Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Advent Interlude

I have written occasionally here, but probably not often enough, about the amazing ways that God has provided for us in myriad ways during our time in seminary.  Although this provision comes in a variety of ways one of most significant, both in terms of my concern and God’s provision (funny how those often go hand-in-hand) is financial.

This time of year is the most financially straining for us.  My financial aid from the classis and the seminary gets applied twice a year – at the beginning of September and at the end of January.  Thus, the monies received in September have to last us five months.  Since I am an advocate of not borrowing any more than I absolutely need every year about this time we come close to ‘running out’.

Now, I have lots of avenues to get additional funds if I need them --family, church, even the seminary – all of whom are able and willing to help out in a pinch if need be.  In fact, just over a week ago, I told Jessica that I didn’t think we’d able to make our rent payment for January and we might have to ask for some assistance to ‘get us by’ until the next round of financial aid came in.  I was just about ready to do just that when two amazing things happened…both of which are nothing less than God’s gracious provision.

First, we received a substantial financial gift from some friends.  Totally unexpected and unsolicited.  The other is best shared in pictures.

This past Sunday night, the kids had their Christmas program at church.  Afterwards, we drove around some neighborhoods in Grand Rapids to look at lights.  When we came home we found this on our doorstep:



I picked it up and discovered that it was quite heavy.  So I brought it in the house, set it on the counter,  and opened it up.  This is what we found inside:

photo (2)


Last night, the kids and I separated it all out into bills, quarters, dimes, nickels, and pennies (and a couple $1 coins):

photo (3)

When it was all said and done, we counted out over $285.00 crammed into this Country Crock margarine container!  We have absolutely no idea who left it or why.  And those that left it probably want it that way.  Maybe -- some way, some how -- they will run across this blog entry and they will know that they were a big part of God’s provision for our family.  You see, when you put these two Christmas gifts together they nearly equal our monthly rent payment.

God is with us and you and even (perhaps especially) with the families in Sandy Hook, Connecticut in surprising and often unexpected ways.  That is, after all, what Advent is all about – remembering, rediscovering, and waiting for the unexpected -- Immanuel, God with us.  “Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign to you:  You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger”(Luke 2: 10-12).   

Those lowly shepherds went to Bethlehem and saw an amazing gift of grace in a suprisingly unexpected place.  This lowly seminary student and his family came home and found an amazing gift of grace in a suprisingly unexpected place – twice.  “The shepherds returned  glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen…” (Luke 2:20).  And, as a family, so are we.  God’s gracious provision in a manger and on a doorstep.  Glory to God in the highest…

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Road to the Call #4

I am at the point now in my seminary career where the academic training of the seminary and candidacy process of the CRC denomination start to merge.

I have one semester left at Calvin Seminary and am in the process of fulfilling the obligations of my coursework.  At the same time, I have begun to fulfill the obligations set forth by the denomination for candidacy.  These requirements are several:

1.  Submission of two sermons including the full manuscript along with supporting exegetical research and commentary, and an outline. One text has been assigned to me by the candidacy committee (Genesis 32:22-32) and the other is a text of my choosing for the opposite testament.  For me, that will be John 17:20-26.  Neither of these can be sermons submitted for seminary coursework nor can they be reviewed by the faculty.  The assigned text must be preached in a congregational setting as part of an actual worship service.  This service is to be recorded and the video is to be submitted along with the paperwork.  This will get evaluated by a sub-committee of the candidacy committee and I will meet with that group on April 12 to discuss it.  Incidentally, I delivered my candidacy sermon on December 2 and it went very well. 

2.  The candidate must obtain a recommendation for candidacy from a church council that can best attest to their readiness for ministry.  I have requested this from Seymour CRC here in Grand Rapids where we’ve been attending for the last several years.

3.  The candidate is encouraged (not required) to submit a profile form to the Pastor-Church Relations Office.   This is a lengthy form that provides all types of information about the candidate including what types of positions they may be interested in, employment history,  statement of faith, what size church they are interested in, what their vision for ministry is, and many other things. Included in this is a reference form that is to be distributed to five people who evaluate the candidates ministry strengths by picking 12 from a list of about 45 characteristics.  Churches can request this information to help them in the vetting process of calling a pastor.

4.  The candidate must submit a statement of faith and a “Statement of Reason” for pursuing ministry.

5.  The candidate must submit a biographical sketch form that gathers basic demographic information.

6.  The candidate must sustain an oral comprehensive exam administered by the seminary in conjunction with the candidacy committee.  This is a 45-minute oral interview in which a panel of two professors and one pastor interview the candidate to determine sufficient competency in a variety of areas such as biblical knowledge, church history, theology, and pastoral care.  These interviews are scheduled for the second week of March.

This all takes place during the final year in addition to the regular coursework for the M.Div program.  Assuming the candidate successful completes all these requirements by their various due dates and satisfactorily completes the M.Div. program at Calvin Theological Seminary (defined by the Candidacy Committee as having at least a 2.85 GPA) the candidate will then be  ready to be declared eligible for a call by synod.  I’ll discuss the jump from candidacy committee to synod next time.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Road to the Call #3

My blogging on this subject has been much more sporadic than I’d like this semester.  Such is the life of a Master of Divinity student in their final year of seminary who is also in the process of becoming a candidate for Minister of the Word in the CRCNA.

Nonetheless,  here is my (belated) third installment on the road to the call.  When I last left off I told you about some of the non-academic qualifications that are involved in becoming qualified as a candidate.  There are more and I will talk about those, but this entry will focus on the academics.

As I mentioned previously, all candidates for Minister of the Word (with a few exceptions) must spend at least some time at Calvin Theological Seminary.   The seminary itself works closely with the denomination but essentially sets is own requirements for the M.Div. Program. 

The requirements for entry into and graduation from the program are extensive by most standards.  As an undergraduate I have to have had taken certain courses in science, philosophy, history, public speaking, history to can unqualified acceptance into the program.  Once enrolled, the M.Div. program consists of 109 credit hours that includes both academic and field (internship) credits.  Ordinarily, in order to be considered for candidacy, a student must graduate from the program with a cumulative GPA not lower than 2.85. 

The seminary and the CRCNA require training in Biblical Greek and Hebrew, OT & NT Exegesis, Preaching, Systematic Theology, Apologetics, Worship, Biblical Knowledge, Pastoral Care & Leadership, Church History, and CRC History & Polity, among other things. 

In addition, there are two required internships.  One 5-week cross-cultural internship during which the student spends at least 200 hours in a ministry context that is starkly different from what they were raised in or are familiar with.  For someone like me, who grew up in a rural setting that involved serving in an inner-city ministry to the poor and homeless in downtown Grand Rapids.  For someone else who grew up in the city it may mean serving in a rural setting.  Either way, the idea is that you get a sense of ministry being bigger than ‘what I’ve always been used to’.

The second internship is a 10-week congregational internship in which the student serves an established congregation in order to get a ‘feel for’ the day-to-day routine of being a pastor.  For some students, like myself, this may mean serving a long-established congregation while for others it may mean working with a church plant or some other type of ministry.  The internships can often be tailored to the ministry goals and plans of the student.  This is a 400 hour summer internship and is supervised by both the seminary and the leadership of the church in the which the student is interning.

We are also to get practical experience in preaching by preaching at least 6 times in as many different churches as possible.  During those times, we are to hand out evaluations to congregants who evaluate our preaching and delivery style.  These evaluations are then sent to the seminary and reviewed by a mentoring group leader and become a part of our file at the seminary.

Finally, along with the academic and internship requirements all  students must complete 100 hours of ‘service learning’.  Students are required to volunteer (a contradiction in terms?) with a ministry that shows justice and mercy to a marginalized population.  This could be mentoring a child, tutoring in an after school program, working with the elderly, or serving with a Christian environmental group.  I have been volunteering with Friendship Ministries (a ministry to people with cognitive impairments) here in Grand Rapids working with a young autistic man on Tuesday nights.

All of this (and more) makes up the three or four year program that is the Master of Divinity degree at Calvin Theological Seminary. Once all of those requirements are met (or in the process of being met) we begin the final steps toward receiving a call for ordination, which I will talk about next time.  Hopefully sooner than this time…

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Road to the Call #2

As mentioned last time, the initial call has two parts – the individual and the church.  Since that is the case, the church puts in place certain safeguards and requirements for its clergy.  These requirements vary greatly from one denomination to the next – some being very loose and others much more stringent.  The Christian Reformed Church, by most Protestant standards, leans more toward the stringent side of things.  That is, it has some fairly exacting requirements for its clergy. 

The reason for this is that the CRC has a high view of the preaching of the Word.  The denomination wants its congregations to be assured that the people who mount their pulpits Sunday after Sunday have a received adequate and proper instruction and have received the tools necessary to do proper, reformed, faithful, biblical exegesis.  In addition, they should have a good working knowledge of the creeds and confessions that the CRC is founded and be able to use and apply in service to the church.

To that end the CRC owns and maintains a seminary dedicated to the training of its clergy.  Although the denomination has made other avenues to becoming ordained in the CRC more feasible and practical over the past ten years or so, all future clergy are required to spend at least sometime at Calvin Theological Seminary and meet certain academic requirements in terms of coursework, original language acquisition, and sermon writing and construction.  But academics or only part of the equation and I’ll take more about all of that in greater detail in a later post.

The denomination also asks that their clergy be sufficient in a variety of other ways as well. The desire to have people in their pulpits that are ‘suitable for ministry’.   One of the first things I had to do upon enrolling in the M.Div. program at Calvin Seminary was submit to a psychological evaluation.  This consisted of several steps including a 3 hour exam where  I had to answer about 750 T/F questions about my behavior and have two appointments with a psychiatrist who would review my past and present, interview me and my wife, evaluate the results from my test and make a determination about my mental state. 

Based on the results of all of that the denomination could determine that additional counseling and/or other additional training could be required before being allowed to enter full-time ministry in the CRC.    In my case, I was given a clean bill of (mental) health and was deemed fit for ministry – at least on that score.  So the journey to the call continues…

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Road to a Call #1

One of my courses this semester is CRC Polity, which discusses the articles and intricacies of Christian Reformed Church Order.  Today we talked about Offices and Ordination and I was reminded again about how the call process begins.

Church Order talks of both the internal and the external call to ministry for a future minister.  As an individual, I have a sense that God has called me to serve the church in full-time pastoral ministry.  It is something that I feel strongly about, am passionate about, am willing to learn about, and am gifted to do.  This is an internal call that I have that the Spirit of God has given me.  But that alone isn’t enough.

The Reformers have always talked about the external call as well.  That is, a confirmation of that internal call from others – namely, the church.  John Calvin talks about the importance of this external call saying that is the confirmation of the internal call. 

Thus it is the case in the CRC today.  When I first started sensing God’s call on me that did not come without confirmation of others.  Indeed, it was often the comments of others in the church, “Have you ever thought about the ministry?”; “Do you still have plans to go to seminary?” and the like were all part of that internal call for me. 

But even that isn’t enough, nor should it be.  In order to even be accepted into the Master of Divinity program at Calvin Theological Seminary they must receive a letter of recommendation from my church council.  It is not enough for me to want to go to seminary my church had to give its confirmation of that call as well.  Only then can I pursue a path to ordination.

This, I think, is reassuring.  I do not pursue this call as an individual, by myself.  I’m not some sort of spiritual entrepreneur that is driven to achieve some sort of goal, going his own way, doing his own thing and hoping other people catch my vision.  Instead, I am being called by the church to work with them to follow Christ’s vision and His call to become mature in Him.  It’s not my goal, it’s God’s.  It’s not my church, it's God’s.  My vision is not mine, it’s God’s.  So too, my call – it is mine, but it is not mine alone.  It’s the churches call as well.  But, even more than that, it’s God call coming to me from Him and from his church…partners in the bringing of the Gospel.  I am humbled by and grateful for that opportunity.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Back in the Groove

The summer internship is over and so is, in many ways, summer.  Since my last entry about six weeks ago my family is back and we’ve been to Minnesota and Iowa and back again.  We had a great few weeks back on our old stomping grounds visiting family and friends, seeing what has changed and what has stayed the same.  Children have grown, friends have taken new jobs and moved to new towns, businesses and families are growing and there’s still something wonderful about having dinner with Mom and Dad.

It’s been a good summer.  My internship went well and was very affirming.  I got the opportunity to preach in both of my ‘home congregations’ in Sioux Center and Worthington in front of many supportive family and friends and to the glory of God which was equal parts nerve-wracking and enjoyable. 

Alas, all good things must come to an end and summer is no different. Zachary and Bethany started school again today – going into 7th and 6th grade respectively.  This morning before getting in the car we gathered in the living room and said had a prayer together asking God’s blessing on them and their school in the year that lies ahead. 

I’m back at the seminary on a regular basis getting ready for another semester of coursework and beginning the process of candidacy for Minister of the Word in the CRCNA as this will be my third and final year in the Master or Divinity Program at Calvin Theological Seminary. 

Many people, even within my own denomination (myself included once upon a time), have no idea what the candidacy process is like for its pastors.  During the next several months on this blog, it is my intention to chronicle that process.  In so doing, I hope to give an inside look at the seriousness and rigor that the CRCNA places on its clergy.  While some decry the process as too strict and complicated it is also an affirmation of the weight that this denomination places on the proper training and vetting of its leadership. 

While it is, indeed, complicated, time-consuming, and (at times) maddening, I think you will come to find that it is anything but easy.  I hope that through my writing about and reflecting on the process you will gain a greater appreciation for the men and women who stand in pulpits across the CRC each Sunday and share a “word from the Lord.”  It is something that neither they nor the denomination they serve take lightly.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Bachelor

I’m a bachelor this week.  Last week Wednesday, Jessica brought the kids to Canada to her parents and then came back to attend the GEMS Conference in Chicago with a group of ladies from our church.  She came back from that last night and today is driving to St. Catharines to spend the rest of the week at her parents house with the kids.  Thus, I’m on my own…

In my season of life – mid-30’s with three young children – one looks forward to peace and quiet.  It’s a welcome reprieve to not have to worry about baths and bedtime and breaking up fights and whose turn it is to have the iPad.   So it’s nice to not have to worry about all of that.  But it will also be nice to have them all back.  It’s strange how one soon misses what one often complains about. 

All that said, I got a good list of things to do that will keep my busy.  This past weekend I finally saw the “Lord of the Rings” Trilogy on DVD – something I’ve been meaning to do for a while but at nearly 3 hours each, it was tough to fit into the schedule.  I’ve also been doing some more bike riding and catching up on some reading.

In addition, this weekend I get to participate in Single Parent Family Camp (SPFC).  SPFC is a joint outreach ministry between Seymour CRC and Oakdale CRC.  We invite single parents (usually moms) and their kids to come to a local camp – Camp Tall Turf – and have a weekend of fun.  The parents travel up with their kids and we provide family games and camp-type activities.  We also, give the parents a nice dinner without their children.  SPFC starts on Friday evening and ends Sunday morning after worship and for some of these parents it’s the only ‘vacation’ they get all year.  It’s a pretty neat ministry and hopefully I’ll have some stories to share on this blog.

My internship continues to keep me busy as I’ve preached now 11 times over the past 6 Sundays.  So its been good for me to get into that rhythm of studying for and writing sermons and leading worship and doing pastoral care.  In fact, as I write this entry I’m listening to myself on CD from last Sunday morning…a painful but helpful and enlightening exercise!

So that’s the latest from here …nothing profound, but God is good and he is blessing us greatly this summer.  May he bless you as well.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Growing & Learning

Several of my classmates doing their congregational internships this summer are being asked to do them at churches that are vacant – that is, churches that do not currently have a regular pastor.  This can be a a great experience for both the student and the church.  The student gets a good sense of pastoring a church on a day-to-day basis is really like – preaching, administration, pastoral care, funerals, meetings, the whole enchilada.  It’s also great for the churches they get a ten-week respite from having to find pulpit supply (especially during those always challenging summer months), the elderly get a visit or two, the sick are prayed over.  It is, indeed, a good set-up.

However, I can’t help but think there might must be something missing in the scenario.  What happens when that student has a question about a certain aspect of ministry?  How can one really learn about being a pastor to people who are strangers to you when you arrive in June and you both know that in ten weeks you’ll be gone again.  It takes longer than that to learn names not to mention develop a relationship in which true pastoral care can take place. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this is a bad way to learn, nor is it a bad way to serve the needs of the church – after all, it is the denomination’s seminary – and it is there to serve the church.  But I just want to go on record as saying that I’m very pleased to be doing my internship at Seymour – a church that is neither vacant nor unfamiliar.

First, during these past several weeks, I have – on several occasions—gone into the office of one of the pastors here and asked (what I think) is a good question.  Perhaps it’s about a sermon I’m working on, perhaps it’s about a particular aspect of ministry, perhaps it’s about whether or not pastors take the 4th of July off =).  Regardless, I’m very thankful that I have the opportunity to knock on a door and ask some questions and get some great advice.  That is a chance that many of my fellow interns won’t get this summer.

Second, I’m very grateful for the opportunity to serve among people that I already know and who already know me.  It’s tough enough to preach the Word as a beginning preacher to people who know me(and for the most part, I think) like me.  I think I would find it even harder to preach to pews (or chairs) full of strangers who know you’re there for just a few more weeks.  Plus, since we are members here our relationships will continue, Lord willing, long after the time of my official internship comes to an end.

It seems to me that those classmates of mine serving this summer in vacant churches have a lot tougher task before them than I do, not because they’ve got more work to do but that their situation makes their work more challenging.  I’m growing in my internship in that I’m finding out what life as a pastor is like and I’m learning in my internship because I can ask questions of people who’ve ‘been there and done that.’

It’s been a great 4 weeks so far…and I’m looking forward to growing and learning even more during the remaining six weeks and beyond.

On another note…it’s hot here.  I hope you’re all staying cool!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Finding My Voice

I’ve been at my internship for two-and-a-half weeks already.  The Senior Pastor has been gone for about 10 days and so far the only thing I’ve needed to call him for was to get the access code for his voicemail. 

I must say that now that I’ve been back behind a desk again for a few weeks, I really missed it.  For the past two years I’ve tried to make school my job, but it really isn’t the same. As strange as this might sound to many, I like coming into the office everyday.  I find much more freedom in that than I do in being  a student. 

Don’t hear me wrong on that – I  am very appreciative for my education and I really do enjoy my studying but my time at school has always been a means to an end for me.  The purpose of my seminary education is SO THAT I can be a pastor.  And serving in the role (kind of) for the past few weeks – it fits me well.

For the last two Sundays, I prepared and delivered two sermons each weeks, participated in a few meetings and made a few pastoral care calls.  We’ve talked it in seminary and I’ve kind of sensed this was the case, but pastoral care is a vital component to effective ministry.  In my opinion, it doesn’t matter how good a preacher is on Sundays on the pulpit, if he or she can’t relate to you during the week and be a model for what they are preaching – it’s all for naught.

As much of a ‘people-person’ that I am, I’ve found preaching easier than pastoral care.  I think  that’s because good pastoral care requires a deeper knowledge of the people you are calling in.  When a pastor is in the pulpit, there is a bit of distance – literally and figuratively.  When you are sitting at a bedside bot the literal and figurative distance is gone. It’s just you and the person that needs you.  It’s a very different kind of preaching, but I’m convinced that it’s preaching nonetheless.  More on that some other time…

One of the things I wanted for myself out of this internship was to get a good handle on how to manage my time.  How long will it (should it) take me to write two sermons each week?  How time will I have/need for pastoral care?  How do I decide which is more important?  What about administration?  For the most part, I feel pretty good about how I’ve balanced all of that.  I haven’t been stressed and I feel like I’ve managed my time well.  Having worked in other jobs that required strong time management skills have been key for me in that regard, I think.

All of this is what I mean by finding my voice.  How will people see and hear me as a pastor and how will see and hear myself?    What will come easier for me and what will I need to work at more?  I am finding my voice on the pulpit and at the bedside and behind the desk – all three are important voices to develop and develop well.

All in all, it’s been a good start.  I like it.  It feels right.  And the congregation has been gracious and helpful with their comments and feedback.  The strangest part of it all is that in seven weeks it’ll be all over. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

Summer Internship Begins

Today marks the completion of my first full week as “Summer Intern” at Seymour CRC in Grand Rapids.  Today also marks the first full day of summer vacation for Zachary and Bethany.  Indeed, there is much to be excited about on all fronts! =)

I am really looking forward to my work here this summer.  The majority of my time will consist of sermon preparation as I will be preaching 14 times over 9 Sundays.  In addition to that, I will attend several committee and council meetings, participate in a church-sponsored Summer Camp for single parents and their kids, research and recommend a new committee structure for the church, make pastoral care calls and visits, and (Lord willing) tag-along on a youth group outing to Cedar Point Amusement Park at the end of June.  It should be a pretty great summer.

It’s been a good week of getting settled.  I got both of my sermons written for Sunday, went along on a couple of pastoral care visits, went to a few meetings and got a good jump on my morning sermon for next Sunday. 

I’m fortunate to work with a great group of staff members at a church we are already well acquainted with.  I like the rhythm of being at a ‘regular job’ again too.  I do miss that about school and look forward to being back in a working mode again.  I hope to establish healthy habits for work and home that will set me up well for later ministry. 

I’ll try and ‘report in’ every so often to let everyone know how it’s going.  I’m excited and am already getting a little nervous for Sunday morning!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Two Down, One To Go

It’s been awhile again and lately it seems like writing a blog entry just hasn’t fit very well into my routine.  Mostly because my routine has been shifting and I haven’t been able to make time to write.  The kids and I  have been busy with school and related activities, which I hope to write about soon.

The big excitement as of late is that I am officially finished with my second of three years in the Master of Divinity program at Calvin Theological Seminary.  I recently had a ‘status update’ on Facebook to that effect and my grandmother commented that when I first announced my plans to go back to school for three years it seemed like such a long time and now, well, not so much.  Another friend asked me if it felt weird or great to be at this point.  Each of them getting at the same point in their own way – What next?

I must admit that it seems neither long nor short since I started school. I don’t feel weird or great.  That’s not suggest to that I’m somehow indifferent about my progress it’s just that it all seems very normal for us.  School has been great and I’m happy to be this far, but I don’t feel weird about it because we’ve worked hard to get to this point.  Additionally, when we first embarked on this journey, three years didn’t sound all that long to us.  School has always been a temporary.

In the Reformed tradition, we speak of the Christian life being one of transition.  We live in a world where Jesus has come and has been resurrected and at the same time we live in a world where sin still exists. For the Christian, this creates a tension between what is often referred to as the ‘already’ and the ‘not-yet’.  That is, sin has been defeated, but it effects remain so we live in the hope of the Second Coming  that has already been foreshadowed in the resurrection of Jesus even as we wait for our own resurrection.  Therefore, this life is important and significant, but nonetheless, temporary. 

This is analogous to how we’ve viewed our time at seminary – important but temporary.  My training is both already in that it’s shaping me for my future and not-yet in that it’s not the final goal, but rather a means to that goal.  We’ve learned to live in and appreciate the tension between our present situation and the unknown future that awaits us. 

Having two years in and one to go is neither long nor short; weird nor great – rather it’s simply another marker of God’s faithfulness on this journey that he’s called us to.  And we happy to be both in the already (of two years done) and the not-yet (of one year to go).  We are thankful for the prayers and support of so many of our friends and family over these past two years and continue to covet that support in the coming year as well. 

What’s next?  I’m not sure, but God is.  And for that, whether the time seems long or short; whether it feels weird or great, we are grateful.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Banner Article

Some of you may have seen a short Banner article that I wrote about my trip to Turkey and Greece this past January.  It’s unfortunate that in the print version of the article, the last 1/3 or so of the article was cut-off.  In my opinion, the way it’s printed in the Banner doesn’t make any sense.

Well, I checked the Banner’s website and they do have the article printed in its entirety there and you can find it at:  http://www.thebanner.org/church-at-work/article/?id=4201

If you’re interested, you can read the rest of it here, which closes out the article nicely, I think and ties it together. 

Thanks for reading…

Monday, April 9, 2012

Family Fun

Over the last several weeks we’ve had the opportunity to do a little travel.  Jessica took a quick overnight trip to Chicago for St. Patrick’s Day to see the river turned green with some of her friends from Soulcare – the seminary sponsored Bible study that ‘s she a part of.  They had a great time!





She came back from that trip and suggested that we take the kids there sometime.  Our spring break was coming a few weeks later so we made some plans.  We took a few nights last week while the kids and I had Spring Break and Jessica took us back to Chicago…

After a three-hour wait we finally made it inside Shedd Aquarium.  This is a picture of the kids waiting outside…


After our time Shedd we went to our hotel out by the airport and found a place for some Chicago-style pizza.

The next day,  we decided to give the kids the experience of taking the train…so we rode the “L” from the airport into downtown.  Here are the kids on their first train ride:


We spent the day exploring downtown Chicago…

Millenium Park:



Navy Pier:



Alex got to ride the Thomas Train at the pier:



And we took a water taxi ride on the (no longer green) Chicago River:


Alex had that monkey backpack on wherever we went.  It had a tail with the handle on the end that we’d hang on to so we didn’t loose him!

We had supper at Ed Debevic’s and then rode the train back to our hotel.

Our final day, we decided to go to the Museum of Science and Industry.  This is us at the HUGE model train display they have there.  It was a good stop and a great trip:



We were home on Wednesday night and then Friday Jessica’s parent’s came down to spend Easter weekend with us.  Saturday was a beautiful day so we decided to go the Meijer Gardens here in Grand Rapids.

Bethany and Alex with their Oma on the butterfly chair:



Meijer Gardens also has a large sculpture park.  Here’s Zachary and Alex checking out the elephant:



Alex and I also spent some time watching the koi fish in the pond near the waterfall:



It was a great Spring Break week, capped off by a gorgeous Easter Sunday.  Each of the kids got a new outside toy for the summer.

Alex got a new “Cars” bouncy ball:



Bethany got a ‘pogo ball’:



Zachary got a zip-ball game…This brings back memories for me.  My grandparents had one of these in their basement as I used to play with it all the time as a kid.  Here’s Opa and I trying it out:



It’s been a fun-filled last few weeks.  In between all of this, I even got a fair bit of schoolwork done and I’m ready to start the final five weeks of the semester tomorrow! 

Friday, March 30, 2012

The Business of Busyness

So my blog has been neglected this semester.  It’s not so much that I don’t have time, it’s more that I haven’t made time.  Often when people say, “I don’t have time for that”, what they really mean is that they don’t want to make time for that. 

I use the “I don’t have time” line for justification not to exercise – that, and I’d have to buy decent running shoes.  But I know many a person who is just as ‘busy’ as I am and find time, because it’s important to them.

This is a perennial problem for Christians and personal devotions.  There just isn’t time to get it all in.  The kids are up too early, work is too busy, we’re in too many church or school activities, at night we’re too tired.  We are constantly making decisions about what to leave in and take out of our lives.  The demands on our time are myriad. 

Lots of talk at the seminary surrounds the problem of busyness and the feeling that we are all just too busy.  While I certainly don’t disagree with that sentiment I’m constantly asking the question, “Busy with what?” 

Several years ago, while I was working at American State Bank, we did a time management exercise.  For an entire week, we were asked to log what we did in 15 minute increments.  It was an eye-opening exercise.  It turns out I was busy with all of mundane things and I also discovered I had a lot of minutes that I really couldn’t account for – I couldn’t put down on paper what I did – I just did ‘stuff’. 

It’s often said that if you want to see what someone really loves, look at their checkbook.  I would argue that if you want to see what someone really loves, look at their calendar.  How much uncommitted time does a person have and what are they doing with it? 

This semester I’ve been studying the life, ministry, and letters of Paul. Paul was a busy guy. Not only did it take a long time to get places (and he went a lot of places), he also took time to preach, teach, write, work, disciple, and pray.   As a future pastor I hope I am disciplined enough to be as busy with that stuff as I am anything else – staying busy with the right things while at the same time learning that being busy is not synonymous with success.

So maybe this little diatribe was my way of justifying my lack of blogging this semester or maybe its my way of convicting myself of how much I’m busy with all the wrong things.  Either way, being busy carries with it more personal choice than I care to admit.  The best I can do is hope to make better choices in the future. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Photo Update

I just downloaded some pictures from the camera, so I thought I ‘d post a few and provide a quick family update via pics…


My parents gave us an iPad for Christmas…we all love it, including Alex.



Last month, a good friend from college, Danae Lapka, was in town for a conference and we got a chance to catch up.  She lives in California and it was great to see her!



Zachary and his friend, Jacob, enjoying pizza at the seminary.  We get together with a number of seminary families occasionally to hang out…and eat, of course.



Bethany posing with her friends, Alexandra and Lydia, at the seminary pizza party.



Jessica giving Alex the Lego Birthday Cake she made for his 3rd birthday which was February 24th.



Celebrating with big brother and sister



Bethany and Alex doing a little birthday baking together…Alex’s birthday was a snow day for the older two, so it was a fun day for all!



Big brother, Zachary helping get Alex settled in his first night in a big-boy bed.



Sleeping soundly on night #1 in his new bed…way to go, Zachary!027


So that’s the latest from here, thanks for taking a look.  We are blessed…

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Looking the Part

I’ve been thinking some lately about what we wear to church.  The church that I currently attend has a very ‘eclectic’ approach to Sunday morning worship wear – suits to blue jeans and everything in between.  Does what you wear to worship say something about how you view worship or is worship attire-neutral?

As I’ve discussed this issue here at the seminary and gone around preaching at several churches, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as ‘normal’ church attire.  What I call ‘church clothes’ is not what you call ‘church clothes’.  Basically, the discussion has centered around two points of view:

1.  When we worship, we are coming into the presence of God in a unique way and therefore what we wear should reflect that.  I wouldn’t show up to visit the President of the United States in jeans and a T-shirt so I shouldn’t come to worship the Lord of the Universe that way either.


2.  God accepts our worship ''just as we are’.  I don’t need to dress-up special for him.  In fact, wearing a tie or a dress might even make me more uncomfortable and hinder my ability to worship.  Don’t ask to be something that I’m not.   “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

I don’t know of too many people who would disagree, in principle, with either of those statements.  So, in some ways, this is a false dilemma…both points of view contain truth.  While I don’t think for one second that God might accept or not accept our worship by what we wear, I don’t think that necessarily means that what we wear to worship is not important.

Why? Clothing is not neutral.  Clothing communicates.  Now, we may make all sorts of false assumptions about what it communicates, but it communicates nonetheless.  If I’ve got a swimsuit on, it’s a pretty safe bet I’m planning on being near water.  I don’t put on a tie to go the grocery store.  I don’t wear khakis to coach Bethany’s softball team.  I don’t wear T-shirts that have cuss words on them.  Some people where shirts with pithy sayings, or jerseys from their favorite team, or a sweatshirt from their alma mater.  Clothing communicates. 

In addition, we can, and do, make plenty of correct assumptions about people based on what they wear.  If someone is wearing a Tigers jersey or a Red Wings hat, I can assume that they are a fan of that particular team.  I could give countless other examples. 

Clothing also reflects the nature of the event itself.   The function dictates the attire.  We wear clothes to fit the event.  The event determines the attire, not the other way around.   There is a reason that we distinguish between casual wear and formal wear.  I’m not going wear a tuxedo to a U2 concert.

So the next time your deciding what to wear to church, no matter which end of the two above extremes you might put yourself closer to try to avoid the assumption that clothing is neutral – it isn’t.  It never is.  We should be intentional about what we wear – to the grocery store and to church. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Keepin’ it Real

Having been a student at and employed institutions of higher learning I get the divide that sometimes occurs being learning and doing.  Students constantly want to be able to connect with they are learning to ‘real life’ and teachers are constantly trying to figure out what exactly that means.   Questions surrounding the practicality of education and how is translates into job skills is a perennial issue on college campuses everywhere.  Seminary education is no different.

Two recent examples stick in my mind.  Let me preface these examples by saying that I think my seminary education has done a great job of making my classroom learning ‘portable’.  I have several examples of this that I could share and hopefully will at some point.  But the examples that I share now are more on the negative side and represent what I think are some of the frustrations that church members sometimes have with pastors.

Last week in my discipleship and teaching course we were having a discussion about the hidden ways that churches operate.  Things we do or say and things we don’t do and don’t say that have unintended consequences. 

An example was raised about crying babies in the worship service and it went something like this:  What if a baby starts crying during the service and rather than the parent(s) trying to calm the baby or remove her from the sanctuary what if the pastor would take the baby in his arms and just finish the sermon while holding the baby for the parents.  What would that act communicate?  Classroom responses ranged from, “it would make it seem like the baby is supposed to be there” to “it would show love and commitment by the pastor to take care for every member of the congregation.” 

My first reaction, on the other hand, was to say that it would communicate that those parents weren’t able to keep the kid quiet and it was distracting the rest of the congregation so the pastor had to take matters into his own hands and the parents would probably be mortified.  This point of view was met with a fair amount of resistance in the room. 

Now, I’m not saying that my response is right and it’s probably more cynical than it needs to be.  However, I stand by my believe that that’s how a good number of the members of the congregation would view it – right or wrong.

Sometimes, when I’m sitting in class, I have to try really hard to remember to think like a regular member of the congregation sitting in the pew each and every Sunday.  More often than not, I find myself saying,  “Yes, that’s how Michael, the pastor, might view that situation; but how would Michael, the banker, view that situation?”  Often, I find those two points of view at odds with each other.

When I’m confronted with those sorts of ‘real'-life’ situations in a classroom context, I’m thankful that there is an attempt to make practical connections, but I’m equally aware of the fact that I’m surrounded by a classroom full of future pastors.  Their responses are from the perspective of future pastors and how we wish the church would be. 

As much as I’d love to think that the congregation would react positively to my soothing a crying baby during a worship service, I believe the reality is, they wouldn’t.   If anything, I think it’d make the distraction worse.

Even if I’m wrong about that, the point is that I have to constantly remind myself that just a 2 years ago, I was sitting in the pew each Sunday just like everyone else and I’ll continue to try to bring that perspective with me to the classroom and I think about how to translate what I’m learning about ministry into what I’ll be doing in ministry.

One of those things is remembering that less is more and that too many pastors like the sound of their own voice.  This post is too long already so the other example will have to wait. 

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Back in the Saddle & More Pictures

After a two-week break after my trip, second semester started this week.  Like the last one, this semester promises busy and challenging but informative and helpful.  I’m looking forward to all of my classes:

  Discipleship & Teaching in North American Culture


  Old Testament Prophetic Literature

  New Testament Letters

  Systematic Theology II

In addition to these five courses, I also continue to meet with a mentoring group and a vocational mentor, as well as participate in Friendship Ministries each Tuesday evening.  I’m also starting some initial planning for my ten-week internship later this summer – thinking about sermon planning and even attending a church meeting or two in order to be able to hit the ground running in June.

This week I had the privilege of speaking to the sixth graders at Grand Rapids Christian Middle School about my recent travels to Turkey and Greece.  Shortly after I got back home, Zachary informed me that his class was studying ancient civilizations in school and he had been asked to research the Greek gods and goddesses.  I told him I lots of pictures of temples dedicated to gods and goddesses that he could use.  I decided to take it a step further and ask his teacher if she’d like me to share what I saw and learned with the whole class.  She thought that was a good idea, so last Tuesday I did that.

The kids seemed to enjoy the presentation and I enjoyed putting it together.  It forced me to sort through my pictures in a timely fashion and think critically about how to best use them in a way that would be helpful to others.  After some thought, I ended up with about 50 pictures that we ran through in about 40 minutes.  It was fast-paced, but fun.  I hope to do something similar with our bible study group next Sunday night as well.

One of the things I wanted to leave with the kids is a sense of the fact that even though we are far removed from it all – the Bible really does speak of real people and real places.  Here are just a few of the biblical places we visited along with their biblical references:


The Island of Samothrace as seen from Neapolis in the Aegean Sea.  Acts 16:11 says Paul stopped here on his way to Neapolis.Island of Samostrace


The possible prison at Phillipi where Paul and Silas were jailed in Acts 16:23:



Acts 17:1 says Paul passed through Amphipolis on his way to Thessalonica.  Amphipolis was famous for two colossal lion statues that guarded the entrance to the city.  This is one of them:

Lion monument of Amphipolis


In Acts 16:19, while in Athens, Paul is brought to a meeting of the “Aeropagus”.  This was either a group of people or a place.  If it is, in fact, a place this large rock in front of the modern city is known as the Aeropagus, or ‘Mars Hill’ where this meeting may have been held:

View of the Aeropagus rom the Acropolis in Athens


Acts 19:23-41 recounts the story of a riot in Ephesus, caused by the preaching of Paul and his companions, at which the citizens stormed the theatre shouting, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians”.  This is the theatre in Ephesus where that riot took place (sorry about the big-blue crane…that wasn’t there in Paul’s day!):

View of the main theatre in Ephesus

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Returning and Reflecting

As many of you know, I’ve been away from home for the last two weeks on a biblical study tour of Turkey and Greece.  I got home about 10:00pm on Tuesday night and am slowly returning to regular life here.  Returning while also reflecting on what I’ve seen and learned.

In my experience, I’ve got about a ten-day travel ‘window’.  Generally, I can be gone for about 10 days and not be too phased by it, but after that the travel starts to take its toll – hotel rooms, eating out, packing and unpacking the suitcase, and missing family.  I wouldn’t say I get homesick, I just get sick of not having a home.

All that said, if given the chance to have a ‘do-over’ and not take the trip, I wouldn’t take it (the do-over that is).  The experience was exceptional.  This was my first trip overseas and it was a great one – both personally and professionally.

Personally, I had a great time just being with all the fine folks that we travelled with. We all got along great, we enjoyed each others company,  learned from each other, watched out for each other.  In addition, this was an easy way for me to see another part of the world.  All of the logistics (transportation, lodging, food, itinerary, etc.) were all taken care of for me…all I had to do was be on time and learn.  Not a bad way to travel if you ask me.

Professionally, I came home with a lot of information and knowledge that will inform my study, interpretation, and exposition of the New Testament as it relates the church of the 1st Century.  However, I want to be careful to stress that while what I learned on this trip is helpful for understanding the biblical text one does not have to travel to these places to ‘get’ the Bible. 

It’s my hope that as I reflect more on this trip and what I’ve learned that it will not inform my study and preaching, but not define it.  It’s my hope that this trip will help me develop into a better and more faithful interpreter of the Word so that those who hear what I say understand the Bible better than they did before, because I understand the Bible better than I did before.

I will reflect on this trip for months and years to come and you will likely here about more of it in this blog in the coming months.  Hopefully, you will hear about it in a way that is not just informational, but informative and helpful as well.

So I’ve returned and continue to reflect.  Thank you to all who prayed for me and my family while I was away.  God heard your prayers.

I’ll write more about what exactly we all saw and learned later.  For now, I’ll leave you with a couple of the more than 900 pictures I took.

Our group on the main road leading into ancient Ephesus (I’m not in the pic, since I took it):



The Meteora in Greece – a Greek Orthodox monastery built high in the cliffs of central Greece:658


The Parthenon in Athens, Greece:796


The view from ‘Acrocorinth’ in ancient Corinth.  The body of water on the right is the Aegean Sea:878


“Eating” in a dining room in Pergamum (check out that view of the city below!):466

Friday, January 6, 2012

Update from Pamukkalee

Right now I am writing from and a resort hotel in southwest Turkey. Today was our first day of sight seeing and learning and it was fantastic. We started out in Izmir and traveled to Sardis where we saw a huge temple to the Greek goddess Artemis. We also saw a large gymnasium and the largest Jewish synagogue ever discovered. We had a lesson about the letter to the church th as found in Revelation inside the ruins of that synagogue.

From there we traveled to Philadelphia and had lunch at a cafe there. I had lamb kabobs and Turkish coffee. After a brief stop at a site there we traveled to the site of ancient Laodecia and there was a lot to see there. A large temple, a famous east/west road called the Syrian road, and two large roman theatres. It's amazing to sit and look down at a stage where gladiators fought and executions occurred over 2000 years ago!

It's only been one day and I've already learned so much. I am excited to be here and looking froward to more. I cannot upload photos now, so that will have to wait until after I get back. Thanks few,