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