Friday, January 28, 2011

Lost and Found

It was a scene that I’m glad was not captured on camera. There I was… lying face down on the floor of our kitchen yelling at my golden retriever not to walk in. I had dropped something. It was a very, very tiny little screw from a camera lens I was attempting to fix. Part of the lens had wiggled loose and the only way to tighten it was to take a small faceplate off the top. Beneath that faceplate was the screw that needed to be tightened. Easy job… except every part I was dealing with was exceptionally small and I happen to have tree stumps for fingers.

But, I had planned ahead. I knew the probability of dropping one of four tiny screws. I knew if I dropped it, I would lose it and these aren’t screws you can get at a hardware store. So, I put the lens in a box thinking that if a screw falls it would be contained and easily found. “Way to think ahead!” I thought smugly to myself. But disaster happened regardless. Three of four screws came out beautifully and were placed in a safe location. The fourth… well let’s say, had a mind of its own. On the final turn, the tip of the screw driver slipped sending the screw sailing into the air bouncing off the edge of box and then onto the counter. Then, as if in slow motion, I watched the tiny flash of metal fall to the floor and out of sight. The sound of the bounce on the floor told me this little screw was under our kitchen island. Muttering something unchristian, I slowly worked my way to the flattest possible position on the floor so I could search through the dust balls and popcorn shells hidden under the island. Gibson, our big hairy dog, interpreted this maneuver as an invitation to play, but his big, floppy feet were not going to be of any help.

I hate losing things. It’s a terrible feeling. My car keys, the remote control, and my wallet are at the top of my list of items that I hate to lose. But, we all know there are much more significant things in life that can be lost. We lose jobs, dreams, health, financial stability, and opportunities. And… we lose people. We lose them when they move away, when we have an unresolved conflict, or when someone dies. But there’s yet another type of loss—it’s when we are lost. We’re the tiny screw lost on a kitchen floor. This is much more than being lost in a strange city, but rather being lost, confused, or directionless in life. Even more, we have all been lost spiritually—separated from God because of our sin. I hate losing things. I hate being lost.

On that floor that day, a thought struck me. What if I could call someone who loved to look for lost things? Wouldn’t it be great if someone would just walk into my kitchen and say, “I’m here to find your lost screw. Move aside. I love finding lost stuff.” A bit ridiculous for my camera lens situation, I know. But, it’s not far-fetched for my spiritually lost condition. Listen to Jesus…

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19.10

Jesus made this comment on the heels of his interaction with Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector who had aggressively sought to see Jesus. The statement that Jesus makes after Zacchaeus makes an incredible turnaround in life seems to be a mission statement. It’s as if Jesus is saying, “If you are experiencing loss and even more, if you are lost, I’m here for you. I love finding and rescuing lost people.” That’s great news for anyone who has felt the pain of loss or being lost.

By the way, I did find that stupid little screw and when it was put back in its proper place, I had a little personal celebration. Did you know that when Jesus finds and rescues someone who is spiritually lost, all of heaven throws a party (Luke 15)? How cool is that?

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

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Conversation on a Fence

The mood along the baseball fence that day was more serious than most days. Usually, fence-line conversations between coaches are filled with lighthearted stories with an occasional strategy talk for the next game. But this time, Steve and I had more to discuss than baseball. Steve was one of my assistant coaches for the youth travel baseball team our sons were playing on. Until then, our friendship simply revolved around sports we coached and our kids. But that day, Steve had some significant questions about life, God, death, eternity, heaven, and the Bible. This conversation wasn’t random, it was driven by something very serious—the death of his dad. Steve had just returned from his father’s funeral and the experience of witnessing his dad passing away was rocking his world. He was filled with real-life, vitally important questions.

Steve shared that his dad had lived a life of consistent faith in God. Steve said that his dad has died peacefully and that as he passed, he was quoting Scripture with a look of peace in his eyes. The memories Steve had of his dad collided with his death bed experience in that conversation. He longed for answers to a myriad of significant questions of life, death, and eternity. Then the big questions came. “Phil, how can I have peace like my dad had?” he asked in earnest. For the next few minutes, in the clearest words I could muster, I shared with him that we’ve all sinned and every sin brings about death and punishment. I shared with him that Jesus was the Son the God sent to earth in human skin to be the Savior and Redeemer for our sins. I explained to him the beautiful sacrifice that Jesus made through his death to pay the penalty for our sins. I shared that this is a gift from God that we cannot earn but we receive when we believe this wonderful truth. Then, I said… “That’s where true peace comes.”

Steve chewed on my words that day. Over time, our relationship grew deeper as our conversations continued. I know now that Steve is clear and confident in his relationship with Jesus. Our relationship has continued over the years and I lead a small group (that Steve took the initiative to form) with many of Steve’s friends. Now, we both take great joy in sharing our faith and the truth about having a relationship with Jesus with others.

In my heart of hearts, I know this story started much sooner than on that baseball field fence. Steve’s spiritual story, at least my involvement in it, began many months earlier. You see, during that time, I had a friend who was constantly challenging me to pray for people in my life who needed to develop a relationship with Jesus. Kurt would ask me every week, “Phil, who are you praying for to come to God? Who needs to hear the Good News about Jesus? Did you pray for them today?” Kurt knew that evangelism begins with prayer and the best thing he could do was to encourage me to develop a consistent habit of prayer for people in my life who need Jesus. Steve was on my list during that time and I believe God smiled as he answered my prayer. As I look back, I’m convinced that God was pursuing Steve, and God was pursuing me to join him in his work with Steve. How cool is that?

Who are you praying for today?

Ask (pray) the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Matthew 9.38

This week’s author—Phil Niekerk, senior small groups pastor

Friday, January 14, 2011

Friend of Sinners

When he walked into our little country church, everyone’s head turned. Black leather jacket, hair down to his waist tied in a ponytail, dirty jeans and motorcycle boots. Our church was in farm country, attended by regular ol’ people who faithfully sat in the same pew and talked to the same people each week. His name was John and he came late that Sunday, slipping into the second row behind my dad, the pastor. He sat quietly throughout the service, soaking in everything that was said. Following the sermon, John and my dad had a long conversation in the front row. Mom watched pensively from the back foyer of our church, her heart both worried and filled with prayer for this disheveled, rough looking man. These types of people rarely darkened the doors of our quaint church.

The conversation ended with Dad praying, his hand firmly placed on this man’s shoulder. Dad prayed with a look of authority and earnestness. John shook my dad’s hand, wiped tears from his eyes and left quietly through the doors he entered. Later, Dad shared with us that John had lived a hard life filled with drugs and booze. Someone had recommended that he try going to our little church. He said John prayed for the first time, asking God to enter his life and forgive his sins. Dad was confident John’s heart toward God was authentic and that we’d be seeing John again. God was interested in bringing a dramatic change to his life.

As a preacher’s son, I heard plenty of sermons on how God loves to radically transform people. But this, perhaps, was the first time I had actually seen radical change in someone. Over time, we saw John grow. He cleaned up; inside and out. He read his Bible, came to church faithfully, prayed and did Bible studies. He enrolled in a local Bible institute, studied to become a pastor, moved to Texas and started preaching to anyone who would listen. John, once a dirty, drunk biker, is now a missionary and pastor. And, I got to see my parents dedicate themselves to his growth. This, I believe, was a stretch for my mom and dad. They were wonderful people that I don’t they ever had many people in their lives with such rough of edges as John did. John stretched their ability to love the lost and wandering.

This memory from my childhood flooded my heart the other day when I was sorting through my father’s things. In October, my dad who was in his mid-nineties, passed away marking the end of his days of pastoring and caring for lost people. I was flipping through dad’s last piles of mail, I found in the stack a prayer card from John. Attached was a picture of him and his family. For the past 20 years, John has been a traveling preacher; he calls himself an “evangelist.” His home is in Texas but he travels from town to town, church to church in impoverished areas of the world telling his story. John has shared with thousands the Good News about Jesus’ forgiveness of sins, His love and His desire to give a true, meaningful life. This all began during those nervous, awkward moments in our little church over 30 years ago.

When Jesus walked the earth, he had a habit of hanging out with people who were known for their sin. The nickname Jesus inherited, “friend of sinners” was not meant as a compliment. Jesus put his reputation at risk by who he hung with. But, what was his mission? To seek and save those who were lost. What if John hadn’t been accepted by my dad and our little church? What if he had been ignored, avoided or even worse turned away at the door? What would our world have lost if John remained lost?

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

Friday, January 7, 2011

Better Than Fried Rice?

I’m a sucker for a free lunch, so a few years ago, when a colleague of mine asked me to join him at a local Chinese restaurant, I was all in. The catch was that he was entertaining a couple from Kenya, Africa and he wanted me and a few others to meet them. Meeting new people is always intriguing but honestly… chicken fried rice and an egg roll was the real draw for me.

When we arrived at the table, I noticed that our guests were very quiet. They were pleased with the restaurant choice and the people who gathered to meet them, but they seemed a bit shy. Edward, my colleague at ABC, got the conversation started. “Charles, tell us about your orphanage in Kenya. How did it all start?” Charles began talking quietly and humbly. Passion grew in his voice the more he talked about how God had led him to use his entire wealth to begin an orphanage for street kids abandoned because of AIDS and violence. For the next hour, Charles Mulli told us story after story of God’s incredible provision in the lives of hundreds of abandoned kids. His stories were riveting and were filled with faith, miracles, and joy. About three bites into my egg roll, I got a deep sense that I was in the presence of someone very significant—someone significant to the care and spiritual welfare of many in the Kingdom of God. As I soaked in this opportunity to hear of God’s miraculous work, my egg roll became less and less important. I was being blessed far beyond chicken fried rice.

Have you ever been in the presence of greatness and not realized it until later? Perhaps someone had to point out someone famous to you. “Hey, do you know who’s here?” they ask. You respond, “Really? Here? No kidding!” When I read Psalm 96, I wonder if the songwriter is saying this about God. “Hey, do you know who’s here? It’s God. Did you notice? He’s here!” Throughout the psalm, the writer implores his readers to sing, to declare, to worship, and to ascribe to the Lord. In essence, the songwriter is saying to take note that God is present. He’s here and he wants to be known as the God of the Universe.

Sing to the LORD, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples. For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the LORD made the heavens. Psalm 96.2-5

Did you notice the Psalmist points out a distraction—something much less important? The nations were filled with “nothings” (a Hebrew translation for idols). Nothings. Things of vanity. Idols. Other gods. Fried rice? Distractions from the reality of someone special is present.

Is there anything distracting you this week from fully experiencing God? You know, many of the things that distract us from fully knowing God are usually not bad things. They only become idols when they take a higher importance than our pursuit of God. Remember today, God is here, he wants to be known and wants you to declare his goodness and greatness.

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