January 2011


Last Monday as I was studying the sermon for this week, I was struck again by the entire incident surrounding Jesus’ first miracle found in John 2.  One thing left me puzzling.  Why did Jesus say, “My time has not yet come,” to his mother; and then perform the miracle of turning the water into wine anyway.  During the week as I used this scripture for my meditation time, I found myself wondering repeatedly about that phrase,  “My time has not yet come.”

However, as I preached the devotions on Saturday, I realized that God is willing to break the rules for us.  In fact, every miracle he has ever performed is God breaking his own rules to help us, heal us or deliver us.  Even the working out of our salvation meant a realignment of his rule regarding  justice. 

At Special Gathering, I preached this miracle-principle on Saturday and Sunday.  Looking intently at the faces of our members as I shared, I saw amazement, understanding and joy on the faces of most people there.  However, Tom’s eyes almost glowed.  Finally, containing himself no longer, he shouted, “That means I can break the rules, too!”

Great, I thought.  Now I’ve given Tom permission to be inappropriate, misbehave and act badly–as though he needed any encouragement.  I smiled, sweetly, pretending to ignore Tom’s remark and said, “Of course, God doesn’t sin or act inappropriately to answer our prayers and he doesn’t want us to break the rules of bad behavior.”

As though a repeat performance, on Sunday morning before I could give my disclaimer, Mimi shouted, “Every rule is only made so we can break it!” 

Years ago, in ministering to a junior high group, one gorgeous young woman told the youth group on Friday night, “I wish I could be godly most of the time and sin only once in a while.  That would be the perfect life.”  Glenda often fell into sinful practices and then returned tearfully wanting God’s forgiveness.  She, of course, was an extremely gifted person but her desire to want all of God and a bit of the world held her back spiritually.

Tom and Mimi are equally gifted and they have the same tendency.  They can pray like angels.  They use godly speak to convince others of their commitment.  But their daily lives betray their hearts.  It appears that they want all of God, except on the occasions that they want what they want, when they want it.

Unable to sleep last night, I mulled over the wonder that God would break his own rules for me.  I thought of the small and big miracles in my life.  There was a time years ago that seeing a stopped car within feet of me in the middle of a slick road, I cried out to the Lord while slamming on the brakes.  The car did not slow down but it stopped instantly.  My three children who were in the car, said, “Mom, the car stopped!”  God broke the laws of physics to help me and the children.  There have been other rule breakings that were just as dramatic in our lives. 

But as my mind reviewed Tom and Mimi, I realized how closely aligned to their thinking my daily actions can be.  Of course, there will be times of falling and slips along the way.  But I must guard my heart closely that I do not accept the immature philosophy that “all of God is great, as long as I can have my own way when I want it.”

Much Ado about Nothing

Genesis 2:7 and 8

Central Theme:  God‘s greatest prize was made from dirt.

Introduction–Okay here we go again with grandbaby stories.  I went to visit my granddaugter who is 18 months old now.  She can say, “Grandmother and cracker.”  She knows what she wants and how to get it with a smile and a kiss.  Can you imagine that this little baby is a growing, thriving bundle of dirt.  Show a bag of dirt.  Have a member read Genesis 2:7 and 8.

       I.     God took the most common thing on earth, dirt, and fashioned his most prize possession, people. 

          A. When we look at the great achievements of the universe, they have all been accomplished by some bundle of dirt. 

          B. The greatest acts of love, compassion and tenderness, all come from some salt-water moistened lump of dirt.

          C. I’ve brought a picture of a great work of art, skillfully and brilliantly fashioned by dirt hands.           

      II.     We should understand our origins to fully understand ourselves.

              A. I‘m not talking about our family background. 

              1.  We need to understand that God made us from dirt.

              2.  Even science agrees with the fact that we are made from dirt.

              3.  What science cannot understand is God’s love for me as he fashioned Adam and Eve into humanity

              4.  Abstract thought cannot grasp a Creator God who loved us enough to let us have freewill that would turn and curse and revile our Creator.

              5.  Thinking people cannot grasp this God who made a way for me to be redeemed by the shed blood of his Son.

          B. God loved the dirt he had fashioned so much that He knew that only if he became dirt himself could he bring these dirty creature to himself.

              1.  He gave us everything to become like us–dirt.

Conclusion–I am dirt but because of Jesus, I am clean dirt.

People First Reception

You are cordially invited to attend

People First of Brevard 

Legislative Reception

 

Friday, February 4, 2011

from 7pm to 9pm

at Indian River City United Methodist Church

1355 Cheney Hwy (Hwy 50)

Titusville, FL  32780

 

Funded by a Self-development of People grant fromt he Central Florida Perbytery and in coordination with the Special Needs Recreation program of Brevard County and with the help of Florida United Choice. 

One of my favorite bonsai trees is a 47-year-old Ficus tree that lives at my house.   Because of the near-freezing weather invading Central Florida, I moved it into our kitchen in recent weeks.  Ficus trees don’t like to be moved–or transplanted.  Interestingly, it has not only survived the transition but flourished.  I’ve found that regular, once-a-week water and an occasional shot of fertilizer is all that is required for these sturdy trees.

For some reason people believe–as I once did–that bonsai trees are difficult to nurture.  However, I learned through experience that they are amazingly resilient plants.  Of course, the secret to survival is their root structure.  Onlookers and gardeners observing the bonsai are generally impressed by the artful curves and sculpting of the roots which may be larger than the tree itself. 

Bonsai trees and plants are stunted by placing them in small containers.  They must be maintained or they will die; but once established, minimal care allows them to thrive.  In short, given proper, regular care, bonsai plants are hard to kill. 

As I look over the congregates of Special Gathering each week, I see many people who are the human equivalent to the bonsai plant.  Each one has his/her personal story of stunned growth and tragic circumstances.  Developmental and physical disabilities have endeavored to choke them all during their complicated, yet paradoxically simple, lives.  But their spirit man–which is what makes us human–is amazingly tough.  Stunned by the faulty containers which bound them, these men and women have grown strong, rich, interesting and beautiful root structures.  These structured masses of  roots defy the circumstances of their lives and the limitations foisted on them by their brains and bodies.   

This is one of the best gifts that these men and women bring to the church, rooted lives that understand the loving, unmoving grace of God.  Yvonne grieves for your mother who has been her constant companion for more than 50 years because her mom is suffering in the hospital.  When I asked Yvonne why she was crying, I said, “Do you miss your mom?”

Yvonne’s answer came in a whimper, “Yes, but Mom is sick.”  My concern was for Yvonne.  Her concern was for her mother’s pain.  Deep roots.

Are our members who are developmentally disabled perfect?  Of course not.  They are faulty human creatures.  But when they accept Jesus as their savior, they are perfect in his sight because of the shed blood and resurrection of  Christ.  The part we see most often is the stunted tree.  The part God sees is the magnificent root structure that allows them to flourish and thrive with minimal care and attention. 

Generally, the Church has not understood the gifts that this portion of God’s family has to offer.  Therefore, out of necessity, these men and women have driven their roots deeply and firmly into the heart of God and they are magnificent to behold and to know.

It is interesting that ministries within the mentally challenged community don’t seem to be worrying about being relevant.  You see, our relevance is increasingly apparent.  As more and more children within the autism spectrum advance to adulthood, parents are seeing in larger numbers that the message and hope of Christ our Savior is what they need. 

As in the 50’s and 60’s, parents are leading the charge urging new treatment methods, improved techniques and better medications to help their children.   Recently Focus on the Family radio show replayed a program which featured Chuck Colson and his daughter, Emily sharing about her son, Max.  Now 19, Max’s disability is within the autism spectrum.  Briefly, Emily spoke about how the church could not minister to her and her son.  Later she shared how her current congregation is ministering to her son by allowing him to be an essential part of the ministry team.

The biggest problem with autism is that medical and mental health professionals have not determined exactly what autism is.  They have a set of symptoms and benchmarks which allows them to diagnose the spectrum; but not knowing whether it is a mental health or a medical issue makes a cure impossible and treatment spotty at best.

Part of the concerns of ministry within the community of people who fall within the autism spectrum is their ability to understand.  If developmental disabilities are not present, then it is finding the key which unlocks their minds and spirits to the world outside their inner turmoil.  If developmental disabilities are present, then it is still necessary to find the key which unlocks their minds and spirits to the world.  Though it is beyond our understanding, the message of Christ has become part of that key of some of our members in Special Gathering.

It has been estimated that one child in 100 will be diagnosed within the autism spectrum.  Many of these children will live happy and productive lives with a minimal amount of professional intervention.  Others will need consistent treatment and creative love to survive the chaotic world which swirls around them.  In short, they need the message of Christ’s peace and joy.

Several professionals attend Special Gathering on a regular basis.  They report to their overseers that there is a peace and joy that allows calm to reach into the hearts of the people with disabilities when they bring their residents or consumers to our local programs.  Of course, there are times…

Within the world of disabilities, there is still an open door to minister the gospel of Christ.  The message is there.  The joy and the positive effects of God’s transforming love is apparent, even to the skeptic.  Within your community, look on the fields.  There is great fruit ready for the harvest. 

As Martin Luther King’s birthday approached last Sunday, DeAnne, a Special Gathering member, wanted to know what we would do to celebrate her birthday next week.  Quickly, an elder said, “You bring the cake. We celebrate.”  DeAnne looked gravely at me and questioned, “Sure I can bring the cake.   But who will bring the ice cream?  Can’t have a birthday party unless you have ice cream.”

I often laugh with our members who are mentally challenged and tell them that their birthdays are not national holidays.  However, most of them want to celebrate the day with parades, a vacation from work and a big, big party, with lots of gifts. 

Their desire to acknowledge their birthdays probably stems from several things.  First, families know that there are not many of the normal milestones in their lives that are celebrated with them.  Getting a driver’s license, graduation from high school or college, promotions at the job site, weddings, birth of a child are all events that will pass them by as the years balloon around them.  Therefore, birthdays become important events, celebrated with parties and gifts and food.

Additionally, everyone needs a measure of positive attention.  This is their day of celebration and honor.  And it needs to be acknowledged and experienced with joy.  As a ministry, Special Gathering cannot financially afford to have more than 450 birthday parties a year for all of our members.  But we can provide a time of delighted celebration for our members when they bring the cake. 

Sadly, as DeAnne gets older, her close family ties have  dwindled. I suspect people within the mentally challenged community want this special day to be remembered by their friends because their families are no longer able to celebrate with them.  Days of celebrations can quickly become times of depression and despair, if we are alone.  Without others to join in the festivities, celebration are merely bitter-sweet memories of events and happy times lost.

I believe that God has placed in human beings the need for celebration; and he provides those times in the Scriptures for the Jewish people.  Passover, Feast of Unleavened Bread,  Presentation of the First Fruits, Pentecost, Feast of Trumpets, Feast of Booths are days of assembly and  feasting.  Some are one day.  Others are for an entire week.  It was mandated by God that no work would be done and that the people were to rest and eat.  In fact, in the Law, the Lord said that the people were to eat whatever their eye lusted for.  “Forget the diets for those days,” God says.  “Eat and enjoy me.” 

Too often we look at what we cannot do in the Law, ignoring the many joyful things that are also prescribed for us.  We speak of love, emphasizing the hardship of loving our enemies.  Too often, we ignore the joy of delighting in every person God has created and the freedom that comes in seeking to find pleasure in God’s creative abilities as exhibited in each unique person.  We teach forgiveness to others as a duty, not explaining the liberation and emotional release that comes from actively forgiving those who have hurt and harmed us.  The Laws of God were given to enable us to live happy and productive lives.  It was not meant to put us into bondage.  They were meant to set us free to be the person God designed us to be.

As the Lenten season approaches, remember Resurrection day is coming.  In our lives we cannot forget that God only allows harsh things to happen to teach us and prune us.  We must work extra hard to impress our members with this important principle of Christian life.  That may be extra hard for me to accomplish.  For, it appears from the condition of my heart that  I have not yet gotten the point of God’s boundless love.

Over the years I’ve wondered why Jesus turned water into wine as recorded in John 2:4.  I understand Jesus’ comment to his mother, “Why come to me?  My time has not yet come.”  When teaching this passage of Scripture, I’ve always felt the emphasis should be on, “My time has not yet come.”   The fact that he did the miracle without another word isn’t a mystery, however.  I can only imagine the look Mary gave her son.  It’s the “don’t make me say that again” look that every offspring knows and obeys. 

There is another thing that confuses me about this miracle.  God doesn’t do magic tricks.  He does miracles.  There is a broad difference.  Turning water into wine (along with walking on the water) seems to lower the bar of what qualifies as a miracle.

Yet, teaching the mentally challenged community, this miracle becomes appropriate and relevant.  Life is hard for them.  Even the simplest tasks can be monumental and confusing.  Steve struggles with the mechanics of opening a car door.  While Teri masters the mechanical aspects of life, she speaks in short phrases that often don’t make sense because the confuses her negatives and positives.  “I go to the store” becomes “I not go to the store.”  Willi can memorize music quickly.  But she has no concept of time or space or money.  She tells everyone that she is 7.  Willi is thrilled with the $1 she lives on each year.  Christmas is always tomorrow.

Too often people say, “I work out my own problems in life.  I only ask God about the big stuff.”  That sounds really spiritual and gracious considering human beings are all-powerful and God is dependant on us for his next breath.  Okay, thinking logically that reasoning is a bit ridiculous. 

Perhaps the reason that the Lord turned water into wine was to show us that his miracle-working power extends into the smallest areas of our lives.  He wants us to ask; and he will respond to work everything out for our good.  The most interesting part of this story remains, “My time has not yet come.”  It appears that even though it was not fully part of God’s plan, Jesus showed his glory through this miracle anyway because his mother asked him to do it. 

Each of us realizes that the small things dominate our lives.  Song of Solomon speaks of the “little foxes that spoil my vine.”  The minute incidents of life nibble at us and eventually destroy our joy, our witness and our faith.  Early in my prayer life, I learned to take everything to the Lord.  Introducing God’s care and power into the lives of my children became extremely important to me. 

I have no problem praying for a parking spot or a break in the traffic so I can pull onto the highway.  I see no reason why I should not ask for God’s wisdom in the middle of an argument with my husband.  I pray for safety and  God’s mercy as I drive.  I ask God to help me not be so sloppy.  I pray when I hurt; and I include Him when I rejoice. 

It is the small things of life–more than the big and the monumental–that make up our lives.  God desires to be–not only included–but in the center of the small things.  Ask him and see how wonderful your miraculous life can be.

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