When Perseverance Matters Most

When Perseverance Matters Most

The Made Well series were life-changing for many people at our church. (If you missed any of the messages, you can watch them right here.) Interestingly, while we learned a lot about healing, we in turn learned a lot about prayer. 

Not receiving healing can be discouraging. It can challenge our faith when we ask God to show up, and it appears as though He hasn’t. 

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught us how to pray: 

“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.”

-Matthew 7:7-10 (NLT)

For many of us, this is exactly when we give up on praying. We throw in the towel with disappointment and frustration when God leaves us with seemingly no answer. Some of us have prayed for God to show up for years, and we find ourselves wondering what He’s up to. It can be so much easier to accept current circumstances as the way it has to be, rather than trust God to provide, especially when you’ve asked God in the past. 

But this is precisely when persistence matters most. The place where you have reached the end of what you think God can accomplish, the edge of where you believe God can provide, is the EXACT moment Jesus tells us to keep on asking, to keep on seeking and to keep on knocking. It is the desire of our Heavenly Father to give good gifts to His children, and His promise will come to pass.

For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”

 

When we persist in our prayers to God, we expand our ability to trust Him. God’s promise to us is that He will never short-change us, never let us down, and never leave us empty-handed. Even if you have all the faith in the world, there are still moments when we ask, “Will God keep His promise?” 

When you face that question of whether or not God will prove Himself faithful, just remember, keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking.

Why Patience Always Pays Off

Why Patience Always Pays Off

If there’s one thing that we seem to loath more than anything, it’s waiting. If you’ve ever found yourself in evening rush hour traffic, or in line at the DMV, you know this to be true. Something deep within us tells us that waiting is time wasted. It tells us that when we are not making motion forward, something has gone wrong. 

Truth is, we spend much of our lives waiting, whether we want it or not. We wait for all kinds of things. We wait for winter to be over, and for spring to come. We wait for that friend to come around after an argument. We wait for our situations to get better. We spend so much time waiting for one thing or another. Sometimes it can be infuriating, disappointing, and confusing.

All throughout the story of God, there are people waiting. Abraham waited for many years for God to fulfill the promise of a child. Joseph endured hardship after hardship until it was the right moment for his God-given dream to be fulfilled. The disciples waited for three grueling days for Jesus to defeat death. 

Waiting can feel an awful lot like growing pains sometimes. It can be uncomfortable to let tests and challenges “do their work” in us. In the book of James, we are reminded this: 

 

“Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.”

 

Tests and challenges are not to be shooed away, for they are gifts! Through enduring these circumstances, moments and seasons, our faith in God is forced to show what it’s really made of. Enduring forces us to rely once again on God to provide for our every need. Patience in these times makes us rely on God to make a way to a better tomorrow. Patience always pays off. God can and will always do an amazing work in us when we wait and rely on Him. 

When we are patient for God to work, are never waiting in vain. God is not one to go back in what He says would be done. Life begins to look radically different when we remember this: 

God always keeps his promises.

 

Everyone is in a different spot along their faith journey. Patience and waiting will look differently for every person. No matter where you are, just remember this: It’s never hurt anyone to trust God for something. When we patiently wait for God, He will bring us good in one way or another.

Why Moving Forward Means Trying Again

Why Moving Forward Means Trying Again

As a young kid, my family used to spend summer days water-skiing on the lakes close to where we lived. I spent years as the spotter in the boat— watching, waiting, wishing I could experience the thrill of water-skiing myself. 

When I grew old enough, and my legs grew strong enough, I took a crack at it. But it was hard, and I fell a lot. 

I got discouraged. 

I got tired.

I’m fairly sure I didn’t get up on skis the first time. Or the second. Or the third. 

The point is this— I had to fail a lot before I could succeed at all at waterskiing. I think most of our lives are like this. Oftentimes, the success we see all around us was birthed by long periods of “unsuccess”. 

This is the world we are all born into. Remember what it’s like for a baby to begin walking. Clumsy, unbalanced, and unsuccessful attempts at first. It would be easy for a baby to think, “I’m just not good at this, I should find something else to work on. Maybe crawling.” 

It would seem logical for a baby to just decide that just isn’t the thing for them, because they sure aren’t good at it from the get-go. Those little legs don’t have the coordination, nor the muscle to walk at first. Those are strengthened by the little attempts that they make, again and again. What allows babies to learn to walk so well and so fast is their determination to get right back up, every time they fall down. 

This makes me think that failure isn’t something to be avoided at all costs. Failure is the struggle that makes us stronger. It’s the fire that refines our character. It’s the iron sharpens us. All to be the Christ-follower we were made to be. 

The beginning of the book of James, tell us that we shouldn’t stop at where we struggle. We shouldn’t fear failing. We should embrace those moments— even consider them gifts! Failure is difficult to see as a gift, especially in the thick of it. It’s often embarrassing and exposing, and frustrating. 

Failure isn’t something to be avoided at all costs. Failure is the struggle that makes us stronger.

 

Maybe you know the taste of failure all too well. Maybe you’ve fallen down in pursuing what God has laid on your heart, and the discouragement is keeping you from going at it again. Maybe the fear of failing at all is keeping you from even attempting in the first place. 

Here’s the bottom line— you can’t let fear stop you from trying. I can’t let fear stop me from trying. As Christ-followers, and as leaders, we simply don’t have the option of letting fear put us on the sidelines. We need failure in our lives to teach us, to strengthen us, and to guide us. 

Moving forward through failing does not mean to put unrealistic expectations on yourself. But it does mean starting, even if it’s the smallest of steps forward. The best thing for you if you feel knocked down is to take a breath, collect yourself, and get up again. It’s in those moments that we find God right alongside us, extending a hand to help us up. 

"(God) wants (us) to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles.” -C.S. Lewis

Rock-Bottom

Rock-Bottom

Rock-bottom is a scary place to be. Seriously.

It's a place that we pray we never find and yet is the most frequented place that humanity visits. No one wants to be the guy that hits rock-bottom. That guy is a loser, a washed-up has-been, and the epitome of "how not to do it." We spend our lives carefully constructing emotional scaffolding that will supposedly ensure that we don't get to this place, but it's inevitable. 

Did you catch that? I said that ROCK-BOTTOM IS INEVITABLE.

The question isn't if we're going to hit rock-bottom, the question is when. We will all get there, and when we do, it's not the rock that hurts, it's what happens to our hearts and minds that brings the pain. Emotionally, the sense of failure is so crippling that it makes it infinitely easier to stay down than to rise up for another attempt. Spiritually, we feel as though we have disappointed God, and the pain of potentially doing it again isn't something we're willing to risk.
So we stay down until rock-bottom becomes our home...that is, until God's grace trumps the convenience of our self-pity.

"His grace gives you the ability to get back up when everything (and everyone) tells you it's okay to stay down."

 

It's at this stage that it's important to lead your life from a place of conviction and not emotion as emotion will skew your reality, but conviction will anchor you in it. It's from this place of conviction that you absolutely must establish three things:

  1. Establish your Sonship (or daughtership).
    Remember that you are God's child above all else and be completely content with that fact. Know that God isn't impressed with your performance, He is impressed by your ability to surrender to His process and trust Him. If all else fails, you still have victory as one of His kids, and that alone will lift you out of your struggle.
     
  2. Establish your Servanthood.
    Decide that serving God will be enough even if you rise or fall. Your service to God cannot be contingent upon your rock-bottom; your service to God is in spite of your rock-bottom. Your consistency in serving will break whatever put you on that hard, rocky ground in the first place.
     
  3. Establish your Sphere of Influence.
    Recognize who is watching, listening, and emulating you. People don't watch your faith when you fly as much as they do when you fall. They are questioning if your faith is real, and if so, is it strong enough to endure rock-bottom. How you walk through this season of your life will either make or break your influence. Walk wisely.

 

Keep in mind that none of this can work without a more consistent devotional life that's deeper than anything you have ever experienced before. You must dig deeper and go further to gain the most valuable gifts of God. I understand that the process can be difficult and I know that rock-bottom hurts, but the strength and victory that comes as a result of wise perseverance will set you up for the strongest season of your life. 

Extraordinary Things That Reorient The Ordinary

Extraordinary Things That Reorient The Ordinary

Recently, we had a chance to sit down with Justin Mack, the Global Project Pastor here at River Valley Church. We talked missions, and how his story, the church’s story and what God is doing in the people here at River Valley Church.

Since Justin has been here at River Valley, he's watched the passion for global missions spread like wildfire across all of River Valley Church. With nearly one Global Team being sent out each and every week, and 170 individuals and families preparing for long-term missions work, there are more people than ever who are discovering the heart of God to carry the gospel to those who've never heard. 

 

Tell me about how you got here, you know, in regards to missions. Like what were the events in your life that lead you to being so passionate about it…

J: I grew up as a pastor’s kid, and I remember my parents often hosting missionaries at our church and in our home, and being very intrigued and mesmerized by their stories, the thought of people around the world not knowing about Jesus, and their part in going to share that good news with them. 

But, the stories always caught my attention, even as a kid. The first time ever going and seeing it first hand was when I was sixteen years old, I went to Lima Nocitias, Peru. It was a lot of fun, it was exciting, it was heartbreaking, it was so many things. 

What I didn’t realize was how life-changing it was going to be for me. How it was going to affect my trajectory, and who I was going to become, in terms of my vocation in life. Looking back, that was a major mile-marker. 

Up to that point, I wanted to be a professional tennis player, make lots of money travel the world (laughs). Yes, talk about Jesus, but I really wanted to be a tennis player. I think God had a bigger, better plan for me. 

After that trip, I had opportunity to travel and see the world more, and my heart has expanded more and more since. 

It was actually on a short term team to China that I met the Ketterlings. At the time River Valley Church was just a small church of only a few hundred people, but a BIG vision for missions. I remember, in a hotel room in Beijing China, pastor Rob and I were just dreaming about what River Valley missions could be. He asked me, “would you ever think about coming to River Valley?” Fast forward five years, and I came to River Valley. And the rest is kind of history.

How many times have you had the opportunity to do missions work overseas yourself?

J: I don’t know how many trips, I know I’ve been to… conservatively over 60 countries, but some of those countries I’ve been to 6,7,8 times. I’ve helped organize hundreds of teams.

So it’s pretty safe to say, that you’ve been able to see a pretty good cross-section of all of Global Project since the beginning. What’s one thing that you love seeing in people that come back from these trips?

J: I love seeing people who love Jesus, who are following Him, who are passionate about Him, go on these trips, and their heart exploding and enlarging for a part of God’s plan and for a part of the world that they knew about, but it wasn’t in their heart. But when they go and experience it first hand, it just starts to make sense. This Great Commission, this getting the gospel to everyone— it puts the color into the painting. It just starts to become more vivid to people, and it starts to become a real heart and passion. I love watching that transformation happening. It can happen in a very short period of time, even just ten days, going on a team. 

I also love watching people that are uncertain about their faith or their devotion to Christ. They go, and something about taking ten days and just unplugging from the 9 to 5 everyday challenges of life and just focusing on God and being used by God to share His love to other people, just does a radical transformation on people that are even wondering “is this real?” or “is this right?” or, “is this what I want to give my life to?” For most, it just solidifies it. It’s like, “yes, this is what we were designed to do, to love and help on another and share the gospel of Christ with people that don’t know it. 

This Great Commission, this getting the gospel to everyone— it puts the color into the painting. It just starts to become more vivid to people, and it starts to become a real heart and passion.

 

Going on so many trips, I’m sure that you’ve had many life-changing moments, all around the world. What would you say is something that you’ve learned overseas about people, about God, about us, that you bring back home and use everyday?

J: Wow… that’s a great question…

I think every time I go, I learn something different. Sometimes I’m surprised that I hadn’t learned that before. Maybe even sometimes it’s a great reminder of something I learned a long time ago but forgot about. 

I've learned that people are not that different from one another at the core. They may look different, they may sound a little different, they may come from a different background— but at the core, they are so much more similar than we are different. People want to be valued, people want to be loved, people have fears and doubts and worries and want to know that someone cares and truly loves them. People just mask it in so many different ways. 

I’ve learned— and tried to bring back home this: as different as the person is sitting across from me seems on the surface— at the core we’re the same. We both need each other, we both need Christ’s love in our life, and I want to show them that if they don’t know, or at least remind them if did know at one point. 

As much as you can say, what is the future of Global Project?

J: I really think we’re just getting started. I think the investment that we’ve made in our kids and youth by helping them at an early age see the world, and get a heart for the world, that’s gonna be a tidal wave.

We have a vision to send 500 individuals, couples, families to give one year of their life and pray about a lifetime overseas. Right now, we have about 170 people in the pipeline that are preparing to make that decision. In other words, they are going through our training program, called MAP (Missionary Action Plan) that walks them through a four-phase process. At the end of that process, it helps them identify, “am I one of the 500?” If they are, they have a pretty good idea where and when and how they are going to get there.

I think Global Teams have become a very well known part of Global Project. A lot of times, people even call it Global Teams. I think the 500 missionaries being sent out from one local church is such a mind-blowing reality if the Lord helps us get to that goal. That will be as big— if not bigger part of Global Project than the Global Teams.

Global Teams are just the beginning. It’s to ignite a passion, it’s the starter, it’s the spark to just start a journey of generosity, of prayer, of advocacy— and hopefully a wave of people who will say, “I don’t just want to go for ten days, I want to give my life to this.” That side of Global Project, the long-term missionary giving year maybe praying about a lifetime is a huge part of the future. I think our Global Teams will continue to grow— I could see a day where we are sending 2-3 teams every week as the church grows. I see the long-term missionaries growing hugely here. 

"...as different as the person is sitting across from me seems on the surface— at the core we’re the same. We both need each other, we both need Christ’s love in our life, and I want to show them that if they don’t know, or at least remind them if did know at one point."

 

What would you say to someone who’s on the fence— who’s curious about this Global Project thing, but doesn’t know what to do?

J: Just give it a shot! Don’t wait— there will always be an excuse for why the timing is not right, why they can’t come up with the money. We’ve seen so many people go, and when they come back, they say, “I wish that wouldn’t have waited so long. I never had any idea how impacting this would be.” 

It often takes an extraordinary experience in your life to reorient the ordinary. And I think this is one of those really positive, extraordinary experiences that help you reshape everyday life, and so don’t wait to get your everyday life all together and figured out before you step into this. I say just do it, watch the pieces fall into place, and watch how that short-term experience changes your long-term perspective. Just do it, just go! 

"It often takes an extraordinary experience in your life to reorient the ordinary."