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?