• January 9, 2015

    Sharing What You Believe

    This past week has been full and exciting as I am now a half-time pastor and half-time chaplain for the Ministry to Seafarers here in Montreal. It's with a bit of trepidation that I take on this new chapter for the next 8 months. But even in this first week, one major difference has jumped out at me...

  • January 9, 2015

    Cribbing from the Ancients

    This morning, I read about an ancient Epiphany practice, still enacted by our Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters. Epiphany is a multi-layered celebration commemorating: the light entering the darkness, the Magi celebrating the birth of the Christ-child and the turn, with the remembrance of Jesus' baptism. Reading from Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God, I learned...

  • January 7, 2015

    Context Sensitive Prayer

    Context sensitive prayer is, well, prayer which is sensitive to the context you’re in. For example, when driving down the road and I see an ambulance fly by with lights flashing, siren blaring, I pull over to let them pass and say a short prayer for wherever they are going and to whomever they are going to treat. When I see a car in the ditch or an accident on the side of the road, I say a short prayer for those in involved. The prayer is sensitive to the context that is going on. But what about larger contexts? This can be a bit tricky...

  • January 7, 2015

    Our Model for Pastoral Ministry

    Who is our model for pastoral ministry? Who are our pastoral heroes? I haven’t wrestled with those questions until recently – and I’m not sure why it took me so long to get around to such an important exercise. Pastors tend to emulate those they lift up as ideal. Consequently, our models or heroes shape the ministries of every pastor...

  • January 6, 2015


    On this day of Epiphany we are reminded of the “unveiling” or the “revelation” of who Jesus is and what he means for the world. Whether it’s the star in the East that attracted some Magi or the epiphany of God’s blessing on Jesus at his baptism, Epiphany shows the world who Jesus is. Of course, as believers today living on the far side of the original Epiphany, one might expect to find lots of mini-epiphanies along the way, little signs and reminders of who Jesus is and what he means. Even so, sometimes I am surprised where these latter-day epiphanies crop up...

  • January 5, 2015

    Responsive Reading

    When, years ago, we'd never done anything like it, it seemed stunning because it was so new. For as long as anyone could remember, people had sung lustily on good old hymns and psalms and listened attentively, even when the preacher would go on and on and never really get anywhere. Along came "responsive readings," and something got uncorked. We spoke. We responded. We read the Bible ourselves. It wasn't just the Reverend going on and on; we took a new role in the drama...

  • January 5, 2015

    Time like an Ever-Rolling Stream

    I mentioned in this space once upon a time how my grandfather would read Psalm 90 on New Year’s Eve. That was before the church service that night, to be followed by another the next morning. “Christian Reformed folks, think you can party?!? We’ll see about that!” And so we were girded in with church on both sides of that fateful midnight, hearing dolorous tones as to the past and our failings therein on the 31st and ominous hints about our fate in the future on the 1st. “Another Year is Dawning,” for the latter; and for the former, Psalm 90 again, now versified in Isaac Watts’s...

  • January 2, 2015

    Old Years/New Years

     The Black Hills--and Spearfish Canyon itself--was, you might even say, something of a vacation spot for a hundred bands of Lakota--and others too I suppose. As it was, and still is, for us. The truth is, sane retired people tend to go places, mid-winter, where the temps are seventy degrees or so warmer than they are here in Spearfish Canyon. But my wife's husband has always loved the Black Hills...

  • January 2, 2015

    What Does It Mean that Jesus Fulfills Scripture?

    “And So Was Fulfilled What the Prophet Had Said” This kind of language is common in the New Testament. Jesus did this or that in order that “scripture may be fulfilled”. I used to hear these parts of the Bible in a way I never examined. I used to hear them as lists of proofs to convince doubters that Christianity is true and Jesus is God. I remember as a kid growing up in the church, going to Christian school, imagining that the reason people decided to be Christians, go to church, not beat their wives or neglect their children was because a prophet said something years before...

  • January 2, 2015

    Your Kingdom Come

    And while our hope for the new creation is not tied to what humans can do–politically, economically, personally, or otherwise–but, rather, on what God has done, is doing, and will do, we do have a role to play as we wait for the Lord’s return. As God’s instruments, we work towards seeing the kingdom advanced in our lives, in our communities, and around the world. We work toward seeing...

  • December 31, 2014

    December 30, 2014 - Along the Way...

    As we conclude 2014 and look toward 2015, I would like to encourage each of us to consider taking a page from a popular devotional strategy called "One Word". The idea of "One Word" is to find a Biblical word or phrase that can capture your imagination for the entire year, and make it an emphasis in prayer and study toward developing one particular aspect of your life for the entire year. Through prayer and contemplation, I have chosen a word, or should I say the word chose me. The one word I will focus on in 2015 is "mindful"...

  • December 30, 2014

    Just One Job

    Jesus says to Peter three times something important. “Feed my lambs” “Take care of my sheep” “Feed my sheep” Just one job: Take care of and feed Jesus’ sheep. The sheep aren’t Peter’s. They belong to Jesus. The Church isn’t Peter’s. The Church belongs to Jesus, it is referred to as the Bride of Christ. Peter is given just one job: Take care of Jesus’ Church...

  • December 30, 2014

    A Wonderful and Meaningful New Year

    January 1 marks the beginning of a brand new year, 2015. It also gives me an opportunity to wish all of you a wonderful and meaningful new year. But you may wonder what I mean with those words. Wonderful is a well-known word that means "exciting wonder." Some synonyms are: amazing, astonishing, astounding, awesome, fabulous, miraculous, stunning, stupendous, sublime, surprising, marvelous. Something that is wonderful fills us with wonder. Meaningful in this context may be less familiar. It means "have meaning or purpose." A few synonyms are...

  • December 29, 2014

    Life With a Red Pen

    I wish it weren't so, but just about every book I've read in the last half century is marked up, scratched up, festooned with double and triple asterisks, underlined, doodled up, margin--alized. I swear it. I've got Kindles, and I read e-books; but if I couldn't underline and make notations on the screens, I'd never touch the technology...

  • December 23, 2014

    The One in the Spotlight

    The marketplace may focus our attention on products to purchase but God calls us to place the spotlight on Jesus. In fact, two thousand years ago John the Baptist received God's call to put the spotlight squarely on Jesus, the Savior of the World.  Here are a few words in John 1:8 about John the Baptist: "He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light." Certainly we can learn a thing or two from the example of John the Baptist. It's not about us. It's all about Jesus. We also need to aim the spotlight directly on the Savior...  

  • December 23, 2014

    What Do You Mean By "Joy"?

    The season of Advent is full of joy. We gather together with friends and family, we talk about joy at church, we attend an endless number of parties, we listen to the radio that seems to be on a repeat of the same fifteen joyful Christmas songs. We clearly are supposed to be joyful. But what does that mean? What does it mean to be joyful? I remember sitting in a service where the minister preached on joy and explained how it was a feeling that burst forth from the inside. He went on about how if you were not feeling that kind of joy, this contagious happiness, you were...

  • December 23, 2014

    "Out of Egypt I Called My Son" Hosea 11:1

    I write this blog after the Calvin Seminary community gathered for a prayer service of lament led by Dean of Students, Jeff Sajdak, and Eric Sawar, a Th.M student from Pakistan. There is much to share, but let me just say that Eric wept tears of sorrow for his country in the aftermath of the horrific news of a Taliban attack on a Pakistan school. Eric also wept tears of longing for his wife and children still in Pakistan as he and they wait for political asylum in the United States...

  • December 18, 2014

    Talking Turkey

    The Tuesday afternoon before Thanksgiving I left the house to run errands—only to spot a large, brown mass huddled in the snow underneath my front bushes. It turned out to be a wild turkey. And it wasn’t moving. Call me a stereotypical literature professor, attuned to symbolism at every turn, but a dead turkey two days before Thanksgiving seemed like a rather bad sign. I began talking to it—as you do with errant fowl in your front yard—and slowly it lifted its head.

  • December 18, 2014

    Why Did God Allow That to Happen?

    I had to have the car towed to my mechanic.  Could not get it done until Monday afternoon.  Car was to be fixed on Tuesday.  Found out the problem was more extensive and would take an extra day, maybe two.  It would be expensive.  It might not be done for three days. Why did God allow that to happen?  Didn't He know that I had a plan?  I had job inquiries in two places across the country.  I had a schedule to keep.  I had to leave on Tuesday! Honestly, it sure seemed like God did not care...

  • December 16, 2014

    Sweetly Bifocaled

    I'm not sure how David Brooks of the NY Times gets so smart; after all, he's just a whipper-snapper. Brooks claims research shows that older people--"experienced" people, he calls us--are happier than people half their age. He's talking about "experienced" people, he says, people who have become, by way of time and space, capable of seeing clearly both what's on their plate and what's down the road. He calls that being "bifocaled."...


  • December 16, 2014

    Spirituality: What Is It to You?

    Over the past few weeks I've heard a number of people quote statistics that say the province I live in, Quebec, is "spiritual" but not religious and been thinking about what it means to be spiritual. I've been reading Eugene Peterson's Subversive Spirituality to prepare for our deep discipleship group's reflection for next month on spirituality, and now, honestly, I still can't define exactly what spirituality, or being spiritual, really is...

  • December 16, 2014

    Along the Way - December 16, 2014

    Time is not as significant to God, as it is to us. Yet there is always purpose to time. We wait because God is patient, not wanting anyone to perish. We wait, and we are called to be patient too, as we have been given the Holy Spirit who develops our patience like a fruit on a living vine. But how does the Holy Spirit develop our patience?...   

  • December 15, 2014

    Exodus Movie Wrestles with God

    I went to see Exodus: Gods and Kings despite the criticism of its exasperatingly racist casting. In response to this… let’s call it cowardice, some were calling for boycotts of the film, and perhaps rightly so. But I went anyway because my curiosity got the best of me. I wanted to see how a Hollywood filmmaker would tell this story today, and what we might learn from it about where we are, as a culture, with God...

  • December 12, 2014


    Advent is a season for broken hearts. In stark contrast to the holly and jolly of the cultural calendar, the church year reminds us that a few toys or presents are crappy substitutes for the bigger ache in our lives. The Advent season is a time of hard longing for something more, something better than we now see. In Advent we take stock of our broken world, recognizing all that is bent, bruised, broken and unfulfilled. I’d rather look the other way because that is painful and leaves you with an ache for something bright to break all this shadow and decay.

  • December 12, 2014

    News Stories Imaging God

    I love it when news stories image God. This week the richest man in Russia bought DNA co-discoverer Dr. James Watson’s 1962 Nobel Prize medal at auction for 4.76 million dollars. And then he gave it back. He didn’t think it was right for such an outstanding scientist to sell his prize in order to donate the proceeds to charity. What a wonderful story. How amazing that a person would respect and honor another person to this extent... 

  • December 11, 2014

    What Do You Mean by "Justice"?

    When you hear the word “justice” what jumps to mind?  Perhaps we think of justice in a retributive kind of way. Perhaps we think of justice as when laws and rules are fairly/equally applied to all.

  • December 10, 2014

    Advent and Injustice

    Advent is a time of waiting for Jesus’ coming. As we remember and look forward to Christ’s first coming, we also look forward to his second coming and the full realization of the kingdom of God. That the kingdom of God has not fully arrived can be seen in the evil and brokenness in the world around us. Advent is a time when the church can lament and rage against the brokenness of a world where suffering, sickness and death are so prevalent...

  • December 10, 2014

    A Hymn, a Story

    The day came, and the whole church turned out to see them off. You've heard people say, of course, that "the Devil's in the details," and sometimes that's true. But sometimes the Holy Spirit hangs out there too, and in this little story the details are just too good to have been left behind by the Evil One. So when the good folks of Wainsgate stood there around him, broken hearts poured out love that must have been radiant and unmistakable. The story goes that Mary was the first to break, telling her husband that she just couldn't leave.

  • December 10, 2014

    Living Out Isaiah 61

    A few Oil of Gladness members collected in my sitting room. Sam made us look at our TLT Action Plan. We are all supposed to memorize Isaiah 61:1-3 because it's the passage from which we chose our name.

  • December 9, 2014

    Transforming Tradition

    We reach that time in the year where we participate in well-established, long remembered, sentimental family traditions. Can you think of one? Traditions can be beautiful and unifying, but we have to be wary of the limitations they bring. I can’t help but think of the story behind the well-known Christmas hymn, Silent Night...

  • December 9, 2014

    The Internet Is Making Me More Self-Righteous

    I love blogging and reading and posting and writing and liking and retweeting and sharing, especially on religious and sometimes political topics. Almost any topic that can get me excited, about racism or morality or poverty or suffering or Christianity gets my juices flowing and makes me want to write and think and talk… In the end, however, I can’t help but think this may not in fact be doing me any good by might be doing me some harm...

  • December 9, 2014

    The Secularization of a Saint: How St. Nicholas Became Santa Claus

    December 6 is the feast day of St. Nicholas, but in the Netherlands he is celebrated on the previous evening and is known as Sinterklaas. This is one step in the secularization process that turned a saint into the commercialized figure we know today as Santa Claus. Sinterklaas, when moved to the new world, became Santa Claus, who later has become confused, at least in the minds of children, with Christmas. That association is unfortunate...

  • December 4, 2014

    The Cookies of Lady Jacoba

    I visited the beautiful town of Assisi, home of St. Francis. While we were there, we were given a tour of the spectacularly frescoed Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi by one of the Franciscan brothers. But one of the things that struck me most came when we visited the room that held some of the Francis’ few belongings, saved by his disciples—among them, a cloak and, surprisingly for the barefooted Francis, shoes. These all, our Brother told us, were gifts from the Lady Jacoba. And then he told us her story...

  • December 4, 2014

    Be Still and Listen

    I have a question for you: When you’re in the midst of a conversation with someone and they’re talking, are you listening or just waiting to speak? Think about that. You’re at Starbucks gabbing away with your BFF and they say something that you have the perfect answer to, retort to, or story to go along with that. And then they keep talking and won’t shut up. You want to speak now. Are you actually listening or just waiting to talk... 

  • December 4, 2014

    Baptism & Profession of Faith

    On November 20, New Life had a Thanksgiving Service in the Newton Prison Gym. Featured prominently were baptism and profession of faith. A high-water mark was reached in both: 11 men were baptized and 5 men professed their faith in Jesus Christ. Glory be to God! Here are some words from two men who participated...

  • December 2, 2014

    What Do You Mean By "Holiness"?

    What is holiness? You could say “sanctified,” “consecrated,” or other big words. “Special” might be the best word for it. We mark Christmas gifts with names because each gift is special for that person. Christians are called to live a holy life that is a special gift to God. That is human holiness. God’s holiness is something much more. We’ll get to divine holiness in a minute. Some Christians have a distinct idea of holiness...

  • December 1, 2014

    God of Brilliant Lights

    Somewhere between birth and death there is awesome. You may not see it right away. You may not always experience it. But it’s there. And the awesome invades every aspect of the time between birth and death if you let it. The thing is, is that you have to allow yourself to experience the awesome. It’s there. It’s always there. It will always be there too. There are many who refuse to experience the awesome of life...

  • December 1, 2014

    Advent: Day 2

    We enter Advent as a people estranged from, even in rebellion against God. Too often we fail to recognize just how thoroughly entangled in our own sins we have become. We begin this Advent season as people who need to hear these words in order to see ourselves as we really are. We are a people who do not see the full extent of our sins or the ways in which we continue to ignore and rebel against God...

  • November 26, 2014

    What Do You Mean By "Gratitude"?

    One person around the dinner table says, “I am thankful that my new boss was willing to hire me.” Another says, “I am thankful for the birth of our sweet little Sophia.” The ninth person says, “Enough of this talk, I’m thankful for all this good smelling food.” In Christian circles, this is commonly referred to as counting our blessings. Without question, counting our blessings is one aspect of gratitude. Yet…gratitude for followers of Jesus Christ is not and cannot be limited to taking a pen to paper and listing off the things that God has done for us...

  • November 25, 2014

    Dog Food Ethics

    I held the tube of food in my hand and looked at my wife and said “We’re feeding our dog better food than what children around the world are eating.” My wife stopped and realized how true that was. It made us pause and think about how much we in the States (the good ol’ U S of A) treat our dogs and cats better than we do hungry children. And I’m not just talking about those really sappy-meant-to-be-a-tear-jerker-guilt-trip commercial on feeding children in developing countries. I’m talking about just here in the States, just here in west Michigan.

  • November 25, 2014


    I wanted to devote this post to some reflections on the assassination of John F. Kennedy, 51 years ago today, and figured that a good way to do so would be by recourse to a poem written about the event. Lo and behold, my college library has a copy of a whole anthology—some four-score pieces—dedicated to just that: Of Poetry and Power. The prevailing tone, obviously, is sadness and lament, with an occasional barb at Dallas for being a city of hatred.

  • November 25, 2014

    "Ubi Sunt"

    Ubi sunt, that grief is called in literature—a grief of soul at the transience of life, of my life and yours. I know what what ubi sunt is. I taught literature for a lifetime; but that I knew it in a textbook didn’t heal the sad pain.

  • November 24, 2014

    25 Things I Love about Life in Uganda

    (Not in any particular order) 1) Singing. Ugandans sing all the time. If you take a walk, every fourth person or so will be singing and almost always it's a Christian worship song to God. And the people here in church sing in perfect harmony effortlessly. It is breathtakingly beautiful. 2) Avocados. I love them, and they are fresh and local, not shipped thousands of miles. I can get about 8 for $1.00. 3) Animals at home. We are allowed to have goats and chickens and a dog and chameleons and really whatever animals we want, right in town. Two of my favorite things are... 

  • November 20, 2014

    Revive Us Again!

    I long for revival! I long for the day when revival comes to Australia and to other western nations. I long for the day when the presence of God is realized in the midst of our nation, when God is seen in industry, commerce, politics, in national and international affairs! "God our Saviour, ... will you not revive us again?" (Psalm 85:4,6)   This prayer of the sons of Korah is the cry of my heart! I long for the great awakenings that marked the 18th and 19th centuries in America and Europe.

  • November 20, 2014

    Maturity and Gratitude

    Preaching through Ephesians has been good for me this fall, and I hope good for our church too. One theme that has jumped out to me is maturity. How mature are you as a follower of Jesus? Maturity looks like knowing what you believe so that you're able to engage with our culture wisely, recognizing both the good and the wrong, and working towards healthy communities. It looks like serving others instead of yourself, it looks like unity (as I talked about in my last post), and maturity looks like gratitude.

  • November 19, 2014

    A Crushing Season

    Wiman briefly described Tomáš Halík’s radical rethinking of Jesus’ mustard seed parables. Halík, the winner of this year’s Templeton Prize, argues that the smallness of the mustard seed should be thought of not as a lack, but as a concentration. That’s already an interesting enough idea by itself, but what really grabbed my attention was Wiman’s comment—an aside really—that for the seed to have its full impact it “must be crushed.”  

  • November 19, 2014

    In the Presence of Death

    My sister called to say I should hurry home because Mom had been diagnosed with something that wasn't about to leave--and she might, at any time. We too were maybe four hours east when the call came. We happened to be right there at an exit I'll now never forget, one with a windmill. I didn't hesitate for a moment, took the ramp, turned around, and came back home. We'd need more than we packed to say goodbye. There'd be the funeral.

  • November 19, 2014

    Jubilee Justice

    Justice. It’s all the rage. People cry foul and injustice at retail giants for not paying a fair wage or for forcing workers to work on Thanksgiving. People cry foul at the immigration laws. People call foul and tell people to check their privilege (especially if they are white). People call for justice to be done and take from the rich to redistribute to the poor. Justice then becomes a call for equality by means of knocking someone down a peg.

  • November 19, 2014

    What Do You Mean By "Prayer"?

    Prayer is speaking to God. Prayer is not exhausted in a non-descript, merely emotive or ethereal encounter with the divine. Prayer consists in the discursive, descriptive, determinate and dialogical soul engaged in a meaningful interchange with the person of God. Eastern meditative traditions actively try to deprive the religious mind of rational discourse. Don't think however, that I would jettison the great host of Christian mystics...

  • November 14, 2014

    Article 12 and Seeking the Good of the University

    The Government of the Student Body is actively engaged with the university administration, the city of Ames, and at all levels of government.  In all of this, the GSB’s goal is to bring about improvements to the lives of all those connected to Iowa State University. This seems, in my estimation, a great place for Christians to serve. It is a great place for Reformed believers to promote the dignity and worth of all human persons, the necessity of caring for the earth, and improving the academic environment–all things that are near and dear to our tradition.