My husband, Frank Howard, is a scientist who worked with NASA until he retired seven years ago.  He wrote a small manual called The Cryogenic Handbook.  My understanding is that it has become the reference manual for handling and working with cryogenics–which are super cold liquids, such as liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen.   Over the years, he garnered a reputation that spread around the world regarding his expertise in cryogenics.  However, as he sometimes reminds me, it’s not hard to be recognized around the world doing something that only a handful of people are doing.

While no one wants to be called an elitist, the reality is that there are only a handful of people who do what we do–evangelism and discipleship to people who are cognitively delayed.  When I began calling in Honolulu, a large metropolitan city, to find a ministry or a Sunday school class that taught mentally challenged people, I could find no such animal.  The pastor at First Baptist Church of Honolulu, one of the largest churches in the city, acknowledged, “Wow!  I never even thought about that population.  There is nothing that I know about; but there really should be.”  That experience isn’t unique.

Even more rare are people who are called as pastors or home missionaries to serve the developmentally disabled community in a full-time capacity.  Yet, it doesn’t mean that people who are called to ministry don’t have needs.  I’ve bonded with a small group of pastors who meet each week.  They love me and honor the people Special Gathering serves.  Even more, they support the ministry with their prayers and finances.  However, I am deeply grateful for the relationship that I am slowly developing with man and woman across the US and Canada who are serving–as I am–in full-time ministry.  Finding, like minds and kindred spirits is important. 

After returning from a visit to Joy Fellowship in Vancouver last week, I felt the need to put into writing what I had learned from the experience.  Joy Fellowship is similar but different from Special Gathering.  Some of the things are cultural–they hug more.  Some of the things are physical–they rent a building.  We beg and borrow.  The wonderful thing was that I found almost not spiritual differences.  They are excited to see the mentally challenged population coming into a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus–so are we.  They are concerned that their leadership grows spiritually–so are we.  They are careful about teaching the truths of the scripture–so are we. 

These principles are bonding points and we can learn from each other in regard to technique and practical application.  Who are the people that you trust to teach you what you need to know about ministry to people who are mentally challenged?  Do you have a support group that cares about your spiritual growth?  Does this group help to you weed through the thorny issues you face in ministry?

My husband has often said, “The best defense is a good offense.”  In fact, during our many arguments over the years, I came to believe that axiom was indeed his life’s guiding principle.  Because my husband’s name is Frank Howard, and Frank attended Clemson University during at a time when their football team was winning games and being coached by the great Coach Frank Howard, I secretly concluded my husband stole the coach’s philosophy as his own.

This week in our weekly devotions during our chapel programs, I thought it was time to take the offensive in regard to a problem that I believe exists within the mentally challenged community.  (I am the Area Director of The Special Gathering of Indian River, a ministry within the mentally challenged community.)  During our devotion, the area we explored was the problem of taking offense. 

It has been my experience that our members seem to take offense over the smallest things. 

“Jamie didn’t speak to me this morning.  Well…yes…she was being rushed to the hospital but she didn’t even wave.”

“Did your hear how George spoke to me?   I’m never going to speak to him again.  He can’t use that tone of voice with me.”  Offensive, George merely said, “Hi!”

While our members completely forgive people who have greatly offended them, they seem to make sky scrapers out of ant hills when it comes to tiny offenses.  Then in the middle of delivering my oration, I realized, I do the same thing.  

I cannot tell you how many times in my life I have been hurt, offended and reduced to tears by the tone of voice someone used when speaking to me.  Then, I get a phone call the next day from that person asking for prayer because he found out his wife was critically sick. 

I will fret for days because Susie Mae Brown didn’t speak to me.  Only to discover that she didn’t even see me. 

In fact, everyone I know, no matter what their IQ seems to take small things and make them monumental obstacles.  In my study of Matthew 18 this week, it is pretty clear that all of us tend to fall down that rabbit hole more than we want to admit.  You remember the story Jesus told about the King who forgave his servant of a $2,000, 000 debt only to discover that the servant would not forgive his peer who owed him the price of a MacDonald’s Iced Tea and Double Cheeseburger. 

To be completely honest and lest I cause someone offense, you need to know that this was not where my sermon was originally headed for that morning.  I stole my devotion thought from our Executive Director, Richard Stimson.  You see, on the fourth Friday of each month, our area directors prepare the next month’s sermons and then we gather and preach to each other.  We broadcast it by video cam via the internet to the Area Directors who don’t live in the immediate area.  After each sermon, we critique the content and delivery.  Usually, I am too busy scribbling notes and stealing ideas to get involved in the criticism part of Sermon Prep.  This month my great acqusition was Stimson’s sermon about offense.   

To steal from Stimson one more time, sometimes no one is at fault.  It may only be a difference of opinion.  There are people that I don’t agree with a lot that I say or do but that doesn’t make them wrong or me right.  It only means that we see things differently.  Taking offense in those cases would be futile.   

Somehow, we need to begin to take the offensive with offense.  When our members gasped as they heard about the servant who threw his peer into jail, I knew they got the point.  Perhaps even more important, so did I.  Taking offense is a cruel task master.  Never satisfied, always hunger for more.

Has there been a time that you have taken offense and later realized that your anger was misdirected?  Have you noticed this tendency in your members?  Are they more guilty than other people you have known are?  Than you are?