To My Church Family

It’s that time of year. It’s time to be thankful. It reminds me of one of my favorite thanksgiving passages in the whole Bible, Philippians 1:3-6:

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

Paul loved the church in Philippi. They loved him, too. They participated in a “partnership in the Gospel” (1:5). They supported Paul financially, having “entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving” (4:15). This was not a wealthy church. They were from the region of Macedonia, where “their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part” (1 Cor. 8:2). They believed in the Gospel and sacrificed so much to support Paul, a minister of the Gospel, as well as others who were in need.

Paul and his friends at Philippi provide me with an ideal, biblical example of how to address my family at The River Church. Allow me to speak a few direct words of thanks:

I thank my God for The River Church. I thank my God for your generosity. You have given sacrificially to the work of planting seeds of the Gospel in a dry place. You have given so that my family can make our home in our community. You have given so that those who are far from God can witness us live out the implications of the Gospel in our lives. You have given in order to bless our community and our world!

I thank my God for your faithfulness to the Gospel. Week in and week out your presence is a testimony to the work of the Holy Spirit in your lives. You are committed to gathering for worship, “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some” (Heb. 10:25). You are striving to connect with one another in community. You are growing as followers of Jesus as you study the Bible and pray together.

I thank my God for your concern for one another. You have identified needs within the community and are meeting them. You are seeing our community through the compassionate eyes of Jesus. You are loving “because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

I thank my God for your good work. You arrive early. You stay late. You give your attention to the details that no one else sees. You work hard to accomplish tasks that don’t get praised or recognized. “And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matt. 6:6). “So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden” (1 Tim. 5:25). God sees.

I thank my God for The River Church. I thank my God that he has given us the grace to work side-by-side with one another. I thank my God for his providence in joining our paths together. I thank my God that you obeyed him when he called you to plant a church. I thank my God that you are his humble servants. And I thank my God that he is not finished with us, that he will complete the work in the Yakima valley that he has begun in us.

May the “grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Cor. 13:14).

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Abiding and Prayer

What would you do if someone offered to give you whatever you asked? Very few of us would answer, “no thanks!” Are you kidding!? We would jump at the chance to get whatever we wanted!

Did you know that Jesus has made us a similar offer? Take a look at the verse of the week for The River Church:

“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” (John 15:7)

Every time I read that verse my attention is immediately drawn to the words, “and it will be done for you.” That’s an awesome promise! I want God to do whatever I ask, don’t you? But before we start sending our Christmas list to “The Big Guy Upstairs,” let’s take a closer look at this promise.

In John 15, Jesus used the illustration of a vine to describe his relationship with his disciples. A vine nourishes and supports the branches. It gives them life and helps them to bear fruit. The branches are attached to the vine and remain in the vine—they “abide” in the vine. If they are removed from the vine they stop growing and bearing fruit. If they stop bearing fruit, they are pruned away to make room for branches that are bearing fruit.

Jesus said that he is the true vine. His followers are the branches. His followers will only grow and bear fruit if they “abide” in him. Bearing fruit was a big deal to Jesus. In one parable he described seed thrown on various types of soil. The only good soils were the ones that “bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold” (Mark 4:20). Bearing fruit is more than just developing godly character. For the follower of Jesus, bearing fruit means reproducing more followers of Jesus!

What does all this “bearing fruit” talk have to do with receiving whatever we ask from God? Jesus said, “ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” This is a great promise, but it is a conditional promise. Jesus said, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you” (emphasis added). God will answer our request if we abide in Jesus and if his words abide in us. Our challenge is to actually abide in Jesus. Abiding is not a one-time thing. It is a process. A long process. Bearing fruit is not like taking a trip to the grocery store. It takes months and seasons and years. It takes time but the results are worth it: “ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”

Abiding means growing in our relationship with Jesus through knowledge and obedience. As we get to know him through daily Bible reading and meditating and prayer, we understand God and his ways for us through Jesus. We obey what God reveals to us in the Bible and experience grace and increased faith as we do so. Jesus said, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love” (John 15:10). When we do what Jesus told us to do, abiding takes place. It is a simple plan, but its effects are eternally satisfying. Abiding will never get old!

As we learn to abide, we will find that whatever we wish will look a lot more like God’s will for us. And his will will be done. “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:8). “Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19). God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4).

Abide, bear fruit, ask for more. It will be done for you.

The Example of Balak and a Better Way to Seek God

In a somewhat obscure corner of the book of Numbers is the fascinating story of Balaam and Balak (Num. 23-24). Balaam is some kind of prophet for hire. Balak is the king of Moab, a nation that is rather apprehensive of the nation of Israel. Israel is preparing to go to the promised land of Canaan and has soundly defeated several nations on its way around to the Jordan river. Needless to say, Moab and its king Balak is downright frightened of Israel.

The Example of Balak

Balak’s strategy is to call for Balaam to pronounce a curse on Israel. If Israel is cursed then Moab will not suffer the same defeat as the Amorites and Bashan (Num. 21). So Balak takes Balaam up to one of the sacred high places in Moab where Balaam can get a good look at Israel’s camp and curse them.

Sounds like a pretty good strategy. Except that Balaam knows the God of Israel, Yahweh. Balaam had repeatedly told Balak that he could say nothing but what God told him to say. When the sacrifices are made and Balaam inquires of God, God gives him a blessing for Israel instead of a curse! Four times this happens. Each time Balaam speaks God’s word of blessing.

Balak is infuriated! He’s paying good money for a curse! Yet God blesses instead of curses. Balak’s attempts at purchasing a curse, looking to the spiritual high places, and arranging for religious ritual all end in failure. He cannot buy influence with God.

God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? (23:19)

A Better Way to Seek God

I wonder if we sometimes fall into the same pattern as Balak. Sure, our pattern may not be as obviously pagan or anti-Christian, but in subtle ways have we engaged in patterns of life and religion that are really attempts at influencing God’s will? Have we looked at our lives and decided how they need to go? Have we then attempted to spend money, go places, or do religious work to get God to make our lives the way we want them?

Instead, why not go to him and his Word? Why not seek his kingdom and his righteousness (Matt. 6:33)? Why not ask God to intervene according to his Word and his Will? It may not be our way, but it will be a higher way (Isa. 55:9). It may not be our chosen life, but it will be abundant (John 10:10).

When faced with the difficulties of life, respond by going to God for the answer. Respond by going to his people where they will speak the Word and the Gospel into your situation. Ask for wisdom to deal with the situation (Jam. 1:5).

But don’t wait to go to God and his Word. Go there now. Make it your habit to read the Word every day. Make it your habit to listen to God through prayer daily. The rhythms and patterns you establish now will either strengthen or weaken you in the struggling times. Be strengthened by God and his Word today and every day.