last supperAfter the men had gathered for their last supper together, Jesus made a shocking statement to his followers.  In the light of who he was–mighty God, the Messiah, the Christ and Savior of the world–Jesus’s announcement is a total departure from the relationship mankind had previously experienced with God.  He said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.  I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business.  Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:13 and 15).

building friendshipAs we contemplate and meditate on this astonishing declaration, our hearts must swell with joy and acceptance of our new exalted position of Friends of God.  This friendship must change us, however.  We come to understand the depth of the riches of God and the depth of his love for all people, releasing us to love in a new way.  Friendship has become a holy endeavor, initiated by God and perfected in His love and sacrifice.

With that in mind, as we approach people, there are some caution signs attached to friendship.  Here are nine Don’t’s of developing a committed friendship.

1.  Don’t wait for others to reach out to you.  Our lives must be an extension of God’s heart that is always ready to receive the broken-hearted, the lovely and the ugly alike.

2.  Don’t share just facts with your friends.  Share feelings.  Let people know YOUR joys and sorrows.  Your hurts and misgivings.

rejected friendship shirt3.  Don’t expect everyone to like you.  I learned that people either love me or hate me.  There is no in-between.  This became a valuable lesson in maturity.  I’m no longer hurt by folks who don’t know me but who reject me.  It’s a fact of  my life.  And harshly speaking, it is a fact of your life.  Not everyone wants to be friends with us.

4.  Don’t expect your friend’s friend to be your friend.

5.  Don’t be quick to voice your own opinions.  Some–perhaps many–things are best left unsaid.

6.  Don’t harbor unforgiveness or bitterness over offenses.  Peel away the hurt of a careless remark.  Stomp until dead the pains of neglect that come into every friendship.

7.  Don’t share negative information about others.

8.  Don’t expect a friend to be your source for love, significance or security.  Only God can give you that.

9.  Don’t let a friend take the place of the Lord.

In dealing with persons who are mentally challenged, it is vital to understand that they often do not have the cognitive ability to understand the fine nuances of friendship.  This means that certain boundaries may be necessary for you to set.  In the opposite direction, you may experience that their responses to  your friendship overtures may be overlooked.  Friendship with a person with special needs is a great privilege and joy.  Their friendships are worth taking the time and energy to develop.

climbing without ropesEach of us has been given a plan for our lives.  For most, that blueprint remains a mystery and a puzzle.  We wander back and forth unsure of our footing or grasp.  Much like a mountain climber who has no safety rope or pick, we inch our way through life fearing each move.  There is challenge and fear because we know that one wrong move will plunge us to a certain death.

Yet, there is little doubt that God has a plan for our lives.  It is an inexpugnable promise that glares from every page of the scriptures.  God’s direct intervention our lives is a glorious road map that leads to an abundant life.  It remains a mystery to me why we so often forget the guiding Hand that desires to nurture, lead and guide us, falling instead before the idols of selfishness, doubt and uncertainty.

roadmapGod’s plan for our lives must be the destination of our travels.  Twenty years before I was asked to be on staff at The Special Gathering, which is a ministry within the mentally challenged community, the Lord told me his plan.  I was reading Corrie ten Boon’s book about the ministry she had before the war.  Dante Corrie was the pastor to people in her community who were mentally challenged.  God spoke to me as I read, “This is what I’ve called you to do.”

Twenty years of training lay ahead of me before I was to do this work; yet, He never forgot his plan for me.  I must admit that I tried to bring about God’s plan and failed miserably several times.  Then after 15 years or so, I decided that I had missed the Lord and would never be able to fulfil God’s true plan for my life.  I put the plan on a top shelf and forgot.  While still following God’s direction, I forgot the plan.  But God didn’t.  He continued my training.

When His time came, I was introduced to Rev. Richard Stimson, founder and executive director of Special Gathering and I came to the ministry to write a book for him.  From the moment I walked into my first chapel program, I knew that I’d come home.

The book was never published; but I never left.  After a few months, the Lord gently spoke to my heart, “Remember.  I told you this is what I’d called you to do.”  I feel the Lord allowed me to forget that calling because when I remembered, it was another firm confirmation that I was walking in God’s plan for my life.

direction signCounselors are told that the best thing you can do is to allow a troubled person to talk.  In so doing, the person discovers for herself the true reason from her distress and the answer to the problem that lies deep inside of each person.  Of course, as Christ followers, we desire to know God’s plan for us and not our capricious way.  But we each know.  It may be hidden and lost in the training.  Perhaps, in frustration or fear of failure, we put in on a shelf, waiting for God’s timing.

But God does not forget.  If we are desiring to follow him and we love his ways, God will continue to direct us into his plan..into his way.  Then at the right time, he will nudge us and whisper into our spirits, “Remember where you are going.  This is the way.  Walk in it.”

looking at her watchShe is never early.  Always late.  He cannot speak without using offensive or vulgar expressions.  “I’M marching to a different drummer” is her excuse for breaking all the rules and acting selfishly.  He only seems interested in hurting others, if he doesn’t get his way.

I’ve deliberately left out names.  Because we all can fit into any of those statements but for the mercy and work of God in our hearts.  In fact, even though we have come to Lord and asked for his saving grace, one of the greatest tricks of our enemy is to erase from our memory the place where we dwelt before God’s forgiveness entered our hearts and lives.

sitting in a boxWe’ve been told by the Lord, “Do this to remember me.”  Often to the Church, Jesus is saying, “Remember me so you can be reminded of the point where you started.  Remember where you were; and you still are a sinner.  You need a Savior.”

My heart desires to reach out and slap some folks I know.  They aren’t following the Lord up to my standards.  Or they are giving to the point of hurting the people they want to bless.  Their lives shout, “I need a Savior.”  Yet, their eyes are blind to their own needs.  They can see the fault of everyone around them.  Nevertheless, they cannot see their own needs and sins.

Others are like me.  We are born-again but we still walk through life succumbing to sinful desires.  Or there are those of us who have become self-righteous looking through our salvation binoculars at everyone who does not know the Lord as their Savior.  Carnal or baby Christians are an anathema to us.  We cannot understand why they can’t get their lives together.

We understand God’s amazing grace in our lives but we want to customize the way God’s deals with others according to our plan and our dictates.  We have forgotten our starting point.  We’ve become self-righteous to the core.

crossroadsPaul instructed the church to never forget from where we came.  The Lord wants us to lead by example; not proclamation. Each year, Special Gathering ministry takes about 175 people who are intellectually disabled on a four-day retreat experience.  In my first year at Camp Agape, one of the hardest things for me to learn as a new staff person was the principle of “leading by example.”  I wanted to tell everyone what to do and where to do it.

The problem is that telling is much easier than leading by example.  Nevertheless, God has given us an airtight way to overturn our self-righteous ways.  “Remember where we came from.”

Image Crossroads (C) by www.martin-liebermann.de“.

LutherMartin Luther has been quoted (or probably misquoted) as saying, “I’ve read the Bible once.  I don’t need to read it again.”  The life of Luther disavows this ascertion because it was his study of the scriptures that led him to faith in Christ.  His last note scribbled on a scrap of paper while he lay on his death bed was an exhortation to study the Bible with a humble heart.

As a young woman, I was a bit preplexed when I learned that Christian seminaries teach theology–not the Scriptures.  Theology, as I’m sure you know, is the study of God rather than the study of the Word of God.  While the Bible is the basis for all theology, our seminaries teach and examine the thoughts and beliefs of theologians regarding what the Bible teaches about God.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve seen this study of theology in our seminaries as a good thing, rather than a negative.  While I do not believe that the study of the Scriptures should ever be replaced with the thoughts and ideas of men, we learn from and gather knowledge from women and men who know God and have searched the depths of His love and grace.

This year, I’ve simply read and reread the New Testament for the past six months.  When I received an iPad as a ministry tool, I found it a valuable tool for studying the scriptures, as well.  Then I discovered the value of the audio Bible.  I read along with the audio and gleaned a great deal more than I have gathered from all the years of reading it to myself.  Preparing for bed, I would listen to the Bible.  I’d read my normal four chapters before I went to sleep and then I would listen to the Bible as I went to sleep.

I found amazing nuggets that I’d missed previously.  I’ve always desired to have a deep understanding of the Book of Romans.  I listened and relistened to Romans.  I read and reread Paul’s epistle.  I found that repetition brought great meaning to me.  I felt the sting of his rebuke and the comforting joy of knowing that my redemption was fully and completely bought by the blood of Jesus.  I entered a new time of rest and joy as I rehearsed Paul’s writings from Romans 8.

Again and again, I would stop the audio to reread a part that seemed new and fresh.  Perhaps it is the working though grief that has drawn me into the New Testament in this way.  I must say that I’ve felt more of the Lord’s grace and mercy during the past 18 months, than I’ve felt sorrow or remorse.

My mother used to say, “Repetition bring out thought.”  I’ve seen that my repeated reading of God’s Word has brought out a thoughfulness that I’ve not experienced in all my years of studying the Scriptures.

I’ve also wondered how much value the mentally challenged community would received by a daily rehearsal of the scriptures.  I understand that the Bible is not a “magic book” but we are promised that the truths contained in the Bible are valuable and able to transform our minds and hearts.  What do you think?  Do you believe that there is value in having our member hear the Scriptures read to them as they follow along?

In all of our lives, we suffer the embarrassment and shame of falling from our horse.  You know what I mean.  Sitting high and straight on our noble steeds, we are riding along our path of life, attempting to serve the Lord and believing that we are choosing His will and way.  When blam! We are struck by a blinding light and find ourselves in the middle of a road eating dust.

Few of us hear an actual voice as Paul did; but most of us understand that voice in our spirit that demands an answer, Why are you acting this way?…or going there?…or speaking in those tone?…or feeling this resentment and anger?

Perhaps it is the acidic taste of dirt or the humility of finding ourselves in the middle of life’s road unable to stand but suddenly our relationship with the Lord becomes clear.  In that instant, we know beyond any academic knowledge that our lives will never be the same. In fact, from that moment, the greatest prayer of our hearts is that our lives will never be the same.

If we are fortunate, God will renew that moment of humility and surrender every day.  Yet, I find that I am never very far from the falling point.  Billy Graham once said that he had found that three things trip up men and women of God.  Money, sex and pride.

His explained that he formed a corporation to take care of the money.  He kept his relationship with his wife current and did not form intimate friendships or allow himself to be alone with other women to take care of the sexual area.  Then laughing, he said, “I find that when I’m even slightly connected to God, He takes care of the pride area.”

Rev. Billy Graham

This leads me to believe that Graham is intimately familiar with the taste of dirt.  I am praying that the Lord will allow me to see these tragic falls as times of learning and release.  We are told that babies and drunks don’t often hurt themselves when they fall because they don’t tense with the fall.  They are able to relax.

“Learning to Fall” should be a primer course we teach in the church because all of us experience the stench and sourness of defeat.  I’m grateful that the Lord doesn’t leave us alone during the dirty times of life but He is there.  Teaching, correcting and loving.

Recently, I visited a neighboring Special Gathering program to practice our Christmas music.  It seemed like a good idea. However, it appears that I really messed up.  After the practice, I heard that I “put down” this great choir.  I was shocked because I was so completely impressed with them that I thought they were the best choir of the four with which I’ve worked.

In my attempts to compliment this choir, I assume I mixed up the names and somehow the result was that the choir felt insulted.  That was the last thing I wanted to do.  Fortunately, the choir members told someone; and I was able to straighten out the misunderstanding.

Communication is perhaps the most tricky thing that we do as Christians.  Often, when we are trying to show compassion, we are accused of being harsh or judgmental.  Our great intentions can be viewed as meddling or interference.

I wish I could give some great pointers that would direct you to a better way of communication; but, as my recent experience shows, I’m still a novice in this area.

I am encouraged, however, when I read the scriptures.  Two great Titans of the faith, Paul and Peter, became meshed in the lack of communication webbed tangle.  Paul rebuked Peter who sat with the Jews at a meal when Gentiles were also partaking at the meal.  This was seen as an insult to the Gentiles.  It was a pretty stupid move on the part of Peter and probably deserved rebuke.

Peter, on the other hand, wrote that Paul’s teachings were so complicated that, at times, even he could not understand what Paul was try to say.  This gives me encouragement, because I often find my eyes glazing over while reading Paul’s letters.  Even though, I’ve read them hundred’s of times, I’m still perplexed by what Paul actually meant by certain sentences and paragraphs.

There are a couple of things I have learned when communication turns sour and you are the offending party.

  1. Try to resolve the issue as quickly as possible.  Don’t let things linger.
  2. Don’t let our natural inclination to avoid confrontation interfer with the need to find common ground.
  3. Apologize.  Even if you are absolutely sure that the other person has misunderstood, you are partially at fault because your communication fell apart at some point.
  4. Be honest.
  5. Try to find common ground by assuring the person you did not intend to offend them.
  6. Find something that you admire about the other person; and let them know how much you respect them in this area.
  7. Be humble.  Allow yourself to take the blame.  In the scheme of eternity, this incident will probably not bleep on God’s Richter Scale.
  8. Don’t cower.  Even if you are the offending party, stand straight and expect respect by you actions.  It will not help your relationship to become a whipping boy for the offended party. While this may sound contratictory, humility does not mean that you become someone’s door mat.  In fact, it should have the opposite effect.
  9. Don’t expect men and women to react the same way.  Men will be brief and polite but their attitudes may seem dismissive.  Women will either want to rehearse the offense again; or they will want to rehearse your apology as a way of affirming you.
  10. I believe that face-to-face communication is often the best.  I learned many years ago that I am almost never offended when I am facing another person.  It is the rehearsal of the event or the process of routine thinking that magnifies the event into an insult.  Psychologists tell us that this is true with most people.

Will these steps erase all offenses?  No. But they may go a long way in helping you to mend important fences in your life.

This is a daily email I receive from TGIF by Os Hillman.  This businessman often touches areas that I feel are important for everyone.  All of us have had someone say something to us that snaps our insecurities.  Our reactions are vital to our growth in ministry and in our life in Christ.  If you would like to receive this daily email, there is a link below.

When Insecurity Turns Evil
TGIF Today God Is First Volume 1, by Os Hillman

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Romans 12:15

Saul was the King of Israel. David was in Saul’s army and beginning to build a reputation as a great warrior. One day when David came back from a battle, the women danced and sang: ” ‘Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands’ ” (1 Sam. 18:7).

Saul was very angry; this refrain galled him. “They have credited David with tens of thousands,” he thought, “but me with only thousands. What more can he get but the kingdom?” (1 Samuel 18:8)

This statement caused something to snap in King Saul. From this point on, Saul was never the leader God intended him to be. He allowed insecurity to drive his every decision. Insecurity leads to the need to control people and circumstances. The need to control leads to anger once we realize we are unable to control the circumstance. King Saul could not accept, much less rejoice, over David’s success. David’s life would never be the same, because Saul sought to kill David every chance he had. Saul had a choice; he could have seen David as an up-and-coming general in his army who could have become an important part of his team and made the kingdom of Israel even stronger. Instead, he looked at him as a threat. When you hear good news about fellow workers or associates, do you rejoice with them? If you find yourself comparing your life’s circumstances to others and don’t feel you measure up, recognize that this is one of satan’s greatest ploys to destroy you.

Christ has given you all things in Him. He has a unique plan for you that cannot be compared to another. He alone is your security. Trust in the purposes He has for your life. And remember, “My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19 KJV). 

Today God Is First (TGIF) devotional message, Copyright by Os Hillman, Marketplace Leaders.