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 wonder...am 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 www.newlifenewlenox.org 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 www.newlifenewlenox.org. 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.