Way more than twice

Delegates of Synod 2019 with new candidates for ordained ministryLast month I had the privilege of serving as a delegate from Classis Iakota to Synod 2019 of the Christian Reformed Church. We deliberated and decided on many matters including the funding of denominational ministries, responding better to allegations of abuse, rejecting kinism, and approving a biblical foundation for understanding human sexuality.

One discussion that especially held my interest was about worship. It had to do with these particular instructions in the CRC Church Order: “[Each] congregation shall assemble for worship, ordinarily twice on the Lord’s Day, to hear God’s Word, to receive the sacraments, to engage in praise and prayer, and to present gifts of gratitude” (article 51). Trinity CRC, where I serve as pastor, follows the wisdom of this Church Order article with our two services each Sunday in which we seek to glorify God and grow in our faith through the Word and Sacrament. Gathering twice on Sundays “reflect[s] the Biblical practice of morning and evening sacrifice and patterns developed in church history” (Synod 2019 Agenda, p. 509).

However, Trinity CRC is in the minority. Only about a third of CRC congregations hold two worship services on Sundays. So if the Church Order is meant to reflect church practices, the question was raised whether to remove the specific reference to “twice” in article 51. Synod delegates noted a number things, including the multiethnic nature of our denomination: Many congregations that aren’t predominantly Dutch hold midweek services or early morning prayer services. Moreover, “neither God’s Word nor the Reformed confessions mandate a second preaching service; in fact, the goals of rest and worship reflected in the confessions may be met in other ways than by attendance at a public worship service” (p. 511).

At the end of the day, the delegates to synod decided to remove the specific clause in article 51 about gathering twice on Sundays (the rest of article 51 will remain the same). However, we added this next sentence: “Each classis [regional group of congregations] shall affirm the rich tradition of assembling a second time on the Lord’s Day for worship, learning, prayer, and fellowship by encouraging churches to include these items as part of a strategic ministry plan for the building up of the body of Christ.” Essentially we said that if you’re not going to have a second service, look for ways include the benefits of this practice in your church’s other ministries.

Perhaps not surprisingly, reaching this decision came only after a fair amount of discussion. Some delegates affirmed that yes, we simply need to update the Church Order to align with current reality. I was impressed with a young adult representative, though, who spoke of the value in giving people multiple opportunities to worship and to fellowship together – that is, multiple opportunities for people to feel they belong. My favorite comment on the matter came from a delegate who lamented that the prevailing trend isn’t to change the Church Order to instruct congregations to gather three or four times each Sunday!

That got me thinking: It doesn’t matter what the CRC Church Order says, we are wired to worship God. As St. Augustine prayed, “You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.” Worship is so much more than the one or two hours you spend in a church sanctuary on Sunday! If we leave a worship service on any given Sunday – even the second service – with the attitude that we can now check “worship” off our to-do list for another week, then the Church Order mandating 10 services per Sunday won’t help us!

The reality is that worship does not end with the blessing at the close of the service. Instead, gathering for worship services propels us into lives of worship all week long. As examples, we strive to do our best at work, and work with integrity and honesty as part of regularly honoring God; we recognize family members and friends as God’s gifts to us and we regularly thank God for them; we delight in the beauty of creation around us and are eager to regularly glorify God for it.

Only by grace do we gather for worship; only by grace are we compelled to live lives of worship. We worship not to get God’s attention, but because God has already given us His attention and we recognize His power and love in our lives and church despite our sins against Him and frequent gracelessness to one another. We worship God not in order that His blessings may flow to us; on Sundays and all week long, we praise God from whom all blessings have already and continue to flow for time and eternity.

See the July-August 2019 issue of The Banner
for lots of reporting on Synod 2019.

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Conform or be transformed

Grad graphic found with GoogleThis is the “Perspectives” column I wrote for the
Rock Valley Bee. It is adapted from part of the graduation address I delivered to the 8th grade graduates at Rock Valley Christian School last week.

It’s gotta be tough being a kid in middle school. You want to be uniquely you, yet you don’t want be different and excluded. I see middle schoolers walking the tightrope of expressing themselves (pursuing their particular interests and talents) while simultaneously wanting to conform (looking more or less like everyone else).

The apostle Paul tells middle schoolers and adults, little kids and senior citizens: “Do not conform” – at least not to the pattern of this world. This quote from Romans 12 is part of the class verse the 8th graders at Rock Valley Christian School chose for their graduation. When I had the privilege to give the graduation address last week, I reminded everyone of the definition of the word conform: to behave in accordance with socially accepted standards.

Sometimes socially accepted standards stink.

Yes, there are many beautiful things and places and ideas throughout our culture, and I seek them out and recognize God’s grace in them. But there is also darkness and rebellion in the world. It comes in many forms: lipping off at your parents or yelling at your kids, cheating on a test or making a substandard product at work, being judgmental of someone, uttering a racist slur, violent computer games, filthy language, pornography, gossip, even gambling (with new opportunities to do so in the news lately). Don’t conform to this kind of garbage, Paul urges.

Instead of conforming, Paul invites me to be transformed. And this is critical for me to hear: Paul is not telling me that I have to transform myself; he is inviting me to be transformed –something Jesus does for and in me and you.

Author Marva Dawn in one of her books describes a little boy trying to pry open flower buds. With blossom after blossom falling apart in his hands, he asks his mom, “Why does the bud fall apart when I try to open it, but when God opens it the flower is beautiful?” His mom wisely answers: “When God opens it, he opens it from the inside.”

Through his Holy Spirit, God is working within me, changing me, making me a new creation in Christ. Yes, I can resist it. I can choose to conform more to the dark and rebellious patterns of the world than allow the holy and gracious God to transform me. I can insist on having my way. Or I can let God have his way in me which will be far more meaningful and filled with vitality.

The invitation is for you, too: God wants to transform all of us into the beautiful creatures God created us to be. We’ll discover that’s the best kind of unique anyone can be.

When Jesus is my King

As the Easter season progresses and we approach Ascension Day, I’m reminded that Jesus is not only my Savior but also my King, “governing [me] by His Word and Spirit,” to quote Lord’s Day 12 of the Heidelberg Catechism. In a lot of ways, thinking about Jesus as my Savior makes me look back at the past – back on His death and resurrection, back on His invitation to experience forgiveness and new life. But thinking about Jesus as my King brings my focus to the present and has me Crown graphic found with Googleasking whether I’m submitting to His reign today.

Sometimes I think it’s easier to call Jesus my Savior than to call Him my King.

When I say Jesus is King, I’m simultaneously saying that I am not sovereign. If He’s leading in front, then I must be the follower. But how often don’t I pretend or try to be in charge, the one in front? How often don’t I prefer to call the shots?

If I were brutally honest in my prayers, they’d go something like this: “King Jesus, You call me to be a peacemaker and to love my enemies, but I’d rather lash out or at least nurse a grudge against that person who hurt me.” Or: “King Jesus, You call me to work with integrity, but this shortcut is easier and will save me time and money.” Or: “King Jesus, You call me to help and identify with the poor, but I’d really rather pursue prosperity and affluence.” Or: “King Jesus, You call me to reach out to others, to introduce them to You, but I don’t want to look like a backwards religious freak.”

See what I mean? Saying Jesus is my Savior is one thing, but saying He is my King is something more. Calling Him my King means I submit to Him (not the other way around). Instead of me hoping Jesus will bless what I want to do or have already chosen, I’m more interested in obeying His will as revealed through the Bible. Every “But, Jesus…” I come up with reveals I’m actually trying to usurp His throne.

Thankfully, the Holy Spirit of King Jesus works in the church and in my life. He helps me discover, as Aaron Baart pointed out this past Sunday at Trinity CRC, that maturity according to the Bible is not about becoming more independent as one might assume, but actually means becoming more dependent on God and the faith community. The Spirit helps me see what I often think of as forward progress as actually backward regression in Jesus’ Kingdom. He helps me recognize that what our individualistic and consumeristic culture calls good is actually harmful to my soul and relationships. He helps me align my priorities with what God desires so that the things that bring God joy will bring me joy and the things that break God’s heart will also break mine.

Calling Jesus my King can be hard. But He is the King with nail-scarred hands who saves me by His love. He wants what’s best for me today and for eternity. I’ll end up in far better places than if I were to insist on my own path if I but trust Him enough to let Him be in charge and lead the way.

Jesus is not a conservative

…or a liberal. Or a capitalist or a socialist.

He is not a card-carrying member of the Republican Party or the Democratic Party – or of the Conservative Party of Canada, the Liberal Party of Canada, the Bloc Québécois, or the New Democratic Party.

The One who rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and staggered out of the city carrying a cross is the King whose reign transcends any political affiliations or associations we may hold. The One who rose on Easter Sunday defeated sin and can destroy the barriers that strain the unity of believers who hold to different perspectives.

Believers – people with whom you and I will live for eternity face to face with Jesus in the new heaven and new earth – hold to different political, economic, and social opinions just like I can hold the February 2019 issue of Maclean’s in my hand. That month the editors of Canada’s current Maclean's February 2019 issue with its two coversevents magazine did an ingenious thing: They created two covers – a “tumble edition,” as they called it. One cover boldly asks, “What’s wrong with the Left?” But then you flip the magazine over and the other cover asks with equal audacity, “What’s wrong with the Right?” As Canada’s federal election looms, the editors’ objective was to “to raise the alarm. Both sides of the spectrum are spoiling for a fight to such an extent that nuance, irony, and reasoned debate are at risk.” Reading forward from both sides allowed me to respectfully listen to cogent arguments from the Right and the Left without flippantly or angrily dismissing them or attacking those “on the other side” with my words or actions. Is this not how Christ would have me behave?

But this goes beyond behavior.

While Christians will likely always identify as Right or Left (or perhaps Centrist), I believe this identification should not be my primary way of identifying or labeling myself. I am a follower of Jesus before I am a conservative or a liberal, before I am Canadian, Romanian, Cambodian, Mexican, Dutch, Liberian, or American. If by the way I think or act I make being a Canadian or anything else more central than being a Christian, I am committing idolatry.

I appreciate how my former teacher at Abbotsford Christian School, Trent De Jong, puts it in an article he wrote for Christian Courier earlier this year:

“…Many Christians believe that being Christian goes hand in hand with being conservative or being liberal. This is plain wrong. If we follow the Jesus of the Bible, we will find ourselves uncomfortable on either end of the spectrum.”

We’re uncomfortable at either pole because we realize that neither are sufficient to completely express who we are in Christ.

Frankly, sometimes my loyalty to Jesus puts me in the Right camp when, for example, it comes to recognizing the intrinsic value of individuals from the womb to the tomb (Psalm 139 and 1 Timothy 5 support this). But sometimes my loyalty to Jesus finds me walking alongside those on the Left who, for example, are often the ones advocating for the foreigner, widow, and orphan (Exodus 22 and Matthew 25 quickly come to mind). Similarly, I personally feel those with a more liberal outlook tend to have a better track record at being good stewards of creation and the environment (texts connecting with this include Genesis 1 as well as Mark 16 with its command for the Gospel to impact all creation) while those on the conservative side often seem to be better stewards of my tax dollar (I haven’t tried connecting specific Bible texts to this before but some suggest Leviticus 25 and 2 Thessalonians 3 imply small government and conservative fiscal policies). Overall, Jesus doesn’t let me pin Him down to any one particular political label; perhaps I should be cautious with such labels for myself and others, too.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t be conservative or liberal. I’m not saying you should switch sides or just sit in the middle. What I am humbly asking is that Christians remember that our primary identity is in Christ. Through Christ, God the Father adopts us into His family, makes us citizens of His eternal Kingdom, and fills us with His Holy Spirit. Christ is King ahead of any president or prime minister, ahead of any political, economic, or social philosophy.

I see White Memorial Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, White Memorial Presbyterian Church, Raleigh NCmodeling how to live into this. With a membership of around 4,000 in a city and a state that alternates between voting red and blue, White Memorial Church calls itself a “purple church.” Instead of taking the easy path of finding a church where they can worship only with people just like them, the members take the harder route of seeking community (and civility) within their diversity. And the media noticed.

This Spirit-enabled willingness to listen to and love those who are “other” than you and me demonstrates and strengthens our identity and unity in the crucified and risen Christ. This transcends political, economic, and social labels. It’s how Jesus calls you and me to live. And it’s appealing both for Jesus’ disciples and for people watching us from outside the church.

This piece from NPR gives practical tips about talking politics
with civility: “Keeping It Civil: How To Talk Politics
Without Letting Things Turn Ugly”

Fasting for Lent

Those of us getting tired of winter’s cold grip eagerly welcomed the official start of the season of spring last week. A couple weeks before that we entered the church season of Lent which spans from Ash Wednesday to Resurrection Sunday (a.k.a. Easter). Both seasons are about renewal: In springtime we anticipate longer days, birds returning, flowers coming up, the grass turning green, kids on the playground, and farmers getting in their fields – all reminders of new life. In Lent, we seek renewal and new life in our hearts.

Lent graphic found with Google

To help experience this renewal, Christians often choose to fast during Lent. For some, that means skipping a meal each day; others abstain from a particular food, such as chocolate. I’ve also heard of people choosing to disconnect from social media or turn off the radio in the car. (One of my children volunteered to fast from doing homework, but I don’t think that’s quite the right idea.) Each time you miss the thing from which you are fasting, you choose to focus on God instead. So instead of scrolling through your Facebook feed or hanging out on Snapchat, you choose to read the Bible instead. You treat each growl of your stomach as a call to prayer.

Reading from the prophesy of Isaiah the other day, I was reminded of another kind of fasting, a kind of fasting to which God called his people when their abstaining from food had devolved into an empty ritual, something to just check off the To Do list. Here are some ways I’m being challenged to rethink fasting this season:

“You fast, but at the same time you bicker and fight. You fast, but you swing a mean fist. The kind of fasting you do won’t get your prayers off the ground… This is the kind of fast day I’m after: to break the chains of injustice, get rid of exploitation in the workplace, free the oppressed, cancel debts. What I’m interested in seeing you do is: sharing your food with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your homes, putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad, being available to your own families. Do this and the lights will turn on, and your lives will turn around at once.”  Isaiah 58:4, 6-8, Message paraphrase

These sorts of things make skipping a meal suddenly sound a lot easier than before! But when I choose to “fast” in these kinds of ways, I suspect my walk with God will grow closer. It’s not that fasting from food, social media, unjust practices, or a stingy attitude will impress God and save me. It’s more that this sort of fasting will make me more attentive to his presence and plans for me. And that will create a very welcomed kind of renewal in me during Lent that will have an impact long after the season is over.

These reflections appear in today’s Rock Valley Bee.

Seeing Jesus in Guatemala


Our family in Chimaltenango, Guatemala

Our family recently had the opportunity to travel to the beautiful country of Guatemala together with other members of several local churches to work with Bethel Ministries International. We distributed wheelchairs, built houses, visited potential future recipients of Bethel’s services, toured Bethel’s facilities, and did some sightseeing along the way.

The houses we built were simple: Single-room dwellings on a concrete floor with a covered porch for cooking. Simple by North American standards, but a major upgrade compared to the homes in which many people were living with their dirt floors, walls made of scrap wood and metal, and roofs that leaked. We also assembled cookstoves and bunk beds for each home. Our work was not officially complete until we prayed a blessing over the home and family and left them with a Bible.

The families we visited and for whom we helped build houses all happened to be people of faith so the Bible was already a familiar book. They thanked God for us and His blessings, including the abundant blessings they had already received even before we arrived. When I heard them give thanks for all their blessings, I couldn’t help but ask, “What blessings?! You do (or did) not have adequate housing. You don’t have a secure source of income or food. The quality of your drinking water is questionable. Access to even minimal healthcare is an unaffordable luxury.” Yet these new friends of ours were already thankful long before we arrived. They gave thanks for their family. They gave thanks for healings of ailments. They gave thanks for God’s provision in small ways that allowed them to continue for one more day.

It’s ironic that I had to go to a developing country to learn a lesson in gratitude from people who, materially speaking, have much less than me. They see God at work in ways I’m quick to overlook and dismiss as insignificant.

It’s tempting for me to go to a place like Guatemala with the intention of showing the people there how things should be done and what they should believe. It’s frighteningly easy for me to think that Jesus is waiting for me to show up in Guatemala so that He can get to work there through me. While I’m confident God indeed worked through my family, the fact of the matter is that God was working in Guatemala and the lives of the people we met there long before we showed up and He will continue to do so long after we’ve been forgotten. It reminds me how it’s wise to go through life watching for how the Spirit of Jesus is already at work in my world and then prayerfully seeing what I can do to join Him in bringing light and hope to places in which He allows me to also have some influence.

Make me your manger

Christmas Manger

And she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.
She wrapped him in cloths and placed Him in a manger…
This will be a sign to you:
you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger…
So [the shepherds] hurried off and found Mary and Joseph,
and the baby, who was lying in the manger.

— Luke 2:7, 12, 16


Come, Lord Jesus, make me a place
where you can rest.

Make me a place where others will see you
and find peace and joy.

Make me a place where the empty
will be fed by your presence.

Make me a place where the unimportant
will find their significance as they gaze at you.

Make me a place where lost people
will see the light of your face.

Make me a place where the hardened
will be softened by your tenderness.

Make me a place where the helpless
will find help through your seeming helplessness.

Make me a place that people will forget when they leave,
caught up in the joy of the One who makes his residence in me.

Make me a manger—
of your grace,
your mercy,
and your life.


Thou didst leave thy throne and thy kingly crown
when thou camest to earth for me;
but in Bethlehem’s home was there found no room
for thy holy nativity.
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus—
there is room in my heart for thee.

Heaven’s arches rang when the angels sang,
proclaiming thy royal degree;
but of lowly birth didst thou come to earth,
and in great humility.
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus—
there is room in my heart for thee.
— from Emily E.S. Elliot’s hymn, “Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne”


This was Dale Vander Veen’s daily e-devotional for 21 Dec 2018
which he gracious welcomed me to share with you.
Email dalevanderveen@sbcglobal.net
to receive his daily e-devotions yourself.