Monday, August 30, 2010

Church Shopping

Yesterday was another Sunday, another day ‘trying on’ a church.  We worshipped, both morning and evening, at LaGrave Ave. CRC in downtown Grand Rapids.  That is something like our seventh church since we’ve been here.  One the one side, it’s nice to have all these options, but on the other it sure does make it a challenge.

I must say, that the term  ‘church shopping’ rubs me the wrong way. It sounds so consumeristic (is that a word?).  It sounds like I’m at the mall trying on pants and I keep going from store to store until I find that just right fit.  Is that really how church should be?  I’d like to think that most of would agree that church is more about God than it is about us.

That being said, one needs to be in a church that they are least comfortable in, don’t they?  That pair of pants at least needs to be close to the correct size, doesn’t it?  Again, I think we’d all say yes.

So where is that happy medium, between finding a good fit and looking too hard for something just right?  I think for our family it’s come down to the following:


1.  Does the church itself know who it is and where’s it’s going?  We’ve been to some churches that have a very clear understanding of who they are and what they’re all about.  We’ve also been to some that are going through a time of transition and actively seeking and learning about where they are headed next.  After being at one of those churches, Jessica made the astute observation that our family, during this time of transition, needs be a part of a church that is sure about it’s identity and direction.  I think she’s right.

2.  Size does matter.  We’ve visited congregations that have less than 200 members and we’ve visited congregations that have well over a thousand.  While all the congregations have been inviting and welcoming, I think the smaller congregations appeal to us more.  We want to be a part of church where we can be used for the edification of God’s people at that place.  We want to be known and we want to know others that we are worshipping with.  At one of the larger congregations we visited the information packet even stated that ‘we are large enough for you to maintain your anonymity if you so choose’.  I don’t think anyone, in any congregation should be allowed to be anonymous whether they want to or not.

3.  The church’s philosophy of and style of worship is important.  We’ve seen as many different types of worship styles as we have churches.  Some have a high or traditional view – only the organ, liturgical robes, etc.  Others have a very loose and free worship style with little or no organization to it. While still others seem to have kind of a forced combination of the two. This view and style of worship seems to affect more than just the service and the music they choose.  It’s not just whether they use screens or don’t.  It also manifests itself in the way people dress, how they interact with each other, and even where they worship.  We were at one church that worships outdoors in a tent in the summertime.   I think we fall somewhere in the middle.

4.  The make-up of the congregants is something not to be taken lightly.   As we make church decisions it’s important to keep the kids in mind too.  We need a place where the kids are comfortable as well.   Do they have established youth programs (GEMS, Cadets, Sunday School, etc.)?  I’m not suggesting that the church needs to be all young families, but I think a good mix of ages is important and vital to the health of any congregation.  The decision of which church to attend is a family one.  The temptation is to choose one that’s best for me and what might be most helpful for my seminary training, but that is too small a view.  We attend church and will join a church, as a family.  

There’s more that could be said…how important is location? What about women in office?  Is the fact that they don’t have an evening service something to consider?    Those are important questions, but I think keeping these earlier four points in mind will lead us in the right direction.

So the search continues and we continue to seek the Spirit’s leading.   We’re hoping and praying that we find a church home soon.  In the meantime, I’m searching for a better term than ‘church shopping’….suggestions are welcome.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Week #1 Done

Well, I finished my first week of class today.  We took our test on hermeneutics this morning and I think I did OK.  It wasn’t too hard, but as soon as I say that…

Anyway,  while I could bore you with all the details about what I did, learned and studied this week, I’ve been more amazed by something else…so I’d like to tell you about some of the people I met this week.

I have been amazed and humbled by my classmates that I’ve met who’ve come from all walks of life and have sacrificed much to be here.  Here’s just a few: Brent is married with two kids and drives to the seminary everyday from Battle Creek - one hour one way; Henry is here from Canada with his wife and three kids and used to be an auto mechanic; Dirk who is married with an infant daughter quit his job working with is Dad in plumbing and heating to enroll here; Jane is here from Nova Scotia with her husband and high school aged son; Ezra is here from Korea with his wife and three kids working nights as nurse and going to school during the day; Brent (another one) gave up his job with the City of Wyoming to enroll full-time at seminary; an Tess is here from Nigeria and does not plan to see his family for three years until he’s done with school.

Hearing their stories and so many more like them has been very humbling for me.  It’s amazing who (and when) the Lord calls.  It’s going to be wonderful to learn from and study with them all.  I feel privileged to be here and continue to see more and more that God really doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called.  And that’s why all of us here together – to become equipped – for such a time as this.

So, yes, it was a good week in the classroom. But it was an even better one getting to meet and learn about my fellow seminarians. 

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Quick Update

Well, I’m done with Day Two of my classes here at Calvin Seminary and have enjoyed them both.  Today was the first day of actually coursework (yesterday was mostly intro stuff) and I really enjoyed it. 

I’m meeting lots of great people here.  I’ve made several connections with classmates, both young and old.  So far I’m not related to anyone but just wait, it will happen. 

Life is getting busier everyday as my studies get going and as I also recently accepted a job offer.  The admissions office here at the seminary is currently experiencing a high degree of turnover.  They have 3 employees (2 part time assistants and 1 full-time director) all three of which are leaving or have already left.  Giving my experience in admissions work at Dordt, I offered to help them out if they saw fit.  As it turns out, they were quite pleased about my past experience and my offer so I will be working for the seminary admissions office for about 10 hours a week contacting prospective students, answering questions, giving tours, and just generally helping to keep things running for them.

I’m very excited to be able to use my gifts in this way and also have some income.  I’m hoping to be able to keep it up along with my studies, but we’ll see.

On the work front Jessica, she received word this week that she will be on the substitute teaching list at Dutton Christian School in South Grand Rapids.  This will be good because they are honoring her Iowa license so she doesn’t have to try and get Michigan one.  This too, is an answer to prayer.

Oh, and just to show you how excited I was for school…here’s a picture of me on my first day!  Thanks to my former colleagues in the Advancement Office for the great mug.  The only thing that’s missing is the big yellow bus.


first day of school

Sunday, August 22, 2010


Six weeks of getting settled, seeing family, and learning 0ur way around Grand Rapids will end tomorrow.  Tomorrow is my first official day of classes.  I start off with a two-week course called “Gateway to Seminary” which combines some classroom instruction with orientation type activities.  Most mornings are spent in class learning about hermeneutics, analyzing sermons, and learning some basics about sermon preparation.  The afternoons are filled with orientation type things (tours, ID cards, meeting with mentor groups, placement testing, etc.).

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t at least a little nervous about it all.  It’s kind of scary going back to school -- studying, reading, writing, papers, tests – at the same time, I have a real peace about it all as well.  One the one hand I’m scared that I’ll come home tomorrow night and have hated it and on the other hand I just really don’t think I will (hate it, that is).  So I’ll let you all know tomorrow how that goes. Wow…that makes me sound just a wee bit crazy.  If I don’t think I’ll hate it, why do I worry that I might?  As my kids remind me often, “You’re weird, Dad.”

We’ve been extremely blessed to have this time here to be able to get settled and established before we jump in to this next phase.  But now it’s time to get started and we’re excited for this next step too.   The Lord has been faithful and we’re confident that he will continue to be. 

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

What makes us reformed?

So I just got done reading all three forms of unity of the CRC – the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dort – in their entireties for a class on reformed confessions and worldview.  In actuality, it’s a class that I’m trying to test out of, because I thought I knew it all.   It’s an exercise I’ve never done before.

I am surprised by how much I didn’t know about these three confessions that I should have known after spending all of my life as a member of the CRC, attending CSI grade and high schools, and graduating from a reformed institution of higher learning.  In all honesty, I felt bad.

Guido de Bres, the author of the Belgic Confession in 1561, told Philip II that he would rather die than renounce the teachings of that confession, and he died a martyr for that cause in 1563.  Leaning largely on the writings of John Calvin before him he sought to defend the Protestant movement against the false of attacks of the Roman Catholic church in Europe, and we still use it today as a way to show how we differ not only from Roman Catholics, but also from many other protestant denominations since the hanging of the 95 theses on the church door at Wittenberg.

The Heidelberg Catechism was written in 1563 (yep, the same year de Bres was martyred) at the request of German Elector, Frederick III by two men.  This Q & A document was to be used as a teaching device and training tool for the protestant clergy and church members that further defined and explained the reasons for and the biblical rationale behind what would come to be known as the reformed faith.  It is, even today, widely regarded as one the greatest reformational documents of all time.

The Canons of Dort, by contrast, were used to combat a specific movement with the the early 17th century church headed by Jacob Arminius.  This document has provided the CRC with the oft-maligned TULIP acronym which is used in reaction to the false teachings that Arminianism purported. 

Enough with the history lesson, the point is these documents are the result of much sacrifice and struggle on the part of many people who lived nearly 500 years before us.  I think that the CRC in general in recent years has tended to shy away from – or at least take for granted -- these documents, considering them antiquated and irrelevant, rather than embracing them as the great works of faith they really are. 

I learned alot about myself, my faith, and the denomination that I love by reading them.  I am ashamed that I don’t know them better and I dare wager that there are many more like myself that lament their demise and feel at least a twinge of guilt at their lack of knowledge about them. 

Someday, when I’m serving a church somewhere, I hope I’ll be able to effectively communicate the teachings of these confessions of the faith in a contemporary and relevant way.  In the meantime, I’m grateful for the opportunity to study them further and learn more about what it means, from a historical perspective and in a contemporary context, to be reformed. 

We really do, in 2010, stand on the shoulders of giants.  Part of my job will be to make sure we don’t forget about them.

Now you know where I stand, what do you think?  Have these documents gotten ‘lost’?  Is that OK?  Is it time to move on or do they still have relevance for us today?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Backyard Fire

We arrived back at home safe and sound after a great week with Jessica’s family in Ontario.  The only snafu was a LONG wait at the border – nearly two hours to go two miles.  It’s good to be home and settled back in here.

Tonight we had a bonfire in the backyard.  Several of the neighborhood kids joined us as well and Jessica and I took the opportunity to talk with them a little more in depth.

   In fact, all of them are invited to a birthday party this week and they are all very excited.

Since our kids became friends with all of them, they now all play together which has been great.Since we live on the corner in between several houses with children our kids can run in just about any direction and play.  Also, since we are centrally located, the kids all usually end up playing in our yard, which we really like.  It turns out that they rarely, if ever, all played together prior to our arrival here.  It seems, as one little boy put it, “you moving into this house has brought us all together.”

So it’s really our children that have been the catalyst for developing relationships here in the neighborhood and we are glad about that. I hope that we can continue to develop and deepen those friendships with the kids and with their parents. 

Ministry can happen alot of ways…even around the campfire with 5 pre-teen kids!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Work for Jessica

This week we are spending some time at Jessica's family in Ontario, Canada. We arrived here on Friday and joined in some festivities on Saturday afternoon and evening to celebrate her parents' 35th wedding anniversary. Many family members were able to be here and I had the opportunity to meet several of Jessica's cousins many of whom I'd never met. The weather was beautiful, the food was great, and a good time was had by all. We wish them many more happy years together and we are thankful for their love and support.

We are spending the rest of the week here hanging out by the pool (my in-laws have one in their backyard) and doing family things -- picnics, trips to the beach, a round of golf, and eating alot! The kids are also enjoying spending time with their cousins. Jessica is the oldest of four and is the only one who lives away for the area so it's good to come back and spend time altogether.

Speaking of Jessica she's applied for work at a couple of different places -- one position at Calvin Seminary in the Admissions Office and one paraprofessional position at Dutton Christian School in Caledonia, a southern suburb of Grand Rapids -- neither of which, we found out yesterday, is going to work out. She was not chosen to move on with the Calvin admissions position and, at the last minute, Dutton Christian decided not to fill the open para position until later in the year dependent on need.

So, we are back to square one in the job search for her, which is disappointing, but probably not unexpected. The job market here is very challenging -- openings are scarce and the applicants are numerous. So, we are continuing to seek and pray and hope, knowing that the Lord will provide in His good time and trusting that our needs will be met. We will begin the search in earnest again next week after we return home on Saturday.

In the meantime, we will enjoy our time here with family. The weather continues to be gorgeous and the kids having a great time with their cousins. All of which are blessings from the Lord.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Anniversary Bats

Monday (the 2nd) was our 13th anniversary. I spent the morning golfing with my dad and brother -- I'm such a romantic -- and then in the afternoon we went to the zoo with my parents, Mark and Kelli, and all the kids.

We got home from there about six and after we got the kids fed and in bed Jessica and I settled in for a late dinner and a movie. However, our movie was rudely interrupted by a bat flying through the living room and scaring both of us half to death. After trying to chase it out the door with a blanket it found its way onto the top of the frame of the door leading upstairs.

After much debate about the best way to get him out, including tennis rackets and pillow cases, I settled on my winter boots. So I grabbed one out of the closet, turned on the lights to blind him, hit him over the head as hard as I could, and killed him...dead.

Now, one would think the my wife would label me the hero of the evening. But no, not Jessica...instead I was chastised for killing one of God's creatures. I reminded her that we needed to go to sleep later that night and asked her if she would do so knowing there was a bat flying around the living room. After admitting that she would not, I apologized for having to kill him and firmly decided that if it was between her getting a good nights sleep and the bat staying alive, sleep wins.

So that's our lucky 13th anniversary story. I hope it's the last bat I have to deal with on our anniversary day or any other day for that matter!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Michael's Parents

My parents arrived on Friday morning. They brought us the rest of our stuff from Grandma's garage, which still filled a conversion cargo van! We got the van unloaded and the stuff put away in the house on Friday afternoon and we've spent the rest of the weekend hanging out.

On Saturday we spent several hours at Holland State Park on Lake Michigan with my parents, and Mark and Kelli. For those of you who may not be aware, my brother Mark and his wife, Kelli, live in Zeeland which is about a 35 minute drive West from where we are. They have two lovely children, an adopted daughter, Ruby, who is two and a son, Charlie, who is eighteen months. Anyway, we had a great time at the beach and so did the kids. Afterwards, we went back to their place and had dinner and spent the evening together. I would post some pictures, but true to form, we forgot the camera.

Today, we all got together at our place and had Sunday dinner and after church tonight I took mom and dad around and showed them the kids' schools, the seminary, and a few of the other things around our home.

It's been great having them here. Moving further away from them was hard on them (and all of us), but they now have the opportunity to visit both Mark and I in the same trip which is great.

Both Jessica and my families have been so supportive during the process which we've been very thankful and grateful for. We couldn't have done any of this without their love and support and we feel very blessed to have it.

We'll have one more day together tomorrow and it sounds like golf with the guys and a trip to the John Ball Zoo are one the schedule. I haven't been out golfing yet this year, so I'm just hoping I don't embarass myself!