thankfulness


In the scriptures, we are told that the Christian life is a mystery.  In fact, Proverbs teaches that it is God’s glory to hid many things but it is man’s glory to uncover these secrets of nature and eternal life.  In Paul’s letters he often talks about the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection.  We are told that we won’t understand everything.  However, we are reminded that many things are clear enough. 

These uncovered mysteries are the simple principles of life and I’ve found in my 21 years of working with people who are mentally challenged that simple principles are often best learned from simple lives. 

In the past months, I’ve been watching Toni learn, and I’m  learning from her.  Toni is short of statue with mousy brown hair.  Because of the adverse circumstances of her life, Toni is an extreme extrovert.  Everything about her countenance and her fashion shouts, “Don’t look at me!”  She is pretty certain that no one is concerned about her or her situation. 

However, when Toni faced a serious operation for cancer, she became a forceful advocate for herself.  Each time we met, she requested prayer.  It wasn’t out of fear.  I had seen fear on her face.  No.  These prayer requests were from a sincere belief that God cared for her and wanted to heal her.  She would quietly make her way into the prayer line that is an intricate part of our Special Gathering chapel services and say, “I need prayer.”  Once she told me, “God wants to heal me.”

The operation was intricate, rare and delicate.   The outcome is still uncertain.  But Toni is secure in one thing.  In the end, it is the most important thing she will ever learn. God loves her.  Toni and I became a close friends after she joined the choir.  Because of her health, she has not been able to attend.   One day after I had inquired about her health, she whispered to me .  “God wants to heal me but I need to do my part.  The doctor says for me to be careful.  And that is what I’m doing.”

Teresa is another person who is learning these simple principles of life.  Teresa was a young woman when I met her 15 years ago.  It’s been a adventure to observe how she has matured over the years.  Her mind is simpler than many of our members.  However, raised by her father, he playfully pushed her beyond her abilities.  Because of his joy-filled,  playful, positive manipulation, she is able to do far more than the prognosis of any medical professional. 

But verbal prayer remained a mystery to her.  I’m sure that she prays; yet she never wanted to attempt to pray out loud.  Because her speech patterns are confused, she is careful who she talks in front of and she is leery of  her conduct in regard to talking.  Nevertheless, a few weeks ago when I asked the choir who would like to lead us in prayer, she raised her hand. 

Trying to keep my extreme joy from being exposed in my voice, I attempted to calmly say, “Teresa, you need to say, ‘Thank you, Lord for our choir practice.’  Keep your prayer simple.”

Teresa prayed and I rejoiced.  She is learning and she is growing.  Of course, the Christian life is a mystery.  Like you and me, Toni and Teresa won’t learn everything.  But many things are clear enough and as we grow we are able to go beyond our abilities–beyond the expectations of others–discovering the mysteries of our faith.

One of the last things my father said as he was dying has become significant in my attitude toward life.  Daddy was hemorrhaging internally and we knew that we were facing his last hours.  However, he was aware and even seemed strong as death inched slowly into his body.  Mom and Dad had moved into the home of my brother and sister-in-law.  She was the nurse of my Dad’s doctor.  It was an ideal arrangement for Daddy and our family.  His hospital bed and medical supplies had taken over the living room of their house.

We surrounded our father with concern and love.  Daddy loved Christian TV and my brother had moved at television into his room.  The TV was on acting more as a night-light than entertainment.  However, in the lulls of whispered conversation, we could detect the message the various teachers were proclaiming.  As my brother was transferring Dad from a chair back to the bed, we could hear the words of one particularly loud preacher.  He was preaching about how awful the world is and how much we as a Christian must avoid everything and everyone connected to the outside world. 

Daddy leaned back on his pillow and closed his eyes in exhaustion.  Then he said, “Sure there are a lot of bad things in this world; but if you look, you’ll find that there is a lot more good than you ever thought possible.”   

Paul said it this way as he wrote in a letter to the young preacher, Titus, “Everything is clean to a clean mind.”   

Lucy is a delightful example of a clean mind.  She is much lower functioning than most of the members of Special Gathering.  Her smile is contagious and dominates her face.  Unable to keep her balance her walking is aided by two Canadian crutches.  She moves slowly but deliberately.  If she loves you, she demands a hug. 

Of course, Lucy has her bad days.  In fact, after the death of her much-loved father, she has grieved, expressing herself with unacceptable behaviors.  But these are still uncommon events and her overall attitude remains serene and secure.

Before her father died, there had been little that upset this young woman.  Because grief is a natural outgrowth of life and I’ve not been the target of her unexpected aggression, I’ve not seen her behaviors as anything but a healthy response to a tragic event that she isn’t able to cognitively comprehend. 

Chrissy is also physically disabled.  However, her mind is sharp as a tack.  She was treated badly by her family as a young child but that hasn’t kept her from having a clean mind and seeing the world as a joyful habitat for joyous events to happen.  She laughs and giggles at the most common things.  She smiles at sounds and smells that I barely notice. 

The more I interact with people like Chrissy and Lucy, the more I’m convinced that Paul was correct.  As hard as it is to zero our concentration of the clean and good things of this world, the more we will reap the benefits of that environment.

God Cares for me

Matthew 6:34

Central Theme: God will take care of you and we don‘t have to worry. 

Introduction–Have a member read Matthew 6:34. Even as a small child, I believed this verse. I would tell my children that God would work out the details of everything, if we did our best. Then when our son went off to college, there was no money to send him for many reasons. I was scared and I told Mark that I was afraid. He looked at me like I was crazy. He said, “Mother, don’t you know that God will work out all the details, if we do our best. Have you forgotten? Hasn’t He always done it for us?”

I. Jesus was beginning his ministry when he gave this wonderful talk found in Matthew 5, 6 and 7 to people.

A. He wanted people to understand some basic things.

B. We need to know the alphabet to be able to read. (Tell about our nephew, Patrick who wanted to know the sounds of the letters. Then he went into his room for two hours and he came out reading.)C. This is a basic Christian skill to know how NOT worry.

II. Worry is something that will kill you.

A. Scientists know that worry will hurt you more than smoking or drinking alcohol.

B. My grandmother said, “I don‘t worry when you are coming to see me. I know that many things can happen to slow people down that are good, not bad.”

III. Things we can worry about.

A. People who are on trips or traveling in the car.

B. What we are going to eat.

C. What we are going to wear.

D. Where we are going to live.

E. Whether we are going to be able to get all our work done on time.

F. Whether we are going to miss an appointment.

IV. Our offering envelops help us to prepare and do the best we can. But God takes care of the money we need.

Conclusion: God wants us to know that he cares for us and he does not want us to worry.

I just had to write one of the hardest letters I’ve ever written.  The largest supporting church to our ministry has discontinued their support.  My understanding is that there wasn’t a problem with Special Gathering.  In fact, they still love the ministry.  However, in the face of the continuing economic down turn, they are changing their ministry scope and direction.  I don’t like it; yet I can certainly understand this.

But it doesn’t make the parting any easier for me or for Special Gathering.

Many years ago, I served as chair person on the first missions committee of this same church.  At times, we found that we had to write a similar letter to a missionary.  One couple felt a deep commitment to Poland.  Within six months, they had moved to South America; six months later, it was England.  In the three years, that we supported them, they jockeyed around the globe to about 7 countries.  Finally, it was my task to write a letter to them, explaining that we could no longer support them because it appeared that their mission vision was blurred and confusing.

I received a scathing letter back, scolding me for my lack of understanding to what God was doing in the world today.  In their hurt, they lashed out at me with some pretty brutal personal attacks.  I wasn’t offended because I could understand their grief and disappointment. 

Whenever I’ve had to write to a church that can no longer support us, I’ve remembered that letter I received as chair of a missions committee.  Therefore, I’ve tried to craft any letters I’ve sent to supporting churches who cannot continue to send us money with the understanding that their decision to stop or reduce funding wasn’t made without prayer and concern. 

Does it hurt?  Is there rejection?  Of course, there is.  However, there are so many circumstances that we cannot know about looking from the outside.  Writing a gracious and loving letter to a supporting church will make their decision easier.  Here are some things I would include:

  • Thank them for the years of support.
  • Explain that you understand how hard it was to write this letter.
  • Explain how much you have appreciated their support and their love.
  • Explain that you will miss their prayer as much, if not more, than their finances.
  • Thank them again.
  • Don’t be harsh or accusing.  Remember you don’t know the grief they have suffered in writing this letter.

Have you had to handled other partings from supporting churches?  Do you find that writing a letter is the best way to respond?  What are some of the things you do which allow a church to know that you understand how hard it is to stop supporting  your ministry and still leave the door open for future contact?

We read in I Chronicles 21, God stopped a plague when David sacrificed at the thrashing floor of  Araumah.  David had sinned and conducted a census.  God had given him three choices in punishment.  David had chosen to receive punishment from God rather than man.  It is an awful story dealing with the cost of disobedience.  The sad thing is that David sinned but all of Israel had to pay the price of that sin.

David had been right to trust God’s punishment because as the Angel assigned to conduct the plague approached Jerusalem, God did not want to destroy the city.  He initiated David’s offering the sacrifices which halted the plague.  Then, in chapter 22:1 after the plague had been stopped by David’s sacrifices, David said, “The Temple of the Lord God and the altar for Israel’s burnt offerings will be built here.” 

David wanted to mark for all time God’s desire to be gracious even in a time of punishment.  David said, “Here.  The Temple will be here.”  Interesting, that in marking God’s gracious turning from punishment, David was also marking his own sin of pride. 

For most of my life, I’ve heard debates regarding this passage.  How could God punish a whole nation for one man’s sin?  I don’t know the answer.  But David chose to significantly  mark God’s merciful acts by erecting the building of the Temple in that place.  For many centuries, David’s decree for the placement of the Temple has overriden his foolish and prideful sin. 

Again, we see from the scriptures that God can make great revelation come from great pain and even great sin, when we turn to him for redemption.  My friend, Dolores, was a world-renowned solicitor in disability law.  She once told me that her son, who was mentally challenged, was the best companion she had ever had.  “I’ve had two husbands.  One was a doctor; the other was a lawyer.  I’ve sat with women and men who held high positions in our government.  I’ve been friend of  lawmakers, governors and aristocrats but my son’s simple humor and loving ways make him a most pleasant person.” 

Long past was the distressing questioning of why he was born with a disability.  Dolores had learned to replace those doubts and concerns by marking God’s graciousness and the love she found in her son with a thankful heart. 

How many of your parents have learned to build temples of love in lives where others would see only failure and disappointment?  Have you been able to erect a Temple of God’s love in lives that are often rejected because of their disability?

Disclaimer:  I hope in this entry to offend both genders equally.

Special Gathering is a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  We have more than 60 supporting churches from one county.  Church budgets are our support base.  We aren’t social workers or do social work.  We are ministers of the gospel.  Our purpose is to evangelize and disciple people who are developmentally disabled.

Over the years, we’ve learned a few things.  These aren’t all my ideas but things which have been passed on to me by my mentors in the ministry.  They would-I’m sure–put these guidelines more diplomatically.  Understand, your ministry needs financial support to survive.  Hope this helps.

Rules of the road

If you come into a group of pastors who are mostly men, there are some strict rules of the road.  All the pastors who are truly accepted adhere to these rules.  Male and female parachurch ministry heads are equal offenders of these unwritten laws. 

  1. Give your information regarding your ministry in sound bites of  information.  Men love sound bites.  The reason that our 24-hour-a-day cable news programs are filled with short snippets of information is because men want the bottom line.  News stories are written with a short summary of the information in the first sentence.  The first paragraph contains all you need to know about the article.  Then the information gets less and less important as you read through the article.  As a whole, we all process information in this matter.  Be sure that people know what you do but keep it pithy.
  2. If there are questions, keep the answers short and simple.  There will be one person who is interested in what you do.  S/hewill want to know more.  Don’t bore the rest of the group explaining things.  Ask if you can make an appointment to answer his/her questions.
  3. Silently, remain engaged in the flow of the conversation.  People want to feel valued and one way to make everyone feel valued is to look him/her in the eye, smile when they are talking.  Lean forward when people are speaking.  Listen and learn. 
  4. Don’t fake concern.  People can smell fakery a mile off.  Be truly engaged.
  5. Turn off your cell phone.  If it does ring, do not answer it under any circumstances.  While everyone in the room may answer his/her phone.  Don’t do it.  Answering your phone tells everyone that other things are more important to you than a pastors’ meeting.
  6. Greet new people.  Introduce yourself, sit with them, if possible, and engage them in conversation.  Men will especially appreciate these connections, while women may resent them.  Several women that I’ve endeavored to befriend have told me, “If you continue to monopolize my time in these meetings, I’ll never get to know any of the male pastors.”  On the other hand, male pastor ALWAYS come up to me months later and say, “Thank you for being my friend when I first came to the group.  Those first meetings your were the first–and sometimes the only–person to speak to me.”
  7. If you are asked to be the speaker for the group, leave them wanting more.  Keep it short. Sprinkle your vital information with short human interest examples. 
  8. If you are asked to speak, have notes that you can distribute and a pamphlet, if possible.  No information isn’t good but too much will be thrown in the trash.
  9. Pick out one thing that is vital to your ministry that you push one time a year.  I begin asking for prayer for camp in February or March.  Giving snippets, I try to arouse the pastors curiosity without boring them.  “Unless you’ve experienced it, you can’t imagine how amazing it is to have 250 people with disabilities praising and worshiping God.”  Or “we understand that one day someone may have a serious health issue at camp.  God has had mercy for 2 decades, pray for his mercy to continue.”
  10. Let the pastors know that you appreciate their graciousness to you.  Pick out one pastor who spoke to you and write him/her a note or drop by her/his office and leave a message.  Say, “Thanks for being my friend.  You can’t imagine how much I appreciate that.”
  11. Remember the thing which draws these men and women together is a common bond in ministry and their love for the Lord.  Each one has taken time from his or her day to embrace each other and to gather strength and wisdom from each other.  They are basically battle-weary men and women who huddle together to draw energy and to be reassured that they aren’t alone in their struggles.  Let them nurture you.  Let them love you.  As they come to love you, they will come to trust you and your ministry.

Of course, there are more rules but this is a tiny bit of information that I hope will help.  Perhaps you won’t make the mistakes I made and I’ve seen so many other people make over the years.  Your ministry is important to the Lord.  You want to be sure that you present it with in the most positive way to the faith community.

What would you add to this list?

Part 1–The Importance of Trust 

One of the questions that Special Gathering is now being asked by other ministries is how do you gathering supporting churches for a parachurch ministry, such as Special Gathering, which is a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  Our members are developmentally disabled.  We have one purpose:  to evangelize and disciple people who are cognitively delayed.  In Brevard County, where three of our programs reside, there are more than 60 supporting churches.

As a rule, specialized ministries are on the bottom of the totum pole in regard to support.  It isn’t that local churches don’t care about our population.  It is almost always that local churches don’t know what to do with our population.

On occasion, their tentative foray into this type of ministry has ended in disappointment or even disaster.  I remember that for years I knew I was called to this population and I attempted to begin a ministry for people who are mentally challenged in my church.  However, I thought that doing this was impossible because of the different functioning levels.  Other local congregations have found the same obstacles and drawbacks. 

There are many things which are involved in garnering supporting churches.  I will touch on only one in this entry and that is developing trust levels.  Without a doubt, the foundation of our support comes from developing trust with local congregations.  We do this in varying ways.  First, we don’t try to usurp the authority or support of local congregations.  We keep our support mailing lists limited to pastors and missions committees in the local congregations.  We explain that we want their support but acknowledge that God has ordained the local church to evangelize and disciple.  We want to be an extension of local congregations.

We ask that local churches put us into their budgets–rather than our raiding their membership for monthly contributions.  In this way, we have a more consistent support level.  In addition, someone in this church has to think about us and will probably pray for us each month.  Each year, they must evaluate us and pray about renewing our support.  Some churches give us an annual lump sum.  Others give on a quarterly basis.  Still others give monthly. 

In addition, we don’t ask for the moon.  The most frequent starting amount given from churches is $50 a month.  However, as their trust of us grows, churches tend to increase the amounts given.   Most of our churches support us at the $100+ level because they understand that they can trust the fruits of Special Gathering ministry.  We celebrate and honor the churches that give a widow’s mite.  There are several churches on our list that give more than sacrificially.  I wonder how they can continue to give the $20 to $30 a month they faithfully contribute each month.

Have your found that trust is an important element in your ministry.  How do you work to develop trust in your community?

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