March 2011

Mike has suffered more in gossip and mistrust than anyone I know.  He has lost his ministry, started another, nearly lost this one.  Sure, Mike has his personality quirks and problems like all of us; but he had not fallen into sexual sin, stolen money or done grave misgivings.  Yet he had lost friends, family, associates, his life savings and his reputation over a process of five years.

I’ve expected any day to hear that he has decided that it’s too hard; and he has gone completely into the secular world to gain back “what the church locust hath eaten.”  But I receive his church email twice a week and I marvel.  There is no hint of reprisal or resentment.  Mike has never lashed back or sought revenge.  In fact, he has paid off debts that he did not owe while others have profited in the millions from his hard work.

If the story sounds familiar or even much like what you have lived through, welcome to the real world of hard spiritual growth.  I am convinced that God is not the author of this kind of hardship.  Nevertheless, He is the redeemer of vindication.  I’ve seen so many others travel down this highway.  The circumstances are always different but God’s vindication is the same.

I, first, saw my mother pick up her bruised reputation and walk sorrowfully down this road.  I asked her one day how she could take the hurts  and lies thrown at her and not retaliate.  “Honey,” she said, sadly, “when you’ve had as much said about you as I have, you’ll learn that reprisal does no good.  God takes care of me and my reputation.  I don’t have to do it.”

Much later, I had to pack my scarred bags and do some traveling down that road of Bruisingandhurt Boulevard.  It was not easy; but I learned the hard way that God brings vindication.  As leaders, there will be times that even those you hold close to your hearts will turn and walk away.  There are principles that work in circumstances like this.

  1. As much as possible, keep your heart pure before God.
  2. While there is some dispute about how forgiveness works and I don’t understand it all.  As an act of my will, I repeatedly forgave those who had wounded me.
  3. Cast away the hurt and resentment.  I mean physically pick up that pile of junk and toss it away from you.
  4. Ask God to bless those who despitefully use you.
  5. Look for opportunities to be gracious and kind to those who have hurt you.
  6. But give it time.  Time will heal the wounds that are so raw now.
  7. Learn to wait on God.  His timetable is almost always a lot slower than ours.

As David left Jerusalem fleeing because of the rebellion of Absolom, there was a relative of Saul who cursed and jeered at him.  David would not let his men punish this man in any way.  David had been wrong and he was suffering the consequences of his sin.  Yet, the jeers of Saul’s relative had not been part of what God had promised as judgement.  Even so, David took his unjust slander.

Vindation will come.  However, even more redeeming is the process. God will teach us valuable lessons.  And it seems we can only learn them walking down that hard road of misunderstanding and abuse.  Is that road too hard for you at this time?  Remember God’s love never fails even when we do and all those around us that we trust forsake us.

On September 28, 2010, I heard a thud coming from my husband’s shower.  Even though he was under Hospice care, he was able to care for his personal needs.  However, vascular dementia caused him to forget things, such as “don’t take a shower now.  Your aid is coming to help.”  He had gotten into the shower by himself; and somehow he had fallen off the shower seat.

When I rushed into the room, I found him on the floor in great pain.  Instinctively, I knew he had broken his hip.  In reality, he had broken his leg and hip.  I called the Hospice nurse, then 911.  My mind rushed to cover all the bases.  However, the main thought centered in my brain was “our life has just drastically changed.”

Later that day in the hospital, my thoughts wandered to a young pastor in our community who has two disabled children.  Both sons have disabilities within the autism spectrum in addition to physical involvement.  One is bedridden.  The other is semi-mobile.

His wife has her master’s degree; but with the birth of their second son, she gave up her career in education to care for her children.  This young man pastors a church.  Now, however, he does much of his work at home because the care of these children has escalated as they have grown toward manhood.

As our nation ages, strokes and heart attacks will put more and more people in home care or in the bed.  Because of a former condition, my husband had two operations to repair his hip.  He is currently bedridden.  And our lives have drastically changed.  It isn’t sad or bad; only different.

Several months ago as we lingered over coffee after lunch, my pastor friend with the two disabled children told me, “Our lives are full and productive.  It isn’t the life my wife and I planned.  It is the life we have and God blesses us each day with miracles and blessings.  We now believe that it is the life that God planned for us.”

Sitting in the hospital, remembering my young pastor friend, God used his words to encourage me.  All human life is fluid.  At times, life is good as we coast among smooth skies and sun drenched afternoons.  Other days, storms come.  These times of turbulence may even capsize our life’s boat.  However, with the Lord, even the most severe storms of life are turned from curses to blessings.

During my “play time,” I dreamed of being on stage and teaching.  Playing mommy and cuddling doll babies didn’t ever interest me.  However, writing and performing plays was the passion of my playmates and me.  While standing before people is our nation’s leading fear, putting me in front of people was comfortable for me.  Intuitively, it seemed to be “my place.”

Additionally, even before I became aware of the value (or problem) of meetings and organizations, I’ve loved the process of organizing people to be able to fulfill a mission or accomplish a task.  In junior high and high school, I was part of the student government.  I helped run campaigns for my friends, making posters and handing out flyers.  I sat through the monthly church business meetings fascinated by the way the meetings were conducted.

Later, as an adult, I learned of people’s fear of being in front of a group.  Inwardly, I was surprised because I assumed that everyone was like me.

Perhaps it is a great revelation to each person at some time in his or her life that we are uniquely built.  Like the snowflake, God designs all of us with different needs and desires.  Of course, all of us are told this fact but somehow it doesn’t actually connect until adulthood.

Within the mentally challenged community, that uniqueness is as clear as it is in the rest of us.  When I met Allen, I was shocked by his blank personality.  Then as I came to know him, I slowly learned the layers of his distinctiveness.  He seldom spoke but he possessed a great sense of humor.  He was energetic and a planner.  Without speaking a word, he would organize the people on the van who were seated by the time he got on the van.  Telling them how to get off the van, he directed the willing passengers with his “better way.”

Psalm 139:13 and 14 says, “You made my whole being; you formed me in my mother’s body.  I praise you because you made me in an amazing and wonderful way.  What you have done is wonderful. I know this very well.”  The value of who we are is exquisitely shown within the simple lives of the people in the mentally challenged community.  They are people who quietly live in their sub-culture.  Often, the rest of the world doesn’t even know this sub-culture exists.  However, the developmentally disabled community has leaders and supporters.  There are people who are able to control situations and people who desire to give people what they need.

Who are some of your members who impress you because of their ability to show their distinctive personalities and become leaders?

Last week, I accompanied three Special Gathering members and our South Carolina program director on a Disney cruise.  It was a great time of fun and fellowship.  At 6 feet 4 inches, one of the members, Tony,  is the “gentle giant” that usually lives in a mythical land.  He literally runs from confrontation and arguments. 

Tony’s size commands attention.  He is excitable and gets loud when he is excited.  Unfortunately, he seldom speaks unless he is excited.  His voice is as high-pitched as his body is tall and broad.  The entire package means a large, large man who has a female voice who speaks loud and excited. 

During the cruise, we were able to play an onboard mystery game several times.  The object of the game was to find and arrest the criminal and to recover stolen property.  You discover clues by going from place to place on the ship and uncovering the clues from different pictures hanging on the wall.  As we were beginning our second game, a group of older, middle school teenagers were in front of us.  Understandably, they were a bit startled by Tony’s large size and shrill voice.  Unfortunately, the fun making began.  They were not laughing with Tony but AT him. 

Tony heard and understood but chose to ignore them. 

As we traveled throughout the boat gathering clues, we seemed to be with them each time we were at a clue station.  After about four encounters, their rudeness and laughter became more and more hateful.  Finally, when they stepped out the door to the outside, I followed them. 

In my calmest and most pleasant voice, I said, “Hey, Guys.”  They turned and faced me still enjoying their latest joke about Tony.   Their visages carried the smart-aleck smirks that only young people discovering themselves can muster.  Again, attempting to be more than pleasant, I tried to marshall up my most syrupy vocal tones, “You know, my friend was born with his disabilities.  He had no choice in the way he acts.   He cannot help the way he looks or acts.  You, on the other hand, have chosen to be rude.  You weren’t born that way.  You can change.  You don’t have to be rude.”

Their smirks changed to indignant wonder  that someone who would dare to confront them.  However, one young man’s face blanched with genuine shame as he fixed his eyes on his sneakers. 

There are ongoing questions about how to treat rudeness from the public when you are with your members.  One school of thought says, “Ignore.”  Another says, “Confront.”   I probably fall on both sides of fence, depending on the situation.  I would have ignored these young people, had they quickly tired of their sickening jokes.  Yet, because their bad behavior continued to accelerate, I wanted to let them know that they were being inappropriate.  Therefore, I confronted them about their actions.

Titus says, “Do not allow anyone to despise you.”  I looked into the nuances of the Greek in that passage.  The translation is very clear.  It simply means, “Do not allow anyone to despise you.”  As Christian leaders, there are times that it is our obligation to our members to confront rudeness,  stare it down and call it by its ugly name.  Do you agree?  How would you handle a similar situation?

God gives us the Power to change our lives

Acts 22:15

Central Theme:  God has the power to change the worst lives.

Introduction–We all know what happened years ago on September 11.  Our nation was attacked.  There are some people who hate us and part of the reason is because we are a Christian nation.  Do you know that there is a great man in the Bible who became famous by persecuting Christians?  He was Paul, the great Apostle.  Have a member read Acts 22:15.

I.     Tell the story of Paul and how he was changed (Acts 9:1-19).

A. Paul was known all over for persecuting Christians.

B. On the way to Demascus to kill and put Christians in jail,

C. God stopped him and changed him.

II.     There is no one who is too bad that they cannot have their lives changed.

A. God will change you no matter how bad you may be.

B  But God cannot change you if you think you are so good that you don‘t need to be changed.

C. I was raised in a Christian home, I didn’t do a lot of things wrong.

D. But I had a lot of pride in my life.

1.  God wants to change us not matter what our “sin” is and pride is a big sin.

III.     God will change our lives if we let him.

A. We can pray for the people who want to destroy us because we are Christians.

B. But first we must ask God to change us and make us the people he wants us to be.

Conclusion God can change the worst people in the world–even me.

About fifteen years ago, a widow wanted a quality group home to be built in our county for her son.  For years, her son had been associated with Special Gathering (SpG).  She desired that once built, SpG would oversee the supervision and run the home.

During a SpG board of director’s meeting, there was a heated discussion when the proposal was presented.  One board member adamantly opposed this arrangement.  She argued that group homes require authority, control and oversight on a daily basis.  She believed that our healing mission of evangelism and discipleship would be compromised.  The prophet Isaiah speaking for the Lord agreed with her.  His approach had been “Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people.”

her logic prevailed, even though the other board members resisted her for a time.  One at a time, each person saw the wisdom of her line of reasoning.  It was finally voted that SpG would not own or operate group homes.

The Lord has made our mission clear.  We are a ministry within the mentally challenged community whose purpose is evangelism and discipleship.  Many things come under this broad heading, but the daily operation of group homes is not one of them.

Staff members of SpG do believe that under most circumstances group homes are a better alternative for mentally challenged people than living alone in their own apartments.  Our concern is not a preference of housing arrangements; but it is a concern over the  level of supervision that is provided in most states for people living in their own apartments.  However, this the personal opinion of our staff members, not the policy of our SpG, Inc. board of directors.

Each new generation learns valuable lessons that may be missed by a preceding group of people.  I love rereading my favorite books.  Yet, I came from a tradition that you didn’t watch a movie or television show but once.  You certainly didn’t read a book but one time.  Nevertheless, I would pull out the books that were read to us in elementary school,  especially Penrod and Penrod and Sam, and reread them during my high school years for book reports.  When I became an adult, I would reread books when I read to my children.

Rereading has now become a more accepted practice.  In fact with the advent of videos and DVD’s, children memorize many of the children’s movies because they view them so often.  By the time a child has reached his teen years, he may have read one of the modern classics many, many times.  There are great benefits to this practice.

  • First, it teaches children that one pass over a subject matter will produce a most limited knowledge of the subject.
  • Second, children will understand at an early age the value of review.

Reading is one of the great pleasures of my life.  I can hardly imagine not being able to have that privilege.  Bible reading was introduced to me by my Sunday school teachers and mother.  We were able to get a check mark if we read our Bible each day.  I loved getting check marks.  The denomination in which I was raised values the study of the Bible so much, that it’s now being accused of believing the Bible is the fourth part of the Godhead.  However, reading the Scriptures has not alway fared well through the ages.

In the 16th century, when Martin Luther entered the monastery, it was not typical for a person to read or study the Bible.  Men who had their doctorate in theology seldom read the Bible directly.  Few of them owned their own copy of the Scriptures.  It appears that Luther was one of the few men of his day who had a love for God’s word.  On his death-bed, Luther wrote a note that extolled the value of the Bible and how important it was to read it with a humble heart.

At Special Gathering, we put an emphasis on learning the Bible.  While most of our members cannot read, they still are able to understand what is read to them and the precepts contained there.  Last year, we inserted into the order of service a “Call to Worship.”  After the announcements and several upbeat praise songs, we calm the service and begin with a Scripture verse that is our Call to Worship.  We use one verse for three months.  A member reads the verse and we listen.  After two months of listening to the verse, I ask the members to recite it with me.  The Member Reader will read–or say from memory–the verse and then we will repeat it from memory.

I am amazed at how quickly our members are able to pick up the verse and say it.  There are only a few things that have changed during the years we’ve been conducting Special Gathering worship but I believe that this is one of the most beneficial.

I understand that reading or even memorizing a Bible verse does little to ensure that this word will become affective in our lives.  However, I also know that NOT knowing the Bible almost guarantees that we will not be able to apply a truth to our lives.

Occasionally, I will talk about an Old Testament precept that is repeated again and again.  People who don’t read the Bible are shocked that these Sacred Writings even addresses things such as thrift, banking, ecology or conservation.  Some Christians have no idea that preservation of the land is a strictly-held concept taught in the Law of Moses.

As a teacher and leader of a flock of men and women who are developmentally disabled, it is my responsibility to be sure that the Bible is learned.  Additonally,  the principles must be relearned and then reviewed time and again until they becomes a part of my life and the lives of our members.

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