The song, “Riders on the Storm,” recorded in 1971 by the Doors invaded my mind this morning.  Perhaps I’m the only person in the US who can’t remember ever hearing this song.

My curiosity peaked by the title, I had to look up the lyrics.  Like many songs, some of the lyrics didn’t make sense to me.  However, the chorus is stunningly applicable to what happened a year ago.

Riders on the storm
Riders on the storm
Into this house we’re born
Into this world we’re thrown
Like a dog without a bone
An actor out alone
Riders on the storm

There is such amazing hope and despair coupled in these lyrics that my imagination was captured.  The songwriter says, we are riders on the storm.  Not tossed or turned in the storm but caught up riding above the storms of life.  However, once the hope is given, there is great despair because we are born to be thrown alone and lost.

One year ago today, my husband fell and broke his hip and leg.  He came home from an extended stay in the hospital and rehab centers on February 14, 2011 and died May 10.  I was only 10 feet from him when he fell; but we were in different rooms.  I bust through the door to find him sitting on the shower floor writhing in pain.  I knew he had broken his hip.  My first thoughts were our lives just radically changed.  Nevertheless, I had no idea how much change had stolen through our doorway.

From that moment, together he and I became riders on the storm, embracing and repelling the future with all our strength.  We laughed and cried in the same breath.  As his dementia accelerated, each moment became a bitter/sweet memory that I knew he would forget as soon as the hour passed.  I felt bitterly alone; yet surprisingly embraced second by second by Frank, our family and friends.  God’s wisdom was clearly working in our lives while the mystery of tomorrow became more and more clouded.

Often, God uses the secular to teach us His truths.  Today, I’m grateful to the Doors for their prophetic recording.  I ask God to bless them abundantly by leading them to know him through His Son, Jesus their Savior and Lord.

What about you?  Has there be one song–perhaps even a secular song–that God has used to help you through difficult circumstances?  Would you ever be able to use this teaching with your members who are mentally challenged?  How would you share this teaching?

Today, I heard again the Christmas song about the little boy who’s mother is dying on Christmas eve and he wants to buy her shoes to wear as she goes into heaven.  He doesn’t have enough money to buy the shoes and a person in line gives him the money he needs.  It’s never been my favorite Christmas song because of the obvious sentimentality.  The song was never realistic to me.  Yet, it deliberately strokes my heart strings with grief and sorrow.

However, I heard it in the context of a devotion by a pastor who shared the song.  He spoke about his wife who died of cancer when his two daughters were teenagers.  Unashamed, the Man of God cried as he read the words, remembering the first Christmas his daughters experienced without their mother.

Many people who are intellectually disabled come perplexed to the crossroads of Christmas with mixed emotions.  During this time, why struggle to walk in joy when it seems easier to become swallowed by grief? We must not forget that people who are mentally challenged may not have the cognitive ability or possess the navigational tools which help them to choose the joyful paths which help them experience peace as they remember loved ones lost through death or separation.

Distraction may be the best way to redirect their thoughts.  However, I try always to pray out loud for our members who are grieving during this time.  A hug and quick prayer for them works miracles.  The prayer I often pray is, “Father, bless my good friend as she grieves for her loss.  Help her to remember that her loved one is no longer in need of prayer.  Let her find your peace for today and for the rest of this joyful time.”  As I release them from the hug, I smile and encourage my member to also smile.

Does it always work?  Nope.  But at least he knows that God and I love him and God cares enough to take time to hear his prayer.  That is, of course, the work God has called us to to do.  What is something that you use to help your members who are grieving during Christmas?

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.

When the Biblical young woman, Ruth, married into a Jewish family she understood little about their ways, God or religion.  This is my supposition; but I base the conjecture on facts.  Moabites were shunned by the Israelis.  Decades before, Moab wronged the wandering tribes who desired to travel through their land.  This set up a national rivalry.  Israel was a young nation and were probably not accustomed to travel, especially to Moab.

As a famine devastated the land of Israel, a Judean took his wife and two sons to live temporarily in Moab where there was food.  In Moab, the small Jewish family of a mother, father and two sons grew to include two Moabite daughters-in-law.  Ruth was one of them.  At the end of ten years in Moab, the ranks of the family had diminished.  All the men had died.

By this time, Ruth had come to understand the ways of Judaism.  She was familiar with the customs and norms of her adopted family.  They were attractive and persuasive.

It is understandable that Naomi, now a widow and having limited means, would want to go back home to her home town, Bethlehem.  She had family there.  They would take care of her.

The Judean famine which propelled her young family to Moab was over.  Once again, there was food in Israel.  Naomi made the logical decision to go back to her roots.  The three widows set out on their journey.

Once in that process, it appears that Naomi had second thoughts about the daughters-in-law going with her.  Perhaps out of politeness, Naomi urged and even argued with the two younger women to go back to their Moab homes and their mothers.  One turned back.  But Ruth made a history-altering decision.  She opposed the idea of leaving Naomi against all reason.  She would go with Naomi and share in her fate.

Ruth said, “I will go where you go.  I will live where you live.  Your people will be my people.  Your God will be my God.”

The wonderfully attractive customs of Naomi and her God had drawn Ruth in such a magnetic way that she was willing to leave every thing, even her own security to follow Naomi.  The key to Ruth’s decision was her resolution to follow Jehovah.  “Your God will be my God.”

The Bible is not a book about religion.  It is about God’s relationship with men and women–usually in the context of families.  Too often we see the laws.  We want to magnify the do’s and don’t’s when God wants relationship.

Moab was a rejected nation.  God had told Israel to reject Moab.  Yet, God orchestrated circumstances to include Ruth in Jesus’ genealogy.  Ruth, a Moabite, was King David’s great-grandmother.  Jesus was a direct descendent of David.  The hated and rejected Moabite’s have a prominent position in the history of our Lord.

Within the disability community, there is a lot of rejection.  Perhaps this is one reason why people who are mentally challenged are often eager to hear about the good news of God’s love for them.  Their relationship with the Lord becomes a safe haven for them to grow and mature.

Our Father desires us to know that no matter what our customs or how limited our means and circumstances, He longs for a relationship with us.  Customs and finances are fluid. God’s grace never changes.  His desire for you to know Him is unchanging and everlasting.

Is there a time that you can remember that you were pressured beyond your ability to cope? There have been many for me.

As a child, my mother told me again and again that I was constantly burning the candle at both ends. For years, I had no idea what she meant. When I finally understood her, I was sure that I was getting ready to “burn out” at any moment because she had been giving me that dreaded warning for a decade.

It’s been many years since her stern predictions and I’m still burning.

I’ve found that God is my source and strength, especially in times of stress. We are preparing for Camp Agape which is May 23 to 26. There are many details for getting ready and for being responsible for 100 people and their safety.

Yet, again and again, I find the Lord going before me and preparing my way. I’ve learned to rest in Him and trust that He will make a way. And He always does even though my eyesight gets foggy and dim through the smoke my candle burning generates.

 

Read more: http://www.beliefnet.com/columnists/simplelife/2014/05/pressure-time.html#ixzz31vkjlINu Read more at http://www.beliefnet.com/columnists/simplelife/2014/05/pressure-time.html#PxUwgqSoxPWQxIIE.99

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.

350px-GW_BridgeAs a Special Gathering member sat on the George Washington Bridge that links New Jersey to New York City, she and her parents were irritated.   A terrible traffic jam was delaying their tour of the World Trade Center.  They had planned to be in the building before 9AM so that they could avoid the people coming to work.  Instead the three of them sat on the bridge like many of the employees who worked in the famous building.

The date was September 11, 2001 and that traffic jam saved their lives.

There are occasions that miracles appear as negative influences or occasions interrupting our lives and plans.  Later, we realize that God was working out these things for our good by allowing us to be caught in a traffic jam, to miss a plane or to forget an important appointment.

I’ve lost several “dream jobs” by a whisper because of one unavoidable circumstance or another. Yet, my true dream job was planned in the future when the Lord introduced me to The Special Gathering and our amazing members.

Paul and King AgrippaThe Bible shares many times that God works miracles through negative circumstances.  Paul was arrested and stayed in prison for several years paving his passage to Rome. Through the rough years when he remained behind bars, he encountered kings and governors who would have been out of his reach as a missionary.

While it’s hard to sit patiently in stalled traffic and even harder to imagine lost opportunities for advancement and promotion, we can be sure that if we have placed our lives in the hands of a faithful and loving Father, He can turn these negative experiences into megative miracles.

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

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