BY Pastor ANDY SYTSMA
April 17, 2020
Dear New Life Family,
Happy Friday to you! For my pastor's update this week I am forwarding two devotionals. One from Tim Keller, pastor in New York City, and the other from Dawn Smith, our NLCCS Director. Both are excellent and filled with comfort, encouragement, wisdom and joy. Listen, read and soak in the gospel.
This week was a little strange for me. We celebrated Good Friday and Easter. And then because our tech wasn't working properly and internet connection poor, we decided to pre-record our worship service. So we did that yesterday. It was a lot of work to preach twice last week and then turn around and prepare another message just a few days later. And it feels different to have my sermon prepared and delivered already. But the gospel message is still the same.
Sunday morning we will still worship together through our church Facebook page, but instead of watching live, we will have a Facebook watch party. We are making final edits on the service today and once everything is ready will send out the link for the service. Thanks for your patience with everything.
I hope each of you are doing well. If you are struggling, need help or just want to talk, please don't hesitate to contact myself, one of the elders or deacons, or another member of the congregation. We are here for you.
In the mean time, trust God, even in the difficult times. And remember Jesus' resurrection and how he is making all things new. Even now. Even in you.
Grace and peace.
Devotional for NLCCS Teachers: Sunday, April 12, 2020
By Dawn Smith
Today is not the end! It's the beginning. Well, if you journeyed with me through Holy Week, with Chrisitans at the Cross, this is the end of that journey; but certainly not the end of the story.
Read with me: Isaiah 65:17-25, John 20:1-18, and if you're up for it read Acts 10:34-43, too.
According to N.T. Wright, "The Gospels don't really reach a conclusion. They are like a sign post pointing us forward to something more that's still to come. And what is that something more What is Easter all about? And how can it help us find the hope that we need for the fresh tasks that God is calling us to in this community and in the world?"
Let's look again at the bass part of the story, Isaiah speaks of new heavens and new earth--and the writers of the New Testament pick up on this theme. God made this lovely beautiful earth, and he doesn't want to throw it away. He wants to abolish everything in it that's ugly and sinful and wrong. Everything that corrupts, distorts and destroys his beautiful world. And He wants to give it a giant makeover. New heavens and new earth, like the present one but with everything good and true and beautiful made even better. And nothing bad, sad or degrading --all of that abolished for ever. No more sorrow or crying or pain.
And that's why resurrection is what matters! It's as if Jesus has gone on ahead of us through death, and come out on the New Creation Side, and then come back to our side to plant the flag of that New Creation, God's new kingdom, right here in the now! "In other words, in Jesus ressurection a bit of God's future, of God's new heaven and earth has come forward in time to meet us here in the present.
Jesus has faced death, and let it do it's worst to Him and overcome that final enemy in New Life. He's gone through death and out into God's new world and returned to earth to tell us that the New Day has in fact dawned and that even though we feel sleepy and in fact, it's still dark where we are; the new world has begun and we'd better wake up and get busy.
And once we've understood this bass part, we can hear the tune! You see, to Mary, Martha and the disciples to that point resurrection was what would happen to everyone in the end when the New Day finally dawned and the Old Time was abolished forever. When they met Jesus, his body fully alive, it began to dawn on them slowly, that Jesus had taken all the sin and death and shame and sorrow of the world upon himself, so that by letting it do its worst to him he had destroyed its power, which means that now there is nothing to stop the new creation coming into being. Jesus' resurrection body is the first bit of that new creation, the sign of the new wold that is to come! It is the First Day of a new week! The dawn of a new age! It's the beginning!
It's the beginning of the mission of the church because of new creation has already begun, it is not our duty just to tell folks about Jesus as if he were their insurance policy. It's our mission to bring about more and more bits of His new creation in this community, in this world in the here and now! That is why we leave behind on the cross the bits and pieces of the Old Creation that make us sad and angry and tired and pray for God to show us where He can and will make New Creation happen in our lives, in our hearts, in our homes and not least in our community and the world. That's what being made new is all about, it's where the middle parts of the music come into their own! Our part, our community's part between the great Easter tune above and the promise of the New Creation below.
I don't know what plans God has for you or for us, and it doesn't even have to wait until there are more people to join in. He will show you. But for now we leave behind on the Cross all that is of Old Creation, and claim Jesus resurrection victory to do what He has called us to do. To plant his flag for Him in our little parts of this world.
He is Risen! He is Risen, indeed!
Dawn Dobbs Smith
Director, New Life Community Christian School
BY Pastor ANDY SYTSMA
March 27, 2020
Dear New Life Family,
Friday greetings to you! Is it just me, or does it feel like all the days are starting to bleed together? I hope you are having a good week.
After worship on Sunday I headed north to pick up our daughter Natalie. Her university shut down, so she had no dorm room to stay in. I drove for 15 hours, rested a bit along the way, then picked her up at a friend's house in Indiana. We then turned around and drove 15 hours back to Houston. We arrived safely in Houston very early Tuesday morning. The trip was long, but Jacie and I are both relieved to have her home and thankful for everyone's prayers.
For my pastor's update today, I wanted to encourage you. I included a video devotional by Tim Keller (see above). He talks about "Disciplines of Distress" and how we can all respond to COVID-19 spiritually. I was very encouraged by his words. Some of the best during this COVID-19 crisis. Take time to listen.
Our Council, School Board and Response Team have all been hard at work. Our campus is still shut down, but we are finding ways to respond and do ministry. Our deacons are working overtime. Our church staff are adjusting to doing ministry on-line. Our NLCCS teachers have been busy supporting families with in-home instruction. Lots of prayer and support all around.
So what can you do during this time?
Worship - we will worship again Sunday with Facebook Live from our church Facebook page. We are continuing to make adjustments. Here is this past Sunday's video. We will send out a link for our upcoming service this Sunday by text message shortly before it starts so you can watch the live stream directly without having to set up a Facebook account.
Prayer - we have a lot of needs to pray for. We will continue to keep prayer requests in front of us. Here are the latest prayer request list. Please don't hesitate to reach out with more requests.
Community - it was great to see so many people chiming in on-line during Sunday's worship service. We also hosted Community Quest on Wednesday night and had 15 people on our Zoom call. A few comments about community.
We love you! - I have tried the best I can to reach out and connect with many of you. I am thankful for our deacons who have reached out to folks who may be in need or going through a difficult time. Our elders and deacons have been reaching out to folks in their districts and small group leaders are reaching out.
Everyone is welcome at CQ - even if you haven't attended Wednesday night Community Quest before, we would love to have you! This week Randy led a short devotional and then we spent time checking in with each other. Next week we meet @ 7:00 PM. Please note new start time. Wouldn't it be great if the WHOLE congregation could connect Wed night and we could pray for and support one another?!!
Finally, don't neglect fellowship - call people, check in with each other, reach out to folks for encouragement. If you are doing OK, see if there is someone else who needs a listening ear. If you are struggling, reach out.
Some of our groups are meeting on-line now. Here are a list of them:
Prayer Gathering - Sun 9 AM (call Randy @ 832-652-4538)
Adult Sunday School - Sun 9 AM (Zoom link)
Bible Project Study - Tues 1 PM (Zoom link) NEW Group!
Community Quest - Wed 7 PM (Zoom link) NEW Time!
NOTE: Small group leaders, if your group is meeting on-line or by phone but you are not listed here, please let me know. I can add you to the list.
Learning - there are many free online studies out there right now. Here are a few from The Bible Project, Ascending Leaders, Faithwalking, The Leaders Journey, Calvin Seminary, CRC COVID-19, Fuller Seminary.
Serving - even though we may be home bound, or having to take precautions while out in public, there are still many ways we can serve and love our neighbor. Deanna included some practical ways in the Ennouncements. You can also network with area churches through Houston Responds.
Support - we have some amazing ministries, partnerships and church plants. I know the leaders of these ministries can all use encouragement and support. Why not reach out to them? Send a card, email or let them know you are praying for them. Check in, see how they are doing.
Here are our partner ministries, chaplains and church plants:
NLCCS - Dawn Smith
OTSHCA - Donna Molegraaf
Square Inch Houston - John Eigege
Ascending Leaders - Mike Johnson
Faithwalking - Ken Shuman
Marriage Revolution - Hans Molegraaf
New Life Adoptions - Sandra Pickett
Reimagine Houston - B.J. Ramon
Army Chaplain - Richard Hill
Casa de Oracion CRC - Christian Sebastia
Mission of Faith CRC - Diego Hiriart
Vida Nueva CRC - Leon Vidal
Fil-AM CRC - Ronnie Lopez
New Life Nepal - Krishna Pariyar
Giving - we can all continue to practice good stewardship. It is a little awkward not having a weekly plate to pass, but we can still give. Right now you can give on-line or send a check by mail. Detailed instructions for that can be found here. If you need more help with this, please let us know. Thank you.
That's enough from me for today.
Grace and peace!
BY Pastor ANDY SYTSMA
March 13, 2020
Dear New Life Family,
How are you doing? The corna virus is upon us. It is now officially a global pandemic. Our council, staff and school board have all been monitoring this situation. I wanted to keep in touch with you as your pastor.
As of today, we have not decided to cancel worship this Sunday. That said, please stay home if you are sick, feel unsafe going out in public, or are older and want to err on the side of caution. The CDC is recommending people older than 60 stay home for a few weeks.
We will take necessary precautions:
Please wash or sanitize your hands regularly.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
Greet each other with a fist or elbow bump.
Spread out across the sanctuary so we have some distance between each other. Social distancing can slow the spread of the disease.
When we take the offering, we will have the offering plates at the back of church. Instead of passing the plates down the aisle, you can put your offering in the plate as you leave at the end of service.
Lord's Supper is scheduled for this Sunday but we will cancel this.
We will live stream worship so if you are home bound you can worship with us virtually. Simply go to our church Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/newlifecrc/)
These are immediate plans for Sunday. We have a team in place that will be providing more direction going forward. School board is also taking appropriate steps with our school. Lots of practical and logistical matters. Today I wanted to address how we can stay focused on the Lord through this situation.
The first thing I want to share is something Martin Luther said during The Black Plague. It has to do with trusting God but acting wisely. We can pray and take action. Thanks to Aaron and Deanna Horning for passing this on.
The second is Missional Practices we can keep in mind as we see this situation through the lens of ministry. What opportunities is God opening for us to love our neighbor? How can we spread the peace of Christ during anxious times? Thanks to Amy Schenkel from Resonate Global Mission for passing this on.
I hope you enjoy both the quote and article. Let's continue to keep in touch with one another, encourage each other and love well. I remember Hurricane Harvey a few years ago. It was difficult to go through, but that crisis also provided some of the most life-giving opportunities to live out the gospel together.
Grace and peace!
Martin Luther on The Black Plague
When Martin Luther was dealing with The Black Death plague, he wrote these wise words that can help inform the way we approach things happening in our world right now... "I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash no foolhardy and does not tempt God." Luther's Works, Volume 43, pg 132.
Missional Practices: Coronavirus Edition by Amy Schenkel
I don’t need to tell you about the anxiety our country is feeling right now about the expectation that the Covid-19 virus will infect an increasing number of people in the near future. Our lives are all going to be disrupted for a bit, as large group gatherings are limited, cancelling events and seeing more people work from home.
However, in this disruption, we have an opportunity to take advantage of the break in people’s busy schedules. We can be persons of peace in anxious times. We can love our neighbors in new ways.
As we enter into this unexpected season, I encourage you and your congregation to consider what missional practices you can participate in. (Please take your own health and the health of your neighbors seriously, and if you have been exposed to the Covid-19 virus, or are feeling sick, do not meet in person with others). Here are some ideas:
1. Today the CDC recommended that persons over 60 plan on staying home for the next few weeks. Many of these people live alone and are worried about being lonely. Can you stop by your elderly neighbor’s house for a chat once a day? Can you help them learn how to use video conferencing to talk to their family who may be far away?
2. Invite another household over for church in your house. The church is wherever followers of Jesus are- it is not limited to a building. Suggestions: Don’t try to duplicate your church’s worship service. Instead, include things that work well in a small group: Dwell in God’s Word (See attachment), Pray for your neighborhood, city, country, and world. Share a meal together. Listen to a worship song on YouTube. Think about how you could serve your neighbors together.
3. In times like these, you may find yourself spending more time on social media than usual. Be aware of your presence in this space. How are you a person of peace online? How can you encourage and pray for your online network of friends?
4. As long as you can maintain social distancing, take walks in your neighborhood, taking the opportunity to pray for your community. Our Great Lakes Team is encouraging people to pray this prayer: Lord, we pray for an outpouring of your Holy Spirit in this place. Reveal Christ to us, shape us in the character of Christ, and equip us for the mission of Christ.
5. If you haven’t already, join the Nextdoor.com page for your neighborhood. This website originally developed from a church that wanted a way for followers of Jesus Christ to connect with their neighbors. As you ‘meet’ your neighbors online, are there ways that you can provide resources they need? Are there ways you can pray for them? Are you in need of anything that your neighbors can offer to you?