What is the Church? (Part 2)

by Erin Bird

Even though I was under 5 foot tall and weighed a whopping 75 pounds sopping wet, I went out for football in 7th grade. My size kept me on the sidelines, only getting to play the “B” game during the 10 minute half-time of the “A” game.

And yet I felt like a winner. Why? Because our “A” team went undefeated. I was at every practice. I cheered my teammates from the sideline at every game. And so even though I saw very limited action, I felt I was a part of our undefeated season.

A Part of Something Bigger

I think all of us long to be a part of something that is “winning.” Whether its just being a fan for a sports team, being a member of a club with a welcoming culture, or working for a company that has a lot of momentum, we want to be part of something that is bigger than “just me”.

And yet, when it comes to our faith in Jesus and involvement in church, often times we make it a private, personal thing. We don’t take about spiritual things, or we only think about spiritual matters for an hour on Sunday mornings.

But that misses the mark of how God sees His Church.

We are in part 2 of our series “What is the Church?” where we are looking at Riverwood’s definition of Church. Here’s our definition again:

The Church is the redeemed people of God living on mission together under the headship of Jesus to live out the implications of the Gospel.

Last week, we saw that the Church is the redeemed people of God. That means this week we are going to look at the second phrase: “living on mission together.”

Three Words

This phrase has three key words:

1. Living

what is the church part2.2 350x196 - What is the Church? (Part 2)If you follow Jesus, your beliefs aren’t to be just something you think about. Your belief in Jesus is to be lived out.

This is why you might hear some Jesus-followers say, “You don’t go to church. You ARE the Church! So BE the church!” And being part of God’s Church means you live out your faith in Jesus.

2. Mission

But what is it we live out as the redeemed people of God? We live out the mission of God. And what is God’s mission? Redeeming broken and imperfect world through the gospel.

I live in the “church world.” I follow various pastors on Twitter. I read books aimed at pastors. And so I often hear church experts talk about how a church needs to have a clearly defined mission.

But one time I heard a different sentiment about mission: “God’s Church doesn’t have a mission. God’s mission has a Church!” I love that! If you follow Jesus, then you are part of God’s Church, which means you are to be fulfilling this mission of inviting the spiritually disconnected to find and follow Jesus through the gospel.

3. Together

This last word is incredibly important. While we need to live out our faith, accomplishing the mission of God, it was never intended to be done individually. To use a sports analogy, church is not to be a golf team where each player does their own thing. Rather its more like a football team that works together to try to win the game. Each player has their own role, but they work together simultaneously to accomplish their goals.

This is why…

  • Riverwood is aiming to have an elder team by this fall.
  • our Kids Creek team is inviting people to help in our new preschool class.
  • we even invite people to do simple things like greet or usher on Sundays.

If you are part of the Riverwood family, I want to see you involved in some aspect of Riverwood, so you can have the joy of living on mission with your church family, accomplishing the goal God has given us to invite the spiritually disconnected (which includes you and me!) to find and follow Jesus.

Speaking the Gospel to Strangers

By Erin Bird

I am typing this from the Exponential Conference in Florida where our associate pastor Jeff and our wives are taking in great teaching from this huge conference focused on the topic of church planting.

On my flight down here to Orlando, I sat in the middle seat next to a guy on the aisle. I knew if I didn’t introduce myself right away, we probably wouldn’t talk the entire 3-hour flight. I had work to do, but with my own sermon from Sunday  still rattling in my head about “speaking the gospel,” I knew I should create an opportunity to practice what I had preached. So I extended my hand and said, “My name’s Erin.”

Speaking the Gospel to Others blank 350x196 - Speaking the Gospel to Strangers

And that handshake turned into a three-hour conversation.

Ryan became a follower of Jesus just 18-months ago, so he was THRILLED to learn I was a pastor at a church plant in Iowa. He is a part of a Converge church in the Twin Cities (Converge is the conference Riverwood is part of), so he peppered me with questions about church, small groups, volunteering, how to become a pastor, baptism, how to share his faith, and much more. For the entire flight, I was able to “speak the gospel” to Ryan, helping him see how the gospel answered a lot of his questions and could help him take the next steps in his faith.

What I Learned

My interaction with Ryan got me thinking:

  • Had I not introduced myself within the first 30 seconds of sitting down next to him, I probably would have never had the opportunity to disciple him for those three hours.
  • Also, I didn’t launch into a gospel presentation with Ryan telling him of his need for Jesus. Rather, I began with questions to get to know him. I learned he is divorced, and his divorce is what led him to look for a church. By God’s grace, he ended up at a church that clearly explained the gospel, and that gospel has completely changed Ryan’s life, to the point he is beginning to think and live the gospel.

You never know what God will do when you take a risk to introduce yourself to a stranger and then ask questions to get to know them. You might find yourself encouraging a fellow brother or sister in the faith like I did. Or you might ended up sharing the gospel with someone who is ready to hear it. You might end up making a new friend. Or you might see nothing happen. But if you don’t take the risk and introduce yourself, then you DEFINITELY won’t see anything happen!

So let me encourage to take a risk and reach out to someone. It doesn’t have to be a complete stranger, but your selflessness of getting to know another person just might be exactly what they need.

Fasting Benefits Others

From January 7-27, Riverwood is doing a “21 Days of Fasting & Prayer” spiritual campaign. We are praying for Riverwood, our nation, our community, and for personal spiritual growth in 2018. To make our blog a part of this spiritual journey, we are looking at Isaiah 58 and the topic of fasting.

If you missed the past two posts in this series, you can catch them right here on our blog. Otherwise, let’s continue to learn together as we seek Jesus through the spiritual discipline of fasting!


by Erin Bird

We just passed the half-way mark in our 21 Days of Prayer and Fasting. How’s your fast going? Mine is going well, but I’ll be honest, some days have been hard. In case you don’t know, I am fasting breakfast everyday. Somedays haven’t been a huge issue, but some days my stomach is screaming at me to eat something.

Are you having painful moments like this in your fast? Maybe you are experiencing:

  • hunger pangs like I am,
  • or anger that you can’t enjoy a candy bar,
  • or frustration because you missed the big TV episode everyone is talking about at work,
  • or feeling left out because your peer group keeps mentioning things from Facebook.

When those moments arise, we can be grouchy and not very pleasant to be around. (We might make people around us wish we weren’t fasting.)

But God tells us through Isaiah 58 the opposite should be true. Rather than make people wish we hadn’t engaged in 21 Days of Prayer and fasting, our fasting should actually benefit others. Look at it with me:

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? (Isaiah 58:6-7)

If you remember our previous articles on Isaiah 58, some of the Jewish people were fasting from food in hopes they could get God to do things for them. They wanted God to be pleased with them and work on their behalf, and they thought He’d be deeply impressed if they gave up food.

But God called the people to fast so that THEY would change! If you look at Isaiah 58:6-7 above, you notice…

  • He wanted them to experience hunger so they could identify with the hungry.
  • He wanted them to suffer so they could understand the plight of those in continual suffering.
  • He wanted them to go without to have a soft heart toward those who have not.

fasting benefits others2 350x196 - Fasting Benefits OthersIn other words, God wanted the people humbled so they might be changed in such a way that their life wasn’t about self, it was about Him and blessing those around them.

All of this tells me we should have two responses in our painful moments due to fasting:

1. Emotional Response

First, our own struggle in the midst of our fast should help us understand those who face a similar struggle far more regularly than us. Our hearts should be softened to the plight of the less fortunate – whether it be physical poverty or emotional poverty. Fasting should produce empathy within us.

As the famous quote says: “You can’t understand someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.” Fasting gives you a chance to try on someone else’s “shoes.”

2. Physical Response

Second, the pain we feel in our fasting should lead us to do more than just empathize, it should change how we live toward others.

  • If you are giving up coffee for these 21 Days, could you donate the money you would have spent on your roasted caffeine to an organization like Compassion International?
  • Or if you gave up a meal or an entire day with food, could you give the time you would have spent eating to volunteer at something like the Northeast Iowa Food Bank or the free Waverly Café held at Grace Baptist every Wednesday evening?
  • Or if you gave up social media, could you redeem the time by writing actual letters to people or inviting someone over for dinner?

In Closing

And so…

  • …when you have a hunger pang, allow it to make you more connected with those facing hunger insecurity.
  • …when you can’t have the soda or sugar you want so badly, may it lead you to pray for those who regularly go without.
  • …when you feel left out because everyone is talking about social media, may it lead you to look for others who feel left out and befriend them.

May your fast not only help you be more connected with your loving Heavenly Father, but may it connect you more with those in our world whose biggest need is the gospel.

Don’t be a Jerk

by Erin Bird

Years ago, in the pre-Facebook era, I (along with a handful of leaders from area churches) started a city-wide young adult ministry in Cedar Rapids called Watershed. We drew 80-100 young adults from over 20 different churches to a Thursday night worship gathering.

It was evident the college students and 20-somethings Watershed was drawing were not only hungry to connect with God, but with one another as well. So, to help build relationships, we started an online forum. The World Wide Web was bursting into adolescence in 2003, so it was “cool” to have a place where young adults could connect online.

However, within a year of launching, the forum was a train wreck. I was one of the moderators, and I would experience a mini-anxiety attack every time I logged on to the forum. Why? Because normally sane people turned into Internet assassins, converting their computer keyboards into weapons, writing hurtful opinionated words from behind the shield of their computer monitor.

Ever since I watched the decline of the Watershed forum, I have had a passion to see Jesus-followers live out their faith even in the online arena. So for the month of July, we are going to do a series called “How to Follow Jesus Online.” Our key passage is going to be Philippians 2:12-16a, so let’s look at this passage as we discuss our first topic – “Don’t be a Jerk.”

Our Series Key Passage

Therefore, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, so now, not only in my presence but even more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you both to will and to work according to his good purpose. Do everything without grumbling and arguing, so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the world, by holding firm to the word of life. (Phil. 2:12-16a)

Let’s put this passage in context.

In the second chapter of Philippians, Paul is talking about the importance of humility. In verse 4 , he defines humility as not looking out for your own interests, but for the interests of others as well. To help them see what this type of humility in real life, he talked about Jesus in verses 5-11 . So the context for our series key passage is how to live like Jesus lived, full of humility – putting others first.

That’s why in verse 14 , Paul says to do everything without grumbling or arguing. When you grumble, you’re complaining that things aren’t the way you want. When you argue without humility, you are demanding your way, not considering the needs and interests and opinions of others.

dont be a jerk2 350x196 - Don't be a JerkThat’s where the Watershed forum failed. A handful of the young adults forgot to put others first. They wanted to get their opinion not only heard, but accepted as the best and right way. Their posts lacked grace, empathy, and understanding, making them sound like jerks, not Jesus-followers. They weren’t posting with “fear and trembling” (verse 12) they were posting with ferociousness and tempers.

Now realize: being a Jesus-follower doesn’t mean you take your brain out of your head in order to be kind. (Jesus does after all tells us to love Him with all our mind!) I’m not asking you to act as if your point isn’t valid. But being right isn’t more important than being loving. The well-worn cliché still holds true: people won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

So as you write a comment on a Facebook post or respond to an angry email, do what Paul says in verse 15 and, rather than be a jerk, be “P.U.R.E…


Before you post, pray. Pray that your words would be seasoned with grace. Pray for those who will read your words.


Being right isn’t more important than being loving.

Before you seek to be understood, seek to understand. What is the other person truly saying? How might their experience be affecting what they are saying? Understanding where others are coming from will affect what you write and the “tone” you write with. In other words, build a bridge instead of a wall.


Before you hit “Send,” reread what you wrote. Or when someone posts an opinion that raises your ire, reread what they wrote carefully just in case you are misinterpreting what they intended to say. Rereading often slows us down just a little bit in order to help us not be an internet jerk.

Extend Grace

When all is said and done, you will not agree with everyone, nor will everyone be won over by your eloquent words. That’s okay! Extend them grace, just as God has given grace to you.

If you act “PURE” online, you are all the closer to not being a jerk online and living like Jesus would have lived, filled with humility – even on Facebook.