• November 13, 2014

    Tales of Woe

    For years, Alton, Iowa, had a liquor store, the only one in this neighborhood. Alton, some guy once told me, is home to two kinds of people: Roman Catholics and Hollanders who can't live with Hollanders. I'm not saying that's true, but sometimes myth tells a better story than mere facts.

  • November 13, 2014

    What Do You Mean by "Discipleship"?

    In a first century Jewish context, a disciple was simply a “follower” or “learner” of a specific rabbi or teacher. Followers viewed rabbis as the definitive and authoritative voice in the interpretation of scripture and its application in daily life. As a rabbi, Jesus did not simply supply good teaching for pupils to consume. Jesus provided a worldview for how to live all of life! Discipleship did not happen in a vacuum. The context where Jesus taught his followers was always the context of a genuine relationship. Jesus spent time with his followers. He knew them. He invested in them.

  • November 12, 2014

    Faith at Work - What Do You Wish Your Pastor Knew?

    The whole area of faith and work has become a key area for exploration, conferences, and scholarship. This interest reflects dissatisfaction with the sacred and secular divide that still pervades this conversation. Despite the lessons of the Reformation, people do not generally see that their work is honored as a calling or understood by the church...

  • November 11, 2014

    Do More than Thank a Vet

    Today, November 11, is called Veterans’ Day. It was for years called Armistice Day, the day in which we celebrated the ending of the War to End all Wars. Instead, it began a new era of warfare that constantly changes and adapts. And the casualties are those who never came home, and those who came home, but never really returned. Do more than thank a veteran today. Be compassionate and loving. Be understanding when they have a hard time with someone standing behind their back, or not being able to see all the exits in a room.

  • November 11, 2014

    Renewing the Sense of Place Pt. 1

    Before moving to Niagara Falls, Ontario my wife and I considered and pondered and prayed whether we were being called back into church planting. We were driven to go deep within ourselves, our passions and overall concern for the church.  Something unsettling, that had been lingering for quite some time, came to the surface.  Both my wife and I realized that we hurt that many many churches had lost a “sense of place” and some...

  • November 10, 2014

    Ghost Dance

    The Ghost Dance, one of the saddest religions of all time, was a frenetic hobgoblin of Christianity, mysticism, Native ritual, and sheer desperation that swept Native life throughout the American west in the final years of the 19th century. Wovoka, a Piute holy man, saw the original vision, then designed the ritual from his own revelation...

  • November 10, 2014

    Towards a Better Conversation about the Origin of the Universe

    I don’t have any definite answers for how the world was formed. The research done at MSU with star formation and evolution of e.coli suggest that the world is old and evolution had a role in its formation. Nonetheless, evolution raises questions about how to interpret the Bible in terms of the first humans and how death and sin entered the world. Neither side, if that’s even helpful language, has all the answers.

  • November 10, 2014

    Marilynne Robinson on Jonathan Edwards

    I was intrigued to read Robinson’s essay, “Jonathan Edwards in a New Light,” in the November/December 2014 issue of Humanities: The Magazine of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The subtitle of the article is distinctly unpromising—no, downright irritating: “Remembered for Preaching Fire and Brimstone, He Was Actually One of the Great Intellectuals of His Time.” Talk about a ‘duh’! Every Edwards scholar since Perry Miller seventy years ago has been saying this. A graduate student two hours into seminar reading knows it.

  • November 7, 2014

    What We Do When We Are Not Doing Exciting Things

    Both Anthony and I have the normal routine activities like cooking, cleaning, doing dishes, and washing laundry. But there are lots of "real" work activities we do too. Our communication with our supporters through our blog and prayer letters is an important part of our work. We also spend time doing research and studying various topics to prepare training and teaching materials...

  • November 7, 2014

    Unity

    How many breakups in the church or relationships are based on wanting things your own way instead of caring about unity? How often have we said that unity is important, but when it gets too uncomfortable and things don't go our way often enough, we go our own way? I believe that too many Christians often don't really care enough about what Jesus has taught or desired about unity. Too many are more concerned about their own level of comfort and their own desires than Jesus'. How else do we explain the number of church splits or Christians who leave their churches...

  • November 6, 2014

    Milkweed Pinups

    "Walking beans" was never a joy, but it was tolerable when my father-in-law would talk about farming way back when he was a kid. Truth?--I didn't mind the job. In a field of soybeans, weeds are, well, obvious; all you had to do was knock 'em down, whack 'em, take 'em out any way you can. Milkweed was particularly pernicious because it has a lateral root, meaning that taking one plant out was only going to invigorate another down the line...

  • November 5, 2014

    Always Eat Your Vegetables

    As we wind our way up the road that leads high into the cool, shady mountains of coffee country, Doña Nereyda breaks our silence with an exclamation. “Look there!” She says. “It’s tuna cactus! We have to get some leaves for tomorrow.” Dona Nereyda has been looking out of the car window, pointing out the different plants, trees, and fruit. She takes stock of the resources available in each community and talks to the residents...

  • November 5, 2014

    What Do You Mean By "Kingdom"?

    Many Christians have drawn the conclusion that the answer to that question is, ‘To have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.’ Or to put it another way, ‘To be born again.’ And never would I want to downplay something as rich and beautiful as that. But to use musical terms, we have mistaken key for tune. The key of my melodious journey, and I pray you too, is that I walk with Jesus. But the melody, the grand orchestra, is that of the Kingdom of God. We, and thusly our relationship with Jesus, are a very, very small part of the Kingdom...

  • November 4, 2014

    Thirst

    “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.” I’m not sure what I’m about to say is instructive or merely sensational, but one can die from thirst in four days, even if all you’re doing is praying. I’m guessing none of us—heavy drinkers included—really know the extremity of the opening line of Psalm 42, but then neither do I.  I can’t remember a time in my life when...Well, hold on. I used to bale hay...

  • November 3, 2014

    Modern Eugenics

    This past Sunday my husband and I were watching the show, 60 Minutes. The story that caught my attention was that of a young couple who had chosen in vitro fertilization not because they have fertility problems, but because they wanted to be able to select an embryo that did not have a particular gene. It turns out that the woman being interviewed carries a breast cancer gene that can cause a particular aggressive form of breast cancer, a cancer she herself had been diagnosed with at age 27. She did not want her children to be faced with that prospect.

  • November 3, 2014

    What Is God's Will for My Life?

    A question asked of me often, "What is God's will for my life?", or "How do I know God's will for my life?" These are good questions and loaded questions. Good, because many Christians truly desire to know where God would have them, what steps of faith he is asking them to take, and how God might use their lives for the next 50 years on this spinning globe. The God's will question is also a loaded question. Loaded, because many Christians are not really asking to know God's will. They are typically asking more self-centered questions...

  • October 29, 2014

    Getting Along

    Very early in the morning on November 29, 1864, Rev. Chivington, a fire-and-brimstone preacher who'd founded a Denver seminary, led those 700 troops into Black Kettle's camp and killed--massacred--50 men and 110 women and children, wounding scores more. Today, 150 years later, there's very little at Sand Creek to catch the eye, but there's ever so much to stop the soul...

  • October 29, 2014

    The Heart of Worship Renewal

    I have found that in America there are two different schools of thought concerning how to answer this question. The first group answers that worship is a "service unto God." The object and goal of worship is to honor and glorify God. As a result, worship is God-focused. It is not about the worshipper, but the God who is worshipped. The second group answers that worship is a "time to lay your burdens down and be encouraged." The object and goal of worship for these folks is to provide excitement, emotional release, and a feeling of God's presence.

  • October 29, 2014

    The Power of (Other People's) Prayer

    There have been many times where I have fervently prayed. I prayed my knees out when my one week old daughter was in the hospital after she stopped breathing. I prayed my guts out when I was in the hospital for a week due to a TIA, not knowing what my future held. I prayed and prayed for leading and guidance as my wife and I sought God’s direction and discernment in taking a new charge in west Michigan. Each day, I begin with prayer. Each day I begin with seeking God’s Word, meditating on it, and coming to Him in prayer. And then there are the times where I don’t pray at all...

  • October 28, 2014

    Children Teach Parents about Health

    “I thought that my daughter was just learning to sing and dance in this program because I heard her practice at home each day” said a parent from Pikine village. “Then I saw her do skits with her friends and ask the audience questions during their presentation, and I was touched and happy. I realized that they learned many things about health that will be useful to them in the future.” In each of the villages, the participants did several skits that were entertaining but carried a serious message too. They were about topics like forced marriage, HIV and AIDS, and teen pregnancy...

  • October 27, 2014

    Let Us Grieve

    When you’ve watched someone decline over a nine-year period—quite gradually at first, then accelerating, finally leaving very little of the person you once knew—you come to think that the last step would be rather small. I seem to have anticipated a process like a sunset over Lake Michigan. The sun drops slowly toward the horizon, then touches it, then is a quarter below the surface, a half, three-quarters, only a tiny slice left, and then entirely gone. Just a wee slipping away with no visible change in the light around us on the shore.

  • October 27, 2014

    Why University Students Should Know Horton

    Dr. Horton’s book, Christless Christianity, is an example of how contemporary Christian culture (particularly in the U.S) has gone off the rails. In the book, Horton shows how many churches have been taken captive by such things as consumerism, pragmatism, and self-sufficiency. We live in a place and time in which the gospel is often seen as a means to an end (personal transformation), the church as a place to entertain and give advice for your best life now, and Christians as conservative Republicans crying out against the persecution of a liberal society...

  • October 23, 2014

    Amuria TLT - Stewardship

    My heart is full of joy and I'm only sharing with you a few of the great stories. I am so grateful for the privilege of being able to be in Uganda and have God use me here. This post is about my training last week in Amuria, which was the 2nd manual of Timothy Leadership Training called "Christian Stewardship" and is about managing our resources, giving in church, and being good stewards of God's creation, our time, work, bodies, and talents...

  • October 23, 2014

    A Conversation with a Journalist

    I am so excited about this upcoming message on the parable of a journalist. Four have agreed to help me with sermon research. Yesterday I sent out a few exegetical questions for each to engage. This morning I got my first response (from the TV producer). After reading her answer to my first question I was kind of taken aback. Already her journalistic heart was teaching me something new about God – something I hadn’t thought of before. Below is how the conversation played out – first, my initial question, then her answer and then my response to her answer...

  • October 23, 2014

    Gifting and Power for Ministry

    Have you ever asked these questions? Why am I not as gifted as ..?  Why can't I do ... when others can? Why does God not give me the right gifts to do ministry? Even as I write these sentences, I find them sad and short-sighted. Having walked with believers and ministry workers for decades, I believe that most of us secretly wish we had different gifts. We wish we could be like someone we look up to in ministry. We are painfully aware of our shortcomings. Deep within we believe that life and ministry would be different if we were just different...

  • October 22, 2014

    "Out of Africa" (iv) -- Stranger

    A young woman walks up. Even though the world is, I'm quite sure, entirely Islamic, she's not hiding her face, as I would have expected. There's no birqua. Islamic women are not supposed to be showy, I'm thinking, but this one is wound up in a gorgeous robe so profligate with color it's almost blinding. You can't look away. It's beautiful, as she is--young and pretty. She smiles at the men she's serving. It's clear she knows them...

  • October 22, 2014

    What Do You Mean By "The Gospel"

    Think beyond the success of a work project or the victory of your favorite sports team. There are bigger questions within the heart of every person. What is my purpose? Will I be ever be fully accepted and understood? I’ve made a mess of my life. Where do I go from here? If you believe in the existence of an active God in our universe, those questions get heavier. I have ignored him, lied to him, doubted him, and distrusted him. I know how I would respond if someone treated me like that. Is there a way I can live with God...

  • October 21, 2014

    Being a Disciple and Obedience

    I'm reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship again and every time I read his book, it gets me thinking. Some would say that's a good thing, some might say it's kind of scary, but here's what Bonhoeffer has me thinking about today. I'm struck again by his emphasis on obedience as a key part of being a disciple of Jesus. In fact, without obedience to God, there is no faith. This is striking a chord in me. Granted, the institutional church has gotten a bad name because of its focus on rules over grace and on believing the right doctrine over...

  • October 17, 2014

    Zuni's "Big House" Is Gone

    It is no more, but for a 100 years in Zuni there was only one “big house.” To say it loomed over the pueblo risks understatement. Even in its declining years nothing in town could rival its massive triangular bulk. It was not just one-of-a-kind, it was defiantly so, as if some miscreant Kansas tornado dropped it in the middle of town. The first buildings the Christian Reformed Church built at the Zuni pueblo were hardly spectacular, but the denomination hadn’t been in the mission business long. In fact, Rev.

  • October 17, 2014

    Reflections on Farming God's Way

    We talked about how each person has an impact on the environment through their actions. There was a lot of discussion on deforestation and the importance of planting trees, especially native trees. They also calculated the cost per month for using firewood, charcoal, or LPG (gas) for cooking for a family of four.  I was surprised to find out that using gas is actually the least expensive. And it does not cause respiratory issues. The challenge is...

  • October 16, 2014

    Missional Prayer

    In an age where we seemed focused on comfort, on what we want or think we need, all of which might be very good, Elijah’s prayer is quite different. Elijah doesn’t pray, “O YHWH, save me from this situation.” He also doesn’t pray “Please send fire and burn up this bull.” He also doesn’t pray “Please strike down these false prophets who are leading Israel astray.” I think that might have been reasonable as well. No, Elijah prays that...

  • October 14, 2014

    Always Remember!

    Mom suffered a stroke almost nine years ago that left her in a memory-loss unit for the duration. Much of that time she was able—and eager—to talk about things from her youth and childhood. If damage to her short-term memory prevented her from remembering what she had for lunch, well, frankly, that wasn’t all bad. Her left peripheral vision was shot too, but that, we joked, simply confirmed her congenital Republicanism... 

  • October 14, 2014

    At the Heart of World Renew's Calling

    What is really at the heart of World Renew’s calling to show compassion to the poor? I think that respect and striving to impact the root causes of poverty are two of the keys. First, we try to work respectfully across cultures, races, and religious ways of life. At the community level, two of the main ways that interpersonal respect manifests itself are in requiring self-reliance and in the amazing multiplication effect that self-reliance produces.

  • October 14, 2014

    Esther Eye

    Esther is about 13 years old and has a quiet, sweet nature with a great smile. The other day we noticed something was wrong with her eye. She said it was injured when grass got in it.  It took awhile to get the whole story but from what we gathered she got a piece of grass in it two years ago (!).  We all prayed for her and asked God to heal her eye. We also gave her sunglasses which she wears everywhere to protect her eye. Grace was crying that night for her friend Esther. It was on all of our hearts. We love Esther and did not want to see her lose her sight.

  • October 13, 2014

    Transitions

    I haven’t posted much here the last few months. A lot of transition has been happening. My family and I moved from Washington DC to Holland, Michigan in July. We were unable to continue our efforts of building community with Roots DC for a variety of factors, and it was a sad farewell. We had an amazing time in the almost two years we were there, and I’ve resisted writing about it because it is still something I am processing and a bit hard to put into words...

  • October 13, 2014

    Picking up Flowers for Fran

    I picked up a small flower arrangement for Fran, from one of the florists who’s been helping me with this Sunday’s sermon. Each of the times I’ve dropped into Anne’s shop this week, I’ve exegeted a different facet of her vocation back to her. It’s been quite profound for both of us. And I walk away even more convinced of the need for a good book on the spirituality of vocation. I asked her for a few floral maintenance tips. She pointed to one of the Frescias and ran her finger down the dark green, unopened blooms. “Every single one of these should bloom,” she said.

  • October 10, 2014

    Grace Saved Me

    Do you think of yourself as a sinner? What a strange concept for so many people today. We live in a time where everyone wins and everyone gets praised for normal everyday achievements. I don't normally watch shows like American Idol, but I did appreciate one of the judge's comments to a singer who was especially bad, "Hasn't anyone ever told you that you cannot sing?"...

  • October 9, 2014

    Religion in the Workplace

    While I find it troubling that someone was rejected for a job on the basis of her Christian faith, I’m almost more troubled by a quote from Ms. Paquette herself in which she claims, “My beliefs have developed who I am as an individual, but they don’t come into play when I am doing my job.” Really? I would hope the opposite is true – that one’s beliefs have a profound impact on one’s work...

  • October 8, 2014

    Casseroles and Cakes

    She had never been a religious person or very interested in talking about faith. And yet, when I asked her how she was coping, she answered, “I think I might join a church.” I tried to not to act surprised as I responded with something vague about it being a good place to consider questions of mortality and eternity. “No,” she said. “It’s not that.  It’s because I’ve always heard that church people bring casseroles and cakes when there’s trouble. And look in on widows.  Help them with leaf raking and other chores.

  • October 7, 2014

    Timothy Leadership Training in Kaberamaido

    On September 16th - 20th, I kicked off Timothy Leadership Training in Kaberamaido. At this first manual of TLT we had 67 pastors, leaders, and development staff at the training. We mostly met outside because of the great number of people. I did not go to lead this training alone. I took three people with me who have been going through TLT in Soroti. They are almost ready to graduate from the program. It was a real joy to lead with them and not do it on my own. And they were able to learn more about what it takes to lead and grow in their ability to facilitate TLT...

  • October 7, 2014

    4 Spiritual Life Hacks

    Life Hacks are an interesting thing. They’re supposed to be new and improved ways for doing every day things to complicated DIY projects real easy and fast, in different ways than you’re used to. Now, this got me to thinking: Are there any spiritual life hacks? Is there anything out there that would make being spiritual easier?...

  • October 6, 2014

    Relics

    What I can't help but notice, almost daily, is that I'm running low on holy water. Truth is, this Protestant has never opened this elegant little bottle, never sprinkled its contents on anything, never tried out its holy potential. It stands atop my file now with a gaggle of other memorables, the blest water within dissipating to wherever sealed holy water goes when it disappears. Three years ago I bought this sweet keepsake--two euros...

  • October 6, 2014

    Story, Story!

    In the Nigerian context, storytelling is an ancient tradition passed on from generation to generation. In the past, communities would gather around campfires and tell stories. It would be a great form of entertainment, but also a way to pass on culture, tradition, and life lessons. The stories each of us are told are unique. Take the owl for example. As an African child, it is likely that they have been told stories of the presence of an owl being a sign of death and curses on a family or community. These stories have shaped the African worldview.

  • October 6, 2014

    Looking Back to Look Ahead

    In Joshua 4, Joshua commands the Israelites to build a stone monument beside the Jordan river to remind future generations of Israelites of the incredible saving acts of God in their history. Monuments to remind us of God's powerful acts in the past are important for a couple reasons. First of all, they say things about who God was, and by extension, who God is now. History gives us confidence to face the future...

  • September 30, 2014

    The Beauty of Election

    I have oft heard various objections to this articulation of the doctrine of election (the “U” in the dreaded TULIP).  Shouts of unfairness, capriciousness, randomness, and contradiction.  There is much that people have said, do say, and probably will continue to say, in their hostility towards this teaching.  And yet, despite all the jeers and pessimism, I find the Reformed perspective on the doctrine of election to be one of the most encouraging, comforting, and inspirational teachings we find in the pages of Scripture...

  • September 30, 2014

    Metaphorically Speaking

    One book we are looking at is a kind of mini-classic from just over 30 years ago: the Lakoff-Johnson volume Metaphors We Live By.  Most of the first chapters of this book bombard the reader with a nearly dizzying array of everyday speech that is substantially--and at times completely--structured by metaphors.

  • September 30, 2014

    A Choice Between Trust and Fear Is at the Heart of Almost Every Tension

    The pioneer of development psychology Erik Erickson spoke of “basic trust.” This is the confidence that a baby begins to have in its mother. The baby is trusting that the mother is reliably concerned and attentive even when not visibly present. Erickson says that all human beings are finally confronted with the options of trust and fear...

  • September 30, 2014

    Why I Believe Denominations Have a Future

    It is no secret that many denominations are struggling. Non-denominational churches continue to pop up on every corner, or so it seems, while mainline denominations struggle to raise enough money to pay the bills. Younger generations, in particular, show strikingly little loyalty to denominations. There was a time when one stayed for life in the denomination in which one was born, raised, and were baptized...

  • September 26, 2014

    Self-Construction

    In a recent op-ed piece in the Washington Post, columnist Michael Gerson observes that Christian conservatives are finding themselves under increasing cultural stress. This stress is not only coming from outside, but also from inside, primarily from the millennials in their midst. “Whatever else traditional religious views may entail,” he writes, “they involve a belief that existence comes pre-defined. Purpose is discovered, not exerted.

  • September 26, 2014

    It All Depends On Your Point Of View

    Sharon and I love to watch Antiques Roadshow. Someone comes in with Granny’s old vase. They don’t really like it, but brought it in because their spouse LOVES it. The eyes of the appraiser go wide with delight at the sight of this dirty, slightly chipped  bit of clay. Then she announces, with pleasure, “I would put a conservative auction estimate of easily $15,000 on this piece.” Suddenly, there is a whole new level of appreciation for it...

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