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On a hot July afternoon in 2010,  my husband and I went with my daughter and her family to the National Space and Aeronautics Museum in DC to see the IMAX presentation of the Hubble telescope.  Everything about it was spectacular.  It was especially impressive that my husband worked all the launches related to the Hubble, except one and we saw that launch in our front yard as it careened into space.

The movie showed the astronauts as they played in the Brevard County beaches only a few miles from our house. It was a an eerie feeling to realize that I had seen history being made a few steps from my front door.  Of course, we always glibly talk about the fact that we are watching history in the making.  But sitting in the theatre with approximately 1,000 other people puts the NASA experiences of the past 4 decades in a totally different light.

Then as the pictures that have been taken from the Hubble unfolded, we all gasped in wonder.  Perhaps the other people in the theatre didn’t have the same sense of amazement as our small group because we lived it.  When the Hubble first launched, the Hubble family came to see the first launch attempt.  They were Presbyterians and they attended Trinity Presbyterian Church in Satellite Beach where I was working.  It was an honor to have the Hubble family with us.

God has been such an important part of our history.  As I pushed him out of the theatre, my husband, Frank said, “We cannot even imagine how big and awesome our God is.”  We have prayed for each launch and the many astronauts.  We have their patches tucked away in desks drawers.  There are  framed photos of launches hanging on our walls.  Years ago, I stood on the road of our church when the Challenger exploded.  The stunned staff stopped to pray for the astronauts and their family, because the horror of the moment was more gut wrenching than we could imagine.

Our small troop walked from the Hubble movie and headed into the McDonald’s attached to the museum.  While licking our escaping ice cream, we discussed the wonders of what we had seen.  Reality was beginning to seep back into our lives.  After a heady time of reviewing history, ice cream was a refreshing touch of today.

We walked out of the museum blasted by the scouring heat.  Walking a few feet from the museum, we realized our car had been towed away by the police while we were reliving history.  A passing pedestrian said, with a grin, “Welcome to DC.”  We all laughed and I thought to myself,  welcome back to reality.

The choice that changed everything

Nehemiah 9:17

Central Theme: Man choices to sin and God chooses to be gracious.

A ream of paper has 500 sheets–not more and not less. A foot is 12 inches–not more and not less. There are many absolutes in our lives. There is a couple of absolutes that totally changed mankind. First, since Adam’s sin, We all choose to sin and God always chooses to be gracious and forgive. Have a member read Nehemiah 9:17.

I.     Tell the story of the first sin and the fall of mankind from Genesis 3.

A.Eve ate the fruit and Adam followed her.

B.  They were tricked by Satan.

C.God made them leave the garden but he chose to love them and forgive them.

II.     God will always choose to be gracious and loving to you.

A.We must desire God‘s love and his forgiveness.

B.  We don’t always think we need God.

III.     The ways we reject God.

1.  We decide that we can handle everything ourselves.

2.  We work toward being independent of God

3.  We want to please people rather than God

4.  We disobey God‘s laws.

A.There are unintended consequences to all of the bad choices that we make.

IV.     We should never forget that God will always show his love and graciousness to us.

Conclusions: Each of us chooses to sin but God chooses to forgive us all the time.

In the past weeks, I’ve been going over some of the key words in our covenant relationship with God.  Perhaps one of the most important words we use is grace.

Most of us have learned and maybe we even remember

  • God’s
  • Riches
  • At
  • Christ’s
  • Expense

This is great explanation of grace and the first one I could readily remember.  However, it is a bit churchy sounding for many people.

Then there is the wonderful explanation:  Unmerited favor.  I love this simple explanation that encapsulates this amazing concept in two words.

However, trying to explain grace seemed harder than I had imagined.  They didn’t grasp the whole acrostic idea.  And while unmerited favor seems simple enough, even the members who remember the two-word definition could not explain what it meant.

Therefore, we worked our way into another definition that they understood and fully appreciated.  Grace is receiving a gift we don’t deserve.

Receiving a gift we don’t deserve is not as catchy at the acrostic or as short as “unmerited favor” but our members understand it and have grasped its meaning.

meeting PresidentMeeting Important People

Central Theme:  As the Lord leads, we can have influence on many people.

Call to Worship: Go everywhere in the world, and tell the Good News to everyone (Mark 16:15).  

I will tell you what he has done for me (Psalm 66:16)

Introduction—Many years ago, a young man moved down the street from us.  He was living with friends.  He was from Canada and beginning a small ministry.  My husband and I worked hard to introduce him to some important people in the area.  That young man has become pretty famous and infamous TV evangelist.  At different times in our lives we will be thrown with people who are famous.  Paul was in prison but he was meeting important people.  Have a member read Psalm 66:16.

I.    The Romans had put Paul in jail.  In addition, the Jewish leaders were still trying to kill him.  Paul didn’t want to go free because he believed that the Jews would kill him. (Acts 25:13-26:32).

A.    The Roman governor was Felix.  Paul was called before him many times.  Felix wanted to set him free; but he also knew the Jews would kill Paul.  Then Festus became governor.

B.    One day King Agrippa visited Paul.  Agrippa was a Jew, like Paul.  Paul told Agrippa about Jesus.  King Agrippa asked, “Do you think you can convince me to become a Christian?”  Paul said, “I wish everyone could be like me, except for these chains.

C.    Everyone agreed  that Paul had done nothing wrong.  They wanted to set him free.  Nevertheless, Paul said that he wanted to have a trial before Caesar, the Emperor of Rome.  As a Roman citizen he could do that.

II.    Because Paul was in prison, he was able to tell many important people about Jesus.

A.    One of the worst things in Paul’s life became a great blessing because Paul followed the Lord and obey him.

B.    Paul obeyed God and did what the Lord wanted him to do.

III.    The time for each of us to share Jesus may be during times that are hard for us.

A.    Paul said that he hoped everyone would be like him, except for the chains.

Conclusion—Can you think of a time that the Lord used you even though you were hurting?  God wants to use us all the time, not only when things are going good.

jesus walks on waterRemember the story of Jesus walking on the water taken from the Gospels?  In Mark’s account of the story, Jesus doesn’t invite Peter to come out on to the water but rather he intends to walk past the disciples who are in the boat.

I often puzzle over the entire incident.  This story reeks of magic, an illusion, a trick.  Of course, I know that this was a miracle but what was the purpose?  In recent months I’ve seen there are several explanations.  First, water walking was the quickest way to get across the lake.

The second was that Jesus wanted to get the attention of the disciples to teach them a lesson.  That is pretty reasonable to me.  After all, at The Special Gathering which is a ministry within the mentally challenged community, the presenter will use an attention-getting device before the devotional actually begins.  If you’ve taken any preaching courses or courses regarding public speaking, you know that attention-getting is a time-honored technique used by successful preachers and other presenters.  However, Jesus had already gotten the attention of his disciples.  That afternoon he had fed about 20,000 people with almost no food.  They were already impressed.

The third reason kind of coincides with and combines the first two reasons.  Perhaps Jesus wanted to his followers to understand in a concrete way that they could depend on God to do miracles in even the simplest areas of their lives.  He knew they were straining to row the boat in the storm.  He came the quickest and shortest way possible.  He got on the boat and calmed the storm.

jesus calms stormA few weeks earlier, he had calmed a storm and rebuked the disciples because he was asleep on the boat.  “Didn’t you know I was in the boat?” he had asked them.  This time there was no rebuking.  There was calmness.

Within the intellectually disabled community, there is a woeful lack of self-esteem.  Most of our members carry with them the stigma of their disability.  While professionals and parents do a wonderful job of helping them to understand their worth as a human being, only God can give a holy understanding of who we are to him, without the lousy side effects of self-pride.  The disciples experienced a miracle in the middle of a common storm in the life of a fisherman.  Even if our only disability is stubbornness, God wants us to understand that we can also experience miracles in our lives. During the daily storms of life,  He loves us enough to come along side our vessel and calm the storm.

Have you seen God work miracles in the lives the people to whom you minister?  Has God done a miracle for you?

onboardplaneWhile traveling on a plane recently, I found myself seated next to a young woman who was attractive, prime, proper and aloof.  I don’t mind people who don’t want to talk on a plane because I like that alone time also.

However, she was clearly impressed with herself. Because I admire that in younger women, she caught my attention  Therefore, even though she wasn’t interested in speaking to me, questions flooded my mind.  I wanted to know her.  I quietly and silently prayed that somehow I could be a blessing to her.

I felt that she was a person who had newly acquired her positive self-image because there was still a bit of uncomfortable awkwardness about the way she sat straight and tall.  It was impossible to notice that she took out pictures of cosmetic sample and flipped through them several times.  I felt that perhaps she recently took a job that helped her to see how valuable she really is.

We waltzed a bit in our seats, shifting and maneuvering our computers, phones and purses to avoid contact.  She was the one who was leading each dance, while never allowing my eyes to meet hers.  My interest grew.

boarding passThen she lost her boarding pass and all the defenses and reserve melted.  Panic slipped into the space that had been occupied by self-assurance.

“I lost my ticket,” she said in broken but clear English.  I knew that she meant “boarding pass” for her next flight; but I didn’t see the need to correct her.

“Oh, I found one in the front pocket of my seat.  Perhaps, it was yours.”   No.  We searched together but we couldn’t find the missing boarding pass.

“Don’t worry.” I said, as her black and delightfully expressive eyes filled with tears.  Her look questioned me.  I explained the procedure to get another boarding pass.  But she didn’t understand.  I clarified several times.  Finally, she seemed satisfied.  She sat back in her seat and grasped her Gucci handbag.

“I don’t need to worry,” she reassured herself out loud.  “I can get another ticket.”  She smiled at me and I felt such love for her.  In that moment, it was as though God had given me another daughter.

I touched the sleeve of her elegant leather coat and prayed soft enough that only she, the Lord and I could hear,  “Father, help her find her ticket.  She needs to have it in her hands.”  Again, she smiled shyly.

Then she reached down on the floor, moving her hand between her seat and the wall of the plane.  “It is here!” she exclaimed, smiling from ear to ear. “I found my ticket.”

I settled down to resume our previous positions; but the barriers were broken for her and a flood of questions followed.  We spent the next 20 minutes getting to know each other as only two women who are strangers can do.  As we parted from the plane, we smiled and walked away.

There are times in our lives that God can reach out and touch us in such a powerful way that there is almost heavenly music in the air.  Others times, there is only a smile and word of reassurance needed to reach the heart of a person.  Yet, how important it is to grasp the moment, knowing that God alone can make hearts confident.  I’ve prayed all this week for this wonderful, young woman.  I hope we meet again in heaven.

prisoner

Some of the greatest miracles and healings have come into my life through forgiveness.  It is an interesting phenomenon–forgiveness.  When I forgive, it is not the person that I forgive who receives the miracle.  It was me.

I cannot say that I’ve had more to forgive than most because life is hard for all of us.  No matter what your circumstances or generational history, life has a way of taking each of us and wringing all the marrow from our bones.  Without Divine intervention, we eventually collapse from the weight of our own empty carcass and die.

moldForgiveness is one of the miraculous life-giving principles that the Lord has given to us to renew our minds and bodies.  At times, unforgiveness can be a tricky business.  Like damaging mold, it can hide behind walls we build to protect ourselves from harm.  We prance glibly along not understanding that a damaging parasite is growing in our bodies that will eventually kill us if it isn’t fumigated from our systems.

For years, I carried a hidden resentment toward my parents that seemed to remain under the surface. Because no one was hurt by the things I’d observed, I had no concern about dealing with this festering little pimple.  Nevertheless, I slowly realized that I had fallen into the same habit that had been abhorrent to me all during my childhood.

I could not seem to break the pattern until I discovered the miracle of forgiveness.  The scripture that set me free is Matthew 6:14 and 15.  “Yes, if you forgive others for their sins, your Father in heaven will also forgive you for your sins. But if you don’t forgive others, your Father in heaven will not forgive your sins” (NCV).

Even though I knew this familiar verse that follows the Lord’s example prayer, I had not applied it to this situation.  As soon as I told the Lord I forgave my parents and asked him to forgive me of my petty resentment,  I experienced a miracle in my spirit that still lingers in my memory decades later.

The sad part was that when I explained to my mother about the annoyance I held, she laughed.  “Oh, Honey.  I didn’t do that for your dad.  I did that for me!  It was only for my sake I did it.  At times, your father even resented my actions.”

I had kept that festering indignation for years and it was not even justified.  Had I not experienced the Lord’s miracle of forgiveness, I could still be hurting and following the same pattern of behavior that caused my animosity.

I had to learn that forgiveness is not a feeling but an act of my will.  The word Jesus used in the Greek means “to send away from one’s self.”  Feelings can trick you into believing things that are not true.  True forgiveness may not result in goosey feeling.  However, it will result in a miracle in the spirit man.

calming story

In the fourth chapter, Mark records a miracle that astounds the followers of Jesus.  In fact, their perplex reaction makes this encounter noteworthy to many observers and critics.

The men were traveling by boat across the unpredictable and often tempestuous Sea of Galilee when a terrible storm blew over the waters.  The men were concerned for their lives; but Jesus slept in the front of the boat.  They woke Jesus and rebuked him, “Is it nothing to you that we are going to die?”

Once awake, Jesus spoke to the wind and waves and told them to be calm.  The weather obeyed his command immediately.  The wind stopped and the sea became as smooth as glass.

Recording their reaction, Mark writes the disciples were terrified by Jesus and asked each other, “Who is this?  Even the wind and waves obey him.”

When Jesus slept in the front of the boat, the men felt apprehension.  In fact, Jesus uses the word that means timid, cowardly  or fearful to describe their fear.

However, after Jesus calms the storm, Mark describes their emotions.  He says they were “greatly terrified.”  The two Greek words used in the manuscript could be translated “had a holy reverence to the point of terror.”

After seeing the strength of Jesus’ power to mold circumstances and events to his will, the Son of God’s companions were more afraid of their Master than of losing their lives.  There will be miracles in our lives that will demonstrate God’s awesome power in such a magnificent way that we will mutely stand more terrified of God than the circumstance that lead to the revelation of His might.

At that moment in time, we stand in amazed wonder acutely aware of our own finite existence contrasted with God’s magnificent ability to bend time, space and nature.

on kneesWhen was the last time, you knew of anyone who was terrified by the awesomeness and power of  God? Too often, we trivialize the work and omnipotence of God.  Yet, there is a transforming, supernatural authority which can throw us instantly to our knees in holy terror.

 

photo by michaelwalden.com

Paul arrestedA Good Man’s Faith

Central Theme:  God uses faith to accomplish his will in our lives.

You know about Jesus from Nazareth, that God gave him the Holy Spirit and power.  You know how Jesus went everywhere doing good and healing those who were ruled by the Devil, because God was with him. (Acts 10:38)

 Introduction—There are many things in our lives that we think we cannot control.  As I first typed this message on Microsoft Word, I worked on the format for almost 2 hours.  It’s an upgraded program and it does lots of things I don’t want it to do.  I seems to have no control.  But I can learn how to use the new program and then I’ll be able to make it do what I need.  There is one key to living a good life—that is faith in God.  Have a member read Acts 10:38

I.    Paul came to Jerusalem to tell the elders of the church the great things God was doing wherever the gospel was taught.   (Acts 21:15-36; 22:30-23:10).

A.    The elders were happy but they wanted Paul to do something to prove that he was not teaching Jewish people to forget about following the law.  They told Paul to take four other men and perform a seven-day cleansing ceremony with them.

B.    At the end of the seven days, some people from Asia recognized Paul and they started a riot.  It was terrible.  The Jews were trying to kill Paul.

C. The Romans came to stop the riot.  They had no idea what had happened. So the arrested Paul.  But Paul said that he did the things he were prescribed in the Bible and they were right to do them.

II.    Paul had done the right thing.  He had obeyed the people God put over him. But he STILL got in trouble.  Now he was in jail and all he did was obey.

A.    We expect to get in trouble when we do wrong.  But there have been times that we do the right thing and we still get in trouble.

B.    I was the president of an organization once.  My board made a decision I didn’t agree with but it was my job to carry it out their decision.  The right thing to do was to do what my board said.  But it was an unpopular decision and many people got angry with me.  The odd part was that my board who were the people who made the decision were the main people who got angry with me.

III.    Paul did not blame anyone.  He saw it as part of God’s plan for him.

A.    God’s plan may be different from our plan but God is always right.

1.   Think about Jesus’ life and death.

2.   People still don’t understand why God chose to have Jesus born and die the way he did.  But it was God’s plan and God was right.

Conclusion—There will be bad things that will happen in your life.  You may be asked to do something by a person who is over you.  Then you could get in trouble for doing it.  Remember God’s plan isn’t our plan and we should do what we think is right.

photo by freebibleimages.org

camp agapeDon’t miss

Retreat and Camp Agape

a Christian retreat experience for the mentally challenged community

Memorial Day Weekend–Friday, May 23 to Monday, May 26

at Life for Youth Campgrounds

Vero Beach, FL

The cost depends of the functioning life style of the person attending and ranges from $190 to $240.  We will provide transportation from Brevard County from four pick up points.  To request an application, call Linda Howard at 321-773-2691 or email at lhoward@specialgatherings.com.  Or you may leave a comment.  You will be directed to the correct person with whom you need to speak.

If you would like to attend, act quickly.  The available spaces are filling up quickly.

stormIn the life of a Christian, it is often at a time of crisis that God lifts his hand from the natural order he ordained to do a miracle.  As we remember, a miracle is when God intercedes to do something supernatural.

While riding from a prayer breakfast with a group of Christians yesterday, the conversation turned to a young mother who received many miracles during the birth of her child.  The baby’s head came quickly but the shoulder became stuck on the mother’s pelvis.  While shoulder dystocia is rare, the shoulder can usually be dislodged by repositioning the mother.  The child’s shoulder could not be dislodged.

However, miraculously, the baby suddenly was dislodged but he was stillborn.  The medical personnel worked feverishly to enable the baby to breathe.  Nothing worked.  After they declared the little one stillborn, the child suddenly breathed with no help from any medical staff.  The nurses and midwife believed that his revival was a miracle.

tornadoMost of us can point to a time in our history when a miracle occurred.  Messy times of emergencies, God breaks his own rules to bless his children.

Miners survive for weeks after a coal mine explosion.  There is a plane wreck and no one is killed.  An explosion occurs and everyone dies except one man.  There is no explanation except that God interrupts his laws and gave a miracle.

Each of us can point to a time when we experienced a miracle.  Nevertheless, can we expect God to do miracles in our lives as a matter of routine?  Perhaps that smacks of presumption.  However, the Lord has promised the believer that God works all things for our good.  Prayer is asking God to break his own rules and do miracles in our lives, families, our nation and the church.  It should not be assumed it is presumption but a matter of routine.

John in prison

I stumbled on a wonderful new (to me) resource that I think is amazing. This is the only place I’ve found that you can download–for illustration purposes–Bible pictures.  It is freebibleimages.org  from a small core of volunteers.  Starting with five men, they desire to make the entire Bible available in picture form.  The photos and illustrations are amazing.  If you are needing Bible pictures to help illustrate your Bible lessons, devotions or sermons, this is a gold mine resource.  

005-jesus-anointedThese are extremely gifted men and women who are donating their artistic work.  Let’s be sure that we don’t abuse this free gift the Lord and these men and women are giving to us.  They are to be used only for Biblical illustrations. There is a place to donate on the website.  This resource is worth our giving our contributions.

images from freebibleimages.org

angelA higher functioning person in Special Gathering wanted to know how to get in touch with a medium so that he could speak with his dead relative.  Because of the teachings in the Scriptures about angels appearing to people, he had become confused.  In addition, a member had been medically dead for a very short time and he had reported that he had gone to heaven. This was my explanation to him regarding this important.  

A Brief Explanation of Angels

Part of the problem may be a misunderstanding of who angels are.  It is the popular misconception that when people die they become angels.  Even though it is commonly accepted by modern culture, this is not true.  And it is not supported anywhere in the Scriptures.

Angels are not human beings and people don’t become angels.  Angels are a separate creation by God who predate human beings.  There were angels before there were humans.  They are similar to humans in their form; but they are not humans.  They have supernatural powers that we do not have.

The Bible does not speak of angels as male or female.  They appear as large, strong males most of the time.  However, in modern and ancient cultural pictures, they are depicted as babies with wings or in a more feminine form.  In the Scriptures, angels are given what we in the Western Culture would call male names.  However, they are non-sexual because they do not reproduce.  They are spiritual heavenly beings who live forever.  In the Old Testament, Jesus is spoken of as The Angel of the Lord.

When the angel Lucifer sinned against God (He wanted to be equal with God), he was thrown from heaven and it is indicated in the Bible that Lucifer was given dominion over the earth.  It is believed that Lucifer totally destroyed the earth to such a point that God reclaimed the earth and gave dominion to Adam to “keep”  (the Hebrew word used means safeguard and protect) the earth.  When Adam sinned, the effect was that Adam gave dominion of the earth back to Satan.

When Jesus died, he took dominion over death and hell.  He reclaimed the earth for God and for man.  His resurrection sealed the defeat of Satan.  That is why Satan killed Jesus.  Satan did not understand that Jesus would pay the price for our sin and be resurrected.

When we are born, we are spiritual beings because we are part of God’s creation.  God breathed into Adam a human spirit.  After the fall, we are still part of God’s creation and spiritual beings but we are part of the Kingdom of Satan until we make a free-will choice to accept Jesus as our Savior.  Then we are children of God.

It does not matter whether we are born-again or not, attempting to speak with the dead is forbidden.

Jesus told us in the New Testament that we all have an angel that is with us at all times.  They are there to protect us.  They are not the Holy Spirit who is our guide and teacher.

These are not things that would be taught in a Sunday school class at Special Gathering.  But they are things which the Bible teaches.  Much of what we know about angels is found in the Old Testament.  When Jesus speaks of angels and the New Testament speaks of angels, it is always in the context of what we know about angels from the Old Testament.

Again, trying to speak with a dead person is forbidden.  You want to stay as far away from any hints of this kind of practice.

waterGod is Forgiving

Psalm 86:5

Central Theme:   God forgives everyone, even me.

Introduction–If I have a cup of water and I pour it on to this rag, what will happen?  The rag will get wet.  (If appropriate pour the water on to the floor.  If not pour it into a saucer or rag.)  This rag is wet and it will be wet for a long time.  If I slap Sam in the face, will it hurt?  Yes.  I can’t instantly make this rag dry again.  If I hit Sam, I can‘t take it back.  Folks, we find ourselves in a mess.  We sin and we can’t take the bad things back.  We can’t make the rag dry.  And a slap will always hurt. But there is one thing we have.  We can get God’s forgiveness when we sin. Have a member read Psalm 86:5.

I.     Tell the story of David and Bathsheba

1.  David slept with Bathsheba; then he killed her husband.

2.  God told David that he was a sinner.

II.     David asked God to forgive him.

A. God did forgive David.

1.  God says that David was a man whose heart was like God‘s.

2.  But David had sinned and even God’s forgiveness did not take away the results of those sins.

B. David‘s little son died and many other bad things happened to his family after that.

III.     God forgives but he does not always take away the bad effects of those sins.  –Ex:  a woman who became a Christian after she had killed someone.  She still had to die.

Conclusion–God forgives everyone who asks for forgiveness.

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