purposes here, it speaks to persons with disabilties who have been marginalised by their faith communties in some way and the community respond sympathetically by finding places where those from the margins can "fit" in or receive an accommodation of some kind that will allow them to occupy a more centralized place.

Some of you are probably saying "What flaw?" 

You would rightly respond that it's the duty of every believer to include others into the body of Christ. No  argument from me.

What then is the "flaw" in the thinking of the culture of inclusion that I'm. Speaking of?

Frankly, the flaw is often subtle. Many times we encounter it with realizing it. We engage it innocently thinking we are doing something good. For someone else.

The flaw I'm speaking of is I thinking inclusively towards persons with disabilities involves some sort of "normalization" of those with disabilties with a standard that says "we are normal, you are not, and the way we are and live is the way you should to the best of your ability" this is based on the flawed understanding that disabilities are abnormal in a normal world.

Scripture so quite clear that we need to strive to see ourselves, all of us, as fallen into sin. This whole creation has fallen with us. Nothing is "normal". Our relationships to our God and to each other are not what they should be. Nor will they be until Our Lord comes again.

Until then we are all "abnormal" as far as God is concerned.

This thought should lead us to the conclusion that we are all disabled by sin and the journeys we take in this life toward our God are difficult, uneven, full of holes, hills, walls, and anything and everything that this world can put up to make getting to love the Father more difficult. These are the "paths" mentioned in the text above.

The Christian's journey, disabled or not, is one of sanctification, becoming holy as God is holy, and that means to learn and discern Gods word and His will for our lives. It also means that the relationship with our neighbors is also involved in our sanctification.

Others before us have discerned Gods word and will and have leveled the pathway for others to walk and their subsequent duty becomes to make the paths level for other sojourners on The Way. What it takes to do this is understanding that we are all on the same "level" to begin with. The path is difficult for all of us, disabled or not, and it needs to be kept level for all to have access to our God.