Lean On Me

by Erin Bird

Remember that famous song Lean On Me? It was the only #1 hit Bill Withers had (all the way back in 1972), but it has become a classic.

While I hope Riverwood will be the type of church where we can truly lean on each other, that’s not what I am going to write about today. We are in the middle of a series here on the blog about The Riverwood Way, and this week we are going to be talking about “leaning.” However, instead of leaning on me, I want to encourage you to lean on Jesus by leaning on His truth.

Leaning on the Truth

Here’s how we put it in The Riverwood Way:

“While we lead with grace, we will always lean on truth – it is our foundation. And we believe the most important truth is found in the 66 Books of the Bible.”

That sounds good on paper (or on a website). But when someone tries to live that out, it can be bothersome. Because sometimes we come across things in the Scripture that run completely counter to what we want.

For instance, when a coworker is being incredibly annoying, it can be difficult to lean on truth and “not let any corrupting talk come out of your mouth.” (Ephesians 4:29)

Or when your sibling starts making fun of you for the 258th time for something that happened years ago when you were a kid, it can be hard to lean on truth and “put away anger.” (Colossians 3:8 )

Or when some attractive man or woman looks at you with longing eyes (whether on the street or in an ad), it can be hard to lean on truth and not “commit adultery in [your] heart.” (Matthew 5:28)

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

I could go on. We all struggle in various areas to live in the truth of God’s ways. We love God’s grace when we screw up in these areas, but we don’t always like the truth that points out that these things are sin.

And yet, Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32 ) The truth He was talking about was His Gospel. When you know the truth that Jesus died for your sins, you are free to actually not let any corrupting talk come out of your mouth, or to put away anger, or to not commit adultery in your heart. Wow!

This is why we lean on truth. We lead with grace towards others because we know God has given grace to us. But we lean on the gospel because it is what frees us and changes our identity from sinner to saint and from slave to citizen.

So when your inner longings want to give in to temptation or the world around you preaches something different than the Scripture, lean on the truth of Jesus because He will truly set you free.

Redefining Our Competitors

by Erin Bird

I sat down with the insurance agent to finalize our car & home owners insurance – and his words shocked me.

LeAnn and I had only been married for a handful of years. We were back in the U.S. after serving two school years at a missionary children’s school in Venezuela – and I was looking for a job. The agent asked what field I was hoping to work in, and I told him I was applying to be a worship pastor in a church.

And the agent said, “Man, that’s a tough business! I mean, there’s a church on every corner!”

In my attempt to be Iowa nice, I sort of nodded my head in agreement, but inside I was completely disagreeing with the agent’s words. Because I knew the competition of a church was not other churches.

Not Competitors but Teammates

We are in a series here on the blog about The Riverwood Way. This week we come to “…is not to compete, but to complete.”

Too often, churches (meaning their leaders and attenders) will become territorial. They see a city or a neighborhood as being “theirs.” So another church, whether new like Riverwood or growing like a megachurch, can be seen as a threat.

I sure felt this when I moved to Waverly. I was told there were already enough churches. I was ignored by some pastors when I contacted to meet with them (to basically tell them I wasn’t here to take their people!). I was treated by some as if I was encroaching on their territory. In other words, they viewed me and Riverwood as competition.

But I wasn’t in Waverly to compete. (If well over 5000 people were part of no church, I knew another church was needed to help put a dent in that number.) So rather than compete with area churches, I felt like God had brought us here to complete the mission that God has given every church. And what is that mission?

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

The mission Jesus has given to every one of His followers – and by extension to the Church – is to invite people to find Him and follow Him. We all have the same mission!

And yet, existing churches (and their leaders) get bothered by the arrival of new churches, while many new churches (and their leaders) swoop into town acting like all the existing churches are clueless and wasting real estate, money, and people’s time.

But if Jesus is right (which He is!), then these churches aren’t to be in competition with one another. Rather, they need to realize they are teammates.

Rather than a church position itself as better than other churches with better music, or better preaching, or better kids programming, what if the church simply saw their music or preaching or kids programming as different? And if the church can’t help a particular person follow Jesus, what if they helped them find a church family that CAN help them find and follow Jesus?

This is why we partner with Vineyard on the Food Bank each month. This attitude drives us to be part of the community wide VBS. It’s why we gave our old stage to Crosspoint Church to use in their kids ministry. Because ultimately it isn’t about Riverwood proving it is the best church in town, but rather just one of the churches God is using to invite the spiritually disconnected to find and follow Jesus.

Therefore, if you consider Riverwood your home church, will you help us live this Way out in daily life? Here’s one way you can do this: When you talk about other churches, try to speak of them like they are teammates rather than competitors to be beat. Because I truly believe God will bless the church that doesn’t think they alone are His answer to the needs of that community, but a part of a broader Body of Christ that exists to help people find and follow Jesus.

When Not Being Better Is Better

by Erin Bird

At least once a week, when I walk into the Men’s locker room at The W, the TV is tuned to a program on ESPN that pits two men verbally sparring with one another about the topic of sports. As I take 3 minutes to get ready for my workout, I have to listen to these two TV personalities yell and mock one another. Doesn’t matter if it’s about the NFL, NBA, NHL, or NRA, these two guys endlessly try to convince the other their opinions about which quarterback is more impressive is more correct than the guy across the desk.

I can’t stand the program. It seems so silly to me for grown men to sit in suits on a television set arguing about things that don’t truly matter.

But many times in life, our arguments are just as silly…

[list type=unordered extra=]
[list_item]One person thinks J.R.R. Tolkien was a far better author than C.S. Lewis while his friend shakes his head in unbelief at the blasphemy just uttered by his peer.[/list_item]
[list_item]One person mocks Waterstreet Grill as horrific while her neighbor thinks its the best restaurant in the whole Cedar Valley.[/list_item]
[list_item]One person can’t wait for the next Marvel comic movie while the other person ridicules him for wasting his time and money on such “low” art.[/list_item]

And these silly arguments extend to churches as well.

“Well, my church is better than your church!”

We are in a series here on the blog about The Riverwood Way. This week we come to “…is not better, just different.”

I could tell you story after story of people who have told me why their church was the best church in town (including pastors). They will rag on all the other churches, telling me in detail everything wrong with each congregation, and how their church family is superior.

I believe for this one person, their church IS better – for them. But it may not be accurate to truly say that their church is better for everyone.

[list type=unordered extra=]
[list_item]One church may have great preaching, but that doesn’t mean they have a corner on the gospel message.[/list_item]
[list_item]Another church might have amazing music, but that doesn’t mean other churches aren’t worshipping God wholeheartedly.[/list_item]
[list_item]A different church might have an amazing kids ministry or youth group, but that doesn’t mean God isn’t working in the lives of school kids in other congregations.[/list_item]

To think otherwise means the sin of pride is ruling in your life.

If the people of a particular church think the measure of success is being “better” than the other churches in town, they have lost sight of their first love. To truly be “better” is not to think you are better than everyone else; to be “better” is to realize your church is just merely one expression of God’s global church. Your church isn’t “better” than another church if the vision of the other church is also seeking to proclaim the gospel and help people find and follow Jesus. Your church is just different.

So please help Riverwood be “better” by not focusing on whether we are “better” than other churches in the area. Let’s just be who God is shaping us to be. Let’s realize that no church is perfect. Let’s just be comfortable being different, so we can celebrate when we hear about God working in the life of another church family as we also pray for Him to do what only He can do in our church as well.

The Hard Work of Simplicity

by Erin Bird

On January 9th, 2007, Steve Jobs stood on a stage and pulled out of his pocket the first-ever iPhone. Nowadays, touch-screen smartphones are everywhere. But ten years ago, the iPhone brought gasps and applause.

And controversy.

For instance, the phone only had one button on the front. How are you supposed to access everything with only one button?

Simple. Just use it.

I still remember handing my first iPhone over to a friend who had never seen one in person. He knew very little about this game-changing device. But within seconds, he figured out how to navigate around the operating system, and a few minutes later he handed it back, quite impressed with Apple’s feat.

You see, the iPhone was so significant because it was so simple. Even three-year-olds could figure out how to operate this thing (much to the chagrin of parents everywhere).

But if you somehow managed to separate the screen from the back cover, you would discover that inside the iPhone was anything BUT simple. To keep the iPhone as simple and user-friendly as possible, Apple worked incredibly hard for years, as evidenced by the technology inside.

The iPhone of Churches

We are in a series here on the blog about The Riverwood Way. And this week, we talk about “Simple.”

As I think about keeping Riverwood simple, I think how I would love to see Riverwood be like an iPhone. I want to see our approach to ministry be so simple, even non-church people can figure out how to be part of the Riverwood family and begin to follow Jesus.

I believe our pathway at Riverwood (Gather, Grow, Give, Go) is simple. I believe our Sunday mornings are fairly straight-forward. Even our message (It’s all about Jesus) is intentionally simple.

But to keep things simple, it takes a lot of hard work. Leonardo DaVinci said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

Recently, I was talking with Terry, one of our newer Riverwood attenders. He told me how much he loved the music, how much he got out of the messages, and just how friendly our church family was. He said it was so touching and refreshing in its simplicity – there was just something “authentic” about Riverwood.

After coming for a few weeks, Terry and his wife Jackie said they wanted to come early and help with set-up. (We gladly accepted their offer! They have been such a pleasure to work with on the set-up team.) But after the first-time of setting up, Terry told me, “I had no idea how much work went into all of this!

You see, to keep Sundays as simple as possible for everyone so they can connect with Jesus, we work hard behind the scenes. A crew of people show up every Sunday to set-up. Jeff and I meet weekly to talk about the upcoming Sunday. Jeff prepares the music during the week while I spend hours on the message. We pour a lot into Sundays. This simplicity doesn’t come easy.

But (to steal from Wartburg), I believe it’s worth it. Because when someone connects with Jesus through the music and/or the message, we are seeing people move from spiritually disconnectedness toward Jesus.

The Simple Life

But this idea doesn’t just apply to smartphones and Sundays. I think it’s reflected in life.

Many of us long for “simplicity” in our everyday living. But to keep things simple, we have to work hard. We have to work hard to keep our house organized and cleaned. We have to work hard to keep our schedules simple (it means saying “no” to lots of good things).

And this applies to following Jesus. You might long for a simple relationship with Jesus – just you, your Bible, and His presence. And yet, it takes work to find the time, to have a reading plan, to remove distractions, etc.

But it’s worth it. Keeping things simple is refreshing to the soul. We just have to realize it takes work to get there.

So let’s dig in and do the hard work to keep ministry, as well as following Jesus, simple.