Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Still Waiting...

After a long day yesterday, we're still waiting. I was all ready to go but Cara's contractions settled down and she's much more her normal self today. So, we'll keep you all posted as things transpire but for now, things are normal. Maybe we'll have a new years day baby after all?

Have a great and safe New Year's Eve and we'll see you in the New Year!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Giving Thanks on Christmas Eve

I'm feeling pretty thankful today.

Thankful that I have the wonderful opportunity to be a pastor in the same neck of the woods that I grew up in. Thankful that all my kids are home from the hospital and doing well. Thankful that I have a beautiful wife that does what I could never do such as birthing my children (something she'll be doing for the sixth time in only a few days). I'm also thankful that I have a roof over my head and food to eat on my table. I'm thankful for my family and friends who have gone out of their way to help us in the past and present. I'm thankful for the chance to reconnect with family and friends during this time of the year. I'm thankful for snow at Christmas (despite all the shoveling I've done and it's only December!)

But most of all, I'm thankful for the love that came down at Christmas all those years ago. And I'm not just saying that. I'm thankful because it's our measure of hope during tough times. It's just what we need even though some of us don't know that we need Him - The Christ and Savior. Just like we look for love in all the wrong places, I'm confident many of us have been looking for our savior in all the wrong places too. Still, the gift that keeps on giving is right there in front of us this Christmas (and every other day too).

Remember that this Eve of Christmas and be sure to tell others about the reason for your hope in the year ahead.

Blessings and Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Uncle David

When someone you've known passes away, a little piece of your life is removed. A void replaces a relationship you once had. As I reflect on the life of my Uncle David, I'm feeling both thankful and sad. Thankful knowing that he doesn't have to suffer any more. Sad, knowing that I'll never see him again on this side of heaven.

The Good News - and there is Good News - is that when someone dies whose a follower of Christ, our hope overshadows our sorrow. Our belief in a new life and a new body overrides our feelings of grief and sadness. Yes, we grieve, but our grief is mixed with hope. This is how I feel about David. Despite having Down Syndrome, David lived a life that many of us would be envious of. His was a simple life. The littlest things could make him happy. Whether it was sitting in his room listening to music or watching reruns of his favorite TV program, David experienced joy on a level that many of us probably never do. Our lives, unfortunately, are much more complicated and this is mostly our fault. We've filled our lives with too many things and the result is a life of anxiety and complexity that tends to steal the joy right underneath from us.

David, despite his failing health, still found a way to experience joy. He still found a way to smile even when it was quite obvious that he was feeling pretty horrible. He still found a way to make us smile as he recently did just last week-leading us in the singing of Happy Birthday in celebration of my Grandpa's 90th birthday party.

Well, today I can smile as I think of his life because I know I'll see him again. I know where he's going because I know how he lived his life. Thanks to my grandparents, David grew up in a home that loved Jesus. He grew up in an environment that allowed him to learn at his own pace. And because of this, David can sing the Hymns with the best of them.

As I walked out of his hospital room door yesterday afternoon, I said to David: "Good bye, man. See ya later." At first I felt kind of foolish doing this but now I realized that what I was saying to him was the absolute truth. I will see him later. And when I do, while David won't have the same body, what he will have is the same joy and the same smile and I'm confident he'll be singing something.

This is the hope I have this Christmas season. Knowing that because Jesus came down to us and for us, the future is most certainly a bright one.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Search for Peace

It seems that we're all searching for a little peace in our lives. We're all searching for some sense of normalcy in the midst of the circumstances that we find ourselves in. For some of us, our jobs have been lost. This, of course, means coming to terms with the reality that what we've done for a number of years we won't be doing again. And the reality is that an uncertain future brings no small measure of concern and consternation. For others, maybe we've faced a health crisis recently that has thrown us for a loop. Our family has been hit by this in the past week, albeit mildly, creating dis-function and disarray that includes a heap of laundry that never stops building. I can only imagine what it must be like for those families that spend weeks and months at the hospital with little or no idea when they'll get to return to the "normal" life. So, how do we find a measure of peace within such dim and dire circumstances?

Simply put, we quite trying to solve these problems on our own (especially those problems that we have absolutely no control over) and turn these into opportunities for God to work. When we fully surrender to God and allow him to work, suddenly the burdensome nature of our problems goes away. I've been there myself a time or two and, while it's not necessarily easy to do, it's the only way to find peace.

Very few of us are without some problem, situation, bad relationship, etc... in our lives that can quickly steal away the joy that we are to have as followers of Christ. If we allow it to get the best of us, it will. If we turn these problems into opportunities for God to work, we soon find peace returning to an otherwise unpeaceful life. Yes, we can find hope amidst sorrow. Yes, we can find a measure of calm despite the cards that we've recently been dealt.

So, if you're facing some tough days ahead of you, know that the Prince of Peace is willing and able to provide the peace that goes beyond understanding. It's certainly a peace that we are all searching for, and it's a peace that we can find if we will only surrender.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Joy's Home!

Joy is home tonight! She's still in a bit of pain every now and then but the motrin and tylenol keep it manageable. Still, she's eating and drinking well (something she wasn't doing Monday and Tuesday when she was sick). We even caught her doing a little dance on her way to the bathroom tonight from music playing in the background.

Please continue to pray for healing and a quick recovery. It's nice to all be home tonight. Toby (our dog) is enjoying having his family back as well.

Thanks for all of your prayers. It made a big difference!

Joy's Update

Joy is doing pretty well today (Thursday morning) all things considered. She's in a little pain from the surgery and does not want to take any pain medication for it so she's a bit grumpy. They also took some blood from her other arm this morning. They couldn't do it from the IV so she had to get poked - something she REALLY doesn't like.

The doctors have her on solid food as of this morning so she's starting to eat and make progress. They may in fact send her home tonight if she continues to move forward so well. While it would be easier for us parents, I would hate to rush her home too soon though. We'll just have to wait and see.

Thanks again for all of your care and concern during this rather hectic week. Your prayers have been felt and answered. The irony here is that we're talking about Jesus as the "Prince of Peace," this coming weekend. I don't know about you, but I could use a little peace in my life right now so this should help us all during the season upon us.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Joy's Appendix

Thanks for many of your prayers concerning my daughter Joy. As some of you know, she had her appendix removed late last night (Tuesday). According to the surgeon, Dr. Roberts, the appendix had already burst and was pretty severely infected. Hence, all the pain that Joy was complaining about was understandable considering. She's a real trooper, let me tell you and a brave kid to say the least. The doctors and nurses here have been great as well. The lady who explained to her the surgery was incredible - doing it in a way that made sense to a 4 year old. Not too much info but just enough to give Joy a sense of peace about what the surgery would entail. This morning, she even got a visit from the Grinch. She's sleeping again now but eager to go and play in the children's play area here at Devos Children's Hospital. Please continue to pray for the infection and the antibiotics to do their thing. She'll be here for 3 -4 more days to make sure everything is cleared up before she goes home. I'll keep you posted...

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Searching for the Savior

Have you ever lost something as significant as a child? I have. In fact, with 5 kids, I'm embarrassed to say that we've lost a few of them a time or two. From a parents perspective, this brings no small amount of anxiety - frantically searching for their child.

Well, Mary and Joseph had a similar experience with Jesus(see Lk. 2). At the age of 12, Jesus and his parents along with a caravan of others in his family, made their way to the temple in Jerusalem. It was the Feast of Passover where it was estimated that nearly 200,000 Jews gathered to celebrate and remember the passover. It was into such a place that Mary, Joseph, Jesus came. All was well, I'm guessing until the Feast was over and the caravan began to make it's way back toward Nazareth. It wasn't long before they realized and recognized that Jesus was not with them. They quickly made their way back only to find (albeit three days later) Jesus hanging out in the Temple. Apparently, he'd been asking all sorts of questions. The response of the people was "amazement," considering he was only 12.

Mary and Joseph weren't all that excited, more like relief I'm sure. "Why have you put us through this?" Mary exclaimed. "We've been searching frantically for you." The response by Jesus in verse 49 is what gets me here. He responds with two questions: "Why were you searching for me?" followed by "Didn't you know I had to be in my father's house doing my father's business." Mary and Jospeh didn't quite get it. They didn't quite notice the signs or they chose to ignore them.

You see, while Mary and Joseph thought they were searching for their Son, what they were really searching for was the Savior of the World.

This fact had somehow alluded them. Even though Gabriel had announced to Mary that Jesus wouldn't be your average boy, even though Simeon had so much as said that Jesus was the Lord's Christ (or Messiah), they still didn't quite get it.

You see, while Mary and Joseph thought they were searching for their Son, what they were really searching for was the Savior of the World.

As many of us miss things right in front of our eyes, they too missed the very fact that their son, Jesus, wasn't just any son. During this holiday season, let's not miss the true reason for the season. As many of us seek peace of mind, prosperity, and help, let us be reminded that what we're really searching for is the Savior of the World. Only he can truly give us that peace of mind and prosperity that we all long for.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Thoughts on Time Management

I stumbled upon something this afternoon that I'd like to share: According to one study found at, the average Christian in the U.S. spends 10 minutes with God each day (I think this is stretching) while the average American watches 4 hours of TV.

Whoa! Wait a minute! Here's the source of many of my own problems. If I'm only spending 10 minutes with God amidst a day with lets say 16 wakeful hours, that's pretty bad. I'm not good at math, but those are some pretty horrendous statistics to say the least. Even then, how often do we rush through our "time with God" in order to get on with the rest of our day. I did this this morning, racing through my time with God in order to get to bigger and better things like finalizing the church bulletin ( a topic and a post I'll save for another day).

Really, though, can we be all that surprised when we get so little from God in the area of wisdom and his promised spiritual blessings? Can we really complain about our emotional state of being when we never really tap into the one and only source that can help us? As we approach the New Year, there's no better time to renew our efforts to spend more time with God. Would it really kill us to spend, say a half-hour in prayer and devotion to God? Would that really prevent us from getting to all the other things we need to get to? I think not. If we're really watching 4 hours of TV, only watching 3 1/2 hours won't kill us.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Thoughts on Tradition

There's a little problem with this thing called "tradition" that I'd like to comment on. Let's face it, at the heart of our makeup is this bent towards the traditional. We joke (or some of us don't) about our family traditions. Maybe for you it's always opening presents on Christmas Day or even holding a party at your house on New Years Eve. Perhaps this year you began a new tradition of going to a movie following your Thanksgiving Dinner ( a good decision this year since the football was hardly football.) Whatever it is, we tend to like tradition. And here's why. It brings comfort to a mostly uncomfortable life.

In the wake of a stumbling economy who can blame us for our desire for stability. Who can blame us for wanting to bring a little control to the situation that we find ourselves in. And I think we do this the best through established traditions that happen in any and all sectors of life. Corporations large and small have traditions. Nonprofits have traditions too of which churches are the most noteworthy. At this time of the year, some churches have the traditional focus on Advent (arrival) of the baby Jesus that culminates in the celebration of his birth on Christmas. Other churches realize and recognize that each sermon is about Christ and therefore don't give all that much attention to Christmas at all. Regardless of how you do it, or have done it, here's a new take on traditional.

I think (although I've been known to think wrongly) that tradition over time becomes bad for our health. Yes, for a time, it's nice and enjoyable but over time it becomes religious and something we do because "we've always done it that way." Not because we particularly like it. Not because we understand why we do it. But because it's the way things have always been. When it gets to this point, it becomes religious. And when it gets religious, we are generally doing it for all the wrong reasons. As an example, if we find ourselves in the discipline of reading through our Bible in a year (which I highly recommend), this simple act of devotion that starts out with excitement and a true desire to Know God, becomes monotonous, boring, and something we do because we can check it off of our "to do list." When we do seemingly religious things, we need to keep it fresh and stay focused in order to keep it from getting the best of us.

So, this year I invite you to celebrate a "Not So Normal Christmas." Do something different, exciting, and downright crazy in order to bring back the joy that tradition has stolen from you. We could use a little more joy! Don't you think?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

False Alarms

It was one o'clock or something like that when the phone rang. The time in the night when either it's a wrong number (which your hoping for) or something bad has happened. Last night it was the latter, or so I thought. The security company of the church was calling me to let me know that the motion detector had detected motion (as it should) at the front entrance to our building. I immediately, albeit groggily and hesitantly, made my 10 minute jaunt up to the church. When I got there, everything looked fine. I opened the doors and disarmed the security system and took a look around. Honestly, I expected the worst. Some broken glass or something of that sort. I was pleasantly surprised to see everything intact. I could also tell that only one car had been up there before myself - the snow falling made this easy enough. I could also see tracks all around the church from one person. I assume (although we know where that often gets you) that these were the police officer's tracks as they would normally be dispatched in such a case. Anyway, after making sure all was well, I took off in hopes of resuming my sleep back at home. Problem is, my adrenaline was jacked up a little too high for me to get back to sleep. A long night to say the least.

This morning I got another call from Pastor Jody. She too was called last night about the alarm. She too, being the valiant warrior that she is, made her sleepy body up to the church to check things out. She too saw nothing amiss and went home. I'm not sure what kind of lesson we're to take from such an experience. There's gotta be something...

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Christmas Shopping

There's something weird about going into a woman's clothing store by yourself. This, of course, is coming from a man's point of view. It's one thing to walk into Victoria's Secret with your wife and five kids - it's entirely different to walk in there on your own. People look at you funny. People wonder what your doing there and their suspicious of your motives. All that to say, I try to steer clear of those kinds of stores for the most part.

But this brings to mind the weirdness of Christmas from a Christian's perspective. Maybe it should feel weird for us to be shopping during this time of the year. Maybe we should feel uncomfortable buying gifts for others and picking out gifts for ourselves from the point of view of a Christ follower. I'm not trying to put a damper in the Christmas spirit here, just trying to point out some things about how Christmas is celebrated here in the U.S.

I love this time of the year. For the most part it brings out the best in us, but, as was shown only a few days ago in the horrific death of the Walmart employee, it can also bring out our worst. We are a strange bunch. We'll stand in line for hours or even overnight to save a few pennies and yet how far do we go and how much do we sacrifice to the one who paid the ultimate sacrifice for us? Every year we need to ask ourselves the question: "Doesn't this seem a little weird?" What else could we do this time of the year instead?

I don't have any great or profound answers but I leave you with a thought from one of my favorite Christmas songs of all time. The band was Band Aid ( a mixture of British and American 80's pop icons who got together one day) and they recorded the song "Do They Know It's Christmas?" Does the rest of the world know it's Christmas? Does the world living in hunger and without adequate food, water and shelter even have a clue? As we go about our shopping this year, ask yourself this question? How can you and I make a difference?

Friday, December 05, 2008

The Not So Simple Church

I was reading in a book the other day titled "Simple Church" about how complicated we seem to make church. We seem to feel like a church isn't really an attractive one unless we offer programs for every single person we might possibly attract. For the large church, this isn't as big a problem. With a larger staff, programs can be put together to meet those needs. For the small church, this is challenging task. One pastor (or even two) could never do this. Unless there were able bodied lay people willing to pick up the slack, the church would have to simply be resigned to the fact that they could never possibly meet every and all needs - and then feel guilty and bad for seemingly settling.

But then the authors go on to point out that churches can have so many programs and so many events and so many other things that one could fill up their calendars with that they never have time for the other things. For example, if they are so busy with church "stuff," how do they ever get to know their neighbors who might just be unchurched? Or, if they are so busy hanging out with churched folks, how do they ever get to know and develop relationships outside of their comfort zones.

While we can definitely build programs with the best of organizations, perhaps we should stop to think and ponder whether this is what Jesus had in mind. Where two or three are gathered, Christ is. As such, church doesn't have to happen inside four walls. Church doesn't have to exist in a formal environment but can happen over a cup of coffee. In fact, church can happen anyplace and at anytime.

So, this holiday season, don't feel guilty about not filling your calendar with the typical church stuff. Perhaps your family or your neighbor or that stranger needs you more.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Making Coffee

Today is the day that Jody and I learn how to make coffee! Yes, I know how to make coffee but not espresso, lattes, and the other more prevalent and popular drinks that many people love to drink. So, out comes Rodney Hensley, roaster and owner of Sozo's coffee, whom we'll be buying our beans from as we open Tower Coffee here in a few weeks.

Here's a few things we need yet that we really don't have money for. Please pray for funds to purchase the following:

1. An upright fridge (21 cubits) commercial and NSF approved (@ $1000)

2. An under the counter fridge that is also NSF approved (@600)

3. A 50 gallon and 50,ooo BTU Water heater (@$500)

Until we get these items, the Health Dept. will not allow us to move forward. Please pray for provision. We're close but still need to press on...

Thanks for your continued prayers, support, and hard work in the days past as well as for all you will do in the days ahead.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Thoughts on Prayer

This morning I read these words about prayer: Prayer is the "slender nerve that moveth the muscles of Omnipotence." I've never heard it put quite that way before but I like it!

In Exodus 1 and 2, we read that prayer is more than just articulate and well chosen words. Sometimes our prayers feel like this - a little too "canned." We often pray this way before dinner as we simply say: "God bless this food to our bodies. Amen." But here in Exodus, we see that it's because of the bondage that Israel "sighs" and "cries" out to God. Their "groans" become that "slender nerve" the moves God into action. It's out of their anguish and out of their desperation that they plead to God for help.

What this teaches me and hopefully you as well is that the most heartfelt and down-to-earth prayers may just be the ones that God wants to hear from us. Yes, there's room for the "oldies but goodies," but I think God would rather hear us yearning for his help, guidance, and wisdom instead of praying a prayer because we feel like we have to.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Thoughts on Winning and Losing

Last night I found myself cheering for the other team. Not because I especially liked the other team but because they managed a valiant comeback and defeated our team. I felt bad for my son and his fellow teammates but I also felt good about the opposing team's ability to mount a final surge against all odds.

What I didn't enjoy, and frankly found somewhat repulsive, was the attitude of the opposing team's coach and parents. Being a little different, my younger son and I decided to sit in the bleachers closest to the entrance which just so happened to be the visiting team's bench. To sum it up, our claps and cheers were met by silence and a few turned heads. Nonetheless, as the came unfolded, I heard several comments from these parents and a few remarks by the coaches that seemed unfair. At one point, with their team behind, one gentleman professed quite loudly that the coach needed to move to a "bigger" lineup in order to better match up with ours. I also heard lots of snide remarks about the referees and the "unfairness" of many of the calls. But, what really set me off was the yelling from the parents and coaches at the kids themselves. You'd a thought these kids were playing for all the marbles or something like that. Instead, I wanted to remind the parents that they were watching 7th grade basketball and that these kids are only12 and 13 years old.

As the game came to a conclusion and it was evident who was going to win, I was honestly a little relieved. If the visiting team had lost, and these parents had to leave the building with such a weight, I'm not sure what would have happened. Thankfully, their kids came out on the winning side and after enduring what they endured from both their coach and parents, I was really happy for them. Nevertheless, I hope and pray that I don't ever come across this way as a parent. Winning and losing graciously is not easy but it sure does say a lot about one's character.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

My Christmas Wish for the Whole Year

From the end of October (Halloween) until the beginning of the New Year, things in this country are markedly different. What I mean by this is that families, friends, and even strangers come together like at no other time during the year. At Halloween, people step out of their houses and their comfort zones, and walk around with their kids or grandchildren, allowing them to walk up to houses they would never go near at any other day or time of the year, chanting "trick or treat." This year, and with good weather the task was much easier. We exchanged several greetings with people we had never met before and also conversed with neighbors who we hadn't seen outside in months.

At Thanksgiving, we mostly hang out with family, but this time of the year definitely warrants helping out others who have far less in their pockets. The selfless give time, money, and their undivided attention to making a difference in someone else's life. Some of us even spend our day serving the least, last and lost down at a local soup kitchen. The examples of individuals, churches, and businesses helping others is endless.

Then, at Christmas time (my personal favorite season of the year despite the cold in Michigan), people continue what they started during Thanksgiving by offering their gifts, their help, their kindness to not only fellow friends and family, but also those they have no acquaintance with. This, in my view, is the best part of Christmas. People are friendly and gracious like no other time during the year. Families gather from all parts of the globe to celebrate, to reminisce, to exchange gifts, to hang out.

While there are certainly other memorable and good times during the year, I wish the season upon us would come around more often. In my view, the world and this country would be a lot better if we all got together more than once a year, got over ourselves and our agenda more often, and started offering our time, money and attention to others instead.

This is my Christmas wish. While it's easier said than done, I'm going to try.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A False Hope

As I explained on Sunday, in my view, one of the biggest problems with dispensational teaching is that it gives people a false hope. In other words, if it is wrong (which I think it is) then you're telling people that they have a second chance, a second opportunity to make things right with God. While this might make for a good read, such as in the case of the Left Behind series of books written by Lahaye and Jenkins, I'm pretty sure it's not a correct reading of Scripture.

Under this scope of teaching, knowing that there is a rapture, I could theoretically live my life the way I wanted to all the while knowing that I'll get another opportunity after the others have been snatched away. Yes, I'll have to endure the 7 years of tribulation, however, I'd rather live my life selfishly rather than live in preparation for Jesus' second coming. After my friends, family members, and others are raptured out of this world into heavenly bliss, then I'll know it's time to get serious.

Anyway, these are my problems with this teaching, not to mention that read historically and contextually, the typical "rapture" texts are something all-together different, and should be read as such.

Think on these things until next time...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Rapture Questions and Answers

After tackling the last elephant - Are Christians raptured? - many of you had questions, comments, or were more than willing to share your opinion. I appreciate the feedback and wanted to help clarify some of the questions that were directed my way.

First, again, we as Christians can all agree that Jesus will return - the debate begins as to when that occurs. As a premillenialist, I personally believe that Jesus will return before the thousand year reign (See Rev. 20) . Amillenialists feel a little differently about the matter. Starting with Augustine a few years back, their belief is that the millenium is not a literal 1000 year reign but is merely symbolic. This was actually the predominant view during the middle ages and before the reformation. A third option here is that of a postmillenialist. This view takes the position that there is a literal 1000 year reign, but that Christ does not return until after the 1000 years. Their belief is that the church itself would usher in the 1000 years of peace through the means of evangelism leading to the overall and gradual transformation of the world. This became the majority view during the reformation and some obviously subscribe to this view today. However, the majority view today would probably be that of the premillenialist mindset.

Secondly, as a premillenialist, we could be in essentially one of two camps. A pretribulationist or a posttribulationist. A pretribulationist believes that Christ returns before the tribulation and takes out "raptures" the christians. They also believe that Christ returns for a 2nd time after the 7 years of tribulation. A posttribulationist believes the Jesus' second coming is an event that happens only once at the end of the 7 years of tribulation. After this, Christ sets up his 1000 year reign.

Hope this clarifies a few things for some who were wondering. There is a lot more depth here but I wanted to try to simplify rather than muddy the waters any further.

Blessings and enjoy your Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Power of One

This morning I was reading from Genesis 18 and Abraham's plea for Sodom. It's amazing, isn't it, that Abraham's plea actually makes a difference. God tells him that he'd spare the city of Sodom if he found 50 righteous men. Abraham, apparently not satisfied with this, wonders about whether God would do the same for 45 righteous. God, again, agrees. On and on it goes until God and Abraham settle on the number 10. If there are 10 righteous, indeed, God will spare the city.

What struck me about this story is the power of one. One person, standing up for a city, crying out to God for Him to relent and not heep destruction upon them. One person, praying to God. One person, making a difference.

You and I can make a difference. You and I can do things that enable God to work. You and I can pray for our friends. You and I can seek God's help with this problem and that problem. You and I can begin right now. We can make a difference. Do it now!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

New Location

The keys have officially been turned in to the, we have no place to worship this Sunday but our own. Because of this, volunteers and the contractors are working nearly around the clock to meet this weekend's deadline. Here's what's happening...

Tonight, Andrew and the band set up shop and played a short set of music to see and hear how things might sound. The good news-it all works so we'll be ready to go this Sunday. The bad news - it's a little loud so we'll have to make sure we get the sound toned down a bit. We'll figure it out. It's a new venue so we expect these sort of issues especially when it comes to getting the sound right.

Tonight, we also got started painting some bright "robin hood" red on the walls downstairs. It looks great, fun, and I'm pretty sure the kids will like it. We should be able to finish the first coat tomorrow and put a second coat on it on Saturday.

For those of you looking for an opportunity to help out, you can show up Saturday morning for either some painting or the fun job of putting together furniture. Take your pick - it all needs to get done.

Lastly, if you know anyone who wasn't there in the last couple of weeks, please help me get the message out that we are having services at our Wilson Ave. Campus (5440 Wilson Ave.) We'd hate for them to show up at the old location.

Thanks for all your help.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Voyage Church News

Here's the latest news from The Voyage church and Tower Coffee. I'm sorry I don't have any pictures to show you but here goes...

The carpet is being put down tomorrow. The tile is going in tomorrow and the lighting is finally done upstairs. In addition, all the upstairs windows are in and they look great! You can actually see out them unlike before - I never realized we had such an amazing view. Anyway, it's only Tuesday and we're making good progress.

Downstairs, things are moving along well too. Today, my dad spent most of the day cleaning carpets. The paint is mostly gone and so is the dirt. They look great and the whole basement smells even better. The nursery is just about done. After two coats of bright green paint, it looks like a really cool and fun room for our little ones. I think they'll like it.

Tonight, we primed the main hallway and about half of the larger room. We should be ready to paint on Thursday. Thanks to all those who helped out. Jim, Cindy, Mom, Dad, Kate, Jody, John, Phil, Paul, Al, Mary, Deb, Terry, Mitch, Kyler and everyone else whose offered their time these last few weeks. I greatly appreciate it. With your help, we're getting it done...

Monday, November 10, 2008

God Still Speaks!

As I reflect on what Pastor Jody preached yesterday, we can indeed rejoice in the fact that God does still speak! I for one rarely hear his voice because I can't sit still long enough to hear it. Yes, somehow I've been wired with a pretty short attention span (adult ADD if you'd like) and so I have a hard time with keeping my mouth shut or my attention focused long enough to hear clearly. Yes, I do hear HIM in small doses but it's never been the audible kind like Moses heard.

I wonder if we don't hear God in such crystal clear ways anymore (perhaps you do but I think most people don't) because we so easily turn to other places for answers for life's concerns. I mean, who else did Moses have to turn to? His wife, his brother? Perhaps, but he certainly didn't walk over to the bookshelf and grab a book that might answer his question or concern. He more than likely didn't go to where he typed in his question and was instantly rewarded with a solution to his problem. While some have looked for love in all the wrong places, maybe we as Christians look for answers in all the wrong places.

In football, the sign of a good quarterback is one who can survey the whole field over and against the quarterback who locks his attention on one receiver thereby making the task of the defensive player a whole lot easier. Still, that takes practice. Most of us aren't born with this trait. A quarterback needs to feel comfortable and needs to train themselves to look over the whole field.

And, unfortunately after the apple, most of us aren't wired to turn to God first and foremost. Our bent is towards the self and we rarely seek God's take on matters as a first priority. Like the quarterback, we need to train ourselves. We need to develop that habit to turn to God first, not second, third, or even worse - as our last ditch effort.

Make no mistake about it, God will speak to us. Perhaps the bigger question, and the most complex to answer is "Do we want to hear?" Do we really want to hear what God has to say? Maybe this is the real reason behind our desire to look elsewhere. We're afraid to hear what God has to say.

Just some thoughts to ponder. Think on these things...

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Voyage Church Update

Things are moving along. Thanks to all those who showed up this morning to help with putting together chairs and tables - you know who you are. Thanks also goes out to Paul for hanging the new lights.

This week will prove to be especially busy: We will be having workdays on Tuesday/Thursday, and again on Saturday. On Tuesday and Thursday, we'll meet from 7 to 9 PM. We have lots of priming/painting to do so bring your painting stuff. On Saturday, we'll be there from 9 until NOON for final painting/cleaning, etc... If you have some time in your schedule, please, please, please come and help! As the old adage goes, "Many hands makes light work." The lighter the better.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

God's Timing

As I read a portion of Genesis 15 this morning, I was reminded that what God promises, he will indeed fulfill. As you probably know, Abraham was promised a nation. Nevertheless, as the years progressed, things we're looking pretty dim and the prospects of a son were looking even less likely. It was at that moment of frustration that Abraham called out, "O Sovereign Lord, what good are all your blessings when I don't even have a son?" Out of this moment of frustration God affirmed Abraham for waiting and told him that "you will have a son of your own to inherit everything I am giving you."

Sometimes, we feel like God has promised us something, that he's led us down a path of his calling. Nevertheless, as in the case of Abraham, it's a place of waiting wherein God tests our patience and he tests our resolve. It's as if God is testing our faith. Do we really believe that what he's promised us will happen or not?

If your in the waiting faze right now, know that if it was God's voice that brought you there, God's delays are not denials. They are simply a way of God acting in his own good time.

Keep the faith!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Tower Coffee/Voyage Update!

Things are happening slowly but surely with things really starting to take shape. Here's the floor going in upstairs. I hope you like. If not, perhaps it will grow on you. As you can see, we kind of went for a fun feel - one that conveyed an upbeat sort of look to it. I think the colors inside the building will also convey a similar sort of feel - warm and inviting.

The downstairs is also coming along. We pretty much have the walls and ceiling prepped to paint.

We officially received clearance from the health department pending we do a couple of other things- like buy both a upright refrigerator (commercial) and an under the counter one as well. We also need to upgrade our water heater in the basement. Aside from these , we're getting closer...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Hard Work!

Why is it that things that seem so simple (like tearing out a ceiling) can turn into a far bigger project than one could ever imagine. Why is carpet hard to get up and why does wallpaper stick so well when you don't want it to and peel off when you don't want it to. These are the conundrums of life that I guess we just need to deal with. Nevertheless, it reminds me of the spiritual life a little bit.

For instance, why is being a Christian so tough? How is it that Christians still fall (sometimes over and over again)? It seems like life should be easier for us after we decide to follow after Jesus. But the reality is that it rarely works this way. Christian's still face addictions; Christians still have problems; and Christians don't have it all together. So, while we experience the wonderful adventure of Christianity, we can expect a hiccup now and then. While we might move forward spiritually, we might also take a few steps backwards at times. Nevertheless, God expects us to press on despite our challenges. After all, God promises that it's to those born of God that will in the end overcome the world.

So, whether tearing down ceilings or facing the guilt of sin, know that God calls us to get back up! This is how we overcome the world. We get back up and continue despite the resistance. Let's keep up the fight!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Need Help!

As you know, we only have about 2 more weeks of Sunday morning services at Calvin Christian Middle School before we begin to meet at our Wilson Ave. location. However, we have a lot that needs to be done. This coming Saturday, from 9 to Noon, we will be having yet another church cleanup/painting day. The first two weekends, we've spent cleaning and throwing away some items that have been around for a real long time. This weekend, however, we should be able to begin painting for the first time. So, bring your old clothes and be ready to paint. We have an Extreme Church Makeover to pull off in the basement and we can't do it in such a short time without your help!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

My Day Off

I have to admit, one of the things that's hardest for me to do is take a FULL day off from church related stuff. I like to be busy but being busy about the right kind of stuff can often be a challenge. Too often I find myself spending time on the mundane and rather unimportant matters and too little time on the things that do matter. So, in light of that, yesterday I attempted to take the whole day off. And it mostly went really well. I had a few small moments when church stuff tried to work itself back into my day but mostly I was able to stay out of it. So, you ask, what does a pastor do on a day off? Here's what I did:

I took my three boys (Mitch, Josh, and Zach) to school like I normally do. After this, I went home and sat down with a cup of coffee and my Bible for a few minutes. Normally I do this, but not usually back at home. After this, I think I read for a while, talked with my wife, and played with my daughter Hope until she fell asleep. When she fell asleep, I decided to listen to a little music which I often love to do. This is how I wind down and get out of the muck and mud of life. I lose myself in the music. I wrote a review for Marc Broussard's latest album (overall really good) and began to listen to a band from New Orleans called The Iguana's whom I am also planning on writing a review for. Not really my style, but not bad either. Later that afternoon, I picked up my son Mitch from soccer practice. He plays or practices 4 days a week now. After this, we all sat down to eat some leftovers that my Mom gave us from the night before (Thanks Mom!) The roast tasted almost as good as the day before when we ate at my Mom and Dad's after church. After this, it was on to homework with the kids. After bedtime, Cara and I sat down and watched a little TV - Dancing with the Stars. Not my favorite but still somewhat enjoyable to watch. So, in a nutshell, that was my day off. Not real fancy, but that's okay. I probably should have done more around the house but that would be work, right! Oh well, maybe I'll do better next week.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Standard Operating Procedures

This week as been crazy busy with not a lot of downtime to say the least. All of the paperwork for the Kent County Health Department was completed and finally turned in. It feels like Graduate School all over again with the sudden relief of turning in a semester ending research paper. Despite our best efforts to keep the Health Department out of things, we had to bite the bullet and go this route. I honestly didn't know that there was so many standard operating procedures from everything to washing one's hands to dealing with sick employees and volunteers. The Health Dept. will make a final inspection on the coffee end of things before we can officially open as Tower Coffee. We are hoping for the 1st or 2nd week in November for this.

Last week, we found the Espresso Machine and some other items we needed including a cash register and credit card machine. Unfortunately, The Lodge Coffeehouse (on 4 mile just off of Alpine) is no longer in business, but they have truly blessed us with some great equipment at a really reasonable price. So, now we have essentially everything we need to make any and all kinds of coffee. We're still looking for another grinder for our coffee but as far as equipment goes, we could pretty much open tomorrow if we had the go ahead.

Lastly, the logo is almost done. I'll post this as it comes to completion in the next day or so. Thanks for all your input, suggestions, etc... when it comes to this.

Until next time....

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Dirty Life

This week in our series Beautiful Disaster we are talking about sin and its effects on us as believers. In light of this, I would encourage you to take a look at John Wesley's take in his sermon titled On Sin in Believers. Wesley's sticky statement or big idea that continued throughout his ministry was that "while sin remains, it does not reign." That's essentially the nuts and bolts of this sermon but you should check it out for yourself.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Tower Coffee Update!

Some of you have been wondering how things are looking. We'll we're getting there slowly but surely. I've included here a couple of pictures of the Coffee Bar as it stands. The laminate is here and ready to go and should be on very soon.

Here's a picture of the counter that you would
see as you walk in.

Here's a view of the coffebar from the middle of the floor. The back window will soon be covered as well. Soon, a Tower like shape will take form in the middle that will create a coffee bar completely unique in design.

I'll publish more pictures in the days ahead to keep everyone posted.
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Saturday, September 20, 2008

My Birthday

Today, somebody told me it was my birthday. I guess they were right but when you're in your thirties, birthdays don't have the same pizazz that they once did. I remember the days when birthdays were magical - when I couldn't stand to have to wait until after school to open my presents. But then, and slowly, the presents quit coming. Nevertheless, we don't quit getting older. In fact, the years seem to come quicker. I'm sorry for sounding a little melancholy but I am thirty-seven after all.

Enough said, today was a great day! I was busy though. Here's what I did:

I spent the morning meeting with a couple who are hoping to get married in the Spring. This was my first time meeting them and we had a really good conversation.

I had a chance to serve at God's Kitchen -something we at The Voyage Church get to do once a month. By the way, if you've never served here before, you won't be disappointed.

I got a chance to throw the football around with my two boys, Mitch and Josh. Joy wanted to play as well so she threw a few to me too. Not a bad arm, I must say and pretty fast too.

I helped set up for tomorrows worship service. We're in the midst of transition so I wanted to make sure I had everything ready to go so that Sunday morning could be as stress free as possible.

We ended with a pickup game of basketball. Now I'm really tired...

Still, a great birthday! And did I mention that I had my favorite meal for dinner. Yes, you guessed it - Pizza.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Tower Coffee Update

Things are coming along as we get ready for the launch of Tower Coffee and The Voyage Church later this Fall at our Wilson Ave. Campus. Recently I met with the Health Department and discovered a few interesting tidbits that I was hoping to stay away from. We will have to be inspected twice annually and will have to be inspected prior to opening. I don't think this will delay things any but I've got a ream of paperwork to fill out in the days ahead.

The Coffee Bar is just about finished. It's BIG and will prove to be expandable as we delve further and further into the coffee business. After this, the tile floor will be done next followed by the windows and the wood flooring. The carpet in the stage area will be done last. The painting will be done some time in the midst of all that.

Last week, Jody and John Bacinski accompanied Cara and myself to Chicago to visit a coffeehouse church in the Roger's Park area. The church and coffeehouse is run by John and Ruth Hoekwater who are from the Grand Rapids area. John was the pastor of West Leonard Christian Reformed Church some time ago. Just over a year ago, they realized their dream of offering Coffee and Christ as they opened up The Common Cup coffeehouse. It was a great visit and we learned lots.

That's all for now!

Until next time...

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Messy Life

Sometimes it seems like the ordered and mess free life is what it's all about. Let's face it; many of us wouldn't mind it if our lives were free from the mundane and free from the messes that we often find ourselves in. Still, while I believe this was God's original intent, life after the apple has no such guarantees. In fact, the only guarantee is that our lives will be filled with chaotic and disordered moments. There's really no getting around it. Nevertheless, I'm confident that it's in the mess of our lives that God's grace and power is no more evident. Somehow and in someway, God uses these tough times to strengthen us, to shape our character in ways that the 'good times' of life would never do. It's in those moments when our ability to persist is tested that our character is largely shaped. Somehow, through the grace and power of God, our lives keep going and going despite the disorder. So, when life gets crazy and chaos ensues, know that God is using those times to mold and shape us in new and often remarkable ways. Trust me, you will never be the same again...

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Worship on the Waterfront

Last night, Cara and I (along with our daughter Joy) had a chance to enjoy one of our favorite artists - Geoff Moore. While I probably enjoy his more edgier stuff when it was Geoff Moore and his band the Distance, his solo effort has much to be commended for. With just a guitarist and himself, Moore offered a variety of songs - old and new - mixing this in with stories and their relationship to each of the songs. He also incorporated the audience on a few of the songs as well as on two or three of the more popular worship songs where he asked us to sing along.

Moore has a wonderful sense of humor and coupled with a strong voice that sounds just like the recording (not all artists can say this when they peform live), it was a great time of worship and simply listening to the songs I've grown to love over the years. On top of this, the weather in Grand Haven was nearly perfect - even on the cool side for a Michigan July. If you've never heard Geoff Moore live, go see him. If you've never heard his music before, you won't be disappointed. You can check it out at the following site; Geoff

Thursday, June 26, 2008


I like simple. I like things that I can figure out in virtually no time at all. Let me explain what I mean. Even though I'm in my thirties, and arguably part of a tech savy generation, I'm not all that up to speed on the latest and greatest of gadgets these days. For instance, I can barely use my phone. It has hundreds of things it supposedly does but all I use it for (and all I'm interested in using it for) is as a phone. Yes, I want my phone to act as a phone and that's it!

And I think this idea of simplicity is at the heart of what has made both Apple and Google so successful. A music player (Ipod) that I (the non-savy tech person) can actually figure out. Likewise, Google has made a name for itself based on offering simple and easy to use tools. Just the other day I was trying to create a survey for some church-related matters and I looked into a couple of programs that allow this sort of thing. While I didn't spend forever on it, I couldn't figure out either of them. I quickly googled google (yes, you can do that) to find out if they had any such service only to find out they did! I wasn't holding out much hope, though, but I was pleasantly surprised that in Google Documents they offer a nice little feature that allows you to survey and receive feedback on a spreadsheet. Even better, I was able to figure this out in no time at all. Simple. I like simple and I'm almost certain that we've made things way too complicated sometimes for our own good.

As I think about the church, it's mission and focus, I wonder if we couldn't learn a little something about simplicity (See Thomas Rainer's book Simple Church). Have we made things so tough and so complicated that people are left scratching their heads?

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Rapture of Matthew 24

Now we come to probably the most famous text thought to loudly proclaim this idea of the rapture- Matthew 24:36-43. Has the one "taken" been raptured and the other one "left" been left behind? Upon closer inspection and with a correct historical reading of this text, my belief is otherwise. In 24:37, Matthew states that as it was in Noah's days, so it will be when the Son of Man returns. So, what happened in Noah's days? The ones who were taken were swept away by God's judgment in the great flood. These were the wicked. The ones "left behind" were left behind floating on top of the water, free from judgment. These were the righteous.

So, being taken in Matthew, and in this context, is to be taken for judgment. It has absolutely nothing to do with a pretribulation rapture. In fact, as Ben Witherington puts it: "the ones who are left behind after judgment comes are fortunate and are wiping their brows" out of relief.

My hope is that this helps by convincing and convicting you that there is no rapture nor is there a need to be rapture ready. One of the gravest and potentially harmful errors of this theology is that there is the potential of a second chance. This second chance theology gives one the impression that upon being left behind, one still has a chance to get things right before the final and ultimate second coming of Christ. Unfortunately, for those of us living our lives in a hedonistic sort of way and banking on such a "second chance," I'm sad to say that such a time will never come.

I'll talk more about this second coming in the days ahead, but for now, know that you can't start living the life God wants you to live soon enough.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Rapture Revealed

Interestingly, just got in the mail a couple of days ago a little pamphlet about the rapture and how such a theology is riddled with errors. Anyway, I'll pick up where I left off the other day and explain to you where the notion of the rapture came from.

The notion of the rapture didn't exist in Christian history before roughly 1820 when a teenage girl in Glasgow, Scotland apparently had a vision that described a rapture of sorts. A minister upon hearing this story, none other than John Darby, took the girl seriously and then subsequently developed his rapture theology that has become the basis for the dispensationalism so well known today.

In one particular text in Revelation that is often thought to refer to the rapture, a closer look and recognition of what kind of literature one is reading reveals something else. Rev. 4:1-2 says: "After this I looked and a door was open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said: 'Come up here and I will show you what must take place after this,' And at once I was in the Spirit and there before me was a throne." What John of Patmos is describing here is not his personal trip to heaven but instead an apocalyptic vision. Remember, the book of Revelation is apocalyptic in nature and must be read through such a lens. The language used here is typical of all apocalyptic literature. John doesn't really make a trip into the heavens but remains on Patmos where in the Spirit he has a visionary experience where he sees some pretty interesting things.

Tomorrow, we take this a step further and look at my personal favorite rapture text, Matthew 24:36-43, which speaks of two standing in a field with one taken and the other left.

Stay tuned...

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Are You Rapture Ready (Part 2)

Let's look at some specifics regarding what I posted yesterday. First off, this book was written for first-century Christians in Asia Minor first and foremost. They were the audience and therefore, when we interpet the book of Revelation, we need to know that whatever the text could not have possibly meant for them back then and there, it cannot possibly mean now. For example, as Ben Witherington points out, if no first-century Christian could have understood a coded reference to a particular late Western bad guy named Osama bin Laden in the reference to Mr. 666, then neither should we. What it meant then, to the original audience in the first century, it still means today. While it's meaning hasn't changed, the application of the meaning may change. I like what Witherington says here, so I'll quote him in full:

"To suggest that the original audiences of this document who lived in that culture, spoke Greek, and read apocalyptic prophecy, couldn't possibly have made sense of this material, but modern persons with no historical, linguistic, or rhetorical training or knowledge can, is the height of arrogance."

I'll end this post with one final point that I'll elaborate on further tomorrow. What the book of Revelation does not say anything about is a Pre-Tribulation Rapture of the faithful. In fact, the message the book of Revelation conveys to its audience is to prepare to suffer, even to the point of death. This is a far cry from the escape clause that serves as the backbone of any rapture theology and should further remind us that maybe we should leave behind any notion of being left behind.

As a side note, the book of Revelation was so puzzling to both Calvin and Wesley that they regarded it as too complex to write a whole lot about it and still writers in our time think they've uncovered some code or key that unlocks the ancient mystery that is the Book of Revelation.

This is taking longer to explain than I first thought but I'd rather keep the posts short. Until tomorrow...

Monday, June 09, 2008

Are You Rapture Ready?

Admittedly, early in my walk as a Christian I was in the process of readying myself for the eschatological (end times) phenomena known as the rapture. I was reading the Left Behind books and studying everything else that Timothy Lahaye and Jack Van Impe had to offer on the subject. Somewhere along the line, though, I began to wise up and see that any theology of the rapture is largely a gross misinterpretation of the biblical texts used to support such a view.

One of the keys to gaining an overall understanding of the Bible is to know what kind of literature you are reading. The bible is made up of several kinds of literature and written to a multitude of different audiences. In addition to the ancient biographies (Matt, Mark and John) and the ancient historical monographs (luke-Acts), we have several letters and sermons that look like letters in the New Testament. Lastly, we have exactly one book of prophecy in the New Testament - the book of Revelation. As Ben Witherington points out, this is no "ordinary, garden variety prophecy like we find in Amos or Micah or Obadiah. Rather, it is apocalyptic prophecy that can be traced back to Zechariah, Daniel and Ezekial-visionary prophecy by its very nature." As such, this book requires a special sort of reading to get at the heart of its true meaning and the message it hopes to convey.

I'll say more about this in my next post, pointing out the various errors that have been made and continue to be made to support the notion of the rapture.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Contradictions in the Bible

Sometimes it can be confusing and rather hard to understand why there are apparent (not real) contradictions in the Bible. In Ben Witherington's recent book he comments on one of these that I thought might be of help.

In the parallel accounts of 1-2 Samuel and 1-2 Chronicles, there are some apparent problems. For instance, what did Nathan actually say to David? What 2 Samuel reports or what 2 Chronicles reports? A little of both? Neither? At this point, Witherington points out that the principle of subsequence is pretty important as one tries to historically account for the diversity of these two accounts. In his words:

"First and second Samuel was written long before 1-2 Chronicles, and the latter text
presupposes that the former is in play and widely known, which is precisely what allows the
Chronicler to take some liberties in order to make his own theological and ethical points. He
assumes a preexisting fixed text."

It's good to keep some of these things in mind as we read through the entirety of the Bible.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Living Word of God

Just started reading Ben Witherington's book The Living Word of God: Rethinking the Theology of the Bible. Ben is a former professor of mine at Asbury that I am grateful to have studied under for nearly 4 years. He's a great theologian and historian as well as a very giving person. I wanted to comment on what I've read so far that I thought might be helpful for you the reader when it comes to reading the Bible.

First, we have to remember that the world of the New Testament was primarily an oral culture. In fact, the literacy rate back then was never higher than 20 percent. During the time when the New Testament would have been written (first century), if one could read, this was usually a sign of someone being of a higher social standing and because of this, with more education. Moreover, those who could read were largely males, not females, which is not a surprise in a male dominated culture.

Secondly, it's helpful to remember that the Old Testament was the Bible of the earliest Christians as the New Testament was not yet written, collected, and then canonized. Even then, the OT canon (the books that eventually made up the OT that we have in our Bibles today), was not completely settled much before the final years of the first century. Because of this, a distinction needs to be made between the "Bible" as one form that God's word took (written form) and the "Word of God" which is a much broader category that includes both written and oral words; but also an Incarnate person of Jesus identified in John 1 as the Word. Nevertheless, the source is God who, in the words of Dr. Ben, "inspires, speaks, and empowers the words with qualities that reflect the divine character."

I found this a healthy reminder as I read God's written word (the Bible) and I hope you might find a nugget or two that might be of help. I'll be commenting on this book more in the days ahead so stay tuned...

Thursday, May 01, 2008

The National Day of Prayer

I have to admit, I'm not a big fan of "national" anythings. Yes, I know today (May 1st) is the National Day of Prayer. Yes, I think we need to pray for our country. And yes, I know that as a Pastor, some would say that I need to make a bigger deal out of such a day. But, I don't and here comes the reason why. In my opinion, to make a day out to be the "national" day of prayer is to say that the other 364 days are not days of prayer.

I'm reminded of how church attendance throughout the nation soared after the attacks on 9/11 as everyone was visibly shaken after witnessing such horrific death and destruction - and for good reason. However, sadly after only a few weeks, attendance at church was back to normal as we find better ways to spend our time. How quickly our lives return to normal and how quickly time heals even the worst that life can bring to us.

In a similar way, I think this is what happens when we make prayer a priority once a year. After the day is over, prayer so easily gets shoved aside and replaced with better ways to spend our time. As if prayer should only be a priority and is only needed once a year.

Now if the National Day of Prayer helps you to focus in on prayer unlike the other days of the year, then I would say "good for you." Keep at it! However, to make prayer a priority once out of the entire year is, in my view, an overall a bad idea. We are called to pray continuously without stopping. Brother Lawrence, a monk during the middle ages, showed us how to pray and be in God's presence even during the most mundane of tasks. In his timeless classic, The Practice of the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence shows us how we can prayer while doing the everyday sort of stuff - like doing the dishes or doing our jobs.

I'm all for praying - just not once a year. If it would help, maybe we should have a National Year of Prayer instead. Now that I'm all for!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

When the Going Gets Tough

2 Timothy, a letter from the apostle Paul, begins in the usual and customary Pauline manner. The greeting, followed by a thanksgiving. But then things get more pointed and we see what’s truly on Paul’s mind. As in the case of the other letters from a jail cell, Paul is in chains and his message has been hampered to some degree. Nevertheless, what he offers is his usual encouraging tone regardless of his circumstances.

It seems that Timothy has been discouraged of late and needs some reassurance that what he’s doing is of extreme importance. Paul reminds Timothy that he needs to use the God-given gift he’s been given as “God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and self-discipline.” (1:7)

Strikingly, Paul states that “everyone” in the province of Asia has left or deserted him (see verse 15). Apparently, when the going gets tough, some people walk away and chose an easier and more preferential path. This was arguably the case here. Paul was forced into a prison cell, under house arrest for the message he was proclaiming. Such imprisonment was not a popular thing, as you might imagine.

And the thing is, we’re not talking about just anybody here! We’re talking about the apostle Paul – perhaps the greatest missionary that’s ever lived. And still, everyone in Asia has apparently given up on him as well as the Gospel. Incredibly sad to say the least.

I wonder how this plays out in ministry today. Sometimes, when things get a little tough, testy, and difficult, it’s easier to walk away and find something else. In the world of sports, we call these fair-weather fans. Those fans that are quick to jump on whatever bandwagon that’s out there as they follow the best baseball, football or whatever team it is at that time. However, when that teams finds itself in decline, they quickly hop off and join the fan club of another team instead.

When people leave you or forsake your mission because things may not be looking so bright, don’t lose heart. God has a plan and will bring it to fruition with or without those individuals who left. If God’s in on things, know that in his timing His will will be done!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Romney's Pretty Funny

At Wednesday night’s Radio and Television Correspondents Dinner in Washington, D.C., former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney gave his “Top 10 Reasons for Dropping Out of the Race." Pretty funny stuff. Here goes:

10. There weren't as many Osmonds as I thought.
9. I got tired of corkscrew landings under sniper fire.
8. As a lifelong hunter, I didn't want to miss the start of the varmint season.
7. There wasn’t room for two Christian leaders.
6. I was upset that no one had bothered to search my passport files.
5. I needed an excuse to get fat, grow a beard and win the Nobel prize.
4. I took a bad fall at a campaign rally and broke my hair.
3. I wanted to finally take off that dark suit and tie, and kick back in a light-colored suit and tie.
2. Once my wife Ann realized I couldn't win, my fundraising dried up.
1. There was a miscalculation in our theory: "As Utah goes, so goes the nation.”

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Safety First

Just yesterday we're driving down the street on our way to do some family bowling along with some other families from the church when something struck our attention. A guy (we'll leave it at that) was riding his bike. Not all that strange and who could blame him with gas prices where they are. However, what this guy on the bike was wearing was what struck us next. He had this jacket on with reflectors on them. Again, not so strange except that it was still light out. Maybe he was planning on being out for awhile - who knows. Next, he was wearing a helmet. "Okay," you might be saying, "so what?" What we saw next was the strangest sight of all.

As we we're stopped at a red light, he too was stopped to do what-of all things? To light up a cigarette. Seems ironic to me that a guy who's out for a healthy ride to get some exercise, who's concerned about getting hit so he wears both a reflector jacket as well as a bike helmet. But he's smoking a cigarette that we know kills thousands and probably millions of people every year! While he might think he's practicing "safety first," I'm not so sure?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Main Thing

One pastor runs the "cowboy church" in Texas and dresses the part - cowboy hat and big belt and all. Another pastor in Texas wears a suit and tie in a renovated sports stadium even though it seems to me that a jogging suit might be more appropriate. Regardless, how one dresses for church, and how the leader of that church dresses, undoubtedly defines who that church will be and become. If the pastor is more casual in nature, then a casual attire will more than likely become the predominate clothing in that environment. Likewise, if the pastor raises the bar and dresses in the finest of clothes, his or her congregation is going to attempt to match.

Interestingly, each of the two above pastors and their churches are trying to reach two different people groups. The "cowboy church" is trying to reach out to cowboys and the other church is trying to reach out to a different group of well-dressed individuals. Either way, neither one of them is wrong in their approach. Both are doing what God has led them to do and are leading the charge to share the Good News in each environment. Still, for some, there's only one way and one way only of "doing church." As if the creative genius that God is, only prescribed one mode or one way of worshiping him in the corporate environment that takes place for most on Sunday mornings in a "traditional" church building. Wouldn't such expressions of Christianity be boring further advancing the belief by outsiders that church isn't for me?

Simply put, for the unchurched and dechurched, our worship times better offer them something that matches who they are. When we lift up one expression of worship over another as the only way, we're saying in effect that what they are, as often shown in how they dress, is wrong and needs to be changed in order for you to worship in this place and at this time. No wonder that worship and church attendance in America is in a rut. When we lose sight of the main thing - the imitation of Christ - we get caught up in petty arguments over issues that make no difference to God. A focus on Christ, and living out our life as modeled for us by Christ, is the main thing and needs to become more of the main thing in our lives. When it's not, the shinning light on the hill becomes a dull glimmer that's fading fast.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Mist - A Truly Scary Story

While I've always been a big fan of the horror movie, I rarely find one that is as intense and scary as the recently released movie - The Mist. Most horror stories , and even more so, their usually bad film adaptations, are stupid and usually make for a good laugh. I read The Mist ( a novella penned by none other then the master of horror himself- Stephen King) when I was in college. It was a scary story then and the film adaptation is no less frightening and even more disturbing in the end. Please note: my writing about this movie in no way condones the watching of this movie. Not only is this movie filled with filthy language that I could do without, it is also filled with some rather graphic, grisly, and gory details that I won't comment on. While it doesn't bother me (since it's all fictionally fake), I know many would be disturbed by some of these scenes. This movie is definitely rated R and would not make a good family movie to say the least.

Nevertheless, the movie is well done and the acting is equally up to par. If you've seen this movie, I'd be curious what your thoughts are. There's definitely some interesting theology within.

Connecting with God

Today, as I'm reading the familiar words of David as found in Psalm 23, I can't help but see his deep connection with God. At this point in his life, David was undoubtedly connected with God in a way that all of us should strive for. The peaceful serenity that comes out of this Psalm is amazing. David sees the Lord as his "shepherd"- one that guides and directs us in the way we should go. Even more remarkable is the fact that while David pens this great Psalm, he's in the middle of something bad. In verse 4 he tells us that while times are tough (he's walking through the valley of the shadow of death) he's not willing to be belittled and bewitched by fear. Why? God is with him.

How much easier would our lives be if we had such a deep connection with God? For those of us who know David's story and have read some of the other Psalms, we know that this wasn't always the case. For example, read Psalm 22, where David feels somewhat or even largely forgotten by God. Nonetheless, my guess is that when David was living in close connection with God, even the most harrowing of circumstances wouldn't have brought him down. Instead, the Good Shepherd would have led him through it. If you're feeling a little bit down and dragged by the drudgery of life, perhaps it's time to begin connecting with God in some new and perhaps some old ways. It wouldn't hurt to spend a few minutes in prayer this very moment, would it? Think on these things...

Friday, April 11, 2008

Times Are Changing

In recent years, I've been an avid user of the library. In graduate school it was my best friend when it came to research as well as finding a quiet place to study the ever complex Greek language. In recent days, the public library in Grand Rapids has likewise been a great friend in offering me plenty of locations as well as a vast array of books, music, and even DVD's. What I can't get at one location, I'm able to order and have delivered to the location of my preference for pickup.

As I think about the library, I'm amazed about how much has changed over the years. As a kid, when I visited the library, it was the card catalog that enabled you to find the books. Nowadays, through the beauty of technology, it's the ever expanding online catalog that enables me to find the book of my choice from the comfort of my very own home. Pretty cool and a time-saver to say the least.

Much like today, libraries carried music, although it wasn't in the form it is now. I can remember checking out vinyl records and carefully taking them home to listen to them on my record player. I remember how frustrating this was, though, as much of the vinyl was scratched and thereby less than pleasant to listen to. Today, as best I can tell, Cd's are the means of obtaining music from your local library. I wonder how long it will be before even this will change -becoming Mp3s instead-downloaded straight to your computer.

I mention all of this as I think about the church of today. Much like the library needs to be willing to embrace change, our churches need to understand that change is not necessarily a bad thing. I don't miss the vinyl record and I certainly don't miss the old card catalog system. If a library still used these old archaic forms, I'm convinced that less and less people would be willing to hang out in them and to use their means of distribution. As it is, the library is a popular destination with computers, internet access and even a place to get a cup of hot coffee or another beverage of your choice. My local library even serves hot dogs!

In my view, the library has thoroughly embraced change while many of our churches in North America have not. They live and are even willing to die by traditions - many of which have absolutely no biblical mandate to follow. So, whether the church likes it or not, things are not the same as they used to be. Times they are a changing. The question is whether or not the church will change or merely become less and less relevant in a culture looking for something that matters.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Natural Disasters and the Problem of Evil

It's not often that I include other people's writing on The Fuse, but in this instance I was particularly impressed with my old professor, Dr. Ben Witherington's discussion on Katrina and other so-called natural disasters. I have copied his thoughts here and I hope that you will find them as helpful as I did.

The Wrath of Katrina

The beginning of the tidal wave coming ashore in Miss.
The funnel clouds form.
The rains begin.
The sky turns strange colors. The appropriate response to seeing such things is-- get in the car and drive as far away as you can as fast as you can.

This picture clearly was taken too close to the line of fire.
The funnel clouds touch down and the destruction begins.

These pictures are from Mississippi at the onset of Katrina. Were it not the case that human beings and their homes were in the way, various of these pictures depict a beautiful natural phenomenon.

Natural disasters are only natural disasters when they affect the life of higher sentient beings adversely. Over two thirds of the world is water, and indeed close to half the world is uninhabited. Had this hurricane happened on a remote Pacific atoll, we would not even be talking about it.

This raises some interesting theological questions, and not the ones suggested by Bart Ehrman in his recent book God's Problem. Four points are of relevance: 1) human behavior has to be held accountable when people refuse to get out of the way of a hurricane which cannot be stopped. For example, there was ample warning in New Orleans about the magnitude of the storm, and its general time of arrival, but many persons simply chose to ride the storm out. Many of them died. This can hardly be blamed on God; 2) There is another human factor in play as well. The over-heated waters in the gulf of Mexico contributed mightily to the magnitude of this storm. What caused the waters to be overheated? There are a variety of factors and several of them are human in origin: 1) the dumping of massive chemicals in the gulf; 2) the dumping of massive raw sewage in the gulf; 3) global warming which is in part attributable to human pollution. Even if you accept only one of these factors, there is still human responsibility to some degree, and then there is this. 4) according to Rom. 8 all of nature is groaning longing for the day of human resurrection when the world as well will be restored to an Edenic condition. Paul it appears subscribes to a theology that the Fall affected not just human nature but the whole realm of nature. In other words, human sin is the ultimate cause of much of what is fallen in nature. It is interesting to me that insurance companies only call natural disasters 'acts of God'. They don't call positive miracles that, only disasters. Here we have a theology that holds God responsible only when things go wrong.

And this brings up another point. To what extent has God set nature in motion and allowed it to take its own natural courses, bearing in mind that there are various factors human and otherwise that affect eco-systems and ecological patterns? While I do not believe that God is absent or has simply wound up the world of nature and let it run, unless you believe in absolute divine determinism, you cannot simply assume that everything that happens in nature reflects God's hand or will, especially if you have a theology of the Fall that affects nature. I do not pretend to have all the answers to these questions, but they are worth pondering. Think on these things.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Robber with Hypnotic Personality Caught on Tape

Maybe you were as lucky as I was to hear this story the other day. A male robber with an apparent hypnotic personality was caught on tape using his skills in order to get more money than he should have from the tellers.

Using the phrase: "Look into my eyes," the tellers were immediately mesmerized and gave him precisely what he asked for.

Perhaps this is a new church growth strategy as well. Hypnotize people into coming to church. Hypnotize them into coming back again and again. Then our churches would truly become churches of irresistible influence.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Am I the Only One?

The latest political rant is amusing while at the same time baffling. You've probably heard the supposed story (as if this constitutes a story) regarding the 3 AM ad that Hilary Clinton ran showing a little blond headed girl lying in her bed. Well, as it turns out, this little girl is now 18 years old (I think) and an avid supporter of none other than Hilary's Democratic rival, Senator Obama. The ad was made by purchasing some "stock" video footage much like one buys stock photos to create advertising - simply that. Quite obviously, Hilary, nor her team who put this together for her, had any knowledge of this girls current political allegiance. But, nonetheless, it has become a story that I'm seeing on an everyday basis.

Am I the only one that sees this as no story at all...?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Breaking Lamps at the Library

Last night in our bi-weekly Men's Group, we talked about avoidance - a problem that greatly impacted King David's family during the latter part of his reign. Despite the fact that his son Amnon raped his daughter Tamar, David never confronts Amnon about this but merely allows the anger and resentment to build. On top of this, when Absalom, Tamar's full brother gets wind of what's happened, he too fails to confront Amnon. Instead, Absalom takes matters into his own hands and has Amnon killed. Afraid for his own life and the rebuke of his father David, Absalom takes off for Geshur and hides out there for three years, again avoiding the need to deal honestly with what's occured.

Not surprisingly, we still avoid things. Personally, I avoid conflict. In most cases, I would rather run in the opposite direction than face conflict head on. Only a few days ago, I was at the local library where I did something that I'm still embarrassed about. I knocked over a lamp, conveniently located on one of the tables, and it shattered into hundreds of pieces. A glass lamp in a library of all things! What were they thinking! After I did this, the little boy in me wanted to run as fast as I could for the front doors in order to get out of there before I was caught. Then, the pastor in me realized that instead of avoiding the fact that I'd broken something, I needed to fess up and go tell someone. I quickly found a wonderful lady named Faith who was willing to help me pick up the pieces while I apologized profusely for my blunder.

All this to say, that although it's tough at times to face up to the situations that life offers us (including those embarrassing situations that happen every so often when we'd rather run instead), one of the core values that I'm convinced that God has given everyone is honesty. If we're avoiding conflict, then we're not dealing honestly with it. So, despite how difficult it might be, face up to whatever circumstances you find yourself in. I can promise you that you'll feel better for doing so.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

At the Mall

Last week, on Valentine's Day, my wife and I went on a date (Yes, we still go on dates at age 36). After a nice lunch at one of the chain restaurant's, we took a few minutes to stroll through the mall and do some window shopping. Then we noticed it: Four different jewelry stores on four different corners all facing each other. My immediate thought was how in the world would you choose? As a customer looking for a piece of jewelry for your loved one, how would you ever decide which of the stores to shop at? From an outsider's perspective, they all looked the same. Yes, their signs were different and their carpet may have been a different color, but even these differences were only minute from my view. From a distance, they looked virtually the same. As we walked along, I asked Cara "How do they differentiate themselves from each other?" Without a whole lot of time to think about it, I think we were both puzzled.

In this way, I wonder how many of our churches to an outsider seem no different from a distance. Like the jewelry store, there's one on just about any corner that you come to as you're driving along. In fact, on some corners in West Michigan, there are four of them and they are all facing each other! So, what makes a church different from the church right across the street? A couple of things stand out to me when I think about this.

First, let's start with the people. I could walk into one jewelry store and receive wonderful customer service and a friendly smile. Yet, I could walk into the store directly across from them and get just the opposite. Maybe they are even so busy that I stand there waiting for several minutes before I actually speak to someone. Likewise, the people in the church are undoubtedly a HUGE factor in winning a return visit or not from the first time shopper.

Secondly, let's look at the product being sold. While it may seem like one jewelry store is selling the identical thing as the store across the way, when you really get up close, you begin to see that there are some differences, albeit sometimes very subtle. Likewise, when you begin to examine a church and the "product" they are selling, you begin to see that each church offers a unique product. Some churches offer a great kids program while other churches focus on putting together a dynamic time of worship. Others focus largely on missions and outreach while other spend their time largely and sadly on maintenance alone.

So, despite how similar churches may look from an outsiders perspective, they are all unique in their approach to ministry. Some I would never shop at and others I would definitely return to over and over again.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Rethinking My Theology of Baptism

I must admit that the idea of baptism has always been a bit of a conundrum for me. What I mean is that I've always had a certain level of difficulty getting my head around the meaning, purpose, and intent of Christian baptism. I guess this shouldn't be too big a surprise since many churches are at odds to explain the mode and timing of such an event. Early on in my Christian walk, I was told that in order to become a member of the church, I needed to be baptized. At first I was appalled! I knew that I was a Christian so why should I need to stand up in front of the church, say a few words, get all wet, just to proclaim publicly what I already knew in my heart. In my eyes, it wasn't necessary for salvation so why should I do it?

In recent days, I've been studying the topic with a fresh set of eyes and a renewed sense to get at the heart of what the bible teaches on this subject. I've also been reading other comments and commentary on the subject to lend a helping hand. One such work is Ben Witherington's recent book titled Troubled Waters: Rethinking The Theology of Baptism. In a few sentences, I'd like to offer some remarks about the book and how it is helping to shape and refine my own view on the subject.

First and foremost, the Bible is largely not the place to turn for a prescriptive plan and procedure for baptism. While we can try, and many churches have, to conjure up a systematic theology of baptism, we would be wrong in doing so. The bible is simply less than thorough in this regards. For instance, it never tells us explicitly when the children of believing parents should be baptized. To argue on one side of this issue as a proponent of infant baptism and to argue on the other side as a defender of adult baptism is to argue from inference and not clear evidence (Witherington, 128).

A second item that I'd like to briefly reflect upon is the point or purpose of baptism. What happens and what does not happen? Here Witherington makes the distinction between water baptism and spirit baptism. In short, he states that water baptism is not an act of God and thereby not an act of grace but simply the gift of God to the Christian community. Moreover, it's the first step in the process of the Christian life, enrollment in the school of Christ if you will. I must say that this is a departure from my traditional understanding of the sacrament of baptism that attributed a more mysterious nature to the sacrament itself.

Enough thoughts for today. I'd be curious what you think.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

A Pastor's Snow Day

What's a pastor do when he/she gets a snow day? You might think that he spends the entire day in study and doing other pastorly sort of things. Or you might think that he or she would spend some good quality time with family. Well, what did this pastor do? Sleep mostly.

I've finally succumbed to what my entire family has been dealing with all week. The common cold/flu is taking its toll on me. I was raring to go this morning, but I know that had we had services, I would have probably dropped dead soon afterwords. So, when this pastor gets a snow day, he sleeps most of the day away in hopes that all will be well tomorrow morning. Pray for me. It's time for yet another dose of Tylenol.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Never Satisfied

For those of you that are kind enough to visit my blog on a regular basis, you've probably witnessed a different look on several occasions. Truth is, I'm rarely satisfied with the way my blog looks. And even when I do find some level of satisfaction, it's not long before I'm ready for a change and find myself on an all out pursuit to find the perfect template to fit true character of what I'm trying to say. What I've learned is that you can spend a ton of time looking in vain pursuit for such a look, but until I actually learn how to write the code for myself, I'll never be truly happy. And because I'll never probably spend the time to learn how to create my own template from scratch, I'll more than likely always be using some form of generic template. So, once again, I return to an old friend of mine that I find rather useful and the most aesthetically pleasing to my eye (for today anyway). We'll have to wait and see how I feel tomorrow.