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 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 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!

July 13, 2013

God at Work at Student Life Camp::One Student's Experience

Recently the youth at Riverside Church went to Daytona to experience Student Life Camp 2013. This was Sean Detwiler’s first time at “camp” in Florida. While it’s not exactly like youth camp back in Idaho, where he moved from last year, he has no complaints! Staying in a resort on the beach wasn’t even the best part. Surfing was awesome, but that wasn’t it either. Sean’s experience with God at camp took him to a whole new level in his faith.

Every morning and evening, the Riverside group of about 100 drew together with thousands of other youth to worship with Brett Younker and Chris Tomlin. Sean recalls, “The worship was amazing! Watching thousands of kids praising God was so powerful; it’s really indescribable.” He especially loved “Burning In My Soul” and “God’s Great Dance Floor.”

Louie Giglio gave a strong message every evening. Sean loves what he said about sin: “Sin doesn’t make you bad. It makes you dead, and dead is a problem.” The students learned what it really means to be given life—and to live—through Christ. At camp they didn’t have phones, iPods, TV or access to any social media. Now they have to figure out how to integrate back into normal life without losing their focus and priorities. “Louie Giglio told us the way to keep your ‘camp high’ is to identify the things in your life that distract you from God and eliminate them,” Sean recalls. He learned that he really does have to be purposeful in his time with God and says, “It doesn’t matter if it’s talking to God, praising Him or reading His word—I have to make it happen every day, make it the priority.

Sean shared a room with 4 other guys and his adult leader. Ask him how a bunch of teenage guys pulled that off in a room with only 2 beds, and he slowly states, “Several air mattresses.” He was really inspired by his adult leader, watching him not just believe in the power of God’s love, but putting it into action through prayer. He explains, “When Jesus fills us with Himself, the Holy Spirit fills our body with love, peace and joy...our cup overflows. We can take that and show it to others, praying for and loving on them. The power of that prayer and love can even have physical effects.” He watched his adult leader walk right up to a stranger with a knee brace on and ask if he could pray for her. She agreed and afterward said the pain was gone! His leader said, “It’s not me. It’s God’s love!” Sean says he watched him do that several times, caring for and praying for people, letting God’s love spill out of him. “It made me want that—want God to work through ME!

Group times were fun with the students divided up into different colored teams to compete in the Camp Games. Rumors have it one of the adult leaders sported his team spirit with a purple beard all week! There were also group discussions, prayer and times of deep sharing. Sean loved getting real and really drawing close to his friends and leaders. He loved drawing closer to God, and He can’t wait until next year!

Praise God for the resources and leaders that made this year’s camp possible. Praise God for working in a powerful way at Student Life Camp, pouring out His Holy Spirit, changing lives, and drawing our kids closer to Him. 

July 11, 2013

God at Work through a Storm and a Trusted Relationship

While a tropical storm was moving in, another storm was already raging, threatening destruction. But God was at work, ironically using the tempestuous weather to begin the process of healing and peace in a time of marital turbulence.

It’s no secret that every marriage has its struggles, but what is usually a secret is when a couple struggles. It’s one thing to say, “The Lord has brought us through some really tough times,” and another thing entirely to admit “We’re in the dead center of a real mess.” Not for two couples at Riverside Church, though. They have decided to walk their journeys together. They’ve built a trusting relationship, realizing they share many of the same struggles as couples. They decided to help each other through those tough times, reminding each other of the Truth and bringing issues to God together in prayer.
They committed to being honest, to allow their friends to speak into their lives, and to a mutual accountability with their weakest areas. 
Shortly after this commitment, they were in the thick of it. Quite suddenly one of the couples found themselves in a tangle of emotions—angry, confused, hurting, and exhausted from hashing through an old issue that surfaced, one they’d thought had finally been resolved. So, when the wife was asked by her friend how she was doing, she was honest. It felt impossibly complicated. She knew God would get them through it, but she felt hopeless and helpless. The friend offered to get together—to listen and pray. And so they did.

Meanwhile, Ft. Myers was experiencing severe weather. The rain poured, the wind blew and the thunder crashed...and inside the cozy house the wife poured out her heart, fears, and pain. Her friend, offering no quick-fix solution or tidy answers, asked questions, tried to understand, reminded her friend of God’s faithfulness, and expressed hope and confidence that God would bring healing to their hearts. And they prayed together. As the storm bore down on the family’s home, it became unsafe to leave; the friends were together all day. As God would have it, the men met up also, and it didn’t take long before they too were discussing the marital mess. Storm circumstances eventually united all four of them, providing them an entire evening together and an opportunity to talk through the troubling issues.

As the story unfolded, it often felt like an impossible dilemma. “I’m so done with all this pain...” “I can never do anything right...” and “I just can’t do this anymore!” There were no sides, only brokenness, anger, pain and a complex maze of misunderstandings, miscommunications, and distrust. It was exhausting and messy for both couples, and at times it was quite uncomfortable. It took a lot of courage to be that real, that vulnerable, and that broken in front of their friends.

At last when all had been said, the husband and wife were quite at the end of themselves, desperate but not alone. Their friends spoke Truth to them, reminded them how much God had already brought them through, and shared testimonies of God’s healing in their own hearts. Nothing was fixed, and nothing was decided, but the four of them poured their hearts out to God through tears in prayer, fighting side-by-side for this marriage. And God moved in. He brought a stirring of hope, an emerging new perspective, and a renewed commitment to press on. By the time the couple left, the height of the storm outside had moved on, and the night sky was filled with stars.

The next morning was calm: nothing said and nothing done. At work, the husband texted his friend and thanked him, telling him how much it meant to have friends who would actually walk through the muck with them. The woman prayed for her friends, texting the wife several times during the day and reminding her that “God is big enough to get us through this!” By evening, husband and wife came together with softened and willing hearts. After a sincere apology and forgiveness, they prayed together. At last united, they planned their next step, knowing that their mess took years in the making and understanding it would take time and considerable intentionality to work through it.

They’re not out of the mess yet, but they have a new confidence, believing that God will bring them through this storm and knowing they have friends by their sides.
Their confidence isn’t in themselves or each other, but rather, in God who used a storm and a trusted relationship to ignite a peace and healing in their home.

God at Work in Baptism

June 20, 2013

God at Work at the Hospital

She had lived a hard life. It was obvious the world had knocked her around a bit. Hers was a journey of hardships and desperation. Still, as she lay there in her hospital bed, a new softness came over her—a hope, a longing, a lightness. 

She'd visited Riverside Church the weekend before - for the first time. Moved by the message, she made an appointment to meet with Pastor Bob. But something unexpected happened, and she found herself stuck in a hospital bed instead.

When Pastor Ron learned she was in the hospital he felt compelled to visit her. She was pretty candid with him about her state of despair, her need for something more. As she continued to speak, he remained curious, truly caring for the woman. Eventually he was able to share the redemptive story of Jesus Christ with her, and she prayed, asking Jesus to be her own Savior. 

She has begun a new journey now, not without hardships, but never to be lost and alone again.

Pastor Ron reflects, “Only time will tell how serious she is about walking with God, but I’m so glad I went to see her. I’m so glad God allowed me to introduce her to Him.

Pastor Ron had met the woman and her landlord at church the previous Sunday. Her landlord was the one who brought her to church. He told Pastor Ron about the others he wants to bring to Riverside to learn about Jesus. 

It gets complicated when we start loving folks who are used to the ways of the world,” Pastor Ron says. “We’ll have to have more conversations and talk to some of them one-on-one to learn their sincere intentions. If we’re really serious about loving and living like Jesus, though, Riverside has to be a bit like a hospital too, open to the hurting, leading them to the Great Physician who can heal their hearts and lives.

Praise God He drew this woman to Riverside and revealed Himself to her at the hospital. Praise God He is using us to care for those who need Him!

June 19, 2013

God at Work through Hands-On Love

Sometimes being the hands and feet of Christ requires blood, sweat, and tears. Sometimes it requires power tools! When the Werley and Mueller Riverside Life Groups decided to help an elderly disabled woman, they knew she needed more than a few meals and encouragement. One of the obstacles in her daily life was simply accessing her home safely. Her ramp was old and unstable. She traveled up it backwards in her wheelchair with great difficulty, afraid she’d end up falling backwards down the ramp should it collapse. Riverside Church partnered with The Heights Foundation and Home Depot to replace the old ramp. It was a big project, but together they had the funds, man-power, tools, supplies and know-how to get the job done. 

A member of the Werley Life Group, George McMahon played a big part in the project, not only on-site, but also behind the scenes. As with any building project, plans and permits all had to be in order. He recalls how timid the elderly lady was when he first approached her to review some of the project details. He’d been cautioned that she was very private, and he wanted to be sensitive to her hesitancy to have a dozen strangers working around her home. By the time the ramp was done, though, she had warmed up quite a bit, even sitting in the doorway watching and visiting with the crew.

Pastor Chris recalls how excited the woman was—and her family—to see so many people caring for her, doing the things she could not do for herself. Over the course of 4 days, the crew not only built the ramp, they did a ton of yard work, trimming trees and bushes, putting down bark, and even planting some decorative plants around the ramp. One of Pastor Chris' favorite moments was when he realized that Beth Morford from his own life group knew how to seriously handle a chainsaw! Not only did this project help the members of the Mueller life group learn more about each other, he feels it really helped bond the group. It felt good knowing they’d joined resources to help someone from whom they never expect anything in return.

Julie Workman attends Riverside Church and is also the Chief Advocacy Officer of The Heights Center, an impressive facility and resource dedicated to helping at-risk children in the community and strengthening families. According to the foundation’s website: The foundation is a grassroots, hands-on organization that celebrates the strength and diversity of the community and has the goal of breaking the cycle of poverty. Its work supports community development programs for individuals, students, and families, and provides charitable outreach projects in the community. Julie is so thankful these Riverside Life Groups chose to take on this outreach project, helping a very special woman in the Harlem Heights community, an area with twice the poverty rate of Lee County. Together the live group crew put in 140 hours on this project. “What a difference [they] made...truly loving and living like Jesus!” Soon after the completion of this project, through the encouragement of a close friend, Julie and her husband Matt joined a life group close to their home.

George says it was so gratifying watching the elderly lady come out of her shell a bit, going up and down her ramp with confidence. Pastor Chris is sure this is just one of many projects the Riverside Life Groups will be able to do with The Heights Foundation and looks forward to seeing how God will work in others' lives and in our own hearts as we continue to reach out to “the least of these” in our own communities.

Praise God for the funds Riverside Church was able to contribute and for inspiring people from our own life groups to be a part of caring for the less fortunate in a very necessary and tangible way. Praise God that He is bringing glory to His own name and strengthening the church body through hands-on-love.

June 18, 2013

God at Work through Life Groups

Dave and Luann Flammia attended Riverside Church for over a year before it finally felt like “home.” They'd  been heavily involved in another church for years, but were burned out and became disconnected from the church entirely. Eventually they began attending Riverside. Sitting in the back, they enjoyed the worship, the message, and the people they met, but they still felt like something was missing - so when Bob asked them to consider plugging into a Life Group, they agreed. 

The Flammias tried several different groups before they found one that they really connected with. Dave admits that when he first heard about “the whole storying thing,” he was a little hesitant. But as the leader told a story from the Bible, the group re-built the story, checking the Bible for accuracy, and then discussed what God was showing them through the story, he could see that God was at work. “Somehow God seems to take [the story] and use it in incredible ways. It is definitely working.

After joining their Life Group, Dave and Luann immediately felt like they became a part of the church family. They found what they’d been missing! Now, they’re enjoying their new-found friendships and have just recently become greeters, giving them a wonderful way to both serve the church and meet even more people. In fact, they are now excited to see how and where God is going to use them next, as they continue their journey with the Lord.

According to Dave, the Flammia’s Life Group has been and continues to be a blessing in their lives. 
My wife and I are both growing spiritually closer to God and to each other. The [Life Group] has been an incredible experience for us, and we are so happy that we made the decision to check them out.

May 22, 2013

God at Work through Facebook

When Jody Drovdlic gave her life to the Lord years ago, she obediently got baptized. In a genuine celebration of her decision, she was sprinkled. Several weeks ago, when her husband asked her if she’d considered being baptized by submersion, she was surprised and then disturbed. It felt as though he was suggesting that her baptism wasn’t good enough or somehow didn’t count. Re-doing it would be like denying the importance of what she’d already done. Worse, it felt like legalism, checking off a box to fit in. She had no problem being baptized again if that’s what God wanted...and so she prayed. She asked God to not only make it clear to her if she should be re-baptized, but also to make it really meaningful and to give her a desire to do it.

Soon after that, a lady at church was re-baptized and shared her reason, her story. And God began a stirring in Jody. She realized that just as her faith had deepened over the years, so had her commitment to following Christ. She began to see a re-baptism as a restatement of her vows. Very much like the restatement of wedding vows after many years of marriage, her new vows would be from a seasoned journey with a Savior who had proven His faithfulness and perfect provision through many a storm. She was excited. Yes, she wanted to be baptized again...and not just a sprinkling. She wanted her whole body fully submerged. Little did she know how God would use that decision...and her Facebook!

Recently, a friend in Pennsylvania called Jody to let her know how impacted she was by Jody’s Facebook. This gal’s first husband had committed suicide years ago, and even though she was happily remarried, the confusion and pain of that first relationship felt unresolved. When she saw Jody’s baptism on Facebook, it suddenly hit her that it was time to bury her first husband’s ashes, time to bury the past and let go. She also decided it was time to move ahead. While she’d known about Jesus all her life, she knew there was something more. She was desperate to know the Jesus that Jody had come to know over the years and was so absolutely in love with.

What an awesome reminder that people are watching us, and God is so amazingly creative in how He draws others to Himself. Praise God that He is still at work, changing hearts and changing lives, pursuing the hearts of those around us and using our humble obedience, service and offerings to further His kingdom!