• May 8, 2014

    What Kind of Young People Do We Want in the CRC?

    Every denomination in the world wants more young people. That’s a given. What should the faith of our young people look like? A few young heroes in the Bible provide a good answer to this question. In the third chapter of Daniel three young men have been arrested for disobeying the king’s command to bow down to an idol. They’re given one last chance to assimilate...

  • May 8, 2014

    Welcoming the Stranger

    Hospitality is a word that has had renewed traction in Christian circles for at least the past fifteen years or so. While an exact definition may be hard to pin down, most people know what is meant when the word is used. For many people, hospitality carries connotations of welcome, befriending, or embracing, to name a few. In fact there is a whole industry that is identified as the hospitality industry.

  • May 7, 2014

    The Language We Use

    Over the years I've noticed how people express themselves, tending to be much cruder than before. We don't have very good examples when we listen to our politicians, sports or entertainment stars speak. I also have to say that even in the church I sometimes cringe when I listen to how people engage in discussions and conversations.

  • May 7, 2014

    The Search for a Self-Help Messiah

    Steven Watts’ new book, Self-Help Messiah: Dale Carnegie and Success in Modern America, discerningly unpacks the “ministry” of Dale Carnegie who lived from 1888 to 1955. Dale Carnegie grew up in a Christian home, but moved away from the faith of his father and mother where his mother, Amanda, was a church organist, Sunday school teacher, and accomplished lay preacher...

  • May 6, 2014

    Visit to Bukedia and an Amazing story

    I asked, "what is the average amount pastors receive in Uganda?" Most pastors get about 8,500 shillings for a month of ministry. That is about $3 or $4. It's enough for a couple bars of soap. They struggle and sacrifice. They have to work hard in their gardens, but balance their time with the great demands of ministry, having to do as much as pastors in the US have to do, from pastoral care, to administration, to preaching...

  • May 6, 2014

    How Does Amaranth, Ancient Crop of the Aztecs Help People in Africa?

    During the past 2 weeks East African people have shared many stories about how grain amaranth flour, and eating the leaves, too—-has helped them enormously! People living with AIDs whose CD-4 counts sat in the low hundreds see their count and their strength rise steadily after getting the anti-retro-viral meds and taking amaranth porridge every morning for breakfast...

  • May 6, 2014

    Prayer Concerns

    "Anything else?" the preacher says, after listing two or three prayer concerns, each of them compelling. "My granddaughter--" another voice comes out of the back, behind me. "My granddaughter--" the voice says again. It's a grandma, but that's no surprise because there's loads of them. "My granddaughter--" a bit more hesitation, then the kind of tremolo you just know is prompting tears, "--is going to graduate this week from law school," she says, obviously emotional...

  • May 5, 2014

    5 Small Loaves

    Did you ever stop to wonder how the young boy who gave his lunch to Jesus felt? Can you imagine the exhilaration he must have had watching his 5 small loaves and 2 little fish feed a crowd of well over 5,000 people?  I bet he went home and told that story over and over and over again. One young boy who was willing to share his 5 small loaves (and 2 little fish) was all Jesus needed to meet the overwhelming needs of a very hungry crowd. And it is in this spirit that Rachel and I are starting a new organization.

  • May 5, 2014

    On Milestones and the Necessity of Cairns

    I’ve had many conversations lately with people who are commemorating significant milestones. Whether it’s celebrating an anniversary, or the recent passing away of a loved one, or retirement from a career of work, it seems many of us have meaningful milestones of some sort. These moments give us pause to reflect upon where we have been; and often these moments can give us pause to reflect upon where we are going...

  • May 5, 2014

    Our Second Education: Life in the Local Church

    Colleges and universities across the country prepare to close the books on another year. Likewise, students, are more than ready to do the same. I hope it has been a year in which students have grown not only in knowledge, but also in the application of that knowledge. I hope that for Christian students, it has been a year of maturity in understanding the interconnectedness of their faith and academia—their calling as Christians as well as their calling...

  • May 1, 2014

    What Can't Be Told

    It seems to me as if the farther the whole horrifying experience recedes into our past, the easier it is to talk about it--the Holocaust, that is. For years, really wise people used to debate whether any Holocaust story-telling was legitimate because anything anyone might imagine could never reach the real horror. If survivors would not talk about the Holocaust, it wasn't because they were trying to escape it; there simply were no words...

  • April 30, 2014

    A New Experience of Easter

    Our family has never allowed this most joyful of days to become infected with bunnies, baskets, and the like. The focus has always been Christ. At Easter, the road of suffering has given way to jubilant victory over death. All the ways that sin has marred this world, as John Calvin says, have been defeated. The new creation has begun. This Easter was different, in a good way. It was more joyful, more rich than any I have celebrated before...

  • April 30, 2014

    Making Insiders and Outsiders

    "Boundary markers change from culture to culture, but the dynamic remains the same. If people do not experience authentic transformation, then their faith will deteriorate into a search for the boundary markers that masquerade as evidence of a changed life." John Ortberg hits the nail on the head with this quote. What is amazing is that groups often cannot see that they have created an artificial boundary marker. Yet, outsiders can feel it immediately...

  • April 29, 2014

    Patience

    As a non-Roman Catholic, I should probably tread lightly on practices and a history that I know at best second hand. But the elevation to sainthood of Pope John Paul II this past weekend got me to thinking. As I understand it, for centuries now the road to sainthood was a slow and unhurried one.

  • April 28, 2014

    The Best and the Rest

    I am basically the assistant for World Renew’s work with their major partner in Mozambique—the Reformed Church of Mozambique. I spend the day in their office, or out with their programs, giving advice and support on project management and community development, listening to complaints and problems and working towards solving them and learning.  Lots of that. And all three aspects give me much joy. For someone who came in knowing very few things about how to grow corn, food security has become awfully interesting to me...

  • April 28, 2014

    Dark Nights in the Sand Dunes

    Prof. Katie Davis, in The App Generation, says that as long as people these days have their smart phones they really can't get lost. Some seventh grader in an endless roll of sand dunes will always know exactly where he is and where to tell someone else to find him. "Hansel and Gretel" will make no sense. A generation of kids won't know what lost is. What's even more interesting, one reviewer says, is what a GPS does to our perception...

  • April 25, 2014

    Who's The Greatest?'

    I wonder how I might have felt if I was in John the Baptist’s place? John had a good ministry. People were paying attention – coming out to hear him. Listening carefully to what he had to say. And then, suddenly, it all dried up. The people stopped coming. They were paying attention to someone else – going to hear that other guy. Oh, a few stayed with John. But only a very few. I wonder how I’d feel if that happened to me? John had a clear vision. He knew that his mission from God was to get people ready for Jesus. And when Jesus came, he’d have to step aside.

  • April 25, 2014

    We Were Made to Thrive

    Many times we’re just surviving. We’re just getting by. It’s a week to week, day to day battle. Am I able to get up in the morning and go to the same job each day, day in and day out? How can I get everything done that needs to be done in the amount of time that I have? And we just survive. We do the same thing spiritually. We just survive. We just survive going through things day in and day out. We only have enough spiritual energy to make it to Sunday to be replenished enough to make it through the rest of the week...

  • April 25, 2014

    "Making" Jesus Lord?"

    I remember a conversation I had with a teenager several years ago, who professed to be an atheist. When I asked him why he didn’t believe in God, he explained that he didn’t like the idea of someone up there who could tell him what to do. He professed not to believe in God because he didn’t want to have to obey God. Of course, underlying this statement is the assumption that his own way of living is better than God’s design for his life.

  • April 25, 2014

    A Friend and an Answer

    Job needed an answer. He, like us, needed to know – what is God’s answer to this messed up place we live in. He needed a Redeemer. He needed someone sent from God who could heal his hurts and restore his relationship with God. He believed in the Lord but the Lord seemed so distant. Job was there, standing next to death’s door, pleading for someone who would plead his case before God, pleading for a true friend. That’s Job’s story. What’s yours?  What do you really need? The stomach, garage and twitter feed might all be full, but what about the yearnings of your heart...

  • April 24, 2014

    Thrilled with Love

    Frederick Buechner has argued “that we really can’t hear what the stories of the Bible are saying until we hear them as stories about ourselves”—and I think the same thing has to be true about doctrine.

  • April 24, 2014

    Images of God

    Over the Good Friday/Easter weekend I was thinking about the images we have of God and Jesus. Most of us, at least not until the book The Shack came out really had an image of the Holy Spirit. I wonder how often our images of God have become idols that allow us to keep God small so we can do our own thing and not feel as guilty as we need to...

  • April 24, 2014

    When Noise Returns

    This past Sunday afternoon, for the first time in 47 days, the radio was on while I was driving. There was some song playing – I really did not recognize who it was. I did not mind the music itself. It’s simply that after nearly seven weeks of driving in radio silence, the music seemed oddly out of place. One of the two Lenten disciplines I took up this year was to drive in silence – no music, no news, no background noise. I am not really sure why I chose that angle to deepen my discipleship this Lent...

  • April 23, 2014

    Sioux County History--Law and Order: Orange City, Iowa

    It may well be hard to believe, but there was a time in Sioux County frontier history when righteousness went to war with sin right here in town taverns, and won. Well, most of the time. Those immigrant Hollanders were not tee-totalers, never had been, no matter how tight their Calvinist collars. Prohibition was a peculiarly American phenomenon, and sometimes absolutely necessary to sustain the common weal of pioneer communities.

  • April 22, 2014

    Holy Week, Haitian Style

    Last week we enjoyed another Holy Week in Haiti. In a society where there is so much death (a very low average age of death) and new life (a very high birth rate), Holy Week is especially poignant. Zach led a Holy Thursday service. During the service we reflected on the events of Passion Night. On Good Friday, we had an opportunity to climb the mountains outside of Port-au-Prince and meditate on Christ's sacrifice surrounded by fog, green grass and beautiful trees.

  • April 22, 2014

    The Influence of the University

    We recognize the influence that universities have on our thinking, and we have only to look around us to see the ways in which this influence has directed our society, from religion and morality, to ethics and business, education and entertainment, and beyond. Kuyper’s words are almost prophetic: left to unbelievers and those opposed to a Christian worldview, public opinion, society, and culture will be led in such a direction. Kuyper points out that our role as Christians is to inject a different mode of perceiving and thinking in the university environment.

  • April 22, 2014

    A Holy Week and an Unholy World

    Holy Week, which culminates with Easter, drags me away from TV and radio for a while. For a few brief hours every day I could live in a new world, one that will become a full reality for me after my death, when I too will experience the resurrection that Christ has made possible. That is what Holy Week does for me and countless other Christians. Weekly church services can do that too, but Holy Week does it in an especially profound and poignant way...

  • April 21, 2014

    Longing and Living for Peace with Justice

    During November and December 2013, Bangladesh lived a new chapter of its struggle for a just government, freedom, and fullness of life. Burning attacks were often started by majority people against minorities, usually those of Hindu culture. Pathos in Bangladesh was real, and forgiveness—even more than 40 years after their war of independence with Pakistan—still so lacking. But, this week I read this hopeful little blurb...

  • April 21, 2014

    Look for the Helpers

    I wonder if traditional fascination with Joseph has something to do with our need to enter into the passion story. Each character in the story is a potential entry point in our devotional imaginations. We are often compelled by liturgy to enter the roles of Peter or Judas or Pilate or the angry crowd, and we do so reluctantly, with appropriate shame and guilt. The point of such exercises is to remind us that it was for our sins that he died. In fact...

  • April 21, 2014

    Initial Thoughts

    I want to share with you all some of my first initial thoughts as I culturally reverse back into Canada. These are completely random because jetlag can confuse the brain: There is way too much perfume being sold at London Heathrow, and I would never buy an expensive handbag sold there. Canada is still cold. I've seen occasional spots of snow, tucked in shady wooded areas or under bridges, but for the most part, I'm walking around in a sweater.  Although, I have thought that I would rather use a hole-in-the-floor...

  • April 21, 2014

    7 Words That Changed the World

    In the history of the world these seven words carry more atomic power than the largest nuclear reactor, more force than a tornado ripping through a midwest town, more beauty than a sunset setting over the Pacific ocean, more meaning than any philosophy book, more weight than an elephant on steroids, more life altering capability and world transforming power than the greatest leader, army, or world power. These are the most important seven words ever uttered in the history of the world (past, present, and future). What are these seven words?...

  • April 17, 2014

    Chocolate Bars in the Rainforest

    Aureliano and his family have made a lot of changes in their lives as a result of what they have learned from World Renew’s agriculture training. They have learned to plant a variety of new crops and farm with techniques that are healthy for the environment. “The trainings have been useful,” Aureliano says, “because now I can plant many different crops on a very small area of land.” One of the most valuable crops Aureliano has learned to cultivate is cacao. On our recent visit to their home, he eagerly brought us to his cacao trees, which were laden with fruit.

  • April 17, 2014

    Covenant Deal-Making

    Perry Miller, the great American Puritan scholar, makes the point somewhere that covenant theology (the Puritans called it “federal theology,”) really spelled the demise of the Puritan theocracy because it made God, well, understandable. If one lives by the promise of covenant theology—if I’m good, he’ll be good to me—it’s almost impossible not to believe that we aren’t the architects of our own righteousness. If I’m good, I’ll get a Christmas present...

  • April 16, 2014

    Denial

    “Peter followed at a distance.” This little line comes after the last supper, the betrayal by Judas, praying on the Mt. of Olives, the tussle in the garden with the soldiers, and finally the arrest. “Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance.” It's not hard for me to imagine being Peter. And its not hard for me to imagine myself following….at a distance...

  • April 16, 2014

    Where Are the Nails?

    The ancient Roman philosopher and statesman Cicero once described crucifixion is the “most cruel and horrifying punishment.” According to my study Bible notes in Mark 15, it involved a rough, wooden beam, approximately 30-40 pounds, carried to execution site by the condemned after severe beating. (Sometimes criminals died from the beating before they could be crucified!) Heavy, wrought-iron nails were driven through the wrists and the heel bones to secure the victim to the cross...

  • April 15, 2014

    Preaching in Pamba PAG

    I preached on the story of Jesus calling Matthew. It was largely about how Jesus came for the lost, and to the chagrin of the Pharisees, spent most of his time with the "sinners" of that time. I ventured to say a word about homosexuality. I made very clear that I believe that homosexual behavior is sinful.  But I also said that as Christians, we need to befriend homosexuals, listen to them, hear about their struggles, and have compassion on them...

  • April 15, 2014

    Credo

    Ehrenreich is an atheist who caused a bit of a stir by admitting in a new book that many years ago, she did have some kind of quasi-mystical experiences. But whatever those were, today Ehrenreich says that the only religions she has any respect for are the ones with ecstatic mystical rituals--like various religions in Africa, she claimed--that put a person in touch with "god" or the divine in some palpable way. But faith itself?  Belief? Puh-leeze, it's the 21st century. We are so finished with the idea that belief is a way of knowing.

  • April 15, 2014

    Adoption

    Some time ago, our daughter started asking questions about why she is different. She wanted to know why her hair was different, why her skin was a different colour, and things like that. Adoption doesn’t just belong to my daughter’s story, it belongs to mine, to yours. Being adopted into God’s family means a lot of things of course. It brings us into an inheritance, it gives security of salvation, it brings us into brotherhood with Christ, and it gives us a new legal status before God. All of these things are worth thinking about.

  • April 14, 2014

    "Jesus Freaks in the Streets"

    God’s Forever Family looks at the astounding marriage of this movement with old-fashioned “born-again” religion. Nothing, Eskridge rightly observes, would seem less likely than this coupling, yet few things have more changed the face of American religion—and with it, American politics and culture. The resurgence of evangelical Protestantism in the 1970s, the rise of the Christian Right in politics with the Reagan presidency in the ‘80s, above all the revolution in church music marked by the ubiquity of the praise and worship style—all these were rooted in... 

  • April 14, 2014

    The Outrageous Gospel

    Sometimes I wonder if we could sensationalize Bible stories in order to increase Biblical literacy. Given the tremendous amount of juxtaposition in the Bible, it wouldn’t be that difficult to grab peoples attention. You could have headlines like “Shepherd Boy Defeats Giant and Becomes King” or “If You Can’t Beat ‘em, Join ‘em: Christian Killer Saul Turns Apostle Paul.” The Gospel story would have to be the ultimate Biblical juxtaposition. The story of God becoming man in the person of Jesus Christ practically sensationalizes itself...

  • April 11, 2014

    A Firefighter's Response to a Sermon on a Firefighter

    The other day I got an encouraging note from a New York State firefighter. He’d watched our firefighter sermon online and left a comment. I followed up and asked him how the worldview espoused in the sermon impacted his work. Here is his response (edited for anonymity); "A fellow firefighter showed me your video after a training night. I was very drawn to it by how much time, research, and interviewing had gone into the video.

  • April 11, 2014

    Malaria

    Malaria!! It is a dreaded word here and across the world. I have experienced my first case of Malaria since living in Uganda for two and a half years. The night I spent in the hospital with my friend Eve, I got a lot of mosquito bites and I kept thinking, "It is malaria season!" But when I was helping Eve in labor I just didn't care so much! My pain was nothing compared to her pain. Malaria takes about two weeks to incubate, so I waited and just wondered, but I didn't worry so much. Steve and I were in Kampala when it hit me...

  • April 10, 2014

    'Hand-on-the-Doorknob' Conversations

    Even though we had been ready to leave only a minute before, we stayed talking for a while – her sharing more about herself, her life and her questions. I was hoping and praying that I might listen well and give whatever care I could. When I described the experience to my husband, he referred to it as a ‘hand-on-the-doorknob conversation'. The conversations that come up, often unexpectedly, as the pastor is getting ready to leave. A question...

  • April 10, 2014

    "Where God's Glory Flashes"

    In the back of The Oxford Book of Carols, there are a few carols for seasons other than Christmas.

  • April 9, 2014

    Crazy Beats

    I spent an extended period in my car on Monday, and I ended up listening to the radio. Nothing as elevated as NPR. No, I admit it: Top 40.  As a culture, we may not read much poetry any more collectively, but we do know song lyrics. And as I bopped along to the admittedly hooky beats, I realized how many of the current hits are somewhat mystifying themselves.

  • April 9, 2014

    Living Faithfully While Connecting with Others

    Last Sunday we wondered together about how believers, who wish to remain faithful to the Lord, ought to live in a world in “captivity/slavery” to the effects of the Fall; how to be faithful in a broken Creation marred by sin, death and suffering? We looked to the people of Israel, who had recently been dragged into captivity in Babylon. While waiting for redemption that may, or may not, come in their lifetime how ought the people to live?...
     

  • April 8, 2014

    Delight

    Once upon a time I wrote the life story of a Laotian-American, a man named Kong, a man who is a grandfather, a meat-packer, a prison camp survivor, and a self-described “mean dude.” The most important description I could give him today, he tells me, is that he is a follower of the Lord. Throughout his life—even in the decades he’s lived in North America—he considered himself Buddhist. No more. Something happened—a miracle...

  • April 8, 2014

    Telling Stories

    “Flasher evangelism.” That’s what Bowen calls those abrupt spiritual conversations with a stranger on the street that mark certain evangelistic methods. (See his book Evangelism for Normal People.) Relying on a Margaret Atwood short story, Bowen exposes the way others often perceive our attempts at evangelism as “disgusting,”  if not abusive because of our attempts to suddenly access a deep level of personal intimacy with someone we’ve never met...

  • April 8, 2014

    IBS in Amuria

    IBS is a program for pastors who are unable to afford going to Bible college or who do not have a good enough grasp of English for going to the Bible College (which is taught all in English). It is also much more accessible because the classes are taught in more rural areas which are easy for the pastors to get to.

  • April 8, 2014

    Too Much Manure Does More Harm Than Good

    For churches to thrive there also needs to be regular feeding of the people. There also needs to be a balance in what is being fed to the congregation. A farmer in one of the churches I served taught me some invaluable lessons in how to feed the flock. A bit "tongue in cheek" he told me he really appreciated the sermons I preached, but he suggested that I don't feed the whole hayload in one message. I got the hint. This helped me focus...

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