Right about 3 years ago, Blake and Amanda had just made the decision to move back to St. Petersburg and start Radius. Stephanie and I were on board 100% from the beginning. We knew it would be a lot of work, but really had no idea what we were about to get into. We were just excited that our friends were coming home and we felt that we were about to be part of something big.
How did I know Radius would have a heavy impact on the lives of people in St. Petersburg?
To answer that, I have rewind to 2009.
Stephanie and I had been bouncing around between going to church and not going to church. We were trying to figure how how best to raise our toddler and find some direction in our lives. We had jobs, owned our own home, and probably looked like the model of a young family. But, something was missing. We both had a whole in our lives that needed to be filled with something good and pure and meaningful.
I'd been watching the youth group at our church for a while and had felt called to be a part of it. But, it just never felt like the right time to approach the youth pastor and since we weren't really consistently going to church every Sunday, the opportunities were few and far between. It was weird though, in the Spring and Summer of 2009, it seemed liked every time we did show up to church, Blake was speaking in the main service. I figured that was a sign. Then some good friends of ours invited us to have dinner with them and Blake and Amanda. It was the first time we'd had a real conversation with them and we became quick friends. During that evening, Blake mentioned the youth group was about to go to camp. Stephanie and I shared stories about our days as camp councilors and our love for camp. Blake jokingly invited me to come along (maybe he was joking, I'm still not sure), but I felt like I couldn't take the time off work and politely declined, or laughed off the joke.
When the students returned from their week in the mountains of Tennessee, they shared their experience on a Sunday morning. Watching them interact with the adult leaders and seeing the bonds they had formed, I knew at that point it was something I had to be a part of.
I reached out to my new friend Blake and we set up a meeting. He told me he didn't care what skills or talents I had, he just wanted someone who was willing to build relationships with the students.
I wish I could go back and watch that moment again. I had no idea that meeting would be such a turning point our lives.
I started serving in the youth group in the Fall of 2009. It took me until January of 2010 to start feeling like I was part of the group. Slowly, but surely, Blake encouraged me to get further and further out of my comfort zone. during that same time he began pouring into me as a friend. We read books together, had meals together, and our families started to hang out more. I showed up early to youth group and stayed late. We spent a lot of time serving together and built a bond while moving couches and pool tables, preparing for event, or cleaning up afterwards. I was so thirsty that I wasn't about to wait for someone to invite me to help. I just showed up and did what I could.
It was through serving that I was finally able to take my eyes of myself; my problems, my struggles, my fears and doubts. My hands had found something to do and for one of the first times in my life I really experienced God's love and his presence.
The following summer I went to my first youth camp. Though I had spent many summers at camp before that, I had never experienced camp with God. In a building called Big Frog, during a time of worship, while serving, my heart was finally softened enough to feel the presence of the Lord and to experience a time of hearing from and speaking to my creator. It was powerful and meaningful and something that I hope everyone can experience every day of their life.
So how do I know Radius is doing something big in St. Pete? It's because we are a church that serves. We are a church that takes action and grows in relationship with God and with each other through serving on Sunday mornings and throughout the week. I've seen people come to know God at Radius, and they didn't get to know him first and then start serving...they started serving and then got to know him.
I tell you this because you might be struggling to find God right now. Perhaps you've never really felt like he was there. Perhaps you knew him once, but you've lost site of where he is in your life. Perhaps you're mad at him and ignoring him right now. Or, perhaps the guilt and fear and shame and worry that consumes your life has you feeling like you don't deserve to be in the presence of the Lord.
To those of you who don't know the Lord, you can meet him through serving him. Put your hands to work serving God and I guarantee you will see him at work in your life.
To those of you who know him, but have lost site of him, you can reconnect by reaching out and helping others. When you allow him to work through you, you will feel his presence again.
To those of you who feel undeserving of his love...
That's a lie!
It is a lie that the enemy tries to convince us is true all the time. It's a lie that even now while reading this you are trying to reconcile. It is always a lie. God always wants a relationship with you. He wants to be in your presence way more than you could ever hope to be in his presence.
You want to overcome the lie? Serve.
Find something for your hands to do, and do it. Stop looking in the mirror and complaining about your life and reach out to someone to help improve their life. When we take our eyes of our selves and place them on others, we can begin to experience real love.