Friday, January 28, 2011

Getting Settled ~ in Iowa

One of the most popular questions we've received is this: 
So, are you settled?  It makes me feel like a pioneer, like one of the early settlers.  Sure, we did move West from Michigan to central Iowa.  But it took only 8 hours on interstate highways (I-80 mostly) instead of several weeks in a wagon train on two track trails.

Anyway, I digress.  Yes, we're getting settled in our new state and our new community and our new house.  This past week we took a big step in getting settled.  We put new license plates on our vehicles.  Now the Dodge Caravan and the Honda Accord both tell the world that we live in Iowa.

Prison Passages

I love God's Word.  And I thought it would be a helpful exercise to list off a few prison passages.

God sets the lonely in families, he leads forth the prisoners with singing; but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.  (Psalm 68:6) 

The LORD upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry.  The LORD sets prisoners free.  (Psalm 146:7)

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.  (Isaiah 61:1)

Then the King will say to those on his right, Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.  (Matthew 25:34-36)

Jesus answered him (the criminal on the adjacent cross),  I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.  (Luke 23:43)

The Identity of the Apostle Paul: I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles.  (Ephesians 3:1)

Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. (Hebrews 13:3)

You can probably think of a few other key verses.  Feel free to share those with us in the comments section.

The Land in Between

I'm in the Land in Between.  In the land-between you look back at what God has done and you look forward to what God will do.

What God has done: Last Friday, I passed my classical examination to become a brand new minister in Classis Central Plains (formerly Classis Pella) of the Christian Reformed Church in North America.  Big stuff.  God gave me the ability to answer the questions calmly and confidently.  The trickiest question was the first from Pastor Art: Who are you cheering for ~ Da Bears or The Packers?  Didn't know what to do with that one since my first questioner was a fan of Da Bears and my second questioner (Pastor Jeff) was a Packer-Backer.
Heated rivalry in the NFC North: Windy City vs. Cheeseheads!

 The right answer is neither one: I'm a Buffalo Bills Fan!

My favorite section of the exam was the Biblical section.  Pastor Jeff named a passage of Scripture then I had to tell where it was found, what it meant, and how it related to the rest of the Bible.  I'm grateful that God gave me joy in the moment and strengthened me so that I could clear that hurdle.

What God will do: Next Sunday (Feb. 6) is my Ordination Celebration.  Family and friends are traveling from all over the United States (Florida, New York, Michigan, South Dakota, and Iowa) to join us on this special occasion.  It's going to be great!  Fellow Prison Pastors will extend their greetings to the new pastor of the new prison church.  Music will carry a tone of celebration.  My Uncle Henry will preach the message ~ God's Word is not chained!  Ministers will come forward to lay hands on me.  And I'll finally have the privilege of raising my hands to bless God's People!


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Big Day ~ Please Pray

Friday is a big day so please pray!  On Friday night (Jan. 21), I will show up at Calvary Christian Reformed Church in Pella for my classical examination.  It is a special meeting for Classis Central Plains, in which delegates will decide whether I'm ready to be ordained as a minister of the Word in the denomination.  Right now my best suit is getting dry cleaned.  

And today I'm praying & studying the day away so that I'll be fully prepared for tomorrow's session.  They tell me it will go this way...

First step: listen to evaluators who have read and heard three of my sermons (New Testament, Old Testament, and Heidelberg Catechism).  By the way, the sermons were based on Hebrews 13, Genesis 40, and 2 Corinth. 5, respectively.  And all three touched on prison ministry at some level.  

Second step: answer questions from Pastor Art Van Wolde in the Practica section.  This step involves questions dealing with personal spirituality and practical pastoral matters.  

Third step: answer questions from Pastor Jeff Sajdak in the Biblical/Theological section.  Following those three steps, delegates representing the churches will vote.  

Pray that God will help me think clearly so that I will be set free to minister to prisoners.  May His will be done.  May His Kingdom come!

Monday, January 17, 2011

New Life!

Recently I received a letter from June V.H. of Third Christian Reformed Church in Zeeland, MI.  Third was our home church before we moved to Pella, Iowa.  June writes

     When I read the name of your new church, the words of this song immediately came to my mind.  The words are so fitting for prisoners and all of us as well so I felt impressed to find it, copy it and send it to you.  May God be closer today than yesterday and closer tomorrow than today!

Here is the song June found.  The words ring true - it fits!

Words and music by John W. Peterson, 1963 Singspiration, inc.

Verse 1
Gone is the guilt of my sin,
Peace is now reigning within;
Since I believed, pardon received,
Happy, so happy I've been!

New Life in Christ! Abundant and free!
What glories shine, what joys are mine,
What wondrous blessings I see!
My past with its sin,
The searching and strife,
Forever gone, there's a bright new dawn!
For in Christ I have found New Life!

Verse 2
Brighter the journey each day,
Tho there is much to dismay;
Heaven awaits - Bright pearly gates,
There at the end of the way.

Verse 3
Come with your sin-burdened heart,
Christ will his cleansing impart;
He will forgive - in him you'll live,
O how the joy bells will start.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Field Trip to Fort Dodge

Fort Dodge Visit

Written by Ken Van Zee, 
  Launch Team Member & Member of Faith CRC in Pella 

   Rick and I had the opportunity on Friday, January 14 to go to Fort Dodge and visit with the pastors and inmates of The Church of the Damascus Road prison church. 

   In the morning we met with Pastor Paul Stone, the prison pastor and Pastor Carroll Lang who takes care of the follow up of the inmates once they have been released.   Pastor Lang also takes care of the content and layout of their newsletters.  We met them in their office at St. Olaf Lutheran Church in Fort Dodge, Iowa. 
In the afternoon Pastor Stone took us to the Fort Dodge Correctional Facility.  He gave us a tour and then showed us the chapel where they have their meetings and worship.  In this chapel, they have a great library of Christian books, videos, and a nice sized assortment of Christian music.  During the afternoon we visited in the office Pastor Stone has in the back of the chapel.  While there we experienced a constant number of inmates who wanted to check out materials.  We enjoyed visiting with several of the inmates.  Many were willing to share their story and tell us what this ministry has done to change their lives.  It was great to hear about God working in their lives. 

Worshiping God at Church of the Damascus Road

   In the evening we were given the opportunity to experience “prison” food.  Then about 6:00 p.m. inmates started to arrive in the chapel to visit and prepare for the Bible study that was scheduled for 6:30 p.m.  Pastor Stone led the group of about 50 inmates.  Rick and I had the opportunity to witness and participate in the great interaction and excitement as they discussed Matthew 6.  

   We had the opportunity to tell them about the New Life Prison Church and they were very encouraging.  We closed the evening with a time of prayer.  God is truly blessing this ministry and changing hearts.     

Monday, January 10, 2011

Please Pray

Prayer is a Christian's most important work
Please pray for us in the next two weeks.

Tuesday, January 11: First meeting of the New Life Prison Church Launch Team.  (It was supposed to be on Jan. 4 but I was having an appendectomy!)

Friday, January 14: Field Trip to Fort Dodge, Iowa with Ken Van Zee (fellow launch team member).  Fort Dodge is the site of another prison congregation: a Lutheran church known as Church of the Damascus Road.

Friday, January 21:
Classis Central Plains examination.  If I satisfy my questioners, I will become an ordained minister during a special service on February 6th.  Lord willing.

Hebrews 13 - Remember the Prisoner

This Sunday evening, I preached at Calvary Christian Reformed Church in Pella.  The sermon was one requirement for me to become an ordained minister in Classis Central Plains.  I had to submit three written sermons from the Old Testament, New Testament, and Heidelberg Catechism.  The New Testament sermon was based on Hebrews 13:1-3 and needed to be preached during a church service.

Hebrews 13:1-3  (Bible Gateway - Hebrews 13)  is a wonderful passage of Scripture.  I thoroughly enjoyed writing this sermon and preaching it too.  I called the sermon: A Tale of Four Cities.

In the heart of downtown Philadelphia is this sculpture of LOVE

First City: Philadelphia, The City of Brotherly Love

Second City: Xenia (Ohio), The City of Hospitality

Third City: Newton (Iowa), The City of Newton Prison

Fourth City: The Holy City, The City of God

Theme: The prison church is a signpost of the New Day to come.

Xenia was a stop on the underground railroad

If you'd like to view the sermon, follow this link and look for the January 9 Evening Service:  Calvary CRC Video

During the Third City section, I spoke about active-remembering.  Albert Barnes wrote that we remember the prisoner when we feel compassion for him in his suffering, when we remember him in our prayers, or when we give him aid for his relief.  Certainly the prison church remembers the prisoner when volunteers come in from the outside to visit / fellowship / worship with inmates.

A quick story.  Last week I was at the prison visiting with the Chaplain.  At that time, I also met the Chaplain's assistant.  He is an inmate named John who speaks both English and Spanish fluently.  He told me about his ministry to fellow inmates on the prison yard.  Then he spoke these words to me: "I've found that the three most important words when doing ministry to my fellow prisoners are ~ Jesus Loves You!"

Minus One Appendix

I had an insider's "tour" of the Pella Hospital on Tuesday
On Tuesday, I lost some weight when a surgeon at Pella Regional Health Center removed my appendix.  

It all started on Monday night when I couldn't sleep.  I was in a lot of pain.  My abdomen was really tight, like a clenched fist.  I tossed and turned all night long.  I tried sleeping on my right side then on my left, on my stomach then on my back.  But nothing worked.  Moans and groans came out of my mouth too numerous to count.  Finally, my wife Rose made a declaration: We're going to the hospital!  It was 5:30am.  

At Pella Regional Hospital, they ran a battery of tests.  It was decided that my appendix needed to be removed because it was 50% too large and the cause of my pain.  So it was.  And I had an appendectomy at about 10:30am.  Pastor Art was there prior to surgery.  He read Psalm 121 and prayed for my health.  It meant a lot to me that he stayed around to comfort Rose during the surgery and make sure that everything was OK.

Later that evening, Pastor Art's wife Amy along her children came to visit in my hospital room.  Amy wondered out loud if I liked a lot of Drama.  Maybe so.  I am getting started in prison ministry - that's packed with all kinds of drama...

It's fun for a seminary graduate and candidate for ministry to think theologically about life events.  What does this appendix surgery mean?  Is it spiritual warfare?  Maybe Satan is attacking the new ministry with physical setbacks right from the start.  Or is this God sending me a message?  Maybe God is reminding me of my human limitations and encouraging me to practice patience.
The experience pointed me to Paul's famous passage where he considered his thorn in the flesh.  God said to Paul: 
     My Grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.  (II Corinthians 12:9)

Still smiling.  Even without an appendix!
I'm grateful that God has restored me to health.  And I'm grateful that I was able to preach at Calvary last night.  I pray that this week will be surgery-free.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Welcome to Pella

We arrived safely in Pella this past Wednesday.  Needless to say it has been a whirlwind of a week.  

On Monday, Rose & I spent most of the day preparing for the journey.  Virtually everything we owned was crammed into a box.  

On Tuesday, a great group from Third Christian Reformed Church of Zeeland, Michigan came to help us.  Our house on 44 Taft Street was the site of a massive work crew of over 20 individuals.  In no time flat, they removed the contents of our house and brought everything out to the street.  On the back of the 53' moving truck was Mr. Marvin Visser of Holland Special Delivery.  Marvin directed traffic and stacked the stuff efficiently.  After completing the job, we went over to church to enjoy a pizza lunch with the work crew.  Much thanks to 3rd CRC of Zeeland for all the help!

On Wednesday, we traveled to Iowa.  The trip took about 8 hours but we cut it a bit close.  We arrived in Pella right at 3:00 p.m.  The truck was already there.  Also 2 dozen helpers from Calvary Christian Reformed Church were waiting to start work.  My family took a quick tour of the house to get an idea of the layout but also to determine who got what bedroom.  Then we begin unloading the contents of the truck.  Some of us worked inside while others worked outside.  In no time flat, the contents of the truck were inside the 1002 Main Street house.  We took a moment to catch our breath then it was off to unload one more key item.  My 1998 Honda Accord had a free ride to Pella on the back of the semi-truck while we drove the 1999 Dodge Caravan.  Pastor Art took me over to Pella Implement Company to unload the Accord on their loading dock.  I took the wheel of the Accord and drove carefully, trying not to scrape the mirrors on the walls of the semi!  That evening, the Nugteren family was kind to us, letting us stay at their house on the outskirts of Pella until we became settled.

On Thursday, we continued unpacking boxes and getting settled in the new house.  We have been welcomed into the Pella community, receiving multiple dinner invitations.  We also enjoyed a New Years party with a family in town.  The church has also been a welcoming community.  They stocked our new fridge with all sorts of good food.  Much thanks to Calvary CRC for your generosity and all the help at our new house.

On Saturday, we spent New Years Day at the Nugteren house.  My brother David was in town with his wife Alicia (Nugteren) Admiraal and their three children.  It was fun to visit with my brother David & his family.  We also enjoyed good food and watched some football games together.

On Sunday, a wonderful event happened.  We met for prayer with three other couples.  For one hour we prayed for God to bless the new prison congregation.  It was amazing to dream of what God will do at the Newton Prison in 2011.  Will you join us and pray?

Article in The Banner

The January issue of The Banner has arrived.  In this issue is an article written by yours truly about Calvin Seminary's trip to Angola Prison in Louisiana this past fall.

Follow the link below to read the article:

Seminarians go to Prison 

The group from Calvin Theological Seminary that visited prison in Louisiana last fall