Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Evidence of God’s Grace

The following is an article by Rev. Mark Stephenson.  Mark visited New Life on September 15; he preached an amazing sermon in the prison gym entitled: "Our weakness, God's strength."  Below are Mark's reflections after spending a long weekend in Central Iowa.

Evidence of God’s Grace

By Mark Stephenson

When I served in parish ministry, I returned regularly to a section of Eugene Peterson's book, The Contemplative Pastor. I needed to be refreshed by his wisdom when I lost perspective.

In that section, Peterson described a common frustration among pastors—people who don’t do what they should do or say they will do. That frustration can lead the pastor to cajoling, brow beating, and guilt-tripping her flock in feeble attempts to get people to comply. Not helpful!

Peterson argues that pastors should not be surprised that people fall short. That’s what people do; we’re sinners in need of a Savior. Instead, Peterson argues, pastors should be surprised when people DO keep commitments, show care to others, reach out with the gospel, and behave as true Christians. These are evidences of God’s grace and power.

I thought of Peterson’s wisdom after a recent trip to Pella, Iowa. While there, I met a number of people who showed me that God’s grace and power continues to have their way. 
  • When Rick Admiraal began church planting work at the Newton Correctional Facility this past February, Classis Central Plains was very supportive and many volunteers came forward to spend time, some of them weekly, at the prison. 
  • Ivan and Ruth Mulder along with several others have recently started a support group in Pella for people with physical disabilities. They already have a consistent attendance of about 12 to 15 each month. 
  • I had Sunday dinner with the Van Kooten family, and learned that Mrs. Van Kooten, Andi, has recently been elected to the board of Calvin College. Although Andi uses a wheelchair, her disability did not lead the people involved in board member selection to write her off. 
  • Classis Central Plains devotes money, time, and effort to for an education time for classis delegates at every classis meeting. I was privileged to be the speaker at their most recent meeting. 
  • Jodi Tucker, a supervisor at the Christian Opportunity Center (COC) in Pella, gave me a tour of the sheltered workshop and two of the group homes that are part of the COC. Donations came in to allow extensive renovations to one of the homes I visited, which provides very pleasant accommodations to the four women with intellectual disabilities who lived there. 
God’s grace and power moves among people in Pella, as well as Portland, Port Alberni, Tegucigalpa, and Jos. People don’t always do what they should or what they promise, including me. I thank God that he works through us anyway! 

(Mark Stephenson is director of Disability Concerns of the Christian Reformed Church)

Born Again

Today I was thinking about what it means to be Born Again when I stumbled into this song.

Friday, September 23, 2011

By Faith

Here is what my desk calendar said today: So often we try to figure out life by what we can see, hear, or experience with other senses.  But it is our faith which compels us to believe, even when we cannot explain to others why or how or to what specific earthly end.

This reminded me of an incredible Bible verse: 
We walk by faith, not by sight.  (II Corinthians 5:7)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Home Missions Article

Christian Reformed 
Home Missions

New Life receives support from Christian Reformed Home Missions in the Central US Region.  Here is an article written about New Life with the title - Glimpses of God at Work in the Central US.

   Home Missions Article

Friday, September 9, 2011

Pray without ceasing...

In God's Word, it says to pray always.  Pray without ceasing.  New Life has some prayer concerns.  Will you pray for us?

  • Pray for men who will be released soon - it is a huge transition to leave prison and re-enter society.
  • Pray for Cliff - he will have gall bladder surgery this week.
  • Pray for Carlos - his father passed away earlier this week.
  • Pray for new believers - may these young Christians grow in the faith and mature in the faith.
  • Pray for Jordan - in solitary confinement
  • Pray for the chaplain's assistant as he ministers in Spanish and English.
  • Pray for Unity in the church
  • Pray that New Life's worship service in the prison gym next Thursday goes well.
  • Pray for safety as volunteers drive back & forth to Newton.

We never do run out of things to pray for, do we?  Rejoice that our awesome God hears our prayer.

Pastor Rick
New Life

An Incredible Song!

Crossroads Connection - Restorative Justice

Crossroads Connection

Monday, September 5, 2011

Visit from Friends

On Friday, I received visitors from Michigan here in Pella, Iowa.  Rev. Rich Rienstra and his wife Carol were visiting family in West Des Moines over the Labor Day weekend and stopped by to say hello.  Rev. Rienstra is the founding pastor of Celebration Fellowship, a prison congregation in Ionia, Michigan.  Before I moved to Iowa, I was a regular volunteer at Celebration Fellowship and worked closely with Rich.  

We had a nice visit in Pella.  We met at the the Smokey Row coffee house and enjoyed good conversation with our beverages.  I told Rich and Carol that Smokey Row was an important location for New Life because that is where the ministry idea was planted in a conversation/prayer with Pastor Art Van Wolde.

Afterwards we took a scenic drive around Pella, driving by the Vermeer Mile, Pella Corp, the windmills, the local Pella Christian Schools, and Central College.

Please pray for Celebration Fellowship as it is under a leadership transition.  Rich is retiring to tackle new challenges.  Meanwhile, Celebration Fellowship is interviewing candidates to replace him.
Prayer is the most important work of a Christian.  Please pray.

Pastor Rick

Friday, September 2, 2011

Prison Pastor

What does it mean to be a Prison Pastor?

  • The Prison Pastor understands that the crime may be a symptom of unmet emotional needs and a troubled past.  Knowing this, the pastor can confidently approach the distorted individual in order to embark on a ministry of restoration and hope.

  • Prison Pastors call followers of Christ into spiritual maturity: "Speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ." (Ephesians 4:15)  Prison Pastors should encourage perpetrators to speak the truth not only about their crime but also about their history of victimization as a necessary prerequisite to healing.  Speaking the truth contrasts sharply with demonic denial and harmful minimization. 

  • A crucial role of a prison pastor is to be a good listener: I have discovered that I often help the most by being available to listen to men tell their own story, to express their grief/loss in a safe place.

  • Prison pastors not only speak of God's steadfast love but also intentionally live into that reality through active listening and a steadfast ministry of presence.    

  • Prison pastors call for life transformation.  Although the offender needs to experience God's love, he cannot remain the same.  Renewed individuals harvest the Fruit of the Spirit, including self-control.  (Gal. 5:22-23)   Self-control means possessing the ability to control one's behavior by not acting out inappropriate impulses when they occur. Responsible citizens preparing for reintegration into society must be able to self-regulate their behavior since supervision will not encompass every hour of every day. 

  • Through their redemptive work to damaged inmates, prison pastors offer the hope of God to renew lives so that transformed individuals may return to society in peace.