Wednesday, December 28, 2016


Words, words, and more words.  Society bombards us with thousands of words each and every day.  In a capitalistic country, many of the words attempt to sell us products.  When we drive along the highway, we're confronted with multiple billboards.  When we watch television, we're forced to endure countless commercials.  When we surf the web, we're faced with pop-up ads on our internet browser or spam in our email inboxes.  Even when we read this newspaper, we find ourselves negotiating a maze of printed advertisements in order to discover an article like this one.  So many words exist for the primary purpose of persuading us to spend our hard-earned money.  Well I don't know about you but I'm pushed away from all the words and pulled toward the Word.  The Holy Spirit leads me away from the plurality of the many words to the unity of the one Word.   In the midst of the complexity of the many marketing words, the Spirit whispers a gentle call to discovery the simplicity of the Word of God.

The Apostle Paul informs us that the Word of God is certainly not a commodity to be bought or sold.  After Paul left the city of Corinth to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to other places, the small house church in the massive city was invaded by false prophets who puffed themselves up with pride, claiming to be super apostles.  In response, Paul penned a second letter to the Corinthian believers, encouraging them to reject false teachings and embrace grace.  Paul boldly spills ink on the page: "Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God." (2nd Corinthians 2:17, NIV)

Sent from God, we enter the prison in Newton to speak the Word of God with sincerity.  In doing so we steer clear of peddling the word as if it were yet another commercial product in the marketplace.  Instead we provide the Word of God not as something to be achieved but as God's gift to be received.  Numerous resources are available at no cost to the men in prison.  For example, various Bibles are available for free, including outreach Bibles, Spanish Bibles, large print Bibles, the One Year Bible and pocket-size New Testaments.  In addition, devotional booklets such as Today and Our Daily Bread are always available in the prison chapel.  Lately we've been blessed with boxes of books like Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence by Sarah Young and Doing His Time: Meditations and Prayers for Men and Women in Prison by James Vogelzang.  Last week, however, I found out that all these resources can present a problem of overwhelming the diligent ones with even more words.  One of the men at the prison shared with me his lengthy list of daily readings.  It looked less like grace and more like a burden.  I wondered out loud with him if there are times when more isn't always better.  Perhaps there could be some way to focus on quality instead of quantity.

This week we'll restore our focus on the Word of God by providing a class on the ancient spiritual practice of Lectio Divina, which means "divine reading."  Avoiding excessive quantities of Scripture,  Lectio Divina slows you down so you can hear a message from God's Word.  The class in our prison Bible study will present the four step process of reflective reading, patient meditation, conversational prayer, and restful contemplation.  You may already be aware of Lectio as a valuable spiritual practice that allows you to practice the presence of God.  May the New Year give you numerous opportunities to prayerfully read the Bible.  May you flee from the many words of the marketplace to a place where only God's Word of grace remains.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Life with a Capital L.

Many people wander aimlessly through a life with a lower case letter "l", breathing the air and eating the food.   Failing to grasp the deep meaning of possessing a soul, they merely exist on a daily basis.  Gazing at the mirror, they view their own reflection and inspect a me they see instead of the me God wants them to be.  Unfortunately the bottom line is that some people are willing to just survive when God wants them to thrive.  Can it be true that God's desire for us is that we refuse to settle for a life that's second best?  Thanks be to God for the capacity to realize that life isn't meant to be lived in the lower case.  Instead we can truly live Life with a Capital L in Christ.  The giant L describes the Life with God.  It's New Life, Eternal Life, a Life of incredible fullness in Jesus Christ. 

This Life with a capital L is described decisively in the Gospel of John.  As the Gospel writer John recognized, it is Father God who initiates the action by sending His Son Jesus into a world in desperate need (see John 3:16-17).   It is only through Jesus that God does His work inside us and among us, bringing about newness.  Thanks be to God!  In fact, John summarized the importance of this fact in his Spirit-inspired purpose statement: "These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name."  (John 20:31)   Truly the life of fullness comes as a result of faith in Jesus Christ.  In his important volume The Gospel of John: A Commentary, Frederick Dale Bruner spells out this truth: "John's Gospel believes that "Life" in the word's full sense occurs only where there is trust in ... Jesus.  Life exists, in the Gospel's conviction, where there is no longer the abysmal dread of death, the awful weight of guilt, the horrid emptiness of meaninglessness, the lifeless absence of God, and the futile quest of the world's multiple gods and idols.  Life is present wherever Jesus, and all that he means, is appreciated and finally trusted."  (p. 1196)

Sometimes this Life is misunderstood as something received in the distant future when Christ returns.  However, God's intention is for your Full Life with Him to begin right here and right now.  Recently we completed a four week course at the prison to prepare men for either baptism or profession of faith.  The final class described the Christian life.  In summary, the Christian life includes but is not limited to prayer, worship, walking the walk, love, service and mission.  One of the participants in the class, Rodney now understands that his life in prison is full of purpose.  He writes to encourage fellow inmates to "use this time in prison as a mission and not an intermission in your life."  Using prison as a mission means seeking out hurting individuals who are hungry and thirsty for the Lord.  Rodney is practicing what he preaches since he is one of a dozen men at the prison ready to begin the Stephen Ministry program.  Receiving the Stephen Ministry training will enable Rodney to reach out skillfully and effectively by giving quality Christian care to those in need.  Rodney concludes these thoughts with a prayer to his All Knowing Almighty Father that "I may whole heartedly follow your mission for my life and bring glory to your Kingdom.  In Jesus name I pray, Amen."  Will you share Rodney's prayer?  Pray that God's Spirit will move inside the members of New Life Prison Community to create newness and Life with a Capital L.  Pray too that God will invigorate your life so it will become a purpose-filled Life that's lived well for Him.

Rick Admiraal is the pastor of New Life Prison Community, a prison congregation in Newton, Iowa. New Life is in the middle of its 6th year of ministry to the incarcerated.  Rick & his wife Rose have a son and a daughter: John is a junior year at Calvin College while Annaliese is a freshman at Pella Christian High School.  Pella is home for the Admiraal family.