A Basin of Mercy

By Maddie Schulte, Riverbend wRiters

 

pexels-photo-165985

A few Sundays ago, I sang Natalie Grant’s song, “Clean,” during the 9:45am service at Riverbend Church. One of the lyrics of the song is: “He washed me in mercy.”  Without fail, every time I sing those words, I picture myself standing next to a big basin filled with mercy as God splashes my face – like a commercial for a face wash product.

I also picture the basin scene happening in a log cabin, because in my mind I associate large basins of water with prairie-style log cabins.

This imagery, while simple, begs the question:  What does it look like to be washed in mercy?

Mercy, by definition, is: compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.

Compassion.

Forgiveness.

Those are powerful words.

Have you ever tried to show compassion towards someone who wronged you? Or, another step further, have you ever tried to forgive them for wronging you?  To pardon them for hurting you or for causing you pain, while simultaneously showing them genuine grace and kindness?

It is certainly no easy feat.  Yet God washes us in mercy.  He doesn’t sprinkle us with droplets of mercy.  He doesn’t say, “Here’s the basin of mercy and there’s a towel…wash up and I’ll meet you outside.”  He actively washes us in mercy, scrubbing away all of our sins and missteps.

If you think your water bill is high, imagine the price of mercy.  Imagine sitting next to the person who wronged you, picking up a loofah, and washing them in mercy.

In that moment, it would be easy to let pride sneak in.  It would be easy to say, “You owe me.”  It would be easy to be bitter and angry, withholding forgiveness until they made it known that they were sorry.

In today’s social and political climate, compassion and forgiveness aren’t popular terms.  Fitting mercy into the context of heated arguments and a divided, partisan society can feel a little like trying to jam a square peg into a round hole: it simply won’t work unless you lob off the corners, thus distorting the meaning of true mercy.

I can’t speak for society, nor do I want to.  I think there is beauty in differences, for we all see the world through the lens of our own experiences, beliefs, and opinions that have shaped our lives until this point.

I can, however, speak for myself, and it is my desire to show as much compassion and forgiveness—and thus, mercy—to others as my imperfect self is able.  I still believe there are consequences to our actions, whether positive or negative, but it is not my job to “teach somebody a lesson.”  Rather, it is God who will shape their heart.  If I can show a little glimmer of His mercy and His grace to “someone whom it is within my power to punish,” I don’t think it’s excusing their behavior, but rather showing them the immense love of God.

Natalie Grant’s song continues with the lyrics, “There’s nothing too dirty that You can’t make worthy.  You wash me in mercy.  I am clean.” Who will you invite into your little log cabin today and offer a basin of mercy?

Advertisements

Your Flight Is Now Boarding…

By John Harrell, Riverbend wRiters

Where does fear come from? We weren’t born with fear, doubt and worry. We have allowed ourselves to believe life is a treacherous mine field, causing us to seek safety and security rather than living fully. What’s worse, we allowed fear to control our thinking, and ended up settling for a life less than what we truly desire in our hearts. It’s time to change that.

Helen Keller wrote, “Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.” Keller was blind and deaf from the age of nineteen months, yet became a woman of great accomplishment. If you are reading this, you aren’t blind, so you begin where you are with a huge advantage over author, activist and lecturer Helen Keller.

Think back to your childhood for a moment. You had unlimited, even outrageous, dreams for your life. You were going to conquer the world, and nothing would stop you. What happened to the dreams of that child? Life happened. Hardships, hurts, listening to the wrong voices,  feeding our own insecurities numbed us into rationalizing why we should abandon our life goals.  We settled rather than taking flight.

It isn’t too late. We were made to fly; to soar. Our spirits are imbued with a higher purpose than most of us are living. We want our lives to count; to matter. Fear of failure and doubt stop us from taking that brave, first step. But take heart, you were created to make a difference.

Stop hiding from the child with huge dreams. Reconnect! It’s time to live again, and live with purpose, drive and fulfillment. When doubts surface, and they will, kick them to the curb. Be audacious.

Are you ready and willing to live again? To fly? To soar? I hope you answered yes, because your flight is now boarding…

Conversations…

working-on-listening-skills.jpg

By John Harrell, Riverbend wRiters

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Great minds discuss ideas, mediocre minds discuss events, small minds discuss other people.”

What kind of conversations are you having? Is your life focused on gossiping about your co-worker, or does J. Lo’s advice on the trendiest dating APP got your attention? I will suggest there might be a bigger world out there.

We have numbed ourselves to what’s really important. Our focus has become small. People get cut off in traffic and immediately blast this indiscretion on social media. If you have a political opinion different from others you get multitudes weighing in, oftentimes hurling insults, telling you why your beliefs are wrong and you must see things their way. How’s that going?

In recent years, politicians have launched “listening tours,” whatever those are. In theory, the politico wants to be portrayed as genuinely concerned about the issues of the day. Entertaining his/her constituent’s voices, the politician seemingly wants to engage in conversation; to listen. There’s no honest dialogue, and the great portrayal becomes the big betrayal. Nothing changes.

I will offer there is another way…

When you rearrange the letters in the word ‘listen,’ you get silent. I don’t believe it’s accidental.

What might happen if we put our personal differences and insecurities aside, engaged with each other in meaningful conversation, and listened to each other?

How many times have you been talking to someone, yet while they are speaking you are ready with your reply before they even finish their sentence? We all do it. That’s called hearing, not listening. Active listening requires real effort, and it can be exhausting.

The human spirit is designed for growth. Think of your brain like a muscle. The more you use it the stronger it becomes. Reading check-out line magazines and watching hours of television diminishes your capacity to think. At the very least it changes what you are thinking about, and impacts your conversations. Garbage in, garbage out, so-to-speak. Fortunately, the entropy of your brain I’m describing can be reversed.

Deeper, mind-stretching conversation expands your thinking while possibly reshaping your worldview. Be fearless when considering others’ opinions and beliefs. It’s not a threat to your convictions to see the world through different eyes. Be open-minded.

Our differences can make us better, stronger and more connected. They do not have to divide us. See through to the hearts of others, and let them see you for who you are. We can accomplish this, if we’re willing…

The Light Bulb Dawns

stubborn 2

By Devon Robinson

Riverbend wRiters

Growing up, my mother would tell me with frustration how hard-headed I was. I’d roll my eyes and think how out of touch she was with reality about whatever it was I wanted to do that led her to say that. Around the age of twenty-nine, I realized my mother’s wisdom. Hey, it only took me close to three decades so I can’t be that stubborn, right?

From a toxic friendship during my high school/college years, an ill-advised first marriage at twenty-three years old, and searching for a unicorn career (and those are just the things I’ll admit to on the web), I made pivotal life decisions before the light bulb dawned: my strong will, if left unchecked, becomes detrimental stubbornness.

In each scenario above, people tried to tell me to think carefully about the paths I chose to walk (or rather, the paths I sprinted down with reckless abandon). I didn’t heed anyone’s advice. In my head, everyone else was the fool. I was obstinate to the point that I removed anyone who challenged these choices of mine. I saw them as unsupportive, disloyal, and jealous. If you wanted to be in my life, it was essentially an Emperor’s New Clothes type of situation.

When the friendship died a fiery death, the marriage crashed, and the job-hopping resulted in a resume with multiple personalities, I finally stopped to think about how my headstrong personality played a part. I heard others’ warnings and challenges for how they were intended – as guidance, concern. I realized others weren’t trying to control me or rain on my parade. They saw things I couldn’t see with my tunnel vision and wanted to intervene before damage was done. With humility, I acknowledged I’d been the fool, insistent on learning the hard way.

I admit I still have a healthy dose of will that I work at keeping in check but I’ve come to the point of welcoming others’ counsel. I seek wisdom from those who thoroughly know me. I’ve incorporated a lot of open-hearted prayer into my life. One of my daughters is showing glimmers of a strong will and I’d be lying if I said I’m not inwardly frightened for her. So I guess that’s a silver lining: I’ll be able to speak with genuine experience as I try to guide her. Let’s hope she learns faster than her mother!

The Shoebox Chronicles: Honoring America’s Pioneer Women – Edition 5

By Mark Lehman, Riverbend wRiters

As I continued reading through my family history via the shoebox letters, I identified hundreds of correspondences I considered throwing away.  They were simple letters written to and from my grandmother and her three sisters between 1909 and 1973.

The letter’s contents were nothing remarkable at first glance.  Written on inexpensive and often recycled note paper, they contained mundane family updates, gardening tips, an occasional recipe, and always some mention about the weather.  What stood out to me was what was not in the letters; this is what made them so special.

Never was there a complaint or a longing for a different life. Mostly these letters were filled with words of support for each other and encouragement in the midst of less than desirable circumstances. The first decades of all of their lives were laced with difficult daily labors and great tragedies.  Such was the fate of the American pioneer woman. My grandmother and her sisters’ first homes contained no telephones, electricity or indoor plumbing.  These letters — their only means of long distance communication — tell the story of a breed of woman who laid the cornerstone for our national values, work ethic, and moral compass – and passed these traits on to future generations.

My grandmother, Mrs. Eula May Davis (Gram), was the epitome of all pioneer women of her time.  Born in 1889, she worked unselfishly to help her husband eke out a meager existence on their small family farm. With the exception of only 10 minutes of quiet time with her Bible after lunch, I never saw her rest. There were always cows to milk, eggs to collect, vegetable gardens to weed, and of course endless meals to prepare and clothes to wash.  Even though she outlived her husband and three of her four children, she considered herself to be a blessed woman.

Gram Lehman.jpg

None of the pioneer women in these letters seemed to have any regrets about their lives.  Simply because each hardship they overcame brought them closer to their dreams of a better life for their children and grandchildren.  I remember seeing Gram absolutely glow with happiness when she saw the educational opportunities afforded me as a young boy. I now understand it was a feeling of complete and total satisfaction that all her struggles were worth it.

Her entire philosophy and simple attitude about her life was summed up in a recently discovered letter she wrote in 1972 to my mom about her own funeral.   Gram’s only request was that her favorite Bible verse, Philippians 4:19, be read at the service.  She obviously wanted her last message to be that in times of adversity, God is adequately sufficient to “supply all your needs.” This was the mantra that brought her great comfort on this earth as she now joyously reaps her heavenly reward.

Writers Note: Part 2 of this blog titled “Pioneer Spirit Lives Today” highlights how modern women have built on the past lessons of their ancestors to keep the American Pioneer spirit alive.  Letters written in more recent year’s show the conveniences of life may have changed but the life challenges have not.

 

Simple Steps: Summer Family Faith Guide – Week 1

Simple-Steps_Logo_Tagline

With the onset of summer, we know that church attendance can be a bit more infrequent for families. Therefore, the Riverbend team and I have developed a guide that will help you stay active with your kids’ faith development. The first devotional guide is below.

When it comes to faith, the family is the the primary context for kids to develop their faith. Therefore, it is our responsibility as parents to pass on our faith to our kids. Moses instructed us in Deuteronomy 11:19 to teach our kids about God “when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” Therefore, every moment of family life can be an opportunity to pass on the faith.

In order to help you capture these moments to develop faith in your kids this summer, we want to offer you this guide called, “Simple Steps,” to help you develop faith, hope and love at home. No matter if they are infants or teenagers, there are simple steps we can take to invest in their relationship with God.

All it takes is a little creativity, and a commitment to be intentional. Our hope is that this guide will help you with both when it comes to spending time with your kids.

Grace & Peace,

Scott Vermillion, Pastor

 

What to do about Sunday School?

Every Sunday is an opportunity to get in on the investment of faith that was made at church, but most parents miss it. It’s not that we don’t try. In our attempt to connect with our kids, we ask the standard follow-up question, “What did you learn today in Sunday School?”

Most kids hate this question (no matter if they are preschoolers or teenagers). Why? It’s a boring question! Kids don’t want to give parents reports on what they learned. They want to live in the moment. Here are some ways to make the most out of Sundays on your way home from church:

Infant: Obviously, infants are not in a position to talk…yet. However, take this time to be intentional with your kids by praying over them in the car ride home. They aren’t going to be able to understand what you’re saying, but God will. What is important is that you are creating a space to bless them. You can take what you learned and turn it into a prayer of blessing your child.

Preschool: Ask them to make up a song about the story they read on the way home. Most toddler’s love singing, and when you ask them to make up a song about their experience in Sunday School, they will no doubt be surprised by the request and be willing to fulfill it. You might need to start it off if your kids are a little shy. You can start by making up a song about what you learned, and encourage them to join in.

Elementary: Ask your kids to describe the characters in the story they read together in Sunday School. Don’t settle for boring descriptions. Get them to tell you what kind of clothes they would wear, what kind of hairstyle, and what color socks they would have. Ask them to tell you what kind of kids they would be if those bible characters were in their class at school. Would they hang out with them on the playground? Why or why not? When you ask slanted questions instead of direct questions about what they learned in Sunday School, you will engage their creativity which will be fun for them and get them talking freely.

Middle School: Ask questions about how the passage they read together would help them in various circumstances. For instance, you could ask: “How would what you learned today help you when you face life circumstances like feeling rejected, or school stress, or having success, or when you see someone being left out?” When you connect their everyday circumstances with what they are learning, you are helping them see how what they learn is practical for their everyday life. *Special Note: Sometimes it’s best to wait for dinner to ask these questions as moods change frequently in this stage.

High School: Ask questions about the values of the characters in the story that they read. For instance, you could ask, “What values did the people in the story have? Which of those values are you attracted to? Why? How would you go about adding those values to your life?” Then conclude with this question, “How can I be praying for you this week?” Then pray for them out loud, right there. Believe it or not, teenagers want to know that their parents care about them. As much as they are trying to find their own identity, they still need our encouragement and investment in their lives (even if they say they don’t). Praying for them is a great way to keep our investment going. *Special Note: Sometimes it’s best to wait for dinner to ask these questions as teenagers are often at their best at dinner.

Questions are built in curiosity generators.

If we learn to ask good questions, we can begin to help our kids envision a world where a relationship with God is valuable and desirable. So, let’s up our game this summer when it comes to asking good follow-up questions to our kids on our way home from church.

Simple-Steps_Logo

Going the Extra Mile:

For Preschoolers and Elementary Kids:

Let the passenger parent record the song or conversation for a keepsake. Or you can do this over lunch and record the songs. These little moments will be treasures forever.

For Middle Schoolers:

Have the passenger parent write down or record at home the ways that those stories would encourage them in various circumstances. Then when your kids encounter those circumstances, remind them of what they said about those passages in order to encourage them.

For High Schoolers

Have the passenger parent write down or record at home the values your kid is trying to adopt. Then, when you see those values emerging in your kid, tell them how you see that value developing in them. This will go a long way to encourage them when they know you see those values lived out.

Download the ParentCue App

If you don’t have this by now, stop what you are doing and download it from your app store (http://theparentcue.org/app/). This app follows along with the content that our children’s ministry uses, so we as parents can be better equipped to help our kids take home what they learn at church. It is an exceptional resource for you to coach your kids in faith, so get it today… and don’t forget to open it up and use it throughout the week.

WARNING: There is a right way and a wrong way to ask questions.

If your questions are open ended (not answerable with ‘yes’ or ‘no’) and allow for your kids to take the conversation where they want to go with it, chances are you will find your kids enjoy the experience as much as you do.

However, if your questions are more like a police interrogation room, then your kids are going to shut down. This happens when we try to lead our kids to a conclusion or to have some epic revelation about God.

Remember, spiritual growth is primarily God’s business. We can get in on it by asking good questions. This helps our kids generate curiosity about God. The moment we take over to make sure our kids “get something out of Sunday School” will be the moment we are working at cross purposes with the Spirit in their lives.

Be patient when asking questions. Questions can be used to develop faith in our kids even if they don’t engage the way we hoped they would. Just keep at it. Question asking is both a skill to be developed and an art to explore.

How to Bloom

Bulb growing

By Lauren Kinzie, Riverbend wRiters

I don’t happen to believe that people who are truly spiritual are even aware of their spirituality. And here I am writing a spiritual blog, stumbling from one lesson to the next, inviting you to come with me. But, I think that’s the point. In sharing our stories of imperfect stumbling and discovery, we are sharing the most vulnerable and important part of ourselves, and are exercising our spirituality.

So much of our spiritual lesson is loss, and dealing with it. We are bulbs stuck in the dark, yearning to see the light and open. But, when we finally blossom, the light is glaring, and we feel exposed, and maybe afraid. There are prettier blooms out there! We have left the safety of the dark soil behind.

That is loss. Life requires us to shed the things we can’t carry or that belong to someone else on our journey.

Sometimes, we’re presented with the necessity masquerading as an option, to shed people, or bad habits, or a way of coping with life that is fearful, critical, or foolish. I personally can fill in the blank with 100 different things that don’t get me anywhere spiritually or anywhere else. They’re stupid habits, that provide momentary comfort, that are ridiculously hard to drop! It’s even more difficult to opt out of certain relationships in the realization that you have changed beyond them and they just don’t want the new you—they want the old version. All of these things or circumstances are innocuous in and of themselves, but they can eat up other options, even a calling.

Sometimes, the lesson is more brutal, as someone who occupies a chamber of our very heart is ripped from our lives. How to make sense of the brutal pain? I’m watching someone I love go through this now. Why did it happen? No mortal can answer the question.

I don’t think God is doing something to us or taking the things we lean on to make us grow. I think we can’t help but grow, if we let the tears out and let them water us like rain, letting our hearts open to the sunlight that’s still there, and always has been.

daffodils