airportToday, I’m headed home from a vacation that seemed long when I planned it; but then it was over more quickly than I could have imagined.  Other family will arrive soon and I’ll need to work around their vacation schedule.  I’ve been in Chattanooga, a wonderful place, especially since my granddaughter is here. But I’m happy to be going home.

A good friend and member of Special Gathering often went with her family on cruises.  She fretted and squirmed every time she left.  “Please pray for me!” she’d plead from the moment the cruise was planned.  “I’m going on a cruise to the Bahama’s and I really need your prayer.”

bridge in ChattanoogaI would laugh at her anxiety.  “Pray for you?  You need to pray for us.  We’re staying here, working and planning and paying bills.  You’ve going to paradise.”

Then we would laugh at her situation and she would be calm for a few days.

Most of us have anxious moments when we leave the safely of our home grounds.  Routines become important whether we are small children or decades past the age of accountability.  My observations have been that between 18 and 38 men and woman are excited about wandering.  Then, a creepy feeling seeps into our bones that screams, “Wait! You are interrupting my life with this misadventure.”

I’m often fascinated by people who leave house and home after the age of 60 to roam to unknown places.  Can you imagine how difficult it was for Abraham to obey God who told him to leave and travel to an unknown place out yonder…some where?

earthAs a child, I thought it was odd that people would ask for extra prayer when they traveled.  Didn’t God go with them?  Isn’t Christ omnipresent?  I felt that people were saying that they believed that God lived only in their neighborhood and He only attended their church.  Later, I came to understand that travel sometimes means accidents and uncertainty.

Emmanuel may be the main message of Christ’s birth.  God is with us.  Whether I’m sitting by a fire in Chattanooga or watching the winter waves on the Space Coast of Florida.  He is with Natalie in Spain.  Dave and Andy didn’t leave God when they went to share the gospel in China.  Jesus has arrived and He is with me.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow!  Christ is born.  Emmanuel!

live pageantHow do you tell the Christmas story to a group of people who are intellectually disabled?  Of course, this is a dilemma no matter where your ministry lies.  If you are a parent, can you make the story fresh to your growing brood?  If you preach to a congregation of 10,000, what is the method you will use to keep the message relevant while remain true to the gospel message? Each year I try to find a different way to share the story of God’s love incarnated into a man to the programs I shepherd at The Special Gathering which is a ministry within the mentally challenged community.

This year, I told the story using members who are least  physically able to respond as the characters.  I joked and laughed with them, sharing as humorously as possible the in’s and out’s of the Biblical account.  Because I work with three different programs at Special Gathering, each reenactment had different characters and each one was vastly different because of the diverse personalities that made up the “casts.”

angelIn each program, there was one person whose personality shined through when selected.  I chose the people at random asking them to participate as their character was introduced.  Mary was a young woman who is extremely low functioning in one of our enactments.  Everyone attending applauded when I selected her. Her smile told the story of her delight and her smile carried the action through until the end.

The first time we had our presentation, there was a small group of 17 people.  Therefore, we had one angel who came to Mary, Joseph and the shepherds.  This person was animated and funny.  His flair for the dramatic was obvious.  After he had spoken to Mary, I said, “Then the angel disappeared.”  He looked at me quizzically and shrugged his shoulders, acting as though I expected him to disappear.  “Can’t you even disappear?”  I asked.   He pretended to try to disappear.  “What kind of angel are you?”  I asked.  Again, he mischievously responded with a great deal of humor and delight.

Each time he “appeared” the audience laughed with pleasure at his antics and showmanship.  We played off each other and I took my cues from his facial expressions and movements.  We all laughed all through the actions because of his good humor.

At our largest program, there were more than 50 people from which to draw.  Mary was a higher functioning young woman She does not walk or speak.  We call her the “queen” because everyone loves her so much that we fight over who will serve her and push her wheelchair.

Charlie BrownThe surprise, however, was the man I chose to be Joseph.  This Joseph is an amazing actor.  He, too, is physically disabled.  He navigates with a walker.  Extreme palsy plagues the movements of his body, making them exaggerated with spasms and violent jerks.  Yet, in front of an audience, this Joseph came alive with expression and animation.  He was the attentive lover.  His visage stormed with disappointment and anger, when he heard about Mary’s pregnancy.  His face showed shock at the angel visitation; then his movements turned to extreme tenderness toward Mary.

I keep the story simple but embellishing it with the emotions that each character must have felt.  Laughter and silliness are the mark of the day.  Of course, I don’t make fun of the details of the story but, like this year, there is always someone who wants to play the clown and I play off of their ability to laugh at an awkward situation or a unique situation.

After we laugh and play, I turn the story to the seriousness of Jesus’ sacrifice.  The good news of God’s love for us is amplified by the birth and life of this humble god-man who was born in order that he might die for us.

Ethel was a Bible teacher at Special Gathering.  Additionally, she wrote many books for the mentally challenged community and they were published in our monthly newsletter.  Ethel and I shared a passion for writing and Special Gathering.  Therefore, we became good friends through our shared ministry concerns.  In addition, we both excelled at “going to lunch” and we practiced that part of our friendship often.

Ethel wrote for our monthly newsletter “Connecting Point,” and she was incredibly faithful in her efforts.  Even after she moved to Volusia County, Ethel always met our deadlines; and she wrote with great skill and feeling for the special needs population.
As a Bible teacher, Ethel could not be matched.  She taught the Scriptures with a keen eye for truth and clarity.  Her class was a verse-by-verse discussion study for our readers.  It has become the model for our leadership and readers classes.
My first view of Ethel came 22 years ago through Sarah, her daughter who was mentally challenged.  It was my first year at Camp Agape, our annual ministry retreat.  Sarah was my bunk mate.  I had the top bunk and she had the bottom.
On Sunday afternoon, after two days of camp, I thought I was too tired to climb to the top bunk.  Therefore, I decided to lay on Sarah’s bottom bed, thinking that she would never notice or understand.  I was wrong!
Sarah came into the cabin and jumped me.  “Get off my bed,” she insisted. “You can’t get on my bed!”  Ethel had taught Sarah well.  It is vital for our population to understand their rights and Sarah knew that I was an intruder and she wasn’t intimidated by me.  Ethel treated Sarah as an adult, and she allowed Sarah the dignity of being valued for being a child of the Lord.
One year, in touring our campgrounds, Ethel asked Sarah what she liked best about camp.  Immediately, Sarah said, “Pool.”
Shocked, Ethel said, “You don’t know how to play pool.”  Sarah walked over to the pool table and demonstrated to her mother that she certainly did know how to play the game.  Ethel laughed, “Guess she showed me.”
Ethel was never willing to compromise her faith.  Yet, she shared the message of Jesus with compassion and great love.  Her greatest legacy is her faith in Christ and love for all people but especially for the men and women who knew and loved her through her ministry within the mentally challenged community.

Each day, as a Christian, my struggle with life revolves around the question.  How do I please the Lord?  Paul met with this problem while ministering God’s grace  to the churches spread all across Asia Minor and Europe.  He spoke boldly to the Galatians and Romans.  His letters carried a fist full of truth striking hard while revealing the heart of the Gospel to a church that sought her own way.  Again and again, he admonished, “Don’t turn the simplicity of the gospel message into a hard and difficult road of works.”

For Paul, there were several non-negotiables.  The first and foremost was our bend as humans to turn everything into a Pharisaical Law.  Making the simple hard.  Regulations telling us what we eat.  What we drink.  All these things were fodder for the Adamic mind to turn into can’s and cannot’s.  Men who were schooled in the Law were thrilled to provide teachings which transformed our relationship with Christ into a set of do’s and do not’s.  Congregations who had been set free from the tyranny of the Law pleasantly sipped the soothing soup of regulations.

Paul’s anger could not be appeased by human arguments.  He was compelled to speak boldly against this gaping violation of the true nature of Christ’s Gospel.  He spoke vibrant words of strength in dealing with this hideous tendency to turn our relationship forged by God’s grace and Christ’s blood into a mere set of regulations.  The Holy Spirit working through Paul would not allow God’s merciful sacrifice to become a common book of rules changed and manipulated by mankind.

It is the genius of God that he has fashioned salvation as a process that man can never achieve through our own efforts or desires.  We must yield to Christ’s love to see the completion of our journey of faith.  As our walk with Christ progresses, we find that each day is another opportunity for surrender and turn from our own legalistic desires.  I must willingly yield my life, keeping the simplicity of the Gospel simple.  In this way, our will becomes enfolded into the grace of Christ which never disappoints or leads us into bondage.

What is real Power?

Acts 3:6

Central Theme:  The power to effect lives is real power.

Introduction–I called up a young couple with a new baby and we had a baby dedication.

I.     Have a member Read Act 3:6.

A. Tell the story of Peter and the man who was sitting at the temple gate and he could not walk.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Peter prayed and God healed the man at the gate of the temple.

              B. God wants us to effect and change lives in the same way that Peter was able to effect the man who was healed.

C. Peter said, “I don’t have any money but what I have I can give.  In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.  Peter gave what he had.  In the same way, God wants us to give what we have.

II.     Not many of us will do this kind of miracle.

A. But we can do a miracle that is just is great.

B.  We can effect the lives of other people.  Baby Liz will grow up needing people who love her.  We can do that.

C. Love has the power to change lives.

III.     Don’t spend your lives looking for something big to do.

A. Spend your lives looking for someone to love.

B.  We can love the unlovely–not just the people who are pleasing, like this little baby.

C. We can reach out as Peter did and touch others.

Conclusion–Reach out to the little ones, the hurting people and do a miracle through your love.

Yesterday was filled with back-to-back meetings.  I got on the road at 7AM for my first meeting which was 50 miles away.  I criss-crossed two counties zipping from one meeting to another. I finished my day and meetings at 5PM.  While I wasn’t pushed to be on time yesterday, I usually leave my first Thursday meeting later than I plan which leaves Thursday as a “push day.”

Haven’t you noticed that while God is always on time, he is never in a “push for time.”  He is never in a hurry. Moses felt a burden for Israel and perhaps even a call of God as a young prince in Egypt.  After killing an Egyptian, he fled the country. Then he languished for 40 years in a self-imposed, desert/prison before God gave him a burning bush and a job assignment.

Joseph was thrown in prison for more than two decades before God allowed him to be released and facilitate the survival of Jacob and his family.

It was 400 years before Israel was released from Egypt.

The examples go on and on.  In my life, God clearly spoke to my heart regarding ministry within the intellectually disabled community.  He said to me, “This is what I have called you to do.”  However, it was 21 years before he opened the door for me to do this ministry.  I know now that God was right on time.  There were many years of training, teaching and corralling that was needed to bridle this bucking, unruly mare.

I am uncertain about many of the ways of the Lord.  However, a friend taught me a valuable lesson years ago.  She said to me, “Linda, God is never in a hurry.  He has an eternity.  The enemy of our souls is always in a hurry.  If you feel rushed, you may not be in God’s will.”

She advised that when I feel rushed I should stop.  Reevaluate and seek God.  That advice has helped me time and time again.

My good friend, Danielle, once told me, “It is obvious that God put you and your husband, Frank together because he is never in a hurry; and you are always rushing.”  It was true.  Frank walked and talked slowly.  He conducted business as a methodical, maddeningly slow process. He was a good monitor for me.  Often, I must remind myself.  Slow it down.  God isn’t in a hurry. Why are you?

After ten days in Hawaii and 2 days of travel, I got off the plane ready to GO!  I thought I had choir practice in four hours.  After I found there was no choir, I continued to work.  There was plenty to do preparing for the next two days of ministry at Special Gathering.  We are a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  Our objective is evangelism and discipleship of this important sub-culture.

Things went well.  I even slept.  Then Monday came.   Sunday was a less-sleep night, with two hours, rather than my usual six to seven.  Chalking it up to jet-lag, I endeavored to keep moving.  I had a schedule of things that needed to be done.  On top of my list was preparing a month of sermons.  I had one of the sermons finished.  Therefore, there were only four more to go.  This usually takes about two hours.

Strangely, it took all day for me to complete this familiar task.  There were program problems; but I can’t blame everything on Bill Gates.  I simply wasn’t able to get back into my work routine.

Understand, I am a huge supporter of rest.  The only commandment Christians break with spiritual glee is “Remember the Sabbath day…”  We never acknowledge the week-long feast days the Law requires. Even the Jewish people ignored the seventh year of prescribed rest and the 50th Year of Jubilee.  I know that we are no longer under the bondage of the Law.  But the Spirit of the Law should live and reign in our hearts.

Therefore, I firmly believe in the importance of taking time for rest, reflection and relaxation.  However, at the end of the vacation, I’m ready to get back to a productive work day which is why I was distressed that I was not able to print my sermons at 6:30pm or 7:00 or 7:30.  I hoping that today will be a more productive day.  However, whether I’m able to complete my yesterday’s list or not “This is the day that the Lord has made.”  I will rejoice and be glad in it.