Thursday, October 28, 2010

Building the Body

Over the past few years, I have really enjoyed working out with some friends of mine. We are middle aged guys not trying to regain our athletic youth, but just hoping to slow the natural aging process. A couple times a week, we’ll lift weights in my buddy’s basement, do pushups and ab crunches. It all takes an hour or so each time and we enjoy each other’s company as we exercise. In between weight lifting days, we do some running on our own. A couple of the guys routinely train for the 15 mile River Bank Run but I’m happy to make it through a 5K or two each year.

Exercising the body really helps. It’s helped me get stronger, healthier, and keep my weight under control. But recently, I’ve had to shut it all down. I’m not running and I told the guys I would not be lifting for a few weeks. Why? I have two parts on my body that are refusing to do their job—my middle toe and a little tendon in my elbow. Both are inflamed and scream when I use them to run or lift. My mind, my legs, my shoulders, my back all want to run and lift but those two little things are holding everything back. You may be asking, “How did you hurt your elbow and toe?” The answer—I have no idea. Back in high school, I always had a great story to tell about an injury. Now, at the age of 45, I just seem to wake up injured, swollen, and needing Motrin.

It’s no wonder why Paul compares the church to a human body. In three of his New Testament letters (Romans, 1 Corinthians, and Ephesians), Paul uses the body as an object lesson to teach about the church. He actually calls the church the Body of Christ. In order for the human body to thrive in athletics or in work, all the parts need to function in harmony. In order to do a simple pushup, the brain, the eyes, the shoulders, the feet, the back, the hands, the chest, and the elbows need to work together. One hurting part, like a tendon in the elbow, can slow it all down. But when all the parts are healthy and working in harmony, the whole body gets stronger and more effective as it works out.

Mark is a good friend of mine who I’ve enjoyed watching grow spiritually over the years. I’ve seen Mark grow in a myriad of ways through Bible study, small group discussion, and by walking through difficult circumstances. But, I’ve noticed when Mark serves as a part of the Body of Christ, he grows fast and strong. And when he serves with others in the Body of Christ, it’s a wonderful, effective endeavor. Mark serves every Saturday night as a small group leader for seven-year-old boys in Discovery Village. He also serves in our mentoring ministry helping people one-on-one get through something difficult or get to the next step of their spiritual growth. I’ve watched Mark come alive as he does his job in the Body; and I’ve watched other people come alive as a result.

So, what’s your role? What’s your function? What part of the Body are you? Do you know? Are you functioning in harmony with others? Get busy being part of the Body of Christ and watch God come alive in you and watch others around you grow.

This week's author- Phil Niekerk, senior small groups pastor

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Struggle of Unity

Part of my job at Ada Bible Church is to help people find their place in a healthy, life giving small group. We believe small groups are places where people can find community, friendship, and spiritual growth. But from time to time, I run into people who are struggling to find their place. I believe they are good hearted people who really want to make solid connections with others, but they don’t ever seem to have their expectations met. I often wonder if they’re trying to force their small group through too narrow of an experience. Here are some things I’ve heard over the years.

“We really want to be in a group with people whose kids are our kid’s age.”

“I’m a single woman but please don’t put me in a group with married people or in a group with just women.”

“I want to be in a small group with people who all have sailboats.”
“I want to be in a small group with young businessmen.”

“My schedule is packed, so I need to be in a group that can meet on Monday evenings after 9 p.m.”

“I want to be in a group with people who attend the venue I attend, so we can see each other at church. Oh… can they be in our stage of life and live in our neighborhood too?”

Mind you, these are not bad requests and we often work hard to accommodate them. We naturally self-sift to people with whom we have things in common. We like to be with people like us. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. However, what if God wants more for our community experience? What if God wants us to make deep and meaningful connections with people who are very different from us? What if an important part of our spiritual formation is finding unity and oneness with people we would not naturally drift toward? What if the bond we have with each other is really not found in our age, our gender, our interests, our schedule, our kids, our marital status, or our neighborhood?

Think about how Jesus formed his small group. These dudes were very diverse. Matthew was a former tax collector from Rome. Simon was a Zealot who probably wanted Rome eradicated through military revolt. Think these two guys wanted to go bowling together? Thomas had a tendency to question and doubt. Peter was confident, impetuous, and had a big mouth. Think these two guys had any opportunities to irritate each other? John was a loyal friend to Jesus. Judas was a… “Judas.” Ever wonder if John was sniffing out the traitor in the group? Jesus chose a diverse group of flawed guys to be his disciples. What was their bond? What brought them unity? It was their commitment to follow Jesus.

Paul said to the churches in the Ephesus region, “Make every effort to keep the bond of peace.” I think that statement infers that they would have plenty of opportunities for the opposite—conflict and relational distance. Paul also knew that two very diverse groups were coming together to form the church. One group was raised in the Jewish tradition. They were disciplined, rules oriented, traditional, bent toward being critical. The other group was raised in the Greek tradition. They were liberal, worshipped multiple gods, highly sensual, free spirited. The bond between these two groups was their pursuit of a relationship with their Savior, Jesus Christ.

As you pursue community at Ada Bible Church, realize that hanging out with people who are like you is okay. But God may be calling you toward much more, as he did with his disciples and the Ephesian church. Break out of the self-sift drift. Look around your small group this week and celebrate the diversity. Then, celebrate the one thing you all have in common. The pursuit of Jesus. Our Savior, wants his followers to be one.

This week's author- Phil Niekerk, senior small groups pastor

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Eager For Your Decrees

Why is it so hard to read the Bible? Why is it that I can pick it up at times and read a few paragraphs and it is literally dripping with relevance and practicalities, and at other times, it may as well be written in German? And why is it that I am drawn into it one day, and the next day I lay it down and don’t think about it again for days or even weeks?

About seven years ago, I began a journey I will never forget. I began to ask God to take me to a deeper place with him. I was bored stiff with my brand of Christianity. But, I had to do my Christian “stuff,” like read the Bible, pray, serve in the church, and, and, and…. What happened next was not what I asked for, what I wanted, or what I ever expected. God began to peel away everything that I was clinging to that wasn’t him. All the “security” I had financially, all the abilities and opportunities I had in business, all the pride I had placed in my own skills…gone. I heard a friend say it this way: “When we ask God to transform (remodel) us, we’re thinking a new coat of paint and some fresh carpet, and He’s pulling into our lives with a wrecking ball and a bulldozer.” He doesn’t even want the soil on which are lives are built to remain. He wants to be our foundation, the bedrock upon which we stand.

Now I’d like to say that I humbly accepted my plight. I can’t. I raged against God. I would grab my Bible and head for the woods to wrestle with him. I would read his promises—strike that—I would scream his promises at him, and dare him to reconcile his promises with my reality. I had a two year tantrum— month after month of going to the woods to have it out with God. The funny thing was, every time I left the woods, I was quiet. Things weren’t fixed, but I was still. I was learning about his peace.

In this time, I discovered something new in Psalm 119. The Psalmist, all throughout the passage, was asking God to give him desire, understanding, knowledge of his Word, his Law, his Precepts. I thought, “I can do that.” So I began to pray to God using Psalm 119.36-37. This became the outline of my prayers that I still often use today to keep me focused. It sounded a lot like this.

Give me an eagerness for your decrees. Do not inflict me with a love for money! Turn my eyes from worthless things, and give me life through your word.

God, give me a desire for you. I really want to love your Word, but I confess I don’t. Help me to want to be in your Scriptures, not because I’m supposed to be, but because I love you, and I can’t wait to see what you have to say to me today. Please don’t let a love for money become the driving force behind my actions. Forgive me for seeing you only as a provider of things rather than a person who wants intimacy with me. Oh God, please turn my attention away from things that are worthless to you. I have become fixated on many things that you are not pleased with. Please draw my passion to the things that you are passionate about. Make your desires mine.

Through this, I’ve learned that it isn’t about how much we can know about the Bible that helps us in this life; it’s about how well we know the author. He is the gift. My prayer for you as you ask God for the passion to love his Word is that you will be caught by surprise by your desire for him, that it will consume you and turn you into the Spirit-filled person you were meant to be. Enjoy him.

This week’s author—Doug Bishop, small group area director

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Good To Be Loved

It doesn’t matter where I’ve been or how long I’ve been gone, I know something will always be true when I walk through the door at home—I’ll be greeted with joy, excitement, and love. It happens every time, even when I come in from the backyard this happens: unconditional, passionately expressed love. Honestly, it happens so often that I take it for granted and don’t even notice it anymore. But when I do, it makes me feel a little bit good inside. Yeah, the givers of this love are my two dogs and their expressions are wagging tails and panting, dog-smile mouths…but I know they are happy to see me.

The other day, I bumped into an old friend who was back from Guatemala for a few weeks. His family left a few years ago to start a soccer ministry there. I didn’t know they were home so when he walked into my office, the pleasant surprise led to the strongest guy-hug we could muster up. It was great to see him. We wanted to get caught up on things that had happened in each other’s life. That surprise encounter made my day.

There’s something about knowing you’re loved that can change so much. The older I get the more I recognize those simple gestures that communicate “I love you;” “I’m glad to be with you;” “It’s been good to spend time with you.” Perhaps this is true because as more time passes, the more pain, heartache, disappointment, and relational fatigue piles up on our souls. My wife’s hand in mine, a phone call from my kids in college, an e-mail of thanks or encouragement, a guy-hug from an old friend, a cold dog nose nuzzling my knee on the couch—all say, “I love being in your company. You are important to me.”

If expressions of love from spouses, kids, friends, and pets are so important to us, how much more important is it to receive expressions of love from God, the Creator of the Universe? What if God wants me to know, “I love you, Phil. You are very, very important to me. I hope you know that”? Does that change my day? Does that change my perspective on life? Does that change how I treat others?

A couple of years ago, I went through a time of discouragement and fatigue. I, privately, described myself as lonely and tired. A friend and counselor advised me to dig deep into areas of intimacy with God. He told me to begin to read the Bible as if it were a love letter to me from God. During that time, two passages of scripture rocked my emotional foundation. I had been a Christian for 35 years and had been deeply involved in ministry all my adult life. But I needed to be intimately reminded of the most fundamental spiritual truth in the universe—God loves ME. And he desperately wants me to know, understand, and embrace it. Maybe you need to be reminded of that this week. We can’t hear, “I love you” enough, especially from the God of the Universe. Think about these words from scripture today:

How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up, you are still with me. Psalm 139.17-18 NLT

Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Ephesians 3.17-19 NLT

This week's author- Phil Niekerk, senior small groups pastor