Matthew Muddles Through, the first book in my “Matthew in the Middle” series is now available on Amazon. Click on this link to go to the book listing.
Here’s hoping he soars!
Matthew Muddles Through, the first book in my “Matthew in the Middle” series is now available on Amazon. Click on this link to go to the book listing.
Here’s hoping he soars!
Rev. Ken Anema, who has pastored Messiah’s Independent Reformed Church in Holland, MI, for nearly 21 years, will become Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew for Divine Hope Reformed Bible Seminary on July 1, 2014. His position will balance that of Rev. Nathan Brummel, who as Professor of Systematic Theology and New Testament has focused on teaching Greek and New Testament exegesis.
When asked about his new position, Rev. Anema replied, “I really view it as an intense discipleship program. Though we’re going to be teaching classes, it’ll be in the context of mentoring men in their walk with the Lord and preparing them to mentor and train others.”
Rev. Anema and his wife, Renee, have bought a house in DeMotte, IN, and plan to move there soon with their three children (ages 12, 9, and 4). Rev. Anema related that DeMotte is a central location for his work with Divine Hope since the Danville Correctional Center is about two hours south and southwest, while the Indiana State Prison is about one hour north and northeast. Divine Hope conducts seminary classes in both facilities.
Rev. Brummel and Rev. Anema intend to alternate days and locations with assistance from adjunct instructors, such as John Surowiec.
Explaining the Board’s rationale for hiring another full-time instructor, Rev. Brummel said the Seminary “has a crying need for additional faculty” due to the growing student body, the necessity for smaller classes, the difference in academic levels, and the lack of instruction in Hebrew and Old Testament studies.
“We have 35 students at the Danville prison and 21 at the Indiana State Prison,” he said. “We want to reduce our normal class from 25-30 students to 15. Because we now have first, second, and third year students at Danville Prison, there are increasing demands for the Seminary to offer a variety of classes. We have students at Danville who have spent two years studying Greek and are ready to study Hebrew.”
He added, “As a Reformed seminary, we are first of all interested in teaching the sacred Scriptures. Our students need to learn Hebrew so that they can engage in careful exegesis of the Old Testament in order to rightly divide the Word as they lead Bible studies or deliver sermons.”
Rev. Anema hopes that seminary instruction will help “reduce the recidivism rate for those being released, and also that they will be able to minister to their own families and live as productive members of society.” He also hopes that the Seminary will minister to those incarcerated long-term, “changing lives with the gospel.”
Although he initially didn’t feel qualified for the position, Rev. Anema has been mentoring former inmates for at least the last 15 years. He visits Holland Rescue Mission on a weekly basis, leading a short chapel service and chatting with the men. Released prisoners, who have no home or family, often live at the Mission. Rev. Anema’s experience as a mentor, combined with the open door and the great need, led him to follow the Spirit’s leading and accept the Divine Hope challenge.
Rev. Brummel said, “This addition will allow me to concentrate on systematic theology and New Testament studies. Long-term the Seminary has a five-year plan that includes the addition of two more full-time faculty members. If the Lord wills, the Board would like to add a professor of ecclesiastical studies (church history) and another for ministerial studies in the Lord’s timing.”
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 22 & 23 of the June 25, 2014, issue of Christian Renewal.
It’s especially exciting to share this first glimpse of the cover with you. Thanks to Ken Raney, of Clash Creative, for his excellent artwork and his patience with me during the process.
Here’s the book’s description:
As the middle child in his family, Matthew Vos struggles in the middle of trouble on all sides. He shares a room with an annoying younger brother and dodges the harassment of an obnoxious older brother. A big-as-a-bear neighborhood dog targets him like a heat-seeking missile. His Cadet Club crams into the church’s too-small basement, and his catechism class meets in his living room. He longs to attend the Cadet International Camporee, but will he even get the chance? How can he rescue his mom’s book from the principal’s “Black Hole”? And why does Mom feel so sick all the time?
Join Matthew, with his active imagination and growing faith, as he muddles through all this and more.
I’m thankful for these terrific endorsements that capture the essence of this novel:
The real texture of life is found in ordinary, everyday occurrences, but it takes a special gift to make these seem extraordinary. Matthew is a very young Christian whose faith stretches in believable ways as he tackles the challenges of growing up. I look forward to joining him for further stages of his journey.
—Janie B. Cheaney, Senior Writer, WORLD magazine, and author of Somebody on This Bus Is Going to Be Famous
True-to-life characters portrayed with droll humor—a fun story with firm substance—plausibly seen from a kid’s viewpoint. What a gem! Mathes is a master of making me want to read more.
—Yvonne Anderson, author of The Story in the Stars, 2012 ACFW Carol Award Finalist
My hope is for Matthew Muddles Through to be available by mid-November.
Posted in Fiction Friday, writing | Tagged christian fiction for kids, dogs, fiction for boys, fiction for kids, juvenile fiction, Matthew, matthew in the middle, matthew muddles through, middle readers, preachers kid | Leave a Comment »
Matthew records some of Christ’s most terrifying and sobering words about Judgment Day. In Matthew 7: 21-23, Jesus warns that righteous actions are meaningless without genuine faith. And in Matthew 25:31-46, he describes how he will separate the sheep from the goats, the latter of which will include those who didn’t feed the hungry, assuage the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, or visit the sick and those in prison.
That final category has long been the last bastion of my personal disobedience. As much as possible, I ignored Christ’s command to visit those in prison. It was so far beyond my comfort zone that it was more than off my radar; it was out of the atmosphere.
When Rev. Nathan Brummel spoke at our church last fall and suggested in private conversation that I should consider speaking to women at the Rockville Correctional Center and teaching a seminar on writing to the men at Danville Correctional Center, I mumbled, “I don’t know,” but my mind screamed, “No!”
Still the Spirit worked in my rebellious heart and I finally agreed. I share these reflections not to focus on any person (especially me), but to demonstrate how great God is and with the hope of igniting in you a spark that might eventually burst into flames that incinerate any lingering intimidation.
I initially didn’t want to go through all the stress of preparing speaking presentations, and I certainly didn’t want to step through the secure doors of any prison. But I tried to submit my stubborn will to God’s sovereign will.
Heartfelt prayer combined with focusing less on myself and more on Christ quieted my spirit. By God’s grace, I could walk through clanging doors and metal detectors without my jelly legs giving way. I could walk through halls crowded with prisoners without fear, even smiling and greeting them. And I could thoroughly enjoy interacting with the men in Divine Hope Reformed Bible Seminary as I shared some writing tips with them.
Eager students with sharp minds and teachable spirits, these men remained engaged and asked lots of questions that kept me on my teaching toes. Even though we concentrated on writing skills and practices, their Christian faith was evident. They repeatedly expressed appreciation for the instruction, but especially for our simple action of coming to visit them in prison.
That evening and the next day, I participated with Paula Brummel and Annette Gysen in leading a conference on Resting in God to women inmates at the Rockville, IN, facility. On Friday evening, we led book discussions on my devotional, A Month of Sundays: 31 Meditations on Resting God, which a donor had contributed to women signing up for the conference. What an incredibly humbling experience to hear firsthand how God is using something I’d written to touch the lives of these women! It was as if he peeled back the veil and showed me a glimpse of his work behind the scenes.
In my first presentation on Saturday, I encouraged the women to rest in our Triune God’s steadfast love by trusting in the Father’s sovereignty, believing in the Son’s salvation, and walking in the Spirit’s sanctification. Paula then spoke passionately about God’s ordinance for Sabbath rest, and how it applies not only to the past, but also to the present, as well as what it means for the future. After lunch, Annette used meaningful real-life examples to discuss resting in God during times of suffering. In my final presentation, I talked about how we need to surrender all to Jesus in submission to his will, in sorrow for our sins, and in selflessness toward others. I stressed that resting in God primarily involves focusing less on self and more on Christ.
Like the men at Danville, these women told us how grateful they were for the visit. Their love for the Lord shone in their faces and sparkled in their speech. We concluded our visit with singing and prayer, the final song being “Amazing Grace.”
The next day, at morning worship in my own church, the last song was “Amazing Grace.” I sang with tears running down my face, clinging to my husband. All I could see was an image of those women’s glowing faces.
Don’t be afraid to open the intimidating door of visiting those in prison. God can and will equip even the most reluctant and terrified Christian. I’m living proof. Trust him!
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 18 & 19 of the June 25, 2014, issue of Christian Renewal. The article prefaced this one about my brother in the Lord, Uriah Courtney, wrongfully incarcerated for eight years. And in this earlier blog post, I wrote about how God’s work was evident at every turn during my time in Illiana.
Posted in CR article, Tuesday News | Tagged A Month of Sundays, danville correctional center, danville prison, john surowiec, matthew 25, matthew 7, nathan brummel, prison ministry, resting in God, rockville women's correctional facility, visit those in prison | Leave a Comment »
Hundreds of years ago, Joel prophesied: “The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes” (Joel 2:31, ESV). Peter repeats that prophesy in his Pentecost day sermon (Acts 2:20), and John on Patmos sees a vision of its fulfillment (Revelation 6:12).
This morning people in many parts of the world got a similar glimpse. The reddish appearance of the total lunar eclipse early today earns its title as a Blood Moon.
My husband and I rise early every day, but we took time this morning to check out the Blood Moon. I tried to get some pictures; however, zooming so far requires a tripod (which I didn’t have set up) so mine turned out pretty blurry. And tree branches obscured our view. He grabbed the camera and drove to the top of a nearby hill. Resting the camera on his van’s window, he was able to get some better shots, posted here.
You can watch a video of an earlier Blood Moon and read more about the science behind it in this Huffington Post article. And if you’re wondering about future eclipses, check out the dates posted on this page at The Old Farmer’s Almanac website.
Seeing the definite red coloring of this morning’s eclipse brings to mind Joel’s chilling prophecy. But he doesn’t simply decree future catastrophe. The next verse conveys these words of hope: “And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Joel 2:32a, ESV).
Peter uses that verse to transition into his convicting message about Jesus of Nazareth as the crucified Christ, a message that cut his hearers to the heart (Acts 2:37) and brought many into the kingdom.
John witnessed a vision of the end of time as we know it. No longer will the sun warm our days and the moon light our nights, their circuits marking out weeks and months and years. A great earthquake will accompany the blackening of the sun and the reddening of the moon. The stars will fall like figs in a gale. The sky will vanish like a rolled-up scroll, and every mountain and island will disappear. People will cower in caves, begging rocks to fall on them and hide them from the wrath of the Lamb (Revelation 6:12-17). But those who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.
Don’t be one of those crying out to the rocks. Be one who cries to the Rock.
Hammond, WI, is an hour and half directly north of Rochester, MN, and about 30 minutes east of the Minneapolis/St. Paul metropolitan area. It’s also the home of Covenant Presbyterian Church, an Orthodox Presbyterian Church congregation consisting of Reformed believers from a variety of ecclesiastical backgrounds.
Rev. Shane Lems was installed as the congregation’s minister on October 18, 2013, having formerly served as church planter and pastor for the United Reformed Church of Sunnyside, WA.
“After six pretty good years there, an excellent opportunity came up in the OPC here at Hammond,” he explains. “They were planting a church and needed a pastor at the mother church. We liked the area and the church situation seemed like a good fit since they were planting and since they chose me from a big handful of candidates—after looking at our ministerial information forms. Also, I was open to the OPC since I really appreciate Presbyterian polity and ecclesiology.”
Rev. Lems is a 2007 graduate of Westminster Seminary California. His Iowa roots and a warm welcome by his new congregation eased the adjustment when he and his family moved from one of America’s sunniest cities to experience one of the Midwest’s harshest winters in a small town with a population under 2,000.
“The transition was much easier than we expected,” he says. “They accepted us from day one, and we’ve always felt cared for thus far. Since Lisa and I grew up in the Midwest, we are familiar with season changes, so the snow wasn’t too difficult to handle, and our four kids are doing well here also—they like it.”
The church itself is undergoing transition since its former pastor, Rev. Kim Kuhfuss, began planting a daughter church in Eau Claire, about an hour east and a little south.
“The church did break up after the plant, but in a very good way,” says Rev. Lems. “It broke away on good terms to plant another solid church, this time in Eau Claire. It’s been a good relationship so far on both ends. Honestly, even people at both churches will say how smooth this transition and change has gone. There’s good unity here!”
Providence Reformed Church, the Eau Claire plant (see related article below), remains under the oversight of the elders at Covenant Presbyterian and is partially funded by the Presbytery of the Midwest.
Covenant’s session is exploring ways to promote growth within the church and community.
Rev. Lems says, “Right now we’re doing elder training, we did some deacon training, we’re thinking about outreach, we’re giving profession of faith classes to the teens, we’re giving membership classes to some new visitors, and we’re taking the next step together.”
According to the church website, Covenant Presbyterian’s session consists of Pastor Lems, four elders and three deacons. Church school is held at 9:00 am on Sundays with worship services 10:00 am and 6:00 pm. The church is located at 680 Broadway Street in Hammond, WI.
Having witnessed the Presbytery exam of Rev. Kim Kuhfuss nine years ago, I was intrigued to discover his name as the current church planter for an OPC work in Eau Claire, WI.
Providence Reformed Church began meeting in July of 2013 under the oversight of Covenant Presbyterian Church of Hammond, WI (see above article). Covenant’s former pastor, Rev. Kuhfuss, and his wife had purchased a home in Eau Claire where they hosted initial meetings. Earlier this year, he requested permission to begin full-time church planting efforts there.
About 40 people attend 10:00 am worship services in the Eau Claire Micon Cinema at 3109 Mall Drive. An evening service is held at 6:00 in the parsonage, and a Wednesday evening Bible study takes place in a member’s home.
Rev. Kuhfuss describes the biggest challenge as “getting our name out in the community, making our presence known, and letting people know exactly who we are and what we are all about.”
The group has been attempting to do that through various advertising venues, such as newspaper, radio, local magazines, and mailers. They’ve also increased awareness by going door-to-door and participating in community events and outreaches.
An article in the January 2014 issue of the OPC denominational magazine, New Horizons, related that Eau Claire is home to about 115,000 people as well as the location of a University of Wisconsin branch campus. Rev. Kuhfuss reports that two students and a staff member of Cru (previously Campus Crusade) meet with the Providence group. Their attendance encourages the group to continue pursuing a presence within the local university community.
The New Horizons article explained this isn’t Covenant’s first effort to establish a congregation in Eau Claire. Three families driving an hour to an hour and a half each Sunday led to Covenant beginning a 2008 work, which was discontinued due to lack of progress in 2010. But new contacts from the area and more families driving many miles led to this second attempt.
Rev. Kuhfuss is optimistic about its future. He identifies the greatest joy of the work as “hopefully planting a church in this city that will be here to serve God for many years to come.”
The men have been meeting for three months in regular times of prayer on Saturday mornings. Rev. Kuhfuss also requests prayer “as there are no particular Reformed churches in this area, although there are some churches where the pastors would accept at least portions of Reformed teaching.”
Rev. Kuhfuss spent 16 years as an Assemblies of God minister before coming to the Reformed faith. His transformed theological persuasion led to his 2005 exam in Des Moines and the subsequent entrance of Covenant Presbyterian Church into the OPC.
More information about Covenant’s church plant, Providence Reformed Church, is available at Providence’s website.
The above articles by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 13-15 of the May 28, 2014, issue of Christian Renewal.
In the Literary Study Bible’s introduction to Psalm 64, editors Leland Ryken and Philip Graham Ryken call it the “prototypical” lament psalm, the “specimen in which the conventional elements stand out highlighted” with “vivid poetic texture and memorable imagery” (p. 815). An awareness of this psalm’s lament construction and literary techniques helps us derive more meaning from David’s “complaint” (verse 1). We should never examine the psalms as a purely literary exercise. All scripture is the very word of God and is profitable for our instruction and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). But while the psalms teach our minds, they also touch our hearts.
Like most laments, this psalm begins with a cry to God: Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint (Psalm 64:1a, ESV). We know that God hears and answers prayer, yet he wants us to call to him. This complaint doesn’t equate with our modern understanding of complaining. It doesn’t mean whining about everything, never being joyful or content. It’s expressing your problem to God and your recognition that you need his divine help.
David strongly expresses his need for deliverance: preserve my life from dread of the enemy. Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked, from the throng of evildoers (verses 1b-2, ESV).
The problems in David’s life are real and immediate. He expresses urgency as he begs God for help with imperative verbs: preserve, hide. His enemies fill him with dread, they plot secretly, and they are many (a throng!).
Like most laments, this psalm begins with a cry to God:
who whet their tongues like swords,
who aim bitter words like arrows,
shooting from ambush at the blameless,
shooting at him suddenly and without fear.
They hold fast to their evil purpose;
they talk of laying snares secretly,
thinking, “Who can see them?”
They search out injustice,
saying, “We have accomplished a diligent search.”
For the inward mind and heart of a man are deep (verses 3-6, ESV).
These enemies are not obvious foes on a battlefield. They excel at manipulation and behind-the-scenes schemes. They stealthily attack innocent people without cause. Rather than simply slipping into sin or falling in with a bad crowd, these guys commit themselves to evil and conspire to trap others. They doubt anyone would catch on to their plans because they’re careful to cover their tracks. They pour their time and intelligence into searching out injustice, looking for ways to beat the system. They focus on criticizing and bringing down other people. They are verbally, emotionally–perhaps even physically and spiritually–abusive. The mind and heart of a person is very deep. No one knows the depth of depravity in some minds or the extent of evil in some hearts. Some people devote God’s good gift of mental acuity to scheme against others.
What a depressing description! Maybe David’s vivid picture of his enemies reminds you of someone you know. A verbal bully who rudely criticizes you in front of others, a manipulator who secretly persuades others that you’re not trustworthy or competent, a hypocritical person who acts friendly to many while refusing to smile or speak to you, or an intelligent and articulate person who manufactures narratives against you and God’s truth. These situations are enough to make a person feel hopeless. Within the context of the church community, they can make you want to leave, shaking the dust from your feet (Matthew 10:14).
Before you get too depressed, please read the next section of the psalm, which begins with these crucial words: “But God”!
But God shoots his arrow at them;
they are wounded suddenly.
They are brought to ruin, with their own tongues turned against them;
all who see them will wag their heads (verses 7-8, ESV).
These people won’t get by with their schemes forever. Their tongues cut like swords? Their words wound like arrows? (See verse 3.) God shoots his arrows at them! He wounds them suddenly and brings them to ruin, using their own back-stabbing tongues to cut them down to size. People will see it and shake their heads.
But the purpose isn’t your personal vengeance, attractive as that might seem. God brings them down to show his divine power and generate our human praise (verses 9-10, ESV):
Then all mankind fears;
they tell what God has brought about
and ponder what he has done.
Let the righteous one rejoice in the Lord
and take refuge in him!
Let all the upright in heart exult!
People who see God destroy the enemies of believers will revere the Lord and witness to his deliverance. They’ll meditate on his amazing works. Believers can rejoice in the Lord and take refuge in him.
Ponder what God has done and rejoice! If you haven’t seem him bring down your enemies yet, trust that no enemy of God will ultimately succeed. Let your heart, brought low by the schemes and insults of others, exult in the Lord!
Does the concept of popular literature seem like an oxymoron? Can a book sell well in today’s pop culture, while still displaying a high degree of literary quality?
The answer is a resounding: Yes! This week I read a newly released book by prolific author Sigmund Brouwer that evidences excellent literary quality and is sure to skyrocket off the sales charts.
Thief of Glory engages the reader from its gripping beginning to its satisfying end, barely allowing anything beyond shallow breathing during the riveting middle. The narrative is written from the perspective of an elderly man forced to record his childhood memories of WW II years spent in a Japanese concentration camp in the Dutch East Indies. He begins with a paragraph that sings:
A banyan tree begins when its seeds germinate in the crevices of a host tree. It sends to the ground tendrils that become prop roots with enough room for children to crawl beneath, prop roots that grow into thick, woody trunks and make it look like the tree is standing above the ground. The roots, given time, look no different than the tree it has begun to strangle. Eventually, when the original support tree dies and rots, the banyan develops a hollow central core (Thief of Glory, p. 1).
That’s lovely writing, but the reader finishing the story realizes how masterfully Brouwer crafted those opening lines.
I’ve written a book review that I hope will appear in an upcoming issue of Christian Renewal, and which I intend to post here after publication. But I wanted to mention this novel now and encourage all writers to read it. After I read an extremely well-written book, I often shut it and think, “I may as well give up writing altogether.”
I felt a bit of this when I finished Thief of Glory, but primarily it encouraged me that Christians can write stellar books for popular consumption. Books that shine with literary quality while subtlety conveying faith and truth.
Pablo Landázuri’s ordination marked the conclusion of one chapter in his life and the beginning of another.
“I feel that this milestone was the end of a long and intense process,” he says, “but mainly the beginning of a great task.”
That great task is bringing the Reformed faith to the people in Pablo’s native country of Ecuador, where Pablo and his family hope to return in June.
The consistory of Covenant Reformed Church in Pella, IA, has called Rev. Landázuri as an Associate Pastor to serve as a Minister of the Word and Sacraments and church planter in Ecuador. His ordination and installation service was held in the church on Friday, April 25, 2014.
Rev. Mark Vander Hart, Associate Professor of Old Testament Studies at Mid-America Reformed Seminary in Dyer, IN, preached from 1 Timothy 3:1-7 on “Noble Men May Desire a Noble Task.” He noted how Paul stresses personal Christian qualities for those who aspire to lead the church, and pointed out that these qualities should be manifest in any believer striving to grow in grace and knowledge of the Lord.
“Pablo’s personal growth and ministerial gifts have been observed by the church of the Lord Jesus Christ,” he says, “and the church celebrates the call to the ministry in his life and in the life of his family, as God will open the proper doors in Ecuador.”
Rev. Vander Hart also read the Form for Ordination and called the elders of Covenant and other ordained ministers forward for the laying on of hands.
Rev. Todd Joling, pastor of Faith United Reformed Church in Beecher, IL, gave the charge to the minister from 2 Timothy 4:1-5. He encouraged Pablo to fulfill his ministerial calling as Christ prescribed: remembering the weighty motivation (a servant answerable to God), the mandate or main task (preaching the Word), and the appropriate manner (with persistence and patience).
“The burden of his words was on the charge that Paul gave to Timothy to preach the Word and nothing else,” says Rev. Landázuri. “It made me reflect on the need of always being ready and prepared for any occasion. Also the need for patience due to possible disappointments and sufferings. However, all that we endure like soldiers and athletes because of the hope and prize we will have on ‘that Day.’”
Rev. Doug Barnes, Covenant Reformed Church in Pella, presented the charge to the congregation from 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5, urging the audience to pray for the ministry in Ecuador.
“Throughout the evening, God blessed us with wonderful reminders about the significance of the ministry and about His power to raise up servants for His Gospel,” says Rev. Barnes. “At every point, He has been preparing Pablo for this work. Seeing that, we prepare for his departure confidently, knowing that God will continue the work He has begun.”
While Pablo attended Mid-America Reformed Seminary, he was under the care of the consistory at Faith URC in Beecher, IL, and assisted with a church plant among the Hispanic population of Chicago Heights.
“Our council is delighted to see how the Lord has brought Rev. Landázuri through seminary, blessed his relationship with Covenant Reformed Church, and opened the door to minister in his home country,” says Rev. Joling. “We greatly enjoyed our time with the Landázuris while Pablo was in seminary; he and his family were a great help in our Spanish language ministry. We rejoice with them and eagerly look forward to seeing how the Lord will use Pastor Landázuri in the work to which he’s been called.”
Following Pablo’s graduation from Mid-America in May of 2013, he and his family moved to Pella, IA, where he has served the last year as a pastoral intern. During this time, the church’s Missions Committee and Consistory have developed a Joint Venture Agreement for sponsoring Pablo’s ministry and church planting efforts in Ecuador.
“We continue to covet the prayers and support of our sister churches for this work in Ecuador,” says Rev. Barnes. “God is doing something exciting in Quito! Come join us in witnessing His work!”
Among those traveling to Pella, IA, for the ordination service were Pablo’s parents and his pastor, Rev. Donoso. Speaking after the worship service the following Sunday, Rev. Donoso grew emotional as he explained how he and his small congregation had prayed for assistance and God had provided Pablo. When the doors opened for Pablo to attend Mid-America Reformed Seminary, Rev. Donoso wondered if God would choose to put Pablo’s gifts to work elsewhere and he feared Pablo wouldn’t return to Quito. Rev. Donoso rejoices to know that, as he approaches retirement, Rev. Landázuri will continue ministering to the fledgling congregation and proclaiming the Reformed faith in Ecuador.
Reflecting on his ordination, Rev. Landázuri says, “It has given me the conviction that this is what God wants me to do, now that through His Church I have been officially sent to preach the gospel. That gives me comfort and the assurance that I am not going on my own but sent by Him.”
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 12-13 of the Mary 28, 2014, issue of Christian Renewal.
Because he was accused of a sexual assault on a minor, he was not permitted to see his son for the entire eight years he was wrongfully incarcerated, from the time the boy was two until he was ten.
If anyone has an excuse to be bitter, Uriah does. But he chooses not to harbor bitterness and anger. This is not easy, but he trusts that God was in control of even those eight years in prison, and he sees how God used that time to turn him from running toward destruction to walking with the Spirit.
Uriah says, “What I went through was not a good thing, but it was used for good. Knowing that has helped me overcome bitterness. I have been given a new life and I don’t want to waste it by spending all my time being angry and bitter about something I can’t change. But I confess this is not an easy task. I must always be looking at Christ and Him crucified in order to keep from dwelling too long on all that I’ve lost. It’s godliness with contentment that’s great gain.”
Uriah’s response echoes Scripture because he spends time in God’s Word. When he entered prison, he found a Bible and read it for hours each day, trying to make sense of what had happened to him. Even though he wasn’t guilty of the crime of which he’d been convicted, the Spirit revealed to him that he was a sinner and his sins had been an offense against a holy God.
“As painful as it was to admit to myself,” he says, “it became very evident to me by my reading of the Scriptures the reason for which I was in jail—so I could repent and be saved. God saved me from self-destructing and spending an eternity in hell. I was close to death’s door from the large quantities of drugs I was using and utterly depraved, but God’s great grace swallowed me up and He caused me to be born again.”
When asked about his conversion, Uriah says, “The best and most accurate answer for when I became a Christian, I believe, is when Christ died on the cross for my sins 2000 years ago; for God chose us in Him before the foundation of the world. That being said, I became aware that I had been born again in August 2005, in county jail. Some might say I’m a jail house convert.”
Although Uriah’s mind was still clouded from drugs he’d been using and he’d always hated reading, he felt inexplicably drawn to reading Scripture.
“It just seemed like I was supposed to read that Bible,” he says. “I didn’t understand why, but I knew I had to. And read I did, every day, two or three times a day. I began reading it like you would any other book, from the beginning. I thought this was the most logical and sensible place to start because Genesis 1:1 starts, ‘In the beginning, God.’”
Initially Uriah had no idea about the impending charges. “I was completely unaware of the trial and tribulations I was soon to face. But God surely knew and He was no doubt preparing me to walk through the valley of the shadow of death.”
A few weeks later, he was extradited from the county jail in Texas to San Diego, where he was charged with kidnapping and rape. He says, “I was completely bewildered and utterly devastated by such horrible accusations. I had never experienced such fear in my life. This panic, fear and confusion led me deeper into the Word.”
Psalms especially resonated with him. “My greatest comfort came from the Psalms. There was just so much material there that I could relate to. It was from them I learned that it was okay to pour out your anger and frustration and fears to God without offending or sinning against Him. King David’s prayers became my prayers and I bent the Lord’s ears with them constantly.”
Uriah was transferred to another county jail in San Diego and began attending chapel services, where he prayed the customary sinner’s prayer, asking the Lord to forgive him and inviting him into his heart. “And so began an extremely long and painful process of sanctification,” he says. “But the truth is He was already there.”
After being moved back to the previous jail, Uriah became very close to the chaplain and his wife. “They were a great encouragement to me before, during and after my trial. I spent two and a half years in county jail, 18 months of that the Lord blessed me with the steadfast love and friendship of the Budloves.”
In June of 2007, Uriah was sent to the state prison to begin serving his life term. Still deeply reading the Bible, he developed a budding interest in theology but material was sparse and shallow. Yet he read whatever he could find.
“In 2009, I was moved to another yard at the prison where I was being warehoused and wound up with celly who was Reformed,” he says. “Up‘til that point, I don’t think I had ever heard of the Reformed faith, let alone any of the Reformers.”
His new cellmate had a number of volumes on Reformed theology, and Uriah became familiar with authors such as R.C. Sproul, John Calvin, and his favorite: Jonathan Edwards.
“It took no time at all for me to develop a deep love and affection for the Reformed faith,” he explains. “So much of the confusion and lingering questions on passages of Scripture and certain doctrines finally made sense to me. My passion for God’s Word was set aflame all over again. This was, as it were, my second great awakening.”
A couple of months after Uriah’s introduction to the Reformed faith, he learned of a Reformed Bible study and was permitted to enroll and attend.
He says, “Glory be to God for this Bible study!”
The study was led by Alex Ferrat, who was then a deacon at Christ United Reformed Church in Santee, CA. From the start, he emphasized that the study should not take the place of attending regular worship services, encouraging the men to fellowship with believers and share their faith with others.
“But I confess that I really did consider this Bible study ‘church’,” Uriah admits. “It was the only service available where one could actually hear the gospel, maybe not preached, but certainly exposited, and that with reverence and awe.”
Alex’s devotion and dedication were apparent to Uriah, who appreciated the teaching as well as the many resources Alex made available to the men. Alex often mentioned Christ URC and Pastor Michael Brown, or related something from a sermon, or described the church’s worship.
“I yearned to be part of such a congregation and vowed that if I ever got out of prison I was going to go to Christ URC,” Uriah says. “I developed much brotherly love and affection for Alex during that time and was devastated when we were no longer allowed to have our Bible study due to some lame security issue.”
Uriah grew even more despondent about a year later, when the White Horse Inn no longer broadcast over a local radio station. He and his new cellmate, Jonathan (who was a devoted Lutheran) had loved listening to that program, followed by Sproul’s Renewing Your Mind. Uriah wrote to Dr. Michael Horton, expressing his sorrow and explaining that those programs had been the only resource for prisoners seeking to deepen their biblical understanding. Dr. Horton responded by sending Uriah a copy of his The Christian Faith.
“I must add here that celly, Jonathan, is one of the kindest, gentlest, faithful children of God I know,” Uriah says. “He had a Masters degree in Divinity and much training in righteousness and godliness. We were cellmates for over three years, and it was certainly by our great God’s providence that he and I were brought together. I learned a lot from that brother.”
God had plucked Uriah like a burning reed from the fire of self-destruction, and breathed the Holy Spirit into his heart. He had provided cellmates and Bible study that opened Uriah’s mind to the Reformed faith. Uriah’s life had been changed, yet he often despaired.
“At times, fear and loneliness were my closest companions and tormented me day and night,” he says. “I really had no way of knowing for sure that I would ever go home because the Bible didn’t explicitly say, ‘Uriah, you will surely be exonerated and your liberty restored.’ I understood that God didn’t owe me anything just because I had repented and become a believer. He already did enough by sacrificing His Son to pay the penalty for my sins. But through my diligent study of the Scriptures, I was strengthened and encouraged.”
In 2009, Uriah’s parents contacted the California Innocence Project (CIP), which pursues only the most hopeful of the many requests it receives. Even when the CIP accepts a case, numerous other events must fall into place before a rare exoneration occurs. Only about one in 1,000 Innocence Project cases results in exoneration. Uriah’s case was that rare exception due to a series of circumstances: his case garnered CIP attention, the original evidence had been retained, the District Attorney’s office cooperated well with CIP, and eventually a new method of DNA testing proved his innocence. The DNA matched a known sexual offender, similar in physical appearance to Uriah, who had been living within three miles of the scene at the time of the crime.
After being wrongfully incarcerated for eight years, Uriah was released from prison in May of 2013. With the full approval of the DA’s office, a Superior Court judge dropped all charges against him in June of 2013. Uriah Courtney was exonerated.
Uriah gives God all the glory. “God was the ultimate cause for me getting released from prison, being fully exonerated and my name cleared,” he says. “But God works through means and that means was the California Innocence Project.”
After Uriah’s release, he began attending Christ URC, where the congregation welcomed his warmly. He says, “They embraced me with such love that it felt as if I were being embraced by Christ himself.”
Uriah was baptized and publically professed his faith on November 10, 2013. “That was one of the best days of my life,” he says. “I had finally become a member of the visible body of Christ. I won’t recount here what Pastor Brown said to the congregation before he baptized me, but there were many eyes with tears in them, and many hearts giving glory and praise to God.”
Adjusting to life on the outside can be difficult. Many things had changed in the past eight years. And Uriah feels uncomfortable at social functions. But he relates how the hardest thing is having missed watching his son grow up. “This pains my heart deeper than anyone can possibly understand. I’m a stranger to my own son. He knows who I am, but he doesn’t know me.”
Still Uriah thanks God for the blessings in his life, especially his work as an apprentice pipefitter and his home with godly parents. “I get to hug my mom once again each night before I go to bed and greet my stepdad very early each morning before I go to work. My parents have given me so much and I just thank and praise God for them.”
He’s also becoming occupied with the Innocence Project. He recently spoke for the Irish branch, and he participated in the national Innocence Network conference. He also recently testified before the state legislature.
“On May 6, I had the opportunity to give my testimony to about 50 baseball players from San Diego Christian College,” he says. “May 6 was my one-year anniversary of freedom. One of the elders from Christ URC is a coach at the College and set things up. It was a wonderful day and I thank God for it.”
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 20-22 of the June 25, 2014, issue of Christian Renewal.