Give Thanks

Happy Thanksgiving!

By Erin Bird

We interrupt our current Advent Conspiracy series (again), to simply wish you a Happy Thanksgiving!

Take some time today to thank God for Jesus, for His love, and for whatever else comes to your mind and heart. And if you can’t think of what to thank God for, look around, look back, and look deeper. (If that doesn’t make sense, listen to last Sunday’s sermon.)

But on this Thanksgiving holiday, I want to encourage you to do one more thing. I want you to “give thanks” by telling someone “thank you.” It might be a parent for all he or she has done for you. It might be a mentor who invested in you. It might be your spouse for helping you. It might be a co-worker or classmate who served you. It might be a neighbor or anyone that God places on your heart.

As important as it is to “give thanks [to God] in all circumstances,” it is equally important to “give thanks” to those God has used in your life. So shoot someone a text, or email, or even a phone call today just to say “Thank You!”

United Through the Gospel

United Through the Gospel

By Erin Bird

All Together Now

We started this series all the way back in August when I returned from my sabbatical. For the past three months, we have seen eleven different “facets” of the Gospel – being spiritually born, adopted, reconciled, ransomed, justified, rich, and so many more. (You can catch any you missed or want to re-read over on the Riverwood blog.)

While we could keep going with several more facets, we are going to end on the facet of “unity.” But this facet is like a “two for one deal” because it actually has a double meaning –  like two sides of a coin.

 

United with Christ

The first side of this coin is the unity we experience with God through the Gospel. The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 6  that we are united with Jesus in both His death and resurrection (verse 5), and we see this beautifully illustrated in the sacrament of baptism (verses 3-4).

This powerful facet lets you know you are never alone at any moment during your time on earth. And when you breathe your last and appear before the Father, Jesus the Son is standing right there next to you. But it is even deeper than that.

To be united with Christ means your identity completely changes. Just like an American bride goes from single to married with a new last name upon exchanging wedding vows, a brand-new Christian goes from “single to united” with a new identity when they place their faith in the Gospel.

This truth means you are not your own. If you are a Christ-follower, you do not have autonomy – you are completely connected to Jesus.

 

United with Christ-followers

The other side of this “unity” coin is that through the Gospel, Jesus-followers are also united with one another. This is SO important for us to remember, especially in the divisive days in which we find ourselves. If your life is in Christ, you need to know that you…

  •  spiritually have more in common with someone of the opposite political party than someone in the same party who doesn’t follow Jesus
  • are more tied to someone who cheers for the rival of your favorite sports team than your fellow fan who doesn’t know the Gospel
  • are far more connected with someone spiritually who is of a different race or different income level than someone with an almost identical background as you

This truth is why the Apostle Paul talked about the Church as being a “body” in 1 Corinthians 12. Some of us may be more like an ear hearing from the Lord, others of us like a hand serving those around us, while still others of us might be more of an elbow jabbing those who are complacent in their faith. 😉  But no matter what role God has called you to, you are part of the Body, united with others through the Gospel.

And because we are united to one another through the Gospel, we need to live out the “one anothers.” You know, like love one another, be patient with one another, carry one another’s burdens, and such. To follow Jesus isn’t a call to solo-Christianity, but rather a call to live in community, helping one another follow Jesus.

So may you this week bask in the beautiful truth that if you are a Jesus-follower, you are united with Christ. But then let that truth bleed into your everyday life, fulfilling the “one anothers” of Scripture because you are united with fellow Jesus-followers.

Growing Through the Gospel

By Erin Bird

The Princess Bride is a classic movie beloved by many. If you haven’t seen it, it is about a Spanish swordsman avenging the death of his father who was murdered by a government official who happened to have six fingers.
Now, if you HAVE seen the movie, you might be taking issue with my synopsis. “Yes,” you admit, “there is a story line of revenge against the six-fingered man, but that’s not everything the movie is about! You left out the love story of Wesley and Buttercup, and Prince Humperdink’s treachery, and the R.O.U.S.es, and Vizzini’s death to iocane powder, and The Machine, and what about the Impressive Clergyman?!?!?”

And you’d be right. There is so much more about The Princess Bride.

Many people do something similar with the Gospel. They tell people the gospel is what “saves” a person spiritually. And while that is very true, salvation isn’t the totality of the Gospel. The Gospel is so much more. It isn’t just what saves you, it is also what sanctifies you. As Tim Keller says in his article entitled “The Centrality of the Gospel,”

“We never ‘get beyond the gospel’ in our Christian life to something more ‘advanced.’ The gospel is not the first ‘step’ in a ‘stairway’ of truths, rather, it is more like the ‘hub’ in a ‘wheel’ of truth. The gospel is not just the A-B-C’s but the A-Z of Christianity. The gospel is not just the minimum required doctrine necessary to enter the kingdom, but the way we make progress in the kingdom.”

This is why the Apostle Paul said  to the Jesus-followers living in Colossae…

“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him.” (Colossians 2:6)

In other words: How does a person receive Christ Jesus the Lord? Through the Gospel. So how should a person “walk in him” (i.e. growing spiritually)? Through the Gospel.

This is SUCH an important facet of the Gospel. Throughout this series, we’ve seen how we are redeemed,  justified,  adopted,  ransomed, and so much more through Jesus’ life, death, & resurrection. But too many Christians accept these truths, but still try to live out their faith through their own power and strength, rather than let the Gospel be at the center of their spiritual growth.

But if you are going to become the person God calls you to be, it is going to come through your continual surrender to the Gospel. That surrender can be seen by surrendering:

  • your time to read the Scripture, to pray, and to serve others
  • your possessions to bless others
  • your activities to avoid the things that draw you away from Christ and invest in activies that draw you to Him.

But those activities alone don’t help you grow spiritually. They have to be paired with the gospel where they are motivated by the Spirit.

So may you, this week, seek to grow spiritually by surrendering your time, your possession, your activities, and your affections through the Gospel, so you might find the joy God offers to you through Christ.

The Exchange of the Gospel

The Exchange of the Gospel

By Erin Bird

Ever heard of the game “Bigger and Better?” Typically, the game involves sending a group of people out door-to-door to attempt to trade something small for something bigger and better. In our first year of marriage, LeAnn and I had a group of kids from our church’s youth group stop by our condo, and we ended up giving them our broken down turn-table stereo system (I forget the “small” thing we got in exchange).

Several years ago, I heard a TED Talk from a guy who played “Bigger and Better,” but rather than play it by going door to door, he basically played the game through the Internet utilizing Craigslist, Reddit, and the media. His experience with the game started with a red paper clip but eventually turned into a house.

In that TED Talk, there comes a moment where Kyle (the speaker) shares about one trade that seems like an ludicrously bad trade. He traded away concert tickets and a day with a rock star for a snow globe.

Yes, a snow globe.

(Just a heads up: if you go watch that TED Talk, there is some mild language.)

Now, I won’t go into all the details, but I will point out that the snow globe ended up being the very thing that made way for him to get the house. It wasn’t a direct trade, but without the snow globe, Kyle doesn’t get the house.

The Great-yet-Bad Exchange
Kyle’s “Bigger & Better” game illustrates an important facet found within the gospel. Second Corinthians 5:21 says,

“For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (ESV)

Take a moment to think about that verse. God the Father placed all of our sin upon Jesus, the only man to have ever lived without sin, so that the wrath of God could come against sin (rather than come upon us, the sin-doers.) And yet, while Jesus took our sin, He gave us His righteousness.

Talk about a bad trade for Jesus! He gives us His right standing before the Father while taking upon Himself the sin that kept us from God.

This is the Great Exchange. Our sin for His righteousness. That’s a far worse trade than a snow globe for concert tickets and back-stage passes.

And yet, Jesus gladly made the trade. His love for you so overwhelmed Him, He was willing to take your sin upon Himself so that sin could be defeated through the cross. And by doing so, He could then give you His righteousness so that you could come back into a relationship with the Most High And Holy God.

And what did Jesus get out of the whole deal? He got you! It broke the heart of God to have you stolen away by sin, so Jesus was willing to pay the ultimate cost to have you back.

I will admit I have days where this powerful truth barely phases me. I’ve been following Jesus since I was 4-years-old and unfortunately have allowed this facet to become  somewhat commonplace in my thinking.

If you are like me, may this truth shake us out of our spiritual slumber. May we stop and be overwhelmed by God’s love for us. May we marvel at the willingness of Jesus to become sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God. And may we be humbled by this Great Exchange.

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