October 20, 2014

God Working Through Podcasts

...at Riverside Church

Brian attended Riverside back when it was beside the river. He grew up here, attended a Christian school, and had great parents—a mom who planted many, many seeds. Still, after graduation, Brian fled Ft. Myers, never to step inside a church for over 25 years. He’d been hurt and wanted nothing to do with Christians. God wasn’t done with Brian, though. After years of “living the good life,” it took a medical crisis—a brush with death—for Brian to slow down long enough to reevaluate his life, his purpose, and his future. He knew God was there, somewhere in the background of it all, but he had no personal relationship with Jesus, wasn’t living out what he’d learned when he grew up, and had stopped growing in his faith. He had no one to share it with, and he began to feel a tugging at his heart for something more.

While recovering and caring for his dad back here in Ft. Meyers, Brian kept feeling like he should get back in church. He started listening to various podcasts and came across one of Bob Reed’s. It gripped him immediately, so he listened to several more. He felt really drawn to Bob, like he was speaking directly to him. It was almost disturbing, “as if the dude already knew me or something,” he recalls. He kept finding himself driving past Riverside, not even realizing it was the same church he grew up in.

When he could stand it no more, Brian decided he had to meet this Bob guy—see if he was for real. The first week, Eric preached. Brian loved it, the sermon, the people, the music...but where was Bob? He came back again, and Eric preached another fantastic sermon. Bob was recovering from surgery. Brian kept returning until at last he met Bob, and sure enough, he was the real deal. Bob introduced him to Ron Detwiler, and before he knew it, he found himself in a Life Group and Men’s Fraternity, surrounded by friends, sharing what God is doing in their lives, working out their faith, and doing life together.

Brian can’t believe he’s back in the same church he grew up in, and he can’t believe he loves hanging out with Christians. He’s staying in Ft. Meyers to care for his dad, and his life is being transformed. Praise God for using podcasts, Bob’s messages, to draw one of Riverside’s “kids” back to a thriving relationship with others in the body and with Christ.

September 17, 2014

God working through His Disciples in Life Groups

                                                                 ...at Riverside Church 
We all want to “belong.” Joining, or even visiting, a Life Group can be a rather scary prospect for some folks, though. “Doing life” alone is even scarier, however. Pastor Bob recently preached, man’s first crisis was being alone. God said it was not good...and He made Adam a companion. This week, a new couple at Riverside attended a Life Group for their first time. Here’s a part of the letter the Life Group leaders received after that first visit: 
I just wanted to take a moment to thank you for the wonderful hospitality that you extended to us this evening. Once again there is proof that God indeed answers prayers. When we moved here, I prayed that the Lord would help us find a new church that would meet our needs, most importantly a church that truly had a love for the Lord and one in which we could feel as if we belonged. I believe he has done that for us in Riverside. 
We also wanted to be in a small group but wanted one wherein there were like-minded people who love the Lord and who shared that love with others. I know we have found that as well. We are excited about belonging to your group and look forward to forming relationships with everyone. Your group feels like a family and that was so important to us.  
My husband is a very private man and has had difficulty over the years in forming trusting relationships with other men. He’s always been hesitant to “open up” with them. We talked about that on the way home, and he said he felt comfortable with the group and was looking forward to being there. It will be a slow process for him to open up, as I said, but I think he is looking forward to the opportunity. While he has remained a part of the denomination he grew up in, he told me that it’s probably the reason he’s been so mistrusting. So, for me, it is a true blessing that he is opening up his mind to new possibilities. He loves the Lord but has not shared his love of his faith with many others beside myself.  
So this is simply to say Thank you for your kind welcome tonight and your warmth and kindness you showed us. You are both true disciples of God. 
 Praise God for drawing this couple to Riverside and to this Life Group, meeting their needs. Praise God for allowing us to be a family, His family, growing together into disciples that love and live like Jesus.

August 22, 2013

God at Work through Life Groups

In the college and career life group for young women, leader Bethany Masquelier says that one of the things they regularly talk about is the importance of being sensitive to the Holy Spirit in the small things. "In being obedient to what seems to be small promptings, God will take us where He wants us to go without us being concerned about where that might be.

Recently, one of the young women in Bethany's group experienced exactly what they'd been talking about. Normally shy and not one to naturally approach strangers and start a conversation, she looked out her window and saw a worker in the scorching Florida summer heat. The thought came to her, “I bet he could use some water.” As she wrestled with the idea of actually taking him some water, she got a water bottle out of the cupboard and filled it. Still unsure about how it was going to work, she wondered, “What would I say? How would I approach him?” Finally, she decided to just take the water with her and go out outside to get the mail. As she approached the man, he spoke up and let her know that it was very hot outside. He wanted to know where he might find some water. Lucky for him, she had his water right there in her hands.

As Bethany said, "It's amazing how God knows how far we can go. He meets us where we are stuck and helps to execute His ultimate plan. We do our best and He does the rest."

That young woman says this about being in a life group: "Being in a small group has been beneficial in my life because it is part of the team of people I have that helps grow me in my faith and knowledge of Christ. They help me take stories I have read many times and breathe new life into them, as well as open my eyes to the relevance of stories I may have thought to be irrelevant to life today. We get to learn and grow together and get excited about God together!"

God at Work through Friendship: To Gather Up a Family That Had Strayed Away

A few Sundays ago you sat next to me in church and invited Chris and me to come on Monday nights. Chris and I are soooooo thankful for that,” Sandy writes to her new friend. “Because you took the time to reach out to us, God began changing our desire for HIM... and gave us a hunger for Jesus again.

That Sunday, Sandy and Chris Smith admit they were both struggling in a life without Christ. It wasn’t that they didn’t know Jesus. They had allowed the busy-ness of his job to keep them away from other believers for years, eventually leading them down a path of separation from God and each other. But God pursued them and began healing their hearts and home through some unexpected circumstances.

Just before Mother’s Day, Chris was let go from his job. He’d been working at least 14 hours a day, 6 days a week, managing the construction of multiple high-end homes that sometimes ended up quite a distance from each other. He would come home each day totally exhausted, leaving before dawn and often returning late at night. Sometimes he’d choose to just to go to bed rather than eat, so he could begin it all again the next morning.

The company had provided Chris with a great truck, iPhone, iPad, and laptop, but that fateful morning in May, and through no fault of his, they suddenly took it all away. His employment was simply over. He actually had to ask somebody to take him home! And so began months of uncertainty.

Sandy recalls, “At first, I felt just terrible for Chris and felt the demoralization that he might have felt.” But as the days and then months went by with no work and their savings quickly dwindling, she admits, “I became frightened, angry, and very restless with our relationship.

Chris’s previous work schedule was so rigorous that church had fallen by the wayside years ago. With their new circumstances, they had plenty of time for church and a renewed sense of priority. Having visited Riverside Church the summer before, they remembered the friendly people, relatable sermon, and awesome music. Even their son had enjoyed his experience at Riverside. Chris and Sandy decided it was time to return.

That's where you come in,” Sandy continues in her letter to her friend, “.....inviting us to your home.... taking that time to offer us an experience which has led us back to Christ! We strayed away, and then we felt ‘gathered up’ again to follow Jesus. I believe the angels were joyful and singing praises to our Father knowing what was about to happen!!

A few months have passed now and Sandy says she has never seen Chris more open with his feelings. Thanking her friend, she writes, “He is taking time with Jesus, and it is awesome to experience this alongside of him. He says it is because of the comfort level that he feels in Riverside Church and belonging to Monday night gatherings at your home. What an awesome group of Christian people! We are truly blessed!!!... Always know how you have succeeded listening to your heart and following HIS direction in [our] lives.

As Chris and Sandy draw closer to the Lord, they are drawing closer to each other, too. God has provided Chris with a new job now, but they are not allowing it to keep them away this time. Praise God for pursuing His children and gathering up this precious family that had strayed for a very long season. Praise God for allowing Riverside Church to be a part of His plan for the Smith family.

July 29, 2013

God Pours Out His Love on Riverside Youth

Seven Riverside students gave their lives to Christ, 17 were baptized, and one of our babies was dedicated during youth camp in Daytona. 
But the story doesn’t end there. In the youth room Wednesday night after they returned, students and leaders shared funny stories from camp and testified to the love they felt from God, the lessons they learned, and the prayers God answered at camp. The walls were down; it was very clear that these students had experienced more than fun at the beach, more than a week of great concerts, more than endless slumber parties... the passion our kids have for God was overflowing.

Several of the students shared about the lessons they learned and their deepening faith through the week-long experience. Alexis said she learned that she can’t just “stand still,” waiting for God to take the next step. Instead, she needs to be actively running after God, because He is always moving. Crystal was moved by a shepherd story from camp and said she was already able to share the story and message with a co-worker! Another student, Jazzy, shared that she hadn’t been excited for camp. She’d just lost a friend in a car accident. Reflecting on missed opportunities to share her faith, she felt worthless. While in Daytona, she took a walk on the beach with God. She said it was a powerful experience; He confirmed her value and restored her confidence. Terrance said God answered his prayer to grow stronger in his relationship with Christ.

At one point, speaker Louie Giglio challenged the students, asking if they’d been living “dead” and inviting them to stand if they wanted to live “alive.” One student said she had no intention of standing, but then she clearly felt God tell her to stand. As she did, her faith renewed and deepened. Later in the week she was baptized!

A few of the students shared raw testimonies of their painful pasts including domestic abuse, drugs, pornography, and thoughts of suicide. Each shared how worthless they’d felt. One gave his life to Christ at camp! Though the others came to Christ at different times, they all struggle at times with understanding their value. At camp they were encouraged and empowered. One shared how he felt God’s love through his leader. Referring to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross he declared to the Wednesday night crowd, “GOD thinks I’m worth it!” Another student shared a difficult story and recalled how good it felt to have others pray for him at camp. When he returned to his seat, 3 guys from different parts of the room jumped up and immediately came to his side, hugging and reassuring him. Clearly these kids care about each other!

Several of the kids talked about the power of prayer. One of the leaders, Michael, often approached strangers, asking if they wanted to see a magic trick, doing the trick, and looking for an opportunity to share Christ with them and pray for them. They testified to God’s amazing power to heal through prayer—even a lady with a broken leg!

Noah recalled how he and Michael prayed for several people—total strangers—and watched God heal them. He said on Friday night he felt God tell him to approach a man and a woman and pray for them. God told him that one of them had back pain and the other knee. Sure enough, the man said he had a spinal problem and held out his hand for prayer. Afterwards he said his pain was gone! Turning to the lady, she said she had knee pain. She was excited to be prayed for and prayed fervently along with Noah. Her pain was significantly reduced but not all gone, so they decided to pray again. Then, her pain was completely gone and she had full mobility of a previously crippled leg!

The youth leaders shared their experiences, as well. Tony recalled, “The biggest lesson I took away came from a conversation with Devin.” A student, Devin had been on the recent mission trip and said he was homesick for Nicaragua. When Tony asked him to explain, Devin confessed he missed being “in the heart of God, doing His work.” Tony wasn’t able to go on the mission trip, but God showed Tony during camp that as a church body we can be in the heart of Christ every single day.

Many of the leaders expressed their love and appreciation for the kids, saying “I’m so proud of this entire group,” “I’m so glad to be a part of THIS!” and “There’s a joy in dealing with young people I’ve never known.” At camp, some of the guys gave their leader, a man who’s led them for the past 3 years, notes expressing how much he’s meant to them. The leader explained what a blessing that was to him and how much he enjoys his time with them.

A few days before leaving for camp one leader, Heidi, was in horrible back pain and couldn’t even stand upright. She was in charge of the meals at camp, so she pleaded with God to heal her back. After several of the students and leaders prayed for her, God took away her pain during camp! She was also excited to report that, without a kitchen, stove or refrigerator, they served 1200 meals from the hotel parking lot...and no one got sick!

Zach, Riverside’s Middle School Intern, shared that he was in a bit of a rut before camp and was praying that God would restore his passion. Being a Bible student and working at church and a Christian school, he confessed that it can be a struggle to keep his faith from becoming “professional.” During camp God answered his prayer and renewed his passion! “The Bible became alive again—so rich!” It was a real week of revival.

Pastor Ryan thanked the youth leaders and expressed his deep appreciation for the love they continually show their students. He shared that he’s never been in a church like Riverside. Always he’s been in a church that was about numbers... Numbers equal donations and donations are what make the church run. Not here. Pastor Bob and Pastor Ron have never once asked him about numbers. What matters at Riverside is the hearts of the people. He confessed that after being here a year, he thinks he is finally starting to get this. He still struggles at times, worried if their “numbers” go down, but then he remembers that’s not what counts. What he wants to focus on is the students' relationships with God and each other. He told the youth group that God is working on his heart too, teaching him new things and that in the coming year they’ll notice him pouring himself more into his relationships with the youth leaders who tirelessly pour their lives into the students. That’s how God designed it; that’s how discipleship works.

Some new parents were observing that night. They were blown away by the love and commitment the students and leaders expressed. They said when the students got up to share, they couldn’t even tell who the “popular” kids were...everyone was cheered and applauded. Later, when they asked Pastor Ryan what he’s doing, how he has brought this out in the kids, he nodded, smiled and looked down. “It’s God. He’s doing amazing things in their hearts.” He said that he just keeps pointing them to Christ and that he’s seeing some great growth in the group. At camp he really saw the walls coming down and the youth becoming family.

Praise God for His perfect provision, for the hearts of our youth leaders who truly love our students, and for pouring out His love on our youth during camp.
Praise God for Riverside Church, a place where the hearts of our people are what counts!

July 25, 2013

God at Work in Nicaragua

The Riverside Youth Group expected to serve the less fortunate when they went to Nicaragua, and they did. They helped feed countless children and washed their tiny feet. They taught Vacation Bible School, led worship, and made a way for 97 children to give their hearts to Jesus!
What they did not expect was to meet perhaps the most Christ-like servant they’ll ever meet in their lives.
Martin was a humble, cheerful man charged with caring for the group, looking after their safety, getting them where they needed to go, and in general, meeting their needs. He rode an old bike, or carried it, through the mud and rain, up steep mountains and down—even in the black of night—always watching after them, leading them, ready whenever they needed him. A woman in a town at the top of the mountain that needs prayer? He took them. The bus stuck again in the mud? He rode up the mountain to help push it out. Lead the horses down the narrow mountain pass in the dead black of night? He was there. To say he went the extra mile for them would be a gross understatement. 

Martin's willingness and eagerness to serve them made a tremendous impression on the team. Zach and Michael both felt at times like they were watching Jesus. “Was this what Jesus was really like? Is this how He cared for others?” Michael says Martin was like love personified. Zach confides, “I want to be like that...like Martin...like Jesus!” How powerful to witness such an example. And it was catching. Zach recalls how awesome it was to watch the guys and gals on the team not only serving the kids in the dump, but also each other! Matt challenged the students to continue to walk it out—be on mission here, loving and serving all the time and everywhere—at home, at school, at Riverside.

There were other strong impressions made on the Nicaragua trip. Many students express how powerful the worship was, as if everything faded away and they were alone with God. Bryce says he has always felt most affected by the message preached at services, but during these nightly services he was struck by how strongly the worship time impacted him. Another student, agreeing, noted how amazingly God worked through the worship, crossing language and cultural barriers, providing a way for them to experience God together.

Several students share how eye-opening it was to see the absolute poverty, a state much of the world lives in. Carly shares how it makes her realize how ungrateful she’s often been. Bryce confesses it has opened up his heart to a whole new world. Jazzy says it was very humbling, helping her to break out of her own shell and teaching her to be comfortable being uncomfortable. Crystal was impressed with how these children lived off one meal a day that was usually gulped down in less than a minute and recalls how devastated a little girl was when half her only meal was accidentally spilled by another child. “People really do live off less than a dollar a day!” Stephanie had to learn to lay others’ burdens at the foot of the cross, allowing God to carry the weight of suffering and poverty around her.
 “My compassion makes me want to fix others’ pain, but even that I must give to Jesus.” 
The mission experience was influential in other ways, stirring up hope, confidence, and a desire to be real with others. Taking a break from the TV, iPods, video games, and social networking devices allowed the team to really focus on the relationships in front of them...and to hear God. The masks were peeled away and the students opened up their hearts and got real, facing their own brokenness, hopes and dreams. Although she does not yet know God’s way or His timing, Alexis now feels a definite call to full-time missions. Another lady confides that on the trip she learned so much more about herself. “I felt like what I did and who I am really does matter!” It gives her hope that she can overcome her own current circumstances. Alex recalls how tough many of the boys were, living in such a harsh environment. Still, he felt God calling him to challenge these young men to step up and be leaders in their community, serving and protecting the younger kids and uniting to be that positive influence their community needed to be a better place.

For ten days the Riverside Nicaragua Team watched loved in action. Devin says he will never forget what it was like “watching the kids respond to [their] love.” At the beginning of that first day the children were shy and awkward, but before long they clung to the students, mobbing them, starving for all the love they could get. What a beautiful picture of our universal desperation for the pure, saving love that only our Savior Jesus Christ offers. In the dumps of Nicaragua, our Riverside students and leaders recognized the power of love, worship, a servant’s heart, and God’s patient pursuit, calling each of us to play our unique role in His magnificent story of redemption. Praise God for the work He did in each person’s heart in Nicaragua!

July 20, 2013

God at Work through Life Groups::Using Forgiveness to Heal Hearts

It was an icebreaker at the Rogerson’s Riverside Life Group: “If you had to live one day of your life over again, what day would it be and why?” The man knew right away it was October 9, 2003. Around 11:00 that morning his wife called to let him know his father had just passed away. Later that day he discovered he’d actually regrettably missed a phone call from his dad around 1:00 am. That missed phone call has left him with a mystery he’s carried his whole life...a buried ache that was now painfully resurfacing.

I’ve always wanted to know what my father was calling for. To say goodbye...to tell me he loved me? I have always wondered if my father accepted me as his son...was proud of me,” he laments. Was that phone call his last chance to learn how his dad had really felt about him? The old regret continued to haunt him. To make matters worse, he felt his sister had always treated him differently, as if he wasn’t really part of the family. They had different mothers. A few days before his father died, his dad had asked him to forgive his sister. While he’d promised he would, he never did.

Five years later, he found his life was crumbling down around him. 
I had made some horrible choices and it had taken a real toll on me. I was on my knees in my driveway looking up and asking God to forgive me, to save me. I had no idea what God had in store for me.” 
One of the first paths God placed in front of him, though, was forgiveness. He realized that just as God had forgiven him, he needed to forgive others. And God started showing him the people he needed to forgive. He admits, “It had been a long time since I’d thought about my sister, but it all came back like it was yesterday. God softened my heart, and even though I wasn’t able to contact her, I chose in my own heart to forgive her.

It wasn’t until 4 years later, when he sat in his life group and was faced with that question, that he began to pray God would answer the longing doubt about his father’s love. That’s when God began to unravel the mystery with a string of very unusual circumstances. Due to his step-father’s health, his mother and step-father moved in next door. To help them out financially, he put all their bills in his name. It had been 10 years since a landline phone had been in his name, but his parents needed one, so he thought nothing of it. A week later he awoke feeling very poorly. Unusual for him, he decided to call in and stay home. Later that day, while visiting his mom, she had a phone call. He was shocked to learn that it was his long lost sister looking for him! It had been 10 years since they’d spoken! “I got on the phone with her and she began to cry, asked me to forgive her, and said that she was so sorry for the way she’d always treated me. It was amazing!” he recalls.

Over the next few months they began to reconnect. She opened up quite a bit with him and finally asked if there was anything he wanted to know. He confides, “The questions about my father came to mind, but there was a part of me that was afraid to ask. What if I didn’t want to hear the truth?” He decided to risk it and asked his sister if she knew if their father was proud of him and accepted him as his son. She broke down in tears, explaining that there had been a lot of conflict between them mostly due to the fact that she had regularly talked badly about him. As he recalls, “she said [Dad] would always stand up for me and tell her that I was his son. I can’t even explain the feeling of peace that came over me.” 

The mystery was solved and his gratitude overwhelmed him. He got off the phone feeling free! God had answered his prayers in a way that only God could. He knows it was only because of the work God had been doing in his heart that he was able to forgive and reconcile with his sister, opening a door he’d never imagined would be there. It was at his life group a few weeks later that he revealed his story through tears. What a blessing it was for them to share his joy and relief and to know they’d played some tiny role in his powerful story. How beautiful to witness a man set free!

God is still at work in this man’s life, doing amazing things. His sister and her husband have not only moved to Ft. Myers to be closer to him and rebuild their relationship, they are actually now in his life group! Praise God for setting up a divine appointment with his sister and for bringing his heart to a place of forgiveness so that his own heart could be healed!