Jesus is My Shepherd

By Erin Bird

Last week, we began a new series in Psalm 23. We only looked at the first phrase, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” But before you try to jump ahead to the next half of verse 1, there is more I’d like to point out to you about this opening five-word phrase. And what I want to point out is that if you are a Jesus-follower, then Jesus is your shepherd.

In John 10:11-16, Jesus describes himself as a shepherd. But not just a typical shepherd. He calls himself a “good” shepherd.

I don’t know about you, but when someone starts describing themselves as “good,” I get turned off. I admire humility. So for someone to say “I’m good” or “I’m the best” smacks of boasting and unhealthy pride. But when Jesus calls himself the “good shepherd,” he’s not boasting. Rather, he’s stating the truth. He’s good because of what He is willing to do for His “sheep.” Verse 11 sums it up:

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

False Shepherds

Too often, I think we humans are prone to wander and follow false shepherds.

  • We buy into the lie that the Entertainment Shepherd will bring us comfort,
  • that a new Romantic Shepherd will bring protection,
  • that the Extra-bowl-of-ice-cream Shepherd will bring fulfillment,
  • or that the Higher-income Shepherd will lead us to greener pastures.

Their enticements sound so good, we fall for their trick and follow these false shepherds, only to discover they never truly satisfy. You know why? Two reasons:

1. Because these shepherds demand you lay your life down for them.
2. When trouble comes, they will flee like hired hands.

Sheep on dusty mountainside with their shepherdFor instance, you may fall into the arms of a forbidden lover and find a temporary escape from life’s wolves. But that fleeting euphoria leaves, and eventually you’ll discover the affair didn’t truly rescue you from anything. Rather, the affair was a wolf-in-shepherd’s clothing, consuming you yet letting the problems of life remain or even compound.

But Jesus, as a good shepherd, loves you as you are meant to be loved and need to be loved. And you can see his shepherding love and commitment clearly through the cross. He laid down his life, dying to protect you, to rescue you from the wolf of sin, so He could bring you into the green pastures of His love and grace.

So today, take a moment to read John 10:11-16 slowly, pondering Jesus’ shepherd-like love for you. Then take a moment to run to Jesus in prayer, thanking Him for being a good shepherd.

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.

Get the Details

by Erin Bird

We are continuing with our How to Study the Bible series where we are taking a glimpse of a different Bible Study method each week. (If you’ve missed any of our previous weeks, head over to the blog.) Last week, I encouraged you to “Get the Big Picture”by looking at the context of a passage. Well this week, I want to go the opposite direction. Rather than go wider to understand the text, I want you to go deeper. In other words, I want to teach you to “Get the Details.”

Word Study

But truth be told, this week’s study method is really just another form of “getting the big picture.” Rather than trying to understand the immediate, broader, and historical context of any given passage, I want to teach you how to do what many people call a “word study.” In other words, to gain a deeper understanding of the Scripture, sometimes you need to stop at just one word and see how all of the Bible defines that word.

For instance, in last week’s email, when I addressed the idea of looking at the broader context of a passage by looking at the entire book, I brought up the Apostle John’s use of the word “light” in 1 John. I pointed out that when you saw how he used the word “light” throughout his letter, it helped you understand a verse like 1 John 2:8better.

But this week, I want to encourage you to go even further by not just letting the context of one book (in this case 1 John) inform you, but to let ALL of Scripture inform your understanding.

So let’s continue with the word “light.”How does the rest of Scripture define and use this word?

Let’s Study Light

To do a word study, you will either need:

For our purposes right now, let’s use BLB. Here’s one way you might dig deeper into your understanding of “light.”

  1. Open a browser window on your computer and head over to BLB.
  2. In the search box at the top of the BLB website, type in the word “light” and select your preferred Bible translation.
  3. After clicking the search icon, you will see your search results. But you are far from done!
  4. Immediately to the right of the “Word Search” bar and chosen translation is a button that says “Adv. Search”. Click that:
  5. Just in case there were multiple words in ancient Greek that could be translated “light”, you want to make sure you are studying the correct word. So click on the drop-down menu for “Predetermined List” and select 1 John.
  6. Then click the blue arrow next to your preferred translation and you will see new search results appear.
  7. Each verse in 1 John that contains the word “light” is now in your browser window. To the left of each verse is a button that says “Tools.” Click on that.
  8. You now have some options.
    1. My first leaning would be to click on “cross-references” to see where else in Scripture the words has been used. But doing that doesn’t seem to yield me very good results.
    2. So the next thing I would try is “Interlinear.” (An Interlinear Bible parses out the original language and helps you see how the verse was translated into English.)
  9. If you’re still tracking with me, on this new search results page, you see each word/phrase parsed out into a list. Scroll down to “light.” Now, click on the Strong’s reference number. (It’s the middle column.) In this case, the number is “g5457“.
  10. As you scroll down the resulting page, you see
    1. that “light” refers to “light” just as you would imagine (light from the sun, stars, fire, etc.).
    2. But then you also see that the word is used metaphorically throughout the Bible, one of which is “truth and it’s knowledge.”

Personally, as I see this, it shows me why John and the other apostles were so passionate about telling others about Jesus. If Jesus is the “light of the world“, and that light was “the life of men,” you can understand why John wanted to “shine” the light of Jesus. Because to Him, the gospel was truth to be shared, and knowledge that could change lives. So of course he is going to refer to Jesus and his gospel as “light,” because by the light of the gospel, you see life differently and better than ever before.

Wrap-Up

To go deeper with the Bible, sometimes you need to go deep with just one word. So I encourage you, use tools like Blue Letter Bible or a cross-reference Bible and go deeper with words like love, patience, or Immanuel. Take time to get the details, not being content to just skim across the surface of the Scripture, but to plunge deep, letting the details of even one word illuminate your understanding of life and God’s love.

Get the Big Picture

by Erin Bird

We are continuing with our How to Study the Bible series where we are taking a glimpse of a different Bible Study method each week. (If you’ve missed any of our previous weeks, head here to catch up.) This week, we come to a study method I’m calling “The Big Picture.”

Context, Context, Context

If you’ve heard me teach on a Sunday at a Worship Gathering, you know I’m big on context. Keeping a Bible verse in context helps you avoid misinterpreting and misapplying it.

But there are different types of context. Here are a few:

Immediate Context

When studying a Bible verse, it’s good to ask, “what is said prior and after this verse?” Often the immediate context helps you understand the verse in question more clearly, but also helps you avoid errors.

For instance, many years ago, I heard a group of Christians pray that God would put a certain politician in the White House, and they used Matthew 18:19 to tell God He had to do it. After all, Matthew 18:19 says,

“Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.”

They clearly took this verse to mean that since they had more than two of them in agreement that a certain person should become President, God would make it happen.

However, by looking at the immediate context of this verse, you see Jesus is talking about church discipline. He is explaining how to confront, discipline, forgive, and restore someone who has been sinning and harming themselves and the church. So verse 19 isn’t about two people asking for whatever they want, it’s about God’s work in whatever agreement they come to in the restorative discipline of a fellow believer. Here’s how Tom Constable puts it in his “Notes on the Bible…”

“In the context, ‘anything’ refers to any judicial decision involving an erring disciple that the other disciples may make corporately. God has always stood behind His judicial representatives on earth when they carry out His will.”

Suddenly, when you realize the context, you don’t want to use this verse out of Matthew to demand God get your preferred candidate elected.

So as you study the Bible, seek to understand the immediate context around a verse to give you greater clarity and understanding of the text.

Broader Context

Not only is it helpful to know the immediate context, it’s just as helpful to know the broader context. By “broader context,” I primarily mean the entire chapter (which contains the verse) as well as the entire book.

For instance, last fall, we studied the book of 1 John as a church family. We saw that the Apostle John used the word “light” several times throughout his letter. If you saw 1 John 2:8 isolated, you might make the mistake of thinking he was talking about the sunrise. But when you realize that throughout the whole letter, light refers to Jesus and the gospel, you see 1 John 2:8 in a different “light” (yes, pun intended!).

With that said, let me point out that while “broader context” can be an entire chapter or book, it could also be:

  • all of one author’s works
    • for instance, all of Paul’s letters
  • timeline
    • for instance, to understand the context of the book of Philippians, look at the start of the Philippian church in Acts 16
  • the entire Old or New Testament
    • if all of Scripture is “God-breathed” (1 Timothy 3:16), then you can expect a level consistency throughout the entire canon.

Historical Context

The last type of context I want to bring up is Historical Context. What was happening historically when a book or letter was written?

Understanding the historical context is incredibly helpful, giving you a better understanding of a book or letter, almost like a “behind the scenes” perspective. For instance, knowing the prophet Amos was a shepherd and a forester by trade gives you a greater understanding of why he used a fair amount of imagery from nature in his prophecies.

But you are probably not going to gain Historical Context merely from reading the Bible itself. Usually, you need to use reliable outside sources. My personal online favorite (which I’ve shared before) is the NetBible’s online study environment. I know many people who prefer to use the Blue Letter Bible because it has more tools than the NetBible. Or you can go big and purchase something like Logos Bible Software or Accordance.

Do you have a favorite Bible study tool that has helped you understand the context of the Scripture? Please share it on our Facebook page!

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