Devotions

Sharables – Testimony

Sharables – Testimony
Pastor Caleb Combs | Gathering Pastor

When thinking about my story and road with Jesus Christ, I can simply describe it as “NOT DESERVED!” So many times God has intervened and directed my paths, and man was I way off track. Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us to trust in the Lord with all of your heart and lean not on your own understandings and in all your ways He will direct your paths. I have truly found these truths to be evident in my life. I have been blessed with an incredible family. My Dad and Mom are superheroes in the faith. I do not just say that to compliment them, but I truly believe it. Knowing what my parents came from and how they got to the point of being used by God to do incredible things, I just stand back in awe of how incredible God is. They both have a passion for God and His people and would fight all of Hell to try and reach just one more person. They raised my brothers, sister, and me in the church. I am sure you have heard the adage, “Every time the church doors were open we were there.” That was us as a family. Sunday mornings, Sunday nights, Wednesday nights and usually a couple of other days sprinkled in throughout the week. 

It is crazy to think of the incredible things I have been able to see God do. In my own life, the salvation story is much different. I heard many stories of crack addicts coming to Jesus and stopping their addictions only by the power of Jesus. There are miraculous stories of God just stepping into someone’s life and making them new. I can remember thinking to myself, man I wish I had one of “those” stories. It was 1990, and I was 5 1/2 years old. I had to say half because at that age you included halves because if not you lied and just said 6 to round up! At that time, we had a dynamic kids’ ministry (thankful for a church that continues to find children important and puts effort into kids’ ministry).  As the kids’ service was ending, they gave an altar call and asked if anyone wanted to receive Jesus into their heart? I felt the Holy Spirit speaking into my life and a conviction I could not deny. Yes, at just five years old, I felt conviction. The only problem for me is that I was extremely conscious of what people thought of me. We will talk more of this as well go, but it is something I have fought my entire life. SO… I fought off what others thought and raised my hand. A man named Doug Brady came by and took me to the last room on the right, at the end of the hallway and led me to the Lord. To this day, I am blessed to have Doug as a friend. He led me through the sinner’s prayer, and I knew that I needed Jesus to forgive me of my sins. That night I was baptized at Sunday night church by my dad.

On that Spring day, my walk with Jesus began. I can remember lots of details and faces, so make sure you talk to your children about salvation and their need for Jesus. I know with my kids it is easy just to think they are kids and they will figure it out. I am thankful for men and women who constantly helped me see Jesus. Now the Proverbs 3 verses came into effect in my life. Man did I try to walk on my path and lean on my understanding. I constantly worried about what others thought, so I was led astray by things. Far from perfect and being convicted of my sins as a teenager God was constantly working on my behalf. I tended to have a bit of a mouth (ok still working on that), and many times I would have to go to God in repentance of things I said or did. As a teenager, while my uncle Steve was preaching I felt called into ministry, but this something that scared the living daylights out of me! First, my parents were superheroes, and I could never live up to them. Secondly, what would people think? These two huge obstacles were difficult for me to overcome. The enemy constantly threw these things in my face and took me as far away from ministry as I could get.

In high school, I was a pretty good basketball player and had a few colleges looking at me to play at their school. In my senior year, I got an offer to play at a little small Bible college in Grand Rapids, named Grace Bible College. Not knowing God was leading and directing my paths to this “Bible” college, all I wanted to do was play basketball and meet girls. So I committed to going to this college, and in the fall of 2002, I headed off to Grand Rapids, MI. Man, did I make lots of mistakes, but somehow God continued to lead and guide me. Grace (as in God’s unnerved favor) is something I look back and stand amazed at how God showed me favor. I am not sure if it was the many people who tell me that they prayed for me constantly or God just feeling sorry for me, but He continued to bless and lead me. I met this amazing / smoking hot girl when I was a sophomore in college and man did she get lucky (just kidding)! We started dating and ended up getting married between my junior and senior years of college. There are lots of stories where I messed that relationship up and should have lost her as well, yet God constantly worked in my life. I am so thankful for her and helping me become the man I am today.

I guess what I am trying to tell you is that I have been blessed WAY beyond what I deserve. That is my life and my salvation story. I deserved death and separation from God forever. Just as I should not have anything I have in my life, however, God is incredible and saved me! I could sit here and tell you of many more mistakes and many times I ran from God in what I call my “Jonah Journeys,” but each time I ran, God came and got me by putting people in my life that helped steer and direct me, (thank you Kevin Dean, Gabe Marshall, Bob Marshall, Steve and Stacey Shadley, and many others I could spend naming and taking up this whole thing). In summary, Lamentations 3 shows my heart and is something I cling to every day; “Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!’” I am a walking example of God’s grace and mercy being new every day; man do I need them! I am thankful for the men and women God has placed in my life. From parents and grandparents committed to the work of Jesus Christ, to the people who put up with a dumb kid in his late teens and early twenties; God directed my path and has led me to a place of thankfulness!

Sharables – Testimony

Sharables – Testimony
John Carter | 
Director of Finance & HR

I have lots of favorite passages in the Bible, but the one that I think without a doubt I can always fall back on is Hebrews 11:1. This is the passage that challenged my life, and it forced me to dig into the reality of who Jesus Christ is.

“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

It is a simple passage with a lot of deep implications to consider.  The two underlined words, to me, are the most significant aspects of this passage. What are the things we hope for, but cannot see? How do we determine the substance of that hope and by what evidence are we challenging our faith? It was through the deep thinking and processing of this passage that I asked myself, “What substance did I have, that would give me hope?”

That is not an easy question to answer right off the cuff? I mean there were several things I had tried to fill in the blank spot called substance for hope. You can fill in the blank! “My faith is based on _________________ (fill in the blank), This is what my hope in life is based on!”

The “blank” can be anything: money, job/career, family, friends, self, good deeds, church, religion, girlfriend/boyfriend, a prayer, baptism, church attendance. It can go on and on with things we put in place of Jesus Christ. I was a missionary kid in Japan for nearly 17 years. I grew up in the church and was very much a part of the religious entity call “the church.”  I knew the rules, knew what to say, and how to act, had the list of “do” and “do not” down. I failed to find any substance in those things. One of the cool things about the book of Hebrews is that there is only one correct answer. You cannot have multiple right answers; you only get one! Take some time and reflect on what is the substance of your faith, is it Jesus Christ? There is nothing that will sustain your hope for the long run other than Jesus.   

The second part of the passage talks about evidence. This evidence for me was a big deal! You might ask, Why? Well, when I was dealing with this passage, I was atheistic in my worldview, that means I openly claimed there was no God. I had abandoned the religion I had grown up with and decided that the opposite of religion must have more substance and evidence for a life of hope. I had a hard time believing in something that I could not see. Maybe, just maybe, you can relate to this struggle? It was not uncommon for me to speak of religion as a crutch, or a device created by the weak to deal with the harsh realities of life. I struggled with the aspect of there being evidence! I was able to understand that if there was evidence, and if there is substance to this “idea” called faith, then that would mean I could touch and feel it. It would be tangible. It forced me to look at what my faith, or lack of faith, had produced.  I had to go through and analyze what substance I had that gave me hope. The lifestyle I had chosen had led to very little by which I could say I was hopeful. The devil has a way of enticing us with the short term; it only distracts us from dealing with the truth.  In the short term, money, partying, women, all seemed sufficient to keep me full of hope. Then it was not enough! The party always came to an end, money never quite seemed to last, and the high never lasted. You always came down, and the lows were low, and the hangover almost always came the next day. We as humans have this innate ability to mask and numb our hopelessness with short-term fixes that do not fix anything. 

When I share my story of how a came to know Jesus, I will, without hesitation, quote this passage.  It does not matter which side of the proverbial aisle you come from, religious or irreligious, this passage can be a great passage to get you thinking. For me, I feel like I tried both ways. I lived for the longest time having prayed a prayer thinking that is all there was to it. I had my “fire insurance” so to speak, but no real evidence that I knew Christ personally. Church attendance, offerings, a magic prayer, and good deeds do not save you. I also tried the “do as I please” and disregarded the existence of God. Sin is a real thing, Hell is a real place, and God does exist. Just because we cannot see Him does not make Him anymore fake than the wind. Either lifestyle, religious or irreligious, leads to the same hopeless emptiness. There is only one way to have a hope that is both substantial and has the evidence of outlasting anything else, in fact, it is an eternal hope. If Jesus Christ is not the substance of your faith, let me encourage you to examine your faith, examine the evidence for Jesus Christ, and examine the substance in the Scripture for who He is. 

Sharables – Testimony

Sharables – Testimony
Mark O’Connor | Student Director

I always thought my story was pretty lame. I did not have this rock-bottom-I-found-Jesus moment. I was not a bad guy. I grew up in a home where we went to church every week. I was baptized as an infant. I received my first communion and was even confirmed when I was a teenager. I received these sacraments, and they were supposed to be done in the church in which I was raised. Youth group was fun in the summer when we played softball, but I always wondered why we did not learn more about God in those times. I was along for the ride. When my dad stopped waking me up every Sunday morning, I stopped going to mass. I just kind of lived my life from there. I still was not a bad guy. I was the guy my friends turned to when they needed to talk. There was no drinking or drugs. No smoking. I may have been at the party, but I was the one making sure everybody was ok.

I was not perfect. I messed up; made a bunch of mistakes and got into some trouble. But I was a teenager after all. Life was good. You could say I was kind of cruising thru life. Work was good. Somewhere around my 19th birthday, I met the woman who would later become my wife. Jamie and I developed a great friendship that blossomed into a great relationship. She had recently had a daughter when we started dating. The first time my parents met her, we were walking into the same entrance at the mall and Haley was with us. This was a mildly awkward moment.

We were engaged to be married after a year and a half. During the planning of our wedding, we discovered that Jamie was going to give birth to our first son. My world was now upside down. Here I was, 20 years old. I was about to be the head of a family. To say I was overwhelmed was an understatement. How was I going to handle this? What was I going to do?

I went on a weekend trip to a business conference in North Carolina. I do not remember most of the speakers that were there or what they said. Then came a church service on Sunday morning. A speaker by the name of Josh McDowell came to the stage. He spoke about fatherhood. He spoke about the responsibility I had as a father to raise my children and how important it is to make God a part of that. It was my “light bulb” moment. I do not remember the preacher from that service, but I know I gave my life to Jesus that morning.

We drove home, and I remember the preacher saying I needed to find a good, Bible preaching church. My brother in law pointed me to the River in Waterford (at that time, known as Faith). We were immediately drawn to Pastor Jim’s preaching style and connected quickly. In May of 2001, we were married in this church. A desire for God’s Word burned inside me, as it usually does for new Christians. After a while, that began to fade a bit, and I fell back into the normal routine.

Jamie began serving a lot in the church, but I was not there yet. After a time, I went to a snow camp with Pastor Jayson and the teens. A small fire began to burn again. It grew as I began to serve more and get into studying the Bible again. I was working retail at the time, and it was difficult to get a set schedule to serve consistently, but I did when I could.

In 2012, we made a huge change and went to serve in a small church in Walled Lake. It was the area where I went to high school, and to be honest, God called us there when Pastor Jim first started preaching there. At the time, I thought I knew what was better for me than God did. So I naturally fought it. Then Pastor Chris Doak asked us to serve with him to work with the student ministry. So we made our way to First Baptist Church of Walled Lake, now known as Market Street Church. My eyes were opened to the incredible work God does in our lives when we completely commit to his will.  Somebody asked me one night as we were leaving youth group if I had ever considered being a pastor. I would love to say that in that instant I said yes, but I laughed. Then, as He so often does, God decided otherwise. As I continued to serve faithfully, my mindset shifted to a place where I longed to serve God more, and I made the decision the follow that course for my life.

So I started school to begin that process. I worked full-time, served pretty close to full-time, and took classes to obtain a degree in Pastoral Ministry. Eventually, I was hired on a part-time basis at Market Street and became so entrenched in the workings of the church. I learned so much in this time and am forever grateful for my time spent and friends made in Walled Lake. But once again, God stirred up our lives. And here I am, back home where my journey started. I am blessed to be serving the Lord full-time at this big white church on Airport Road. My office is two doors down from the office where Pastor Jim counseled Jamie and me before our wedding. It is the same office where Pastor Chris asked us if we would pray about joining him in Walled Lake. I cannot wait to see what God has in store for our family and me.    

Sharables – Testimony

Sharables – Testimony
Ken Perry | Assistant to the Reach Pastor

Time sure flies when you are having fun. With that said, I cannot believe it has been 32 years since I made a decision to accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. Sometimes I think I should be further along in my faith, but there is a great assurance in the fact that I know I am right where God wants me to be.

Testimony is defined for us this way, “A public recounting of a religious conversion or experience.” That is it, nothing flashy or earth shattering. Just our retelling of the single most important moment in our Christian lives. For some, this conversion comes as a realization that the particular path they were headed down was going to be a dead end, that the choices being made were not turning out the way they had planned. We know this experience as a “Rock Bottom” conversion. The reality of the situation so confronts a person that they understand they cannot do life under their power anymore. There is a desire for spiritual intervention, and the only way to do that is to allow God to have total control of their lives.  As the title suggests; however, that was not me. 

I grew up in a loving middle-class home. That is not to say we did not have our fair share of issues, but I did have everything I needed and most things I wanted. My dad coached many of my sports teams and for most of my adolescence, my mom stayed at home to raise my brother and me. I began wrestling in high school and started dating the stats girl (probably in the hopes that my scores would improve). Before long, she asked if I would like to go to a youth group event at her church. I had gone to church as a kid… well, a truer version would be that I was put in the back of the station wagon and made to go to church with my mom and her friend. I had no other experience with the church up until I was asked to youth group at 15.  I said yes because I wanted to be with her but did not realize the impact it would have on me.

Two things happened that night.  First, I saw that the Youth Pastor was my wrestling coach. You might say no big deal, but it showed me you could combine the worlds of athletics and religion which was a new concept that helped as I started processing Christianity. I did not have to give up what I loved to do to come to Christ. The second thing was that I felt an amazing energy created by this group. I had felt the energy coming from crowds before (there is nothing like wrestling in front of a packed gymnasium) and it truly can be electric. This was different, though. I saw every type of person from my high school in that room. Silly teenagers that we were, we had to keep up our personas on campus, but at this youth group, I saw barriers broken down and kids having a great time worshipping Jesus together. I can not help but think of the book of Esther when I think back to this group… “for such a time as this.”

That group became my life. Sure, I still played sports, but the group of friends that came from this time was so much more important. They had the effect of cementing my heart to Christ before I even became a believer. After about a year of listening to the messages I came to the biggest realization of my life, and this is what I want you to grasp dear brothers and sisters. No matter where you come from, what you did, rock bottom or not, we are all separated from God by sin (Isaiah 59:2) until we ask Him for forgiveness and accept Him as our Lord and Savior. I was no better than the drug dealer, thief, adulterer, or murderer. The degree of sin was different according to the world, but God does not grade on a curve. He only sees the heart and mine was just as wicked according to Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Unless I made a decision to follow Him, I was eternally lost.

So, that is what I did at the ripe age of sixteen, I settled the separation issue once and for all, and as you can imagine, it was the best decision of my life. Not everything has been rosy and right, but let me encourage you with this, it is not supposed to be. John 16:33 clearly tells us, “in this world you WILL have tribulation(trouble). But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

When the world knocks us down, like the big bully that it is, we have an advocate that is bigger than anything the world can throw at us. If you are on the fence about this thing called Christianity, settle the separation issue today. If you have strayed from God like many of us have, take a note from the prodigal story and realize you are better off being a “hired hand” in the Kingdom rather than a “king” in the world. Come back to Christ while there is still time. Personal experience tells me you will not be sorry you did.

Sharables – Testimony

Sharables – Testimony
Pastor Josh Combs | Lead Pastor

I am a church rat. A PK (Pastor’s kid for those who do not know the lingo). My Dad became a Youth and Children’s Pastor at a small Fundamental Baptist church about 45 minutes north of Detroit when I was one month old. From there my love affair with what I thought was the church began. I was at “church” Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, special events, and visitation (or soul winning) night. My car seat was put in the front seat of the bus because my mom picked up kids and teens in the inner city of Pontiac. She took me along. As I grew, I was part of Sunday school, AWANA (yup, I have the trophies, patches, and books to prove it), camp groups, mission trips, youth group, Christmas productions, Easter productions, and blah…blah…blah.  I am sure you get the point, even to boredom. I know, I am feeling sick to my stomach just typing this list. I preached my first sermon in first grade to my Christian school and had a few more sermons under my belt before elementary school ended. I started singing towards the end of junior high, so preaching was replaced with “special music.” I was the quintessential church kid. I knew more Scripture than most adults. I did not need a hymn book because I knew most of those too. Now you might be thinking, “Ugh…what a miserable life!” But the truth is, I loved every moment! The “church” was my favorite place to be and the center of my life. I loved the smell of the old building. I loved the events. I loved the potlucks. I loved the whole place. It was my home. I remember the summer between 8th and 9th grade being so concerned that with high school career starting I would not be able to be heavily involved in the “church” building project. This was a major concern in my young life. During high school, I lead Bible studies at my house and my public high school. I coordinated major youth and even church-wide events. I wrote curriculum for elementary camps. I even attended a private Christian school located in a “church” from the time I was three until the end of junior high. I graduated from a Christian college and went to seminary. My life was a beautiful spectacle of churchy-ness. And somewhere in this mess, I got saved.

I do not remember the sermon or even who preached, but in my mind, I can transport myself back to that exact moment. I was standing in the front row with my dad at the close of a Wednesday night revival service. I looked up at my dad, as a just a young boy, and said, “Dad, I need to be saved.” That night, in hindsight, was the true epitome of childlike faith. I knew I was destined to Hell because of my sin, and only Jesus could save me. I was baptized on a Sunday night a few weeks later.

I do not have an exciting or riveting testimony by most standards. I was not addicted to drugs or divorced five times or a professional athlete. My life was not at rock-bottom. I was five years old. But something happened over the next few decades that I am afraid will take the rest of my life to fix. As I meet people now in my role as a Pastor, I am amazed that regardless of the denominational background, so many of us have similar stories. Maybe you do not have the depth of church cred, but you have accumulated incredible amounts of religious baggage that Jesus never intended for you to have. Because of my story of God’s incredible grace, my heart burns with a passion for the religious. For you. The ‘churchy’ people. The holy rollers. The Jesus freaks. The Pharisees. I was not rescued out of an abusive family. My parents are incredible people. I was not rescued out of alcoholism or drug addiction. I was rescued out of religion. I was rescued out of “church.”

The Apostle Paul writes in Philippians 3:

“If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”

This is Paul’s story. He had all of the religious credentials but was empty and hopeless. Then he met Jesus. And that encounter on the road to Damascus changed everything. This is my story. I had all the church credentials but found much of it to be “dung” (Philippians 3:7, KJV).  I am not Paul and am hesitant to even draw this comparison. But I do recognize, that without the Gospel of Jesus Christ, religious credentials mean “jack- squat” (Quoting my favorite motivational speaker). So, here is my mess, my story, which I have heard echoed thousands of times in coffee shops, counseling appointments, and countless other places. I am hoping that Jesus can save you too from “church.”



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