God Saves

Acts16:31

Central Theme:  God‘s provision is to rescue us from ourselves.

Introduction–Talk about how you have changed over the years; how gravity of getting you.  Everything on your body is falling.  One thing that has not changed is that 51 years ago Jesus saved me from my sins.  In a way, Jesus saved me from myself.

I.     Have a member read Acts 16:31.

A. Tell the story of Paul and the Phillipian jailer.

B. They were praying and singing and there was an earthquake.

C.      The jailer wanted to know what he must do to be saved.

D. Paul told a simple way.

1.  God did not make salvation complicated.

2. When my daughter Carol was five years old, she old an adult who was a new Christian who didn’t understand something from the Bible, “Tell me what you don’t understand and I will explain it to you.”

II.     The steps to receiving Jesus are not hard but simple.

A. When I attended our last course to receive my  master’s degree, it was on evangelism (which is how to tell people about Jesus).

1.  Telling people about God’s love used to be hard for me but not now because Jesus has done so much that I have a lot to talk about.

2.  The more I love Jesus, the more I know that he has saved me from myself.

A. He wants to change me and make me a better person.

B. In the many months that my mother was in the hospital, people were drawn to my mother‘s room because they knew something was different about her.

B. When we tell others about Jesus we are being changed ourselves.

1.  Paul did not have to tell the Philippian jailer that he was different.

A. His life told him.

B. Jesus had save Paul from himself and made him more like Jesus.

Conclusion:  Jesus can make us different people by saving us.

As I knew he would, Chad squealed when he heard my voice on the phone.  “Linda! You called me!”

I had called in response to a request from a staff member at his group home.  She asked if I would come to see Chad who had been admitted to the hospital today because of seizures. As I talked to the group home staff,  I realized it was almost 9pm and I am an hour away.  I promised to visit him tomorrow.  “He’s asking to see you.  I know that you can’t come tonight but would you call him?” she asked.

Chad and I talked for a few minutes and I promised to come to the hospital tomorrow.  “Bring my friend when you come,” he pleaded.

“Chad, I can’t bring Mark.  He’ll be at school when I come.”  Chad is an active participant of The Special Gathering in Vero.  He is 35 years old and Mark is his best friend at our Vero program, which is a ministry within the mentally challenged (developmentally disabled) community.  We do classic ministry, evangelism and discipleship.

Mark is 19 and these two young men formed a comradeship during our van route each Saturday.  Mark is not very verbal which suits Chad fine because he talks more than any three people should.  Chad chatters and Mark laughs, grunts or smiles at the appropriate times.  As they part late each Saturday afternoon, Chad will say, “I love you, Mark.”  And Mark will say, “I love you.”  Their friendship is genuine and touching.

At Chad’s request, I promised to call Mark and ask him to pray for his friend.  Within minutes, I was speaking to Mark’s mother.  “Chad, Mark’s friend from Special Gathering, is in the hospital.  He wanted me to call Mark and ask Mark pray for him.”

“What?” Mark’s mother asked, not quite understanding my request.  I repeated Chad’s question.  This time Mother understood and she was emotionally shaken.  “I’ll have him pray,” she said, in a broken voice.  I understood. There was joy in her emotions.

Before Mark came to Special Gathering, his mother had confided to me that he had only one or two friends.  Now, a friend needed Mark’s help in prayer.  The acidic bitterness of loneliness is something that we all taste in our lifetimes.  But loneliness can be the throbbing, constant pain with which our members reside.  We desire that Special Gathering be a safe place for our members.  I am so thankful that it has become not only a safe place for Mark but a place where his prayers are needed and wanted.

Do you struggle with loneliness?  Do you know someone who wrestle with the specter of being left alone?  Can you help them find friendship and meaning?  What was your most difficult time of loneliness?

Over the years, I’ve gleaned so many working principles from leaders–more than I could ever begin to write.  On Friday, October 14, a group of ministry leaders met at Chicago O’Hare Airport.  We spent the day gleaning from each other.

It is a beneficial day for me.  As I recall and review the interactions, I realize there was an overarching principle that I pray will reshape my life and my leadership skills.

Sitting among these gracious and loving women and men I know they have given their lives and fortunes to a population that most people in the world have either thrown away or ignored.  During lunch, as we munched on really, bad pizza, I was taken back to my first interaction with a national leader.

I was about 21 years old, married, with one child.  Because I had served as the church secretary at 19, I was an active member and considered a potential leader of our congregation.  Therefore, when it came time to elect people to attend a national conference for our denomination that was being held in our state, I was asked to be a representative.  Excited about the opportunity, I agreed to serve.

One speaker struck me as I sat in the audience of the large, ornate church hosting the conference.  She oozed with graciousness, confidence and godliness.  She spoke with grace and clarity.  I leaned forward in my seat wanting to hear more.  Her report was just as boring as all the others; but SHE was the attraction for me.  Deep inside, this was the person I wanted to be when I grew up.

I was totally dumbfounded when I rushed into the ladies’ room later in the day to be facing this leader who had so impressed me.  Again, I was impressed by her but in the opposite direction.  She was cold and aloof with the women who crowded into the small area.  Deliberately ignoring and shunning the little people who wanted to interact with her, I gleaned from her actions that she felt as though they only wanted to take and devour a piece of her.

I was bitterly disappointed as I watched her wait in line, straightening her skirt.  Without making eye contact, she washed her hands, put on her lipstick, and left.  Undaunted, I approached her and thanked her for the devotional report.  She stared right through me, barely grunting without a smile.  Her performance was as perfect in these crowded quarters as it had been on stage.  However, in contrast, among the women she was leading, everything about her screamed, “Leave me alone!”

Please understand even that day, I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.  Everyone has a bad patch.  She had lots of pressure on her; and she simply didn’t have time to interact with everyone.  But I learned from her a great lesson; and it was enforced by the leaders who congregated in the humble meeting at the Chicago airport.

Leadership is not taught.  Leadership is caught.  The attitude and actions of leaders scream out to others.  Their words and teachings merely speak.

Nella Uitvlugt, Executive Director of Friendship Ministries

In Chicago on Friday, as national leaders within the mentally challenged community went around the table to share their vision for ministry, it was their attitude that struck me.  Each one was hungry for fellowship with comrades in action.  Each person said, “I will never retire.  I will die doing this ministry.”  Each person spoke of a future where people with intellectual disabilities find in the arms of the Church a loving and warm haven from the rejection of the world.  Each leader’s heart enunciated in action–not word–the love of a Savior whose passion is that no person be left in the cold wandering from their home in heaven.

From these leaders, I caught a renewed vision of Christ’s love and a fresh yearning for my leadership skills to become more developed in the area of graciousness and love.  I want my actions and attitude to scream out to a lost and dying world, “Jesus loves you.  This I know for the Bible tells me so.”

Have you thought about this?  What does my staff need to know in order to run a safe program?  What information do we need to harvest from our members to be able to access emergency information?

There are two schools regarding this issue.  First, if you don’t have any information, you may not be liable.  There is a club that runs in the middle of our state.  These are good folks wanting to do good things for the mentally challenged community.  They don’t have any information about the people they bring together for entertainment.

Second, gather as much information as you believe owill be enable you to run a safe program.  At Special Gathering, we worked with many nurses and social workers (support coordinators) to be able to determine what we needed.  These are the things we were told by many professionals that would be needed.

  1. Name of the members
  2. Address, City, State and Zip code
  3. e-mail address of closest relative or staff
  4. main phone number
  5. Date of birth
  6. Name of closest relative
  7. Address, city, state and zip of closest relative
  8. Home, work, cell and any other phone number
  9. Persons to notify in case of emergency (other than closest relative)
  10. Home, work, cell and other phone numbers of emergency person
  11. Name, phone number of support coordinator
  12. Information regarding the person competency status.  (This is a confusing area.  The best question to ask is:  Have you been adjudicated incompetent by a court of  law?
  13. Name and phone numbe rof guardian
  14. List of chronic medical conditions.  Also, a list of procedures necessary if the condition worsens while at Special Gatheirng
  15. Does the person have seizures
  16. List all allergies
  17. List all medications.

Additionally, because of HIPPA Law, we ask that a Consent to Release Confidential Information form be filled out.  This form includes:

  1. Individual’s name
  2. Date of Birth

Statement to support coordinator:  I do hereby authorize the Agency for Person with Disabilities or its representatives to release the information check below from my records, or those of my child, or the individual for whom I am legal guardian.

In the form have these items pre-checked:

For Healthy and Safety

  1. Medications
  2. Allergies
  3. Emergency contacts
  4. Seizure activity
  5. Emergency contact information
  6. Notification of adjudication of incompetency
  7. Notification of change of Support Coordinator (or social worker).

For Pastoral Care

  1. Notification of Hospitalization
  2. Notification of Death in the family
  3. Notification of other sadness

Include name and address of ministry staff who will be responsible for recording this information.  Signatures should include:

  1. Signature of individual
  2. Signature of parent/guardian
  3. Signature of witness (if signed iwth a mark)

The third form is a Support Coordinator Release letter  It should look like this:

Dear (The name of the person’s support coordinator should be put on a line and will need to be  explained on the form)

I am a member of The Special Gathering.  I would like The Special Gathering to be kept up to date with any health concerns that may be needed in an emergency, such as midicine I take and allergies I have.

I would also like The Special Gatheirng to be notified in case I need pastoral care.  If I am sich or hospitalized, if there is a death of a joved one or of other sadness.

The Special Gathering worked with two support coordinators in desinging this release form, but if you have one you would rather use, please bring it to me to sign.

I would also request that you reissue this release form every year at my support form.

Sincerely,

________________                                  _________________________________

Member signature                                        Parent of guardian sign

Date                                                                     Date

The fourth form is a simple statement signed by the member what states that they do not want to give any information to Special Gathering.

Except for a member’s salvation, there are few things that are more important than the safety of our members.  As our executive director, Richard Stimson said, “We cannot survive a breach of confidence within the community.”  God blesses those who are wise enough to prepare for the harsh weather

I’m not telling you anything new.  God wants us to be and then we will do.  It isn’t that God is against doers.  However, he knows that doers become rigid and pharisees, pointing a finger at everyone who doesn’t live up to our standards.  Or we become lazy and guilt-ridden pharisees, requiring others to do what we have failed to do.  Therefore, God goes after our hearts and requires us to be.  …to be witnesses …to be my people …to be the children of God.

Of course, we all have our TO DO lists.  We place them in our top shirt pocket so that they are easily accessible.  They are positioned in our day-timers, Treos or Blackberries at the top of the calendar page.  We may hold them in our minds, rehearsing them as we do through the day.

In June of 2006, I was challenged by Chip Ingram, the radio and TV teacher, to make a TO BE list.  You see if you become something, then you will do it automatically.  I don’t need a list to be a mother.  I am a mother.   My list on how to do wife would be much too long.  My husband is content for me to be his wife.

Driving down I-95, I listened and God spoke to my heart regarding this list.  Ingram was gracious enough to give some examples from his TO BE LIST.  I don’t remember what they were but I was inspired to make my own list as soon as I got home.

My list contained 13 things.  These are that I knew God wanted me to be and things that I wanted to be.  They are:

  1. a woman of God.
  2. a wife.
  3. a person of prayer and the word of God.
  4. a friend to my child, grandchildren and all people God puts in my life.
  5. a pastor.
  6. an evangelist.
  7. a giver.
  8. a person who is physically and mentally fit.
  9. a hostess.
  10. a writer.
  11. a choir director.
  12. a teacher/preacher of God’s word.
  13. a gardener.

For more than a year, this list became part of my devotions.  I would rehearse them each day.  Some of them were simple.  Number two was:  To be a godly, kind, gracious and wise wife who loves unconditionally.  Number eight was:  To be a person who is physically and mentally fit.  Others were pretty intricate.  Number one:  To be a woman of God who lives in integrity and love so others will see Jesus in me and desire God’s grace.

I am not a gifted evangelist.  In fact, the joke in all the churches where I’ve held positions has been,  “If Linda invites them, they WILL NOT come.”  If someone else could get them there, I could almost always keep them because I knew how to be a pastor.  However, I’ve always desired to be an evangelist.  I wanted to be able to easily lead people into a salvation experience.

Don’t get me wrong, I have helped hundreds of people into a saving relationship with Jesus but I am acutely aware that this was not one of the gifts God gave me.  Yet, it’s always been something I wanted to be able to do.  Therefore, number six on my list became:  To be an evangelist who is able to lead people to God’s unconditional, agape love and salvation. 

Another thing that I knew needed to be was my number 10:  To be a writer whose works are able to bless many people.  One of my gifts is writing.  However, I had let that gift languish for too many years.  During the past few years in my sleep, I would occasionally dream that someone else was taking care of a boy child that God had given to me.  When I would awaken, I always knew that this was my writing.

I felt that the time had come for me to begin writing again.  But I needed an outlet and a purpose.  I wanted to write about Special Gathering, which is a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  Again, I wasn’t sure how or where to begin.

In the past two years, God has allowed both of these heart-dreams on my list to come into being.  The specialgathering webloghas opened interesting doors for my writing.  Daily, I require myself to be disciplined enough to make an entry.  I’ve had 10 magazine articles published.

In addition, the Lord has led me to become a part-time chaplain at two local restaurants.  I am able to share the love of Jesus with these wonderful young people almost daily.  These are truly heart-dreams that God has allowed to come into being.

This is the difference between the TO BE list and the TO DO list.  It moves us from the requirements of the law into the grace of God’s loving purpose for each of us.

Have you ever thought of starting a TO BE list?  What are your dreams?  Do they belong on your TO BE list?

Perhaps one of the greatest strengths that the Special Gathering model of ministry brings to the Church is uniting the community of believers to minister to a cloistered, sub-culture.  It has been said by local churches, “A wheelchair ramp wasn’t enough.  We went to the expense of making our church accessible but disabled people didn’t come.”  (Of course, a ramp is not enough but that is a discussion for another day.)

However, what is working is the model of ministry which The Special Gathering uses.  Special Gathering is a ministry within the mentally challenged community, whose mission is to evangelize and disciple the population they serve.   A prime example of the effectiveness of this model of ministry is The Special Gathering of Cocoa which meets at First Baptist Church of Merritt Island, Florida. 

Every Sunday morning approximately 80 to 100 persons who are developmentally delayed arrive at First Baptist.   The Special Gathering targets persons who are developmentally delayed in the  in the same way Youth for Christ targets teenagers, and Campus Crusades targets college students.

On any given Sunday, vans from different local churches pull up to drop off members of The Special Gathering.  There are about 30 churches in Central Brevard County that make this local ministry possible through their financial support.  They also contribute their facilities and vehicles.  The most essential element to any ministry, volunteers, who are capable ministers of the Word, also come from these contributing churches.

Vans from different denominations pull up and drop off their Special Gathering members.  This is the Church community working hand-in-hand to provide the spiritual needs of this important people’s group.  Vans come from Assemblies of God, United Methodist, Presbyterian, Christian and Lutheran churches.  Amazingly, the Assembly of God church van is driven by a Presbyterian; the Presbyterian van is driven by a Pentecostal; the Christian van, by a Roman Catholic; and the Lutheran van, by a member of Calvary Chapel.

Most of the members of The Special Gathering do not live in group homes but in the community with their families.  Each van picks up the people who live in their geographic area.  Often these families do not attend the church who owns the van.  While the members of their churches are being picked up by a van from another church.  Some members also arrive by public and group home transports.  Families provide rides.  A few Special Gathering members drive themselves to the church.

Once there, their organizational plan is similar to many evangelical congregations.  As members enter the building, they divide into different Bible study classes.  The divisions conform to the different interest and abilities of the classes’ members. 

Two of the classes focus on expository Bible study using an easy to read translation of the Bible, The New Century Version.  Other classes are topical, using Southern Baptist Access study materials.   These topical study units conform more acutely to the members’ differing interests and abilities. 

After the 30-minute Bible study classes adjourn, everyone convenes in the chapel for a 45-minute worship service.  The order of worship is intended to reinforce the lesson taught in the Bible study classes.  Understanding that their mentally challenged members learn through visual, tactical, and/or psycho-motor experiences, the services embraces a wide range of worship experiences.

The Special Gathering of Central Brevard is staffed by 18 volunteers, two of which come from First Baptist of Merritt Island.  Special Gathering also has a paid director, Rev. Richard Stimson, who serves as their pastor.  He serves in much the same way a youth pastor ministers to the teenagers and young adults in a local congregation.  His salary is composed of support from the 30 church in Central Brevard who contribute financial reinforcement.  He also serves a second chapel in the neighboring town in Titusville, Florida.  Eight Special Gathering chapels are an outgrowth of these two chapels.  The eight programs serve as many as 700 mentally challenged persons.  More than 450 persons attend these outposts of evangelism and discipleship each week.

The Special Gathering of Central Brevard started 25 years ago with four members, using a lodge in Cocoa, Florida as a meeting place.  Since then they have met in various places, including The ARC of Brevard and Cocoa United Methodist Church.  Rockledge Presbyterian Church gives them office space.  The bookkeeper from Calvary Chapel of Merritt Island is responsible for administration of the finances.

A true extension of local churches, The Special Gathering has never sent a fund-raising letter asking for money to anyone.  It is The Special Gathering’s view that God ordained the local church to minister within the local community and that they should not by-pass the authority of the local congregations to solicit money directly from church members. 

The ministry believes that people should give their tithes and offerings to the local church.  In turn, The Special Gathering is funded through the local church as The Special Gathering is placed in the budgets of these churches.  The Special Gathering serving in two states and four counties in Florida has proven that they are steward of their finances. 

Have you seen that community outreach is good for your special needs ministry?  Are there other ways to reach out to the Church helping them to see the spiritual needs of the mentally challenged community?

God wants you to have the courage to stand up for Him

II Thessalonians 2:15

Central Theme:  God wants you to stand up for what you believe about Him.

Introduction–I believe that chocolate is good and I will tell anyone who will listen.  I talk about it all the time.  But chocolate won’t change anyone’s life.  I want to have the courage to stand up for the thing that will radically change the life of others. Have a member read II Thessalonians 2:15. 

I.     Tell the story of Gideon.

A. The Midianites were ruling over his county.

B. God told him to become a mighty warrior and fight them.

C. Gideon was able to fight against an entire army with only 300 men because he was willing to stand up for God.

1.  He did not have to fight but to stand with a trumpet and a candle.

II.     God does not always want us to fight with others about our faith.

A. Sometimes he just wants to firm in what we believe about Him.

B. Times during work, we should be Christ-like but maybe not talk about Jesus.

C. Standing firm is not a cop out.  It may be what we need to do at certain times.

1.  Tell about when the neighbors were getting together and their language was bad.  I complained and said that I was going to tell them that I didn’t like it.  My good friend said, “Don’t correct them.  Just don’t use bad language yourself.  They will know that you don’t like it.”

III.     How do you stand firm.

1.  Don‘t join in when others are sinning.

A. Don’t talk when other are gossiping–change the subject.

B. I was convicted of gossiping because a good friend would not join in.

2.  Smile and be polite but don‘t change how you feel.

IV.     Standing firm is not as hard as talking about Jesus.

1.  Sometimes it is what God wants us to do.

Conclusions:  Chocolate is good and so is standing up for what I believe.