April 2012


I am often asked how I would turn an outline into a sermon.  This is what I would do with the sermon, “God is Just.”

We all understand that our federal government is divided into three co-equal branches.  There is the executive branch, the legislative and the judicial branches.  The purpose of these three branches of government is to insure that the people of the US receive justice.  You see, very few people (masses or individuals) are just.  We tend to see things through the biases with which we have been raised and in which we live.

During the history of the Jewish people, especially during the time of Ezekiel, the nation God had chosen was being punished because they were wicked.  In fact, Ezekiel tells us that they were so evil that they thought God was the one who was bad.  In reality, we all live with a hint of that suspesion dwelling in our minds and seeping into our hearts.

Before I became a parent, I thought my mother and father were mean and hateful.  Then I had children; and I understood that they were simply trying to mold us into mature adults.  In fact, I often think that they were kind of soft on us.  I know of other parents who decided that they would be harder on their children because their parents were too easy.  “I thought my folks were tough but I’ve realized that they were wimps,” one neighbor confessed, while nursing a steaming cup of coffee.

The reality is that we cannot understand God.  Therefore, because his actions are so foreign to us, we think that God is mean.  The executive director and pastor of The Special Gathering often says that we can only see things through our own perspective.  That means that we understand what is happening from the way we see it.

Even though, it’s a hard lesson, we must learn to trust God and believe that His way is right no matter what happens.  Years ago, I was taking my children to the beach.  Usually, I would put the car keys in my pocket and lock my pocketbook in the trunk.  That day, scruffling to get everything out to the ocean, I forgot to lock my car and my purse up.

That night, I went to the car to get something out of my pocketbook and realized that my purse was gone.  I climbed back into the car, attempting to re-track my steps.  All the time I was driving, I was doing spiritual battle with myself.  That day, while sitting at the beach, watching my children play, I had promised the Lord that when bad things happened, I would no longer blame Him but I would realize that I was to blame and takeon the guilt for my mistakes.

My carnal logic had been that because I turn everything over to the Lord, He should keep me from doing stupid thing.  Of course, it’s not godly thinking but it was my thinking process.

As I scouring the community for my pocketbook that had our checkbook, credit cards and pretty much all of our financial lifeblood in it, I kept struggling with myself to acknowledge that God was not to blame for this problem.  Again and again, I would say outlough, “Lord, I know this isn’t your fault.  I know that I lost the pocketbook, not you.”  My mouth was saying one thing but my heart wanted to scream “God, why did you let this happen to ME?”  Finally, I said, “Lord, it doesn’t matter how I feel.  I know that you are not to blame.  I made the mistake.  I am to blame.  I will not blame you.”

As I walked into the door from my desperate searching, the phone was ringing.  “This is the Rockledge police department.  We have your pocketbook.  Can you come and get it?”  That night I experienced a clear act of God’s mercy and grace.  I learned to not blame God for my mistakes.  God is not responsible for my goofing up.

As a merciful bonus, I only had $.47 in my wallet.  The thieves took the money.  Then they tossed everything into the bushes on a lonely, almost deserted road.  A car behind them happened to see them toss the pocketbook.  He stopped, retieved my purse and took it to the police department.  Nothing was missing.  None of the cards had been used.

The Lord used this driver, even a couple of thieves to teach me a valuable lesson about His justice.  Because we are people who do not really understand what is right, we need God to help us understand.  Many times he uses other people to teach us about his loving and just ways.

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There are two stories in the Bible that have fascinated me all my life.  The first is a parable that Jesus told.  It is the story of a merchant who found an extremely valuable pearl.  After finding this magnificent pearl, he went and sold everything he had to purchase it. I was always taught that the pearl was the kingdom for God and that when we find this great pearl, we must give up everything to purchase this great pearl.  I wanted to be like that wise merchant and give everything to the Lord.

Then many years later, during my prayer time, the Lord spoke to my heart in a still small voice and said, “Linda, you are that pearl and I gave up everything to purchase you.”  During the past week, each time I think about Grace Renee, the Lord reminds me of the pearl of great price.  Again, the Lord has spoken to me, “I’ve brought my magnificent pearl, Grace Renee, home.

When Cindy, an ARC staff person, came into Special Gathering last Saturday, she pulled me aside.  At first, I was hesitant to be drawn away from eye and ear contact of the group, even though there was another volunteer in the room.  However, when it became apparent that something really bad had happened, we walked a distance away from the room and Cindy tearfully shared that “something is wrong with Renee.”  She didn’t know what had happened but she felt that perhaps, as Renee’s pastor, I could find out.

“Renee is very special to me,” she said.  Over the past two weeks, as I spoke with people who knew Renee they repeated often, “Renee was very special to me.”

Until you’ve been drawn into our community, it might be confusing to understand how an individual like Renee can steal your heart.  How can Renee’s suffering wrench your heart until you believe it will break?  Yet, Renee’s love and joy was a magnet for those of us who knew and loved her.  Joanne Semenuck knew her when she was in school.  She said, “She was the happiest young woman I ever met.”

Lorraine, one of the five residents in her home, said, “I love Renee.  I didn’t want her to go away and leave us.”  Everyone in the home said, “We are a family.  Renee is our family.”

Bessie Mariner, her support coordinatior, told me, “Almost every time I met with Renee she blessed me by praying for me.  She loved to pray.  I know that she knew the Lord in a powerful way.”

Small things about Renee were most endearing, like the quirky way she could sneak to get her way.  You didn’t know whether to scold her or hug her.  When one trick no longer worked, she would devise a different tactic to snare you into getting her way.

Renee also reminded me of a second story from the Bible.  This story is true.  In the last week of Jesus’ life, a woman came and washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and wiped them dry with her hair.  Because of the dry, dirty conditions in Judea; and because everyone wore sandals, it was a custom to wash everyone’s feet as they entered a home.  But the host had neglected to do that for Jesus.  When this woman washed Jesus’ feet, it was a blessing that she could uniquely give him.  It was a splendid and deeply personal gift of love.  I believe that Renee often showed her love for the Lord in deeply personal ways and that love spilled out onto us.

Yes, we will miss Renee but mostly we will miss the times she washed away the concerns of the day with her antics and joy.  We will miss the way she reached down and personally knew what we needed; and without a word, her touch and smile helped to meet that need.

She was perhaps one of the weakest among us; but in so many ways, she was able to show us the Lord’s strength and power.

“But the people who trust the Lord will become strong again. They will rise up as an eagle in the sky; they will run and not need rest; they will walk and not become tired.”  Life is replaced with death.  Death is replaced by eternal life.

Aren’t we all walking a strict tight rope regarding kindness.  At some tipping point, kindness can be abused and we find our greatest tender mercies have gone bad.  Today, I took a member out to supper.  Bob was a member of the Melbourne program for more years than I’ve been involved.  In the 22 years I’ve known him, he missed Special Gathering no more than five times.  When he was forced to move to another town almost 40 miles from my home, he has called often asking for me to take him out to eat.

This was our third time to go out for a meal since he moved almost a year ago. He has been plugged into a closer Special Gathering. Bob participates in the choir at his new program.  When is enough, enough?  Bob is beyond stingy and he would never offer to pay for his own meal. High-functioning, Bob is not beyond taking advantage of a situation.

Therein lies my question.  When is it worst for a person for us to continue to give?  Last night as I was listening to the Psalms, the Lord said that His people were constantly taking advantage of Him.  Then after He punished them, Israel would turn back to him.

As I drove to the Adult Living Facility where Bob is now living, I had at least an hour to mull over his situation.  Was it now time to let Bob know that I would not be making any more trips to his new home?   After all, he loves the people with whom he lives.  He is happy enough with his new life that he wants to go to the sheltered workshop only two days a week.

We had our meal at MacDonald’s.  As we were heading home, I told him that we would not be able to do this again because it’s too far from my home.  It takes a long time and uses a lot of gas.  Bob looked at me with one of the most whimsical stares I’ve ever seen.  “Have you moved?” he asked.

“No, Bob,” I continued to explain.  “I haven’t moved.  You moved.  Now you live farther from my house and office.”

Perhaps, my good friend, Bob, still may need another visit or two.  It’s apparent that kindness has not gone bad yet.

California farm from which diseased cow came

There is another case of Mad Cow disease found in the US.  The medical name for the disease is bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE.  As predicted, we have been told that the United States beef supply is more than safe and there is absolutely no danger to the public.

Yet, I understand from some folks from England that they were also assured that their meat was all right until the government officials could not longer ignore the people who were suffering with this maddening disease. The human form is known as variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD).  The beginning stage is largely one of anxiety, depression and other psychiatric symptoms.

You may be questioning what causes this dread cattle malady.  It has been proven that the disease is caused from feeding cattle meat and body waste.  Some years ago, it was found that chicken by-products and manure could be added to cattle feed and the cow would eat it.  It also seemed to be good for them because they were able to gain more weight faster.  Then the dreaded disease began to appear in the herds.  In an article no longer available on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) website, this excerpt was published as “Information for Consumers Food and Drug Administration Center for Veterinary Medicine entitled, The Use of Chicken Manure/Litter in Animal Feed.”  The sub-title of the article states “The following consumer information is provided by Daryl Fleming, Communications Staff, FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine.”  This is a small excerpt from the article.  

Recycled animal waste, such as processed chicken manure and litter, has been used as a feed ingredient for almost 40 years. This animal waste contains large amounts of protein, fiber, and minerals, and has been deliberately mixed into animal feed for these nutrients. Generally, animal waste is used within the State where it is produced because the bulk and weight of the product makes interstate shipment uneconomical. Normally, this animal waste is used by small farmers and owners of beef and dairy herds as a winter supplement for mother cows and weaned calves.

We have been assured that this deadly practice has been eliminated but how much oversight is given over the production of this cattle feed?  The FDA in the paper “Framework for the FDA Animal Feed Safety System” admits, “Animal feed ingredients and mixed feeds produced and used in the US have a good safety record.  However, because oversight of this industry is limited and focused on a few known safety issues, potential human and animal health problems remain hidden. ”

There are often concerns regarding the foods we eat.  It is a fact that cows fed only grain will never have contract Mad Cow Disease. The Bible prescribed for us clean and unclean foods.  In simple words, scavenger animals, birds and sea foods should not be eaten.  Fruit and vegetables are all right.  However, the animal kingdom is divided clearly in the Old Testament.  Clean animals do not eat animal flesh or other by products, including manure.

I understand as Christians, we no longer live under the law of Moses.  Yet, the Old Testament prescribes stern warning regarding the foods we eat.  Of course, there is the vision given to Peter regarding the sheet that came from heaven.  God clearly said to him that everything that He had made was clean.  Christians have taken this as a proclamation to allow us to eat those unclean foods.  Never the less, there are reasons for God’s prohibition.  The Lord’s reasons weren’t arbitrary or even legalistic. We are finding that these laws contain clear concerns for our health.

There may never be a need to teach the clean/unclean foods in your special needs program or ministry.  However, you may want to begin to consider the foods you are eating out of concern for your own health.

For the past week, I’ve been listening to and reading the Book of Psalms.  Even people who don’t often read the scriptures are familiar with the Psalms because of their beauty.  Additionally, the words of David and Asaph which were written thousands of years ago weirdly relate to my everyday life.

“The Lord is my shepherd” acknowledges my weakness and my need for a heavenly caregiver.  Every child delights in Psalm 100.  Who doesn’t want to “Shout to the Lord”?   “Don’t be upset with evil people” comforts all of us because we struggle with wickedness that stems from others in our lives.   “Sing to the Lord” speaks of the joy that the Lord wants us to experience.

However, not many of us realize how often David and other psalmist seek the Lord in their lyrics because they are desperate.  It is that desperation that often draws the people of God to this familiar book.  I hate to admit that often I laugh my way through many of the Psalms because of David’s vindictive attitude toward his enemy.

I’m also enthusiastic by the Lord’s insistence of having joy in our lives which is exposed through the lyrics.  The Psalms are songs.  Singing has a way of healing hurts and bringing joy into our inner being.  This week, a good friend and member of our choir came into the weekly practice angry and upset.  Because of changes in her meds, my friend, Marcia, struggles with extreme emotional reactions.

Today, she is angry because of unforgiveness.  She fumes and fusses about a good friend who offended her.  After deciding that she “could and should” forgive her friend, she is still unhappy.  “I don’t feel any better,” she reports.

We started choir and she started singing with us.  Within a few minutes, she was her happy self again.  As we shared a smile, I asked, “Feeling better?”

“Yeah,” she acknowledged, “but I don’t know why.”  I didn’t take time to explain that singing about the goodness of the Lord accesses for us the joy of the Lord.

What is a time that you have seen the Lord’s joy change hearts?  What have you learned from the Psalms?  Do you think your members are able to understand the Psalms and learn from them?

Eric Voorhees is an active member of The Special Gathering who loves to serve others.  Acquainted with hard work, he has been employed for many years at a nursing home.  He is well respected by the residents there and by his employers.  The Special Gathering is a ministry within the intellectually disabled community.  Voorhees is a deacon and sings in our choir.

In Matthew 11:28,  Jesus said, “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.”  I can ask the Lord to carry my cross and to help me with all my burdens.

A child is not always pleased by what a loving parent does, and yet…”We know that in everything God works for our good”  (Romans 8:28).

I can find God’s hand in the events of each day because “the old has passed away, behold the new has come” ( II Corinthians 5:17).  With God, new doors are opening in my life and they lead the way to a fuller life.

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