Boot Camp is Over

Boot Camp is Over

Hello there!

Erin here. Thanks for opening up our weekly email as we continue our  series called “What I Am Learning,” where we are hearing from four different individuals who are part of the Riverwood family. This week, I’m super pumped that Grace Epley agreed to write this week’s Note.

As you hopefully know, Grace is the three-month-long bride of Riverwood’s Worship Director, Jake. She grew up in Wyoming, graduated from Moody last December, and is currently working mornings at The Mixing Bowl in downtown Waverly and evenings at the women’s homeless shelter of Friends of the Family.

May her words encourage you as you hear about what God has been teaching her. Enjoy!


by Grace Epley

What has God been teaching me? This has been a difficult question for me to answer. Erin told me that given the recent transitions in my life (such as graduating college, getting married, moving, and starting two new jobs), he thought there must be a lot God is teaching me right now. So I reflected, prayed, and evaluated the past few months… and found silence.

For the past several years of my life, God has been teaching me more about who He is: good, loving, sovereign, faithful, and a God who suffers. But all of a sudden I found myself unable to place any specific lessons from the Lord. Perhaps the sheer volume of new experiences recently numbed me to truly listening to the voice of the Lord, and noticing his work in my life. So I started paying closer attention to the things I was reading, listening to, and experiencing. Suddenly I realized “Boot camp is over.”

To understand the significance of this, let me share a bit about myself

Life at Boot Camp
I grew up in a Christian home, to godly parents in full-time ministry. When I was young, they were part of a missions organization taking part-time teams to Mexico, then moved to Wyoming to be part of church ministry. From there, they started a non-profit geared toward families below the poverty line in my hometown. One thing they made very clear when I was growing up was that I had just as big a place in ministry as they did. They homeschooled my two sisters and me to create room for active discipleship throughout the day, as well as to maximize opportunities to minister together as a family.

After graduating high-school, I did my first year of college online through Moody Bible Institute, then transferred to their main campus in Chicago to get my degree in Ministry to Victims of Sexual Exploitation. I loved being at Moody! Never in my life had I been so completely surrounded by people so committed to bringing glory to the Lord. However, while we had Practical Christian Ministry assignments that required students to volunteer somewhere off campus, we “Moodies” were largely stuck in what was referred to as the “Moody Bubble.”

However, one professor would correct this criticism: “This isn’t a bubble, this is boot camp.” We were being trained, toned, and prepared for a life of service. That didn’t mean we weren’t active in ministry. But it meant this was an intense time to focus on being as prepared for ministry as possible so we would be the best leaders and ministers we could be when we entered ministry full-time.

Training is Done, the Mission Begun
So now what? I have been in training my whole life. I was trained in the home, then trained in college. Doing ministry was crucial to my training, yet it was never a full-time commitment. What was I called to do now?

soldier walkingRecently, I’ve been attending Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) at the invitation of Bridget Pavelec. I have loved my time with the ladies there. The group is studying the book of Acts, and I find myself relating to the disciples.

For three years, the disciples studied under Jesus. Yes, they ministered with Him, but mainly they spent their time watching and learning from Him. They were essentially full-time students. Then suddenly, after the ascension of Jesus, they were left with a job to do. Boot camp was over. At Pentecost, they received the Holy Spirit to equip them to do what the Lord wanted them to do, to preach the Gospel.

Like the disciples, I find myself no longer a full-time student. I was given the Holy Spirit when I received Christ as my Lord and Savior. Now I am being given a job. Incidentally, Erin just recently took us through the How to BLESS series on evangelism. Between the two, I realized that it is now time to be more proactive than I ever have before in furthering the Gospel.

I currently work as a crisis advocate for Friends of the Family, an organization that houses women and children who are homeless because of domestic violence and human trafficking. This job involves answering the phone to people who are in danger, being available to clients in shelter to provide for them whatever they might need, defusing conflict, and a LOT of paper work. But the hardest part of my job is watching my coworkers who are not believers try and do this job without Jesus.

As a secular organization, Friends of the Family has hired a lot of people who have compassion, but those people have nowhere to turn when that compassion wears out. They get cynical and don’t want to do parts of their job. Without Christ what is there to keep us from crumbling? What is there to keep the goodwill from running out and turning helping people into no more than a job? Now that boot camp is over, I am learning from God to be proactive in bringing the Gospel of Christ to those I work with.

Trusting Through Trials

 

Trusting Through Trials (Empty Bench by calm lake next to autumn tree)

Trusting Through Trials

Hello, hello!

Erin here. I am SO excited for you this week as we continue our email-only series called “What I Am Learning,” where we are hearing from four different individuals who are part of the Riverwood family. Why am I so excited? Because this week you get to hear from Christine Blessing.

And what a “blessing” Christine, and her husband Tom, have been to the Riverwood family! Not only do they serve graciously, they treat everyone with extreme kindness. As you read Christine’s words below, I think you will discover from where some of that kindness comes.

Enjoy!


by Christine Blessing

Years ago, my life with God changed. Growing up, I had gone to church on a regular basis, I had read about Him in my Bible and I had heard the stories, but until I went through a trying divorce and had no one else to lean on, I didn’t understand how to have a relationship with Him.

My life had flipped upside down. I felt abandoned by my church family as I was going through this horrible time. I was “a single mom with 2 littles” trying to keep it all together on the outside. I cried out to God when all seemed lost, and He continually showed up by giving me His peace. He gently nudged me along until I solely relied on Him.

He not only made sure I had all I needed spiritually through Him, He also provided materially. He made sure our bills were paid, our stomachs were full, and I had just enough money left over in my paycheck to fill my gas tank. God wanted my attention, and He got it. During those days, I truly learned to trust Him.

So, what does this have to do with the present and what I’m learning from God now?

Past Trials lead to Present Trust
A couple of week’s ago, Pastor Erin taught on “The Gospel and Time.” In his sermon, he stated we can be completely okay with our past because we know that when we believe in Christ, God redeems our past sins and trials. God uses all things – even our “messed up” things (like divorce) – to grow us closer to Him and make us more like Jesus. He doesn’t waste any of it. (Romans 8:28-29)

In other words, even when I thought I would never get over the divorce or thought I’d never be okay again, He showed me how much more He had in store for me. I only had to be still and trust Him through the trial.

Now, years later, I have learned to listen for Him and listen TO Him. I may not always do it perfectly, but…

  • It may be as simple as a song or Bible verse that pops into my head when I’m overwhelmed.
  • It may be a strong sense to call or text someone that He places on my heart.
  • It may just the quiet morning where He reminds me how much He loves me by showing me a gorgeous sky on my way to work.

I used to be ‘too busy’ for these reminders, but when I wouldn’t listen to Him, I felt frustrated and hollow inside. Thankfully, He kept nudging me. So I decided to try something. I trusted those “nudgings” were from Him, so I gave into those feelings. And you know what? I didn’t feel empty anymore! He is so gracious and loving, He didn’t want to leave me the way I was.

It’s a joy to say He has truly lead me to green pastures and still waters. He really does refresh my soul. (Psalm 23:2-3) And to think that I used to miss this? I will gladly follow His lead now and trust Him.

In all honesty, I don’t always enjoy the trial or the waiting part, but I do know that in the end of whatever I’m going through, I will be more content and more in love with Him. And His plan is ALWAYS better than mine could ever be.

So let me encourage you to trust God, even in the midst of your worst trial. Because after seeing God bring me through my own horrific trial, I can truly say I can’t wait to see what blessing He has for me next. 😀

Reducing Spiritual Amnesia

Reducing Spiritual Amnesia

Happy Reformation Day, everyone!

Erin here. I am SO excited about the new email-only series we are starting today called “What I Am Learning.” This four-week series will feature a different member each week of our Riverwood family sharing with you what he or she is currently learning from God.

Matt & CassyFirst up is Matt Townsley. Many of you know, Matt is the husband of Cassy and father to Caleb, Tyler, Nathan, and Keely. Matt was just commissioned this past Sunday as the newest elder of the Riverwood family, so it seems very appropriate to let Matt have the stage first to shine the light on what God has been teaching him.

Enjoy!


by Matt Townsley

When Moses went up the mountain for forty days in Exodus 32, God’s people were getting antsy, and started to build idols. Exodus 32:8a summarizes this sad turn of events:

“They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them.”

How could the ancient Israelites forget God’s goodness in such a short amount of time? They had just seen God miraculously bring them out of Egypt, yet just a few short weeks later, they had “turned aside.” It was a classic case of spiritual amnesia.

As it turns out, I often suffer from this disease as well.

My Own Spiritual Amnesia

In the past three years, my family has experienced a tremendous amount of change: adopting two kids, having another child of our own, moving to a new city, and (for me) starting a new job. Thankfully, through each change, God has provided His consistent goodness and provision.

However, like the Israelites, I have experienced doses of spiritual amnesia. Following each answered prayer through each of these life-changes in the past three years, I found myself starting from ground zero again, wondering how, when and even if, God would provide again “this time.”

For those of you who do not know, Cassy and I adopted two of our boys from Florida in a six-month time period in 2016-17. Agency fees, attorney bills, and travel expenses were a heavy financial burden. Cassy will be the first to tell you we almost did not adopt, because I, the math-minded-money-manager, didn’t see how it could possibly add up. However, through gracious donations, a foundation focused on helping adoptive families, and some government tax credits, all of our costs were covered. God provided in a BIG way! Yet I still found myself doubting if God would look after my family’s daily bread in the ensuing months.

Fast forward to Spring 2018 when I accepted a job at the University of Northern Iowa, which meant we needed to sell our house in Mt. Vernon and find a house in Waverly. When our house in Mt. Vernon sold quickly, we were thrilled. Yet I still found myself doubting if God would provide in such a tight market. In fact, the first house we bid on in Waverly fell through due to the seller taking the house off the market. All I could think was, “God, why?” Nearly one week later, God provided in a BIG way, through a quick sale of the house we currently reside.

How to Reduce Spiritual Amnesia

As I ponder about these past moments, I notice a recurring theme: I would utter an “after-the-fact prayer” filled with thanksgiving (which sounded like “Dear God, you are better to us that we deserve…”) followed a week later by an idol-building, self-dependent, doubting-God attitude. With a healthy dose of spiritual amnesia in tact, it has been consistently easier to thank God retroactively rather than have proactive faith in His goodness.

As such, I have learned several things about trusting God as a means of reducing spiritual amnesia:

1. God knows best.

In his book, Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts, Jerry Bridges says, “God in His love always wills what is best for us. In His wisdom He always knows what is best, and in His sovereignty He has the power to bring it about.” Nearly every time I wonder why God closed one door, He later revealed a new door that honors His will for our family.

2. Trusting God is a marathon, not a sprint.

James 1:2-3 says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” Other translations substitute “perseverance” for steadfastness. I am admittedly a slow learner in many areas of life, but slowly learning yields spiritual benefits. So keep trusting God even when you are unsure of what the future holds.

3. The more I know about God, the easier it is to trust Him.

I don’t know about you, but the more time I spend with family, friends and co-workers, the easier I find it is to trust them. Psalm 37:4-6 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday.” Reading God’s word reduces the temptation to depend upon myself and increases opportunities to learn about His desires for my heart.

I hope and pray you will be a quicker student than I by trusting God and remembering His goodness, so you will not suffer the same doses of spiritual amnesia that has plagued me in recent years.

Praying Scripture

Praying Scripture

By Erin Bird

Before we get to this week’s content, I just need to take a moment and share that I’m really excited about the new series we are starting next Thursday here in the News & Notes. I’m calling the series “What I’m Learning.”

What has me so excited about this series is that you will NOT be hearing from me. Rather, you will be hearing from some of our own Riverwood family! And their job is simple: to share what God is teaching them during this season in their lives.

My hope is that by hearing how God is working in different individuals in our church family, it will encourage you in your own spiritual walk. So be sure to open up next week’s email as our new elder, Matt Townsley, kicks the series off.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming…

The End of Bible Study
Okay, I admit. That’s a misleading subtitle. Of course I do not want to see you come to the end of studying the Bible. (If I did, I wouldn’t have bothered doing a 7-week series on the topic!) But this week IS the end of our series on various Bible Study methods.

And if I’m being truly honest with you and with myself, this week’s topic isn’t exactly a Bible study method. It won’t help you understand the context, or  go deep with a word, or even help you become more familiar with the Bible through repetition. But it will help you go deeper in your faith through the Scripture. And as you most likely already know because of the image above and the title of this week’s article, what I am talking about is using the Bible to guide your prayers.

Letting God’s Words Guide Your Words
I don’t know about you, but every once in a while, I have a desire to pray, but I don’t quite know what to say or how to say it. So why not let God’s eternal words guide your words in the moment? In other words, let the Scripture give you the words to pray.

For instance, last Sunday I taught from Hebrews chapters 3 and 4. Let’s take very last portion of that passage (4:14-16) to see what “praying the Scripture” might look like. First, here’s the passage:

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

And here’s what you might pray:

“Heavenly Father, I thank you for Jesus, Your Son and my great high priest, who passed through the heavens and the cross for me. Help me, Father, to hold fast to my confession of the gospel. I confess my need for Jesus at all times. And Jesus, I thank you for becoming human so that I would know you are able to sympathize with my weaknesses, knowing what I face and go through each day. And yet, even though you knew what it was like to be tempted like I am tempted, you went through this life without sin. And so because you are so great, and also so loving, help me to draw near your throne of grace with confidence – confidence that I will receive mercy. Confidence I will receive grace. Confidence you will be with me in my time of need. And confidence that you will answer my prayers perfectly.”

Prayer Tips
praying hands on Bible1. Let the Scripture guide.
Don’t feel like you have to force anything or get flowery in your speech. If you don’t quite know what to say next, let the next verse or phrase lead you.

2. Don’t force the Scriptures to be a script.
Praying Scripture does not mean ONLY reciting back the words of the Bible to God. Rather, it is about allowing the Scriptures to guide your heart and mind to know what to say to God and connect with Him.

3. Use a good Bible translation.
While I use the ESV (English Standard Version), for both preaching and personal reading, some people find the slightly-more-theological language of the ESV a bit harder to read than others. So use a version of the Bible that is reliable, yet readable. The versions I tend to recommend to people (other than the ESV) are:
Praying Scripture

By Erin Bird

Before we get to this week’s content, I just need to take a moment and share that I’m really excited about the new series we are starting next Thursday here in the News & Notes. I’m calling the series “What I’m Learning.”

What has me so excited about this series is that you will NOT be hearing from me. Rather, you will be hearing from some of our own Riverwood family! And their job is simple: to share what God is teaching them during this season in their lives.

My hope is that by hearing how God is working in different individuals in our church family, it will encourage you in your own spiritual walk. So be sure to open up next week’s email as our new elder, Matt Townsley, kicks the series off.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming…

The End of Bible Study
Okay, I admit. That’s a misleading subtitle. Of course I do not want to see you come to the end of studying the Bible. (If I did, I wouldn’t have bothered doing a 7-week series on the topic!) But this week IS the end of our series on various Bible Study methods.

And if I’m being truly honest with you and with myself, this week’s topic isn’t exactly a Bible study method. It won’t help you understand the context, or  go deep with a word, or even help you become more familiar with the Bible through repetition. But it will help you go deeper in your faith through the Scripture. And as you most likely already know because of the image above and the title of this week’s article, what I am talking about is using the Bible to guide your prayers.

Letting God’s Words Guide Your Words
I don’t know about you, but every once in a while, I have a desire to pray, but I don’t quite know what to say or how to say it. So why not let God’s eternal words guide your words in the moment? In other words, let the Scripture give you the words to pray.

For instance, last Sunday I taught from Hebrews chapters 3 and 4. Let’s take very last portion of that passage (4:14-16) to see what “praying the Scripture” might look like. First, here’s the passage:

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

And here’s what you might pray:

“Heavenly Father, I thank you for Jesus, Your Son and my great high priest, who passed through the heavens and the cross for me. Help me, Father, to hold fast to my confession of the gospel. I confess my need for Jesus at all times. And Jesus, I thank you for becoming human so that I would know you are able to sympathize with my weaknesses, knowing what I face and go through each day. And yet, even though you knew what it was like to be tempted like I am tempted, you went through this life without sin. And so because you are so great, and also so loving, help me to draw near your throne of grace with confidence – confidence that I will receive mercy. Confidence I will receive grace. Confidence you will be with me in my time of need. And confidence that you will answer my prayers perfectly.”

Prayer Tips
praying hands on Bible1. Let the Scripture guide.
Don’t feel like you have to force anything or get flowery in your speech. If you don’t quite know what to say next, let the next verse or phrase lead you.

2. Don’t force the Scriptures to be a script.
Praying Scripture does not mean ONLY reciting back the words of the Bible to God. Rather, it is about allowing the Scriptures to guide your heart and mind to know what to say to God and connect with Him.

3. Use a good Bible translation.
While I use the ESV (English Standard Version), for both preaching and personal reading, some people find the slightly-more-theological language of the ESV a bit harder to read than others. So use a version of the Bible that is reliable, yet readable. The versions I tend to recommend to people (other than the ESV) are:

4. Use most of the Bible.
Lastly, there are quite a few passages throughout the Bible that can guide you in prayer, but realize  passages like genealogy (such as Genesis 5) or heavily historical sections (such as the rest of Genesis) will be difficult as prayer guides. Instead,

  • let the Psalms be your prayers (since many of them are prayers!).
  • Allow the Epistle’s (the letters in the New Testament) to guide you to pray through the Gospel.
  • Make Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount your heart-searching prayers.

Don’t  just open to a random spot and start praying. Otherwise you might get frustrated trying to pray through Matthew’s begats.

In Conclusion
I hope you’ll take some time this week to pray through the Scriptures, letting them guide your words to our Heavenly Father. Occasionally, when I pray through the Bible, I find it very refreshing, and every once in a while I see something in the Scripture I haven’t noticed before.

Also, I hope that of the handful of Bible study methods we have looked at these past 7 weeks, at least one of them has (or will) help you go deeper in your faith through a study of God’s word. After all…

“All scripture is breathed out of God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”

May you find great joy in Jesus through studying God’s Word!

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