June 2008

The Vero Beach Chapel

Some of the members of our Vero Program getting ready for our chapel service

It was as though I had socked the wind out of her.  Joan Marie was obviously caught off guard by my statement.  “I know that there are times that you ask God why were you born with a disability.” 

At The Special Gathering, which is a ministry within the mentally challenged community, our purpose is to evangelize and disciple developmentally disabled people.  We try to make our devotions relevant to their lives.  During the past month, our study has been on the life of Joseph.  We’ve talked about the fact that God did not spare Joseph hard times even though Joseph chose to obey God and to do the right things. 

“What about us?”  I asked.  “Why were we born with these disabilities?'”  

I shared about a mother who prayed for years that God would heal her son.  But as he became an adult, she began to see the effect he had on people who could see his commitment to the Lord.  Her son has a vital ministry.  He is able to touch the hearts of people that some others could never reach.  Now she is able to thank God for her son just the way that he is. 

I asked, “Can we thank God for who we are? ”

“No!” Joan Marie spoke out loud.  Her response had come from the depth of her soul.  “I can’t do that.”  Her voice softened and her head bowed slightly.  Yet, the expression on everyone’s face showed me that they agreed with her.  Their eyes yelled at me, “No! No! No!”

“Can we try?  Will you try?  God doesn’t make trash.  God didn’t make a mistake with your life.  He has a plan for your life.  Do you know that?” 

Joan Marie’s response was quick but quiet. “Yes, I know that.” 

“Let’s practice together.”  Together we said, “God, thank you for who I am.” 

Joan Marie held her short, limp, helpless arm as she repeated after me.  There was no smile on her face but her voice was strong and steady. 

Together we promised that at each meal, this week we would thank God for who we are.  I know that people with disabilities aren’t the only people leery of God’s wisdom when he formed them in their mother’s womb.  There is a haunting self-doubt that robs too many people of their joy and fulfillment.  Perhaps it would be a good practice for all of us to thank God for who we are at each meal this week. 

In fact, I think this could be a very good week of grasping and understanding God’s plan for our lives.  What about you?  Are there some things you were born with that you wish you could change?   How have you been able to help your members deal with their disabilities and their self doubt?  

Who Me?  I’m not a scared

Mark 4:39 and 40

Central Theme:  Jesus releases us from fear.



       1.     Think about the time that you were the most afraid.

       2.     There was a time that I was afraid of everything.

       3.     Jesus taught we that I do not have to be afraid.

       4.     If you have ever been afraid and there was no reason, you are not the only person. 

       5.     Have a member read Mark 4:39 and 40.


       I.     Jesus said to his followers that they had not need to fear because he was with them.


              A. Jesus wants us to trust him, just like he wanted his disciples to trust him.

              B. Most of the time when we are afraid, we do not need to fear.

              C. I had a bad dream the other night about my son’s family.  I had fear but there was not need to fear.

                   1.  I needed to trust and pray–not fear


      II.     If you look at fear you will understand why Jesus rebuked his followers for being afraid.

              A.  Fear makes you so concerned you cannot think about anything other than what you are afraid of.

                    1.  I know of a lady, name Hazel who was afraid that Susan, who gave her a ride to home from church, wouldn’t take her home because Susan had to make two trips.  Hazel was in the second trip.

                    2.  She kept asking, “Is she coming back for me?”

                    3.  She could not think of anything but her fear.

                    4.  She said, “I not coming back because Susan left me.”

              B. If you are afraid, you cannot do your work.

                   1.  Some times I get afraid that I will not get my work done.

                   2.  That does not make me a better worker but a worse worker.

              C. Fear makes you believe things that are not true.

                   1.  My friend Hazel really believed Susan was not coming back   for her.

                   2.  She would not listen to reason.


     III.     Fear can be our greatest enemy.


Conclusion–Jesus told his disciples that they did not have to be afraid of the storm.  The storm was real they just did not have to fear it.

Of all our members in Special Gathering, everyone knew that Marco had the best job.  He was a maintenance man for a large corporation.  He had been with the company for years and his salary was impressive.  His father had asked several people to watch out for Marco because he carried as much as several hundred dollars in his wallet at all times.  He helped to support his mother and still had plenty of money left for all his expensive video cameras and other electronic toys. 

Perhaps that’s why a volunteer came up to me one Sunday after church.  Laughing, he said. “You need to change your offering illustration.”  At Special Gathering, which is a ministry within the mentally challenged community, our purpose is to evangelize and disciple people who are developmentally disabled.  During our chapel services, we seldom speak about money.  Yet, when we do, I’ve always stressed two things.  First, God asks that we give a tithe (which is one-tenth of what we earn) and that it is important to give YOUR OWN money, not your parents’ money. 

I explain that when we give our money we are giving not just money but a part of ourselves.  We are giving back to the Lord the time and energy that it took to earn that money.  That is why we should give our money, not the money of our parents.

My illustration of a tithe was a dollar and a dime.  I’d show the dollar and explain that it takes ten dimes to make a dollar.  A tithe of a dollar is one dime. 

“Do you know that Marco searches his pockets and his change purse every Sunday so that he can give his dime?  You need to change your illustration to a bigger denomination of currency.”   Together we laughed at how silly it can become to utilize common, useful and fully understood examples within the context of our members, who have developmental deficits that are real and sometimes extreme.

Personally, I was extremely blessed by the energy that Marco pours into insuring that he gives his dime.  The care that he takes to give that dime is more impressive to me than a ten dollar bill thoughtlessly grabbed from a wallet and thrown into the plate.  

And I believe that God blesses Marco’s dime.  You see, Marco’s understanding is that he is giving what God requires and he struggles to find his dime so that he can obey God.  That is giving from the heart.  And God blesses heart gifts. 

Have you found a good way to explain the appropriate amount of money to give to your members?  Have many of your members been able to grasp the important concept of giving from the heart? 

By the way, no matter how pure I believe Marco’s motives are, I have changed my devotion illustration to a $100 bill and a $10 bill.

Buddy Check at Camp AgapeBuddy-checks at Camp Agape help to eliminate risks of swimming in the pond

I was born into a family of risk takers.  My father started (and closed) a variety of businesses in his lifetime.  Many of my uncles and aunts were entrepreneurs.  My brother became a champion athlete because of his ability to take risks.  He also left a secure engineering position with South Carolina Electric and Gas to form his own electrical contracting/construction business when his family was young.  He was willing to take the risk of failure in order to succeed.

I am the area director of The Special Gathering of Indian River.  We are a ministry within the developmentally disabled sub-culture, doing classic ministry–evangelism and discipleship.  In the 19 years that I’ve been part of this community, I have observed a population of risk takers. 

Of course, that is a broad generalization because not everyone is willing to take risks.  Elizabeth became confined to a wheelchair at a young age because she once fell and she wouldn’t risk the danger of another fall.  Arnie has stayed at the same job for more than 30 years even though his boss refuses to give him adequate compensation for his work and he constantly talks down to Arnie.  But as Arnie says, “He’s given me a job for 30 years.  Why take the risk?  I could go somewhere else with better pay and be fired in a week.”

But in ministering and befriending the members of The Special Gathering, I’ve been impressed the variety and constant display of risk-taking in which our members engage. Even though Larry is mentally challenged he enjoys making new friends.  I don’t want to risk rejection, so I tend to shy away from people who seem to divert eye contact and not smile when our eyes do accidently meet.  Oh, but Larry has made some wonderful friends by his ability to overlook the curious, blank stares and smile broadly forcing eye to eye confrontation.

Tom has a disconcerting way of taking the risk of standing too close–invading your personal space–in order to engage in conversation.  While I always back off,  Tom is bold enough to continue to pursue the person with whom he desires to converse.  It is interesting that this boldness has created a bond of understanding between us that I find curious. 

Michelle risks discipline by forging her way into places that she doesn’t belong.  On Sunday morning, as we move from our refreshments to the upstairs classrooms, she must be gently herded like a rouge sheep.  I tell her that she can’t go into the gym where the children are playing basketball.  “But I want to go in there.” 

“But we aren’t allowed to be there now.”

“But I want to go there.” 

Of course, she and I are casually walking to the elevator during the entire conversation.  By the end of her fourth “but I want to go there” the elevator door has closed and she is safely heading for the second floor.  By the end of the exceptionally slow elevator ride, one of her friends has engaged her in a conversation and she’s eager to join her companion in their Bible study class.

The same is true in spiritual areas.  Jack was born a constant risk taker.  When he truly discovered that Jesus loved him, that risk-taking tenacity easily transferred to his relationship with the Lord.  His prayers are bold.  He memorizes the scriptures that he reads.  He freely tells people about the wonderful things God has done in his life. 

Accessing the level of risk-taking  your individuals members are willing to take is an important step in understanding the values and personality of each member.  It may also be a key to locking a more vital relationship for them with the Lord.

Who are some high risk-takers in your program or Bible study class?  Who are the people who don’t like taking risks?  How does this effect their relationship with the Lord? 

Beth has prayer

Myra stands back to let the others pray aloud.  Each Sunday morning during our prayer time, Myra, one of our Special Gathering deacons, stands quietly to the side, while the more vocal members of the team do the praying.  The other two members carefully bend over the person who needs prayer.  Their words and actions always touch me as I observe the sincerity of their prayers.

Honestly, I thought Myra was merely observing and not participating.  I know that she isn’t comfortable in conversation.  Words don’t come easily for her.  Like all The Special Gathering members, Myra is developmentally delayed.  Special Gathering is a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  Our mission is to disciple and evangelize this sub-culture.  While I love Myra deeply, at times, I’ve wished Myra would sit down because she seemed to be a distraction–standing there staring but not praying.  

Then on Friday night at Camp Agape, I saw the shallowness of my evaluations regarding Myra’s prayer.  It was an unusual chapel service.  We had the praise band Redeemed who came from Fort Pierce. 

Toward the end of the service, God moved in the hearts of our members.  Without any prompting from anyone, many of our members came to the altar and knelt in prayer.  No staff or volunteers came to pray for them.  They began to minister to each other.  Myra also went to the altar but she didn’t go for prayer.  Silently, without words, she stood behind each person who was kneeling at the altar in prayer.  Without even closing her eyes, she moved from one person to the next. 

I was so touched that I wept.  Myra was praying for her friends and fellow members.  No.  She doesn’t use words conveniently but she didn’t need words.  She has a heart for God.  He understands her intercession for her friends, groanings too deep for words.  And Myra knows how to minister.  She knows that it’s not the right words you say, but the right attitude of the heart.

Often with our members, it’s easy to think I can gage the movement of God from their actions.  But the heart can’t be examined easily.  Gaging effective prayer isn’t even my business.  I thank God that he sees and gages our hearts not by the outward expressions but by our inward devotion.

What have you learned about prayer from your members?  Has one of your members taught you a deeper level of prayer by his or her devotional life? 

Aaron\'s ministry

Dan and Aaron were first time volunteers at Camp Agape in 2008.  However, it was their 18th year to attend.  The first time they came to Camp they were between three and six months old.  They stayed close to their mothers who carried out their camp duties inspite of having young children who had the needs of any tiny infant.

This year, Dan was in charge of all things electronic.  Dan is able to do all the things with the sound system that I only dream of doing.  To be able to hand over a CD and have the sound happen for the choir and for our chapel was amazingly freeing.  Dan also was in charge of the movies that were shown during the fun hours.

Aaron was in charge of fishing. It was great to see the men who gathered around Aaron talking and laughing, sharing fish stories and bait.  Of course, it was beyond fun to tease Aaron about his “hard chore” at camp–fishing!  After all, what could be better?

Having second generation volunteers is one of the best things that could happen to a ministry.  Just think, though they’ve been exposed to our members from their earliest day, they aren’t repelled by the hard work but attracted to this marvelous population.  Almost daily people tell me what “wonderful people” the Special Gathering staff and volunteers are to do this ministry.  The reality is that we work with a wonderful population of people, who love Jesus and desire to grow in his love. 

What could be better?  Well, maybe fishing as a ministry.  That has to be the best.  Ask Aaron.  You can probably find him with a fishing pole in his hand at Camp Agape on Memorial Day Weekend 2009.

Our friend John Spalding

This a picture of our friend, John Spalding, who went to be with the Lord a few months ago.  You may have missed reading about him.  If so, go to the articles that tell about John.  You will be blessed to get to know this saint.

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