Growing with Knowledge

Grow | Devotion #3: Growing with Knowledge
James Mann | Children’s Director

Growing in God is undoubtedly the most important thing one can do to develop in God personally. Growing takes you from someone who just attends a Gathering and bumps you up to the next level. For me personally, growing has been furthering my knowledge and relationship with God. In 2017, I graduated with my undergraduate degree from Oakland University. Immediately, I joined Moody Theological Seminary in Plymouth, Michigan. It is not my goal to just have an extra piece of paper to hang on the wall. I truly believed that the next step for my personal growth was to study God at the graduate level. It has been a game changer on how much closer I have gotten to God. Going into my master’s program, I had the mindset that I knew everything there was to know, and this degree would be a breeze. I sat through my first class, and my eyes were truly opened to how little I knew about Him. I remember sitting there and not understanding every tenth word my professor used. It was extremely discouraging but humbling at the same time.  

James 3:17 (NIV) says, “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” James 1:5 (NIV) adds, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” Knowledge is an important thing; there is no arguing that. Since God is and should be the center and most important thing in our lives, we should be centering our knowledge around Him. The Bible tells us He will give us this knowledge if we ask. That is simply what I did, and He opened the doors for me to have access to the knowledge achievable in a graduate program. 

I will never tell someone they should not go to school. I am a very big proponent of schooling and think it is something in which everyone should find value. What I will say is that depending on what stage of life you are in, God may open a door that might be different than mine. There are many ways to grow in your knowledge of Him. Your avenue could be one of our Growth Communities, a discipleship program, or maybe it is schooling. Whatever path you choose, ask God to show you the way. A crucial point to add is that once He shows you how to grow, do not ignore Him. Instead, act on it.

Growing Through Bitterness

Grow | Devotion #2: Growing Through Bitterness
Max Sinclair | Young Adult’s and Guest Services Director

Recently in my life, I have hit a wall. It was not a physical wall, although it may feel like it, but a wall nonetheless. I could feel a well of bitterness pooling in my life, a feeling that I did not wish to feel. I can pinpoint to exactly where it stemmed from: it was the fact that I was not getting poured into and growing in the Word. Now, this is not a call or cry for help but more of a call of concern to many others. I have found help, and I can now see that this bitterness was important for me to learn some lessons. 

In our Christian walk, we must grow because that is how we reach others. It is a principle that we at The River Church keep to heart. Yet, the question that I ran into while going through this trying time was, “How do I keep growing in the Word when I am bitter, when I am angry, and when I feel that growing is useless and not important because others do not value my growth?” I turned to the book of Job.

The book of Job is nestled between Esther and Psalms, and it tells the story of a man who God saw as, “a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil” (Job 1:8b). This man was blessed with many things, a healthy large family, a large estate, many servants, and was even said to be the greatest of all the people of the east. Yet one day, all of that was stripped from him when God and Satan made a wager. Satan was told by God to take all of his blessings away, with the condition that Satan could not kill Job. This was meant to prove that Job was a loyal and faithful servant. So, Satan took away his riches and his children, destroyed his house, and killed his servants. Job was torn, broken, destroyed, and beaten. Honestly, I know of no adjective to describe his pain. In his grief, Job wrenched his clothes off, shaved his head, and began to call out to God, but Job 1:22 says, “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.” When I read that I was blown away. Here is this man, who had everything taken from him and had every right to curse God, and say, “Why did you do this to me?” Job had every reason to stop worshipping the Lord, yet instead of cursing Him, he cursed the day that he was born. He cursed his life and that if he had never been brought into the world, none of this suffering would have happened to him. Through conversations with friends, and then concealed in a whirlwind, the Lord confronted Job’s anger and bitterness. 

In our own lives, we run into bitterness. Some experience it to the extreme of Job and others to the not so extreme. Yet, we all cry out to God seeking to understand why the world is not fair or just. This bitterness can define us and ruin our relationship with God. So how do we move forward? How did Job move forward? In the Bible, God met Job in his bitterness and taught Job that God alone is God, not Job. Through some heavy Hebrew poetry, God told Job that He is the Creator of all, that what God had done and what God was doing was not for Job to command. With that, we grow through our bitterness by being reminded that God is God and that we are not. We grow when we put ourselves last and begin to see the world and all of creation as that which belongs to God. At the end of the book (Job 42:2-6), Job replies to God and says:

“I know that you can do all things,
    and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
    things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
‘Hear, and I will speak;
    I will question you, and you make it known to me.’
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
    but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
    and repent in dust and ashes.”

Job denied himself, became humble, and put away his bitterness to see the glory that is God. He saw the majesty of God and His complexities and recognized that all is as God wills it. We cannot change the Lord’s will, but we can adapt to His will and learn that our bitterness is a self-justified grumble of pride that we need to come to comprehend. Our lives are not our own, and sometimes everything needs to be taken away for us to see and understand that.

I pray that this devotion motivates you to believe that God has a plan. In our lives, we forget to see that God is the “Author and finisher of our faith.” He is in control, and when our pride dictates our actions to put ourselves first, we begin to feel bitter about the things of God. Only through realizing that God has a plan and that we need to live within that plan and not our own, do we get to grow through our bitterness. 

The Forging Process

Grow | Devotion #1: The Forging Process
Chuck Lindsey | Reach Pastor

“Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:11 (NKJV)

A few years ago, on Christmas morning, my wife accomplished something pretty amazing. She finally, for the first time in our nearly 20 years of married life, gave me a gift I never expected to get. She was so excited that morning to set in front of me a heavy and oddly shaped package to open. Each tear of the brightly colored paper revealed more and more of a small anvil and a blacksmith’s hammer. She knew that, for many years, I had a desire to learn the lost craft of blacksmithing and so she apparently filed that away in her mind and waited for her moment to surprise me.

It may sound strange to hear it, but I have learned many spiritual lessons from the art of blacksmithing. Most principles are specifically related to the biblical concepts of growth, correction, and discipleship. Each piece in the blacksmith’s shop paints a significant spiritual picture. Consider the mighty anvil; for instance, it is a great picture of God’s Word, the Bible. The bedrock promises and the instruction of the Word of God cannot change or be moved. The same is true of an anvil; it does not move. It is so strong, so stable, so sure, that it forces all other metal to conform to it. The Bible is like this. It does not change; it cannot be broken or moved. It is sure, stable, and strong. As our lives come into contact with it, we are changed more and more into the image of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Of course, the blacksmith’s hammer is the primary tool a smith will use to shape any metal. Each blow of the hammer changes that steel into what the artist sees. He has a goal in mind, and he knows how to get it there. He sees in that raw metal what no one else sees. He sees what that steel can be, and it is something that steel will never become on its own. It will never get there apart from his hand. So, he uses his hammer to get it there. The blacksmith’s hammer is a beautiful picture of the Holy Spirit. Our Lord uses His Spirit as the hammer in our lives, against the anvil of His Word to lead, teach, correct, guide, encourage, and comfort. In short, the Holy Spirit shapes us into what He sees and wants us to be.

The next spiritual picture is that of the furnace. When I want to change that metal, I must heat it up. This is where the furnace is essential. It is an intense process! The furnace often exceeds temperatures of 3,000 degrees! However, without the heat of the furnace, the metal simply does not move. It dents and dings and if I continue to hit it with the hammer, it actually begins to develop microscopic cracks in its structure until it finally breaks. But, when I use the furnace to heat the steel, every hammer blow moves the steel like soft clay. It is truly amazing to watch something so hard be softened by the heat of the furnace and move into the shape you desire. The furnace is essential to the shaping process of the steel. The same is true of God’s discipline. It is essential in our lives. The furnace of God’s correction, teaching, and discipline is used in our lives to shape us. Through the furnace of His discipline, He softens the hardest of hearts and makes them moldable in His hands, and we need it to move, grow, and become what our Lord wants us to be. We need the furnace of God’s discipline.

There are many other tools a blacksmith employs to accomplish his task. We could talk about each one, but at the end of the day, the goal is always simply to shape that metal into what he sees. That is our Lord’s purpose, too. He is the Master Blacksmith. He already sees what He wants to do in you and He knows how to do that in your life. His goal will always be to shape us into the image of our Lord Jesus and so He uses the furnace of discipline to soften us, the hammer of His Spirit to shape us, and the anvil of His Word to make us.

Death was Arrested

Gather | Devotion #6: Death was Arrested
Brett Eberle

Having been the Production Director at The River Church meant that I was constantly surrounded by worship music. As time went on, songs began to blend together. It was very easy to become numb to the story the artist is portraying through their songs. But every so often a song will come out that has a melody that instantly grabs your attention, with words so powerful that it stirs your very soul. That song for me is Death was Arrested. It is one of the most dynamic songs that I have ever heard, it runs from a straight guitar introduction to the full band crushing a chorus, and there is even an a cappella part in it. As much as I enjoy the dynamics of the band, the words in one of the verses seem to have the ability to pull me out of whatever mess that I am going through and point me straight back to Jesus:

“Our Savior displayed on a criminal’s cross.”

The One who came to set us free from the bondage of Hell was beaten within an inch of His life. They strapped Him to a cross out in front of everyone who passed by on the road into Jerusalem. Jesus did not deserve to be on that cross, but He took it on for you and for me.

“Darkness rejoiced as though heaven had lost.” 

I cannot imagine the three days following Jesus’ death. For His family and His disciples, it must have felt like an eternity. But everyone gets to rejoice in the next two lines.

“But then Jesus arose with our freedom in hand.”

When Jesus came out of the grave, He did more than just raise from the dead; He brought the chance to escape the bondage that this world and sin keeps you. But that is not all that He brought back with Him. The last line of the verse is so powerful for me.

 “That’s when death was arrested, and my life began.”

Jesus did not just give us the opportunity to escape the bondage of sin, but He also gave us the chance to escape the punishment of sin. The Bible says that the wages of sin is death, meaning that the cost of my sin is eternal death in Hell, but Jesus loved us so much that He was put on a cross He did not deserve, and He died. When He came out of the grave, He held our freedom and our chance at eternal life in His hands. I am forever grateful for a Savior who loves me and gave me the chance to live with Him forever.

Why do we Gather?

Gather | Devotion #5: Why do we Gather?
Kenny Hovis | Prison Ministry Director

I spend much of my time in prison. Yes, it is part of my job, but it is also a passion for me. The knowledge that less than 1% of the population of our country get to go where our teams are blessed to be able to go makes me stand in awe of how God is using us. It is humbling, to say the least. 

Recently, we went to a facility in the upper peninsula of Michigan. We visited three different facilities in three days, and played six softball games with inmates, after which we had an opportunity to interact and pray with the men in these facilities. Our team had the opportunity to pray with hundreds of men that needed encouragement, and in some cases wanted someone to show them how to “throw their life to God!” It was awesome watching God bless the efforts and sacrifice of time by our team.

Many times I stand back and watch our team in action to make sure that they are not clumping up too much, or going outside of the boundaries that the staff has set up for us to work. I happened to notice a very tall man standing not too far from me also watching what was happening in the yard. I 100% believe God was speaking to me to go talk to him. I have had this happen a number of times and know now that the best thing to do is just to go. 

I walked up to him and asked him his name. He hesitated, looked me in the eye as to say “what do you want,” and then told me his name was Eric. I asked him where he was from, and he told me, Grand Blanc! I told him we were practically neighbors since I was from Goodrich; we hit it off immediately. 

When I asked him if there was anything I could pray about with him, he shared that he had just started going back to gatherings in prison after growing up in the Church. His question and prayer request caught me off guard and really made me think. He asked, “What is a service (gathering) supposed to look like?” His observations when growing up was that it seemed to be a fashion show. Small groups of people were seeming to be crushing their Christian walk, but knowing them outside of the gathering, he did not see consistency. In prison, he saw the same inconsistencies, but also saw many men “going crazy” during worship, but they were some of the “darkest” individuals that he knew. So, my concern was I only had ten minutes for the Holy Spirit to formulate a response to his broad sweeping question.

In my answer, I remember telling him some integral parts of a gathering. I told him my analogy of a gathering is it is like being in the military and going back to the fort or base. Why does someone in battle go back to their base? They return for reassurance that they are not on the battle lines by themselves, for first aid if they are wounded, for additional direction or instruction, to train and sharpen their skills, to celebrate their victories, or how to not repeat a defeat. It is a time to learn the importance of working together; they can achieve much more than being out there all alone. All this happens at the fortress for one reason. It is to prepare the troops to go back out to battle.

In our gatherings, we should be celebrating our victories. It is the things we are able to do, people we are able to reach, and lives we are able to touch. None of this would be possible without the work of the Holy Spirit dwelling inside of us. We should be surrendering our victories back at the feet of God in genuine worshipfulness and thankfulness. In 2 Corinthians 13:11-12, Paul says, “Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss.”  This speaks to us being able to identify the wounded, lift one another up, and agree on a common cause. This working together and greeting one another would be a way to salute one another. Acknowledge the fact that you recognize they have been in battle. Receive instruction and encouragement, so as to be ready to get back to the battle. 

The most effective soldier is not necessarily the one with the most elaborate uniform, or the one sharing all of his accomplishments so that everyone notices him. The most effective soldier is the one who realizes his purpose, his call to action, and then goes out and performs his duty to the best of his ability. It is the one who is putting himself in harm’s way for the cause of his Commander. The goal is to hear, “Well done good and faithful soldier (servant).” He should then come back to base to encourage others to do the same.

When we gather, we need to remember what is important. Things like worship, encouragement, instruction, comradery, and then returning to the fight. We need to remember those who have stopped showing up at gatherings. They may need our assistance to come back for all that is important in the elements of the gathering. We need to remember we are meant to bring in the wounded. Leave no man (or woman) behind should be our motto. 

After giving Eric my answer, he looked and me and thanked me. I did not think it was anything profound, but evidently, it was what he needed to hear. When we prayed together, I made sure to thank God for the answer I gave, because in my own intellect, I would have no idea what Eric needed to hear. You see, he was one of the wounded. The Holy Spirit gave him the first aid he needed. I was encouraged as the Holy Spirit used me as a first responder for Eric. Now we are both better equipped to go back into battle.

I like to close my emails many times with a specific phrase as encouragement and seems appropriate in this context: Let’s return to the battle!

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