• February 27, 2014

    Maintaining Margin in Life and Ministry

    Richard Swenson has been so helpful to many in his proclamation that all people should maintain a margin in their life.  What is margin?  Margin is the space on the outside of the pages.  It is the area not written upon. Swenson, who is a medical doctor, argues that giving 100% of our energy and resources is pure foolishness. It is like writing on every square inch of a page! Unfortunately, life without margin is...

  • February 27, 2014

    Facing the Death of a 24 Year Old

    For most of my life I’ve felt incredulous when things have gone wrong; a disabled child is born, I experience failure, life takes a turn for the worse or someone dies. How could this be happening? Why God? Many of us experience incredulity in these kinds of circumstances; and  rightly so. But what I’m beginning to learn is that we forget to feel incredulous in the rest of life...

  • February 27, 2014

    A Church in a Community

    I was speaking recently with a national church leader of the Reformed Church of Zambia when he made the following statement: “Many people go to church and give from the little they have. They listen to the sermons and try to contribute; but when they walk out the church they still do not have an answer to where they will get money to pay school fees for their kids...to their health issues. They do not have an answer about how to make..."

  • February 27, 2014

    Now Listen. . .

    Even though Willa Cather never moved back to Red Cloud, Nebraska, part of her never left. Her finest work is a testimony to the life she lived out on "the Divide," on some of the most unforgiving land one can find on the Great Plains. I couldn't help thinking of Cather this weekend when the Dutch skating coach shot his big mouth off about the lackluster performances of the usually reliable American skaters...

  • February 27, 2014

    Being Like Polished Silver

    Some time ago I heard a story about a group of children who went on a class trip to a Pioneer Village. Near the end of the trip they entered the home of a silversmith. The Silversmith sits as he polishes his piece of silver.  Meticulous in his approach and careful to get every little piece bright and shiny, he works away.

  • February 26, 2014

    Giving Up on Giving Up for Lent

    For centuries, many Christians have made a practice of fasting in some way during this time. For some, the fast can center on abstaining from food, or certain foods. For example, our Catholic brothers and sisters abstain from eating meat on Fridays, although they do eat fish – blessing those of us here in the Midwest with amazing fish-frys every spring. More recently, some Christians have branched out to fast from other things during Lent...

  • February 24, 2014

    Rejoice!

    All day yesterday, an intermittent screech would come crashing through the open basement window of my office. A son of the man who used to live next door—before he died several years ago—was cleaning out his father’s three-stall garage, one old two by four at a time. What made the job worse was that his father was an ace tinkerer. I’m not sure whether he was, by nature, a pack rat, but his father’s ability to fix anything meant that nothing lacked value. I found the whole operation scary. The detritus one accumulates throughout life is incredible...  

  • February 24, 2014

    Stuck with You

    I wrote this for a friend on Calvin-in-Common who confessed to being stuck by the evil he sees in the world. Are you stuck because Christians should be better than this but aren’t? Because they have at the center of their religion a man who is whipped, stripped, mocked, betrayed, and utterly abandoned while forgiving his enemies and yet we don’t recognize the whip in our hand and the spittle passing from our lips? “He saved others but he cannot save himself” we cried, blind to the fact that he was saving us by not saving himself...

  • February 24, 2014

    A Biblical Approach to Winter: Scattering Frost and Hurling Hail

    To those among our readers who do not live in the wintry climes of North America, I apologize for another lament on this blog about cold, snowy weather. Please forgive us. Still in the grip of this relentless winter, we Midwest dwellers are suffering from claustrophobia, boredom, restlessness, irritability, lack of exercise, and sun-and-flower deprivation. At least I am. Today, gusty winds are depositing a mix of ice and snow on my windows and slicking up the roads and walks. Again. In times like these, one must turn to scripture for comfort...

  • February 21, 2014

    From Punishment to Hope: AIDS on the Rio Coco

    In my July newsletter, I shared a story about how the world price of gold was linked to the grief of the rapid transmission of HIV and AIDS in a remote region in Nicaragua. At first glance, gold-panning would seem like a great windfall for poor Nicaraguan families—a welcome new influx of cash to supplement their income so they can buy the things they cannot grow or produce themselves. Once a family has accumulated enough gold flakes and wants to cash them in, a family member must travel several hundred kilometers downriver to the nearest town and sell them to gold buyers...

  • February 21, 2014

    An American Story

    On Saturday, January 2, 1847, a young Senecan named Ha-sa-no-an-da, or Ely Parker, then just 18 years old, visited the U.S. Capitol on a trip to Washington D. C., to see President Polk, who'd he'd actually met earlier in the company of a couple of highly revered Seneca sachems. He'd gone to plead with Polk to let his people to stay on their New York reservation, to keep what land they still had and not be sent out to the frontier far, far from home. Ha-sa-no-an-da had his reasons; they included the normal treaty violations forever a part of any transactions with white people...

  • February 21, 2014

    The Reverse God of the Gaps

    Christians who use God to fill in the spaces at the limits of our power or understanding are often criticized of having a “god of the gaps." We cut and paste “God” into whatever space we need something to operate within but for which we lack a material explanation. This then presents an embarrassment when along comes a material explanation which is convincing enough for a particular community. We used to believe...

  • February 20, 2014

    What Good News are We Proclaiming?

    Overseas short term mission trips and the voluntourism movement in international aid efforts has been justifiably criticized for quite some time now because of the colonial and racist overtones and attitudes within them. But I am caught short again today at how absent this conversation is with regard to mission in North America...

  • February 19, 2014

    Arrival in Uganda

    Praise God with us that we arrived safely in Uganda late Monday night, after many hours of travel. It was exciting to get off the plane and smell the distinctive aroma of Uganda and feel warm, even without a jacket! We are also very grateful that Anthony is almost fully recovered from being sick and I have not succumbed to anything so far. After staying up very late (into Tuesday morning), we were able to drop off to sleep at the temporary home of our friends Jim and Josephine, in Kampala. It was easy to sleep after being awake for almost two days.

  • February 18, 2014

    A Teacher's Life

    One of my most recent reads was Wooden: A Coach’s Life by Seth Davis. Coach Wooden was a Christian, and he was a person who lived out his life and his testimony through actions more than words. John Wooden coached his last game in 1975, but you will still find books in print about him or from him. Why? Because the legacy of his life and lessons still resonated with his players long after the basketball games they played...

  • February 18, 2014

    What Keeps Us Going

    Not that I count down or eagerly anticipate the end as soon as it begins, but I was made aware that this past week marked the halfway point of my internship. Looking for profound insight? Breathtaking optimism? You’re going to have to wait. Not that insight and optimism have been absent.  It’s just that they been in short supply. It’s been a place that has been both, simultaneously, a tremendous success and a big disappointment... 

  • February 18, 2014

    To Death

    In the wonderfully comic and deeply poignant 1987 film Broadcast News, William Hurt plays Tom Grunick, an empty-headed but ruggedly handsome network news reporter who is climbing his way up the ladder toward the coveted anchor spot on the evening news.

  • February 17, 2014

    Faith

    Classically defined, faith includes both assent to some set of propositions and trust. While at times I have struggled with both aspects of faith, I think I have consistently struggled more with trust. But as I thought about it this morning, it seems that at the heart of distrust is pride or arrogance. For example, when I don’t trust someone to do something I asked her to do, I stand around, looking over her shoulder, making sure she does it exactly the way I wanted her to do whatever the task is. In other words, I micromanage...

  • February 17, 2014

    Excited to Preach a Server Sermon

    Last night I told my wife how excited I was to preach on a ‘server’ this weekend. The image bearing correlation between a server’s nature and God’s has been illumining. Who knew that their yearnings, desires and actions could reveal something about who God is?  God is not static. He moves. His attributes are acted out. God empowers, speaks, listens, heals, touches, creates, and serves. So, no surprise then, that the engagement of any embodied text is so compelling. A moving image bearer can profoundly reveal our ever-moving God...

  • February 17, 2014

    Should Christians Pray in Public?

    We rarely went out to eat when I was a kid. Meals were enjoyed at home. We began and ended each mealtime with prayers and a reading from the family Bible. In a rural setting, you could actually do this three times a day, kind of like Daniel. Even in the city, we prayed together during the week at most breakfasts and suppers. As we began to eat out more often, however, my family had to figure out how to fit in this holy habit. Full-fledged family devotions were not really feasible in a restaurant environment...

  • February 17, 2014

    Review: Loyalty and Loss

    I have this itch for history, especially Dutch-American history; and the history of the RCA is, in fact, steeped in tulips because the RCA's profoundly strong presence in Dutch-American conclaves in Michigan and Iowa originates in the Afscheiding, the painful 1834 "separation" undertaken by religious conservatives in Holland against a State Church--the Dutch Reformed Church--they believed was tottering in orthodoxy.

  • February 17, 2014

    Revelation 2-3 the Invitation to See and Hear

    One author speaking about the book of Revelation says that we are not taught anything in Revelation that is not in the rest of the Bible. In other words, we don’t turn to Revelation to get additional information. The truth of the gospel is already complete, revealed in Jesus. What Revelation does is teach the already revealed truth in new ways. This is helpful as Christians very often like to separate Revelation from the rest of the Bible. We often pretend Revelation doesn’t exist or we end up treating it as a whole separate Bible of itself.

  • February 13, 2014

    Wisdom From the Garden: No One Stands Alone

    Healthy churches know the importance of each individual in the church. We all have different passions and gifts. But as we work together pursuing our passions and using our gifts, as we support one another in our spiritual growth, and as we hold one another accountable, the church as a whole becomes a beautiful thing. Like a healthy garden, much fruit is produced as people grow in the faith and see many others become part of God's growing family...

  • February 13, 2014

    Sitting In the Rain With Jesus

    If you had to create a picture of Jesus preaching the Sermon on the Mount, what would the weather be like in your drawing? Many artists have given their renditions of the event throughout the last twenty centuries. A quick Google search will show a sampling of these paintings. In all but a few, the sun is shining upon the Lord and his followers. Some even show people comfortably resting on rocks that appear as ergonomic as church pews. In many of these images, Jesus might as well have been teaching a modern congregation in a climate-controlled sanctuary.

  • February 12, 2014

    The Downs and Ups of Finding a Publisher

    Early yesterday morning, after three months of waiting, I got an email from a prospective US publisher saying they wouldn’t be able to take on my new book. They didn’t think they’d be able to sell enough books (they’re the second publisher to say the same thing). Needless to say, I was a bit discouraged. How can there not be a market for a book on work? Perhaps I shouldn’t have started this project. Where am I going to find the passion to finish these last three chapters? I clung to a bible verse from that morning’s devotional reading, “But now Lord, what do I look for?

  • February 11, 2014

    Addendum

    Granting that pastors can't get to everything in a passage with just one sermon and that sometimes the forest/big-picture theme is more important than the details of each particular tree/verse. I've been thinking, since Sunday, how I dropped the ball on Matthew 7:6. "Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls before pigs..." Well now I bet you can see why I might have left that prize verse alone...

  • February 11, 2014

    Reading Bratt's Kuyper (iv)

    When you think about it, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Abraham Kuyper were almost contemporaries, Hawthorne preceding Kuyper by a generation or two. Still the air they breathed was full of similar issues. In this country, there lived a man named Emerson, who threw off every last shackle of church life to found his own free-thinking, free-wheeling New Age-ish fantasy land. We call Mr. Emerson and his gang of dreamers "transcendentalists" because they wanted to trust what was spiritually within them far more than what was empirically outside them.

  • February 11, 2014

    Cruising in Style

    During Zach's recent trip to the the Jean-Rabel area off the northern coast of Haiti, he saw a four or five of Royal Caribbean's cruise-ships off the coast between the Haitian mainland and Ile de Tortue. The ships were heading to/from Labadie, a beach that Royal Caribbean has leased from the Haitian government for 50 years. Labadie, according to the Royal Caribbean website, has zip-lines, roller-coasters, large inflatable swimming toys, para-sailing, and a number of other amenities.

  • February 10, 2014

    The Festival Geek Recommends: A Top Ten List

    Despite the continued deep freeze here in Michigan, I spy a glow of hope on the horizon: something wonderful is coming! I don’t mean spring. That’s doubtful. I mean Calvin’s Festival of Faith and Writing, our biennial celebration of books, authors, publishing, reading, and faith, happening April 10-12. Festival always sets out a sumptuous banquet of good books. You are welcome to visit the Festival website for a preview, or you can go to our Goodreads page and browse through the 363 titles by this year’s Festival authors...

  • February 7, 2014

    I'm Teaching Poetry!

    As a result of my poetry unit, I want my English 10 students to appreciate more of the power and beauty of God's gift of words, to evaluate the truth claims poets make, and to recognize the poetry they hear every day in the songs they listen to. We started the poetry unit off with a bang by watching Daniel Beatty's spoken poetry performance of "Knock Knock."  They also wrote and shared poetry of their own...  

  • February 6, 2014

    Communion

    February 2, 2014, my son Sam, age 9, along with 13 other kids about his same age at Immanuel CRC in Ripon CA, took communion for the first time. They hadn't made a public profession of faith yet, but thanks to a great deal of study and effort by our church's council, they were invited to the celebration of communion along with the rest of the community of Immanuel. All of these kids had spent some time with me and with their parents thinking about their baptism that includes them in the family of God as his children.

  • February 6, 2014

    Wisdom From the Garden: Good Seed - Deep Roots

    So here is some wisdom from the garden. A rule of thumb. For a church to be healthy, roots need to be firmly planted. We have good seed - the Word of God. That Word of God needs to be deeply rooted in people. On the surface won't do. Shallow won't work. You need deep roots! So here is the check point: is your church healthy...

  • February 5, 2014

    Travels of a T-Shirt

    We north Americans seem to have a thing about T-shirts. Most of us have several, some of us have dozens. And they aren’t just white undershirts—they make statements! Over time you can learn a lot about a guy just by noticing what his T-shirts say. But who would have thought the actual life history of a T-shirt would be so interesting? I just finished reading a book that my son gave me for Christmas: Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy: An Economist Examines the Markets, Power and Politics of the World Trade.

  • February 5, 2014

    Joy Comes in the Morning

    In Tacloban...The streets are so clear now of debris. It is hard to imagine you could hardly walk through them at one point, let alone now drive. I saw kids back in school, in spite of the unstable structures of the buildings, but there are large UN tents donated for that purpose. As of Jan 6th, most of the schools which had been evacuation centres were cleared to allow classes to start up again. Children are going in two shifts as there are not enough secure locations...

  • February 4, 2014

    We Need Each Other

    The Coca-Cola Super Bowl ad which featured “America the Beautiful” sung in various languages has struck many as a beautiful display of the wide diversity of this nation. A nation which has always prided itself on being a melting pot, a place where people from anywhere on the globe have found a home. Yet, unsurprisingly, some managed to find it inappropriate. Which makes me wonder, do we really want peace in our world? Do we really want understanding? As a person who seeks to cultivate dialogue between people of varying viewpoints, this is a high value of mine. Some disagree...

  • February 4, 2014

    What's Real

    Across a weekend that featured both a Super Bowl game and the tragically unexpected death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, I was amazed at how many people posted and re-posted and shared stories related to an interview given by Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling. A while ago I posted a blog about how real characters can become to the authors who invent them. It's a very interesting phenomenon and may well be telling...

  • February 4, 2014

    More Goats than People: Beauty and Promise of the Nouveau Kiskeya Project

    We often say of Haiti, "There is no place where you do not find people." However, during a visit to the area of Jean-Rabel, which is in the North-West Department of Haiti, we learned that we were mistaken. We came to the Nouveau Kiskeya Guesthouse to lead three days of Timothy Leadership Training for 25 area pastors and church leaders. Zach's first impression was "Where are all the people?"  In fact, the area of the Nouveau Kiskeya project is a harsh desert with only cactus and scrub-brush and a handful of human inhabitants. There were more goats than people by far...

  • February 3, 2014

    Adolescent Health Program Combats Injustice

    This past year we at World Renew Senegal have worked hard to serve vulnerable communities together with our partners. We are in the process of expanding the adolescent health program into Linguere, a town in northeast Senegal. The work started in St. Louis and other communities in the area, and the program in the Dakar suburbs started off the New Year with 240 newly-enrolled girls...

  • February 3, 2014

    Passing the Peace

    In the many traditions, passing the peace is an established element of worship. Despite my congregation's attention to liturgy, this particular part of the liturgy is not yet something that has been included in our worship services. I don't know the actual background for this practice, but today's gospel reading was from Matthew 5:21-24. Here Jesus is giving instruction about murder. It is one of the "antithesis" statements of Jesus.

  • February 3, 2014

    Time for your Church to Renew, Relaunch or Retire?

    Is it time for your church to renew, relaunch or retire? Congregations, like living organisms, experience cyclical and predictable seasons. In a manner of speaking, they are given birth in the spring, flourish in the summer, fade in the fall, and die in the winter. Well, not necessarily. While the living organisms of nature have been created by God, the church is indwelt by God the Spirit, the very Spirit that raised Jesus Christ from the grave. And because of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, congregations need not die or retire.

  • February 3, 2014

    2013 Year in Photos, 2014 Looking Forward

    Finally... a chance to sit down without distraction and get out a much needed update. 2013 was a full year. 2014 promises nothing less. Here is a summary of what went down and what is in the works. Twenty-thirteen starts off with a shiny new job and a shiny new school.  I would be the Director of Technology, overseeing and coordinating technology at the three NCA schools, but primarily focused at the newest, NCA Matagalpa (NCAM).  I soon find out my job entails a good bit more than just technology, as well as some classroom time teaching a typing class...

  • January 31, 2014

    Joy and Motivation: Our Best Assets

    We have many reasons to celebrate in World Renew Haiti! 2013 was sincerely hectic—we practically had no rest, but laughter was intentionally part of it and it was productive and blessed. We at World Renew make it a point to laugh together and do things cheerfully. We are conscious of the fact that joy and motivation go hand in hand and are our best assets. We pray God to keep our team healthy, strong, joyful and motivated...

  • January 31, 2014

    August: Osage County

    When you think of most anything by Tennessee Williams or a film like "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolff?" you duck right away because there's going to be a fight and it's not going to be pretty and no one is going to win--perhaps not even the audience. To call the genre "domestic realism," doesn't quite cover the territory. And there's even less domesticated about August: Osage County, a film that doesn't begin to hide the hideous dysfunction...

  • January 31, 2014

    The Approval of Others

    Just imagine for yourself witnessing the great multitude of Jesus’ miracles with your own eyes. Seeing Jesus heal a man born blind, raise Lazarus back from the dead, or hear the audible voice of God thundering through the clouds. And then imagine for yourself witnessing such miracles and then attempting to DISCREDIT them…

  • January 30, 2014

    Life's Little Blessings

    Days continue to pass by quickly here, as each one is filled to the brim with diverse activities. I just want to share a few praises with you. There is a new Anglican priest in town. He wants me to do a week long training at the end of February for at least 2 teachers from every parish that he oversees. That means over 100 teachers, to be mentored on how to lead children. I'm excited about this huge project and delighted...

  • January 30, 2014

    Becoming a TLT Master Trainer

    I just finished my last week of Timothy Leadership Training. During this week we went through the last three manuals of the program. All the manuals were good and I am looking forward to teaching them. I have to admit that the one about overcoming violence in the family is the one I am most excited to teach, as I know that it is common in Uganda for men to beat their wives...

  • January 30, 2014

    Stress, Community, and Friendship

    I have been reading an interesting book on the consequences of stress on the human body. What I found interesting was his emphasis on developing good social networks and friends. He observed several groups of people with what we would call horrible eating habits who have very low levels of heart disease. He argued that these people have one thing in common: they are well integrated into a community where they have love, support, and fun...

  • January 29, 2014

    An Important Failure

    During this long, cold month of January, I’ve spent my time teaching an interim class entitled “Faith and Fiction: Stories That Preach.” We’ve examined novels and films, poems and short stories to find out how literature might give us, in the words of Henry Zylstra, “more to be Christian with.” I opened our class, by talking about a painting by Bruegel.

  • January 29, 2014

    Why I Am Unarmed

    My neighbors were recently mugged at gunpoint not far from where I live in Washington, D.C. A nice evening out for dinner with another couple quickly went awry as two young men pulled a gun on them and demanded their wallets and phones. The four of them hit the ground and did as they were asked. After being accosted in this way, my friends felt rattled. Unsafe. Sad. Some might say: “If only they’d been carrying a weapon of their own, they might have been able to turn the tables, or at least hold onto their wallets.” A good thought.

  • January 29, 2014

    Films about Jesus Christ: An Examination

    Jesus Christ is coming to theaters in February. 20th Century Fox has announced that Son of God, a film that is based on History Channel's miniseries The Bible, will open in theaters in the U.S. on February 28, 2014. This film is the latest in a very long list of movies going back more than a century dealing with Jesus Christ. The most famous and influential film about Jesus, simply called Jesus, or alternatively The Jesus Film, is a 1979 motion picture which was based primarily on the gospel of Luke.

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