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You probably have heard the hubbub about Pat Robertson’s outlandish advice to a spouse whose wife has Alzheimer’s. In case you haven’t, here’s CNN’s account of the controversy: 

Squaring Pat Robertson’s Alzheimer’s remarks with the Bible – CNN Belief Blog – CNN.com Blogs

We all know of Pat Robertson’s notorious proclivity to hoof-in-mouth’s disease. CNN’s report is just another example of his too often thoughtless comments made without biblical rationale. But, according to this article, he refused to recant these absurd and cruel comments. Might pride be a factor? Or just ignorance?  Maybe he has early stages dementia. You be the judge. Instead of railing against this view that is so asinine most atheists would call it inhumane, I’d like to take this opportunity to discuss how Christians should minister to those affected by this horrible disease. For what it’s worth, my views clash with the televangelist’s. Here they are:

  • We must try to see all people (even those with Alzheimer’s) as God would see them. They are His creation, worthy of dignity and love, and have emotional, physical, and spiritual needs. Most critically, Alzheimer’s patients and their families need the hope that can only come from the Gospel of Jesus.
  • Never forget the Golden Rule: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). If you were to have this terrible disease, how would you prefer to be treated? Would you want to be abandoned, forgotten, neglected, and unloved? Truth be told, it could eventually be you that suffers from dementia and its sister cognitive diseases – ABC News reports that there are  5.4 million Alzheimer’s patients in the US today and this number is expected to grow dramatically as the Baby Boomers age.
  • Realize that everyone is your neighbor and Christ command us to love and care for them. The Parable of the Good Samaritan should be etched in our hearts (see Luke 10:25-37). When asked who our neighbor is, Jesus shared this story. Christ’s message should compel us to serve the hurting and needy. His final words of this passage punctuate His teaching with, “go, and do likewise.”
  • Remember that the patient never suffers alone (unless folks take Pat Robertson’s advice). Families hurt along with their loved ones inflicted with this demoralizing malady. They need our love, prayers, and support along with the primary victims of Alzheimer’s. These family members could use our Christ-centered love and encouragement.
  • Do practical things to help ease the burden, pressures, and pain that are usually associated with such suffering. This article gives some very useful tips on what we can do to help both the patient and their relatives beyond just prayer and encouraging words – ABC’s of Alzheimer’s Ministry.
  • And, maybe most importantly, be motivated by the truth that loving and ministering to an Alzheimer’s patient and their loved ones is tantamount to loving and ministering to Jesus Himself. For the full impact of this truth, only the complete passage will do:

“And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:33-46).

My wife, Rebekah, who works in a nursing home, has forever had a heart of compassion for those suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s. In many ways she considers this her calling, her ministry. She has many stories of those, and their families, who suffer with these diseases. One seems most appropriate here:

“One of our residents is in late stages Alzheimer’s and barely knows she is in the world. But, like her, well into his 80’s and feeble himself, her husband comes every day. He arrives early, kisses her gently. and sits with her all day. He talks to her, reads to her, and when she becomes distraught or agitated he hugs her with a long, loving, comforting embrace. At the end of the day he kisses her again, toddles to his car, and returns home. But he is always there, every day for hours. It’s one of the most Christ-like things I have ever witnessed.”

And don’t we agree? I’m confident Jesus does! Then let’s “go and do likewise.”

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**** This is an excerpt from Captivated Anew: Restored to Pursue Him published in 2009. It was originally entitled “Ricky and the Rascals”.

The most interesting congregation I ever led lived in a nursing home. Every Tuesday night that I was not traveling on business, I ventured to their building to share Jesus. Part of my ministry involved retrieving them from their small rooms and wheeling them to the recreation room where our Bible study was held. Though I sincerely wanted to build them up with time in God’s Word, I often found myself having to focus more on crowd control than spiritual edification.

One evening, for instance, a near melee broke out as two octogenarians struggled over the same walker. Apparently the “thief” desired the Cadillac-of-walkers model possessed by another woman. For the thief, the 1960s bicycle bell it sported proved too much temptation; ringing it would warn other residents of the owner’s slow approach. As the tussle ensued the women struggled back and forth like two three-year-olds battling over a toy. Both possessed a death grip on their claim. And when Mary, the owner, released her hands from the walker; the perpetrator flew backwards and crashed into the wall without ever releasing her prize. Chaos broke out before order was restored.

On another occasion, Martha, who interrupted every meeting with the same question -“Will I go to hell because I can’t stop saying god d***?” – became particularly unruly. Her sacrilegious and inopportune profanity paralyzed me. She even asked the question in the midst of Scripture reading. I never found a good retort for her outbursts even though I knew the question was inevitable. I often found myself wondering, What in the world am I doing here?

Another challenge to my nursing home ministry was named Ricky. He was our most faithful attendee, providing Bibles for those who met in the tiny space where we convened. All Ricky’s Bibles were the same translation: The Old King James. (Ricky claimed it was the same version used by the Old Testament prophets. All others were “perversions.”) Many evenings, Ricky managed to derail the progress of our meetings with his incessant questions about eschatology. He delivered them in what I like to call machine-gun interrogation style. After several run-ins with his questioning, I found myself fighting the temptation to leave Ricky out of our meetings all together.

Deserting our group was the easy thing for me to do. Unfortunately, “deserted” defined the situation of many who lived in that home. They had nowhere to go: their families had abandoned them. I rarely saw a family visitor as I rambled down the halls and peered into the rooms of that facility. Instead, I found the sad faces of many whose families found them disposable. The busyness and self-centeredness of many of their families and friends had left many of the nursing home’s residents almost completely without family ties, interest, or love. As much as they craved attention, they rarely saw genuine caring and compassion.

Today the room where I used to share Christ is locked. It now serves as the occupational therapy room; Bible study there has ceased. I have not, however, forgotten the importance of my elderly friends. There are more people like Mary, Martha, and Ricky in our institutions than we care to imagine. They may be rascals, but they have souls. Despite their contrary and difficult personalities, they need dignity, love, and—most importantly— Jesus.

In Matthew 25:40, Jesus explained that “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” And in Luke 10:30-37, the parable of the Good Samaritan, Christ encouraged His followers to show mercy to the hurting and the downtrodden. Our nursing homes are full of people who desperately need to hear about the love and hope that can be found in Christ. Their spiritual condition matters.

I want to encourage us as Christ’s followers to stroll the halls of our nursing homes and see the despair and despondency of lonely people forsaken by those they called family. In the name of Jesus, it’s the least we could do for least of these. In stopping in to say hello or to pass out small gifts and smiles, we can know that our efforts are unto Him. So many sit in a closet-like room silently pleading for someone to knock on the door and say a simple, “Hey, how are you?”  That someone could be you.

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