Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Power of Each Part

If you have been watching the Olympics, you have been a part of one of the largest audiences ever watching the Olympics. NBC estimated that nearly 157 million people watched as least some part of the Olympics during the first four days. It has been spectacular to say the least.

There are many outstanding athletes competing in Beijing this summer whose names we recognize; Kobe Bryant, LeBron James for Basketball, Shawn Johnson for women’s gymnastics, and many others, but none more amazing than Michael Phelps. In Beijing Phelps has won 5 Gold medals, breaking 5 world records in the process. That accomplishment has also put him in a league of his own. He now has earned more Gold medals (11) than any other athlete in any event in Olympic history. He is on track to pass Mark Spitz record of 7 Gold medals in a single Olympic games (fyi – Spitz won 7 Gold medals at Munich in 1972 and did so by breaking 7 world records). Phelps is favored to win the three remaining races in which he is entered.

But as amazing as Michael Phelps is, he didn’t accomplish this on his own. While most of the races are individual efforts there are a couple of races that are relays. If you watched the 4X100 freestyle relay final on Monday night, you witnessed what is being called the greatest 4X100 freestyle relay of all time. The names, Garrett Weber-Gail, Cullen Jones, and Jason Lezak may not be as well known as Michael Phelps, but this was one race Michael couldn’t win on his own.

This was how the Associated Press summed up the issue, “Phelps' hopes of breaking Mark Spitz's record of seven golds in a single Games appeared doomed when the French took over the lead at the 250 mark. They were 4.03 seconds under world-record pace at 350 meters before Lezak, the oldest American male swimmer at 32, rallied over the closing strokes with the fastest 100m split in history, 46.0 seconds.”

Without those three men, especially the greatest performance ever in that event by Jason Lezak, Michael Phelps wouldn’t have that Gold medal.

So what does this have to do with us as Christians? Well, while we each do have to have our own ‘personal relationship with Christ,’ we don’t run this race alone. We need each other. The strength of the church is in its connectedness. We are not only connected to God, but also to each other. The goal of the church is to “reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13). This is done when “whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Eph. 4:16). The work each of us does is not some isolated task disconnected from the body. If you watched the race, you also got to see Michael, Garrett, and Cullen cheer Jason Lezak on to the finish. The race was not just 4 individual efforts, but a total ‘fellowship’ in the work so that the whole became greater than the sum of the parts. How else can you explain beating the previous world record by 3.99 seconds where usually the margins of victory are in the 100th of seconds?

As we strive to become Spiritual Champions, we must remember this is not simply an individual effort, we are a team, a body, The Body of Christ, where each member must do its part.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

STOP PRAYING... At least for that.

For the past several weeks our Sunday evening assembly has been more of a modified small group ministry than a typical Sunday night ‘preaching’ assembly. We have been working through a video series called “Modern Parables.” We all meet in the auditorium and watch one of Jesus’ parables retold in a modern context. Then we break into small groups around the building and discuss the meaning and application of the parable to our lives today.

This past week we finished the parable of “The Widow & the Judge.” The goal of the parable was to encourage persistence in prayer, not because God is like the Judge in the story who doesn’t care, but because God is just the opposite, he truly cares and is eager to answer our prayers. So don’t give up praying.

One of the great benefits of a small group discussion over a ‘sermon’ is the free flowing nature of it. While you don’t want to carelessly ‘chase rabbits’ all the time, often the direction of the discussion may take you somewhere you didn’t map out ahead of time. That is how part of our discussion progressed last Sunday.

In the midst of discussing the need to be persistent in prayer, the question was asked, “Is there a time when we should stop praying?” And, “Does quitting imply a lack of faith on our part in God’s willingness or ability to answer?” To the first question, I think there are several examples that help; Think of Joshua, when in prayer, God told him, “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face?” (Joshua 6:10). Think of Paul, who prayed 3 times that his thorn would be removed, and God answered, “My grace is sufficient for you!” (2 Cor. 12:9). And think of Jesus, who prayed 3 times that, “this cup pass from me.” Yet God did not answer. The clear implication is that for these three men, there was a time to stop praying (at least about that) and move on in the will of God as it remained for them.

The answer for the second question is made easier when the first is answered; no it is not a lack of faith to stop praying. As a matter of fact, it may actually be a greater demonstration of faith in God to move on in His will as it remains. But this begs a third question; If there is a time to stop praying, and it doesn’t show a lack of faith to do so, then how do I know when to stop praying?

Ah, that is a question not so easily answered. How do you decide when to stop? We had at least one in our group who has faced this very decision. When the twins, Tabitha & Xander were born a little over 2 years ago, fervent prayer was a continual part of Alex & Laura’s life. They prayed with great faith in God’s ability and love. They prayed with great persistence that God would make Tabitha and Xander better. With great joy and praise to God, we are all witnesses to Tabitha’s improvement. (As a matter of fact she’s walking around the building right now.) Xander on the other hand has endured battle after battle with infections, seizures, and other complications since birth. Laura explained that they have come to the place where they have stopped praying for Xander to get better, but have come to accept God’s will as it remains for Xander. While God has chosen not to make Xander better, he has in fact made Alex & Laura better. They stand among us as great examples of persistent faith. They could have turned their backs on God, they could have turned their backs on each other, and many couples in similar circumstances have done just those kinds of things. But they didn’t and they won’t. And they still pray for Xander... but just not for that.

My prayer is that God will give you and me the wisdom, courage & faith to know when to stop praying... at least for that.