Going Deeper with Perseverance

If you made it to this past Sunday’s Worship Gathering at Kohlmann Park – I’m so glad you were there! We had such gorgeous weather, Crossed did a fantastic job leading us in worship through song, we got to enjoy a picnic together, and best of all – we got to celebrate Eliana going public with her faith in Jesus through baptism. What a touching morning it was!

As part of the morning at Kohlmann Park, I finished up our Disciplined seriesby talking about the discipline of perseverance from James 1. I want to talk about perseverance just a little bit more by looking at 2 Timothy 2:3-6 with you. Here is that passage:

“Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops.” (2 Timothy 2:3-6 ESV)

This passage was written by the Apostle Paul to his protege, Timothy. Timothy was pastoring the church in Ephesus that Paul had planted, and in what is most likely Paul’s last letter written, he gives Timothy three illustrations – a soldier, an athlete, and a farmer. And each illustration reminds Timothy he must stay focused and persevere in life and ministry.

Focused & Fair Athletes

perseverance2 350x196 - Going Deeper with PerseveranceThis past Sunday, while we were hanging out at Kohlmann Park, the Tour de France was coming to a close. For the first time ever, Geraint Thomas, age 32, of England took the yellow jersey with the overall lowest time. The official Tour de France write up on Thomas’ victory says he is “an example of perseverance and consistency.”

(However, I think the Tour has a better example of perseverance. As great as Thomas’ win was, check out the story of Lawson Craddock, who finished the Tour in last place. Talk about soldiering on!)

But if you ask the average American to name a Tour de France, his or her first answer is most likely Lance Armstrong. Lance first became famous by winning seven Tours consecutively from 1999 to 2005, then became infamous when it was discovered a month after his seventh win he had cheated by taking illegal substancesall those years.

Lance didn’t play by the rules. Rather than persevere, he tried to find a short cut.

This is why Paul says in his letter to Timothy that an athlete must play by the rules. Likewise, the soldier must stay focused on his mission, and the farmer must focus on his crop if he is going to enjoy the fruit of his harvest. Each of these people in their specific occupation or hobby, must apply perseverance.

For you to enjoy the fruit of a relationship with Jesus, you must stay focused on the gospeland your spiritual growth, trusting God to do what only He can do within you to make you more like Jesus. And this type of focus requires perseverance.

So don’t look for spiritual short cuts. Instead, look to Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith.

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.

Shaped by Work

By Erin Bird,

Glad to have you read along as we continue in our “Following Jesus at Work & School” series. (If you’ve missed the previous two articles, you can catch those on the Riverwood blog.)

Today, I want to start by talking about art.

My father earned an art degree in college and has created a wide variety of artworks. He’s done oil painting, watercolors, won awards for photography, created amazing wood creations for my kids, and even had the chance to blow glass. (It’s easy to see where my 17-year-old daughter gets her amazing talent.)

I remember as a little kid seeing my dad work on a potter’s wheel. As the wheel spun around and around, his fingers would mold and shape the clay into the pot that was in his mind’s eye. Sometimes, he would dip his hand in some water to add to the clay as it spun around, or take a sponge to shape the pot or add a bit of texture.

I was mesmerized. When I played with clay, it looked nothing like the pot on the wheel my dad was creating. His fingers had a way of shaping the clay into something more useful than the “snakes” I could fashion in 10 seconds. It was amazing to my little eyes.

We are Clay

Like my dad, God is an artist. (Just look at the heavens or the beauty of this earth!) God even describes himself as a potter as He points out in Jeremiah 18. And His clay is you. If you follow Jesus, then God is shaping you. But rather than make you a pot or bowl or ashtray, He is shaping you into the image of Jesus.

Romans 8:28-29 says…

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

Did you just skim over that verse or skip it entirely? If so, go back and read it. (I’ll wait.)

shaped by work2 350x196 - Shaped by WorkPowerful words, aren’t they? Two key things I want you to take away from these famous verses:
1. God uses ALL things for our good.
2. And that “good” is to conform us into the image of Jesus.

This means, if we apply these two verses to our jobs or school work, God uses our careers or time as students to shape and mold us to become more like Christ!

So don’t see homework as just a tedious chore to make a teacher or professor happy. Don’t view work as just a place to make money so you can afford to pay your mortgage or buy another toy or set of clothes. Instead, realize that God has you in this spot at this time in life to shape and mold you into the beautiful image of Jesus, so you will love like Jesus loved and live like Jesus lived.

Heavenly Father, help me to willingly climb on Your potter wheel, happily letting You use my job or class to do Your work of shaping me into the image of Jesus, Your Son and my Savior. Amen.

Another Thing

In case you haven’t noticed, it’s been a rough few weeks here in the U.S. We’ve battled Category 5 hurricanes, division over NFL anthem protests, and the worst mass shooting ever in Las Vegas. And this doesn’t even touch the natural and man-made devastation that has occurred in other countries. Would you join me in praying? Pray for

  • the victims and their families
  • the responders (police, medical teams, rescue workers)
  • the local churches who are bringing the gospel into these situations through their hands, words, and presence.

Pray also that you and I would be peacemakers right here in the Cedar Valley, to do what we can to love like Jesus in such a tumultuous time.