Spend Less this Advent Season

Spend Less

For the month of December, we will be doing a series here in the News & Notes on three of the four tenets of Advent Conspiracy. We have looked at these four tenets in the past, but because of the cultural pressure around us, it is worth us considering again. So here is what we are going to do:

Each of the next three “Notes” will be a blog post from the Advent Conspiracy blog looking at one of the tenets. In case you aren’t quite familiar with Advent Conspiracy, here is a paragraph from their blog post called “Advent Conspiracy 101” that will quickly orientate you to their hope for Jesus-followers:

“We worship fully because Christmas is about Jesus. If we forget this foundational truth, everything else falls apart. Let our actions and our words come from a place of worship. We spend less because we know mindless consumption is not the way to celebrate our Savior. By spending a little less on ourselves we are able to joyfully give to others in need. We give more of ourselves because this is the way of Jesus. God gave us his Son and now it is our turn to reflect that same selflessness to the world. We share our time, talents, and presence with the people we love. We love all because we have been loved first. We believe that the poor and hurting of our world can be reached by God through the way we choose to celebrate Christmas.”

Even if you are thoroughly familiar with all four tenets of Advent Conspiracy, I strongly encourage you to read the next three emails so they can help you make the most of your Christmas season.

In Christ,

Erin signature

Spend Less
from the Advent Conspiracy team

Spend less is an ambiguous goal. But what does it mean? Spend less than last year? Spend less than my neighbor? The truth is there is no formula. The challenge of this tenet is to be willing to ask more questions and then be open to hearing what God says in return.

Is this something I want or something I need?

Why do I want to buy this?

What kind of company am I supporting if I purchase this product?

Can I afford to spend this amount?

How many presents do we actually need? 

What did we do with the presents from last year?

You see, spending less requires us to plan. Instead of mindlessly shopping online and ordering more than we know what to do with, we take the time to think about each purchase. We strive to thoughtfully evaluate what we support with our spending, and we allow our spending to support products, people, and causes worthy of being supported. By spending a little less on ourselves we are able to more joyfully give to others in need.

It is not enough to say no to the way Christmas is celebrated by many; we need to say yes to a different way of celebrating.

Christmas PresentIt’s important to remember that when we choose to spend less on Christmas presents, it doesn’t mean  we love our friends and family any less. In fact, for many of us, we’ve found that the creative, intentional gifts we give showcase our love – and perhaps God’s – more clearly than ever before.

More than just an invitation to say no to overspending, this is an invitation to a new way of celebrating. This year start a new tradition of spending compassionately and responsibly.

Some ideas to help you Spend Less this Christmas:

  • Make a Christmas budget and then stick to it. Don’t compare yourself to others, pray and do what is best for your family.
  • Research companies that are Fair Trade.
  • Pray for the people on your Christmas list before purchasing anything. Make spending a conscious decision that engages your heart.
  • It’s not just about the presents. Notice how much you’re spending on other Christmas activities (going out to eat, new outfits, wrapping paper, decorations, etc.). Find one area where you can cut back this year.
  • Write down five things for which you’re thankful. Take inventory of how blessed you already are.
  • Set a spending limit as a family. Let everyone have the same amount to spend on each other. You’ll be surprised at how creative your kids will get!
  • Donate old and unused clothes, toys, and books to a local organization. Notice how much stuff you actually don’t use or need.

Originally published at https://adventconspiracy.org/spend-less/

Three Bridges to Revival

Three Bridges to Revival

Hello there!

Terry & JackieErin here. Thanks for opening up this week’s News & Notes 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 thrilled you get to hear from Terry Ransom.

In case you don’t know Terry, he lives in Clarksville with his amazing wife Jackie. Together, they have four grown adult children (one of whom lives and works in China) and four grandchildren (with another one on the way). You can often see Terry on Sundays serving as an usher, but what you may not know is Terry dutifully prays for the entire Riverwood family. I’m glad you have the blessing today of learning what this wonderful man has been learning himself.

by Terry Ransom

Recently, I’ve been studying the book of 2 Chronicles. This Old Testament book is God’s viewpoint on the sinful conditions in the ancient nation of Judah. At that time, Judah had had 20 kings after David and Solomon. David was used as the measuring stick to compare kings. According to 2 Chronicles, there were only 8 “good” kings and 5 “outstanding” kings. So I wondered, what made these five kings so “outstanding”?

When you look deeper, you discover all five led a revival. That’s right, I said led, because each revival started in their personal lives before God. They were at the spiritual front by giving God all their heart and worship. They met sin head on and dealt with it according to God’s will.

As I look at these five kings and the spiritual revivals they led, I see (so to speak) three bridges to revival:

  1. Knowledge of the Word of God
  2. Scriptural separation
  3. Faith in God

Knowledge of the Word of God
When I read Hosea 4:6-10, I see that people perish for lack of knowledge of God and His Word, and will reap trouble for their sin, because they don’t know or obey God. To start a revival, you me, or whoever must diligently seek knowledge of the Word of God.

All five kings turned to the Word of God. You cannot have a revival unless you have a knowledge the word of God. Jehoshaphat sent his princes and the Levites throughout all of Judah to teach the people the law (the Word of God). (2 Chronicles 17:6-9) Revival will not come unless we are anchored in the Word of God – and I must remember JESUS is the living Word of GOD.

bridgeScriptural Separation
The second bridge to revival I see in these outstanding kings is that I must be Scripturally separated. To me, this means I must be separated from sin to a life in the Word of God. I must learn to live in Jesus not just believe in Him. To live in Jesus means to trust Him, depend on Him, and obey Him in all things.

Faith in God
The last bridge to revival I see in the five outstanding kings is faith. But how does one get faith? I know that faith comes from hearing the Word of God. (Romans 10:17) It says in Hebrews 11:6 that without faith, it is impossible to please God.

So in closing, I will have to put these three principles in action if I want revival. It will take study, work, and faith. I know God is the only one who can truly bring revival, but it won’t start in my life unless I learn to obey God, know Him, separate to God, and have complete faith in Him. I need to stand up for what is true and obey Him, not popular trends or Godless ideas. I must remember that apostasy starts with compromise, and to do the opposite to stay true to Jesus. And by doing so, I hope to see revival, starting with me.

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.

God’s Presence Brings True Joy

by Erin Bird

Well, it’s here – the last gasp before the school year begins. Teachers reported back to the classroom this past Monday here in the Waverly-Shell Rock district and students show up tomorrow. Surrounding districts are starting around this same time as well. If you are a Jesus-follower, would you just take a moment to pray for the students, teachers, staff, and administrators of your local school system?

Also, Wartburg students are starting to show up. Many fall athletes are already on campus, freshmen and transfer students show up next week with returning students not far behind. Their classes begin on Wednesday, Sept 4. Would you join me in praying for the students, staff, and faculty? Also, pray God would give Riverwood the joy of loving on and investing in some Wartburg students this year.

Continuing Our Series

Last week, I began a new blog series based on a prayer found in the book Gospel by J.D. Greear. If you need a refresher, here is the prayer:

“Heavenly Father, in Christ, I know there is nothing I can do that would make You love me more, and nothing I have done that makes You love me less. Help me realize Your presence and approval are all I need for everlasting joy. Just as you have been to me, so I will be to others. And Heavenly Father, as I pray, help me measure Your compassion by the cross and Your power by the resurrection.”

Last week, we looked at the first phrase, which means this week I want to take a few moments to look at that second sentence: “Your presence and approval are all I need for everlasting joy.”

Finding Joy, Fading Joy

If you have ever been infatuated with a boyfriend or girlfriend, you know the joy you found just by being with that special person. You didn’t have to have big plans to go do something in order to have fun. Simply hanging out, eating food, and even watching stupid movies was enough to make you happy.

But even if you marry that special person, more times than not, the feeling fades. There’s a house that needs cleaned, bills that need paid, and careers that need attention. No longer is the simple presence of the other person enough. The joy you felt during the early days of dating has faded.

This leads many people to search for joy in other places. Some look for it in a hobby, others in a sports team, some through vacations, some through their career, and unfortunately some look for joy in the arms of another person.

This sad story parallels what happens in many spiritual lives. Some people, when they believe the gospel, find such joy just being in God’s presence. If you follow Jesus, perhaps that was your experience. Do you remember it? Singing to Jesus, talking to Him in prayer, even reading the Scripture were such effortless tasks because it was more about God’s presence than anything else.

But then life happened. You got asked to do nursery duty at church, or recruited to serve at the Food Bank, or your co-worker dumped their emotional burdens on you, or the kids got sick, or the bill collectors kept calling, or you got extremely tired of that one song being played over and over on the radio, and eventually the joy you felt in God’s presence waned.

For many people, when their joy in Jesus fades, they turn to other things: Netflix, shopping, dating relationships, work, substances… anything that might give them some spark of happiness. But as we all know, the joy of these “idols” wanes even more.

So what is Jesus-follower to do?

Keep Going with the Gospel

The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Jesus-followers in Colassae, writes “As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him.” (Colossians 2:6)

Now, if you follow Jesus, re-read that verse, and as you do, ask yourself: How did you receive Jesus? The answer is “Through the Gospel!” So next ask: how are you to “walk in him” (i.e. follow Jesus)? Again, the answer is “Through the Gospel!”

In other words, as you keep peering into the Gospel, studying it, contemplating it, treasuring it, and thanking God for it, you realize the significant sacrifice Jesus made for you through the cross shows how much He loves you. And when you realize just how much He loves you, you find you WANT to be in His presence, for it alone gives you everlasting joy.

Getting Off the Approval Treadmill

But J.D.’s prayer doesn’t just say that God’s presence is all we need for everlasting joy. It says that God’s presence and approval are what we need.

You know, it’s funny: us humans spend so much time chasing joy in anything but God, yet we feel shackled by some sort of internal religiosity. We screw up – we drink too much, or blurt out Jesus’ name in vain, or think really evil thoughts against someone, or spread some unfounded gossip or watch some videos we know we shouldn’t view – so we try to make it up with God by going to church, or posting a Bible verse on social media, or spending some time reading the Bible, or even donating some money to the poor widow down the street. It makes us feel a little better about ourselves (which means God must be feeling a little better about us as well, right?). But then we screw up again, and the cycle continues.

It’s like we are caught on an approval treadmill – trying to get closer to God by earning His approval, but due to our sinful screw ups, we don’t seem to be making any progress.

If this is you, listen up: There is nothing you can do to earn more of God’s approval. God’s approval of you isn’t based on anything you do, rather it is based upon what Jesus has done. This is the scandal of grace.

Our spiritual enemy tries to whisper to us that God isn’t happy with us, and that we have to somehow re-earn His trust and affection. “If I am going to please God, I have to do more religious things,” we think to ourselves. But the doctrine of atonement corrects this lie by teaching us that when God looks at those who believe in Jesus, He doesn’t see their sin, He sees the righteousness of Christ. This is what the Apostle Paul expressed in Philippians 3:8-9:

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”

Paul knew his religious efforts to please God fell completely short of simply knowing Jesus. Instead, he needed to accept Christ’s death on the cross for him, and allow the righteousness of Jesus be counted as his righteousness. Because of what Christ did, Paul knew he had God’s approval, and so therefore he could experience full joy.

So if you are a Jesus-follower, may you this week pray to God, thanking Him that His presence and approval is all you need for everlasting joy!

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