"Consider it pure joy (all joy, great joy), my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance (patience, endurance, steadfastness). 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature (perfect) and complete, not lacking anything" (James 1:2-4).
James tells us that trials are beneficial and that suffering may be good for us; it can help us to become who we truly would like to be: mature, "perfect," complete and whole, not lacking anything (Ps 23:1). I pray that this may be the attitude we embrace as we begin the new year.
As we begin 2017 it may be good to express the Why, How and What of our church, West Loop Church:
- The WHY of West Loop is to always declare grace (Ac 20:24), rest (Mt 11:28) and freedom (Gal 5:1).
- The HOW is through Scripture (2 Tim 3:16) and life together (1 Jn 1:3), i.e. through Bible study and community.
- The WHAT is to give generously of our life, time and money--all of our resources (Dt 6:5; Lev 19:18; 2 Cor 5:15).
Review of 2016 and Prayer for the New Year 2017
In 2016 I prayed that it may be the year of Bible study, just as the psalmist delightfully proclaimed, "How I love Your instruction (your law)! It is my meditation all day long" (Ps 119:97, HCSB). I prayed that as a community, God may open our hearts to "delight in the Lord's instructions (law of the Lord)...day and night" (Ps 1:2, HCSB).
For 2017, along similar lines, I pray that it may be the year of studying the Bible together. Hebrews 10:24-25 says, "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching." I pray that we may study the Bible together in a safe authentic community "so that we do not drift away" (Heb 2:1).
- "Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm" (Heb 10:23, NLT).
- "Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works" (Heb 10:24, NLT).
- "...let us not neglect our meeting together" (Heb 10:24, NLT).
Preaching through the entire book of Isaiah since early 2016 has been one of my most satisfying endeavors as a Christian. For the last two years, I have been studying every chapter of Isaiah by reading and referencing Isaiah scholars (Oswalt, Motyer, Kidner, Ortland, etc). I and a few others have preached on all 57 chapters of Isaiah in over 50 sermons (53). God willing I may finish the last 9 chapters in 2017, and then begin my next OT book, possibly Jeremiah.
"Trust God" (Isa 7:9; 12:2; 26:4; 40:31) is the emphatic repeated theme of Isaiah for his people in the midst of difficulties and adversities. The Israelites should trust God when they were under attack from powerful Assyria (ch. 1-39). They should trust God with hope and wait on God when they were defeated and exiled in Babylon (ch. 40-55). They should also trust God when they return from Babylonian exile and need to rebuild their broken and devastated city and land from scratch (ch. 56-66).
Philippines UBF, under the stewardship of William Altobar, has grown from 1 chapter to 6 UBF chapters and church plants in the last 5 years. Over the past 2 years they are also welcoming more and more children from their neighborhoods, comprising of poor squatters, who are referred to as informal settlers. Malaysia UBF is a lively community led by Ison Hong and Vincent Lee together with a handful of devoted young Malaysian leaders. In May 2016 we held our first Manila Malaysia Bible Conference in the Philippines based on Isaiah with the theme: My Eyes Have Seen the King. It has been my utmost joy, delight and privilege to visit and fellowship with them each year.
NCWS (neighborhood community worship service), or WPBF (Warren Park Bible Fellowship) is thriving through the pastoring of Henry Asega and Kevin Albright. By God's grace, I also have the privilege of serving and supporting them through preaching and teaching at their worship services monthly.