September 2008


Years ago, in an attempt to show his momentary anger with me, my husband said, “You think you can turn everything into a party!” 

My response was “thank you.”  In fact, I really believe that in every time of sorrow and grief, there is a crashing need for humor and fun.  The seriousness of life must be balanced with joy and delight.  Times of celebration are commanded by God in the Old Testament.  Of course, we are told to repent and understand the seriousness of our wayward nature.  However, times of feasting and parties were part of the ecclesiastical and national calendar in Israel.

During the past weeks I’ve sat with Leslie’s family and friends.  She was my good friend and member of Special Gathering which is a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  We helplessly kept watch as her life slowly seeped from us.  In the wee hours of the morning and during the sunlit afternoons, there were moments of joy that overshadowed the hurt and pain.  This was especially true when her extended family arrived.  Job complications had painfully kept them away.  But as quickly as they could work out the details, they arrived.

Seeing the painful hours creep relentlessly into days, I was drawn back to the hours spent with my family as we prayerfully watched over my mother during her last days.  There was the same inside humor and deep appreciation for each other that only the years of family ties can produce.  Meals were shared hunched over a small table, dispensed from plastic containers and served in paper plates and plastic forks.  And there was laughter, mingled generously with the tears. 

The Bible tells us that the joy of the Lord is our strength.  I believe there is no time that this truth is more important than when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, holding the weak hands of a loved one. 

Is life a party?  No.  But joy and humor do make life more livable–even in the midst of great, heart breaking sorrow.

When have you been able to share in the joys and sorrows of the lives of your members?

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Several years ago, I read a most disappointing book, Moby Dick.  It wasn’t required reading for me in high school and I’m glad because I would have never been able to get through the pages and pages of boring maritime narrative.  The one thing that did strike me was that in the 1800’s these sailors were able to follow the stars with such accuracy and precision. 

As I typed the title of this entry, I couldn’t help but realize that none of us can ever understand ourcomplex voyage.  I’m writing this as the result of a request by a good friend who is also a parent and volunteer that I work closely with in Special Gathering.  We are a ministry within the mentally challenged community that emphasizes the importance of evangelizing and discipling people who are intellectually delayed. 

My friend slipped a short note in my hand one day at bowling.  “You need to write about this.”  She is in her early 70’s.  Her husband is 80.  They have worked with their grandson for more than 20 years.  Mack is higher functioning than most of his peers.  Yet, when he came to live with them at 12 years old, he was much lower functioning than his fellow students who were also mentally challenged.  Over the years, they have helped, prodded, prayed, totted, pleaded and, finally, rejoiced in his progress. 

Now he feels ready to live on his own and totally support himself.  However, there are still many gaps in his abilities and understanding.  Time and again, her eyes plead with me that I help him to grasp the importance of being patient and allowing God to work out the circumstances. 

But there is little that anyone can do to help.  “I’m moving to another state and work with my sister,” Mack announced one morning. 

He immediately got on the phone and called his sister.  Politely, she explained that she lived in a rural area where there were no jobs for him and he couldn’t come an live with her and her husband.  Undeterred, he told his employer that he would be moving to live with his sister and that he was giving his notice. 

Mack requested that he get a transfer to another restaurant in the chain in the state where his sister lived.  The employer tried to explain that in their chain of restaurants there aren’t automatic transfers and he would need to apply for a job when he arrived at this new home. 

Mack came home and told his grandparents that he had a promise of a transfer and he would be needed in two weeks.  He wanted them to begin packing his bags in order for him to move.

Confused and disturbed, they tried to reason with him but he was steadfast in his determination.  Finally, they called his sister who explained that he could not move in with them and the situation would be unworkable.  Then they called his employer who relayed the correct information to them regarding a job transfer.

Realizing that in his desire to move, Mack was getting things terribly confused, they tried to reason with him.  He continued to misunderstand the situation, blaming them for once again holding him back from his desires.  Eventually, they told him that if he were to move they would do nothing to stop him or help him.  Of course, within weeks, he had to put away his dream but in his mind his grandparents were to blame.

“What could we do differently?”  my friend asks herself often. 

The answer is probably:  Nothing.  As we all know but seldom understand, in this life there are no easy answers.  Being a Christian may even add to the complexities for a time.  Paul said in his letter to the Corinthians, “Now we see through a glass darkly, but then we will see face to face.”  Therefore, we can rest in the knowledge that even though we will never fully understand our journey, we can rest in Christ’s love. 

Mack no longer talks about moving to be with his sister.  He no longer rages with his grandparents because they won’t let him go.  But his voyage is even more complex than his loving mentors because he is not able to understand any of the navigational markings. 

However, there is a peace back in the home as they pray together and struggle to better understand each other’s needs.  Perhaps that is all we can really hope for–peace during our complex voyage through life.

Do you thing that our men go though a mid-life crisis?  If so, what are some ways that you have found to help your members?

Take Care of Your Body

I Corinthians 6:19

Central Theme:  God wants us to take care of our bodies.

 

Introduction—Show some good healthy food that are also pretty—like a sliced watermelon or some tomatoes on the vine.

         1.      God’s Book has some very interesting things in it.

         2.      There is a whole section that tells us how to eat.

         3.      Now it is part of the rules God gave to Israel, and the New Testament is clear that as Christians we are not bound by those rules.

         4.      But God cares enough about our having healthy bodies that he included it in the Bible.  That fact tells me that these are important rules to follow.

 

          I.      Have a member read I Corinthians 6:19. 

 

                  A.  Eating is a big part of our lives.

                        1.   When we eat together we become friends and a close bond is formed.

                        2.   Eating can be a real act of worship.

                        3.   We should not overeat or eat things that are unhealthy.

 

                  B.   We can choose the amount of food we eat, even if we don’t choose the type of food.

                  C.  When we pray before each meal, we making it an act of worship.

 

Conclusion–Make eating an act of worship and enjoy the good food God has blessed the world with.

Over the years we are asked:  What does Special Gathering believe and teach.  The short explanation is the we teach, “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so.”  This is a small area of theology to which every church and denomination ascribes. 

The long explanation is that we ascribe to and believe the Apostles’ Creed and The National Association of Evangelical Statement of Faith.  

The Apostles’ Creed: 

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and buried; He descended into hell, the third day; He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and seated on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting.

 

The National Association of Evangelical Statement of Faith:

 

  • We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God.
  • We believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three persons:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
  • We believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in His virgin birth, in His sinless life, in His miracles, in His vicarious and atoning death through His shed blood, in His bodily resurrection, in His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and in His personal return in power and glory.
  • We believe that for the salvation of the lost and sinful man, regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential.
  • We believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit by whose indwelling the Christian is enabled to live a godly life.
  • We believe in the resurrection of both the saved and the lost; they that are saved in the resurrection of life and they that are lost unto the resurrection of damnation.
  • We believe in the spiritual unity of believers in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Leadership in the church is tricky business.  Christ is the head of the church and God demands that we always remember that everything is done under His leadership and direction.  Nevertheless, every group that gathers in Christ’s name needs a leader. 

Being the type of leader that Christ demands means that there must not be any ego involved.  Christian leaders must be inconspicuous and yet willing to sacrifice everything for the cause of Christ.  Again and again, Christian leaders are told that to be first in the Kingdom of God, we must become like Christ who was servant of all.

In his letters to Timothy and Titus, Paul was giving direction to those two young pastors on how to make true, Christ-like leadership decisions.  Paul acutely understood that bad leadership leads to great damage to people’s souls.  At Special Gathering, a ministry within the mentally challenged community, we are working with a vulnerable group of people.  That makes Godly leadership even more important.

I often ask myself.  How do I act with our members when I think no one is looking?  How do I treat our members when there is no audience?  Am I different?  Do I let myself slip into a superior or angry mode?  Close and constant examination is always needed and warranted.  Discipleship and evangelism is our only purpose to exist.  This demands Christ-honoring leadership skills.  If I am not the kind of leaders that Paul described in his letters to Timothy and Titus, it may be time to leave this important work to someone who can. 

We all fail to live up to the high goals Christ requires. Yet are there times that you have experienced a work of grace wherein you realize that at that moment your leadership skills are directed by Christ?

For the past forty years or so, I’ve read through the Bible at least one time annually.  However, this year I’m behind.  Way behind.  I find my morning and evening devotions becoming a Biblical game of catch up with myself. 

I’ve always subscribed to the notion that consistent spiritual growth comes from reading three to four chapters each day and not gorge yourself with massive amounts of reading and study periodically.  I still believe that is the correct way to study and read the scriptures.  However, I am really enjoying this catch up time. 

This morning I was completing Proverbs.  I read 11 chapters.  I found many things that were relavant to my life that I’ve overlooked before.  Some of the things I found related to leadership principles.  Chapter 25 in the Message says, “Like the horizons for breath and the ocean for depth, the understanding of a good leader is broad and deep.”  And “remove the wicked from leadership and authority will be credible and God-honoring.”

Special Gathering is a ministry within the mentally challenged community. We are constantly endeavoring to improve our leadership skills and then pass this knowledge to our teachers, volunteers and members.  Our purpose is to evangelize and disciple people who are mentally challenged. 

From these verses there were two things which seems to stand out for me.  First, a good leader will have an in dept understanding of the field in which she is attempting to assert authority.  This is part of the reason why The Special Gathering area directors are involved in advocacy and constantly attempting to unravel the intricacies of State and Federal issues that involve our population.  We try to have a working understanding of behavioral issue, as well as knowing and studying the scriptures and theological issues.

The second thing is that wicked leadership is basically inept.  Of course, we know that it’s better to have honest and trustworthy leadership but I’ve not seen that Proverbs says that there must be honesty to have true authority.  Within our organization, we have been blessed with men and women who love the Lord and endeavor to be faithfully consistent before God.  However, we also have put into place safe guard–rules and regulations–for our volunteers, members and our staff which insure that our members remain safe.

What are some of the things that you have put into place which have worked to insure that leadership is broad and deep?  And that your leaders are honest and have godly authority?

Aaron is having a difficult time.  He is 35 years old and thanks to his parents, he’s accomplished many wonderful things in his life.  Because of their insistance that he perform each task with excellence, the fact that he has an IQ of 54 has not been a major problem. 

Aaron holds down a full time job at a nursing home, earning a living wage.  He receives rave reviews from his bosses.  He owns and drives his own car.  He has a small cottage near his parent’s larger home but it’s enough out of the way that he has his privacy.  While he is connected with the state agency and has a support coordinatior, he is able to function without much State support.  He is currently taking piano and art lessons.  He participates in sports and he is a member of a choir.  He is involved in a local congregation and he is a deacon at Special Gathering. 

Special Gathering is a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  We seek to evangelize and disciple people who are developmentally disabled.

What’s Aaron’s problem?  His parents.  While they have made every step possible to integrate Aaron into society and push him toward a productive live, Aaron feels that he is overly controlled and hampered by the two people who have promoted and fostered his ambitions for years.  As a family, they are struggling to find a new balance in his life and their lives.

One of the big problems that our higher-functioning members will face is how to honor their parents as they mature.  One of the biggest problems parents will face is maintaining the steady hand of support while allowing them to make their own way–including mistakes. 

Think about it.  As we grow older, our parents will probably become more precious to us or more aggravating.  And for most of us–a little bit of both.  Aaron’s struggles have been even more difficult because he doesn’t have the intricate reasoning power which allows him to sort logically through the pros and cons of this dilemma.  Therefore, he reacts negatively to every suggestion and plan they propose.

No amount of teaching, prayer or discussion has seemed to help.  However, last week as we discussed the implications of the Ten Commandments during our regular Bible time, Aaron said that he understood for the first time that this was one of commandments and that he was breaking it when he wasn’t honoring his parents.  I had shared with the group, “We don’t have to agree with our parents.  But we must honor them.” 

“I’m going to be okay now,” Aaron shared as I took him back to his cottage after choir practice.  Aaron, of course, will still struggle because Galatians tells us that the purpose of the commandments is to be a school teacher that helps us to know that we can’t possibly follow the laws of God.  However, wanting to follow them means that now God can come in and help this courageous man.

How have your members dealt with this preplexing problem?

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