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!

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