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Ascribelog

Reflections and writing by a scribe who blogs and ascribes glory to God.

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Oh, to be cloned, times two

Synod 2018The week of June 11 was one of those times when I wished I could be cloned so I could be in two places at the same time. Actually, it would have been nice to be in four places at the same time.

The United Reformed Churches in North America (URCNA) and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) held their major, annual ecclesiastical meetings concurrently on the campus of Wheaton College, near Chicago, from June 11-15, 2018. As a regular contributor for Christian Renewal, I’d been anticipating and planning to attend this event for several years.

But having recently reported on concurrent regional meetings of a URCNA classis and an OPC presbytery, I knew how difficult it was to go from meeting to meeting and catch the most important discussions. Thus my desire to be clones.OPC

It addition to that, the annual Write-to-Publish conference was held from June 13-16 at–you guessed it–Wheaton College. Three members of my local writing group attended it, two of whom I’ve gone with in the past, but I couldn’t register. There was just no way I could immerse myself in the WTP networking and learning experience at the Billy Graham Center, while trying to stay on top of ecclesiastical action up the hill in the Edman Chapel and Coray Alumni Gymnasium. Therefore my desire to be in three places.

But there’s more, I’m working on a writing project with Leland Ryken, prolific author and long-time professor in Wheaton’s English department. Being in Wheaton gave me opportunities to discuss the project face-to-face with him, which is infinitely superior to email. Hence, my desire to be in four places at the same time.

Despite not being cloned two times, I had an amazing week bursting with blessings. I heard important discussions in both ecclesiastical meetings and greeted many pastor friends I hadn’t seen for years or had never met in person. I also touched base with my editor, John Van Dyk, whom I’ve seen only a handful of times.

Smiths
Diane and Pete Smith, organizers extraordinaire

While I didn’t participate in the Write-to-Publish experience, I ate lunch with writing friends three times. Over one noon break, the Three Amigos visited my favorite place on Wheaton’s campus, the Marion E. Wade Center, which houses fascinating memorabilia and books written by seven British authors: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Dorothy Sayers, G.K. Chesterton, George MacDonald, Charles Williams, and Owen Barfield. Most of these would make my list of favorite authors.

Leland and I talked through several issues at this important stage of our project, and I enjoyed wonderful conversations with his wife, Mary, as well. I enjoyed fellowship with many other women, especially when I had the privilege of leading devotions for the Ladies Afternoon Tea on Tuesday in the Todd M. Beamer Student Center.

And I signed a lot of copies of my nine published books. As usual when I sign Little One Lost, God provided meaningful interactions when dear women shared their stories of loss. I’m both honored and humbled by these moments, which make me feel as if I briefly function as the ears and arms of Jesus.

Who needs to be cloned?sign

 

Concurrent meetings of URCNA Classis and OPC Presbytery prefigure major assemblies

groupFrom March 15-17, 2018, the URCNA’s Classis Central US and the OPC’s Presbytery of the Midwest held meetings at Community Reformed Church (URCNA) in Schererville, IN, that prefigured the federations’ concurrent major assemblies in a few months.

Classis Central convened at 4:00 PM on Thursday, March 15, and concluded at 6:00 PM on Friday. The Presbytery of the Midwest convened at 8:30 AM on Friday and concluded its business about noon on Saturday. Before and during the overlapping times, delegates and commissioners enjoyed communal worship and meals as well as shared instruction and information.

On Thursday evening, men from both groups attended an educational presentation (open to the public) by Tim Geiger, President of Harvest USA and a Teaching Elder in the PCA.

2 Anderson instrumentalistsFriday morning began with joint opening devotions. Rev. John Vermeer, recently installed at Doon URC in Iowa, spoke from Ephesians 2:11-22. He noted that twisted views of the church inhibit fellowship, but true unity can be found in focusing on Christ. Members of the Community URC congregation provided accompaniment for singing from a Trinity Psalter Hymnal sampler. Rev. James Oord played the piano. Andy Anderson played bass, his son James played cello, and another son Isaiah played violin.

The afternoon began with joint devotions led by Rev. Shane Lems, former pastor and church planter of the URC in Sunnyside, WA, who is now minister of Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Hammond, WI. From Luke 22:31-34, he spoke about Christ’s intercessory prayer that the faith of believers would not fail.

Dr. Alan Strange reported that printing of the Trinity Psalter Hymnal was scheduled to begin on March 19. Over 30,000 copies had been ordered, about 18,000 by URC churches.

Classis Central US: Colloquium Doctum and emeritation

Classis Central welcomed a minister from another federation and granted concurring advice regarding a minister who is being emeritated.

Jon and Kelli Bushnell
Kelli and Jon Bushnell

The most time-consuming matter on the agenda of Classis Central was a Colloquium Doctum conducted with Rev. Jon Bushnell, minister of First CRC in Prinsburg, MN. Sioux Center URC requested the CD and expressed its intent to proceed with steps for extending a call to him, should he sustain his exam. He did.

“It was extensive, exhausting and extremely encouraging,” Rev. Bushnell observed. “We covered everything from pastoral burn-out to the incomprehensibility of God.”

A humorous moment occurred when Rev. Spencer Aalsburg asked Rev. Bushnell if he would cast a presidential vote for an inexperienced Christian or an experienced non-Christian with good policies.

“It’s hard to say without knowing more,” Rev. Bushnell responded diplomatically. “Is he a Christian in name only? Are you running for president? Because I’d vote for you.”

Rev. Bushnell’s home church is Trinity URC in Visalia, CA. He is a 2011 graduate of Westminster Seminary California and served an internship at Prinsburg prior to accepting the church’s call. His wife, Kelli, is from DeMotte, IN, where she belonged to Immanuel URC. The couple has three young children.

The request for concurring advice in the matter of emeritation came from Immanuel URC in DeMotte, IN, with respect to Rev. Tom Wetselaar, who has served the church since it formed in 1995. Rev. Wetselaar has been a faithful pastor for 30 years and has been in Classis Central the longest of any minister. His struggle with chronic back pain, combined with an unusually heavy burden of full-time pastoral ministry, led to a leave of absence in August and the eventual emeritation. Rev. Wetselaar continues to preach and counsel as opportunity arises and hopes for new avenues of ministry in Christ’s kingdom.

Rev. Jody Lucero chaired the meeting, Rev. John Vermeer served as Vice Chairman, and Rev. Ralph Pontier is Clerk of Classis. Oak Glen URC in Lansing, IL, is scheduled to convene the next meeting of Classis on September 10, 2018.

Presbytery of the Midwest: Exams and expansion

The Presbytery of the Midwest examined several men at various levels and discussed a proposal to expand its geographic bounds.

OPC examsCommissioners approved taking three men under Presbytery care: Ben Bessett from Neenah, WI; Elijah DeJong from Sheboygan, WI; and Carl Gobelman from Joliet, IL. Peter Bringe from Wentzville, MO, preached on Friday morning, and Nathan Strom from St. Paul, MN, preached in the afternoon. Commissioners voted to grant them license to preach in the churches. Andrew Fortenberry, from Hanover Park, IL, was approved for ordination, and Jared van Noord, from Green Bay, WI, was accepted from another denomination.

Commissioners approved sending to the General Assembly a communication regarding Presbytery boundaries in the Great Plains States. The neighboring Presbytery of the Central US contains only four churches and will petition GA to dissolve it and disperse its territories. One of the churches, Faith OPC in Lincoln, NE, wishes to affiliate with the Presbytery of the Midwest. It is anticipated that the Presbytery of the Southwest will receive the other three, which are located in Kansas and Oklahoma. Because some parts of nearby states are closer to Chicago (where the PMW is centered) than to Denver (where the Presbytery of the Dakotas is centered), the communication expresses the willingness of the Presbytery of the Midwest to add specific counties of Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, and South Dakota to its geographical area.

Ben Snodgrass served as Moderator for the Presbytery’s meeting, and Camden Bucey was Vice Moderator. Christian McShaffrey is Stated Clerk, and Bruce Stahl is the Assistant Clerk. Brian De Jong serves as Archivist. The wide range of responsibilities struck Rev. McShaffrey.

“As those who acknowledge their own sin and weakness, we spend ample time in the Word and in prayer,” he said. “As those who have been forgiven, we sing much praise to our Savior. As those who guard the truth, we scrutinize candidates for ministry. As those who serve the church, we offer advice and shepherding as needed. As those who hold the keys, we adjudicate administrative and judicial matters. As those who love God, we seek to do all this in a decent, orderly, and Christ-honoring manner.”

Planning the meetings required cooperation between representatives in each federation. Rev. James Oord expressed gratitude for the dedication and efficiency of the Presbytery’s Ecumenicity Committee. “The whole event was a blessing to both bodies,” he said. He noted that despite full agendas, delegates and commissioners made the most of fellowship opportunities.

The above is an edited version of the article that appeared on pages 12 & 13 of the April 13, 2018, issue of Christian Renewal.

Costa Rica Ministry Center opens

Update12_17b.cdrSeventeen years after construction began, Costa Rica Ministry Center is finally being fully utilized. The facility houses three ministries: the CECRE (Centro Educativo Cristiano Reformado) Christian High School, the CLIR (Confraternidad Latinoamericana de Iglesias Reformadas) printing operation, and the Pacto de Gracia congregation. The church has held worship services in a finished room on the second level of the building for several years, but the high school and print shop moved in during February of 2018. An open house to celebrate this significant milestone was scheduled for April 6.

The 115 high school students and instructors enjoyed their first day of classes in the new building on February 12. The larger space in a clean and quiet location includes a cafeteria area. While the students in six grades nearly fill the available space, there is room for about 40 more pupils.

It took a full day to move the printing operation from the garage of missionaries Bill and Aletha Green three miles and up a hill to the new building. Workers used a forklift to load presses and other equipment onto two trucks that made the trip three times. The CLIR print shop occupies the Ministry Center’s ground floor and shares an office with the high school. Air-conditioning keeps the shop and storage area free from humidity. More convenient installations will increase printing volume.

Many Christian Renewal readers have participated in work groups at the site since 2001. As many as four or five crews arrived annually from about 2005-2012. Construction then stalled for nearly five years, due to financial recessions and sharp increases in the cost of building materials. But almost two years ago, a contractor offered a quote of $330,000 to finish the project.

“The contractor was great,” Rev Green says. “We got an extra 25 percent built for the quoted amount. Four sheds, cafeteria, poured parking, and a lot of other nice things. God is good!”

Bill and Aletha Green have been working with missions in Costa Rica for over three decades. Aletha continues to be active with the Christian school, after having served many years as principal and on the board. She helped organize senior class trips to Grand Rapids, MI, in 2016 and Chino, CA, in 2017. Her current service includes baking sweet treats for a worldview class the couple conducts in their home.

“Our 33 years of experience in Costa Rica has enabled us to identify cultural impediments, and the worldview class is addressing this,” Rev. Green says. “Some things are universal: individualism, selfishness. Some things are specific to Costa Rica—people have a difficult time working together as a team. Our primary goal is to ensure that following generations will sustain and push the Costa Rican Reformed ministries forward.”

The three ministries seem to be moving forward. The school’s student body is steadily growing. The Pacto de Gracia Reformed Church has enjoyed growth during the past year and a steady stream of visitors. Many parents from within the school community are becoming interested in the church due to its biblical distinctiveness.

God is providing men to assume more leadership in CLIR as well. Lester Martinez serves as administrator and Daniel Lobo is a translator and editor. The two men are elders licensed to exhort.

“They both combine their love for God’s kingdom and the church with their passion for CLIR’s ministry—in publications, conferences, and church support,” Rev. Green says. “Both are willing to serve the CLIR ministry for the long haul. Praise the Lord for these two men, their tremendous gifts, and their commitment to the Lord and His church.”

Ministries and individuals making advances in Kingdom work often feel the presence of spiritual warfare, and those involved with the Costa Rican ministry are no exception. They request prayer for that and other matters.

“We feel the attacks of the evil one, even as so many good things are happening,” Rev. Green says. “Please pray that God will protect and use us.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 6 & 7 of the April 13, 2018, issue of Christian Renewal

BBC features Uriah’s story

Angelica M Casas recently made a video for BBC, How US police line-ups jail the innocent, which highlights Uriah Courtney’s story, a classic case of mistaken identification. The video details problems and solutions regarding the ways line-ups are conducted. Only two weeks ago, Uriah and California State Senator Scott Wiener, who also appears in the video, testified at the state capital about mistaken eyewitness identification.

front cover-1Uriah and I worked together for more than three years to craft Exoneree, the story of his wrongful conviction and over eight years of incarceration before new DNA testing led to his eventual exoneration. The book shows how mistaken identity contributed to his wrongful conviction.

The Uriah Courtney, Exoneree page on this website provides more information about our collaboration and the memoir.

Exoneree is available from Wipf & Stock and at Amazon!

Check out and “like” the project’s Facebook page.

Rebuilding Faith

SanctuaryOn February 11, 2018, Faith United Reformed Church in West Olive, MI, enjoyed its first worship services in a new sanctuary, part of a recently-completed project to replace a significant portion of the building destroyed by fire on May 13, 2016.

“This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it,” Rev. Matthew Nuiver welcomed the assembly. He said that outside seeing his wife on their wedding day and their children when they were born, he didn’t know if he’d ever “seen anything more beautiful” in all his life than the congregation gathered for worship in the new space.

The call to worship came from 1 Peter 2:4-10, about God’s people as living stones and a holy priesthood. “That’s what we celebrate this day,” he said. “That God is making us a people together in Him and building us up to be a church to praise His holy name.”

The sermon, “Remember,” came from Lamentations 3:16-26 and was structured around the theme, “The Lord’s people remember their struggles rightly, so that they will find all of their blessings in Him.” Rev. Nuiver pointed out that we do that in humbleness, faithfulness, and hopefulness.

Rev. Nuiver referred at times to the fire and tied in the message with the upcoming celebration of the Lord’s Supper. He noted that struggles, even those far worse than the fire, help us humble ourselves before God and remember His faithfulness, which we tend to forget.

He admitted it was hard on May 13, 2016, to wait for what “we now know” would be February 11, 2018. But he stressed that in all our trials, “We fix our eyes on him. Not on this place, not on our circumstances. This is nice. But we long for the Lord. We long for heaven” and full fellowship with the Lord. “That’s what we’re looking for,” he said. “This building was worth the wait, but how much more is Christ! How much more is the eternal life we long for! Blessed are those who wait on him.”

NarthexThe evening scripture reading included The Beatitudes from Matthew 5:1-15, and the sermon was based on Lord’s Day 15 from the Heidelberg Catechism, which deals with Christ’s suffering and death. Rev. Nuiver expounded on the question: “Why Are We Free?” under the following theme and points: The believer is free because of the completed work of Jesus Christ in His Suffering, Sentencing, and Shouldering. Stressing the great love of God, Rev. Nuiver urged hearers to exercise their blessing by being blessings to others.

A praise and prayer service was held on February 10, to allow members to experience the new space prior to their first Sunday of worship in it. Members met for corporate prayer, singing, and sharing reflections before splitting up into small groups that met in new rooms to pray, as Rev. Nuiver said, “for the Lord’s blessing and presence to be in and about this building.” He added, “Just to see all the wide eyes and smiles as people walked in and to hear what everyone loved and noticed was a joy.”

The gym and several classrooms were spared from the fire, which allowed the congregation to worship on site during the rebuilding process. A rented educational trailer provided additional classroom space. The local Christian school allowed the Faith congregation to host potlucks in its gym, while South Olive CRC and other churches opened their facilities for funerals.

Footings and most of the original concrete pad could be reused. The cornerstone from the old building was salvaged and installed on one side of the entry doors, across from a new cornerstone.

Many people who drive up to the church have remarked about its similar appearance to the old structure. The exterior is nearly the same, but the front of the building is closer to the road and the back extends farther into the parking lot. The worship space is similar, except the pews are slightly angled.

Rev. Nuiver said, “The most dramatic changes are seen in the warm color palette, which plays throughout the entire space, in the large narthex, and in the ways we were able to plan for classroom spaces and study and office spaces, making our building incredibly functional and beautiful in the now, and we pray in the future as well.”

The trial by fire provided the blessing of expanded fellowship and visibility within the community. It’s also been an opportunity for the congregation to witness God’s faithfulness and recommit to witness faithfully for the Lord.

“When we see a new and beautiful building, a resonant worship space, a restored study, and so many other blessings, we marvel at having been given something that allows us to serve and worship and reach out in ways that we couldn’t before,” Rev. Nuiver said. “We loved our old space, the sacrifices that were made to provide it, the memories that were made in it, and so many of the things that were lost that you cannot receive back by way of a purchase. But we are so thankful for the ways that many within and outside of our body prayed for us and provided for us and cared for us, so that what we now have is an even fuller reflection of the Lord’s great mercy, love, and faithfulness. And we pray that it will be used as a testimony to the same to the glory of His name!”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 5 & 6 of the March 23, 2018, issue of Christian RenewalGreat faithfulness

Jubilee Tour explores Reformation sites

02-Venema preaching-cDr. Cornel Venema and his wife, Nancy, never expected they would lead a tour group in Europe to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. But in God’s providence, they were in Germany on the actual date marking the event.

Tony Aguilar, representing Levia Tour in New York City, contacted Dr. Venema and asked if he’d be willing to host a tour that included stops to significant sites in Reformation history.

“The itinerary was already in place, although I asked them to make a few changes after I agreed to work with them,” Dr. Venema explained. A concern that Wittenberg would be too busy on October 31 led to scheduling that visit a day earlier; a good move since many dignitaries were in Wittenberg for a celebration on the 31st and the tour group wouldn’t have had access to the Castle Church and other important sites for security reasons.

The group of 50 participants visited sites in Germany, France and Switzerland on the Reformation Jubilee Tour, which took place October 28-November 9, 2017.

01-Lutheran chuchThe tour began with a worship service in a famous Lutheran church in Berlin. Dr. Venema preached from Romans 3:19-4:5 about Christ as the just and the justifier. Rev. Mark Minegar (Allegan, MI) led the group in prayer. Nancy Venema played the organ.

On October 30, the group took a bus to Wittenberg, where they visited the monastery that eventually became Luther’s home. Another site was Phillip Melanchthon’s house, and participants also viewed the Castle Church door, where Luther had nailed his 95 theses 500 years earlier.

This was one of the most memorial days for Rev. Ed Marcusse of Immanuel’s Reformed Church (URC) in Salem, OR, and his wife, Denise. The couple enjoyed this once-in-a-lifetime trip as a gift from Rev. Marcusse’s current and former churches in celebration of his 25 years in pastoral ministry.

“Standing in front of the door of the Castle Church where Luther posted the 95 these was moving,” said Rev. Marcusse, “but even more interesting was touring the ‘Luther House Museum’, which the German government organized in commemoration of the 500-year anniversary.” He explained that when Luther married, Prince Frederick the Wise gave the then-empty monastery (where Luther had lived and taught) to him as a wedding gift. “This may seem like quite a large gift for one couple (the building is HUGE), but by the time he marries, Luther’s fame has spread all over Europe and on any given night he has between 30 to 300 visitors staying with him in order to soak up more of his teachings. His new wife, Katarina, feeds and houses them all. The daily life of the Reformer was well-chronicled in this museum.”

It was on the second floor of the former monastery that Luther frequently met with students after dinner for theological discussions. Notes taken during these “table talks” were published after Luther’s death.

06-Wartburg Castle-cTo celebrate on October 31, tour members began the day with worship. They then traveled to Erfurt, the city where Luther attended university, became a monk, and was ordained a priest. Part of the day included a trip to Wartburg Castle near Eisnach. When Luther left Worms after being declared a heretic, Prince Frederick arranged for Luther to be “kidnapped” and hid for ten months at Wartburg Castle. During this time of seclusion, Luther translated the New Testament from the Greek into German, a step that propelled the Protestant Reformation forward. People now could read these Scriptures for themselves.

On November 3, the tour bus stopped in Worms, Germany, and participants visited the Cathedral where the Diet condemned Martin Luther of heresy. The visits to Wartburg Castle near Eisenach and to the Cathedral in Worms, where Luther took his stand in 1521 in the presence of the young emperor and an assembly of the ecclesiastical and civil authorities, were highlights for Dr. Venema.

07-Worms Cathedral-c“Both of these places were pivotal in Luther’s reformation career, and you could not but be impressed by the courage that he was given by God’s grace to take his stand for the gospel and the authority of the Scriptures in the face of likely martyrdom,” he said. “North Americans, with our strict appeal to the separation of church and state and our history of religious freedom, have almost no sense of what Luther was facing and of the tremendous implications of his reforming work for the church and the Christian life in the world.”

The tour continued into France and arrived at Strasbourg, where participants visited the famous Cathedral as well as the homes of John Calvin and Martin Bucer. On the journey to Switzerland, the bus crossed a section of Germany and stopped at Constance. Group members viewed the building that housed the Council of Constance from 1414-1418.

Although the Council’s primary purpose was to deal with the schism caused by three men claiming to be the Pope, the Council made a sad and significant decision related to the Reformation. It condemned the Czech priest Jan Hus as a heretic and sentenced him to be burned at the stake.

10-Strasbourg Cathedral interiorThe execution of Hus took place 102 years before Luther posted his theses. It’s interesting to know that Hus is reported to have said, “You are about to burn a goose [Husa in Czech means “goose”], but in 100 years a swan will arise that you will not be able to kill.”

A Lutheran church now stands at the place where Hus was executed, and tour members had a worship service there on the second Sunday of the trip. Rev. Marcusse preached from 2 Timothy 3:15 on Sola Scripture.

“It was personally moving for me to do this,” he said. “As I preached, the ‘great cloud of witnesses’ mentioned in Hebrews was running through my mind.”

The tour went on to Zurich, Switzerland, where Ulrich Zwingli and Heinrich Bullinger lived and worked. In Lucerne, tour members viewed a famous lion sculpture and the highly-photographed Chapel Bridge with its octogan-shaped Water Tower. The group then traveled through the Alps, enjoying breath-taking vistas of some of its highest peaks.

The final day of the Reformation Jubilee Tour was spent in Geneva. Rev. Marcusse was impressed by seeing “Calvin’s church and especially standing in Calvin’s auditorium, across the street from his church, where every weekday at noon he would teach, working his way through Bible books verse by verse. These talks were written down by faithful scribes and turned into transcripts, which we hold in our hands today as his commentaries.”

14-Elger mountain AlpsReflecting on the trip, Dr. Venema found it “sobering” that “many of these events and sites are long forgotten in a Western European society that is post-Christian and often ignorant (even hostile) toward its own history.”

He also sees a need for North Americans to develop a more balanced perspective. “I believe Christians, especially Reformed Christians, in North America face two challenges when considering the sixteenth century Reformation. The first challenge is not to ‘idolize’ a particular moment in history, to romanticize it, and to think that we need only to return to the past rather than continue to seek to be faithful to the Word of God and the gospel of salvation by grace alone. The second challenge is to recognize the importance of history in the unfolding of God’s purposes through time, to become better students of our own history so as to understand and appreciate more our reformation heritage and its continuing significance for the church’s life and ministry today.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 11 & 12 of the February 9, 2018, issue of Christian Renewal.

Hope for Brampton

JAB-c
Rev. John Bouwers

Hope Reformed Church (URC) in Brampton, ON, installed Rev. John A. Bouwers on December 1, 2017. Rev. Harry Bout, minister emeritus of Immanual URC in Jordan, exhorted from 2 Timothy 4:1-8, on “Preach the Word!” Rev. Joel Dykstra, Wellandport URC, gave the charge to the pastor, and Rev. Matthew Van Dyken, Eternal Life Mission in Tepic, Mexico, gave the charge to the congregation.

Immanuel is Rev. Bouwers’ former charge, the church in which he was ordained following his 1992 graduation from Mid-America Reformed Seminary and the only congregation he served prior to arriving at Hope. The Hope consistory oversees the work of Rev. Van Dyken in Tepic, Mexico. Rev. Bout is a former pastor of Hope, who began the mission work in Tepic and continues to serve there for a few months each year. Rev. Dykstra is Rev. Bouwers’ brother-in-law: Julie Bouwers and Janice Dykstra are sisters.

Joel Dykstra-c
Rev. Joel Dykstra

In his charge to Rev. Bouwers, Rev. Dykstra spoke of the need for godly leaders to “push against the vain philosophies of our age with clear and compelling words.” Speaking of Brampton, he said, “This place, it seems to me, is the frontlines of the battle all our churches need to be engaged in.” He noted Rev. Bouwers’ efforts toward church unity and his faithful service among the churches during his years in the Niagara Peninsula.

“The Lord has blessed your time in the land of Goshen, surrounded by God’s people on every side,” he said. “But we’re not in Goshen anymore. This is the frontier. And this is where we need to be as churches. We need to be standing against the spirit of this age and shining the light of the gospel in this dark world.”

In addition to the three pastors participating in the service, twelve pastors and elders brought greetings from other churches. One was Hope’s most recent former pastor, Rev. Rich Anjema, who left in 2010 to serve Providence URC in Winnipeg, MB. Pastor John Van Eyk, from Trinity URC in Lethbridge, AB, also attended.

The Scripture text organizers put on the cover of the installation program, superimposed over a picture of Brampton, was from Acts 18:10, “…for I have many people in this city.” Unknown to them, Acts 18:10 was the text Rev. Bouwers had already chosen for his inaugural sermon on December 3. And, in God’s amazing providence, it was the text Rev. Bouwers found for his personal devotions the following morning (December 4) from Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening, updated by Alistair Begg.

John and Julie Bouwers leave behind more than the Immanuel church family, which has known him as its only minister for 25 years. They also leave behind six children and seven grandchildren, all of whom live in southern Ontario, most in the Jordan area. Brampton is located on the western side of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). But the Bouwers look to the future with Hope.

eatingThe above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on page 10 of the February 9, 2018, issue of Christian Renewal.

New Pastor for Pella OPC church plant

Schiebout familyPastor Zech Schiebout was installed as the minister of Hope Reformed Presbyterian Church, an OPC church plant in Pella, IA, on October 26, 2017. Although illness and losses initially brought the family back to the town where Zech grew up, God provided this new avenue of ministry.

Rev. Mark Vander Hart, Associate Professor at Mid-America Reformed Seminary in Dyer, IN, led part of the service. He preached from 2 Corinthians 4:7 on “God Shows His Treasure in Jars of Clay.” He spoke about the glory of this treasure, the humility of the container, and the excessive power of God.

He explained an ancient practice of hiding valuables in clay jars and described the gospel as the “gem” and precious treasure that Christians have. He told Pastor Schiebout, “It is the glory of this message that has been given to you to announce.” He encouraged the congregation not to view their new pastor as either “Superman” or “a miracle worker,” but to encourage him in his task. He concluded by emphasizing how the power of Christianity lies not in God’s people or ministers, but in Christ as the head of the church.

Rev. Edward Jensen, pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Des Moines, whose session oversees the Pella church plant, officiated the installation vows.

Rev. Chris Moulton, a seminary classmate of Zech’s and pastor of the Reformation Presbyterian Church in Sheboygan, WI, gave the charge to the new pastor and to the congregation. He read from Ecclesiastes 1 for both charges, focusing on different verses and aspects. In his charge to Zech, he emphasized the importance of verse 3’s question regarding the profit of a man’s labor. “I pray that you will have many years of fruitful labor,” he said, “but before you know it, Zechariah, it will all be over.” He stressed how the only thing that will remain will be the gospel of Jesus Christ. He charged the new pastor, “Preach the gospel.” Rev. Moulton concluded with the last part of 1 Corinthians 15, urging his brother to be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the Lord’s work. Then his labor will not be in vain.

In his charge to the congregation, Rev. Moulton noted life’s cyclical patterns and repetitive nature, but how Christians can rejoice in God’s providence through all that. Even with a “new-to-you pastor,” church members can expect a certain level of consistency and repetition because “the same crimson thread of Jesus Christ runs through page after page of Scripture.” He encouraged the people to be as patient and loving to the pastor and his family as they would like him to be with them. Finally, he urged them to be “faithful plodders” along the road to glory on which God has placed them.

Pastor Schiebout is a 2009 graduate of Mid-America Reformed Seminary and previously served the Gospel of Grace Church (ARP) in Springfield, MO. His position at Hope is not yet full-time. He works about 40 percent of each week for Hope Church and about 60 percent for Eagle Electric (a family business).

Zech and Rachelle Schiebout met in Pella and never anticipated living there again, but they’re enthusiastic about the ministry. “My wife and I love the people of Hope Church and are excited to serve them. I never would have guessed we’d be living in Pella, IA, again, and I would have passed out if someone had told me a few years ago that I would be pastoring a church in a ‘churchey/Christianized’ place like Pella, so our being here is nothing but God turning my plans upside down.”

He realizes that despite Pella’s plethora of churches, many within the community need to hear the gospel. “We want all the hurting, broken, suffering, abused, cynical, abandoned, anxious, lonely and hopeless people (sinners like us) with whom we come into contact to find the same healing and hope in the good news of Jesus that we have found.”

Hope began in 2005, under the church planting efforts of Rev. Chuck Muether, who now serves as Director of Advancement for Heidelberg Theological Seminary. The church has seen changes in membership and meeting location since its early years. John Fikkert, an ordained Teacher in the OPC who attends (and sometimes preaches) at Hope and serves on the overseeing session, believes organization is on the horizon.

In its goal toward becoming self-governing, the church has elder candidates but not elders. Not being fully self-sustaining, it cannot pay its new pastor a full-time salary. But the hope is to meet both goals in the near future. “I actually think we are close on both counts,” he said. “Prayerfully, and by God’s grace, I think things could pull together in the next year or two.”

The congregation meets in the Memorial Building on Pella’s square. Sunday school for children and adults is at 9:15, followed by morning worship at 10:15. Evening worship begins at 5:30. Pastor Schiebout teaches a leadership group for men. And the group hopes to develop strategies to serve and reach the lost. For more information, visit the church’s website.

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 11 & 12 of the January 19, 2018, issue of Christian Renewal.

Amazing Amazon rankings

Amazon’s Best Sellers rankings shot up overnight for the collaborative memoir Exoneree front cover-1by Uriah Courtney with Glenda Faye Mathes.

Uriah and I began communicating almost four years ago, and the book was published in December by the Cascade imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers.

Here’s how the March 30, 2018, rankings compared with the previous day:

Amazon Best Sellers Rank:

Math has never been my strong point, but even I can see that’s an exponential increase in one day. Praise God! May Exoneree reach everyone who needs to hear its message and touch many hearts!

WSC: New President, student housing

Joel Kim and Godfrey-c
Drs. Kim and Godfrey

When W. Robert Godfrey spoke to a group of Christian students at UCLA almost 25 years ago, he had no idea that college senior Joel Kim would one day take his place as President of Westminster Seminary California.

Rev. Joel Kim began serving as WSC’s fourth president on August 1, 2017, following Dr. Godfrey’s retirement. Rev. Kim received his M.Div. degree at WSC in 1997 and later obtained a Th.M. from Calvin Theological Seminary. He is a teaching elder in the PCA and has 16 years of ordained ministry experience in Presbyterian and Reformed congregations. He and his family attend New Life PCA in Escondido, CA. He chairs the Candidates and Credentials Committee of the Korean Southwest Presbytery of the PCA and has been involved with Southeast Asia Partnership. He has served WSC as Assistant Professor of New Testament since 2005.

Rev. Kim explained how his initial meeting with Dr. Godfrey set him on his WSC trajectory and formed a long-lasting relationship. “Bob Godfrey is one of the reasons I ended up at WSC. As a child of a CRC minister, I seriously considered attending another seminary.” But spending time with Dr. Godfrey during his visit to UCLA, “convinced me that I needed to stay nearby and attend WSC. During my years in seminary, he was my prayer group leader where we prayed for our denomination and our churches. Even now, he remains a trusted mentor and a dear friend from whom I learn daily.”

Dr. Godfrey said, “I am very pleased with the choice of my successor. Joel Kim is an excellent Christian, scholar, and minister, who is committed to the inerrancy of the Bible and the Reformed confessions. He will faithfully continue and advance our work here at the Seminary.”

Now that Rev. Kim has functioned as the Seminary’s president for a few months, he realizes more than ever that he has stepped into some very large shoes.

“I’ve come to appreciate my predecessors even more. They have served with so much wisdom, grace, and faithfulness,” he said, noting how each man brought “something unique” to the position of President. “Bob Strimple was a wonderful academic administrator, setting up the structure and curriculum of the institution. Bob Den Dulk was tireless in fundraising and building relationships for WSC. Bob Godfrey is such a fine speaker and teacher and promoted the school to a wide audience. Our institution is where it is because of God’s grace in providing faithful and trustworthy leaders.”

In his presidency, Kim hopes to carry on the faithfulness of previous leaders. “Like my brothers before, I want to be faithful. Faithful in teaching and upholding the unchanging and inerrant Word of God, engaging and articulating the confessional Reformed faith, and educating and modeling a life of pastor-scholar for our students. We hope to produce graduates who love the Word, serve the church, and exalt Christ in their lives and ministries.”

He additionally hopes to expand the Seminary’s worldwide outreach. “Our school is in a unique location,” he said. “We are about forty miles from the border to our south, with Mexico and Latin America as our neighbors. Head west and we face the Pacific Rim, where churches are growing and flourishing. As we continue to support and partner with local churches, we hope to engage and build up the global church, not only to bless but also to be blessed by them.”

The WSC constituency is familiar with Rev. Kim and appreciates his gifts. Donna Mastalio, a member of Christ URC in Santee, CA, has often heard him speak or preach and interacted personally with him. While she and her husband, Kim, have enjoyed a long friendship with the Godfreys, they are excited about Rev. Kim’s appointment.

“He’s a wonderful man,” she said. “The more we know of him, the more we are impressed with him as a person and as a leader.”

prospective students with new housingAs Rev. Kim assumes the presidency mantle, WSC is in the middle of a visionary building project that consists of constructing 64 student apartments on the school’s campus. Commenting in the Fall 2017 WSC Update, Rev. Kim noted the hope is to provide affordable housing, especially for students from other states or countries. “We have students here from all over the country and the world. In many ways, the world is coming to us, and we are sending them out into the world.” He also expressed the hope that “this residential village will bless the students by enhancing the community of learning. This community of learning is important for seminarians who learn as much outside the classroom as inside. But just as important is this community for the spouses and children of seminarians who often do not benefit from seminary life. Our sincere hope and prayer is that this residential village will be a place of growth, both spiritually and communally.”

Dr. Godfrey’s 24 years of service were celebrated at a special event on May 24, 2017. Dr. Godfrey anticipates continued involvement with the school through assisting the new president during this transition period and teaching some classes. He said, “I will miss my contacts with students, but not the daily administrative responsibilities.”

In his retirement, Dr. Godfrey hopes to remain active in Escondido URC by teaching adult Sunday School and preaching occasionally. “I do hope to continue preaching and speaking in conferences from time to time, but probably not as much as I had been doing,” he said. He also intends to remain on the Board of Ligonier Ministries and keep serving that organization as a teaching fellow. He anticipates retirement will provide more uninterrupted time to focus on writing.

“I am working on a book on the Synod and Canons of Dort, which I hope will be completed in March, 2018, as part of the 400th anniversary of the Synod,” he said. “I have several other writing projects, including a book on a biblical defense of historic Reformed worship.”

Asked how he might advise future seminarians and young pastors, Dr. Godfrey said, “I would advise young men considering the ministry to get the best education they can to prepare them for a lifetime of studying the Bible. I’d encourage young ministers to remain confident that what the people of God need is not creativity or cleverness, but the Word of God. Preach it and teach it! Do not let it go stale in your hearts or ministries.”

He believes Reformed churches need to cultivate a “real knowledge” of the Reformed confessions and heritage. “So many alien voices inside and outside our churches would lead us away from the great inheritance that is ours of faithful, biblical Reformed teachers,” he said. “We need to get the Bible, Christ, the church, justification, and holiness right for ourselves and for generations to come. Our confessions will help us recognize the truth as we have it in the Bible.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 10 & 11 of the January 19, 2018, issue of Christian Renewal.