Friday, December 30, 2011


We are back safe and sound from a great week spending time with family and friends in Iowa and Minnesota.  We made a last minute decision to travel through the night after a few family members started getting ill.

Driving through the night allowed to me to reflect on how blessed we are to have such a wonderful support system of family and friends.  This journey of ours to the ministry has been full of God’s goodness and grace and one of the greatest evidences of that is the enduring support of family and friends.  Not only did spending time with them again remind us of that, but also all the Christmas cards and words of encouragement that we’ve received during the holiday season.  As we tell people so often, we feel truly blessed.

Speaking of being blessed, I’ve been blessed with an unique travel opportunity that I don’t think I’ve mentioned on this blog before, although many of you may already know about it.  On January 4th, I’m departing from Chicago to travel to Istanbul, Turkey where I will begin a two-week biblical study tour of Turkey and Greece. 

I’m going as part of a New Testament course along with about twenty other students from the seminary.  Our guide will be Dr. Jeff Weima who teaches New Testament courses.  We will be visiting the sites of the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3, following the routes of some of Paul’s missionary journeys, and seeing other important sites of the ancient world.

I’m very excited about this trip and I’m confident that it will enhance my ministry later on as well as increase my knowledge of and appreciation for the historical contexts in which the Bible was originally inspired. 

I am not very excited about leaving behind my wife and children for two weeks.  I very grateful to Jessica for her support in allowing me to participate in this once in a lifetime opportunity.  Even while it will be any exciting two weeks for me, it will undoubtedly be an exhausting two weeks for her.   Her mother is planning to come and stay at our house for at least part of the time, and the wives of some of my travel companions are already planning some get-togethers while were gone!  Indeed, blessings continue to abound in our lives.

So please remember me and my family in your prayers the next few weeks.  Pray for safety in travel for our trip, patience and strength for Jessica and that the kids will behave well. 

I can’t wait to share everything I’ve learned with you all after I get back!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Little Trepidation

Exams are finished.  As of today, my seminary education is half-way completed.  I meet that reality with equal amounts of excitement and trepidation.  On the one hand, though I like learning and am enjoying my studies, I most certainly not a person who’s cut out for years of studying in an academic setting.  I’m excited to ‘get to work’ again.  On the other hand, I’m acutely aware of how much I yet need to learn.  I’m already anticipating the mistakes I’ll make in ministry as a result of either not knowing enough or being more sure of myself than I ought to be. 

As I think about it though, I wonder if that isn’t a good model with which to approach life in general – with fairly liberal doses of both excitement and trepidation.  Excitement about new challenges and experiences.  Excitement about all the good things that life brings – laughs and birthdays and backyard barbeques.  And yes, even excitement about successes that I’ll have – times where either I or my kids will say or do the right thing. 

But the trepidation is always lurking in the background.  Trepidation about all of the firsts that new a new experience brings.  The times when I’ll say or do just the wrong thing.  You know, all of those things in life that keep us humble.

And that’s exactly why trepidation can be a good thing.  It’s forces to me stay humble.  To not get too full of myself when things go well.  As strange it at may sound having a feeling of insecurity now and again is just what I need to make sure I am secure – not in myself, but in Jesus.  For me, knowing that I won’t always get it right takes the pressure off.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still very concerned about doing it right and doing my best, but I’m also fully aware that sometimes (maybe even most times) I won’t get it right.  Being overly humble rather than overly confident about my abilities will help me be able at admit my mistakes rather than defend them.

As soon as I don’t have enough trepidation in my life, is when I think I ought to start being worried.  But I face those trepidations with the confidence that I don’t face them alone.  God is right there with me, in the excitement and the trepidation of life.  My confidence lies in his ability not my own.  So, bring on the trepidation and enjoy the excitement.  Life offers plenty of both.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Semester Ending…

Early this year on this blog, I mentioned (probably more than once) that this semester was going to be a busy one.  Well, I’m here tell you that my ability to predict the future remains fully intact.  This semester has been a full one.  As a result, the blog has taken a back seat.

This afternoon, I find myself with a few moments to provide a quick update.  Jessica is out doing some holiday shopping with the older two kids and Alex is napping…check that, Alex WAS napping…we’ll see how far I get here.

This coming Monday is last day of classes for the semester already.  I’m finished with all of my papers, sermons, and assignments and, for the most part, I’ve done well on them.  However, there’s a few I don’t have back yet, so the jury is still out on those.  Tuesday is a review day and then exams begin on Wednesday.  I’ve got one on Wednesday; two on Thursday; one on Friday.  So this next week will consist of much studying.

The semester has been a thought-provoking one.  I’ve learned a lot about how to better read and understand the Old Testament in my Old Testament Narratives class.  I’ve gained valuable insights into how to think about and do worship in my Forming Worshipping Communities class.  I’ve been challenged to wrestle with and get greater clarification about doctrine in my Systematic Theology class.  I took an elective on the book of Job this semester which was very challenging.  The book of Job raises a lot of difficult questions and forced me to think about a lot of issues concerning reality of evil and the goodness of Job and the struggles with the consequences of sin.  In my New Testament Narratives classes we’ve talked about the relationship between the Gospels and the variety of interpretations that people give to the life and work of Jesus.  To say the least, I’m going to have to remember a lot of information for my exams next week.

I’ve also been meeting regularly with my vocational mentor which I’ve been enjoying.  It’s been very helpful for me to ask him about things we talk about in class and reflect practically.  It’s one thing to talk about things in the context of a classroom it’s wholly different to put them into practice in the context of pastoral ministry.  Questions about worship, theology, doctrine, the Bible and a host of other things.  So I’ve been very appreciative of what I’m learning both inside and outside the classroom.

In addition to school responsibilities, Christmas is also in full-swing here.  We’ve set up the tree and all the decorations and we’ve done a little shopping. However, Alex’s curiosity has prevented us from placing the present under the tree.  I’ve also scooped the sidewalk and put plastic on the windows. Yep, winter has arrived!  

Last night, Jessica and Bethany and I went to a production of The Nutcracker performed by the Grand Rapids Ballet Company.  I'm not what one would call a connoisseur of the ballet, but I thought it was very well done.  But the best part was that Jessica and Bethany thoroughly enjoyed themselves.  Zachary is getting older so we decided that he could be left in charge of Alex.  He did a superb job.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


It’s been a while since my last post, but it’s been a pretty regular few weeks.  We are all currently in Canada at Jessica’s parents’ house for the holiday.  It’s not a holiday here (Canada celebrates Thanksgiving in October) but we are enjoying some downtime here. 

Despite the fact that it isn’t a holiday here, our hosts were gracious enough to prepare and serve a traditional Thanksgiving dinner which we will have tonight.  I’m very excited!  Eating, as many of you know, is one of my favorite past times.

I appreciate the fact that we have a today dedicated to being thankful.  It’s good to take a moment and reflect on our many blessings.  However, as Christians, I think we need more than the occasional reminder that our lives should be characterized by thankfulness.

I truly believe that being thankful should be a way of being for Christians.  Thankfulness is not something you do, it is an attitude you have.  Thankful is who we are and how we live.  Living thank-full lives naturally leads to lives that are joy-full, content, peaceful, and all the other Fruits of the Spirit.  Thankfulness serves a dual role.  In addition to freeing us for showing the fruit of the Spirit, at the same time, it combats envy and greed and malice and anger – and many other attitudes that oppose the fruit of the Spirit.  So it not only helps us reflect on the positive it allows us to counteract the negative. 

So today, celebrate with family and friends and turkey and stuffing.  But remember that tomorrow and everyday thereafter our lives should reflect have an attitude of gratitude for what we have been given by God – not just here on earth, but in heaven as well. 

Thanksgiving is not a holiday, it’s a way to live.  Live a thank-filled life today and always.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Worship Time

Last Saturday night we set our clocks back on hour marking the end of daylight savings time for another year.  I for one am grateful for this.  My 8:00 classes began while it was still dark and that did not make me happy.  Now at least, my day starts in daylight even if it already getting dark by the time it ends. 

And all of this got me thinking about time.  Most of the time, I think of time of something that happens to me and I have no control over it.  Time moves along a continuum and I have only have so much time to get something accomplished before I come to the end of the continuum.  It moves at a constant rate of speed and if I don’t keep up with it I’m in trouble.  My work won’t get finished, I’ll miss the bus, I’ll be late for class.  For the most part, time is linear.

Twice this semester in a worship class that I’m taking, we’ve been encouraged to think of time as circular.  Instead of thinking about time in terms of a line  that we move along, we talked about thinking about it in terms of a circle that we move around.   The difference is that there is not a defined started and ending point, it just keeps going.  In addition, it means that time isn’t something that happens to us, it’s something we participate in.

If you think about, our calendars are circular as well.  We tend to think of them in terms of lines – days, weeks, months, moving along a continuum – a timeline.  But they are also a circle.  Draw a circle and put January at the top and then February and so on until December and think and then think your day as a circle you get up, do your stuff, and go to bed, and then you get up and do it all over again.  

Now apply this to the liturgical church calendar.  Start with Advent and move to the Ascension in a circle.  Now think of a worship service this way, not it terms of a line – what we can fit into the next 60 to 75 minutes – but as a circle.  Start at the top with God calling his people to gather for worship and moving through the parting blessing and there again is God calling his people to gather.  It’s a constant cycle that repeats itself week after week. 

In my mind, thinking of it this way accomplishes two things.  First, worship becomes not a set of minutes that has a start and an end but an endless cycle It doesn’t start and end it continues in a never-ending cycle of praise. 

Second, it turns worship into something that we participate in rather than something that happens to us.  Worship doesn’t happen to us, we are active participants in it.  We don’t just stand up and sit down, listen and speak, pray and sing, because we’ve reached the point on the continuum.  We do these things because we are participants in a continuous and ongoing relationship with God, picking up each week, where we left off last week.  We don’t go back in time, or start a new timeline, we just step right back into the circle and keep right on going.

Sure, time still happens to us.  I’ve still got to show up to class on time and make sure my deadlines are met.  But having a different way to think about time might make me less inclined make excuses for what I do and don’t have time for and it might make me make different choices about how I use my time the next day.  After all, every day is a new circle.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Reformation Day?

As I sit here and write, I’ll be interrupted frequently with a knock at the door by kids dressed up in all manner of costumes and several who aren’t dressed up at all.  My own kids are currently out in the neighborhood doing the same.  In fact, they just came in the door with their haul.

Halloween has always been one of those ‘in the world, but not of the world’ kinds of things for me.  Even growing up, we always participated, but my parents made it quite clear where we really stood on the issues surrounding Halloween.   It was something fun to do as long as we kept things in perspective.  We always went door to door, but we never got into Halloween parties or the like.  We didn’t decorate the house.  It wasn’t a big deal…it was mostly an excuse to get a bunch of candy for free.

Growing up, I found it a rather unfortunate accident of the calendar that Reformation Day and Halloween fell on the same day.  Would Protestant’s have as many ‘mixed feelings’ about Halloween if it didn’t share itself with the hanging of the 95 theses on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany?   Maybe some would, but for the most part, I think there’d be a lot less angst over Halloween among Reformed Christians if it were on a different day. 

Even so, I’ve appreciated the fact that over the years both at home and at school our kids have learned that today is also, Reformation Day.  What happened today is an important event in the history of the church.  As long as our kids keep remembering that history and learning about that event maybe having my two-year old put on a spider costume and go door-to-door saying, “tick-or-teat” isn’t the worst thing in the world.  Besides, Jessica likes to roast the seeds that we pull out of the pumpkins when we carve them.

So I, for one, wish you a Happy (and guilt-free) Reformation Day and I hope you get lots of candy.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

A Foreigner no Longer

This is a little belated, but as of Wednesday, Oct. 19th at 1:00 PM, at the Gerald R. Ford Museum here in Grand Rapids, Jessica became a bona fide naturalized citizen of these here United States of America.

For those that may not know, Jessica is a Canadian citizen.  Born and raised in St. Catharines, ON she came to Dordt College in 1994 on a student visa.  After we got married and determined that it was likely we’d be staying in the U.S. for the forseeable future we took the next step in the process to make her stay here more permanent. 

So in August of 1997, as part of our honeymoon, we made a trip to the Immigration Office in Omaha, NE (romantic, I know) where we began what came to be a two-year process to get her a green card.  So two one-year temporary work visas and a special request for travel to attend her brother’s wedding later she had a green card.  Officially, she had become a Legal Permanent Resident Alien of the United States.  This status would be good for ten years (the longest duration allowed) before we would have to apply again.    This gave her all the rights and responsibilities of a US Citizen except the right to vote in any election of any kind.

But somehow, Permanent Resident Alien still seemed to, well….foreign. First of all, only the US government can call something that by definition only lasts ten years at most ‘permanent’.  Second, that word alien…it just isn’t very inviting.  She was living AS an alien and I was living WITH an alien…neither of us were too fond of the moniker. 

Her most recent green card expired in May of 2011, so last year about this time we started talking about what to do next.  Do we apply for another green card and get us another ten years or do we go whole hog and get it done once and for all?  After talking about it ourselves and taking wise counsel from others, we opted for the latter.  Thus began the research.

We would need to submit an application for naturalization which would need to be approved.  She would have to undergo a ‘biometrics’ appointment in which her fingerprints would be taken.  After that, we would have to appear for an interview in Detroit where she would be quizzed on her knowledge of the history and government of the USA.  A quiz that I doubt many Americans could pass and if we could successfully navigate all of that her application would be recommended for approval.

So we sent in the completed application in February of this year.  Completed the biometrics appointment in April and attended an interview in Detroit on June 13th and then we waited. 

The next government notice we received was that we missed her oath ceremony on July 20.  The problem was that we had never received the notice to attend.  So after more waiting and phone calling, we found out that her oath ceremony would be on October 19, 2011.

The story takes many twists and turns – not the least of which is neglecting to bring her green card to the interview in Detroit which was just about disastrous – we made it.  The ceremony was very well done.  She was sworn in with 85 others representing 37 countries of the world.  It was solemn and fun all at the same.  For many, this was a dream come true. 

What’s this all mean?  It means that I no longer with an alien, I guess. But, as Christians, I suppose were all aliens….we’re just permanent resident aliens here on earth as we await the Lord’s return.  In the meantime, we swear an oath of allegiance to our countries even as our true allegiance is to the ruler of every country.

Welcome to the US of A, Jessica! 

Sunday, October 9, 2011


Lately, a number of things that I’ve both encountered and have been studying have led to my doing a lot of thinking about ‘theodicy’.  Theodicy is essentially the relationship between the goodness of God and the reality of evil.  The word first appeared in print in the 1700’s in an essay by a philosopher named Gottfried Liebniz in which he was attempting to reconcile the goodness of God with the presence of evil.  The word itself is the combination of two Greek words:  Theos – God and Dike – Justice.   Understood using those terms, theodicy is the study of the justice of God.

Three things have led me to contemplate this lately.  First, I’m taking a class on the book of Job this semester.  Much of the discussion in the class has centered around the challenge of reconciling the goodness of God with the reality of evil. We have essentially been wrestling with the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”  What does the book of Job offer us, if anything, in answer to that question?  In addition to that, we’ve been discussing the providence of God in Systematic Theology which leads to the question, “What is God’s plan?”  Second and third are two instances of untimely death that have affected friends of ours.   Last week, our neighbor's 18 year-old niece was killed in a car accident after she got in a car with a drunk driver; and just this morning we learned that a young father of three who is a friend of a friend died of a sudden heart attack while biking.

Why do these things happen?  Were these deaths a part of God’s plan?  If God is good, why does he allow bad things to happen?  I’m not going to pretend to answer any of these questions here.  There has been much ink spilled in literally hundreds of books over hundreds of years that have attempted to do just that. There are a lot of people a lot smarter than me that have done a lot more thinking about these issues than I have.  Besides, I wonder if it’s even possible to give a humanly satisfying answer to that question.  So what do people who’ve been throw into unexplained grief need to hear?  What do you say to a child who’s just lost their dad?  To a mother who’s just lost her daughter?

I’ve thought a lot about how to address these questions pastorally.It seems to me that questions of this type of even harder to answer when you’re a Christian.  If you don’t believe in God to begin with, in a certain sense, the problem of theodicy doesn’t exist.  In that case, the questions of “why?” are profoundly different than if you believe in God that is good – a God that is “slow to anger and abounding in love.”

I’ve heard my share of pastoral horror stories,  Pastors and other friends who, even though they mean well, end up saying just the wrong thing.  Instead of helping they end up hurting.  I’ve also heard my share of stories of pastors and friends who’ve done the right thing and have made all the difference.  Note the distinction between saying and doing.  Most often, the stories of helping that I’ve heard have centered not so much on words but on actions. 

I don’t think we can ever provide words that can answer the questions imbedded in theodicy, but I think we can provide acts of kindness that acknowledge the grief of another.  Often what people need most in times of suffering are not words, but gestures – a hug, a smile, a tear, sitting with them in silence and sorrow.  I think, this is where Job’s friends get it right.  Job 2 tells us that his three friends sat with him in silence for a whole week before entering into a series of speeches attempting to console Job and defend God.  In the end, Job 42 tells us that Job spoke rightly and his friends did not…perhaps sitting in silence and solidarity with their grieving friend was the best answer of all.

It might be that, as a pastor, I’ll never be able to satisfactorily answer the question, “Why?”  for those that are grieving. But I do hope that I’ll be able to satisfactorily mourn with those who mourn in such a way that doesn’t attempt to answer the questions but at least attempts to understand them.  Part of my job will be to provide the words, but I hope that through my actions, more so than my words, those who are grieving will, at some point, be able to say again with the psalmist, “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation” (Ps. 13:5).

God is Good and God is Just….I’m just not sure that there is good way reconcile those two things in this life.  Ultimately, that lack of reconciliation is itself the problem of evil.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Life at its Fullest

Everyone and everything is in full fall swing at the Ten Haken’s.  The kids and I have been in school for a few weeks now and the busyness of the semester is setting in.  All of the activities at church such as GEMS, Cadets, and Choir, and Bible study have started;  SoulCare started for Jessica and Alex; and school activities such as music lessons, theatre group for Bethany and class trips to ArtPrize (a national art competition held in Grand Rapids -- are also underway.  So after school is filled with music practice, homework, appointments, dinner, baths, reading, and the like.

My prior inclinations that this would be one of my busiest semesters of seminary have proven to be true.  The workload is increased as has the difficulty of the coursework.  In addition, I’ve been working a few extra hours in the Admissions Office at the seminary since one of the two full-time employees that make up that office is out on maternity leave.  So, I’m relying heavily on Jessica right now to maintain order at home and she’s been doing the amazing job.  More of my evenings are being taken up with studying leaving less time for me to help with evening routines and I continue to be grateful for her support and patience with me and my schedule.

Later this week, Jessica’s parents are coming for a visit.  It’s GrandFriends Day at school so they will be able to attend that and then we’ll try and take in some ArtPrize installations and maybe some golf.  So I’ll work some long hours this week in order to have some time this weekend to with them. 

Life is full – full of busyness and full of blessing.  Full of challenges and full of rewards.  Full of love and laughter amidst the chaos of full schedules.  Please pray that we all stay healthy – getting sick is not on the ‘to do’ list! 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


This past Sunday afternoon I was relaxing on the couch when the phone rang.  It was the neighbor girl and she wanted to know if we could come to the graveyard with her and her family.  Strange request, but sure!

Time for some background…our neighbors, the Yondo’s, and especially the mom, Angela, have a unique relationship (if that’s the right word) with a local cemetery called St. Andrew’s.  Due to many years of neglect, vandalism, poor record keeping, and a fire that destroyed many of the records, the cemetery had fallen into a state of disrepair.  Many of the headstones are from late 1800’s and early 1900’s. 

Angela, and consequently her family, have taken on the herculian task of restoring it.  This requires not only the physical restoration of landscaping, tree-trimming and the like, it also requires finding and recording information on the headstones and then doing the research of who these people were.  It is her labor of love.

On this particular warm and sunny afternoon the older two kids and I went out there and helped haul brush and set-up headstones that have either broken or been vandalized.  We also spent some time looking for headstones that,  after being broken and laying on the ground for many years, have become buried.  She accomplishes this using a metal pole that she thrusts into the ground like a probe hoping to ‘hit’ one.   She had recently discovered a set of four – all family members that we buried together.

After a few hours of helping and learning we were about ready to leave when Zachary grabbed the probe and unwittingly stuck it in the ground and ‘hit’ one.  We began digging and wondering – “Who is it?” 

It was a strange feeling to be looking for a someTHING and at the same time knowing it was the last remaining memory of a someONE.   We finally got it out of the ground….

The son of

C.W. Johnson

Aug. 11, 1906

Nov. 14, 1906

My exhilaration of the find was quickly replaced with wonder and sadness.   Who was this?  How did he die?  Why so young?  Would anyone alive today remember his family?    Answering that question in the affirmative seemed unlikely.  Angela had no record of any Johnsons being buried here. It seemed liked his memory was lost forever.

It got me thinking about the importance of remembering and the fact that we partake in Holy Communion, the Eucharist, as an act of remembering.  We remember so that we don’t forget. 

That may seem obvious, but imagine what it would be like if the church hadn’t been remembering these past 2,000 years.  Think about that – what if the church neglected its responsibility to remember by not participating in the Lord’s Supper? 

We partake to remember.  We remember who he is, what he did and why he did it.  And in so doing, we remember a tomb too.  A tomb that is empty.  A tomb that is not forgotten. A tomb that, for the sake of us all, cannot be forgotten.   That’s the power, the importance, the rememberance of the Lord’s Supper. 

By remembering Jesus in the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, we share in his death and resurrection.  He is not the forgotten son of C.W. Johnson.  He is the remembered Son of God, and the Savior of us all. 

Take, Eat, Remember, and Believe….so that we do not forget.

Sunday, September 4, 2011


This past week has been a strange one for me. The kids started school, but I didn’t. I start on Tuesday. But this year none of us are facing the anxiety and stress that we faced last school year of being in a new place, trying to get familiar with our new surroundings, trying to find a church home, and wondering if this whole ‘school for Michael’ thing was, in fact, a good idea.

So this week has been calm and quiet – except for one thing – my phone and internet connections. Due a dramatic increase in the cost over the course of this past year, I decided to switch phone and internet providers, going from Comcast to AT&T.

The gentleman that I talked to over the phone was friendly and helpful and assured me that service would be established within a week. Indeed, as promised, a very nice service technician came to the house on a Wednesday morning to establish my phone service. He did so, but there was a problem with the line and while I had a dial-tone, the service was not very clear and he would send someone to repair it. They did.

The following Wednesday, I was informed, someone would come to establish and switch my new DSL service. Indeed, again a nice technician called on Wednesday afternoon and informed me that he was having trouble getting service established. After working on the issue for several hours, he determined that it was out of his control and transferred my issue to the ‘central office’ for further work. He left me his business card and told me to call if there were any problems. This is when the trouble began. In the meantime, my phone service had to be disconnected in order to resolve the issue.

Thursday came and went and no word, so Friday morning I called the repair man and he gave the number of his manager. So I called him and he said he was on his way back to the office and would look into the issue and call me back. Friday afternoon another service technician was at the house and again after several hours of work determined that there was an issue at the central office and she would be entering a repair order with them. Still no service.

So now we're going into the holiday weekend with no phone service (I still have internet through Comcast). On Saturday I got a customer satisfaction survey call on my cell phone and told the guy my story – he couldn’t believe that they just “left me hanging” and put me on hold. While on hold, I had to chase Alex and accidentally hung up on the guy and he never called me back. I’ve tried calling the customer service number three times and after waiting on hold for 10 minutes got frustrated and hung up.

Anyway, all of this got me thinking about reliability. Any of the people I talked to (service techs, managers, customer service people) could have called me back and given me an update or asked me if my issues got resolved, but not one did. That was somebody else’s job. Most of the time, being reliable means doing something that ‘isn’t your job’ – going above and beyond, taking the extra step – you know, the kinds of promises you hear about on TV and read about in business magazines. The types of things that Fortune 500 companies have conferences and training sessions about. I’ve seen none of it in my interactions with AT&T.

So I wondered, how reliable am I? Do others know me as someone who gets the job done and done well? Or am I the guy who’s always shirking the responsibility – passing on the problem to someone else rather than seeing it through to resolution?

The challenge is to know my limitations – to realize that there are some things that I have to pass on, things that I can’t (and shouldn’t) try and fix without help. I must know my limits, without using them as an excuse. I must know where my work stops and someone else’s must begin.

However, that can only happen if I’m confident that I’ve done my work well – and I’m rarely certain of that. It always seems that I can do more, do better, work harder, longer.

So I’m not always the most reliable. I’ve dropped more balls than I dare to count. But I know of one who is -- I celebrate his grace and surround myself with his promises each and every Sunday in worship and then do my best to take them with me into the week that lies ahead. I rely on the limitless one, the one whose work doesn’t have a stopping point. The one who won’t hand off the repair ticket to the next person in line – Jesus IS the repair ticket.

So whether I faced with the challenges of work, school, family, or AT&T, my reliance is on Jesus, who is totally reliable. A good thing to remember as I start this new, busy, and challenging semester.

And who knows, maybe one of these days AT&T will call me back and prove their reliability…but I’m not counting on it.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The End of Summer

While many of our friends in Iowa and Minnesota have already started school (or soon will) we still have a week or so to go.  Zachary and Bethany have their open house at school tomorrow and school starts next week Tuesday.  Yesterday, Calvin Seminary welcomed all of the new students to campus and I helped with that process a little bit.  It brought back a flood of memories from last year.  It was fun to see a new group of students arrive and I was glad I wasn’t one of them!  All students begin classes the day after Labor Day.

So as our summer comes to a close we took one last camping trip last weekend and had a great time at Hoffmaster State Park on the shore of Lake Michigan.  We did some swimming, some bike-riding, and lots of sitting around the fire.  It was a good last weekend before life begins in earnest once again. 

So this week we are busy getting school supplies for the kids, I ordered all my books for next semester and am trying to get myself good and organized before school begins for me – in fact, Jessica just came in from shopping with my folders!  I’ve been putting in more time at the admissions office as well.  Even Jessica is already subbing tomorrow at the Evergreen Campus of Grand Rapids Christian, which runs on a different schedule than the rest of the system. 

So we are finishing the summer well and anticipating starting the school year well too.  We continue to covet your prayers as we start another academic year. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Snap Judgments

We just got back from vacation in the Wisconsin Dells at a great resort.  We had a fantastic time!  It was great to be all together for a few days.   The kids had an absolute blast in all the waterparks, I totally embarrassed myself on the golf course with my dad and brothers (per usual), and I ate way too much junk – just the way vacation is supposed to be.

While I was poolside and not responsible for watching Alex, I was reading the book, Blink by Malcolm Gladwell.  It’s all about how sometimes our snap judgments -- the kinds of things we can determine or ‘see’ in the blink of an eye (hence the title) – can be dead on and better than our more researched judgments or they can be totally wrong because of pre-conceived biases that we don’t even realize we have.  His research, approach, and analysis is controversial but very intriguing.  Gladwell has a way of making his readers think about everyday things in a new way that causes you to pause and think twice.

It got me thinking about the quick judgments I make, particularly about other people.  Sometimes my judgments turn out to be spot on and sometimes they turn out to be embarrassingly wrong.  When I’m wrong, I feel really bad and scold myself for getting it wrong promising myself that next time I’ll be more cautious before ‘jumping to conclusions’.  Of course, I soon forget that promise to myself and do it again only this time I happen to get it right and feel totally justified and even a little proud of myself that I ‘called it right’ this time.

Gladwell argues that we can train ourselves to make better snap judgments about people and situations.  But in order to do that we have to be willing to understand our biases and change them.  This takes hard work and practice. 

As a Christian, I believe that judging people is wrong.  And it is, if we are judging their hearts.  But I also think, there is a place for making judgments -- even in the Christian life -- when it comes to peoples attitudes and actions.  If I believe (and I do) that people will and even should be able to determine whether or not I am a Christian based on how I live and act then I need to be able to do that with others as well.

As Christians, we hope that people ‘see’ something in us that they don’t see in others – there is a judgment, a conclusion, that is reached – and that often happens in the blink of an eye.  And we hope that that judgment is good one based on the way we live. 

I hope that as I go through life people will, in fact, judge me and that I will be judged as someone who is exudes love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. 

How would someone judge me in the blink of an eye?  How would they judge you?

Sunday, August 7, 2011

A Little Bit of Everything

Well it’s been nearly two weeks since my last post and there’s been a lot going on.  Here are a few highlights from the past twelve days or so:

1.  Internship Ends – August 2nd was my last official day with Degage Ministries.  I enjoyed my summer there very much.  As I’ve mentioned a few times on this blog – they’re great people and they do some great things.  My time with them finished with a trip to the beach in Grand Haven with some of the patrons.  A good time was had by all.

2. Summer Rec for the Kids --  I don’t think I mentioned this here ever, but I was the assistant coach for Bethany’s summer rec softball team as well.  Her head coach was a young lady named, Tiffany, and she did an amazing with those thirteen girls.  The play fast pitch here so that was a new experience for her as well.  Zachary played rec baseball too and had a good season – both of them finished their seasons on the 27th.

3.  14th Anniversary – Jessica and I celebrated our 14th wedding anniversary on August 2nd.  I can’t believe it’s been that long already and I really can’t believe she still likes me.  But we’re doing better than ever, and I’m so very thankful to God for giving me such a wonderful spouse.  Since I was in Grand Haven already, she met me there later in the day and we went walking along the waterfront, went out for dinner, and enjoyed an ice cream on the boardwalk.  It was great.

4.  A Mini-College Reunion – We had the distinct honor of hosting our very good friends David & Missy Mulder and their two kids for a few nights.  David and I have been friends since we met on the very first day of orientation at Dordt College as roommates and Missy and I have been friends since our sophomore year of high school at Southwest Christian.  They traveled here from Sioux Center for a wedding of David’s cousin and we had a fantastic time catching up with them.  On Thursday night, we had a cook-out at our place with two other friends from college and their families who now live in the Grand Rapids area and we had a blast.  It was fun to reminisce!

5.  Vacation Anticipation – Tomorrow is the big day – we leave for the Wisconsin Dells to spend 4 nights and 5 days at the Wilderness Resort (  We are going there with my whole family and it’s going to be crazy – 9 adults and 8 kids, 6 of which are under the age of 5.  Our resort has no less than 6 waterparks and it’s going to be a blast.  We are leaving first thing Monday morning and we are all excited.

So it’s been a wonderfully busy few weeks….lots of food, friends, endings, and beginnings.  God is truly good!  I hope your summers have been equally enjoyable!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Living in Tension

In a class I took this semester a professor said that the role of the pastor is to live within and be comfortable with tension.  What he meant was that pastors need to be able to see the ideal and recognize the way that things should be while at the same time recognizing that things are not, in fact, the way they should be – and to learn to be comfortable working in that ‘in between’ space of knowing what should be but never quite seeming to be able to get there.

As I’ve mentioned before one of the things I do at Degage Ministries is help in the ID program that helps people get state-issued ID’s when they’ve lost or don’t have the proper documentation.  We help them get what they need and most of the time it’s not being able to come up with the $10.00 that the Secretary of State charges to get one.  So we upfront the cost and ask them to ‘pay-back’ some or all of that cost when it arrives.  Most agree to pay $3-5, some agree to pay it all, and others insist they can’t pay any.

Sometimes coming up with the money is really a big deal for these folks and sometimes it isn’t.  Tension.   Why can a person not have 10 bucks for a state ID but can ask to leave to go outside and have a cigarette from a pack that cost them at least 5 of those 10 bucks that they don’t have?  Tension.  Why can one person who really can’t afford it be so grateful that we are willing to help them out that they say, “I’ll find a way to come up with $10, I’m just grateful you’re here for me right now.”  Tension.  Why when I’m working in the kitchen is one person thankful for the free donut and the next person walks away in disgust because we ran out of muffins before he got there?  Tension.

Tension is all around us.  It’s what makes us calloused toward helping others who seem like they aren’t interested in helping themselves.   It’s what makes us want to help those who need it while at the same time wondering if we’re being taken advantage of when we do.

The folks at Degage have learned to live and work in that tension.  They do what they can to mitigate being taken advantage of but the struggle – the tension – still remains.  And they are constantly wondering what to do about it.  But it doesn’t stop them from helping and helping well.  They are still meeting the needs of the poor and homeless and meeting them well.

Living in tension comes part and parcel with living the Christian life.  It’s part of the already and the not yet.  It’s part of knowing that God’s kingdom (in Jesus Christ – the already) has come but not fully (in the Second Coming – the not yet).  So we live in this space in between – filled with tension and navigating it’s swirling waters is challenging.

Living in tension means helping someone who really needs it, and if that means helping someone who maybe doesn’t it – well, so be it.  It is God who justifies not me. 

In the meantime, I’ll do what I can for the ones who need it.  And, if along the way, it means helping someone who doesn’t – well that’s part of the tension and I’ll continue to watch out for that too.  But not, I hope, at the expense of the least of these. 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Pics from Funeral–read the post below this first

For some reason I can’t add these pictures to my previous post.  But I made it down to the church and captured a few images of Betty Ford’s casket and motorcade leaving the church for burial.  Quite a powerful sight:




Two Interesting Events

Event #1:  As I write this, I’m watching the eulogy of Former First Lady Betty Ford on television.  The funeral is occurring at Grace Episcopal Church on the corner of Plymouth and Hall less than two miles from our house.  If I finish this blog entry in time, I might take my bike down there and see if I can catch a glimpse of the motorcade as it leaves the church and heads to the Ford Museum where she’ll be buried next to her husband.  In case you hadn’t guessed, Gerald and Betty Ford are from Grand Rapids.

So currently, less than two miles from my house sits Dick and Lynne Cheney, Former First Lady Barbara Bush, and Former President Bill Clinton.  Pretty strange for a guy who grew up on the Great Plains of Iowa and Minnesota. 

Event #2:  Last night I went to prison – the Robert Handlon Level 2 Correctional Facility in Ionia, MI to be exact.  Why?  To play softball, of course!  Each year, our church gets a group of guys together and take on the prisoners in a game of softball on the sprawling grounds of the prison. 

It was the first time I’d ever been in a prison and it was fascinating.  I was like a kid at a museum.  I had so many questions and couldn’t stop looking around at the electric and barbed wire fencing that towered above me on all sides.   It was eerie and fascinating all at the same time.

When the 11 of us first entered through security, passed the automated bars and had our ball gloves and bats inspected the grounds were eerily quiet.  It’s a large complex and there was a soul to be seen anywhere.  It was somber, quiet, sad.  We got to the field and started warming up.

After a few minutes, the prisoners were all let out for their evening recreation time  and an army of orange shorts and white shirts made their way toward the far end of the grounds for our annual match-up.  Suddenly, there was smiling, laughter, jokes, and more than a little competitiveness. 

We played two games – we won one and lost one – and had a blast.  The men were so appreciative that we came and repeatedly thanked us for being willing to come and offer them a few hours of diversion from what is otherwise a dull day of routine under the watchful eyes of guards.   They were on their best behavior because they knew that getting to play softball with someone from the other side of the barbed wire was a unique and special privilege. 

They were profoundly grateful that we came and I was glad I went too.  We put smiles on faces that don’t smile often just by playing a game of softball. 

Oh, and by the way – I still do OK wielding a glove at first base, if I do say so myself!

Well, it looks like the service for Betty Ford is about over.  Time to get on my bike and see what I can see.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

One Year Anniversary

Today marks exactly one year since we arrived in Grand Rapids to start this new adventure.  As I look back the Lord has truly blessed us.  Earlier this week, I wrote a letter to the congregation at Faith CRC in Sioux Center recapping God’s work in our lives this past year.  I share that same letter (slightly revised) with you here, and thank God for all of you too.  Thank you for your prayers and support – we have felt and needed them and continue to need them.  To please consider this our thanks to God for all of you:

Today is exactly one year ago that our family said goodbye to many of you and made the 700 mile journey to Grand Rapids driving a minivan and a 26-foot Penske truck loaded with all of our worldly possessions. It has been a year of many changes and a few challenges, but also a year filled with blessings from the Lord.

The Lord has blessed our transition immensely so I want to begin this letter by saying thank you for your prayers, words of encouragement, and support – we do truly thank the Lord every time we remember you. I hope you will allow me to share with you some of the ways the Lord has blessed us in the past year while also updating you on our family.

Zachary and Bethany both had great years at their new schools, which is something we were very concerned about initially. We continue to be so appreciative of Christian education and have been wonderfully blessed by the Grand Rapids Christian School System. In addition to providing a quality Christian education to our kids it has also provided our family with some income as Jessica substitute taught at the elementary school quite often throughout the school year. In fact, she was often requested by several teachers. Next year, Zachary and Bethany will both attend the middle school and they will both now be able to walk or ride their bikes to school. We are praising the Lord for providing for us in this way.

In addition to finding good part-time work, Jessica is enjoying meeting with a group called SoulCare which meets weekly during the school year for Bible study, fellowship, and a time of sharing with each other the joys and concerns of being pastor’s wives. She has also become involved with a MOPS group at our church.

Alex is doing great as well, and is proof that the ‘terrible-twos’ are so-called for a reason! He is asserting his independence regularly and is expanding his vocabulary even faster. He is loving being able to be outside, go for walks or bike rides in the neighborhood, and has already proven himself to be quite adept in the water. He is fearless when it comes to swimming and I think he is convinced that he can breathe under water no matter how often we tell him otherwise.

My first year at seminary was truly a blessing. After some initial hurdles of trying to find the ‘rhythm’ of being a student again, my year finished on a high note by doing well enough in Hebrew to be exempt from the final exam, getting an ‘A’ on my first research paper in over 12 years, and ending with a first-year GPA of 3.8. My knowledge has been expanded and so has my personal library! God has truly blessed my studies for which I am very thankful.

During the school year I volunteer with a Friendship Ministries group (a ministry to individuals who are mentally impaired) on Tuesday nights at a church near our home. I am working with a mentally-challenged young man named Marcus and he’s been a delight to get to know. He isn’t able to talk, but (as many of you know) I do enough talking for the both of us!

This summer I’m interning at Degage Ministries ( in downtown Grand Rapids. They provide a number of services to the poor and homeless in the area. My primary work is in their dining room where they offer low-cost and free meals, their ID program where they help individuals who don’t have proper ID’s obtain a legal photo ID, and I lead a small Bible study on Thursday mornings. Degage is a very unique ministry that does some very unique things and I’m glad to be a part of it for the summer.

The rest of our summer plans include taking in some of the sights and sounds of Michigan. We’ve been bike-riding in Grand Haven, visited the shores of Lake Michigan (no fishing expeditions, though!), and are planning to do some camping at some highly recommended campgrounds along the lakeshore. I’m also doing some work in the seminary admissions office which I thoroughly enjoy and have been doing some pulpit supply.

I delivered my first sermon ever on Sunday, May 22nd and felt very comfortable doing so. I delivered it at Seymour CRC which has become our new church home. All of us have become involved in a variety of ways there – Zachary is in Sunday School and Cadets, Bethany is in Sunday school and GEMS and sings in the Children’s Choir, Jessica is in choir, serves on the Nursery Committee, and does some other volunteering, I serve as ‘liturgist’ about once a month and meet regularly with the pastor who is my mentor during my time at seminary, and Alex has his well-deserved reputation as the ‘most fun (read, “craziest”) kid in the nursery.’ In addition, Jessica and I are part of a small group Bible study that meets once a month. Though we miss you all, we are deeply thankful for our new church home here as well.

I’ve preached four times so far this summer and have really enjoyed doing so. It’s been a very affirming experience for me each and every time. I consider it a privilege that the Lord has blessed me with gifts that will allow me to study and preach his Word on a regular basis to His people.

So, I hope you will join my family and me in praising the Lord for his goodness to us. It has been a powerful year of God moving mightily in our lives. Please continue to keep us in your prayers and as we continue to follow God’s call.

I took a class this summer and in it we were asked to talk about a passage that has been meaningful to us. As I think, study, learn, and prepare for a career in ministry these words from Ephesians have sustained me and I want to leave you with them as well, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations for ever and ever. Amen!” (Ephesians 3:20-21). Grace and peace to you all.

In Christ Jesus our Lord,

Michael, Jessica, Zachary, Bethany, & Alex Ten Haken

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Cutting Edge Spirituality

I met with my vocational mentor today, who is also my pastor, and he asked me an interesting question, “What is the cutting edge in your growth in terms of your relationship with Jesus?”

I had never thought of it like that before – can my relationship with Jesus be ‘cutting edge’?  Usually, we reserve the phrase ‘cutting edge’ for things like the latest technological device or scientific research.  I’ve never thought about a relationship being cutting edge – especially a relationship with Jesus.  But, I think it’s helpful to think of it that way.

What he was trying to get at is where  I saw myself developing, seeing growth.  How was I being stretched by God and how was I stretching myself in developing my relationship with him.  Just like scientists or engineers are stretching themselves in their work to learn more, know more, discover more – I, and perhaps all Christians, should be stretching themselves more.  We should all be more on the ‘cutting edge’ of understanding what God is up to in our lives.

As a person studying to be a preacher of God’s word I have a unique responsibility and opportunity to be aware of where the cutting edge of spirituality is not only in my own life, but also in the lives of those whom I serve.  That means I need to aware of what God is up to all around me all the time and help make others aware of God’s work around them as well. 

In some cases, that may mean pushing people closer to the edge and challenge them to stretch themselves.  And in others, it may mean learning from those I serve and having them help me be more cutting edge in my own understanding.  In either case, as a professional pastor, just like a professional scientist or engineer (or any professional for that matter), I need to be on the ‘cutting edge’ of my craft – challenging myself to see God more and challenging those I come in contact with to see God more. 

Doing so will require much study, prayer, humility, and openness to what is happening around me.  I’m looking forward to the responsibility and the joy of being on the cutting edge of God’s work in our world.  What is the ‘cutting edge’ of God work your life right now?  Think about it.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Lesson Learned

A little extra excitement this week at the Ten Hakens.  On Monday night we were planning to go out for dinner with some friends and I was on the way home in the van with the babysitter.  We were just a few houses down from our house when I heard a loud crash.  I stopped the van and looked behind me and the passenger side rear door window was completely gone.  There was glass everywhere except where it belonged!

I looked through the hole in the van where the window used to be and saw a teenage boy standing on the lawn with his hands on his head staring at us in disbelief.   After making sure our babysitter was OK (which she was) I got out of the van and asked this young man what happened.  He threw a rock and it happened to find the window of my van.

I took down his info since his mom wasn’t home and told him I’d be in touch.  I called my insurance agent (who is also my brother, Mark!) and he told me to talk to the kid’s mom and get an estimate.

Later that night, I went over and talked to his mom and both she and her son were very good about the whole thing.  They were very clear that they would pay for any of the damages which was great.  I didn’t have to ‘fight’ with anyone and could avoid having to go through insurance.

So yesterday the young man came over and helped me clean up all the glass and today I had a new window installed by an auto glass company.  He’s going to pay me on a weekly basis until it’s paid for and everybody wins.  I only had to drive around Grand Rapids with plastic on the side of my van for two days.  And for those of you who know how particular I am about my vehicle – that was a two days too long! =)

Well, it’s all better now…and I think there were two lessons learned.  I hope the young man who threw the rock will learn that actions have consequences and many times those consequences are unintended.  I learned a lesson too…most of the time, people want to do the right thing and will do so if you give them the chance.   I kept my cool and didn’t get mad and in return these folks have been great about wanting to make things right.

I’m sure there’s a sermon illustration somewhere in all of this…but I’ll get back to you on that.  For now, it’s just a good story that could have turned out much worse than it did. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


Well, the three of us (Zachary, Bethany, and Michael) are officially all done with school!  It was a good year for all three of us.  We’ve all got our report cards and the kids and I are very happy with the results.  The Lord has blessed us!

So now, the fun can begin.  Jessica’s parents came for a visit for a few days.  They were here Friday – Tuesday and they brought with them our nephew, Marshall and niece, Michaela.  Marshall is the same age as Zachary and Michaela is the same age as Bethany and when they get together they are best of friends.  It was fun to have them around and we had a good time.  Jessica’s parents got the opportunity to hear me preach on Sunday night and we had a bonfire, went to the beach, did crafts and went out for dinner. 

On Monday Jessica and I took a trip to Detroit for her naturalization interview with the US Department of Immigration and Naturalization.  She passed her interview with flying colors and is now one step closer to being a bona fide citizen of the US of A. 

However, we got nervous when we arrived at the interview and Jessica realized that she didn’t have her Green Card with her which is probably the single most important thing to have in that interview.  But even though the Immigration Officer that interviewed her made it very clear he was not happy about that oversight he did conduct the interview regardless and approved her for naturalization.  So now we are awaiting final approval and notification of her swearing in ceremony.    I was hoping it would be all done by the 4th of July but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen.

On Friday my parents are coming for a long weekend.  My dad will be here for Father’s Day which will be great.  There have been so many times throughout this process of transitioning where we have been thankful for the love and support of family.  We continue to be very appreciative of their support and love it when they come to visit.

If any of you will be in the greater Grand Rapids area this summer we’d love to hear from you and see if we can arrange a get-together.  Have a great summer everyone!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


So I finished my first week at Degage and have lots of stories to tell already.  Many of the patrons that come through the doors there are more than just ‘down on their luck’.  Several of them were all to ready to admit that alcohol abuse has  been a major contributing factor in getting them to where they are today.  It caused them to loose jobs, be shunned by family, and loose homes and self-sufficiency. 

However, many of them are now sober and have been for several years, but the stigma that comes along with not having a job for months or even years makes it tough for them to get one – especially in this economy when employers that are hiring have their pick of applicants. 

Several of these men (they’re almost all men) that I’ve talked with don’t make excuses for their situation.  They understand that poor choices and dependence on the wrong things got them where they are today.  And even though they are no longer dependent on alcohol (you aren’t allowed in if you’ve been drinking) they are still dependent – dependent on someone who’s willing to take a chance on them. 

Dependence is a funny thing. On the one hand, we are all dependent on other people from time to time and that’s good.  None of us is totally self-sufficient all the time.    But like so many things in life too much of a good thing turns into a bad thing. 

The patrons at Degage are now dependent on someone else for just about everything.  The other day, I worked on the ‘second floor’ where we offer hot showers and about 70 or so gym lockers that are available for rent ($2/week) for them to store their stuff in since many don’t have places of their own.  All of these lockers can only be accessed with a key that staff have access to.  So every time someone needs to get at their stuff (clothes, toiletries, books, etc.) they have to ask permission to have their locker opened.

I processed this for awhile wondering what it would be like to be in a situation where every single day I had to ask a relative stranger for access to MY stuff – essentially asking permission to get dressed.  It really bothered me.  What does having to live like this do to a persons psyche?  How does it make them feel? 

Now, don’t hear my wrong,  as I said before many of these men are living in the shadow of their own bad choices and they readily admit that.  So, it’s not necessarily that I feel sorry for them (although, in some cases their circumstances are beyond their control), I just wonder what it would be like.  If it was me, I would be frustrated and perhaps even angry from time to time.

I look at it like this:  I give grace only because I’ve received it.  So, if someone’s life situation is such that they need to ask my permission to access the whole of their worldly possessions out of a gym locker on the second floor of a downtown ministry center because it’s the only option they’ve got, I’m going to do just that.  And I’ll do it with a smile and brief word of encouragement because I know that God, through the death and resurrection of his son, Jesus, unlocked the the gift of eternal life and threw open the gates of heaven for all his chosen ones.  And the best part is that I didn’t even have to ask permission – he, by his grace, took care of that too.  Pretty amazing stuff.

So this summer, I’ll open locker doors and all kinds of other things for those that need it.  Hopefully, I’ll have the opportunity to open the Scriptures with some of them too.  The really important stuff is in there, not behind a gym locker door.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Summer Internship

I started my summer internship yesterday at Degage Ministries in downtown Grand Rapids (   Degage is a French word that means to relax and be at ease.  Theirs is a different kind of ministry – it isn’t a soup kitchen because you have to pay to eat there; it isn’t a gospel because you don’t have to hear a gospel message in order to use their services; it isn’t a shelter though it does have a place for women to spend the night.  So it’s a very unique downtown ministry that seeks to meet the needs of the poor but not in the usual way. 

During the course of the summer, I’ll be sharing stories about the people I meet there and things that I do there.  So far, I’ve spent one day in the dining room selling coffee and one day helping upstairs working with their ID card program.   I’ll say more about each of those later.

So far, the most challenging part has been figuring out my new bus schedule!  But it’s great, because I can get on just a few blocks from home like before, and get dropped off and picked up right in front of Degage without having to transfer so it works out great.  So I catch the 6:30AM bus downtown and catch the 12:00PM bus back home at noon.

I’m just there in the mornings so my afternoons will be spent doing some work for the Admissions Office at the seminary, writing sermons, and doing some summer reading and writing for the coursework that accompanies this internship.  Hopefully, I’ll have the chance to take a kids swimming or something once in a while too.  It should be a good summer.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Sermon #1

While a few people have asked me how my first sermon went on Sunday night so I figured I’d just share my thoughts with all of you.  In short, I thought it went well.

The text for message was from John 13:1-12a where Jesus washes the feet of the disciples during the Last Supper.  In particular, I focused on Peter’s reluctance to be a gracious recipient of that act.  I’m still trying to see if there’s a way that I can post an video or audio file of it here but I have yet to figure that out. 

I was able to watch a recording of it tonight and even though watching and listening to yourself is a painful exercise,  I must say I don’t think it was too bad for a first try.

I received many good compliments afterward and yesterday I was able to have a debriefing session about it with my vocational mentor who was also very complementary.  He gave a few helpful suggestions and generally, we both felt very good about it.

I was slightly nervous at the very beginning of the service but a few sentences in, I found my groove and it was smooth sailing from there on out.  I had sort of planned on getting nervous once I got to the sermon portion of the service, but that didn’t really happen.  It all just seemed to flow just very naturally and seemed very effortless to me.   And the comments afterwards from those that were there was very affirming as well.

So I’m thankful to God for getting me this far and I’m looking forward to doing more preaching.  I really feel like the Spirit of the Lord was with me on Sunday night.  Thanks to all of you for your support thus far. 

I’ll be preaching next at Grant Reformed Church in Grant, MI on July 5th.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Year #1 in the books

I’ve been away from my blog for awhile – 15 days to be exact.  There are a variety of reasons for this not the least of which is the fact that I had a very sick wife last week and had to play Mr. Mom for most of the week.  I didn’t do too bad, if I do say so myself.  We all ate everyday and everyone made it to school on time and the house is still standing.   She’s fine now, but did contract a pretty bad infection that had her down for the count for the better part of five days. 

In the meantime, I was finishing up with classes and prepping for final exams.  So, with all of that going on there wasn’t much time left for blogging.  Doing these blogs is something I really do enjoy but finding time to do them is sometimes a challenge.  I hope to get back into a routine of writing at least one a week during the summer.

So now to this week – I finished my last final exam Thursday afternoon.  I finished all my other work – papers, sermons, etc. and I can officially say that my first year at Calvin Theological Seminary is in the books.  I have to wait a few weeks before the final grades and all of that come in, but I feel like I’ve done pretty well.

And even if I didn’t, I must say that seminary has been a very good fit for me.  When we first started down this road as a family, there were so many questions.  Was it going to be ‘worth’ it? Would I like it? Could I do it?  Could Jessica and the kids do it?  So far, God has answered all of those questions in the affirmative.  God has been good and we are all doing well.

On another note, I think I forgot to mention this earlier, but in April I officially received my license to exhort in the CRCNA.  This is something that is a bit of a rubber-stamp type of process for seminary students since they need it in order to graduate.  But I’ll be putting it to use for the first time this coming Sunday by preaching my first sermon at Seymour CRC where we’ve been attending. 

A lot of people have asked if I’m nervous and I can’t say that I’m either – at least, yet.  I’m looking forward to getting up there and getting my first one under my belt.  I’ll let you know how it goes!

Oh, when Jessica was sick last week I took Alex to the last chapel service of the year at the seminary.  My co-worker in the Admissions Office, Sara Hogan, snapped this picture of Alex and me.  I think it’s pretty cute.  This is him trying to decide which donut he wants.



Thursday, May 5, 2011

Busy Week

I’m a day late on my post.  I usually like to get one up at last once a week, so I’m a day late.

The Ten Haken Family has been busy this last week.  Here’s a quick recap:

Friday night we hosted three college girls at our house who were at the seminary for a workshop Friday night and Saturday.  We didn’t get to know that really since they got here about 9:30 on Friday night and were gone again by 8:30 the next morning.  But they had a place to sleep and take a shower.

Saturday I attended a campout with Zachary and his Cadet group from church.  The Grand Rapids East Cadet Corp owns approximately 150 acres of woods south of Grand Rapids where they hold a campouts and other events.  So we were out there this weekend with about 15 other church Cadet groups from Grand Rapids. 

I’m still getting used to having this many CRC’s in such close proximity.  There are so many things that can be done differently because resources can be pooled.  It’s pretty amazing.

But I couldn’t stay overnight since Sunday morning was our Friendship Ministries Celebration at Plymouth Heights CRC.  So I took Marcus (the young man I’ve been working with this year) to church there and we participated in the service a little bit.  It was nicely done.

Monday night Zachary had a school choir concert and Tuesday night was his school orchestra concert.  Both were very well done and we are feeling very good about having our kids enrolled at Grand Rapids Christian.

So that’s a bit about we’ve been up to the last few days and in between I’m finishing up my semester and Jessica’s been doing a fair bit of subbing. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Eye Opening

As in the case with most things, at least in my experience, the more you learn about something the more you become aware of how much you have yet to learn about it.  I’ve been thinking about that lately as it relates to jobs.

In every job I’ve had, someone would inevitably ask the question, “What do you do all day anyway?”  Implied in a question like that is, “How do you stay busy for 40+ hours a week?” 

Going into seminary, I knew that pastors do a lot more than preach a sermon or two on Sundays.  They also attend meetings, visit the sick, help plan services, and perform a number of other administrative functions for the church.  What I never really stopped to think about is how much time all of that really takes.

This semester I’ve taken both a preaching course and a pastoral care course and I’ve learned that both take more time that I thought they would. 

The time spent on pastoral care is very dependent on the size and the needs of the congregation, the staffing of that congregation, and a host of other factors.   In addition, it is very unpredictable -- sickness and illness, deaths, accidents – many times these things come unannounced and require immediate action.  Because of all those variables time spent on pastoral care is very hard to predict.  So suffice it to say, it happens and it a vital and integral part of the job description of any parish minister.

On the other hand, sermon preparation is a fairly predictable and steady part of the job of a pastor.  What I’ve learned is how much time it takes to prepare a 20-minute sermon.  In general, even the most experienced pastors say it takes about 15-20 hours to prepare a sermon.  The general rule of thumb is about 1 hour of work for every minute of delivered sermon.  So if you attend a church where a pastor is expected to deliver to full-sermons a week, that works out to forty hours just in sermon preparation alone.

I was under the false assumption that sermons would go faster the more experienced one got at them.  While that is somewhat true, there is only so many ways one can reduce prep time and still do the text justice.  It’s like baking a cake…if it needs to bake for 30 minutes, it needs to bake for 30 minutes – there isn’t any way to make it cook faster.

So, what’s the point?  The next time you wonder what your pastor does all day or you feel like he isn’t calling on you as much as he should, just remember that there is probably more going on behind the scenes than meets the eye.   Extend some grace and have the attitude that they are doing the best they can.  Love your pastor, because chances are, he loves you.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

First Pinewood Derby

Zachary and I just got back from our first Pinewood Derby Car Race.  He is in Cadets and Bethany is in GEMS and both of them are invited to make cars for the race.  Bethany didn’t want to make a car, but Zachary and I decided to tackle it.  It’s tough to see in the picture, but we built a car that’s reminiscent of a Ranchero or El Camino. 

It turned out pretty good, if I do say so myself.  So we tried it out at the track tonight.  We didn’t win any awards for show or anything – there were some pretty impressive cars there.  While we didn’t have the fastest car in the race we finished 17th out of 60 cars.  I was OK with that for our first try.

Here’s a picture of Zachary with his car:



Friday, April 15, 2011


A few days ago I wrote a brief entry about just about being finished with my first year at seminary.  That got me reminiscing about this entire journey and how/when it all got started.  One of the many reasons I decided to start this blog was so that we’d have some sort of journal about this whole adventure that we could some day look back on and remember.  You know, a photo album in words.

So today, I took a few minutes and did exactly that…I looked back, just to see how far we’d come.  And I found an entry from exactly one year ago today.  So I’ve reposted it below.  As I read it now, it seems so long ago.  But it sure is fun to read and ‘remember when…’

I hope you all find it fun too…It certainly shows that God has been good to us this past year. 

Oh, and just to prove there really is nothing new under the sun, today I signed and turned in my financial aid award for 2011-12.


Thursday, April 15, 2010


Our move gets more and more 'real' everyday. Tonight we filled out the paperwork to enroll the kids in their new school -- Grand Rapids Christian, last week I signed and sent my financial aid award from Calvin Seminary, and we're busy deciding which summer rec activities the kids will be able to participate in here.
My parents are headed to Michigan to visit my brother and his family early next month and offered to take some our stuff-- our stuff -- in Michigan...crazy! Oh, and I just made a for sale sign for my pickup since we're not planning to take that with us.
A few weeks ago I ordered some Greek textbooks and flashcards online and they came last week. I started using them to dust off my Greek skills and it's starting to come back surprisingly well.
Tonight at supper we asked the kids how they were feeling about things and neither of them really knew what to say. I think for them it's all still very uncertain and unclear. At the same, neither have ever complained about leaving...they've been great. So that is making us feel good as well.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Home Stretch

Classes resumed yesterday after Spring Break.  We had a great time in Canada at Jessica’s family.  I got a little bit of schoolwork done, I helped my father-in-law a little bit with some work in their basement, we slept in, and the kids had a great time with their cousins. 

We got back on Friday night and spent Saturday getting settled back in, Sunday was church, and the kids went back to school on Monday.  I had Monday off yet, and the seminary hosted a little golf tournament that I participated in.  It was cold and windy but, hey, the course was open!  We had a good time and the morning on the course affirmed my belief that I will never be a professional golfer.

So as of today, I’ve only got four weeks of regular classes and then exams and I’ll have year number one under my belt.  I’ve got a lot of work to do between now and then but all in all it’s been a good semester.  I’ve been enjoying my coursework and I feel like I’ve been staying on top of everything.  So I'm hoping to finish well in these next few weeks.

So that’s the news from here….nothing profound.  Oh,  I did have one of my blog entries make it into the April edition of The Banner, though.  If you want to check it out, you can find it here:

Monday, April 4, 2011

Baseball and Migrant Workers

Well, it’s Spring Break for both me and the kids so we decided to take the week and visit Jessica’s family Canada.  A few weeks back as we were making plans for the trip, I found out that the Minnesota Twins were playing Toronto Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre (formerly the SkyDome) in Toronto which is only about an hour from my in-laws.

So I sent out an APB to all Jessica’s family and told them we were going and it’d be great if they came along too.  Well, everybody took me up on it and and on Saturday we ended with seventeen of us going to watch the second game of the 2011 baseball season!

As one of the handful of Twins fans in the stadium of 27,000 plus fans, I was disappointed with the outcome since the Twins lost 6-1 and only managed one hit the entire game.  However, it was a lot of fun to be there with a bunch of people and it was great to see the Twins action again.

One of the in-laws that went along with us is Jessica’s brother, Adam and his three boys.  On Sunday night, I had the privilege of attending part of a worship service for about 100 local Mexican migrant workers with him and his family, along with my father-in-law.   

The situation for migrant workers in Canada is much different than those in the United States.  Canada, to their credit, has figured out a way to systematize the temporary foreign worker program and has developed a  process for them to enter the country and work on a legal, temporary basis.  Greenhouses and nurseries work through a government program through by which they can register and track and receive proper documentation for the workers from Mexico that they employ on a temporary basis. 

Many of them arrive in April and stay and work until sometime in the Fall.  Many of them have been coming to work at the same greenhouse for years, returning to their families in the winter and then returning each Spring to work.

There are three churches in the area (from three different denominations) that provide a ministry to these workers while they are here in the Spring and Summer.  They have jointly hired a full-time Spanish speaking missionary and together they offer an evening Sunday worship service complete with Spanish bible and song books, and a bible study during the week.   The churches provide transportation to and from these activities. In addition, the pastor of this ministry travels around to the different job sites during the week and acts as a kind of chaplain to the workers since many of them live together in temporary housing provided by the greenhouses that employ them.

It was refreshing to see a government working together with business to create a program that works for everyone, supplying greenhouses with good labor.  But it was even more exciting to see three churches coming together in a unique way to provide an impactful and meaningful outreach ministry to migrant workers who are separated from their families for most the year – year after year.    The temptations for the workers in those situations are immense and this ministry is providing community and accountability. 

They are staying grounded in Scripture through this ministry, of that I’m sure – even if I barely understood a word that was spoken last night.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Summing up Seminary

This past Thursday, I had the distinct privilege of speaking at the Calvin Theological Seminary Annual Scholarship Donor Appreciation Dinner.  This year was unique because, in addition to allowing donors and recipients to get to know each other, it also honored outgoing President Dr. Neal Plantinga who is leaving that post at the end of this academic year.

The theme for evening was, “Communicating the Gospel” – something that Dr. Plantinga is (and has been) passionate about and committed to throughout his entire career in ministry.  The 600 or so guests included seminary students and employees, scholarship donors and various other supporters, members of the board of trustees, and friends and family of Dr. Plantinga.

My task was four-fold:  (1) Incorporate the theme of the evening, “Communicating the Gospel”; (2) thank the donors and supporters that were present for their support; (3)  thank Dr. Plantinga for his service to seminary; (4) be brief – no more than 5 minutes.  So I set to work and did what I could.  Below are my 562 words spoken in 4.5 minutes. 

I decided to share it here because I think it’s a good summary of what a seminary education is all about -- at least as far as the preaching ministry aspect of that education is concerned.  I’m sure that are many other good ones as well, but this is my attempt.

One note of explanation – the reference to the ‘infamous four pages’ about halfway through is a reference to the sermon construction method that Calvin Seminary employs and trains its students to use called the “Four Page Method”.  I’ll explain the four pages method more some other time.  Right now, just suffice it to say, it’s kind of an inside joke.

Here is the text of my speech if you’d care to read it:

CTS Friends, Donors, Supporters, Students, Faculty, & Staff,

Thank you for the privilege to speak, to communicate, to you this evening.

There is a quote, commonly attributed to St. Francis of Asissi, that goes something like this, “Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary use words.” While we can all appreciate the sentiment of this axiom, if it were always true, as a person studying to be a preacher of that same Gospel, I’d like to ask for my money back. In fact, I would contend that it is primarily through words that the Gospel is communicated. The Gospel is THE Word made flesh and communicating its truth requires actions, yes, -- but perhaps even more so, words – thoughtful words, careful words, convicting words, powerful words, eloquent words – words that move us to action.

It is to this belief, that the faculty, staff, administration, supporters, and students of Calvin Theological Seminary have dedicated themselves. Tonight is a night in which we come together in gratitude to God for your support to the cause of communicating the Gospel.

Effective Gospel communication requires a unique combination of knowledge and insight -- both biblical and cultural -- as well as creative, confident, and effective communication skills. Translating and interpreting the power of the Gospel of grace for a world in desperate need of hearing it is both a privilege and a challenge. Indeed, it is something that no one in this room takes lightly.

Effective Gospel communication requires that we, as students, learn about hermeneutics and homiletics, ecclesiology and eschatology, we must study prophets and poetry, literature and letters, find trouble and bring grace…and then, by some miracle of the Spirit, fit it into those infamous four pages.

All of this takes time. As is the case with so many of my classmates, God’s call to pursue this task has meant that my family and I have had to leave behind a job, a home, and a community (and for some a country) to come to this community to study our craft and hone our skills. As donors, your generous commitment to the CTS community by providing scholarships and in myriad other ways is what makes my commitment, our commitment, possible.

So tonight, I say thank you, on behalf of all of us, for your commitment to producing effective communicators of the Gospel. And in that vein, a special word of thanks to Dr. Neal Plantinga for his years of service to this institution, whose passion for communicating the Gospel effectively is contagious. A quote from you in the institutional mission section of the CTS website says, “Calvin Theological Seminary helps students to speak with wonder, with assurance, with faith.” It’s the hope and prayer of everyone in this room that we, as future preachers, teachers, musicians, counselors, or missionaries will be empowered to do exactly that. Thank you for your dedication to the craft of communicating the Gospel and for sharing that passion with all of us over the last ten years.

Communicating the Gospel means standing with the apostle Paul in the synagogue saying, “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ” In so doing, the invisible is made visible, the hidden is revealed, and the mystery and grace of the Good News is proclaimed, on earth as it is in heaven to the glory of God the Father. Thank you.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Well, it seems as though I’m moving further and further down the path of being a pastor everyday.  I’m not sure why this surprises me, after all, that’s the point, right!

Last week, I filled out the application form to receive my license to exhort.  So hopefully that gets approved.  I gave my first sermon this week to my classmates and I seemed to go pretty well.  I felt good about it, at least.   And today, I got asked by our pastor at Seymour Church when I’d like to be on the schedule for preaching this summer.  Whoa…hold the phone.  I just wrote my first sermon!  But it’s all part of the process, so I’m going to embrace it and do the best I can with the gifts God has given.  After all, that’s what he asks of all of us.

So I’ll keep taking steps and following where the Lord leads and we’ll see where it all ends up.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A good weekend

My parents came for a visit this weekend.  Dad and my brothers make their annual pilgrimage to the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis.  I couldn’t make it this year due to my school schedule. 

This year my mom came out too to see everyone and spend some time with the grandkids.  So I took advantage of the free babysitting and surprised Jessica with a night away.

Mom came to our house Friday afternoon and I told Jessica to say goodbye to the kids and get in the car – we were leaving and she was going to stay with the kids.  I had packed a bag for her and we were going to a hotel for the night.  The kids loved the time with Grandma too!

It’s kinda weird to stay in a hotel room five miles from your house.  However, it’s also nice to be able to do something like that and not have to drive an hour.

The best part – packing for Jessica.  I’d never done anything remotely close to that before and I was pretty proud of myself.  However, my bubble was soon burst when we decided to take advantage of the hotel pool.  Apparently, there are certain types of female bathing suits that contain more than one piece.  And it’s pretty hard to make use of one half without the other.  So, nix the pool.  Regardless, it was fun to surprise her like that.  By the way, Priceline has got some pretty deals on hotel rooms.

Mark and Dad arrived back in town late Saturday night and we had the whole gang over to our place for Sunday dinner.  It was great to have a big crew around the table.  The occasional Sunday dinners at Mom and Dad are one of the things I miss most about not living close to family.  I love to eat and I love to talk and we always did a lot of both with the fam.  It was good to do that all again.

Last night we had one last hurrah at the Pizza Ranch in Hudsonville.  Pizza, chicken, breadsticks – not a bad way to finish up some good family bonding time.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


Now that I’m in seminary, I get to use all these fancy terms that no one used in their everyday language – unless, of course, you’re in seminary. This past week I had to write a paper laying out my ‘ecclesiology’.

Ecclesiology is the study of the church.   So essentially, I spent five pages trying to define what the church is, what I think is most important for the church today and how these things might affect my ministry.  

Defining the church is tricky business, if you think about it and I found it challenging to fit it all into five pages….I actually stretched it onto six.  What would you say if someone asked you to answer the question, “What is the church"?”

So, what did I say?  I know, you’re all just dying to know.  Basically, I said that the church is developing relationships with each other based on our relationship with the Triune God and then bringing the joy of those relationships to people around us – especially those outside the church. 

The text that I used was Colossians 3:1-17 which, incidentally, was also our wedding text.   I think, that if the church can do with each other what this text says then I think we are well on our way.

All that being said, it’s much easier said than done.  There is no one right way to ‘do’ church.  But the point is that it is, something that we do, in fact, do.  It’s a living, active thing.  No person, denomination, or congregation has the corner on the way to live rightly and act rightly.

But that shouldn’t stop us from trying.  Because if we aren’t trying, then we aren’t living for Jesus.  So keep trying, keep doing, keep serving.  And remember that we need to be a church and have good Christlike relationships with each other, in order to DO church.

How about it – What is church?

Monday, February 28, 2011

Sermon #1

No classes for me this week.  This our quarterly reading break so there are no classes.  However, there is still plenty of work to be done.  Really, this should be writing week for me.

Just today, I finished my first sermon and ‘delivered’ it to a congregation of one -- Jessica.  She thought it was good, which I was thankful for.  As she said herself, “I'd tell you if it wasn’t good.” 

I must say that sermon preparation and writing is that part of this entire process that freaked me out the most – and after completing my first one, it still does.  But for reasons different than I had anticipated.

I had thought that the hardest part would be the research part…the exegesis, the textual analysis, interpreting the themes, etc.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there will be times where that will be challenging.  For this first go around, we’ve got some ‘softballs’ for texts.  My first one is from Matthew 9:1-8 – Jesus Healing of the Paralytic.  So I accomplished that without too much difficulty.

That’s all well and fine, but I still didn’t have twenty minutes worth of material.  Enter freak out #2.    Well, it turns out that when you start looking for stories to accompany what the text is telling you there is a lot there too.  

All that being said, I’ve have a lot of time to think about this sermon so I had been milling potential things around in my mind for a while.  So under normal circumstances this may be a different story.

Even so,  I was pleased to learn that those things I thought would be really hard and really made me nervous where not that nerve-racking.

For me, the biggest challenge is wrapping my mind around the fact that this nine page document, by some miracle of the Holy Spirit, becomes a word from God.  How does that happen? And who am I to deliver it?  This is the part, that now, freaks me out the most.

I would imagine that over time, these feelings of fear, trepidation, and awe will ebb and flow.  Sometimes, stories will be hard to come by and other times the exegesis will prove to be challenging.  But through all of that, I hope I never loose that sense of humility and awe that it is, ultimately, a word from the Lord.  And it is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that it becomes so.  

I suppose that it’s that  fact that, in the end, should give me a sense of peace that it’s not about me or the stories I tell.  Ultimately, it’s a word about God, that comes from God.  The fact that it  comes (someday at least) through me is both amazing and humbling.  And I’m looking forward to doing it more.