After the Fall . . . Recovery and Discovery

An extreme makeover of my ministry


Once again I’ve been surprised by God. For nearly a dozen years I was pastor of a C&MA church in Middletown, New York. My call to church leadership was clear and rewarding. Today, God has called me and my wife, Ovel, into a new ministry: chaplaincy in a medical care facility. Although I volunteer, I would love to work full-time as a chaplain. But right now my body won’t permit it. You see, I am disabled.

On Father’s Day 2004, I survived a fall from a cliff while hiking in New York’s Catskills. After several months in a trauma hospital, I underwent rehabilitation. Although I am able to walk, I have limited mobility as well as speech and motor-skill problems. Despite chronic pain and many setbacks, the Lord Jesus has been working His way in my life and calling.

I truly find my journey as a disabled Christian fulfilling, even satisfying. My road has been one of recovery and discovery. It’s a continual journey all about relationship with Jesus, our Savior, Sanctifier, Healer and Coming King.

Our Savior

God’s primary purpose for followers of Christ is to know Him and to make Him known. The gospel message was top priority for Jesus. He started His ministry with the gospel: “From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near’” (Matt. 4:17). And He ended His ministry with the gospel: “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age’” (Matt. 28:18–20).

I would be dishonest if I said I did not question God when He removed me from the pastorate and set my direction (affection) toward becoming a chaplain. I remember my tears and anger at the rehab hospital. And when I was done, God would say to my spirit, “Listen and watch Me. Do not listen to the devil. I have a purpose for you. Take the gospel to the sick and disabled. This is a community that needs My grace and forgiveness.”

A woman I befriended at the rehab hospital has been wheelchair-bound for 20 years. One day she asked me a question that she had wrestled with. “Do you have real proof that God exists?” I answered honestly, “If you’re looking for tangible proof, I have none. All I can tell you is the personal nature of God in my life.” I then shared my testimony.

Our Sanctifier

Sanctification is the point in the believer’s life when he or she fully surrenders to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and is set apart for God’s holy use.

Our founder, Dr. A. B. Simpson, wrote of sanctification, “As God shows us our sinful self and every evil working of our fallen nature, we are, at that moment, to hand those things over to Him, with full consent of our will. We are to let Him separate us from those things and deliver us completely from their power. Then we are to reckon those things as no longer having control over us” (Keith M. Bailey, The Best of A. B. Simpson. Camp Hill: Christian Publications, 1987, p. 53).

I will never forget how Dr. David Huttar, a Bible professor at Nyack College, described the notion of the indwelling versus the infilling of the Holy Spirit. The following excerpt from my college notebook may not be Dr. Huttar’s exact words, but they retain his meaning:

Every believer has the Holy Spirit, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the Holy Spirit has every believer. Take a perfume bottle for example, occupying a nice size room. You have evidence that it is there, sitting on a table in the far corner.

Because it is a fairly large room, . . . the bottle is not easily noticed. It, however, becomes obvious when the lid is popped open and the fragrance fills the room. When someone enters the room, he can smell it immediately and becomes attracted to the fragrance. The sweet aroma overpowers everything in the room.

Do you see the parallel? Every believer in Christ has the Holy Spirit, but not every believer is filled and empowered by the Holy Spirit. To be filled with the Holy Spirit is to be “sanctified.” What’s more, the unsanctified don’t necessarily have the power to attract others to Jesus Christ. The fragrance of the Holy Spirit will take precedence in your life. You will discover the things you must let go of and the things you are to hold on to. It’s a sorting-out process so your life in Christ will be abundant.

Our Healer

I wrote a paper for my ordination entitled “Christ Our Healer.” Much of what I wrote I still believe, except now I can personally document God’s divine healing. When I came out of an eight-week coma, I was transferred to a traumatic brain injury center. Therapists were not optimistic that I would walk again. But I am walking, and I praise the Lord.

I “graduated” from a wheelchair to using a walker and now a quad-cane, mainly for stability because my back, ribs and neck are slightly uneven. It is apparent that God is working to reconstruct me—He’s done an “Extreme Home Makeover” in my life, tearing away the old and rebuilding me with a new purpose. Whether we are recipients or spectators of pain and suffering, we need to ask “what” rather than “why.” What can I learn from this sickness? What do You, Lord, desire me to do? What’s Your purpose?

I certainly believe that God is not limited by any sickness, disease or human injury. It is equally true that He is not limited if He chooses not to heal. The “mystery” is how God perfects us despite our imperfections. “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’” (2 Cor. 12:9).

If God chooses to heal, that’s awesome. He has a purpose for you. If, on the other hand, you ask Him for healing and you are not healed, that’s awesome, too. He has a purpose for you.

Our Coming King

Over the years, I have taught and preached on the Second Coming and believe that Matthew 24 and 25 were written to show us that Christ will come again literally.

“Be ready!” is a message I hear from the Lord, who gives me the motivation to lead disabled people to Jesus Christ. How does Christ’s Second Coming relate to me now? Well, I firmly believe that what Satan meant for destruction in my life, God meant for His good purpose to flourish the gospel. I believe I was protected and preserved for the lost within the disabled community, to be their chaplain and share the love of Jesus Christ. For me there’s more to this life in Christ, and I want to discover it! a Rev. Gary Rankin is an ordained minister with the Eastern Pennsylvania District of the C&MA. He is completing his certification as an institutional chaplain.

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