Monday, December 1, 2008

Announcing...The Baby Jesus

Youth Devotion for the First Weekend in Advent -- November 29 & 30
By Rachel Gilmore

No doubt, before you were born, your parents told people that you were coming. They told their parents. They told your aunts and uncles. They told their friends and neighbors. They told their co-workers. Basically, they told anyone who would listen that you were coming!

John the Baptist was Jesus’ cousin, but he also announced that Jesus was coming. John was a strange kind of guy, but he knew he was on a mission from God. That mission was to tell God’s people that Jesus was coming. So John walked around in the desert in wearing animal skins for clothes and eating locusts and honey. And over and over again to anyone who would listen he said, "Prepare the way of the Lord. Make straight paths for him!" (Mark 1:3)

People came out to the desert to see this odd man, but they also listened to his voice. To help these people prepare for Jesus, John baptized them in the Jordan River. "I will baptize you with water," John said, "but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." (John 1:8)

John’s voice was loud and clear. People who listened to John got the message. Jesus was coming. This Jesus would save them from their sin. What an awesome birth announcement!

As you prepare to celebrate Jesus’ birth this Christmas, think about John’s voice saying, "Prepare the way of the Lord. Make straight paths for Him!" What is one way you can make your path straight (make God-honoring choices) this Christmas? Who is one person you can tell that Jesus saves us from our sins when we accept him as our Savior? Make your voice loud and clear like John’s and celebrate the Good News of Jesus!

Verses to reflect on this week:
Malachi 3:1-5 and John 1:29-34

Our Savior, Our Friend

Advent Devotion for Nov. 29-30, 2008
By Ruthann Schmudde

Malachi 3:1
“See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.

John 1:29
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

Christmas is coming, and we will celebrate the birth of that very special baby, Jesus. We tend to think of Christmas as a once-a-year event. When it comes, we fill our minds with all kinds of stuff, what presents to buy and how to pay for them, what food to prepare and what parties we’ll go to. We get stressed so badly that sometimes we wish Christmas wouldn’t come at all! Besides that, many of us have lost at least one loved one, and our hearts are heavy with sadness.

It was always God’s plan to send us a Savior. Throughout the Old Testament God foretold that the Lord the people were seeking would come. When Jesus was born, an angel appeared to shepherds telling them that a Savior had been born, who was Christ the Lord. John the Baptist knew Jesus was the Savior because he saw the Holy Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on Him.

Jesus, our Savior, became an incredible messenger, teaching about God, love and sin. Later, He was crucified in order to wipe our sins away. If we believe He is our Savior and have a relationship with Him, we will have eternal life in heaven.

What a wonderful gift He’s given us! It is laid before us every minute of every day; it isn’t a once-a-year event. Besides having eternal life after we die, we get to talk to Him any time at all, sharing our joy or sadness. We can ask for His help and He will freely give it. He loves us more than we can understand. When you’re feeling sad because a loved one has passed on, talk to Jesus. When there are so many things to get done, ask Him to guide you. There is no friend like Him.

Prayer: Thank you Jesus, for coming to us and for dying for our sins. Thank you for loving us unconditionally. Help us to be filled with joy knowing you are always with us, not just on Christmas morning, and that one day we will be with you in heaven.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The best book I've read...3 times

I've been reading/studying this book for the past 6 months, first alone, now with my sista-friends and my small group. Each time I go through it I feel like I learn something new. Mostly, because the first time I read through this simple book I was quite sure that although I understood the words, the truths were evading me. It's a book that has shaken the foundation of my faith yet, has not contradicted a single belief I hold.

Lately, I've been reading about "The Tyranny of the Favor Line" The invisible line that tells us whether or not we've met enough of someone's expectations to merit their approval. And how, most of our lives we live knowing that this favor line exists in our relationships with other people...and how we assume that God has a favor line as well. The problem is that we never know where it lies. When everything is pleasant we don't think about the favor line much but when things start to encroach on our lives we begin to wonder how God feels about us. Does He love me? Have I offended Him?

One of the questions the author asks is, "How many of you think you pray enough? Read the Bible enough?" How much is "enough?" The tyranny of the favor line is unrelenting because it never allows us to be certain about how God feels about us. And when we are trying to compensate God for his mercy eventually we become aware that our efforts are futile because it's impossible and it leaves us guessing whether he loves me or he loves me not.

I'd love to write out the entire book but I will leave you with one of thoughts that have consumed me for the last few days, "The key to God's favor doesn't rest on what I give to God but what he has already given to me."

Let me encourage you to order this book off of Amazon and use it for your daily study. It's wonderfully challenging...and will open your eyes to discover a Savior you've never known before but who was always there. It's a great read...if anyone's looking for one.

Monday, November 17, 2008

On Connecting

As I've moved through different phases of my life, I've repeatedly felt God's call to be a catalyst for him. Sometimes it's to bring about change in a static situation. Sometimes it's just to start making connections for people. It's not always been pleasant or easy, but it's been work I've felt God has asked me to do. So I've tried to be faithful to that calling (but, if I'm honest, not always succeeding).

Yet last night I was reminded about how rewarding this God-work can be. My husband and I have been trying to start a new small group here at church for the better part of a year. After attending a small group leaders conference together last winter and talking with our small group pastor at church, we decided to take the plunge. But after much planning and expectant hoping, nobody jumped at our invitation to join us. Hmmm...

So we regrouped and re-visioned and looked to the fall, praying that we would find the people who needed to be connected. Six months later, it sure feels like God has answered that prayer. Our fledgling group has had three meetings now and seems to be getting in sync with the rhythm of group life, slowly beginning to open up and share bits and pieces of our lives and our walks with God.

But last night was our first Family Fun Night, something Dave and I really wanted to build into our small group time because we want to help our kids get connected at church, too. My daughter, in particular, is having a hard time fitting in, and I desperately want to be a catalyst for her and ease her loneliness. Last night, though, something clicked. I know because I happened to be in the kitchen when she came bounding in at the end of the evening to ask another member's daughter if she would "please, please come to Big House (youth group) tomorrow because they're doing this scavenger hunt thing and she doesn't know anyone and please, please, please could she come and do it with her so she doesn't have to go alone."

Wow! I knew what it took for my daughter to make that request, and I could see in the other girl's eyes that she was pleased to be asked because I think she, too, has felt a little out of the middle school loop. The other mom also happened to be in the kitchen, and our eyes met across the room as we smiled. I'm pretty sure we both offered up a silent prayer: "Thank you, God, for this group and these girls and your presence here tonight. Amen. Let it be!"

Before we even had friends to join us, my husband and I named our small group the Mission:Possible group, building on New Life Church's Mission statement which is to connect people to one another and God for their new life in Christ. I am encouraged that our group appears aptly named and is faithfully seeking to live out that mission one step at a time. God is good, all the time! Amen. Let it be!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Go Ahead, Love yourself

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Mark 12: 31

We try to show others our love and caring ways. However, there’s one person that often doesn’t get to feel your love and care, and that person is you. Did you know God wants us to love ourselves? Not a self-centered, self-absorbed love where everything is about you, but an unconditional love with true acceptance of ourselves, the way God loves us. Each of us is a unique masterpiece made by God.

We often hear negative self-talk; that’s the voice in your head that puts you down. We wouldn’t say the things we hear in our own mind to others; it would hurt their feelings terribly. But to ourselves, we might say, “You sure are stupid,” or “Look how fat you are,” or maybe, “You aren’t worth the space you take up.” Unfortunately, we might have heard these things from people that had great influence on us, like parents or teachers, and the negative seed is planted.

God doesn’t ever think negative things about us! He loves us just as we are right now, even when we make mistakes.

Let’s consciously plan to replace negative talk with positive, uplifting words. How about saying, “God loves me,” or “I am a unique masterpiece made by God,” or, “Jesus died for ME.”

When we can truly love ourselves, it will be much easier to spread that love to others.

by Ruthann Schmudde

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Not to Us

This past Sunday in church we had the opportunity to honor an 18-year-old member who just completed Marine boot camp at Fort Pendleton. His family has been at New Life since it started 12 years ago; his mom is on staff. Josh talked about his grueling training and how he learned about the value of teamwork and that your team is only as strong as its weakest link. He told of soldiers struggling to make it through the 54-mile final hike and said that if a fellow soldier went down, those around him picked up his 80-pound pack and added it to his own load while others helped the fallen one get up and keep going. The motto is "we're all in this together" that sappy High School Musical song says. Trite, but true.

But what struck me most in what Josh said was his comment that going to church on base was the thing that connected him most to home. Worshipping with 1,000 young men and women in a military auditorium would be quite a different experience from his home church, yet it gave him comfort. It gave him strength.

All I could think of, though, was what a self-centered attitude I had at his age. A lifelong church kid like Josh, when I left home for the first time to go to college, I purposely refused to find a church in my new home town because "It just wouldn't be the same." And again, a few years later when my husband and I were married and living in the western suburbs, we returned on rare occasions to our "home" church but didn't bother to find a new church up where we lived because we "knew" it wouldn't be like the one we grew up in. Holy cow! I'm just so thankful that God is patient and merciful and forgiving because I see so clearly now how I needed a major attitude adjustment. Going to church was not about God, it was mainly about me.

Yet "In his heart, a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps" (Proverbs 16:9). Fortunately, God led us back to our home church, first as volunteers with the junior high youth, which led me to become the Director of Christian Education for 5 years. And, what I've come to understand over the past twenty years, is that going to church is most definitely not about me. It's about God and about coming together with the family of God (the good, the bad and the ugly) to worship Him and give thanks for our blessings, to ask forgiveness for our wrongs, to seek mercy and justice for the persecuted and strength and healing for the weak. And, it's most definitely NOT about what songs we'll be singing or what the sermon topic is that week or who we'll chat with or what petty little human dramas are playing out under the surface. The coolest thing, though, is that it doesn't matter where you go to church. God is the same God here in Chicago as He is in California as He is in Afghanistan or Ethiopia or India or Germany or Peru. The Christian church is God's home and He is present when God's people choose to glorify Him, no matter which house you enter.

Chris Tomlin captures this wisdom beautifully in his song Not to Us when he says, "The cross before me, the world behind / No turning back, raise the banner high / It's not for us, it's all for you. / Not to us, but to your name be the glory."

Not to us, God, but to your name be the glory. Amen. And thank you, God, for Josh.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Mission Trip to Cedar Rapids, Day 7

Hi all,

It was a great trip for the entire team. We had a great time getting to know one another better, sharing in the work of restoring homes and hope to victims of the flood, and spreading the love of Jesus to those we met along the way. We are tired and happy. Sad to leave yet happy to be back home. Thanks for your prayers and support we needed it and we felt it. We all sensed God’s presence in what we were doing and trust that fruit will come in His time.

Our last day did not go as planned, but it was ok. We worked on house #7 and hoped to move to house #8 after lunch. However, the owner at house #8 did not have the right inspections in place for us go there. So we ran out of work. Hands On Disaster Response did a great job all week keeping work in front of us so we could keep working a full capacity but in the end, they ran out of work for us by noon today. While it was disappointed and we would have happily worked longer, we were glad to head home earlier to get back to our families.

So for the final installment of photos for this trip, I thought I would show some work photos but also some photos that remind us why we went there in the first place. People in the flood area in Cedar Rapids face incredible hurdles to put their lives back together again. We were glad to play a part in that restoration.

Once again thank you for your support and prayers. And to my crew – You were great and it was an honor to serve Jesus with you!


(Submitted by Pastor Roger Visker)
1 – Len working with Kris – another long term volunteer working with HODR
2 – Home in the “Time Check” District – note the high water marks along the porch roof and at the top of the windows
3 – Debris on the curb – city comes by to pick it all up regularly
4 – Sign – Mold Remediation – one of the dangers of flood damage that is costly to clean up

Mission Trip to Cedar Rapids, Day 6

Hi All,

First of all, to all of you who could not open last nights email because the files were too big, I apologize. I forgot to resize them. I will do better tonight. If any of you want last nights email, I can resize them and resend them if you let me know.

Well, we finished the 2nd to the last day of being here in Cedar Rapids . It was a beautiful fall day that was so enjoyable to be part of. We worked hard to finish up the work on house #5. It was a bonus to meet the owner – Garland Grooms. His son and daughter in law lived in the house with their family. It is a home that was built in 1896 and one that he and completely remodeled with his own two hands when he bought it in the 1980’s. The oversized woodwork and hand crafted stair rails were incredible. It was clear that he had great pride in the house that was now a shell of what it had been. He also said that the house had never been flooded in its 100 year plus history. Garland is now retired and unable to do the work for himself so he is very thankful that we could be there to do our part.

Dave and Dean spent most of the day installing basement windows in house #3 that we had worked on earlier this week. It was a difficult job but they got it done and done well. Also, Todd joined the mucking and gutting crew and tore apart 3 flood damaged houses. Todd really enjoyed destroying the damaged areas and getting it ready to be rebuilt. Finally, we all ended up at house #6 doing the wall boarding there. It was a little tense for a while because the inspector came out and thought we were trying to cover up problems and not work according to the code. However, our team leaders Nathan and Jeremy were able to explain what we were doing and we got the green light to continue the work. So we have finished about 50% of the house and will go back and finish it in the morning. Our hope is to be able to work on a 7th house before we pack up and head home tomorrow night.

My plan is to send one more email late tomorrow night to inform you all on our progress on the last day of work. We have been greatly blessed by our time here. And it is our hope that the idea of “getting dusty” with Jesus has new meaning that helps us all grow closer to Him.

(Submitted by Pastor Roger Visker)
Here are the pictures:
1– Group Photo as we started work today
2 – Rog and Garland Grooms owner of home #6
3 – Rob worked with us again today. We really appreciate his abilities and his willingness to work with us as a team
4 – Todd busy with the mucking and gutting

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Mission Trip to Cedar Rapids, Day 5

Hi All

Wednesday is the “official” day off for Hands On Disaster Response, but as you will see, we worked. Actually most of us worked a half day and a couple – Larry and Laurie Groenewold worked a full day. We started on an old farm house today and got it about 75% done by 12:30. We decided to take some time and go to the Art Museum in Cedar Rapids to look at their photo exhibit about the flood. The flood happened around June 10 and the photos were the work of local photographers who worked for the newspaper. The museum itself was flooded during the flood but was now open and operating. There was a lingering smell in the museum, but otherwise it seemed to be all cleaned up again. The photos were spectacular and gave us a good sense of the magnitude of the flood and the damage that resulted. Also, there were photos of the losses that people suffered and some of the initial cleanups that happened that were difficult to comprehend but were there in photos for us to see and begin to understand. We were glad we went. And since it was our day off, we went out to eat and to watch the Cubs play. Sorry about the Cubs, but the food was great and we enjoyed our evening. You will also notice that we have another Laurie on the crew today. One of the other volunteers who has done mostly taping and mudding wanted to learn how to put up wallboard. So we took her along and enjoyed teaching her and getting to know her. I think she thought we are ok, but I know we enjoyed having her along. We are on the down side of this trip and it looks like we will be working through Friday and heading home right after we are done that day. There is so much more to be done, and so many people who are still in shock from this disaster that it almost seems a shame to have to leave. But we are trusting that our work here has helped some and that they are the ones who needed us to help them as we did. We know that God is charge and that he will bless our service as is needed. Continue to pray for us that we are kept safe, healthy, and are able to work well. We look forward to seeing you all soon. Thanks again for your emails and prayers we really appreciate them.


(Submitted by Pastor Roger Visker)

Here are the photos for the day:
1--Our mystery man making a guest appearance at house #2 – Yes this is Dave with is hillbilly hat and hair on.
2 – Dean finishing a cut out on a window
3 – Len teaching Laurie #2 all about the art of wall boarding
4 – Yvonne in action with the screw gun – note that her fingernails are painted to match her work outfit….

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Mission Trip to Cedar Rapids, Day 4

Hi All

Well, we had a very productive day today. We got to go back to house #2 because the inspections were completed and we could go back and do the wall boarding. So we broke up into 3 teams of 3 to do the wall boarding and then one person to do some odd and ends in preparation for wall boarding. It was great, we all worked hard and finished the whole house in one day. So it went from a house that you could see through with all the studs visible to completely covered and looking like there were real rooms in the home. In addition, Dave Decker was sent off to do 3 or 4 carpentry jobs that were more technical than we could do, but that Dave was well equipped to do. We started at 8 and finished at 5:30PM. Everyone went home tired and happy. We also got to talk with Lisa the home owner….rather Yvonne spent time with her. She told us how she just had a panic attack yesterday when she was trying to help a friend muck out their home. It reminded us that the lives of many people were drastically altered and for us to be able to listen to them talk about it for a few minutes is a good thing. God certainly had us there today to give her an opportunity to process this loss and move forward. It was a blessing to be a part of the process today.

From the photos, you will see that we have a satellite church here too….This little church was about 2 blocks away from the work site and it too has been damaged by the flood.

We are missing you all, but we are glad we are here to do this. Keep praying for us and we hope to see you all soon.

Here are the Pictures for the day:
1 – Yvonne and Lisa talking. Lisa is the home owner of house #2
2 – Laurie with her new best friend – the cordless power drill – she worked it all day
3 – Our new satellite church in Cedar Rapids – just another part of the service project….haha
4– Ken – The father of the home owner – a great guy and a great help today

(submitted by Pastor Roger Visker)

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Mission Trip to Cedar Rapids, Day 3

Hi all,

Well today was a very good day out here in cool Cedar Rapids , IA. The weather was cool and became sunny in the afternoon so it was a day that you felt good all day without getting too tired out. So we worked hard and accomplished quite a bit. We started with 11 of us at house #2 – Judy’s place. Here we finished the installing the siding and then painting it. We sanded the 1st coat of mud and put on a second coat of mud. We installed 3 interior doors and a screen door. We made a hand rail for a stair well and trimmed another entry door. All at house #2!!! Next door to #2 is house #3. It belongs to Judy also and her son and his family live there. We framed in a couple of closets and another interior partition here. In addition, Len and Dave and Dean spent some time at house #4 fixing a door and mudding in a bathroom. Also, Len and Gary and Steve went to house #5 and wallboarded a kitchen quick a minute at the end of the day. So it really was a good work day. In addition, we had a good opportunity to get to know Rob ( the fellow from Oaklahoma) a bit better. He talked about his life and his distance from Jesus in the past 5 years and encouraged him to re-connect with him more and more. Finally after a good dinner of Hamburgs and Hot Dogs, about ½ the group went bowling. It was buck night at the alley, so we rented shoes and bowled 2 games for $3.00. We had a great time and enjoyed getting to know some of the others here at the church working on homes a bit better.

The pictures are as follows:
1 – Len, Larry, Laurie in house #3 discussing strategy for the next part of the job
2 – Dave and Dean putting the last bit of siding up.
3 – Houseboats that were washed down river and then were damaged and sunk. Still in the river today (Flood was in the 1st part of June)
4 – Larry getting settled into his cubicle on Sunday night.

Thanks again for your prayers and support. We do need them and want them.


PS sorry this is so late, but the bowling was fun….

(Submitted by Pastor Roger Visker)

Monday, September 29, 2008

My Prayer Park

For the past 8 weeks or so I've been faithfully taking my morning walk every Monday through Friday. As soon as I get Max on the bus at 8:15, I resist the temptation to stand around and chat with the other bus stop moms. I say my goodbyes and get my feet moving.

It reminds me of swim team freshman year, where for the first time in my life, I engaged in a competitve sport. In practice we swam sets on certain intervals. I remember walking the halls of my high school constantly monitoring my time on the clocks that hung every 50 feet or so above the lockers. Pacing, single-minded focus and repetition became part of my daily routine.

And so I find myself back in those rhythms, but it's a good thing, a God thing. At the 4 minute mark, I've crossed the main north south street into our neighborhood and I pick up the pace, sometimes hesitating just a moment to wave to Max as his bus heads out of our little corner of the world and off to school. Swinging my arms, I get into my groove, heading automatically to the park where I often see more deer than people, especially early in the day like this.
Hitting the paved path that loops through what was once an open meadow hidden in a densely wooded grove, I greet God. "Lord, I thank you for this day and my life and my health. I thank for for my gift of writing that you've entrusted me with. I pray that you would give me the right words and the right timing and the right wisdom and the right understanding to make your love and your truth known to all people. Let me give glory and honor to you in all that I do..."

And so my prayer time opens, for this is what my morning walk has become. I've had neighbors hint about walking with me, keeping me company, giving themselves a little inspiration in the exercise journey. Yet I've only smiled politely and made indefinable mumblings about the distance I go and the pace I keep. I don't want to discourage them from walking. I like my neighbors. And, really, I wouldn't mind company, except I've already got the best exercise buddy in the world at my side. This is my God-time, and I don't want to share. I can't share. I need this alone time with him where all my focus is on my Lord and not on the busyness of my life or the crazyness of the world.

And so it goes, 4 laps total in the park (each one 4.5 minutes...I've timed them...some habits die hard). It reminds me of the ancient prayer labyrinths which are regaining popularity. A true labyrinth has one entry and one exit, and the path leads methodically to the middle, which is a metaphor for our human lives with God at the center. My park path is simply circular, but it serves the same purpose. It allows me to concentrate all of my energies on God. I can just switch over to autopilot and concentrate on talking to God.

My quasi-labyrinth, because of its location, also reminds me to pray for a young neighbor mom I know who has lymphoma...who's had lymphoma for 12 or so years now. Because of the chemo given early on, her heart was compromised and her options are limited. She's back in chemo yet again, after a relatively healthy 6 month reprieve. Being so physically close to C's house, I am very purposefully reminded of her and what her daily worries must be like and how mine pale in comparison. And I need this reminder because too easily I get caught up in my own life, my own problems, my own struggles, my own sin...and I forget to lift up those who need God most. I need this God-time to remind me that it's not all about me, that it is all about him.

Sometimes, too, I sing...not out loud, really. I'd probably send the deer running. But in my head. Bits and pieces of praise songs floating in and out as their words match my thoughts..."I love you, Lord, and I lift my voice, to worship you all my soul rejoice. Take joy, my King, in what you hear. May it be a sweet, sweet sound in your ear." Amen. Let it be.

Mission:Possible Challenge...Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to live out Goal 4 of the New Life Mission statement, which is to grow our personal (and family) devotional life while deepening our living relationship with God. Take a look at your life this week and take stock of the time you spend with God. However much that time is, a little or a lot, take the next step and make time to connect with God today. Whether you're starting small with a one minute prayer or deepening your faith by blocking off a full 30 minutes, take the time to connect with God. Remind yourself that it's not all about you. It's all about him.

Mission Trip to Cedar Rapids, Day 2

Hi all,

Well we all slept well in our little cubicles. There was a real “symphony of snoring” so I am told. Personally I did not hear it, but then again, the earplugs may have helped. I think we will all sleep good tonight too. So we had a great breakfast of cold cereal and juice and coffee before we headed to church. It was a short walk out of the cubicles and into the sanctuary….O, that’s right, the cubicles are in the sanctuary. The worship service was their “traditional” service, but the songs were up on the screen and not from a hymn book. The message was preached by their Pastor of Youth and Discipleship – Todd Joslin. He preached about Samson and how God uses some pretty sinful believers to do great work for Him. It was a good message and we were warmly welcomed by the congregation. Then it was off to the job sight. We started at the home we had planned to wall board. However, they had only gotten 2 of the needed 3 inspections to be able to wallboard. So we insulated and put up a vapor barrier. We also installed a couple of doors and patched a hole in the back of the house. It didn’t take long and we were on our way to job site #2. This home had flooded up to the 7 ft level in the home. Here we put up siding, finished wallboarding 3 rooms and began mudding the wallboard. We have met the home owners at both homes. Lisa is at home #1 and she is doing a lot of the work with her dad. Judy is at home #2 and she lives next door to her son and his family. Judy told us that she and her grand daughter had to be evacuated from their house because the water came up so fast. (Way ahead of projections by the experts). Fortunately for them, they got out and were able to go to her relatives on the high and dry side of Cedar Rapids . After finishing work we went back to the church for clean up and supper. We enjoyed wonderful showers in the outdoor showers and then had a great dinner. We followed dinner with group devotions and then the Bears game. So all is good. The Lord has blessed us and we are happy to be here doing this work for Him. Thanks again for your support and prayers, I will update you again tomorrow.

(Submitted by Pastor Roger Visker)

Mission Trip to Cedar Rapids, Day 1

Hi all,

Today was travel day. We left New Life Church at 12:00Noon and arrived about 4:00PM at Cedar Hills Community Church in Cedar Rapids IA. We are staying here for the week and in conjunction with Christian Reformed World Relief Committee we are working with a group called Hands On Disaster Response. It looks like it is going to be a good week. The church is very welcoming and the HODR people are very accommodating. The drive here was uneventful so that was good. We did a short tour of some of the damaged area and we looked at our 1st work assignment which will start tomorrow after church (note the 7 foot watermark line on the first house picture). I have included a few photos for you to look at and get a feel for what our week will be like. We are happy to be here and be of service. God is Good. Please continue to keep us in your prayers.


(Submitted by Pastor Roger Visker)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Looking for certainty in an uncertain world

It seems as if so much is uncertain in this world right now: the economy, the presidential race, the environment. Turn your computer, tune into your radio, watch TV or read the latest headlines and it is difficult to be certain of anything. It is easy to be afraid of the unknown and fear the future.

In times when anxiety starts to get the better of you, go to the scriptures and search out the truth of God's character and His faithfulness. So many times in both the Old Testament and the New Testament the Bible shows us the hope that believers have for the future. One of the most incredibly powerful things the Isralites did as they wandered through the desert was to recount the story of God's faithfulness to them. Each time they were in a place of uncertainty God would come to them and tell them, "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt." (Exodus 20) Over and over in the Old Testament God would remind the Israelites that he was the God of their forefathers and that He had always been with them.

In the New Testament Jesus promised that even though He was going to heaven he would leave us the Holy Spirit. "But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." John 14:26-27

As Christians, we have the confidence that all things are in God's hands. That He is is the master, creator and ruler of the universe. We have the confidence that nothing that happens in this world is out of his control or surprises Him. Romans 8 clearly tells us, "If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all...Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels or demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

So, as we watch the Dow rise and fall, listen to the latest poll data or wonder what bank will close it's doors next week, as uncertainty seems to swirl around us we can be certain that God is in control and that we are His. Get into the Word...all His promises are there just waiting to comfort your heart and fill you with the Spirit and truth.

Mission: Possible Challenge...Your mission should you choose to accept it is to live out Goal #2 of New Life Churches mission statement, which is relying on the Bible as the foundation of our life together. Open your Bible this week and read about God's character and faithfulness. If opening the Bible seems is something that intimidates you or your not sure where to start consider attending the Bible Study Basics course that will take place every Sunday evening this October. Learn how to study the Bible on your own and hear God's voice in the scriptures. Put the future in God's capable hands and stop fearing the future.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Do You Understand?

"But Jesus said, 'Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs'" (Matthew 19:13).

So there's the innocent little children who (hopefully) grow up to be faithful adult believers, but in the middle somewhere are the tweens and teens...struggling between their inborn goodness and a real faith tested by the troubles in this world. How do they get from Point A to Point B? How did we?

If you were blessed, you grew up in a house whose motto was the same as Joshua's: "As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord" (Joshua 24:15). You were connected to a church. You were connected to God. Your faith grew as you grew, expanding and contracting through your teenage years to give you a rock solid foundation to stand on as you stepped out into the world on your own. Do you know how lucky you were?

But maybe life wasn't so nice and neat in your house. Maybe Sunday was for lying around the house relaxing or maybe it was a work day. And the Bible wasn't a book to be used as a tool for getting to know God better, it was a "family heirloom" that just sat getting dusty on a shelf...if it was there at all. Your connection with God and with church didn't come until later in your life, maybe after you started your own family, maybe even further down the line.

The bottom line is...getting from Point A to Point B is tough, even if you had a family that worked at being close to God because faith requires action...and hard work. One of the God-stories I love most in his book is when Philip, a disciple of Jesus after his death, is sent by God to meet up with an Ethiopian eunuch who is on his way back to his home country (Acts 8:26-40). Philip hears the man reading from the book of Isaiah. He runs along side the chariot and asks, "Do you know what you are reading?" To which the man replies, "How can I unless someone explains it to me?" And so Philip hops in and begins telling him about the Son who has been given to us, who is called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). "The End" of this story is that the man stops his chariot and asks Philip to baptize him in the stream by the road because he is so thankful for getting to know God. Amen!

On the adult level at New Life, Alpha program leaders, among others, are our Philips who with honesty and enthusiasm answer people's questions about walking the Christian walk. For our youth, though, this role is filled by our Big House student ministry leaders. Yet sometimes their questions are not as simple as an adult's. Youth wrestle more with independence and authority. They want to know why and how come, along with who and what. So one of the most amazing God-things that's going on at New Life right now is the play Dear Diary, being directed by New Lifer Jon Zemke with a cast of tweens and teens. As the youth have gotten to know their characters and experience them struggling with their faith, there are connections being made and relationships being built. Faith seeds are being sown, right here, right now at New Life. I would encourage you, as brothers and sisters in Christ, to water those tender plants and help them grow.

Mission:Possible Challenge...Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to live out Goal 3 of New Life's Mission statement, which is demonstrating God's love by caring for one another personally and corporately. Buy your ticket to Dear Diary today (or at the door). Support our youth and all of the volunteers who have worked for 4 months to bring this production to life. Bring your own tweens and teens and their friends and open up some lines of conversation about building a rock solid faith in this shaky world. Ask them, "Do you understand what you're hearing?" Give them the opportunity to connect to God and to others. You might just shore up your own foundation, too.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Walking along the road

By now the children have been back in school for a couple of weeks and hopefully the art of schedule is becoming a routine. In this time of adjustment from summer to school year we can find encouragement and instruction from the
Old Testament.

Deuteronomy 6: 4-7:

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.

Our job as parents is to submerge our children in an environment that teaches, exhibits and explores a relationship with God. According to this scripture, every moment of the day should reflect God's love and His Truth. It's a journey that we do together with our kids. We are not called to know everything or have it all together but we are called communicate with our kids and to explore God's character, His commands, His love and His creation. It's a lesson we can do with our kids...learning together. The best part, is that if we follow these instructions, we will be creating a relationship with our children where we know each other and together we know God. It creates a family environment that is built on trust, understanding and most importantly God's love.

Mission: Possible Challenge. Your mission, should you choose to accept it is to live out Goal 4 of New Life Church's mission to grow your personal and family prayer and devotional life while deepening our living relationship with God. Spend some time this weekend talking to your children about how the season's are changing. Ask them where they see God's creativity and share with them where you see God's hand in creation.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Do You Know the Secret?

"The Holy Spirit's working there," Gary Cheney told me as Andy Anderson and I prepared to go visit a couple whose home was being repaired as part of last weekend's ShareFest event. Not sure what to expect, we arrived at the tiny white ranch house and were invited in by owner Tom Green. He led us to the living room where a volunteer was at work adding insulation around an exterior door which had been installed the year before.

"In the winter, our door used to breathe," Kathleen giggled, describing how the plastic they used to block drafts would move in and out as the cold wind blew. I smiled, responding immediately to Kathleen's sparkling brown eyes, rosy cheeks, melodic voice and tinkling laugh. Such humor in such a humorless situation.

As I interviewed and Andy filmed, we learned that Kathleen had discovered ShareFest through a friend on the Prayer Line at St. Jude Church. She said that she was just filled with gratitude at the way God was providing for her and her husband in their time of need, a time that would make all of my problems seem petty and insignificant. It turns out that Kathleen used to be a nurse and worked fulltime from her late teens on. Yet 7 or so years ago, she was diagnosed with cancer and had to quit work. Shortly after that, her husband lost his lifelong job when his plant shut down. Somewhere in there they had to put their now-24-year-old daughter in a nursing home in Joliet due to mental illness. "It's not very nice there," Kathleen confided, "but what choice do we have? We can't take care of her here." And not too long after that, her husband Tom was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. Their home, like their bodies, began to fall into a state of disrepair, and with neither the finances nor the physical ability to fix the problems, life (on the surface) went from bad to worse.

But then, things began falling into place. A friend mentioned ShareFest. Connections started being made. Contractor Doug Slusarski walked into the picture with an engaging smile and a servant's heart. "We're just so blessed," Kathleen beamed. "Only God could orchestrate all these people coming together this way." One need after another began to be taken care of, and Tom and Kathleen's insurmountable To Do list began to shrink.

"The Holy Spirit's definitely at work," added Tom. "You gotta trust that Jesus did not leave us alone. You just have to be thankful for the glorious gift of life, appreciate everything that he's (God) placed here for you and marvel at all he's given you."

In that moment, I had no doubt that I was seeing the reflection of God in this sweet, suffering couple. And, as we left, God's voice followed, whispering in my ear: "Are you paying attention, daughter of mine? Do you know the secret yet?"

I hope I do. I pray I do. I'm greatly encouraged by Paul's words in Philippians 4:12..."I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all things through him who makes me strong." Yet every now and then, I need a little reminder that God is good, all the time, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, as long as I should live in him. How about you?

Do you know the secret yet?

Mission:Possible Challenge. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to live out Goal 2 of New Life Church's mission to connect people to God and to one another for their "New Life in Christ"...Goal 2 requires relying on the Bible as our foundation for life. So open your Bible to the New Testament and read more on the secret in Philippians 4:4-13. Take some time to reflect on how God has helped you or can help you with the struggles in your life. Spend time with God in prayer, asking for his wisdom to understand his will for your life and the courage to act on that will and live a life worthy of the one to which God has called you. Amen!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

There's NOT Always Tomorrow

Surreal... that's how I would describe my friend's call to tell me that a lovely elderly couple we knew had died when their Frankfort home exploded early Saturday morning. "Didn't you hear the boom?" she asked. "It woke me up!" And she lives farther from the blast site than I do. How could I not hear the deafening sound or feel the ground shake as others reported in town, I wondered? Surreal.

Yet the photos and news coverage revealed it was anything but surreal...too real, in fact, for the family and friends of Clyde and Louella Reils or the neighbors whose homes are uninhabitable and whose street will always bear the scar of this tragedy. Nevertheless, the echo in my head says, "You just never know what life will bring. Live the Boy Scout motto: Be prepared."

This death day comes alongside a birthday, as my oldest turns 15 on September 8. And I have to I really prepared to be here one day and gone the next? Do my children know how much I love them? Does my husband? Do my parents? Am I truly living the life worthy of the one to which God has called me...or am I doing a Splenda-like imitation, assuming (as the ultimate procrastinator that I am), that I will always have tomorrow?

My dad was fervent in his desire for my brother and me to know how much he loved us. Routinely, he would ask, "Have I told you lately that I love you?" Even if he had, I'd say, "Maybe" just to hear him say, "Well, I love you, Missy, you are one of the best things I've ever done in my life. I have loved being a father to you."

About 2 years ago this past weekend, I was sitting with my dad at my nephew's birthday party. We were paging through an old family album that his brother had found and given him. It had pictures of my dad's childhood homes, pictures of his siblings as children, pictures of his parents in younger and more carefree days, pictures of aunts and cousins I'd never met. As we looked and he narrated, tears began to slide down his cheeks, and emotional tension shifted. Suddenly, this was not just a walk down memory lane. I had this ominously disheartening sense that this was the beginning of a goodbye that I didn't want to come. "It's been a wonderful life, Missy, it really has," he told me, his voice breaking. "And I love you so much, you and your mother and your brother and your family and Erik's family."

"I know," I reassured him. "I love you, too, Daddy." Yet I felt he was already somewhere else, on his own, mentally reviewing his life and making sure he was ready to be here one day and gone the next. One month later, he died of a massive heart attack, caused by years of stress to his heart and lungs from a severe curvature of the spine. But I never had a sliver of a doubt whether my father loved me unconditionally.

So that boom that rocked Frankfort, but apparently not me, on Saturday morning feels like a symbolic wake up call. I, who always put off today what I can do tomorrow, am feeling like I need to pay better attention to the details in life. As a Christian my job is to get right with God and stay right by using my gifts in service to him in this world. That's the big picture view, and I'm pretty clear on that. The details, though, are what concern me.

In James 5:7-8, we read: "Be patient, then, my brothers, until the Lord comes. See how patient a farmer is as he waits for his land to produce precious crops. He waits patiently for the autumn and spring rains. You also must be patient. Keep your hopes high, for the day of the Lord's coming is near." Now this was written about two thousand years ago, which reminds me that God's sense of time is not the same as mine, but I do know that I want to be ready for whatever comes in life. Because as Clye and Louella's death illustrates, we don't always have tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Dear Diary Ticket Information

New Life Church's Big House Student Productions will present Dear Diary, a play about today's youth for youth and adults, ages 12 and up, September 26-28 at 7 p.m. in the church auditorium, 500 Gougar Rd., New Lenox. This play features Billie, a typical teen who is dealing with depression, difficult friendships, messy family relationships and questions about faith. Her pressures mount until a life or death situation changes her perspective. Because of the seriousness of the issues, the Big House team requests that patrons respect the age guidelines. Discussion questions will be available on-line at for parents and church leaders who would like to follow up on the play's themes with their youth.

The cast includes: Kelly Sluis as Billie, Taylor Koegel as Mom, Vinnie Basile as Dad, Carly Feldmeier as Sharon, Kyle Oehler as Richard and Sarah Anderson as Grandma. Jessica Anderson and Maddi Balsitis are Back Stage Managers while Hope Cotter is serving as House Manager with youth leader Nancy Burke. Jon Zemke directs with the help of youth Jill Balsitis.

Tickets are $8/adults and $6/students and seniors. Group tickets for groups of 10 or more are available for $5 each. All tickets include a dessert reception during intermission. Non-group tickets are available on-line at Click on the Dear Diary icon on the home page. Or call 815-464-5870 for more information or for group ticket sales. Proceeds will benefit New Life Church Big House student ministries.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

It's a Miracle...

Hear the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000, as told in Mark 6:30-44 (NIrV). Jesus spent the last three years of his life teaching and sharing his love for God. He traveled around the countryside, meeting people where they lived…in towns, on hillsides, along the road. One day he had been out with his disciples teaching all day long. But people were still coming to hear Jesus. Jesus and his friends hadn’t even had time to eat, so Jesus told them, “Come away with me to a quiet place and get some rest.”

So the friends all got in a boat and sailed away, but the people saw them and figured out where they were going. By the time Jesus came ashore, a large crowd had gathered. Jesus, always the Good Shepherd, wanted to care for these people and feed their spirits, so he began to teach, even though it was late in the day and neither he, nor his disciples, had eaten. Jesus’ disciples were not happy. Jesus had promised them a time of rest. They went to Jesus and said, “It’s late. There is nothing here for the people to eat. They can go into the nearby villages and buy something.”

But Jesus said, “No, you give them something to eat.”

The disciples were amazed. They complained to Jesus, “But that would be too expensive. How are we supposed to buy bread for all these people.”

So Jesus said, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.”

Well, the disciples went off and when they came back they said, “Five loaves and two fish.” Jesus surprised them again by telling the disciples to gather the people on the grass in groups of hundreds and fifties. Then Jesus took the five loaves and two fish and looked up to heaven and gave thanks. Then he broke the food into pieces and gave them to his disciples to hand out to people. Do you know what happened? All of the people ate and all were satisfied. At the end of the evening when the disciples picked up the leftovers, there were still 12 baskets of broken pieces of bread and fish.

With each new Food Pantry and the steady increase in visitors, the volunteers often wonder if our shelves will be full enough to provide food for everyone who comes. Yet, as Jenn (the Pantry coordinator) says, the food is just a tool, and God will provide so that we can minister to our brothers and sisters in Christ. He always has and he always will. And New Life Church is so thankful when congregation members respond with donations, and friends and neighbors of members respond with donations and when community members respond with donations. It’s amazing to see God at work in this world through everyday people living out their faith in everyday life. God is good all the time. Amen!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

To Sing or Not To Sing

All the Earth Bows Down to You
By Donna Bradley
New Life Church Write4Him Author
“Make a joyful shout to the Lord all your lands, serve the Lord with gladness. Come before His presence with singing.” (Psalm 100:1-2)

It’s really OK to sing in church, just open up your mouth let your heart speak to Him. To me singing is a release…I can worship God without having to think of things to say. I can give Him my full love, praise and focus because the words are already there. It’s a time for me to express joy from my innermost self, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Matthew12:34)

It doesn’t matter if you can’t carry a tune. The One who is listening hears you at perfect pitch. We all have images in our heads about angels and their harps and trumpets that seem to accompany them everywhere, but the only instruments we have on our body is our mouths. (Yes, it was me behind you when you were singing Freebird on your car radio!) To prepare our hearts for worship, consider a little private prelude on the way to church in your car. Some songs that help get me in the spirit are “Shackles” by Mary Mary, and “I Have Been Blessed” by Martina McBride. Or simply turn on your radio to 89.7 (Shine FM) or 104.7 FM (WBGL), both contemporary Christian stations and come into His presence with singing. By doing so, you are making yourself more open to receive His word.

When we participate in worship not only are we praising God, we are proclaiming to the body of Christ how we feel about Him. We are encouraging and pulling from each other the presence of the Holy Spirit. In doing that, we are showing appreciation for the church band for their using their gifts in producing the music we all enjoy. If you can’t express your love for Him in His house with your fellow Christians, how are you going to let others know how you feel about Him in the world?

Just sing!

This week make a date with God and focus on worshipping Him through musical praise…try reading the scriptural foundation for a few praise songs or hop on iTunes, listen to a variety of Christian artists and buy a few songs if you’re so moved. Some possibilities include…

Chris Tomlin, Holy Is the Lord – Revelation 4:1-11
Hillsongs, Shout to the Lord – Psalm 66
Casting Crowns, Love Them Like Jesus – Matthew 11:25-30
Lincoln Brewster, Love the Lord Your God—Deuteronomy 6:1-19
Matt Redman, Fearfully and Wonderfully Made—Psalm 139

Dear Diary, Behind the Scenes

Have you heard the buzz? New Life Church's Big House Productions is serving up a Dessert Theater experience this fall, and you're invited! New Lifer Jon Zemke will be directing 6 youth in Dear Diary, a play about youth for youth and adults ages 12 and up. Mark September 26, 27 and 28 at 7 p.m. on your calendars and prepare to experience teenage drama that truly ends in a life or death situation. Tickets will be on sale on-line a month before the show. Adults/$8, Students and Seniors/$6. Both include a dessert reception during intermission. Proceeds will go to support New Life Church's Big House Student Ministries.

In the meantime, here's what the cast and crew have to say about their work so far...

Jillian B., Assistant Director:

"This play is really coming together!"

Sarah A., Grandmother:

"The play is really fun because we're all just laughing and having fun back stage."

Jon Z., Director:

"I should really check back stage more often!"

Taylor K., Mother:

"Well, from my experience, this play will be the next one on Broadway because we're all coming together as a family."

Vinnie B., Father:

"It's given me tips for how to be a dramatic person." (Big groan from the cast..."Like you need tips on being dramatic, Vinnie!")

Kelly S., Billie:

"This is the first play I've been in since I said, 'And the Big Bad Wolf said...'"

Don't let the jokes fool you...This play is teenage angst at its real-ist because it's being performed by those who know best. Don't miss this opportunity to support our youth while getting a sneak peek inside their 24/7 brains. More to come. Stay tuned...

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Up, Up and Away

Welcome! The New Life Church Blog is officially up and running, facilitated by Write4Him, New Life's writing ministry. We (Write4Him and New Life staff) hope to be able to share with you thoughts on connecting people to God and to one another in this very demanding, often decieving world. Congregation members and visitors are invited to post comments to the entries. Down the road, we hope to develop a system where non-staff/team members could also guest-post, but we'll have to see how it goes. For now, grace and peace to you from our Lord Jesus Christ. May his Word be known throughout the world!