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.