Facebook Icon Instagram Icon Twitter Icon

5 Year Celebration

March 17, 2024

5 Year Celebration

Passage: Psalm 145:1-21
Service Type:


Celebration Sunday

Rodney Gehman – March 17, 2024 – 


[ 001 ] If you’re a guest with us today, we’ve been going through the book of Acts verse by verse, chapter by chapter, but today we’re stepping aside for a quick second to just praise the Lord for his faithfulness to us, because [ 002 ] we are celebrating 5 years as a church today! In some ways it’s hard to believe that I’m saying that out loud, and yet on the other hand sometimes it feels like, really, only five? We’ve always been here. 

We’ve had a break built into our Acts series today, so we decided to use this opportunity to look backward for a second, to just pause in our journey and reflect on where God has brought us this far.  

Last summer I had the opportunity to go to Wyoming with a couple other guys from church here to do some camping and hiking. And on one particular hike, we’d been at it for a good couple of hours, knowing that we’re walking through some incredible terrain and witnessing some of God’s best work here, you know. To our right, the mountain side went up into the unknown, to our left it sloped down to a huge lake. And at one point, as we finally reached the end of the lake, [ 003 ] we turned around and snapped the picture of where we had come from. And you can’t see it probably from where you are sitting but if I zoomed in, you would see the trail winding down along the edge of the lake. 

And it’s funny – as you look back on the path we took, you can’t see it all. Parts of it are hidden or forgotten. Parts of it will live in your memory for a long time. There were the tough parts – hiking up a steep incline which is tough enough, but at 10,500 feet elevation which is almost two miles higher than where we are sitting right now, for us Iowa boys who breathe corn-fed humidity all summer, we needed a few more breaks than most. Then there were the easy parts, the downhills, the straight flat parts that required very little effort. 


If you have scripture in front of you, what I’d like to do today is to use Psalm 145 to help us turn around on the trail and look back to where we’ve been, to take a picture,talk about it for a second, and then next week, go right back to putting one foot in front of the other until we stop and look back again. Open with me to Psalm 145, beginning with verse 1:

[ 004-1 ] 1 I exalt you, my God the King, and bless your name forever and ever. 2 I will bless you every day; I will praise your name forever and ever. [ 004-2 ] 3 The Lord is great and is highly praised; his greatness is unsearchable.

This is David, the king of Israel, saying God is his King, and he blesses and praises him because of his unsearchable greatness. There is nothing like starting a church to show you that Yahweh is the only one who fits that category, that he’s the only one with unsearchable greatness, the one who really leads and shepherds the church, and he often does it in ways that we would never have chosen.


When I go back all the way to the beginning, River City has its roots in a local tragedy. A very dear friend and his wife both lost their lives in a car accident back in 2012. Many of you in the room knew them well. They were very influential people in the MidPrairie community, and so their funeral service was attended by 2500 people or so in the MP gym. The preacher that day came from Indiana, and he gave a wonderful gospel message full of truth and grace, and then at the end of the sermon, he invited anyone who wanted to either receive Christ for the first time, or commit to making a change in their lives or to commit to learning to read the Bible… I don’t remember all the reasons… should stand. 

In my journal from that day, I wrote that it seemed as if there were hundreds of people who stood up that day. And I remember thinking, we can’t just leave these people standing here. Someone has to do something. That pastor is going to go back to Indiana, he’ll never see these people again – so who will do something about this? 

I believe the Holy Spirit was speaking through my wife when she said US. We should do something about this. And after putting together several local events, bible studies, more meetings and conversations with our home church, a team and a plan came together 5 years later in the summer of 2017, [ 005 ] with Jodi and I, Nate and Janene King, and Toby and Erin Thompson saying we were going to start a church in our own community. I would be the lead pastor, Nate and Janene would oversee finances and operations, and Toby and Erin would oversee biblical counseling. 

[ 006 ] Our vision was to be a church for the city of Riverside, meaning that if for some reason, River City Church had to leave Riverside, we wanted to be the kind of church where people in the city would say, man… we’re really going to miss them. We wanted to influence and work for the city in whatever ways they needed, but at the heart of everything was the good news of Jesus. 

Harbor Network came alongside of us in those days and really helped give us some traction in a lot of different ways – financial support, pastoral support, leadership training, organizational support – It was God’s sovereign direction and wisdom that landed us with Harbor when we did.


In May of 2018, we held our first test run on a Sunday morning on the patio at my house with about 30 people, and [ 007 ]  met once a month through that first summer in Nate and Janene or Josh and Miranda’s garage as we looked for a more permanent location. My wife had said “I’ll be part of a church plant, as long as we don’t meet in a school or have to set up and tear down every week!” 

[ 008 ] We had our first public gathering here at the school in November that year. We set up 75 borrowed chairs from a church in North Liberty, we had a curtain down the center court line, and we met on this half. 

Who all was here at that first meeting, or you were here from the beginning? Anyone? Okay, these people are really the ones who started this church – through faithful giving, serving in a ton of ways, giving time and talents to this. This is the group that really laid the foundation for where we’re at today – Man, some of these people were all going to the same church, but didn’t know each other before coming here, so thank you all for being willing to take a leap of faith, to leave what’s comfortable and step into the unknown.

That Sunday was just shy of a disaster, because we didn’t have any kids classes or anything set up yet, this was still just a preview, and as you can see in the picture, all 75 chairs were filled up with adults. But a lot of them brought children. So, what happened was that on the other side of the curtain it was a child’s dream – a free for all with all the school’s indoor recess equipment and no supervision! Toby was trying to preach over here, while eventually his wife Erin and a few other adults moved to the other side trying to keep kids from shooting basketball or playing tag. That was the last Sunday we set up like that. 

We changed it up for the next preview gathering, and started facing this direction, with the coffee and welcome table back there. That next week, my wife and [ 008-2 ] Miranda Krueger started taking turns taking the kids out into the entryway to read a Children’s bible to them. So that was the beginning of KidCity. Born out of mayhem. And now KidCity has grown to where half the church leaves when I dismiss them to class. It’s been a really awesome thing to see so many young people around here. 

[ 009 ] As time went on, and our relationship with the school developed more and more, they began to trust us with classrooms and now even the kitchen is available to us. The Lord was very gracious to us in providing that, because it was a lot of work having to take everything home to clean and wash it. But then in January of 2019, we started meeting at the school every other Sunday, studying the book of Ecclesiastes. 


Sunday March 31, 2019 was my last day on staff at Grace Community Church in North Liberty, and there were no more “preview” gatherings in Riverside – We started officially meeting every Sunday here at the school in April 2019, with all of our equipment in a 14ft enclosed trailer which is hard to imagine today, because we now bring TWO trailers. But that first year our average attendance was somewhere around 80 every week, including children, and we were off and running!  


The Fall of 2019, the Lord brought Steve and Kiff in to join the Leadership Team, and in February of 2020, we started making plans to celebrate our one year anniversary celebration for a Sunday in April. In late March, everything shut down. The school closed and like many churches, we were forced to go online. I preached from my living room, and we all made the best of it for 2-3 months. Then in June, the govt said groups of 50 were okay, so we divided up into [ 010 ] what we called Satellite Groups that met in three different locations, and we used Zoom to broadcast the sermons to the other locations. We jokingly said we became TV evangelists overnight. 

We returned here to the school in the Fall of 2020. Around this same time, Toby and Erin stepped back from their responsibilities on the Leadership Team, and we publicly celebrated their leadership in helping to start this whole thing. They are still around here, still serving in a lot of different ways, and still very much a part of River City.

Fall of 2020, everything shut down again for a few weeks, and the Lord provided for us again by [ 011 ] allowing us to meet over at Copper Creek just on the other side of the interstate, where we met for most of 2021. More than a few times, we’d roll in at 8am to set up, and the CC team was still cleaning up from a wedding the night before – so the worship team and set up crew would just jump right in, moving tables, stacking chairs, and picking up trash. 

We’ve been reading about the church of Acts that was selling things they own, and making sure there was no one in need – I don’t know if any of you that were here from the start sold anything and brought the money here, but I know that you were generous with your time. Generous with your abilities, and one of the things I love about this church is just how quick to help others you are. You might say that’s just Iowa nice, but it’s more than that. There is a unity of the Spirit that brings the church together, and it’s been a joy to be part of that. 


[ 012 ] We moved back to the school in September of 21 and then in early 2022, a team of talented people from River City, led by Nate and Janene, did an extensive assessment of the city – everything from history and demographics to going door to door in a neighborhood survey, asking four questions – How long have you lived in Riverside, what do you love most about the city, what would you like to see changed, and how could a loving church make a difference. We compiled those findings in a book that I think might be on the back table? But that book is a resource for how we think about meeting the needs of Riverside – not things we’ve told them they need, but things they’ve told us, like daycare, meals for seniors, revitalizing downtown, and so on. 

A lot of those spoken needs will be a central part of how we build our own space in the future, making room to accommodate them. We just don’t want to become a group of believers that drives into town for an hour or so on Sunday mornings, then leaves and makes very little impact between Sundays. So, if you want to know how to be involved in the city, pick up one of those books, pray over it, and ask God to show you where to start. 


In the Fall of 2022, we also saw the Lord provide yet again as we were able to bring Leanne on staff as our Administrative Assistant. She’s taken command of the church calendar, plans or at least facilitates all of our major events, and spends a lot of time scheduling out ambassadors week after week to make sure all the positions are being filled. 

And speaking of ambassadors…Another thing that I think is worth some pretty serious celebration, is with our teenagers and youth. We do not have an official youth group at River City yet. We partner with Cornerstone Church in Kalona for Wednesday night high school and middle school youth group until we are in a position to have our own here. But here’s what is awesome about the teens here at River City. I know I’m not supposed to brag, but this one is pretty sweet: 

Almost every student between 12 and 19 is serving somewhere here at River City, either lending their talents to the worship team, running the lyrics computer, or in KidCity and nursery. Not just showing up, but participating – and that is a testimony of God’s blessing and grace to us! We have an awesome group of students here; many of them who have gone public with their faith through baptism here, I know many of the young women participate in Flourish groups and mentoring… we are a blessed church. So thank you to the KidCity, Pathfinders, and Flourish leaders for your part in discipling our youth. But also thank you teenagers and tweenagers for willingly serving your church. 

The Lord has been so faithful every step of the way. We all had pictures in our mind back then of what the church would look like, how we would make a difference, and all of that – and yet God put a lot of those pieces together in ways we never could have expected. You can have all these ideas in your head, but really it comes down to who God brings through the doors that really starts to show you what role you play in the city. So, I just want to praise God for his hand of provision and protection over these last 5 years. He really does deserve all the praise and the honor for all that has happened here.


So that’s a bit of the story – kind of fun to relive for those of us who have been here since day one, and hopefully informative for those who weren’t here yet. 

[ 013-1 ] David goes on in Psalm 145:4 One generation will declare your works to the next and will proclaim your mighty acts. [ 013-2 ] 5 I will speak of your splendor and glorious majesty and your wondrous works. [ 013-3] 6 They will proclaim the power of your awe-inspiring acts, and I will declare your greatness. [ 013-4 ]  7 They will give a testimony of your great goodness and will joyfully sing of your righteousness.

[ 014 ] I thought it would fun to not just celebrate today with old photos and stories, but to hear your stories of God’s goodness – to declare his greatness and proclaim his works. And of the handful of submissions we received, only one said they’d be willing to come up front to share, so I took them up on it. I would like to invite Jon and Kelly Hazelett to join me up here this morning, to give a testimony of God’s great goodness and his wonderful acts toward them in these past couple of years.  

  1. Introduce yourselves, what you both do for a living, and how long you've lived in Riverside. (not really a question, I guess).  How did you hear about River City, and when did you start coming here? 
  2. When did you first come to faith in Christ? 
  3. What were some challenges over these last few years that put your faith to the test? 
  4. How did those challenges give you a chance to see Jesus at work in your lives, or opportunities to share your faith with others?
  5. Psalm 145:4 says "one generation will declare your works to the next...", so what would you say to the next generation as they face similar challenges and their faith is put to the test? 

Look for a segway into verse 8…

[ 015-1 ]  8 The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and great in faithful love. 9 The Lord is good to everyone; his compassion rests on all he has made. [ 015-2 ] David goes on: 10 All you have made will thank you, Lord; the faithful will bless you. 11 They will speak of the glory of your kingdom and will declare your might, [ 015-3 ] 12 informing all people of your mighty acts and of the glorious splendor of your kingdom. [ 015-4 ] 13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom; your rule is for all generations. [ 015-5 ] The Lord is faithful in all his words and gracious in all his actions. 14 The Lord helps all who fall; he raises up all who are oppressed.[ 015-6 ]  15 All eyes look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time. 16 You open your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing.


[ 016 ] Here’s one more story, this one from Patty Stolbom, who can speak to God’s faithfulness in those last few verses of the Lord helping those who fall, meeting needs at the proper time, and opening his hand to satisfy our desires. Here’s what Patty wrote:

When we chose to become a part of River City Church, it was more than just choosing a church for us. I was on staff with Rodney at Grace Community Church and had to make the decision to keep my job or be part of River City. As this church moved from a dream to the planning stages it was clear to me that as much as what I did at Grace mattered and was for the Kingdom, that God’s bigger plan for me and my husband Dave was to be part of a church in our community!

At the time, we both felt that we were called to come here because of the roles we served in at Grace, and we brought skills and ideas to the table that could help at River City. While that was our heart, I now look back and imagine God smiling as He knew that the reasons for us being at River City would be much different. The bigger picture and plan included times of great sorrow and suffering, and our loving Father knew we would need the support, prayers, love, and community of this church.

At the same time River City launched services every week, our family experienced the tragic loss of my 16-year-old nephew Blake. Unbelievably, just a little over 2 months later my 16-year-old nephew Colton also tragically died. Church family were the hands and feet of Jesus in so many ways during this time of great grief - reaching out, just showing up, hugs, and praying with us. Being ministered to in this way was a beautiful gift. Although there was much pain, we were reminded over and over of the truth of God’s grace and love for us through hearing and seeing the Gospel in action - and knew how blessed we were to be in this church family.

Then came 2020, when I realized I had serious health issues. After exhausting health care options here in Iowa, we needed to travel out of state for further testing and care. It was exhausting, and expensive...but once again God’s love was poured over us and this situation in prayer, help caring for our home, providing meals, and financial support from our River City family. God taught us both so much, but for me personally, He really worked on my pride as I learned how to humble myself and accept the love and care of others as I was much more comfortable being on the other side of these types of situations.

The next year, a gradual miracle occurred, and I became healthier! It was a joy to share His goodness, care, and miraculous healing with others! My faith and trust grew over this entire time, and I learned that He truly provides all that we need that is earthly – but more importantly He is all we need to have life in abundance, and eternal life (John 10:9-10). 

Recently, however, I am now back in a season of my health being “precarious” according to my medical doctors, where I have been told that there is no treatment, and there is no “cure” that is known of…and yet my confidence and trust in God and his sovereignty remains steadfast. I know He works all things for our good (Romans 8:28) and I am assured that I will experience healing either here, or in Heaven. No matter what the circumstance and how it looks, God’s will be done. All praise and thanks to Him!

What a great testimony to God’s faithfulness and provision, and a beautiful picture of how the body of Christ is meant to work together. I know there are many of you who could also share similar stories of people stepping in to help you out in a time of need. 

Here’s how King David finishes out Psalm 145 – 

[ 017-1 ] 17 The Lord is righteous in all his ways and faithful in all his acts. 18 The Lord is near all who call out to him, all who call out to him with integrity. [ 017-2 ]19 He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry for help and saves them. 20 The Lord guards all those who love him, but he destroys all the wicked. [ 017-3 ] 21 My mouth will declare the Lord’s praise; let every living thing bless his holy name forever and ever


What started in verse 1 and 2 as I will praise your name forever, now in verse 21 is extended to let every living thing bless his holy name forever. That’s God’s heartbeat for each person that attends here on Sunday mornings, and each person in Riverside and the surrounding communities. Blessing his holy name forever is what we were designed for. 

And even as we celebrate five years, and rejoice in the testimonies of God’s faithfulness to us, we can’t skip over that last phrase in [ 018 ] verse 20. The Lord guards all those who love him, but he destroys all the wicked. There is a day coming when God’s wrath will be poured out on anyone who refuses to repent of their sin against God, and trust in Christ as their Savior. Our sin has caused separation between us and God, and we can’t simply bridge that gap by “being good” anymore than a person who is drowning in the ocean should just swim better.   

That’s where Jesus comes in. In his living, he perfectly obeyed his Father’s will, never once rebelling or going his own way – even when obedience meant dying a torturous and cruel death for sins he didn’t commit. For that reason, God raised him from the dead, and ascended him to the throne of heaven where Jesus right now lives and rules and reigns as king of kings and Lord of lords, and Romans 10:13 tells us that anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. 

And at that same exact moment you put your trust in Christ, that your faith is not in your own efforts or abilities, but in the finished work of Jesus…you don’t have to wait, but at that exact moment, you are brought to life and filled with the Spirit of Christ, so that he lives in you and through you, helping you recognize and overcome sin, encouraging you by reminding you of Jesus’ words and the promises of scripture, and by surrounding you with a family of people from every tribe, language, and nation around the world who have also been saved from sin and death, and 1 Peter 1:5 says we are being guarded by God’s power through faith for a salvation that is just over the horizon. 

So if you have not called out to Jesus, trusting that he is who he said he is, and that he is full of grace and forgiveness to even the worst sinner, today is the day you can do that. Just right in your seat where you are, just call out to him in prayer. There is no formula, no special prayer, no hoops to jump through first… start by confessing that Jesus is Lord, and trusting in your heart that God raised him from the dead and you will be saved. That’s what shifts you from being at the end of verse 20 under God’s wrath, to the beginning of verse 20 under his protection. Then talk to someone and let them know you did that so we can rejoice with you, and get you started on the road of following Jesus! 

[ 019 ] So dear church – 5 years went by incredibly quickly. We are not guaranteed another 5. But what we are promised is that the cross worked, the tomb is empty, Jesus is alive and well right now, he has authority over everything you can see and all the things you can’t, and like we’re going to sing here in a minute – no matter what comes our way this year, or next year, or the next 5, no matter if our minds are sharp or they fail, no matter if our faith is soaring or we have the faith of a mustard seed, no matter if we get the healing we want in this life or only in the next… 2 Timothy 2 says if we endure, we will also reign with Christ! 

Our confidence is not in our own ability to do good or to “do church well”: Our confidence is that King Jesus is holding onto us much more tightly than we could ever hold on to him! And I am grateful for that.