Good Things vs God Things
BY ANDY SYTSMA
October 4, 2022
Dear New Life Family,
I don’t know about you, but there are many things about our church that I am encouraged by. On Sundays I sense a renewed sense of joy and engagement in worship. Some new families have not only started worshipping with us but are continuing. We are slowly restarting some key ministries like youth group and a new adult Bible study. Our school is doing well and our operations (finances, facilities, admin) are solid. There is a lot for which we can thank God!
But beyond calling us to be thankful, God also calls us to use our gifts, build one another up in the faith, and make disciples. At the beginning of this calendar year, we sensed God saying to us, “Create opportunities to care for, fellowship and grow together.” This was our “One Thing” coming out of the pandemic. We were all so isolated and disconnected. We wanted to come together as a church and let God move in and through us together. That is happening.
I am writing this update to invite you to go deeper with this. We are still a small church. There is still much work to do. We need all hands on deck. But before we can jump into action, we need to talk, pray and discern together. What is God calling us to do? What are we going to give our time and energy to? There are lots of good things we could do. But what are the 2 or 3 “God things” that we have to do. To that end, we need to gather together and discuss.
On Sunday, October 23 @ 4 PM our congregation is going to gather in three different homes to talk about all this. We will have dinner together, go over the list we generated back in February at our congregational meeting, discern what God is calling us to do and then commit to one specific action that we can pursue together. We have divided the church into three groups by geography in Spring (East, Central, West). The three families that will be hosting these groups are Scott & Evie Schreiber, Randy & Tari Wester and John & Donna Molegraaf.
Could you please RSVP with the church office (firstname.lastname@example.org | 281-353-5935) that you can come, and we will connect you with the host family for your group. Thank you.
Here is a verse to encourage you: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)
Times of Refreshing
BY ANDY SYTSMA
August 5, 2022
Dear New Life Family,
Have you ever felt like you hit a wall and you just can't move? Yesterday I was SO tired! I was away for a few days the beginning of this week at a conference in Chicago. Our flight home Wednesday night was cancelled. They rebooked us on a later flight, and long story short, after repeated delays, we finally got on the plane. But I didn’t get home until 4:30 AM Thursday morning. That was rough. Yet, today, a day later, I feel refreshed.
Have you ever felt extreme exhaustion from busyness or fatigue, yet at the same time felt energized and invigorated from what God was doing through those circumstances?
The last three months have been one big whirlwind for me. In May, Jacie and I were busy getting our son Caleb ready for his high school graduation, hosting family that week and making college visits to Texas A&M where he will be attending this fall. In June, I attended our denomination’s annual Synod gathering in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where we read the 1,400 page agenda to prepare and I had extra responsibilities chairing an advisory committee. Finally, in July, Jacie and I spent eight days in Rehoboth, New Mexico on a youth missions trip where we worked hard on work sites each day, stayed up late with everyone, ate cafeteria food, and drove the long 15 hour trip there and back.
Given all that activity, I should feel exhausted. And I am physically tired. Yet, I also feel energized spiritually and filled with God’s presence. How can that be? More often than not, God works in our lives in supernatural ways, renewing us by his Word and filling us with his Holy Spirit. The Apostle Paul puts it this way, "I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith." (Ephesians 3:16, 17) We can’t always see God at work, but through faith, he fills us with Christ and gives us everything we need spiritually.
Looking back, I am so grateful for God’s hand on Caleb’s life and the Christian education he received at Providence Classical School. His senior thesis was so much fun to listen to. And it has been truly humbling to see God grow and mature him spiritually. Also, my experience at Synod was amazing. Even though the hours were long, the agenda was weighty, and there was a lot at stake, in the end God answered many prayers. I was very encouraged by this article summarizing what God did at Synod. Finally, our missions trip to New Mexico was incredible. God worked in and through our young people, changing their hearts and using them to be a blessing with the Navajo and Zuni communities. I was so encouraged by the testimonies (26:00 min mark) of Marisa, Nathan, Caleb and Cole. Here is the video of Destination Rehoboth 2022 if you haven't had a chance to see it.
One of the promises I cling to is the promise that God isn't done with us yet. In one of Peter’s sermons in the book of Acts, he announces the good news of Jesus, and then calls people to repent, just like Jesus called people to repent. “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.” (Acts 3:19) This is my prayer for all of us, that as we turn away from ourselves and repent of our sin, and as we turn to Jesus, he will renew us spiritually and send times of refreshing. This is what happened to me. I pray you can experience this gift as well.
Thank you for your patience with me. I haven’t been around to preach much the last two months. Beginning this Sunday, we are going to take the month of August to go through the book of Haggai in the Old Testament. I have always loved this book and have wanted to preach this for some time now. It is very short, but encourages us in many ways.
Grace and peace. I am praying for each of you and asking God to renew and refresh you, to fill you with his Holy Spirit. May he bless you so you can be a blessing to others.
See you soon!
BY ANDY SYTSMA
June 21, 2022
Hi New Life Family,
Greetings! Jacie and I returned from Michigan yesterday afternoon. I've been in the office today getting caught up on emails and work. It seems like such a long time ago that we set out for Michigan and the week of Synod 2022. So much has happened in 2 weeks.
I want to give you a report on how the week went in writing and plan on offering a time after church this Sunday for anyone who wants to hear a more in-depth update in person. If you won't be around and want to talk, I would be happy to share with you.
First, in case you aren't aware, you can find detailed information about Synod 2022 on the CRC's website. It includes pictures, reports, articles and videos of the week.
Second, the big agenda items - The Human Sexuality Report, Confessional Status, and Discipline for Neland Ave CRC - all passed by wide margins (70 to 75%). There were other agenda items, but I will save that for another update.
Third, the spirit of Synod was something I will never forget. While I am deeply grateful for WHAT synod decided, it was also important to note HOW it all happened. There was a clear message that God was calling us to uphold the Biblical, orthodox understanding of these issues surrounding human sexuality. But it was also important that we do this in a way that is loving, gentle, humble and Christ-like. It was evident that LOTS of prayer was surrounding Synod. I could feel this personally. Many voiced this. God showed up.
Yes, I was tired. We had to read 1,400 pages in preparation for the meeting. We had numerous Zoom meetings before we gathered in person. I was a chair of one of the 8 advisory committees. We tackled substantive, hard and important matters. We had to listen well to people different than us and be focused and gracious as we listened. Most days we worked 15-hour days. It wasn't uncommon for me to fall asleep at 1:00 AM.
Yet, I felt God sustaining us. I saw prayer after prayer answered. The officers of Synod led us well. The staff advisors were incredible. I had so many great conversations with friends both old and new. Several members repented of sin on the floor of synod. Several publicly apologized for speaking out of turn. I saw delegates on opposite sides of issues talking and listening to each other. We had large groups on campus protesting the decision of Synod. Yet, God protected us and led us through this whole process.
I have an image that comes to mind for how the week went:
Joshua and the Angel (Joshua 5:13-15). After 40 years of wandering in the desert, Joshua and the Israelites were finally set to conquer the Promised Land. Joshua runs into an angel from the Lord. He asks him which side he is on. The angel says, "neither." The angel tells Joshua that he is sent here from the Lord and that the place where Joshua is standing is holy ground. Joshua falls down in worship.
That image stands out to me because the question isn't "Is God on our side?" That is how most of us view what happened - winners and losers. The question is "Are we on God's side?" I appreciate The Bible Project guys for that perspective. All week we prayed "Lord, your will be done." God answered. But not always in ways we expected. There were many times that he humbled us and called us all to a higher level of love and obedience. Being in alignment with God's will cuts both ways. All of us have areas of sin that our holy God exposes. We all need to repent. We all need grace. This image of Joshua and the angel reminds me that at the end of the day, we all need to fear the Lord and be concerned with what he thinks, more than anything (or anyone) else. It also reminds me that Synod was a holy week.
There are many other things I could say. But above all, I am thankful for all that God did. I am thankful for growing and pruning me. I am thankful for this experience. I am thankful for the great weather we had (mostly 70s and 80s with low humidity). I am thankful that Eric Schlukebir and I could room together. I am thankful that Jacie could come with and spend time with Jana. I am thankful we got to spend time with Natalie and Peter, my folks and my sister Tena. We even took our new dog Tilly up north and my parents fell in love with her. I am thankful for Pastor Roger, Pastor Mike and Pastor Leon, all stepping in for me with preaching. I am thankful for your support and for all the prayers.
Most importantly, I am thankful for Jesus. This is his church. He is the head of his church. This includes both New Life Church (our local church), but also the Christian Reformed Church (our denomination). And he is faithful. There are some people who are hurting, upset or fearful about what this all means. If you are on social media, the comments aren't always kind, pretty or accurate. But this is Jesus' church. He is the bridegroom and we are his bride. Jesus shed his blood to present us, his church, his bride, pure and holy. My prayer is we will continue to stay faithful, loving and obedient to him.
I hope this update is helpful.
Grace and peace.
PS - Since I wrote this update, I was asked to do a two-part interview about my experience at Synod. You can access that interview here and here. It was with the Messy Reformation podcast. I had a lot of fun doing this. I hope you enjoy these reflections!
BY ANDY SYTSMA
March 28, 2022
Dear New Life Family,
Our church is part of the Christian Reformed Church in North America, also more commonly known as the CRC. Each church in our denomination is part of a region of churches called a classis. Each church sends delegates to their classis, which meets 2 to 3 times a year. Also, each classis sends delegates to the CRC's annual Synod. Our church is part of Classis Rocky Mountain and has churches in Colorado, Kansas and Texas. At our most recent classis meeting, I was asked to be a delegate to Synod 2022. In many ways, Synod 2022 will be a historic Synod. Part of this is because we haven't been able to meet for 3 years because of the pandemic. This year's agenda is 1,400 pages long! Also, it is historic because of the weighty nature of the agenda. One of the agenda items is to discuss the Human Sexuality Report. The committee that wrote this report was tasked by Synod 2016 to articulate a foundation-laying biblical theology of human sexuality. You can find a short summery of the report here or read the entire 175 report here. It is a very good report and among other things tackles the subject of homosexuality. Many people have been in prayer about this. I too have been praying and reflecting. I was asked to publish an article about some reflections I shared with some of my colleagues. The article below was published by the Abide Project. I hope this article is helpful for you. Please keep Synod in your prayers.
We recently rented a car on a trip out of state – a fancy car! One of the features was a flashing yellow light in the driver’s and passenger side mirrors that would turn on if there was a car in the blind spot next to you. We all understand blind spots in driving. But what about blind spots in our faith?
In this article, I will outline some blind spots that I believe we have in the CRC regarding our discussion about human sexuality in general, and our debate of the Human Sexuality Report (HSR) in particular. These are things I hear in conversations with families, between pastors and church leaders, in council rooms and on the floor of classis. I wonder if you can relate to what I am seeing and hearing.
One of the blind spots is the emotional tension that we all feel surrounding this issue. We can’t see it, but we can feel it. By its very nature human sexuality evokes strong emotions and leads to tensions and misunderstandings. I have heard many stories of people lamenting past hurts they experienced when the church debated and split over women in office. The impact was real. Families, churches, and our whole denomination were divided. It was painful. It seemed unnecessary. Why go through that again?
Dr. John Cooper wrote a book summarizing the official denominational position with women in office. This was an issue of wisdom, the church said, not of doctrine or morality. We can come to different conclusions based on exegesis of different texts while holding to the same Reformed hermeneutic. Whether or not you agreed with his work, the issue of human sexuality is different. Several years ago, Calvin Theological Seminary dedicated a whole issue of “The Forum” to this topic. The theme was “Biblical and Hermeneutical Reflections on Same Sex Relationships.” Dr. Cooper and other professors warned that this was not like women in office. To conclude that gay marriage or homosexual behavior was acceptable to God wouldn’t only involve faulty exegesis, but a faulty hermeneutic as well. The HSR echoed this, “Although a variety of revisionist arguments have been made, none of them are convincing but, rather, ought to be justly judged as ‘strained and unhistorical’ and evidence of the ‘extraordinary maneuvers’ involved in the attempt to reread Scripture.”
Although there are CRC pastors who have publicly voiced their affirming position, my sense is they are in the minority. Even if people say they have problems with the HSR, I have heard most pastors and leaders say they are orthodox on this issue. Many say they are in alignment with the CRC’s 1973 Report and even voice their agreement with much of the HSR. If that is the case, why is our discussion about the HSR so difficult? Why is there so much fear and anxiety surrounding synod coming up this summer? One of the factors is this blind spot of emotional tension. To stay united and not cause division, people will stay silent or vote against the HSR, even if it means going against their beliefs. The danger is that the fear of dividing and the pain of reliving past hurts will trump people's commitment to Biblical truth.
A second blind spot is that of religious syncretism. My father and grandfather were CRC missionaries to Japan. They partnered with the Reformed Church of Japan (RCJ). The RCJ was birthed out of the ashes of World War 2 by a group of Reformed pastors pushing back against syncretism. Religious syncretism is the “fusion of diverse religious beliefs and practices.” In Japan, the WW2 context was that of Emperor worship. The Japanese government permitted Christians to practice their faith, but also forced them to worship the Emperor and pray at Shinto shrines. Reformed pastors refused to do so, and because they refused to compromise, were persecuted and sent away to backbreaking work in the coal mines.
What does all of this have to do with our discussion of human sexuality? In foreign countries like Japan, syncretism is easy for us to see. We see clearly how Japanese Christians struggle to avoid idolatry and stay true to Christ. But what about us? Are we fusing Biblical norms with cultural norms? If so, how?
Lesslie Newbigin, long-time missionary to India, said this about the church in the West: “Since I came to live in England after a lifetime as a foreign missionary, I have had the unhappy feeling that most English theology is falling into [the danger of] syncretism. Ours is an advanced case of syncretism. In other words, instead of confronting our culture with the gospel, we are perpetually trying to fit the gospel into our culture. In our effort to communicate, we interpret the gospel by the categories of our culture.”
How do we interpret the gospel through our culture? There are many ways. When it comes to the discussion of the HSR, we have a tendency to value a variety of perspectives equally, regardless of whether or not these align with Biblical truth. Even if there are only a handful of people voicing a minority opinion, we feel these voices need to be affirmed. If someone is authentic in their convictions, we feel their viewpoint must be valid, or at least given equal weight. In doing so we show we are more concerned that everyone's voice was heard, valued, and given equal weight than we are about seeking Biblical truth regarding human sexuality and whether that position is clear, consistent, and compelling.
How can this be? I believe this comes from confusing the high cultural values of authenticity and personal sexual identity with the high value of Biblical faithfulness. Today, authenticity in terms of sexual identity is key. The most important thing is to be true to yourself. This includes being true in expressing ourselves sexually. Carl Trueman explains,“…the sexual revolution, and its various manifestations in modern society, cannot be treated in isolation, but must rather be interpreted as the specific and perhaps most obvious social manifestation of a much deeper and wider revolution in the understanding of what it means to be a self. While sex may be presented today as little more than a recreational activity, sexuality is presented as that which lies at the very heart of what it means to be an authentic person.” In other words, we don’t worship the Emperor, but we worship ourselves. Sexual identity, being true to yourself, and expressing ourselves authentically, is valued more highly today than finding our identity in Christ, being true to God’s Word, and worshipping God and God alone. There is great syncretistic confusion.
If Newbigin is accurate about our Western cultural syncretism, and Trueman is accurate that we value authenticity with sexual identity without even realizing it, what is the remedy? How will we clearly see things we are blind to? What is the flashing yellow light in our side mirror that we need to pay attention to? Of course, we need to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:3). Love, unity and dialogue are important. Jesus prayed that “all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me, and I am in you” (John 17:21). But in that same prayer he said, “(Father), sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). Unity just for the sake of unity is neither helpful nor Biblical. Unity is only a benefit when we are unified on allegiance to Biblical truth.
Our commitment to God’s word and Biblical truth is essential. We need to hear from God clearly, even amidst all of the syncretistic confusion. I believe that our non-Anglo brothers and sisters, both here in North America and around the world, are a gift from God and an important voice in our conversation. The Consejo Latino, the official leadership group of Hispanic CRCs, wrote a letter strongly supporting the HSR. This letter will be included in the Agenda for Synod 2022. This is consistent with the global church. The HSR noted, “We stand with the majority church worldwide, including the Roman Catholic Church, all branches of Orthodoxy, the non-Western global church, and a majority of active Protestants in North America and Europe. Indeed, the global church finds the Western church’s challenges to biblical teaching on human sexuality incomprehensible and offensive.” We need to listen to them, let them reflect back to us what God is saying, and let them help us correct our course. If we don’t listen to them, my fear is we will lose out on the cultural diversity we say we value. We also will miss out on hearing from God.
The Bible says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Here is the question: If our non-Anglo brothers and sisters teach, rebuke and correct us, will we have the humility to let them point out our blind spots and religious syncretism? Will we see what they see, that what is most important is worshipping God and finding our identity in Christ; not worshipping self, being authentic and finding our identity in our sexuality? Will we hear what God is saying to us in his Word? It is written, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” (Hebrews 12:1-2) God is calling us to fix our eyes on Jesus. Let’s set aside our blind spots and faithfully follow him.
Focused on the Gospel
BY ANDY SYTSMA
January 1, 2022
Dear New Life Family,
Happy New Year!! I hope your Christmas and New Years celebrations were good. And if you are like me, as we launch into 2022, you will be reflecting back on the old year and looking ahead to the new. What should we be looking forward to? What should our energies and goals be focused on?
There are many good things you could do in the new year with goals relating to health or finances, friendship or reading. Maybe after the craziness of the last two years, you are longing for some sense of normalcy. My cousin posted a funny New Year's wish: "May 2022 be the Toyota Corolla of years: Reliable, boring, physically incapable of drama, high mileage, affordable, fun for the whole family."
I can't promise you that we will ever get back to normal. But I can encourage you with what doesn't change. What if we focused on the Gospel in 2022? Over the years, the Heidelberg Catechism has been a source of great comfort for many. This Sunday I am going to read Lord's Day 1 for us:
Q. What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A. That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death— to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.
He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.
He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven;
in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.
Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life
and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.
Q. What must you know to live and die in the joy of this comfort?
A. Three things:
first, how great my sin and misery are;
second, how I am set free from all my sins and misery;
third, how I am to thank God for such deliverance.
The catechism is a clear and warm summary of the Gospel and is saturated with scripture. The outline follows the Book of Romans (Sin - Salvation - Service). It includes core teachings of the Bible such as the Apostle's Creed, Ten Commandments and The Lord's Prayer. And since it has the Apostle's Creed, it follows the Biblical story-line that helps us see God's plan of salvation and our response. Here is a good article that explains the value of the catechism: Why Should You Care About Catechisms?
Did you know that for hundreds of years, churches in the Reformed tradition had 2 worship services? Their morning service was like ours. But they also had a separate evening service which focused on the catechism as a teaching tool. The young people were taught the catechism in classes during the week. Then on Sunday evening, the second service celebrated and focused hearts on the gospel.
Paul said the gospel he preached was of "first importance" (1 Corinthians 15:3). He also said he wasn't ashamed of the Gospel, "because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes" (Romans 1:16). Can you articulate the Gospel? Do you know the Gospel story (scripture) through which God reveals this good news to us? Is this something you would like to grow in?
As we begin 2022, I would like to invite you to do two things:
1. (Re)commit to daily reading of scripture. Saturate yourself in God's word. Read the Bible with your children. Study God's word with brothers and sisters in the church. If you want to read through the Bible in a year, let me know and I can add you to a group I am in that is doing just that, starting today.
2. Commit to weekly reading of the catechism. Take a Lord's Day each week to read and reflect on. Dig into the verses listed. If you have a family, read it together. I would challenge us as a congregation to incorporate the catechism into weekly worship. Let's celebrate and focus our hearts on the Gospel!
Friends, may God richly bless you. Remember, if you are a Christian, no matter how many curve balls 2022 throws at you, none of these hardships or challenges will ever change the truth that you are not your own, but belong--body and soul, in life and in death--to your faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.
Grace and peace!
Request for Prayer
BY ANDY SYTSMA
December 1, 2021
Dear New Life Family,
I am writing a special update to ask you to pray. Today and the next two days, the United States Supreme Court will be hearing oral arguments in the Dobbs vs. Jackson Women's Health case. It is a very important case and has the potential to overturn Roe vs. Wade. Some are calling this "the most important abortion case in a generation."
Here is an article about this: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/overturn-roe-wade/
How can you pray? Pray fervently. Pray in the spirit of Daniel 9:4-19, Nehemiah 9:29-35, 1 Tim 2:1-4 and Rev 5:13, trusting in God's promises of 2 Chron 7:14 and Jeremiah 7:5-7.
A pastor friend of mine passed on five possible prayer points:
1) That the attorneys arguing for life would be given the wisdom of Solomon and the tongue of Isaiah.
2) That the opposition's words would be shown to be confused, erroneous and invalid and, as so often happens in Scripture, the opposition would have discord among themselves.
3) That there would be a holy sense that the Holy Spirit of order, lucidity, peace and justice is ruling in the courtroom. (Our God-- whom everyone will stand before, our God-- who Himself is the defender of the helpless.)
4) That the justices, especially the three possible swing justices (Roberts, Kavanaugh and Barrett), would be given clarity of conscience. That all would not give way "to a spirit of fear, but of power, love and sound mind."
5) That God would forgive America and cleanse us of this national sin. That many -mothers, fathers, siblings, those in the medical field- who have been wounded by this terrible deed would find healing and help in Jesus's redeeming grace. That the Church would continue her witness to fight for and care for, as a foot-washing servant, all in these sacred matters of life and death.
Thank you for your prayers.
BY ANDY SYTSMA
November 5, 2021
Dear New Life Family,
Fall is here. The weather is cooler. The air is a bit crisper. This morning I left for work with my jacket on for the first time in a long time. I love fall. Here is Texas, we don’t have the radiant colors of the northern states, but I love the changing of the seasons, no matter where that happens.
Here at the church, we are settling into some more “normal” ministry rhythms. We aren’t quite past the pandemic yet, but things seem to be calming down. COVID numbers are down. People are starting to travel again. Last weekend we had a fun fellowship time after church with apple cider and donuts celebrating the completion of our lobby project. That was a special time.
Last week, the council was talking about where we are at, and we thought it would be good to spend the month of November extending an invitation to everyone to “come home” to church. Some of us haven’t been to church for a while because of the pandemic. Others of us haven’t been for other reasons. Maybe you have a friend or family member who you want to invite to church. Whatever the case, we are designating November as a month of “HOMECOMING.”
So, please join us for worship! We are going through a message series on The Psalms right now. We are starting to serve coffee and refreshments after church in our new lobby and café. We have our Fall Festival next Saturday, November 13 from 3:00 – 6:00 PM. Thanksgiving is just around the corner. Even with all the difficulty we’ve had, there are so many things we can be thankful for. Let’s gather together and worship God and tell him we are thankful.
“Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker;
for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture,
the flock under his care.”
– Psalm 95:6-7
Grace and peace friends. I hope you can join us!
"All In" Together
BY ANDY SYTSMA
October 1, 2021
Dear New Life Family,
This week at our council meeting we were talking about our church, where we see God at work, and what we hear Him calling us to do. Since things are still kind of crazy with COVID, and since we all sense a weariness and general fatigue with everyone, we talked about how we all hear God calling us to be “All In” as a congregation together with God and one another.
Why is this important? Because it’s easy to get discouraged, distracted and disconnected. I have said this before, but the last 18 months with the pandemic have been very challenging for me. As a pastor it’s easy to get discouraged. I’ve talked with many pastors who feel the same way. Some have even resigned and left the ministry. And for me, I have my health, my family and a good job. But things can still be hard. Maybe you feel the same. Some of us may fear getting sick or fear of getting a loved one sick. Many of us are caring for aging parents. School can be challenging for students and teachers alike. There are so many ways we can get discouraged.
We can also get distracted and disconnected. When we feel overwhelmed, it’s easy to feel like throwing up our hands. We tune out the news, get frustrated with all the anger, polarization and divisions. It’s easy to check out and cocoon. I know I’ve felt that way. And if we’re honest, there is something that feels good about checking out and cocooning. We don’t have to deal with the challenges around us and we don’t need to deal with people.
Those feelings are normal. I suspect we all would like to get back to “normal,” whatever that feels like. But let’s ask the right question. The wrong question is “what is easy” or “what feels good.” The right question is “what is God saying to me” and “What is God calling us to do?”
Before I proceed with my encouragement and challenge for us to be “All in,” I want to pause and have us think about all this. If you’re discouraged, that’s OK. But are you putting yourself in a situation so that you can be encouraged by God and other brothers and sisters? Or are you checking out and cocooning? Sometimes we check out and stop coming to church, we neglect fellowship with other believers and push the pause button on spiritual growth. The impact of this is threefold: 1) we drift away from God and put our own souls at risk, 2) we fail to love other believers so they can be encouraged, and 3) we compromise God’s mission.
Here is one picture of this. We’ve had many Sundays where we’ve had just one or two children in KIDS Church. We’ve had several new families visiting us this summer. But I’ve noticed they haven’t been back. If there are no other kids around, I wonder if their kids feel welcome at our church? Also, some Wednesdays it’s been just one or two youth at youth group. It’s hard to reach other youth if there is no community. And that’s just one part of our ministry.
God has called us to be in covenant community with him. That means we make promises to love God and love each other. We are his children. Jesus has paid for our sins. The Holy Spirit lives in us. All of this means we don’t belong to ourselves anymore. We can’t just check out and cocoon. We belong to Jesus. We belong to his family. God calls us to worship, grow and serve.
What does that look like? In Acts 2, there is that famous passage about the early church. It says, “They were devoted to” many things (apostle’s teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, prayer). It says, “All the believers were together,” continued to “meet together” and “eat together.” In other words, they were “All In” as a congregation together with God and one another.
Friends, for me, all of this comes under the category of professing Jesus as Lord. It’s easy to say Jesus is our savior. Who doesn’t want spiritual fine insurance for when you die? Assurance of salvation is one of the most precious gifts God gives us. But as the head of the church, Jesus calls us to come under His Lordship, to obey and submit to what He says. I know for me, I often think I know what’s best for me. I also confess, I like to be in the drivers’ seat of my life and be in control. But following Jesus means growing in our capacity to obey, submit, and yes, suffer.
Jesus calls us to follow him wholeheartedly so his church, his bride, his body, can flourish. In Ephesians 4:16 there is a beautiful and powerful picture of how the church should function: “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” Are you doing your part? Friends, let’s get out of the drivers’ seat of our hearts and let Jesus be Lord. Let's stop doing our own thing and obey Jesus. Jesus calls us to worship together, grow together and serve together so others can know him. Let’s follow Jesus together.
Let’s be “All In” as a congregation together with God and one another!
Grace and peace.
Fly Fishing Trip
BY ANDY SYTSMA
August 6, 2021
Dear New Life Family,
It’s been a long time since I wrote a pastor’s update, but I wanted to send this out. As many of you know, last week I was away for a pastor’s retreat. It was called Soul of a Pastor Fly Fishing retreat in New Mexico. A ministry called Altar Fly Fishing (https://altarflyfishing.org/) sponsored it. I was there with 7 other pastors, most of whom were CRC, as well as 3 Altar team members. I am so thankful for the spiritual refreshment I received. After a hard year with the pandemic and other things, it was good to get away, push the “reset” button spiritually, enjoy fly fishing, the beauty of Northern New Mexico as well as the company of other pastors. God is good.
I am thankful that Pastor Danny Skelton was able to fill in for me preaching last Sunday. We will have guest preachers the next two Sundays as well. This Sunday, 8/8, I will be in worship with you, but Pastor B.J. Ramon will preach for us. Many of you haven’t met B.J. yet, but our church has been supporting his ministry the last two years as a new staff member with Resonate, our CRC missions agency. B.J. has attended a CRC classis meeting and is getting to know everyone. We had scheduled him to come visit us at New Life but then the pandemic hit. So I am glad B.J. will be with us, both to preach for me, and to update us on his ministry. The following Sunday, 8/15, Pastor Roger DeYoung will preach for us while my family and I are away on vacation.
I hope you can join us this Sunday. We have our fellowship lunch after the service. Please stay, enjoy some good food, meet B.J., and fellowship with one another. After church, my family and I will leave for Michigan. We leave on Sunday 8/8, and return Wednesday 8/18. We are looking forward to some good family time together as well as bringing Natalie back to college. We also can’t wait to see my parents and sister who we haven’t seen since the pandemic.
Yesterday was Natalie’s last day with us filling in for our church administrator position. We had a little party in the church office to say “thank you” to her. She did great work for us and picked right up where Deanna left off. Deanna will be stepping back in to her old role for two weeks, helping us out while Natalie and I are away. I am so thankful for Deanna. She has a new job, is enjoying life as a new grandma, but is still able to help. She will be at church in the afternoon.
Speaking of the church administrator position. I am pleased to let you know that Samantha Medore will be taking over for us. Her start date is Monday, 8/23. She will continue working half-time for the school in her school admin role there, and also do admin work on the church side the other half of her time. This is an area in which she is very gifted. I am thankful that she accepted our offer to be our next church administrator and know that her gifts and dual role with church and school will be a blessing to everyone. Please welcome Samantha!
As you can tell, we have lots of changes. We announced last week that Angel Powell accepted our offer to be our new school director. Dawn is still with us till 8/20 and helping to roll out a smooth transition. The school board will be in touch with us with details about the transition, including a Sunday when we can introduce Angel to everyone and pray over our teachers with the new school year. Please keep our school in your prayers as they ramp up for fall classes.
There are other exciting things in the works. Our classroom village facilities project is almost complete. The sanctuary lobby renovation project is well underway. Our summer men’s and women’s Bible studies were well received and the youth and children’s ministry continue to move forward. Give thanks to God for his provision and continue to pray for our church.
Finally, I want to leave you with this thought. We’ve been through so much the last 1 ½ years with the pandemic. We’ve said good bye to many friends who have moved away or moved on. Many of you are caring for aging parents, have struggled with your health, or are grieving the death of a loved one. We have also experienced a lot of change. Let’s give thanks we serve a God who doesn’t change. The Lord’s mercies are new every morning and he is sovereign and in control. He is glorious. He is also good. He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. As we follow Jesus together and keep in step with the Holy Spirit, let’s ask God our Heavenly Father to fill us with his Spirit, grow us in grace, and move towards the goal of our faith, which is a Christlikeness so we can be conformed to Jesus and do his will.
Grace and peace!
Some Bittersweet News
BY ANDY SYTSMA
May 12, 2021
Dear New Life Family,
I have some news to pass on to you. Last week Dawn and Adrian reached out to us to inform us that they will be moving out of state this summer. Adrian had a job opportunity come his way that he wasn't looking for. But as they prayed about this, it became clear that this was from the Lord. Dawn wrote a letter to council, describing what happened:
This past week Adrian was offered the opportunity to join the faculty of Erskine College in South Carolina as a Professor of Biblical Studies. And after much thinking and praying, our family has decided to accept that offer so that Adrian can use the gifts and skills that God has given him to train men and women for ministry. Our plan is to move to South Carolina in early July.
I’m sorry to say that this will mean that I will be leaving the Children’s Ministry Coordinator position on June 30th. While we have been here in Houston, it has been our privilege to join you in serving Christ and his Kingdom through the ministries of New Life Church. We are thankful for the ways that you have welcomed us into your lives and invited us to join you in service. We pray that the Lord will prosper your ministry and you will continue to be used to bring glory to Him.
Adrian also wrote a letter to council letting us know that he will be stepping down from his Youth Director position on June 30th. Finally, Dawn also wrote a letter to the school board, informing them of their family's decision. On Friday she and Donna informed the teachers. Yesterday, a letter went out to the school families. We are so happy for them, but at the same time are sad to say goodbye. As you can imagine, many tears have been shed, since we love them so much. We trust that God will lead and guide them in this next chapter and that he will hold all of us close during this season of transition.
Dawn has graciously offered to help us during this transition. Again, here is Dawn in her own words: It is my deep desire to leave in such a way that causes as little disruption as possible, so that we can continue to build on the growth and progress that we’ve made together in the past few months. For this reason, I’m willing to continue to work for the school (part time onsite and part time offsite) throughout the transition, even through the start of the new school year if that is necessary. I could help in the search and help onboard and train a new director, if that would be helpful.
The school board has already assembled a search team and are taking steps to hire a new school director. The council will be addressing the vacancies Dawn and Adrian will leave with our Children Ministry Director and Youth Director positions.
Please lift up Adrian, Dawn, Emma and Avery as their family prepares for this transition. They have been such a blessing to so many, here in our church and school. Please join me in passing on our love and blessing to them.
Grace and peace.
A Letter to New Life Church
BY JANA SCHLUKEBIR
February 21, 2021
Dear New Life Church,
This week I sat with tears in my eyes looking at pictures of your lobby. I remember very clearly standing in that lobby the first Sunday after we moved to Texas in 2011, holding the hands of my three small children, meeting many of you for the first time. Also vivid in my memory is standing in that same spot, 41/2 years later, defeated, heartbroken, and saying goodbye on our last Sunday as Texans.
Friends, I know that you are struggling. I’ve watched you deal with problem after problem with your building, and I know that you’ve had to say goodbye to many friends that you love. I think you must be tired, disappointed, and discouraged. I don’t understand why it is like this for you, and I don’t know what your next steps are going to be, so I will simply tell you what I do know.
In May of 2011, we were very broken down and worn thin. Eric had just finished seminary. We were just coming out of five years of under-employment, job loss, growing student loans, and rejection all while birthing and raising three small humans. I was beginning to struggle with my health, dealing with the beginning stages of an autoimmune disease I wouldn’t be diagnosed with for 7 more years. To be honest, I wasn’t sure we were fit to do much of anything, and felt a rising terror in me that we had spent enormous amounts of time and money that we didn’t have on something that wouldn’t pan out. Enter New Life Church.
We knew God was calling us to partner with New Life, but that didn’t make us feel any more equipped to do the task that was before us. We began by pretending. “Fake it till you make it”, isn’t that the old adage? You weren’t having it. New Life, you came along beside us, and gently showed us how to tell the truth, how to accept help (some of you got really bossy in the best ways about this one), how to trust God, how to dive in fully without fear of the outcome, and that failing doesn’t make you a failure. You told us that we were loved, and that we were enough. We are different people because of you.
So, today, for reasons beyond my understanding, I feel compelled to say the same things back to you.
New Life Church, you are loved. You are enough. Please remember to tell each other the truth. Remember to help, to ask for help, and to accept help. Please know that God is in control, he has put you exactly in this place at this exact time, and that while there are a lot of things we don’t know, he knows all and he cares about you all. If God is calling you to a thing, don’t be afraid to dive in without knowing the outcome. No matter what happens, failing does not make you a failure.
Thank you, New Life, for being faithful in loving us and teaching us while we were in your care. Please continue to do the same for one another.
“You are one in whom Christ delights and dwells. You live in the strong and unshakable kingdom of God. The Kingdom is not in trouble, and neither are you.” - James Bryan Smith
We love you New Life Church.
You are in our thoughts and prayers.
Jana Schlukebir & family
BY ANDY SYTSMA
January 30, 2021
Dear New Life Family,
Greetings friends! It’s been a long time since I have written a pastor’s update. But I wanted to take time to say “thank you” to everyone who called, texted, wrote cards and reached out to me Thursday for my birthday. It’s not every day you turn 50. I was very moved by all the love! Jacie wanted to do some sort of big get-together but that was going to be hard with COVID.
Also, on a different note, I wanted to take some time to update you on Sunday’s congregational meeting. I know it’s not as fun as a 50th birthday party, but it is important. I wanted to make sure you were aware of what was discussed since the decisions made affect us all.
There were three items on the agenda for approval: 1) Revised Budget, 2) Second Round of PPP Loan, and 3) New Deacon Nomination. Randy also updated us on progress with capital projects. We had very good discussion and all three items for approval passed unanimously. Click HERE for the congregational meeting agenda.
Here are a few updates on each of these. With regard to the last agenda item, Rob Peterpaul, our deacon nominee, informed us that he was withdrawing his name as deacon. There was a misunderstanding about expectations, so we apologized to him about this. The council will continue the discernment process about a fourth deacon and will let you know when we have another candidate for the congregation to approve. The PPP Loan application is in process. We will let you know when we hear back from the government and if we have been approved. Also, Randy encouraged us with the captial projects. He said even though it doesn't seem like much is happening right now with the pandemic, between drainage improvement, the classroom village project, new AC units and roofing insurance claim, there is about $200K being invested in our campus right now. Praise God for his provision even though we can't always see this!
Finally, with regard to the revised budget, I want you to know about this important decision and some changes that will come from this. As you are no doubt aware, our church size has been decreasing over the years. While we have adjusted in many ways, we haven’t adjusted our budget substantially so that our budget matches our church size. So, this budget revision accomplished this goal and will make our income and expenses sustainable long term.
The revised budget reduced annual tithes and offerings $78,000 to match our monthly run rate. We also reduced expenses. Most of this came from two areas: 1) Fellowship/Office/ Classroom building loan paid off 6 moths early. This eliminated expenses of $30,616 per year. 2) Pastor’s Salary. The council prayed about this and said that rather than let go most of our ministry staff, it would make more sense for me to reduce my hours. Currently I am working one day a week for Resonate Global Mission supporting our church planters. By switching to work two days a week for Resonate, and by taking a salary reduction, the church is able to save $30,955. Beginning February 1, I will be working 1/3 of my time for Resonate (about 2 days or 16 hrs/wk) and 2/3 of my time for New Life (about 4 days or 32 hrs/wk). In order to support this work, I will be applying to Resonate for a grant and also fundraising to go towards my salary.
I wanted to make sure everyone is aware of these changes. Things will be different for us as a church, and there will be adjustments that need to be made. Pray for me as I transition to a new schedule and raise funds to support extra Resonate work. Also, pray for our church.
One of the challenges we have as a small church is less people. That isn’t always a bad thing. But it does mean 1) we have to trust God more, not our own strength (e.g. think of the story of Gideon where God instructed him to fight with a smaller army so he would get the glory), and 2) we all need to realize how important it is to be the body of Christ together as a church, especially in these trying times. While I was encouraged by the 18 people on our congregational meeting Zoom call, I was also curious as to why so many people were not part of that meeting, given the importance of our agenda. We will need more than 18 people to carry out our work!
Friends, we will be talking more about what it means to be the church in the days ahead. But for now, please be aware of these changes, keep trusting God and encouraging one another, and let’s make sure we are all in, together with God and each other. Grace and peace.
Opportunity to Help
BY ANDY SYTSMA
September 11, 2020
Dear New Life Family,
Two days ago, I received a phone call from a CRC pastor in Tucson, Arizona wondering if we wanted to help them help a church community in Lake Charles, Louisiana hit hard by Hurricane Laura. His name is also Pastor Andy, just like me. I haven't met Andy Littleton, but we have many mutual friends through the CRC and Resonate Global Mission. He reached out to us because of those contacts and also because we are in Houston and right on their way from Tucson to Lake Charles. He said they have a young pastor in training at their church, John Simon, who's family are all from Lake Charles. Many of his relatives attend a local church there and as you can imagine, the community was hit very hard with Hurricane Laura. He said he, John and a few guys are driving from Tucson to Lake Charles this weekend and asked if we wanted to help supply them with cases of water and Gatorade that they could deliver to the pastor of the church they will be helping.
Andy and his team are leaving Tucson early tomorrow (Saturday) morning and will arrive in Houston late that same night. He said they will be with us in church on Sunday morning and if we have any supplies to pass on, they will load those up after church and then be on their way. They are coming with two trucks and a trailer. We both agreed it was very short notice, but also an incredible opportunity to provide practical assistance to a community in need. Andy said they are in the process of reaching out to World Renew so they can partner long term and more effectively with this church community.
If you would like to help, please come to church on Sunday with cases of water and/or Gatorade and we will pass those on to Andy and his team after church. If you would like to provide a cash gift, you can do that as well. I spoke to the deacons and they said you can make a check to "New Life Church" and write "Lake Charles Relief" in the memo. The deacons will then write them a check they can give to the pastor of their church for Hurricane Relief. Finally, we still have supplies given to us for Hurricane Harvey so we will be passing those on as well.
If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to call or text me. Thank you in advance for stepping up on short notice to help some brothers and sisters in need.
Need for Community
BY ANDY SYTSMA
July 17, 2020
Dear New Life Family,
This Sunday we are trying something new! We are going to have Zoom Fellowship after church immediately following the worship service. Picture having good conversation in the lobby after church over coffee and cookies. Of course, you will have to bring your own coffee and cookies, but we want to provide opportunity to fellowship with one another.
Is this something you want? Is this something you are missing? I want to encourage you to participate, even if you personally don't feel the need for community. Because even if you don't feel the need for fellowship yourself, you can bless others with your presence. We can be Jesus to each other and create community together.
As your pastor, I enjoy preparing and delivering sermons each week. I trust that the content we are providing with messages and worship is encouraging for you. But one thing an online worship experience can't do is create community. We have to actually interact together to do that. So let's live into this part of our Christian life together.
The Bible is filled with encouragement about creating and sustaining community. When God made Adam he said, "It is not good for man to be alone." (Gen 2:18). So he created Eve. Even if you aren't married and have a family of your own, in Christ, we are all part of God's family. And it's not good for us to be alone. Also, there are so many "One another" passages, it's hard to count. We are to love one another, encourage one another, serve one another, pray for one another, etc. etc. Did you notice that all these "One another" passages are commands, not suggestions?
Some of us may be tired of one more Zoom call. But right now with COVID, this is one way we can connect with each other. We can be thankful for the gift of technology and take advantage of this. Also, some of us may be wired to be more introverted. That's OK. But we need community to. We can all bless someone else with our presence. So think about the needs of other people, even more than your own. Make this a priority. Paul said these words, "In humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others." (Phil 1:3-4)
If you are unable to get online for some reason, Zoom also allows you to call in by phone. So all of us should be able to participate. Here is the Zoom call info:
To join by Video: https://zoom.us/j/94555158231
To join by Phone: Dial (346) 248-7799; ID: 945 5515 8231
Zoom Fellowship will begin at 11 AM. That is about when our worship service concludes. We will be together as long as we would be in the lobby together. For some of us that's a long time! :--) Feel free to jump on the call as soon as you are able to. We will connect with each other and pray together. Don't hesitate to reach out if you have questions.
See you Sunday!
Holding Each Other Close
BY ANDY SYTSMA
June 12, 2020
Dear New Life Family,
I am tired. It's been a long week. Three brothers and sisters from my former church in New Jersey passed away the past few weeks so I was on the phone with their spouses grieving with them. Two days ago my aunt Karen, my mom's younger sister, passed away. They were very close. I am grieving along with my parents, aunts and uncles, and cousins who have lost a mom. I am also tired from all the events in our country with racial reconciliation. It's a lot to take in. On top of all this, we are also managing everything with COVID.
For my pastor's update this week, I don't have a lot to say. I shared on Sunday that it's important to listen, to learn and hold close our brothers and sisters who are grieving and angry over what is happening in our country with race relations. I am listening. I am learning. I am holding my friends close.
There is so much I could say, but I wanted to pass on a video from The Village Church up in Dallas. Pastor Matt Chandler did a great job focusing on justice and racial reconciliation. There is so much about this video that I like. He frames the issue well. The video is mostly a round table discussion with four African American staff at their church. Above all, the tone is one of empathy.
Friends, if there is anything I can say right now, it would be that we have empathy. Empathy is so important right now.
Listen to the video. It was filmed four years ago, but is relevant today. In fact, I believe it speaks to us now, more than ever. Take time to listen. Ben open to what the Holy Spirit is saying. Ask God to do a good work in us.
For His glory and our good.
Grace and peace.
BY ANDY SYTSMA
May 1, 2020
Dear New Life Family,
I wanted to update you on some details about reopening our campus. You have probably heard on the news about things reopening. The governor has addressed this. Businesses, restaurants and other establishments are slowly reopening.
What is our plan?
Our response team and council have been discussing this and recently adopted a phased reopening plan that will happen over the next month. Here is the plan.
Phase One (May 3, 10) = Preparation
Prepare the plan and the people to open our church campus up in a safe way. Chris (leader), Mike, Dawn, Deanna and Erika will get this ready. We need to order sanitation supplies, have clear protocols in place and team members assigned to various tasks to keep the campus safe.
Phase Two (May 17, 24, 31) = House Church
Campus is still closed but encourage people who want to or are able to meet, to gather in homes with a few other families (under 10 people total), watch the service together on Sunday AM and have lunch together. Max & Pam Way and Lori Pugh are coming up with a list for grouping people with host families. We recognize some people will not opt in for safety reasons (e.g. elderly, those with health conditions). That is OK. No pressure.
Phase Three (June 7) = Reopen Campus
Campus reopened for Sunday worship but recognizing some will stay home because they are more at risk (e.g. elderly, those with health conditions). Safety protocols will be in place. We will limit what we offer beyond Sunday worship (e.g. no food for fellowship). Need to flesh this out more.
Dawn shared that the school is looking at a phased reopening plan over the next month that will culminate in full reopening on 6/1. Keep them in your prayers. Erika said Vida may worship in homes sooner. They will do what works best for them.
All of this is done in the spirit of doing what is wise and safe for people using our best judgement. Health authorities have asked churches not to reopen until after May so we will honor their request.
This is our best plan with the information we have today. We will know more in the coming weeks what the data shows. If we need to, we will modify our plans. Please keep this situation in your prayers. Finally, stay patient with each other, as we recognize there are different perspectives on how and when it is best to reopen. Stay safe.
Grace and peace.
BY 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 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 ANDY SYTSMA
March 13, 2020
Dear New Life Family,
How are you doing? The coronavirus 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?
God With Us
BY ANDY SYTSMA
Dear New Life Family,
One of the blessings of Christmas is the good news of Immanuel, God with us. As God comes near, he gives us all those things we so desperately need - hope, joy, comfort, assurance, etc. He gives these things to us because he is near. Jesus is the greatest gift, and with his presence we receive so much more.
As we get ready to celebrate the end of 2019 and beginning of 2020, I want to encourage you to cross that threshold of another year with God. Go with God, and he will take care of everything else. A few weeks ago Nathan preached for us from Exodus 33 and said, "If God doesn't go with you, don't go." This is so true.
What does it look like to go with God's presence? I believe it requires two things. First, letting go of those things that would take us away from God. Second, leaning ahead into those things that would draw us near unto God.
Abraham Kuyper wrote a devotional by that title, Near Unto God. His meditations are based on Psalm 73:28 where it says, "But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds."
Listen to what he says. "When we come to know him as our personal Savior, then we have come to him and he has come to
us--because the action moves in two directions. We need to seek his nearness, but he needs to come to us intimately. When he does--and when we do--what we feel is nothing less then eternal joy. We can spend much of our lives without that closeness, sometimes desolate and forsaken. But if we know God's nearness, we know that in those moments of alienation nothing is so desirable as his return. What we seek, we find only in our return--he is near once again. Those moments, beyond description, are the great moments of our lives." (pg. 16, 17)
What does it look like to have your best year ever? There are many leadership and self-help books out there with titles like that. To be the "best you" and have the "best year ever" we need Jesus.
What does this look like? First, what this doesn't mean is that we think less of ourselves. After all, to be in relationship with Jesus requires two parties. God thinks the world of us--so much that he sent Jesus to save us from sin! It doesn't mean thinking less about ourselves. But it does mean thinking about ourselves less. This is how C.S. Lewis described humility. And humility is always a good place to start.
As we take the focus off ourselves and what we have or haven't done, we find the second characteristic of needing Jesus. Instead of worrying about what we don't have or haven't done, we rejoice in what we do have and what Christ has done for us. In Christ, we have all things--faith, hope, love. In Jesus we have God himself!
This Sunday we will have an opportunity to let go of our worries and anxieties, to grieve things that we need to grieve. We need to let go and confess to God those things that take us away from him. This Sunday we will also have opportunity to lean into Jesus. And we will keep this opportunity in front of us all January.
I want to challenge our entire New Life congregation to draw near to Jesus by regular daily scripture reading in 2020.
Here is the challenge: If 70 people (60% of our congregation) will commit to read the Bible every day throughout the new year, I will allow 3 young people who commit to this challenge to shave my head!!
How will this work? If 70 people commit to regular daily Bible reading for a year by my birthday, which is January 28, we will have met the challenge and some of the young people can relieve me of my hair. You can indicate your commitment the next 5 Sundays by putting a note to that effect on the back of the Welcome Card and putting that in the offering plate. We will track how many people have committed and let you know. The commitment will be between you and the Lord to carry out throughout the year.
There are many excellent Bible reading plans. One I am going to begin January 1 is called the Biblical Storyline Reading Plan (http://bible.com/r/4A2). It has you read 3 or 4 chapters a day and includes The Bible Project videos in the plan. This plan gets you through the Bible in 1 year.
If you need a plan with a slower pace, that is fine. The goal isn't volume (e.g. to read the Bible through in a year). The goal is consistency. New Christians, go at your own pace (e.g. one verse a day). Young people, find a plan that fits you. Parents, do this with your children. They count to! Check out the many excellent reading plans in the YouVersion app (www.youversion.com). You can also read the Today devotional. You can find this online (https://today.reframemedia.com/) or hard copies are available in the lobby at church. There are many other good plans.
Friends, if you read the Bible daily, you will draw near to God. Kuyper also said this, "to seek him passionately, and to find him, face to face, in the muddle of our travail here on earth--all of that makes us testify with the psalmist, 'I love you, Lord.'" (pg.17) Will you say to Jesus, "I love you, Lord"?
I am looking forward to seeing how many of you step up to this challenge. If you meet this challenge this it will be one of the best birthday presents for me :--)
Grace and peace!
What's Your Story
BY ANDY SYTSMA
Dear New Life Family,
This morning for our school’s Thanksgiving Feast I read Psalm 107 verses 1 and 2:
"Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.
Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story…"
The words, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever” appear again and again in the Psalms (e.g. read Psalm 136). Israel recalls all that God has done in his creation and redemption. They tell God's story and they sing this refrain, “His love endures forever.” God is inviting us to thank him and remember his goodness. Very appropriate for us with Thanksgiving next week.
But I want to reflect with you on verse 2, “Let the redeemed of the Lord tell THEIR story.” Psalm 107 goes on to describe what God redeemed Israel from. It says some wandered in deserts. Some were hungry and thirsty. All of them cried out to the Lord in their distress and he heard them. He delivered them from their troubles. Sounds a lot like the Exodus story doesn’t it? Yet it was personal and unique to each of them.
This Thanksgiving I would encourage you to tell YOUR story. If you are a Jesus follower, you have been redeemed. God has delivered you from something. We each have a testimony to give. We each have a story to tell. And as we tell our story, we begin to feel more gratitude in our heart for all that God has done. We get the spotlight off our self and onto the God who is worthy of praise.
I know for me, God has redeemed me from pride and the need to be in control. Faithwalking training has shown me, with amazing clarity, where I would be if not for God. Even now God is refining and pruning me. I am so thankful for God loving me and accepting me just as I am, but loving too much to leave me that way. Even when I find myself in some difficult situations, telling my story helps me love better.
Friends, in good times and bad, we can praise God for who he is and give thanks to God for what he has done. The more you reflect on your story and share that story with others, the more we live into the people God calls us to be—people of praise, people on the way, people who point others to Jesus!
Most of us take some time during Thanksgiving to list the things we are thankful for. We take time to pray. We pause and give thanks. These are all great things. Keep doing them. I would also challenge you to go beyond just listing the things you are thankful for. Take time to tell your story! And as you do, listen to your heart. I am guessing you will feel closer to God and closer to those around you.
Happy Thanksgiving to you. May the God of peace, fill you with every good thing and remind you of all the good things he has already blessed you with.
Grace and peace.
BY ANDY SYTSMA
Dear New Life Family,
What’s next? That is the question I’ve heard a few times this week and it’s a question I have been asking myself. It’s also a question we need to ask ourselves as a church.
On Sunday we completed our 40 Year Anniversary Celebration. Last week Friday and Saturday was a lot of fun hosting classis. And Friday night was special, hearing stories from the different pastors about the story of the CRC in Texas. It’s clear to me looking back that God is faithful.
Sunday we completed our celebration by having all of our church planters with us. We received in-person greetings from Mike & Gina Johnson, John & Chichi Eigege, Pablo Gaggero, Diego & Camila Hiriart, Leon & Erika Vidal and Ronnie & Terri Lopez. We also received greetings from Eric Schlukebir and Pastor Krishna from a distance. Pastor Roger DeYoung gave greetings the week prior. So it was fun hearing from eight of our ten church planter families and spending time together. Jeff Dykema from El Paso (stepping in for Jerry Holleman last minute) and John Eigege both did a great job with their meditations. And Randy & Tari Wester did a wonderful job with the lunch afterwards (the cake was delicious!). It was fun just being together. I did wonder why so many people didn’t stay for lunch. I wonder if this could have been publicized better? Maybe we were weary from all the celebrating? Maybe something else is going on??
So today, writing this pastor’s update I have different things going through my mind.
First, I am thankful. I’m thankful for all the different people who stepped up to make the 40th Anniversary Celebration possible. I am thankful for God’s faithfulness to our church through these 40 years in our congregation, in our school and community ministries, and through all of the church planters who have been launched out from us. I am also thankful for God’s financial provision in meeting our $40,000 goal for the offering Sunday. All of this is encouraging.
Second, there is also a sense of sadness. In reflecting back on our 40 years as a church, and for me personally in my 10 years at New Life, there is a part of me that misses the people who have moved away or no longer attend our church. It would have been a much richer celebration with everyone who has called New Life home these many years. But we trust God with all that.
Third, I am energized by the challenge we have before us. Our vision hasn’t changed and our challenges are in many ways greater. We have a shrinking congregation and a new generation that is increasingly post-Christian. There is greater complexity in ministry than ever before. And we live in a culture that both craves community yet fights against it. Our American (and Texan!) spirit of fierce independence helps us “Git Er Done” but it also separates us from each other as we each do our own thing and go our own way. How do we show hospitality well? How do we form and create deep, meaningful friendships? How do we shepherd and care for people who are alone or hurting? How do we call people to commitment and hold each other accountable to biblical and Christ-centered community? There are so many forces fighting against all this.
But then there is God. And with God there is always hope. On Sunday, John Eigege challenged us with God’s words from Isaiah 43:18 and 19, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” What is that new thing?
This is a question we will have to discern together as a church. What I can tell you this.
It won’t be us who will be leading, but God. Our job is to listen, discern and follow.
God will always be faithful. Our job is to be faithful and obedient back.
Because of God we have hope, despite the struggles. Our job is to trust God and learn the lessons He has for us.
The new thing God will lead us to will be more wonderful than we can ever imagine. Our job is to receive God’s kingdom and seek this with our whole heart.
At our elders meeting this week we were talking about all the church planters who were giving greetings on Sunday. And the comment was made that there was no way Jerry Holleman could have seen this new work that God was going to do 40 years later. We could say the same thing about our school ministry and about Old Town Spring Heights. Could anyone have predicted we would be partnering with Pastor Krishna who has helped launch over 40 new churches? What about all the people who have come to Christ through New Life? So wonderful. God is good.
Will you commit yourselves to this next chapter of our story together? Will you walk with me? We need each other. We are stronger in community. Let’s trust Jesus and follow him together.
Grace and peace.
BY ANDY SYTSMA
Dear New Life Family,
Have you ever had to scramble to prepare for guests coming over? Groceries need to be purchased. The yard needs to be mowed. The house needs to be cleaned. The kids’ rooms need to be picked up (or at least the door shut so you can’t see the mess!). You get the picture.
This has been my life this week. We are in the middle of our 40th Anniversary Celebration and there is a lot going on. I've enjoyed our first two Sundays celebrating God's faithfulness in the early years and through our school. The next two weekends will also be filled with activity.
Tomorrow, Saturday 9/28 – Fabulous Fall Festival in Old Town Spring Heights
The next day, Sunday 9/29 – Worship service celebrating our Community Ministries
Next week, Friday & Saturday 10/4 & 5 – Classis Rocky Mountain at New Life Church
Next week, Sunday 10/6 – Wrap up service and potluck celebration for 40th Anniversary
A few fun invites for you... Tomorrow’s Old Town Spring Heights festival will be a lot of fun. Feel free to stop by between 1:00 – 5:00 p.m. and enjoy games for all ages, great food and fellowship. Address is 27307 Oak Street, Spring, TX 77373. Come meet your neighbors and see what God is doing in our community!
Also, next week Friday night, October 4, during Classis Rocky Mountain, we will have a special session from 6:00 – 8:00 p.m. at New Life Church where we will be telling the story of the Christian Reformed Church in Texas. It will be very informative and (I think) very inspiring. We have two panels of pastors telling various stories followed by discussion time. Feel free to stop on by and hear the story!
For our wrap up celebration next Sunday, October 6, we are inviting all of our church planters to join us. There is also a potluck lunch after the service. Jerry Holleman and John Eigege are tag teaming to preach on God’s faithfulness, both looking back and looking forward. I’m not sure if we’ve ever had all of our church planters together with us in a worship service before!
Anyway, as you can see, there are a lot of moving parts. So it’s a busy season. But in all the busyness, I’ve sensed God’s faithfulness in a special way. He’s been faithful in my family, faithful in our church, faithful in our school, faithful in our community, and faithful to help us carry out his mission, despite all the setbacks, limitations and our own dumb disobedience.
We have an excellent opportunity right now to put the spotlight on God and praise him for his faithfulness. Take some time today and in the coming week to reflect on how you see that in your life. Take time to praise God and thank him for all the ways you see him in your life.
It is a privilege for me to serve as your pastor and to serve alongside all of you at New Life Church. It's a privilege to stand on the shoulders of pastors and leaders who have served before me. It’s also a privilege to work side by side with all our ministry partners and church planters. May you be encouraged by what God is doing in and through us, and often despite us, and give him the praise.“Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies.” – Psalm 36:5
Grace and peace!
BY ANDY SYTSMA
Dear New Life Family,
Yesterday we were all surprised when tropical storm Imelda caused such massive flooding. None of us were expecting this. I didn’t expect to spend all day fighting off the rain that was pouring through our church and school entryway. I didn’t expect to get a text from Pastor Pablo saying he and his family had significant flooding in their home and had to be evacuated. And all this after they had just gone through this two years ago with Hurricane Harvey.
A few weeks ago when my family and I returned to Texas after a fun two weeks of vacation up in Michigan, I didn’t expect to be greeted with several difficult situations, one of which was an urgent plea from our treasurer to pray for our church’s cash situation. I hope you are still all in prayer for our offering on Sunday, October 6 and the $40,000 we are hoping to take in to stabilize our cash position.
Life is full of surprises. If I had to write the script of my life I know I wouldn’t write it the way it is playing out. Yet, not all surprises are bad. Many times I am surprised by God’s blessings. An unexpected note of encouragement. A pleasant surprise seeing someone come to Christ for the first time. God’s grace showing up in a relationship that was experiencing breakdown. I have a note by my bed written by my daughter thanking me for being her dad and for the way she sees Christ in me. Wow!
In our fall message series, we are going through the book of Exodus and I see surprise after surprise. I’m sure that if they had to write their story, the Israelites wouldn’t have included 400 years of slavery and bondage in those early years. Yet, through this, they encountered God! They went on to meet with God in the desert at Mt. Sinai. This was the same mountain (also called Mt. Horeb) where God first appeared to Moses in a burning bush. He revealed himself to Moses and his people and rescued them in such a way that it forever shaped who they were.
When you think of the surprises and unexpected twists and turns in your life, do you ever stop to consider that God is using this situation to form and shape you so that you grow in your love for him? I wonder if Jesus had never allowed Peter to sink beneath the waves if he would be the same leader he was, trusting Jesus as the Messiah? I wonder if God had prevented Paul from persecuting and killing Christians that later, when he encountered Jesus, would have known both the depth of his sin but also depth of God’s grace? I love how God reveals himself to us.
This week I am preaching on Exodus 3 and the story of the burning bush. Several chapters later it says, “God also said to Moses, “I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the Lord I did not make myself fully known to them… “Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God... I am the Lord.’ ” (Exodus 6:3-8)
In the fullness of time, God revealed himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus used the same name that God revealed to Moses, “I am who I am.” (Exodus 3:14). Jesus told those who were questioning him, “Before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:58). Don’t we serve an amazing God—a God who is faithful to himself and also loving and gracious to us?!!
Friends, cheer up. God loves you! He is in control. He wants what is best for you. If you are going through a hard time, please know that I am praying for you. I may not have all the answers, but I know God does. And because he is God, I know that is enough. He is the one writing our stories. He has hidden our lives in Christ and we can trust him always, no matter what. I pray that God will give you the faith and confidence to stay strong, even in the surprises of life.
Grace and peace!
BY ANDY SYTSMA
Dear New Life Family,
Many of you are aware that during our trip to New Mexico last month we took home a puppy. We named her Nizhoni which in Navaho means beautiful. She is about three months old, half rottweiler and half shepherd. She grew up on the reservation with an beautiful Christian family and is a very good dog. She is beautiful inside and out, just like the people in New Mexico.
Many of you are also aware that our daughter Natalie will be leaving for college soon. She will be attending Calvin University up north in Michigan. She, along with Megan Covington (Texas Tech) and Iain Kelley (Lonestar) are moving on to college life. We will be in church tomorrow but we will leave for Michigan after church. We will be gone two weeks and return Saturday, August 31st. Pastor Adrian will preach for us next Sunday(8/25) and Nathan Roman will preach for us the following Sunday (9/1).
When we decided to take Nizhoni home, the first thing Natalie said was, "Oh, you got a replacement dog for me!" That wasn't our intention, but I can see how it would be perceived that way. The truth is, as cute as Nizhoni is, we can never replace our daughter. We love Natalie and we will miss her presence with us.
Transitions in life are never easy. For those of you who have sent kids off to college you know what Jacie and I are about to experience the next two weeks. We are telling everyone that we are in massive denial, but I don't think the reality of Natalie leaving will hit us until we say good bye to her at Calvin.
When we drive back to Texas the end of August, we will enter a new chapter of our lives. We will have to adjust to life without our daughter. Caleb will have to adjust to life without his big sister. I am sure all of you will also miss Natalie. She is a special part of our church family.
I share all of this with you to let you know what is going on in our family. But I also share this with you to encourage you when you face transitions in your life. Do you have a child headed off to college? Did you lose a family member or close friend? Are you going through a divorce, lose your job or facing a major health crisis? Where do we turn to help in these situations?
In youth group recently, Pastor Adrian walked us through the Song of Ascents (Psalm 120-134). One of the very first Song of Ascents is Psalm 121. It talks about the Lord watching over us and protecting us as we journey with him:
1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
4 indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
6 the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
7 The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
8 the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.
If you are going through a transition in life and in need of encouragement, I encourage you to meditate on this Psalm and the other Psalms of Ascents. What do you hear? What phrases or images jump out at you? What do you learn about God? Yourself? How does all this comfort you?
Friends, I will see you tomorrow and then again in two weeks. Until then, may the Lord watch over your coming and going. May he keep you from all harm both now and forevermore. Grace and peace.
BY ANDY SYTSMA
Dear New Life Family,
Last week I had the privilege of spending a week in Rehoboth, New Mexico, with our young people on their summer missions trip. During the day we served in the community, and in the evening we gathered together for worship, teaching, and fellowship. We had so much fun on our trip. It was long, sixteen hour drive, but we were rewarded with the beauty of New Mexico and also meeting new friends and reconnecting with old friends. Last year, a few of our young people went to Bellflower, California, for a similar trip, and many of the same young people were there. So it was fun to see old friends. Also, for our family it was fun to be back in Rehoboth because Jacie’s mom grew up there. It was fun for us to reconnect with that part her family’s history.
One of the best parts of the trip was seeing God at work. God’s presence was very real. You could feel Him moving among us. Our time at the work sites was very rewarding. We also had power times of worship and an excellent speaker. One night we stayed up past midnight worshipping God and praying for one of the young people. On Sunday we will have an update about all this. All of us grew on the trip. We were all stretched in different ways. One of our youth even said it was the best week of his life!
Why was this? What made this week so special? I believe it was God’s presence. We spent a lot of time singing to God, praying to Him, and hearing from Him with His Word. We asked for God to be present with us. Something special happens when we take time to be present with God.
What is so important about God’s presence in our lives? We know God is present everywhere, but what is so special about God’s presence in our lives as believers? Why does this matter?
This Sunday I will begin a new message series on God’s presence and see how this impacts us in different ways in different life situations. As you reflect on this, I invite you to be informed with new teaching. But I also invite you to do more than just absorb new information. I invite you to be transformed by God through His Holy Spirit. Be open. Be changed. Be filled with Jesus!
For me, I am learning important lessons in prayer. Prayer has always been part of my life as a believer, and I have always prayed in ministry. But it has often been just one of many things. If I am honest, sometimes it has been the last thing I do. A few months ago I read a devotional by Pastor Jeff Wells of WoodsEdge Community Church. In it he talked about prayer as a first response. He quoted A.C. Dixon: “When we rely upon organization, we get what organization can do; when we rely upon education, we get what education can do; when we rely upon eloquence, we get what eloquence can do, and so on. Nor am I disposed to undervalue any of these things in their proper place. But when we rely upon prayer, we get what God can do.”
I don’t know about you, but I want to see what God can do! I want the fruit of God’s work, not my work. My prayer for this series is that God would move us to seek Him and rely on Him. My prayer is that as we reflect on God’s presence, that God Himself would change us and make us seek Him together as a first response. Friends, let’s be open to what God wants to do in us!
RENEWED BY GOD'S BIG STORY
BY ANDY SYTSMA
On Wednesday, my family and I took some time and traveled to Galveston. Summer just isn’t the same without a trip to the beach. The four of us, together with our three nephews and two dogs, climbed into the van and headed south on I-45. We enjoyed beautiful weather, felt refreshed by the ocean breeze, swam in the water and laughed as our dog Midnight barked at hermit crabs. What a fun time!
Getting away helps me rest and refocus. I’ve had a busy year in both my family and in our church family. In the Sytsma family we’ve had a lot of activity this spring celebrating Natalie’s high school graduation and getting her ready to go to college later this summer. Last month Jacie took on a painting project and did most of the exterior of our house (good therapy!). As I write this we have a painting project going on at the church. There’s nothing like a good coat of paint to feel renew and refreshed.
I’m thankful for the many ways God has refreshed us. Last fall we were blessed to have our sanctuary interior refreshed. Now this summer Pastor Leon’s church is upgrading our sound system. Last Sunday we celebrated three professions of faith and witnessed a baptism. The Sunday before that I worshipped with Pastor Pablo, and they were celebrating six baptisms. Physical and spiritual refreshment. God is so good.
One of the biggest ways God has refreshed us is through our school. As I write this update we are in the middle of Cooking Camp, and the smell the freshly baked apple pies is wafting down the hallway. It’s hard to concentrate with so much goodness :--) Dawn and Adrian have been such a blessing—Dawn as our director and Adrian as our lead teacher for summer camp. I have heard many different testimonies about how folks are understanding the Bible better and growing spiritually. The Gospel is coming alive!
Adrian says that his purpose is to help people be formed in their identities by God’s big story. Looking back, I see God putting a similar passion in my heart. My trip to Israel last winter and my sabbatical last summer both helped to reinforce this idea. I have always been a big cheerleader for discipleship, but I find myself more passionate today about this than ever. I see the important role we play at New Life, helping people connect the story of God with the mission of God in community with others.
This fall we will take time to celebrate forty years of God’s faithfulness to us as a church. This is our story. As we celebrate New Life’s anniversary, I invite you to thank God for including us in His big story. He has led us by His word and Spirit. He has renewed us. His love never fails. Our theme verse for our forty year anniversary is Psalm 36:5: “Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies.”
God is good. Have a great summer everyone!
P.S.—The next three Sundays we will have guest preachers. This Sunday, Nathan Roman will preach for us. The council is in the process of approving an internship for Nathan. Next Sunday, Adrian Smith will be preaching for us while I am with our summer youth missions trip to Rehoboth, New Mexico. The next Sunday, I will have just returned from New Mexico and will be here, but Pastor Leon will preach for us.
INTRODUCING AIME FEROW
BY ANDY SYTSMA
One of the great joys I have as a pastor is seeing people come to know Jesus, and then the rest of their lives, live into this calling by following him. We call this process discipleship. This is our mission. At New Life Church, “We make and multiply disciples.” And this isn’t something that happens only on Sunday morning. Discipleship affects every area of life. Our vision reflects the breadth and scope of discipleship, “We envision a community-wide network of disciples who are growing and partnering together to bring the restoring love of Jesus into every home, neighborhood, school and workplace we touch every day.”
For my pastor's update this week I want to introduce a new partner in this community-wide network of disciples. Aime Ferow has been attending Community Quest with us this past year on Wednesday nights. She is Lori Pugh’s sister and a strong Christian. Aime is also a gifted Christian Counselor. Recently our church council approved Aime to come on staff with us as a Christian Counselor. We are excited that she will help us live into our mission and vision in this important work where broken people are make new.
A few years ago we approved a similar position for Robyn Bajema. Robyn was on staff with us until she and her family moved to California. Aime’s situation is similar to Robyn’s with her education, experience, and goals. Aime attends Northside Christian Church in Spring, and will be working with us part-time.
Here is Aime’s description of her ministry and some background information:
It is my goal to help fellow Christians and non-Christians follow biblical practices and live out an authentic life where broken people are made new. I am a committed Christian therapist and value God's unique place in therapy, yet I welcome members of all faiths and beliefs. I know that we can grow and learn together whatever our backgrounds. All sessions are kept strictly confidential.
Since graduating from Liberty University in 2017 with a master’s in Professional Counseling, I have become a state Licensed Professional Counselor Intern. I have over 6 years of experience in a variety of areas including facilitating DivorceCare®, group therapy, and assessments. My psychotherapy experience includes working with a wide range of cognitive abilities and severity of diagnoses in partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient settings. My interests are working with issues involving anxiety, depression, adjustment issues, grief, stress management, marriage and family, process and psycho-educational groups. I have training in sand tray therapy and am a certified Prepare/Enrich premarital counselor. With a foundation in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Existential Therapy. I have a compassionate, collaborative approach, encouraging psycho education and mindfulness of cognitive and behavioral patterns, along with discovering meaning and purpose in the life God has given. I believe in meeting a person where they are and helping to facilitate change in their life.
This Sunday, Aime will be with us in worship and we will take a few minutes to introduce her to you. Aime can be reached @ (832) 299-5673 or email@example.com.
Please join me in thanking God for Aime and welcoming her to our staff. Let’s pray that God will use Aime and other ministry partners to help us bring the restoring love of Jesus into every home, neighborhood, school, and workplace we touch every day.
AN INVITATION TO PRAY
BY ANDY SYTSMA
Last week in my pastor’s update, I reflected on Ascension Day. Jesus has ascended on high and is seated at God’s right hand. Jesus told his disciples that it was for out good that He went away, because then He would send the Holy Spirit (John 16:7). In my sermon last week I spoke about the promise of the Holy Spirit. In Jesus’ day, people were looking forward to that promise. Today, we live on the other side of that promise.
This Sunday is Pentecost Sunday. I will be preaching on the power of Pentecost. I don’t want to repeat here what I will be sharing on Sunday. I do, however, want to invite you to pray.
Prayer is one of the things the disciples were committed to. Before Pentecost, they were all together in the upper room and joined together constantly in prayer (Acts 1:14). After Pentecost they were all together, devoted to many things, one of which was prayer (Acts 2:42). In Acts 6 when the church was growing and they were experiencing some problems (widows being overlooked in the daily distribution of food), the church set aside deacons to address this problem and the apostles gave their attention to prayer and the ministry of the word. Clearly prayer was a priority for the disciples. Is it a priority for us?
There are many ways to pray. We can pray on our knees in our prayer closets. We can pray in our car on the way to work and talk with Jesus. We can pray during our personal devotions or with our family around the dinner table. We can pray together as brothers and sisters and do so in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Paul said, “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord's people” (Ephesians 6:18).
There is a new prayer gathering starting up in the prayer room on Sunday 9 a.m. and on Wednesday 6 p.m. Would you join us? We want to draw near to God and spend time in His presence. We also have big challenges in front of us in life and ministry.
David said, “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked” (Psalm 84:10).
As we are in God’s presence, He dwells with us, assures and comforts us, leads and guides us, and gives us everything we need. We have a loving and merciful Heavenly Father. He has already given us Jesus Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit. He wants to hear from us, His beloved and dear children!
Here is what the Heidelberg Catechism says about prayer:
Q. Why is prayer necessary for Christians?
A. Because prayer is the most important part of thankfulness which God requires of us.
Moreover, God will give his grace and the Holy Spirit only to those who constantly
and with heartfelt longing ask him for these gifts and thank him for them.
(Heidelberg Catechism, Lord's Day 116)
Let’s ask for God’s grace and Holy Spirit. Let’s ask Him for these gifts with constant and heartfelt longing. Let’s thank God for all the ways He is so good to us. Would you join me in seeking God in prayer?
BY ANDY SYTSMA
Yesterday was Ascension Day. It is the day we celebrate Jesus ascension into heaven. It is the fortieth day after Easter and ten days before Pentecost. We normally don't hear a lot about Jesus' ascension, but if that's the case, you are missing out. It is an important day.
Jesus' ascension has so many implications for us. But the big idea is that Jesus rules and reigns. He is LORD of all. Jesus is sitting at God's right hand as we speak. He holds all things in the palm of His hand. Nothing happens by accident or outside of His sovereign will.
After His resurrection and before His ascension, Jesus spent forty days with His disciples and taught them about the kingdom of God. He also prepared them for the Holy Spirit He would send. Before He ascended, the disciples asked Him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Jesus didn't answer their question, but instead told them, "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” After this "he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight." (Acts 1:6-9)
I have to confess, there are many times that I feel like the disciples. I am slow to understand what Jesus meant about the kingdom. The disciples were thinking in terms of times and dates and what God would do through Israel. God was thinking about the power He would send through the Holy Spirit and envisioning His universal rule and reign. He was looking forward to making all things new. And this gives me hope. Romans 8:34 says that Jesus "is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us." This is one of the benefits of the ascension. Jesus is our LORD rules heaven and earth for His glory and for our good.
How does Jesus' ascension benefit you? Ask yourself what you are concerned about. Do you believe that God is in control of the situation that is keeping you up at night? Do you really believe he is LORD? Think about the various challenges you face. In our limited understanding of God's economy, it may feel like a stretch to trust God with these challenges. But then we are reminded of Jesus and how He is not just our savior, but also our LORD. He is seated in heaven at God's right hand. He is interceding for us. He is the God of complete provision. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills and will give us what we need. Trusting our future to Jesus strengthens our faith and reminds us Who we worship.
Take some time to reflect today on the truth and implications of Jesus' ascension. May you trust and worship Him in a new way. May you feel His care and providence in your life. May God give you new opportunities to witness to others the good news that Jesus is LORD!
BY ANDY SYTSMA
Greetings! I trust you are having a good week. I want to send out a quick update for you with two things. First, an update on staff transition. Second, a few thoughts on Holy Week.
As many of you know, Trish Helmerich has felt called to serve God in another way in this next season of her life. This Sunday will be her last Sunday as our Youth Director. Trish will still be with us on Sundays from time to time, but at the end of this month will be moving several hours north, so will no longer be able to help with day-to-day ministry. To that end, I wanted to let you know that the council approved Adrian Smith to serve as our Interim Youth Director beginning May 1. He will take over the weekly teaching responsibilities for Trish beginning Wednesday, May 1 and work with our team of youth leaders to carry on this ministry. Since this in an interim appointment, this will give the council time to carry out a search process as we discern who will be our next youth director. We are thankful to both Trish and Adrian for serving our youth.
I also wanted to invite you to worship with us both Friday @ 6:00 p.m. and Sunday @ 10:00 a.m. for our Good Friday and Easter worship services. We had a lot of fun this past Sunday with many of our school kiddos, teachers and school families in attendance for Palm Sunday. It is such a joy for me to see so many people hearing the good news of Jesus! This week we get to go even deeper with this. There are so many stories surrounding Jesus’ final week. It is hard to do justice to everything that happened with his betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion. I would encourage you to take time to read the different gospel accounts that record what happened.
On Good Friday, I will be preaching on “The Upside Down Kingdom” from John 18:28-19:16. It is the story of Jesus’ trial. We see through these events how Jesus is not of this world but He for our world. He was declared guilty even though He had no sin, so we could be freed of our guilt and forgiven for our sin. It was an unjust situation, but one that made possible our justification. On Easter Sunday, I will be preaching on “Peace Be With You” from John 20:19-31. We will see how Jesus gives us His peace and presence even in the midst of so much pain and confusion. I pray you will know this peace and experience His presence in a new way.
Friends, I pray that you would grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. May His death humble you. May His resurrection strengthen you. Because of His death and resurrection, may you be joined with Jesus and die to yourself and rise again with new life in Christ. Finally, may faith, hope and love be yours.
Grace and peace!
BY ANDY SYTSMA
For my pastor's update this week I want to do two things. First, let you know about two fun events where we can enjoy fellowship together. And second, pass on some important news within our congregation. Both are about community.
This Sunday, our Old Town Spring Heights ministry is hosting a pastor swap. I will preach at The Haven Church in Old Town Spring and Pastor Barbara Linton from Church of the Living God will preach at our church. There will be other pastors swapping pulpits pulpits. What an amazing display of unity in the gospel! Afterwards, I want to encourage you to come out to the Family Fellowship event in Old Town Spring Heights with all the churches in our ministry. There will be a lunch following Sunday worship @ Truevine Missionary Baptist Church (27307 Oak St, Spring, TX 77373) as well as lots of fun and games including a desert bake off. What a fun time to get to know your neighbors. Please join us!
The other fun event is coming up in about two weeks. On Wednesday, April 10 @ 6:00p.m., we will conclude our semester of Community Quest with a "Bless It Forward" dinner. We will have a delicious meal, a time of sharing and testimonies about the difference Community Quest has made in our lives, as well as a chance for us to "Bless it Forward." Dr. Mike Johnson from Ascending Leaders has been coaching us in best practices in Discipleship the past few years and has blessed our church greatly. His coaching was made possible by a scholarship so he invited us to bless another small church so they can receive a similar scholarship. So we took Mike up on his offer. Towards the end of our program we will have an opportunity to contribute financially and "Bless It Forward." Please mark your calendar and join us for our celebration dinner. Even if you haven't come to Community Quest before, please join us!
Finally, I want to pass on an important update within our congregation. Trish Helmerich spoke to our youth on Wednesday night and other key leaders, and then sent this communication to both our youth parents and our council that same night. I wanted to pass this on to you, our New Life Family, so you are aware of some changes coming up for Trish and her family and also for our youth. I am so thankful for Trish and her faithfulness serving God with her gifts in this very important area of ministry. When God called her she stepped up and said "Yes, Lord" and jumped in to serve. Now she is saying "Yes" to God's leading again but with a different kind of challenge. I ask you to join me in lifting their family up in prayer during this transition process. Trish, we love you and are so thankful for you! Grace and peace.
Dear New Life Family,
It is with very mixed emotions that I must inform you that Easter Sunday, April 21st will be my last day as Youth Ministry Director for New Life Church. I love our youth with all my heart, and being a part of their lives has been one of the most fulfilling and rewarding experiences of my life. However, it seems He has new plans for me.
My daughter-in-law has been offered and accepted her dream job, working in a hospital rather than a retail pharmacy, specifically the Rusk State Mental Hospital. In case you aren't familiar with the area, Rusk is about a three-hour drive, located between Lufkin and Tyler. This will be a Monday thru Friday 9:00 to 5:00 position. Additionally, the benefits are amazing, including paying off her (sizable) student loan debt after ten years of employment.
You may be wondering what this has to do with me. My heart was breaking at the prospect of their moving away my little angel Madi. As I prayed for His will to be done during the interview process and for help accepting if indeed she was offered and accepted the job, I have to admit there were times when I included “Please, God, don’t take her away from me.” At the same time Walt and Amanda’s prayers were that if this was God’s will that the offer would happen.
Well, despite my prayer, it is happening. Walt had asked if we would consider moving there and my reaction was maybe later we can. But over the next few days I felt the Holy Spirit leading me in another direction. So after much prayer and discussions, I will be moving with Amanda.
Walt and Tim both will remain here readying our respective homes for sale. Tim will be living with our son Jason for a time after until he is ready for retirement. So I will still be at New Life some weekends and some Tim will come enjoy country life with us.
Long term this will give us the retirement we had dreamed of. Walt and Amanda plan to buy some land upon which we will both build homes. Tim and I have spoken often about retiring to a home with a wrap around porch on some land. Chickens, goats, and a garden for me and a stock pond for Tim to fish to his heart’s desire. Not to mention the joy of helping to raise our granddaughter (and any brothers or sisters that join her).
We will be living very close to where my mother grew up on a multi-generation farm. I feel like I am going home to a simpler, less stressful time and so look forward to slowing down and enjoying life.
I will be working with Andy to help achieve my goal of finishing well. This includes my weekly teaching, the car show, summer mission trip to Rehoboth and particularly relationships with the youth. Although I will not be continuing as staff, it is my fervent hope to remain connected with them when I am here weekends.
I know God is not done with me. I have no doubt He will give me new opportunities to serve, and I can’t wait to see what He has in store. Thank you and the entire congregation for the overwhelming love and support over my season with our youth.
ONE FOR THE BOOKS
BY ANDY SYTSMA
This week was one for the books. This week Tuesday & Wednesday, Tim Helmerich, John Eigege, and other pastors and leaders from CRC churches in Texas, Colorado, and Kansas gathered in Denver for our twice-a-year classis (regional gathering) meeting. We got up early Tuesday, flew to Denver, and arrived in time to have lunch with everyone. We knew a snow storm was coming the next day, so before leaving the airport, we switched to an earlier flight to make sure we left Denver before the storm hit.
We had just started our meeting when our cell phones blew up. The text read, "Your flight from Denver has been cancelled." That's when the fun began. The weather report said we were going to have a "Bomb Cyclone" storm with six to twelve inches of snow. Some of the delegates didn't even wait till the evening. They left in a vehicle that afternoon and arrived in Houston the next day. Others were able to make their flight early the next morning. A few of our colleagues didn't get out before the snow storm came the next day and ended up renting a car only to slide into a snow bank - twice!
Since we were unable to get on another flight (1,300 flights were canceled that day), we decided to rent a large Suburban and drive home. We got up early the next day and started the long trip back to Houston. Fortunately, we were able to avoid the snow storm by a few hours. But we did run into heavy rain, intense sand storms and high winds. In West Texas we saw a dozen semis tipped over due to the extreme winds. Tim sent me a news clip in Amarillo that reported forty semis tipped over due to the high winds! We stopped by a Whataburger for lunch and saw a tree fall down in their parking lot and even had to move our vehicle to the other side of the parking lot to avoid the high winds. Crazy trip!
After twenty hours and not a few sore bodies, we were able to make it home safely. Tim, John, and I were able to get to know Lindy Baker (deacon @ Hope CRC), Pastor Diego (Mission of Faith CRC), Americo Olguin (leader @ Mission of Faith CRC), and Manuel Sosa (pastor @ Reynosa, Mexico). I am still tired from all of the travel, but I am thankful for safe travel mercies and also thankful for lessons in perseverance.
The weird thing about this trip was that, in the end, had we stayed for the whole classis meeting the second day and flew home, we would have arrived home only a few hours earlier than we actually got back by car! But our two days on the road felt more like a week. Funny how that works, isn't it?
Sometimes God reschedules us on a "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles" trip. It's not the way we would script things. But we are called to persevere and endure. And if we do, God promises to reward us.
I don't know if this stirs up anything in you. Maybe you are working hard to persevere in your marriage or in a difficult health situation. Maybe there are things going on in your faith that are testing you beyond what you are accustomed to. I want to encourage you with this story and say, "Hang in there!" God hasn't left you or forgotten about you. In fact, He is with you in this situation, even if it doesn't seem that way.
Let me know if I can be in prayer about anything. This Sunday I won't be with you in worship since we are having our classis pastor swap following our classis meeting. Pastor Dave Hornor from Peace Community CRC will be preaching for us and I will be at Peace Church. I'm sure Dave will also have some stories!
Grace and peace friends. It's good to be home. See you soon!
GOD'S STORY, OUR STORY
BY ANDY SYTSMA
This weekend, Jacie and I will be helping at a Faithwalking Retreat in southwest Houston. It’s been awhile since we’ve participated in Faithwalking, so I am looking forward to that. I am also looking forward to Adrian Smith preaching for us again this Sunday. I really enjoy sitting under Adrian’s preaching. What a treat!
One of the things I love about Faithwalking is that I get a front row seat in seeing transformation happen in people’s lives. It is the same view I have on Wednesday night hearing people give testimony to how reading the Bible is changing their lives, or how ALPHA is bringing them closer to Jesus, or how in our True Story class lightbulbs are going off seeing the Bible as one unified story pointing to Jesus. This weekend the women are having their retreat and I’ve heard many stories of transformation from them as well. I could go on and on talking about how I see this happening with our children, youth, and school ministries.
There are so many opportunities and ways to grow. We are trying hard in our church and school to set the table so you can grow in your faith. For some of us, we are just beginning this journey, exploring our faith, or reconnecting with God. For others of us, we have been on that journey for a while and we are figuring things out. I am always moved when someone tells me they are coming back to church, feel the need to get closer to God, or are wrestling with complacency, boredom, guilt, or suffering. Or maybe they just have a desire to serve more. The Holy Spirit nudges us in so many different ways doesn’t He?
One of the ways He is nudging me is to take a much deeper dive into the story of scripture. A year ago Jacie and I were in Israel and the Bible came alive for me. Last summer I was given the gift of a six-week sabbatical, so I had time to spend reading the Bible from cover to cover. I have also been spending time watching videos and listening to podcasts from The Bible Project (www.thebibleproject.com). Finally, Adrian and Dawn Smith have been a great encouragement to me, delving into the importance of story and the Bible as a story.
For all these things and more, I am grateful. And as I go deeper, I feel more alive, more motivated to serve, and more excited about passing on this story of Jesus to you. My prayer is we can all be captured by God's story, see Jesus fulfilling God's bigger story, see ourselves in this story, and then live out this story together. It is a real gift to journey with you, my New Life family.
Have a great weekend. See you Sunday!
GOSPEL OF JOHN
BY ANDY SYTSMA
In December we explored the idea of Jesus’ incarnation and how we can abide with Jesus. We focused on this verse: "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." (John 1:14) We abide with Jesus as we come to see the glorious truth of his incarnation—we need Jesus, and He met that need by dwelling among us. This winter we will continue to walk through the Gospel of John together.
All of the gospels tell the story of Jesus. John introduces the concept of the new life that we can have in Jesus. He ends his book showing why we need this new life, “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” But it’s not just the end. John’s whole book points to new life. He opens his book in chapter 1 by mirroring the opening words of Genesis 1, “In the beginning…” and goes on to mirror the creation account in other ways. He uses the number seven in different ways. The seven signs and seven “I am” statements both mirror the seven days of creation. John is showing us that just as he completed the original creation account in seven days, that Jesus completes God’s new creation. John also notes that Jesus rose again on the first day of the week, showing Jesus’ new creation breaking into our world.
Jesus has come so we can believe and have new life in Him. Personally, I love this picture of new life since it is our church’s name. We are also praying for “new life” for New Life. What better way for God to do a new thing in and among us than remind us of how Jesus comes to make all things new?
My prayer for this series is that we will fall in love with Jesus all over again, and see in big and small ways the continuing story of God’s redemptive work. He made this world good. We messed it up with our sin. But God isn’t finished with us yet. He sent Jesus to dwell with us and is ushering in a new creation through Him. May you find joy in Jesus and his glorious work of bringing new life to you and everyone around you.