Some of the most active entries on this blog is our devotion that appears  each Sunday.  I get feedback from people who enjoy the devotion who don’t share it with anyone.  Others tell me that they use the devotion occasionally to teach or share with a group.  This week, I wanted to share one about two of my favorite subjects–the resurrection and my mother.

He Is Alive

Matthew 28:6

Central Theme:  Jesus is not dead; he is alive.

Introduction–Tell the story from Matthew 28:1-15  Two  women were coming.  There was an earthquake.  An angel appeared.  The stone was rolled away.  The soldier saw the angel.  They fainted  The women came up and the angel told them.  He is Alive!  Go! Tell the disciples.”  As they went back to the disciples, Jesus appeared.   Have a member read Matthew 28:6

I.     Before my mother died I struggled with my prayers for my mother.

  • A. She was an amazing woman, the best Christian I ever met.
  • B. I love her and I will miss her everyday.
  • C. But when she died, she went to be with Jesus.

1.  That will makes her happy.

II.     Because of the resurrection of Jesus, we have great hope.

  • A. I know that Jesus lives.
  • B. I know that Jesus has taken the stringer out of death.
  • 1.  Did you know that when a bee stings, it looses its stinger and dies
  • C. Jesus took the stinger from death and we don‘t have to worry anymore.

III.     Jesus was alive and the women knew it.

1.  His resurrection changed their lives.

Conclusions:  Jesus’ resurrection changes our lives, too.

I read from WordPress, there are three rules for writing a successful novel.  Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.

It appears there are also three rules for building a successful ministry or church.  But sadly, no one knows what they are either.  Of course, that doesn’t mean that there are no successful ministries or churches.  Because churches are growing every day.  Thriving new ministries are in almost every town in the world.

Years ago, the pastor of a very successful church in our county was invited to the ministerium to share the secret of his success.  He gave a formula with which I agreed.  He said that if you preach God’s Word, people will come and your ministry will be successful.

There was one problem, however.  I had sat under his ministry and in the churches of every man seated around that table.  Yes, he preached God’s Word.  But so did every other men gathered there.  In fact, in my opinion, he was certainly not the best expositor of the Word among the 25 pastors who were attending the meeting.  One of the best.  But not the best.

Perhaps the real rule that must be followed is to do what God has called me to do.  The second rule is let God worry about the results.  The third rule could be desperately pray for God’s anointing and His mercy and grace to poured out on His people.

Now, if I could just figure out the three rules for writing a successful novel, I could… Nah, I better stick to what God has called me.

I walked away from my conversation with John’s only remaining family, a sister and brother-in-law, wishing I had known him better when he was alive.  But that always happens when I interview a family before attempting to conduct a memorial service or funeral.

John died on a Wednesday.  He was a member of The Special Gathering, a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  An important part of our Melbourne program and a member of the choir, we were often cloistered in the van traveling with the rest of the singers.

Therefore, I probably knew him as well as anyone did, other than his family.  But I realized as I got into my car and sat for a few moments reflecting on John’s life that there was so much more to know about him.  These were important things about his past that had shaped him into the man I admired.

There were vital details that I didn’t know or understand.  John was 84 when he died.  Which means that he was about 74 when I met him.  He was a tall and thin man who always stood straight, proud and erect.  He smiled often but you had to savor his words because he didn’t often share his thoughts with anyone.

John was born and raised on the farm.  All his life, he knew hard, hard work.  Therefore, he was stronger than most men half his age.  He loved to work; but, like many people, he was hesitant to push himself into an unknown situation, concerned that he might make a mistake.

For 65 years, John was a devoted train watcher.  The trains carried coal from the mines of Pennsylvania, running directly through the middle of the farm.  Most of his life, his partner in the fields was his father.  Unwavering, the pair sweated through the heat of the day and pouring rain.   But the men would leave their plow and hoe and straighten up as soon as the rambling or whistle could be heard.  They would take off their hat, pull out a handkerchief and wipe the sweat from their face and neck.  The duo watched every train as the cars ambled or raced through the middle of their crops.

“If Mother caught them, she would scold unmercifully,” his sister reported, but her temper couldn’t keep them from stopping when the next trains rambled past.

After John severely broke his leg at the age of 65, his sister and her husband brought him to Florida.  He lived with them for the next 15 years.  He continued to work, helping with the household chores.  He went to Easter Seals at the Alzheimer’s section.  Though he had not one bit of Alzheimer’s, he delighted in helping to push the wheelchairs of the other more frail members of the troop.

While we don’t ever admit it, there is something wonderful about death, that final passage of life.  Because people stop to remember.  We brace our hoe under their armpit and take off their hats.  Slowly, we wipe our brows and listen and embrace the rambling noise of memories.  And for a brief moment in time, we allow ourselves to rejoice in the past.

Jesus said at the last supper, “Do this to remember me.”  Memory is a vital part of the Judeo-Christian heritage.  The passover is a ritual of remembering.  But somehow we refuse to do it.  Our lives are wrapped tightly in the present and future.  Even our older generations, don’t take the time to remember…or we don’t take the time to listen.

But death abruptly unwraps the cocoons of our present and our future and we come to a screeching halt as the noise of the past slaps us in the face.  The only thing John’s family, friends and I have left are our memories of him.  His quick smile.  The way he said, “I know.”  Consequently, for a few days, we’ll savor and nourish and treasure those memories.  We will remember.

What are the treasured memories you have of your members?  What member would you miss the most?  What memories are you impressing on your family and members?

Camp Agape is a four day retreat that allows all of us to get into the skin of our members and for our members to get to know us and each other.  On Sunday evening at Camp Agape, we have a bread and cup service.

Each year, the members of several programs of Special Gathering gather for a spiritual retreat in Vero Beach at Life for Youth Camp during a four-day weekend.  Each year there are 200 to 220 people who attend coming from seven of our programs.  People come from as far south as Port St. Lucie, Florida and as far north as Jacksonville.

A ministry within the mentally challenged community, Special Gathering exists to do classic ministry, discipleship and evangelism.  This is our purpose and mission.  During Camp Agape, we eat our meals together.  We sleep in the same cabins.  We play games, do crafts and slide down the water slides.  Twice a day we have chapel services.  The highlight of the weekend is the bread and cup service.  Here, we remember the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus.  We also want to embrace the time of fellowship that this meal represents.

We serve the bread wafers and the small cups of grape juice in two lines. Each person was given the invitation, “If you are a friend of Jesus, come.”  During the mingling in the aisles as people wait for their turns, there is a stirring of the love the Lord has shown for us by the fact that he would come to die for the bad things we do.

When The Twins (two young women in their early 20′s) came to me to be served, I realized that this was the first time, they would be served the wafer and the cup.  I gave the bread to Ariel with the explanation, “This is a small piece of bread.  Take and eat it.  Jesus said that we are to do this to remember that his body was broken for us.”  I explained the cup in a similar way.  Ariel solemnly took the wafer and small cup.  She ate and drank the elements.

Then it was Clara’s turn.  She is blind and in a wheelchair.  I placed the wafer in her hand and explained.  “This is a small piece of bread.  Jesus said that we are to eat the bread to remember that his body was broken for us.”

Clara felt the bread with her other hand.  “Jesus said that?  Wow!” she exclaimed quietly.  Somehow her simple exclamation did something new in my spirit.  The wonder of his sacrifice was magnified as I encountered anew the privilege his sacrifice affords us, giving us access to the Father.  My heart exploded with joy.

I gave Clara the cup and my feeble explanation.  Again, Clara took the cup and said, ”Wow!  This is for me?  Wow!”  By now I was weeping.  How can a simple “Wow” renew and even transform my understanding of Jesus’ sacrifice?  I have no idea. But I was acutely aware that access to the heartbeat of God is mine.  What more can be said but Wow?

As Clara’s simple exclamation made my heart sing, how has God opened your eyes to spiritual truths by the actions or reactions of others who honor and worship the Lord?

Stimulating conversation in which I am a part but where I don’t agree sets my brain to whirling in a good way.  I’ve never been a part of a debate team but I think I would really thrive under that type of experience. 

There is a problem with my debating skills, however.  I’m not able to control to emotions that slip into my voice.   I sound extremely angry, when I feel the excitement of debating.   There is no measured meter to my tones but quivery, shrill underpinnings that shout, “Don’t you dare disagree with ME!”

Therefore, I was excited today to be discussing the concept of worship within the mentally challenged community and what should we strive to include in a worship setting.  What makes an appropriate worship service for our members?  Our conversation whirled around praise and worship in song.  Because the folks debating have worked together for several decades, we understand each other quite well.  Therefore, during much of the conversation, we spoke mostly in shorthand, as good friends often do.

There were, however, several items that we touched on.  First, do the members of Special Gathering need some form of affirmation of faith?  If so, what would this look like?  What principles of the faith should be understood by every Christian?  How can these be translated into a simplified form so that people with developmental disabilities can easily understand?

Second, we discussed the appropriate types of music that will most effectively minister Life to our members.  Are hymns (songs that teach about or minister to HIM) the best?  Do gospel (testimony) songs actually teach our members more effectively than hymns that instill theological principles about the personhood of God? While contemporary scripture choruses may be wonderfully singable, do our members actually understand such songs as “I Exalt Thee.” 

What about you?  What do you believe an appropriate worship service for the mentally challenged community would include?  We’d love for you to join in the conversation. And, as an added bonus, with the wonder of the Internet, you won’t even have to listen to my shakey, shrill voice, when I become excited.

The Bible lesson for The Special Gathering this past week was the story of Jesus walking on the water taken from the Gospel of Mark.  In this 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 see there are several explanations.  First, it was the quickest way to get across the lake and Jesus didn’t intend for this disciples to see him.  Only when he realized that they were scared out of their tunics did he acknowledge who he was, get in the boat and calm the sea.  I sort of reject that explanation because if this were true, why didn’t he skirt around the boat so they couldn’t see him at all.

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 this 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 next to nothing.  They were already impressed.  He had their attention.

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 got on the boat and calmed the storm.

A 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 but calming of the storm.

Within the mentally challenged 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.  I believe God wants us as people who are developmentally disabled to understand that we can also experience miracles in our everyday life and during the common storms of life we must face.  He loves us that much.

Have you seen God work miracles in the lives of your members?  Has God done a miracle for you?

Loneliness

Of course, she won’t come or bring her two children because she ended the telephone conversation with “I’ll think about it.”  In polite language that means “No.”  And I don’t blame her.

I’d called this mother to invite her to come and bring her children to our Special Gathering that meets on Sunday morning at First United Methodist Church in Melbourne.  I liked her immediately.  The vibrancy and confidence of her personality was exposed in her voice.  She was polite and careful not to reveal the offenses she’s experienced over the years.  But I’ve worked with The Special Gathering of Indian River which is a ministry within the mentally challenged community for almost 20 years.  We do classic ministry, evangelism and discipleship. Too often I’ve heard the signs and her conversation screamed with desperate undertones of rejection. 

There are several reasons why she won’t entrust her precious treasures to The Special Gathering.  The most obvious reason is that they are her children and she isn’t convinced that I care enough about them to care enough about them.  Too many people have promised to care, only leave her and her treasures stranded in that all-too familiar corridor called Hope.  Unfortunately, in our world, Hope usually leads to an empty room labeled Loneliness.  She’s seen her children sitting quietly in Loneliness too often.  She chooses to not risk the hurt this time.

Second, they’ve been rejected by normal society once too often.  Rejection by her church was more than she could bear.  “Can you imagine how much it hurts to see everyone else included and my children left out more times than I can count.  Every single time.”  It was a retorical question.  She didn’t expect me to understand.  So there was no question mark and she didn’t wait for an answer.  But in our 20 minute conversation, she repeated her question three times.

Third, she doesn’t know me, Linda Howard, well enough to trust her must precious gems into my care.  My schedule doesn’t permit me to go to Saturday bowling anymore because I’m in Vero.  She mentioned it to me, “I don’t remember ever seeing you at Saturday bowling.”  If I really cared, wouldn’t I be at the things her children care about?  Wouldn’t I show up at least some time?  Sure, I’m busy doing a van route during that time and I’m at their workshop weekdays but she isn’t there during the week.  Where am I during the rest of the week?

Fourth, her children aren’t able to speak and she’s not confident that her children won’t be ignored, again.  “They have no behavior issues.  So they are usually shuttled into a corner and left to stare. That’s normal for them.”  She explained that she’s learned how to engage them but most people don’t even try.  While I endeavored to explain that our program is geared to minister to mentally challenged individuals, she ears and head heard but her heart was not listening.

There are probably several other reasons why she won’t come now.  But she will sometime in the future and the children will become more confident disciples of Christ.  God will work in her heart as I pray and reach out to her children.  She’ll begin to develop at trust level with The Special Gathering program because she really wants to be able to trust the Church, her church, again.

But for now, she won’t come.  And I don’t blame her.