November 2008

God’s Plans Usually Don’t Make Sense

Genesis 50:19-21

Central Theme:  God’s Plan for my life is usually not my plan for my life.


Introduction–Have one of your teachers or volunteers give me directions to his/her apartment.  I asked Danielle.  (The directions s/he gives should be really confusing, even going through another town.)  End by saying, “I don’t have the slightest idea what she was talking about.  I know I could not find my way from her directions.  Danielle, isn’t there an easier way to get to your house?”  The volunteer should give you the real directions then.


       I.     Danielle’s directions to her house remind me of Joseph in the Bible. 

              A. Have a member read Genesis 50:19-21. 

              B. Joseph’s brothers had hated him and sold him into slavery.

          C. Joseph told his brother that he did not hate them.  He did not want to get even with them because God had a plan for his life and their lives.  That plan was to take them all to Egypt.


      II.     How many of you think God is always right?  Always good?

              A. Ask another volunteer or teacher, “You believe that, but do you like all the things that have happened in your life?”

              B. All of us have things that happen that we do not think are fair. 

              C. BUT God has a plan for our lives and He will work it out for good.


     III.     Did Joseph like being sold into slavery?  No.  Did he like being put into jail?  No, because he wanted to get out of jail.


          A. God does not always let us know how his plan is working–even when it our lives.

                   1.  But we can trust God’s Word.

                   2.  We can trust other people who tell us about God’s plan for their lives, like Joseph.

                   3.  God teaches us all along the way about his love and grace.


Conclusion–God’s plan for us is good.  We know that but why does God take us to Kissimmee when we only want to go to Melbourne?  Because He wants to teach us to trust Him.

More than 5,000 people have said that they are not happy with what the State of Florida has done about their service.  At least 5,000 appeals have been filed regarding the new tiers.  These appeals were filed by people who thought that they needed more services than the state of Florida wanted to furnish through the Four Tier System.


          This means that the State of Florida must prepare for each of these cases.  They must prepare to fight to keep each one of the new tier assignments in place.  If you have filed an appeal, you will also need to fight with the state.  Of course, you want to win your appeal.  Therefore, like the State of Florida, you will need to prepare your case in order to tell the State why you believe you or your child need to keep the services you now have.  If you do not know how to do this, contact your support coordinator. 


          On the Special Gathering Weblog, we have received almost 1,000 requests from people who have wanted to know how to write a letter to appeal the cuts in their services.  That means that about one in five people who wrote appeal letters, checked with our  weblog to find out how to write a letter.


          Now is the time to begin to prepare for the appeals.  The State of Florida has lawyers and experts.  However, you also have a great advantage.  You know what you or your child needs.  You understand the bad things that will happen if your services are cut.


          I am not a lawyer or a judge.  In fact, I don’t have any legal expertise at all.  However, I’ve attended and participated in several appeal processes.  The first thing you want to do is to put everything in writing, then condense it.  After you condense it, condense again. 


          You may want to ask someone to go over your arguments with you.  Find someone who loves you and has some common sense but that you trust.  Your problem will be that you know TOO much.  You will want to tell everything.  Take their advice about what to cut. Then condense your arguments again.


          It will be an oral presentation.  However, you will want to know what you are going to say ahead of time.  If you have your arguments in writing, you can also give this to the judge for her review during and after the hearing.  You have probably not had an appeal hearing before but remember APD has never had to do 5,000 hearings either.  Their assumption will be that you will come into the hearing unprepared.  Be sure that you surprise them.


          Put the information that speaks to the health and safety of your family members.  If you prepare it days or weeks ahead, you will be able to add to the list things that you may not have thought of on your first review.  Digest your arguments until they are a part of you. 


          Again, the assumption of this blog is that you cannot afford a lawyer.  However, remember you will be up against legal council.  Be sure you are prepared.  Remember prayer is the greatest tool you have.  In James, the Lord promises that if we ask for wisdom he will give it to us and big it liberally.  He also says that he won’t fuss at us for asking.  Ask the Lord for help.  You will be wiser and better prepared when you must face APD.


          What have I forgotten?  What are somethings you have to share about an appeal process.  Has anyone out there actually won an appeal?


This morning I woke up at 3am and could not get back to sleep.  I was mentally reviewing what it would take to finish our newsletter today.  Unable to lull myself back to sleep, I got up at 3:20 and headed for my prayer time.  Then I started working about 3:50.  By 7am, I was tired enough to try to take a nap.  When that didn’t work, I called our South Carolina program director to work on her pages in our newsletter, Connecting Point.

Perhaps I haven’t written about Connecting Point until now.  The Special Gathering puts out a monthly newsletter.  We are a ministry within the mentally challenged community. Connecting Point is published for and by our members.  We include articles they write, their prayer requests and their activities for the month.  We also include a page about the advocacy issues that effect them.  there are four activity pages, a Bible study and a continuing story page.  Our members help with almost every part of the production, publication, and mailing of each issue. 

Everytime I finish the newsletter, I take a few extra minutes to review it, endeavoring to insure that it’s as good as I can make it.  This is a process that energizes me so much that often, like this morning, I can’t sleep.  I press and pat the finished copies trying to be sure that no black lines appear where I’ve taped the finished pages together.  For me, it is a labor of love, though I’ve been doing this for 20 years.  Our 12 page newsletter isn’t a masterpiece but it is published each month with an eye leaning toward excellence. 

It is one of the many things that we do that make me proud to be a part of the effort that makes The Special Gathering effective.  While I know that our model of ministry is God ordained.  There are also many small parts that bring our members and our staff joy.  I think they also bring the Father joy. 

I took the finished copy to the office at 11:30am.  I smoothed the pages with the palm of my hand as I quickly reviewed the text for the last time.  On Monday, it will be printed and it will be mailed to our members and the local churches by Friday.  We will send out between 1,000 and 1,200 copies. 

When my copy arrives in the mail, I’ll sit down and review it again.  Of course, there will be at least one mistake that I should’ve seen but didn’t.  But I won’t fester over the mistakes.   I will be happy that another issue is completed and I’ll begin working on the January 2009 edition.  There is such joy in knowing that God has called you and that He allows you to do a work that brings great satisfaction and peace.

What are some of the things you do that bring you joy?

This is an incident as recounted by a pastor at First United Methodist Church of Melbourne.  She was commenting on a Space Coast Area Transit (SCAT) bus driver’s involvement with a member of The Special Gathering, which is a ministry within the mentally challenged community which meets at First UMC each Sunday.  Years ago, Special Gathering members opted to use their leisure Transportation Disadvantaged funding to come to church. Therefore, SCAT is the transportation provider that helps to transport our members each Sunday morning.   Here is what she shared:

I couldn’t believe what happened several weeks ago.  I was getting ready to leave the church when I saw one of the SCAT bus drivers bound from her bus to embrace one of The Special Gathering members.  The driver hugged the member with such love and concern.  “I’m so happy to see you again,” the driver said.  “All of us have missed you so much.”

I was really impressed.  Here, this wonderful woman was showing such love and concern for a person with disabilities.  I was really convicted. I have seldom seen that kind of concern coming from anyone.  I was touched to see real Christ-like love shown by a woman who stopped her job to embrace a Special Gathering member.  I knew I had seen the love of Christ on display.  For me, it was a sermon without a pulpit.

Those of us within the mentally challenged community are blessed to be able to have people, like the SCAT drivers, who care about us and who are willing to show that love and concern. 

Thank you, SCAT for the years of concern and care you have given to us as you have transported us millions of miles to work, to shop, to the movies and to church.  We appreciate your faithfulness toward us. 

Today, I working on a self-development grant that may or may not bring in some money for our members to be able to form a self-advocacy program.  People are constantly telling us that we could easily fund The Special Gathering through grant writing.  Special Gathering is a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  In reality, the reason that there is millions of dollars in grants sitting around not being used is because grants awards are not easy to obtain.

We have done our share of grant writing and winning.  In the past years, we have garnered about $400,000 in grants.  We will continue to seek grants and to write them.  However, there are several things that people need to keep in mind when seeking grants.  Here are some of things we’ve learned:

  1. People who give money like to fund THINGS.  That is buildings, vehicles, equipment.  There is usually nothing that can go for operations, salaries or up keep.  For instance, the Federal government will give 80 percent of the cost of a vehicle.  However, until this past grant cycle, they have not been willing to give anything for upkeep or operations.
  2. Usually, only a small amount of the funding can go toward salaries. Of course, the expenses and equipment that can be purchased helps to offset salaries but you probably aren’t going to be able to hire a new person.
  3. People like to fund NEW PROJECTS, not prop up an old, Why-Can’t-You-Continue to-Fund-This-Old-Thing projects.
  4. A new project means more work for your staff who probably aren’t going to get a raise and will be expected to do more work for the same pay.  After a few grants, staff may lose their enthusiasm for yet another NEW PROJECT that will bring in an infusion of money any leave them with more work. 
  5. Many philanthropists in the modern world strictly exclude churches or religious organizations from receiving any funding.  Much has been made about the Gates Foundation.  However, they will not get one penny to a religious organization.  Sure, there are probably ways around that restriction but it isn’t honest.  And doesn’t that kinda compromise our real purpose as the church or a para-church ministry.
  6. Most Federal and State grants exclude you if desire to use your funding for evangelism and discipleship.  The purpose of SpG is evangelism and discipleship of people who are mentally challenged.  The Faith-Based grants can be used for teaching people to read, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, feeding and clothing the hungry–but not preaching the gospel. 
  7. You must provide detailed oversight of the grant funds.  This puts an added pressure of the people who are handling the funds and organizing the efforts. 
  8. Partnerships with other non-profit organizations in the community are usually required for large sums of grant allotments.  Therefore, churches on which a para-church ministry may be dependent will need to be asked to help with certain aspects of the oversight of the grant.  This can cause strains regarding your relationship with supporting churches.  Years ago, an administrator in a church that was handling the funding of one of our projects became so paranoid that she was demanding notarized statements from our bank officers to prove that the funds were being used properly.  The bank and the grant oversight person had to negotiate with her for several days to fulfill her demands.  The administrators concern was that her church might somehow become libel for any missteps made by us.  In addition, she felt that our mistakes could put the church’s IRS status in jeopardy.  While none of this was true, it made for days of extra work for those overseeing the grant.
  9. And perhaps this should be the first not the last item.  Grant specifications must be strictly adhered. If you promise to run down the street with a clown wig on your feet, this is what you must do.  I realize that this seems elementary but it is vital. Many people feel that this is free money and they can use it anyway they want.  This is not true.

This isn’t a complete list by any means.  I know there are things I’ve left out.  What are they?

I hate to admit it but there are several people in my life who always seem to be right.  That wouldn’t matter, of course, if I always agreed with them.  But sometimes, we are in opposite corners.  And that means that they are right and I’m wrong.

There are some valuable things I’ve learned from them:

  • It’s best to take  your lickin’ like an adult when you’ve been proved wrong.  Admit you were wrong quickly.  You can smooth out your crumpled feathers later.  But graciousness is the key in these defeats.
  • Don’t argue too vigorous about your opinions, even if you are sure you are correct.  Again, graciousness on your part will help make your defeat go down smoother should you be proved wrong.  Graciousness on your part will also help make your being correct taste sweeter to your opponent.
  • Keep written records, if possible.  I’ve been proved wrong so many times by the written record that I’ve begun to keep a few of my own. 
  • Keeping written records will help to prove that you are wrong, as well as, help to prove that you are correct.  The gracious thing would be to expose your wrongness when you have the written record that proves your falability and apologize, if necessary.
  • Remember that some people are just destined to be right most of the time.  Keep them as good friends.  They will make you look smarter than you are.

Of course, if you are a part of a ministry within the mentally challenged community, like I am, and those people are your members, you will be especially blessed if you can follow those simple rules.  As a program leader for The Special Gathering, I used to balk at the times that my members would show me up.  But now, I’ve finally mellowed; and I’ve learned to enjoy it when one of our members outshines me.

  • Beth seems to hit my buttons whenever she speaks out.  She sits smugly in her chair, correctly analyzing my misdeeds.
  • Stephen is too gracious to meet me head on with arguments.  He just calmly lowers his head, puts one hand to his forehead, coverieng his eyes and shaking it as though he can’t believe his ears.  Then he waits for me to be proved wrong.
  • Deb keeps her confrontations to a phone conversation.  She privately lets me know when I’ve made a misstep or two.
  • Annie grins sweetly when I’m wrong.  I know when she displays her sweetest smile that I’ve somehow spoken or acted incorrectly.

At last, I’ve learned that it’s a good things to have people who are able to prove you wrong.  It’s also important to react with a gracious, humble, godly spirit–especially if the person who is always right is a member.

How many times have your members proved you wrong?  How have you reacted?

Yes, I know that “God Makes Me Laugh” was the title of the sermon that we published yesterday.  However, it is a great topic that I wanted to further explore.  Yesterday, I was able to once again see the folly of my wisdom.  I came home from Special Gathering and laughed at myself…one more time.

It’s been a real peeve of mine that people want to monitor what our members eat during our program events.  After attending the Bethune-Cookman College Inspirational Choir Concert at First United Methodist Church of Melbourne, The Special Gathering of Melbourne also took part in the pot-luck luncheon that was held after the worship service.  It was a wonderful time of fellowship and fun.  The Special Gathering is a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  Our purpose is evangelism and discipleship. 

Because we left the church during the last song, we were in the first of the line for the food.  There were about 400 people behind us.  The table was laden with all kinds of good eats.  By the time I had insured that all our members were out of the church and headed in the direction of the fellowship hall, about 10 of our members were in line serving their plate. 

My first alarm came when I realized that one of our more hefty eaters had taken 1/4 of the plate of ham.  There seemed to an ample amount for 500 people but he had piled his plate with ham to the point that I was astonished.  “What are you doing?”  I asked.

“I like ham,” he said, innocently.

Then I viewed Malcom’s plate.  He had helped himself with a large and overflowing plate of carbs.  He is severely diabetic.  “Can he eat all that?”  I asked his staff.

“I thought we weren’t monitoring our members today.”

“Won’t all those carbs make him sick?”

The staff went over and took three of his five pieces of bread away.

That was only the beginning of a day of adventures with mounting food plates.  Our usual food monitors were gone for the day and it was a food-feasting-free-for-all.  I scurried around trying to oversee the food that ended up on the plate.  Inspite of all my darting and scampering, one person after another slipped through my hands and I found them sitting in front of enough food to feed an small village.  Exhausted, I gave up hope and laughed at myself. 

Yes, most of our members are prudent and able to take a reasonable amount of food then come back for seconds.  However, there are those who aren’t able to do that.  Of course, as I watched the plates passing by my nose, one of the men at First UMC ambled by.  His wife saw his plate and said, “Do you think I’m going to let you eat all of that?”  Several teens from the church were able to mound up even more than our male members. 

I’ve hated that our members have to be monitored when it comes to the amounts of food they eat during church celebrations but…I was wrong.  I guess everyone needs that gaging at times.  As I eyed my second piece of fried chicken, I heard my inner-voice say, “You don’t need that?”  

Have you found a time that you have been wrong in regard to your members?  Are there times you have underestimated them?  What are the times you have over estimated their abilities?  Can you see the humor in those events?

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