Resource, Lesson or Study

How do we engage our congregations in Advent? How do we get people reading their Bibles? In response to these questions, my church (Oakdale Park CRC) created this Advent community reading plan. 

November 22, 2016 2 0 comments
Blog

Disciple-making isn't easy or comfortable. And that's a good thing. When it isn't comfortable, it breaks us. When it isn't easy, it makes us rely more on the strength of Jesus and power of the Holy Spirit. 

November 22, 2016 0 0 comments
Blog

Looking for free devotional resources to challenge your mind and inspire your heart? Check out these devotions by CRC authors in the new CRC Digital Library

November 21, 2016 1 0 comments
Blog

Why might gratitude be the best measure of our spirituality? Perhaps because it demonstrates that we have been paying attention to the gifts we've received. So, what are you thankful for? 

November 16, 2016 2 1 comments
Blog

It's easy to see my 2-year-old granddaughter learning things about church each week, but adults are developing as well. Every week I’m shaping my faith language through the things I see and hear. 

November 16, 2016 1 0 comments
Blog

We are living in a cultural season in which a kind of “stand alone authenticity” is celebrated and encouraged everywhere. It’s a false idol that needs to be discerned, named and rejected.

November 16, 2016 3 2 comments
Blog

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

It's time for you to know that whatever you are going in through is simply under the builders mind. He is building His own Church (Mathew 16:17-18). When you are built in Him, nothing shall take you away. As much as others may judge you according to...

November 15, 2016 0 0 comments
Blog

Check out this treasure trove of faith forming, intergenerational Advent tools and ideas for how to use them.

November 11, 2016 0 0 comments
Blog

As I hear my friends reflect on the election’s outcome, I am hearing a loss for words about how to talk about this with children. It is in response to what I am hearing that I offer this devotion for parents.

November 10, 2016 5 1 comments
Blog

In my 62 years as a member of the CRC, I’ve noticed that we tend to describe people either in terms of the opinions they hold or the stories they share. And these two are very different.

November 8, 2016 4 2 comments
Blog

Rather than advising flashier technology or younger staff, Growing Young helps churches address some cross-cultural barriers that will produce deeper, more lasting change in their engagement with today’s youth. 

November 8, 2016 0 0 comments
Blog

When I asked my class of nearly 30 students to pick their #1 line from the Confessions of Augustine, there was very little duplication. This list of their 'top lines' may encourage you to revisit this classic spiritual autobiography.

November 7, 2016 2 3 comments
Blog

How might remembering that each person has a dream—some broken, some whole—change the ways we care for each other on the street corner, at the grocery store, in our congregations and in our neighborhood? 

November 3, 2016 3 3 comments
Blog

The artist Prince will be remembered for a long time. He had an impressive property, a studio, and countless records to spark people’s memory of him. But what about me? Will anyone remember me?

November 2, 2016 3 1 comments
Blog

When a congregation repents well, its culture will lean towards humility, teachability, hospitality, and a healthy vulnerability that shares how the Lord’s power is made perfect in its weakness.

October 28, 2016 1 0 comments
Blog

We’ve all heard someone say, “My faith story is boring. I grew up in a Christian family. I went to Christian schools...And that’s about all there is to tell.” Well, let’s get one thing straight right now: There is no such thing as a “boring” faith story.

October 27, 2016 2 0 comments
Blog

When is the last time you and other leaders in your church formally reflected on this question, “Where does Jesus live in our church?”

October 25, 2016 1 0 comments
Blog

I can remember even now the sense of awe and gratefulness I would feel as I, a child, watched from a dark corner while the adults in my life made themselves vulnerable before God and each other.

October 24, 2016 0 3 comments
Resource, Conference or Event

Westwood CRC is excited to host the "4 Chair Discipling Seminar" in Kalamazoo on November 5. The training helps a church with an overall strategy for building a ministry that multiplies disciples. 

October 20, 2016 0 0 comments
Resource

The toolkit is divided into sections on becoming a storytelling church, shaping our stories, and sharing our stories in many different facets of your church’s ministry.

October 14, 2016 1 0 comments
Blog

At this fork, I find myself praying prayers like these: “Lord, the news cycle has helped me to see the great pit of fear that lives inside me. I feel paralyzed and confused. Pierce my fear with the power of your Spirit...”

October 12, 2016 6 5 comments
Resource

To celebrate 20 years of women's ordination in the CRC, First CRC of Toronto has prepared a resource package for churches in Classis Toronto and across the CRC to commemorate this milestone.

October 10, 2016 0 0 comments
Blog

As the US election date draws nearer—a date being closely watched on both sides of our border—my prayer is that the Christian voice will increasingly become shaped by tenderness and tears. 

October 7, 2016 3 1 comments
Blog

Who has the time to practice solitude? Well, we all do. If you’re willing to schedule a lunch with someone or schedule a meeting, you can schedule a meeting with God and just be present with him. 

October 6, 2016 1 2 comments
Resource, Conference or Event

InterGenerate is the first multi-denominational conference about bringing generations together! It will be held at Nashville’s Lipscomb University from June 25-27, 2017. Sound exciting? We think so! 

October 5, 2016 1 0 comments

Pages

RSS

I'm curious about what the link was, and why it wasn't posted. Also wondering why you didn't try to post it here.

I believe that any discussion of abortion needs to include the underlying reasons that would lead a woman to make such a decision. I like to refer folks to feminists for life. Perhaps if we lived in a perfect world, there would be no need for abortion; we're not in heaven yet. Personally, I would like to see abortion become very rare, and I'm happy to work toward that end. 

As this piece states, "We owe it to everyone to educate each other about reproduction and abortion. We also need to create spaces in our ministries to extend the love, mercy, and grace that we have in Christ." This is why this piece concludes with a request for recommended resources that speak the truth with mercy and grace. 

Thank you for this post. It helpfully reminds us of the various pressures women with unplanned pregnancies face.

You said of women seeking abortion counseling that "few knew the facts about what having an abortion entails." Yet, when I sent a link giving a clinically accurate, non-graphic description of what happens during different abortion procedures with a suggestion it be posted for information on the OSJ abortion page it was rejected. If you didn't like that one, perhaps you could find another. As you said about women seeking an abortion, "They need education, resources and support."

Thanks Shannon for a thoughtful article. We do need to talk about abortion. And we also need to remember that we are called to love one another, including people who face an unwanted pregnancy. We live in a very, very broken world where children are not always valued or loved as they deserve; where the amazing ability of women to bear new life is not always celebrated as the miracle that it is; where men don't always take their share of responsibility for the children that they have fathered; and where sexual violence has reached almost epidemic proportions; and this list could go on... Abortion is wrong; so are many aspects of this broken world that lead up to abortion. How do we talk about abortion, and also reflect the love and compassion of our Savior.

What a great story. Thanks, Staci. I'm reminded of how, more Sundays than not, my parents would invite someone over for coffee/lunch after church (especially new visitors). We met a lot of interesting people and, to us kids, it certainly modeled the value of hospitality. Plus I can't tell you how many times I've crossed paths with someone who made the connection and said 'hey, I was at your house once!'

Let's keep this thread going....who's next with an 'act of kindness' memory that left an impression?

Thank you Syd for not only talking about the "theory" of hospitality but giving concrete examples of what it can look like. Often I think we use words without really understanding what we are meaning.

Hi Tim! Just wanted to give you a heads up that part 4 was just posted here

Currently in a season where dear friends are grappling with death (and we all are grieving), I sincerely appreciate this article. Especially love this reminder: "With the exception of faith, hope and love, spiritual subtraction is about looking this one hard truth square in the face – everything is passing away. It’s about practicing death and learning how to let go in many small ways, so that when we’re facing the “big” letting go of our physical death, we’ll be ready." 

Thanks, Sam. 

posted in: Spiritual Math

It's only when the seed falls to the ground and dies that there there can be growth and harvest.

posted in: Spiritual Math

I would love to see the remainder of this series. I've reposted the first 3 parts on our church's FB page and received some positive feedback. But I have not seen any more parts. If they're available please post!

Thank you

Love this framing of faith formation! Wondering if we would consider the practice of the classic spiritual disciplines to be ways to "subtract" in our lives. Certainly fasting, silence and solitude nicely fit in that framework. I wonder how often we consider our liturgy as opportunities to present both addition and subtraction on a weekly basis.  

posted in: Spiritual Math

Sam, so good to be enriched again by your wise observation!  I'm going to add "walking" to my job description!

Peter Stellingwerff

posted in: Walking Like Jesus

Thank-you for these words! :) 

A number of our churches are engaged in learning about how to rightly understand godly authenticity through the Ridder Church Renewal Process. To continue to build on what you have shared, Syd, I'd like to share some of the insights from the Ridder Process.

True authenticity happens when you bring all of what you know about yourself to all of what you know about God. I find that this fits perfectly with what you share under #1. Such a life of reflecting and growing through various avenues of spiritual formation/practices leads to continuous transformation of our knowledge (as well as directly impacting how we live) of our self and of God; which is connected to your second point.

A third value to consider when discussing authenticity is the growth point to challenge our strident individual practice: authentic community, that is, a community of people who share and sustain a common purpose with one another. It is in these small communities of individuals supporting one another in the practice of authenticity that the Spirit works to admonish, challenge, encourage, and help one another in truth, with love and patience. (1 Thes 5.14) Others helps us see our blind spots, being in community helps us live in God's design (i.e. relationally) and helps us to experience the very fundamental Christian truth: transformation does not happen without submission. In particular, such communities are the only safe place to be authentic before others because they are the only place where we might hear that what we know of ourselves is not true in light of what we know of God. 

When we "fill out" what we understand about authenticity in this way, we see that the key value is not simply saying what's so for you as you are right now, but coming to understanding and action surrounding where Christ through the Spirit is leading you to be transformed to the Father's design. In authenticity, we are coming to terms with the old that needs to go and the new creation that has come (or is coming!) (2 Cor 5.17)

Thank you for this Syd. In my church over the last few years I hear a lot about wanting to grow in authenticity. That sounds like the "stand alone authenticity" you describe. Knowing that true authenticity is linked with spiritual practices gives us a path forward to developing real spiritual community.

Alright, Sam, you've convinced me to read this! I'll have to add my favorite line as a comment :) 

posted in: Confessions

Just ran across these words from a sermon on the Holy Spirit by A.W. Tozer:  There is more of God in Augustine's Confessions than there is in all of the books written in fundamental circles in the last fifty years. If I were on an island and I could have a pile of all the fundamental, full-gospel literature written in the last fifty years, or have Augustine's Confessions, I would give up all the rest to keep the one book because God is in that  book.

posted in: Confessions

I have no words to express my sorrow.  

I know God is sovereign.

i know God calls us to live in unity.

I know God calls us to both speak the truth and speak it in love. 

 

But on Sunday I will sit with people whose decisions will intensely impact the marginalized in society in extremely negative ways. Many do so in utter ignorance of the pain this decision has on people who don't look like them.  It is mystifying to them. 

And I know that the church has been called to reconcile around the table since its inception... but I would be lying if I didn't say that I think we have lost our way as a church... and I weep.  Not metaphorically. I've been crying a lot these past few days, and not just weeping with those who weep.  Weeping when I'm alone too.  

I fear it will get much worse before it gets better.  

posted in: Blessed

 As a student of Dr. Hamstra's, I think this is an excellent example how Augustine's "Confessions" speaks to each reader with a different perspective.  It touches everyone differently as to how the individual is not content, not satisfied, until it is home with the Father.  I don't mean "at home with Father" to be the relationship that occurs after death, but the relationship one finds through complete surrender to the will of God.  Can that surrendered relationship occur here on earth?  I'm not sure but I am praying that I find my rest in doing His will.

posted in: Confessions

Thanks for that example, Steve. It's a reminder of the importance of how as God's family we need to walk beside each other as we experience our dreams--both broken and whole.

 

Karen, here is one more example of broken dreams - couples preparing for their child and finding out that he/she has disabilities. How can we be there for them as they are forced to rethink their dreams?

The sudden death of Prince hit me and several of my family & friends hard. I had to really wrestle with why, and what endures when greatness is fleeting.

https://mbentley.org/2016/04/22/the-purple-reign-ends-goodbye-prince/

I absolutely love this post. It almost brought tears to my eyes as our interactions would look so different if we remembered the hopes and dreams that each and every person around us has. Eternal perspective! 

Beautiful, Angela! I would really love to see that video and include it in Faith Formation Ministries' Faith Storytelling toolkit so other churches can see it too. If you're willing, send it to me at sswartzentruber@crcna.org!

I love this, Angela! What awesome stories probably came out of the question you asked. Thanks for sharing. 

Thank you, Syd!
  Fear - the pit of fear that lives inside of me.  It casts out love, or tries to.  And fuels my racial junk.  You help express how deeply rooted my race junk is.  and how important is the repentance that's on the way to love and joy and peace.

We are new to intnetional faith story telling. Because of what I read on the Network, this summer we video taped 10 responses to the question "Tell me about a meaningful Bible passage and why it is meaningful?" We included youth to seniors and different nationalities. We showed the first one last Sunday and I think it went well. It was very powerful to hear this story from this particular person. I hope it is the beginning of us being much more vulnerable with each other as we share our faith.

"I'm sure glad we have a God who is greater than either of these..."

Amen, Helen! Thanks for your insightful comment. 

This is a year when the churches are being tested. Those in authority over us or those planning to be have not acted much like we would prefer. The language and accusations have brought us down low. Those running for the highest office of the land have been exposed as being sinners just as we are. However, comments made by the viewers would seem to be made by those who don't sin. I keep thinking of David who had an affair with Bathsheba. To cover his misdeeds, he put Uriah in the front lines of the battle after two other attempts failed. Yet David was a man of God. If it's Trumpland that one wants to criticize or Clinton Foundation and its implications, I'm sure glad we have a God who is greater than either of these. Whatever happens, He will bring it to pass. If it is to punish us for our rebelliousness or bring us back to Him through a lifestyle we haven't experienced for many decades, His wisdom is far greater than ours. I will do my civic duty and vote for the one I feel is more god-fearing and will lead in an honest and integral manner.

What about the challenge the Clinton campaign lays before the church?

 

Thanks for leading with transparency and humility like this, Syd! Really appreciate it. 

 

Thanks, Joshua, for the post.  In the past, I felt a sense of guilt at my inability to practice the presence of God for more than a few minutes.  A spiritual guide, farther along in the journey of faith than I was, said, "Think of God the same way that you think of a loving parent with a small child.  The parent finds great joy when the child snuggles up and just quietly sits on the parent's lap.  However, a parent's joy and love aren't diminished in any when the child then runs off to play.  Giving myself the same grace that God extends to me has kept me from feeling guilty and, over time, my ability to be present and just "sit in the Father's lap" has greatly increased. 

posted in: Entering Solitude

Beautifully said, Syd, and worthy of reflection and action!  Thanks for these words of wisdom and challenge.

Jeanne Kallemeyn

Outstanding Joshua, keep working at it!!!

It was a struggle for me as well, we often live our lives at 100 mph. Trying to put the brakes on long enough to for anything other then ourselves can be seem unnecessary and impossible. I for one have to make my time in the a.m., but my wife and I have a separate time we set aside for prayer together. My personal time is around 3:30 a.m. or as soon as I have my first cup of coffee down. I'm not sure exactly how the progress came about but I started by just reading a verse each morning I am now up to about 30 minutes of prayer. I found that the more I prayed the more I found to pray for. I can only say I believe that to be the Holy Spirit growing in me. Either way I truly enjoyed you post, thank you.   

posted in: Entering Solitude

I have come to see and understand that, along with the truth that Jesus died in my place, he also lived in my place - lived that wholly faithful and sinless life that I cannot.  Still, to know Jesus and to listen to Him, to 'live in his neighborhood' as someone put it, I can't miss the push to imitate Him, to do what he says and what himself does.  I am coming to see that the closer I am to Jesus, realizing what it took for Him to deal with sin, the more I can come to see what sin is, especially in my own life.  Separating law and gospel has always led to problems, but seeing them united in Christ seems like the best way forward, at least to me.

Nice article Brianna.  It has a nice balance to a concern that many in the Reformed tradition seem to feel.  I think that concern has something to do with the legalistic perspective of the Reformed faith.  Reformed people have always placed a certain emphasis on law.  I’m recalling, in my mind, Calvin’s three uses of the law.  The using of the law as a rule of gratitude seems to easily backfire and result in guilt, whether warranted or not.

When Reformed Christians speak of the law as a rule of gratitude for Christian living, it easily disintegrates into a measuring stick for Christian living.  And when you don’t measure up, the result is guilt and guilty feelings.

The Pharisees, of course, were driven by law.  They would use the law as a measuring stick to guilt their fellow Jews and Jesus into obedience.  Jesus didn’t buy into such a mentality.  Jesus seemed to dismiss much of the Jewish cherished laws.  Instead Jesus’ emphasis was on compassion.  Have you ever noticed how often Jesus was characterized as having compassion on and for people, whether on the crowds, individuals, sinners, or even good people?  And much of Jesus’ teachings focused on compassion.  Have you ever noticed how often the Pharisees were characterized as having compassion?  Not once.  So as to Jesus’ teaching and example, law and compassion seem to be antithetical to each other. 
  
Paul, at times encouraged joyful giving, akin to having compassion.  As Reformed Christians we, instead, follow a measuring stick of grateful giving (legalistic), which gets spelled out as giving a measurable tithe, or an individual quota, a classical quota, and a denominational quota.  It all gets broken down into a legalistic amount that Reformed Christians should be giving, whether as churches or as individuals.  And when not meeting that measure, the result is guilty feelings and guilt.  The law, even as a rule (measuring stick) of gratitude (which the Pharisees would also advocate) becomes a measure of our failure more often than a measure of our success.

Law or legalism most often has a negative effect of bringing about guilt and feelings of doubt.  Even the use of the law as a rule of gratitude is not so different than what the Pharisees practiced.  I’m quite certain they would have seen law keeping as rule of gratitude for the deliverance they felt from God, too.  But they put a heavy emphasis on human responsibility to be law keepers, even as Reformed people have done.  And our failure always seems to bring about guilt.  That is another emphasis of the Reformed faith, human failure.

Christ wants our lives to be characterized by compassion, whether it is forgiving others or doing good for others, but not as legalistic law keepers.  Perhaps the secret to a joyous Christian experience is to get our eyes off the law and instead live compassionate lives of love for God and neighbor.

 

Thanks Syd! I like this approach a lot.  All pastors are not capable of doing this.  You are a teacher/preacher and that makes a difference.  Maybe seminarians need to be taught how to do this, and not only with the young.  Many older members could use their gifts in this way also.

Thanks for sharing this, Staci. It's wonderful reminder of what it means to walk (or run!) alongside someone.

I love these ideas, Karen. Thanks for sharing them! I was just thinking last night about how to encourage my kids as one of them is going back to school next week. I was thinking of having a "prayer meal" where everyone has the opportunity to talk about what makes them anxious or sad about going back to school, and what makes them happy or excited about going back to school during dinner, and afterward we take some time to pray about them for each other.

Thanks for writing this! There is so much wisdom in your advice to come along side people who are facing circumstances that can shake even the strongest faith to the core. Love this question: "Are our friendships, our churches, our Christian communities, safe spaces for people to ask the hard questions without being thrown easy answers, or worse, being ridiculed and dismissed?"

Thank you for this encouraging piece!  I'm forwarding to several people right away!

Unfortunate that English doesn't differentiate between Faith, a collection of dogma and faith, "belief" in anything."

Thanks for sharing this, Laura. I love your ideas for other ways a congregation might also use this blessing.

A remarkable and encouraging piece of writing. I've already shared it with several people. Thank you. ~Stanley

Thanks for your feedback, Mark.  I hear what  you are saying and I will have to give this some thought.  Words matter.   I do resonate with the idea of opportunity for the whole congregation to grow in its understanding of what it means to be community.

Thanks Leslie! Great thoughts. Here's one for you: I'm beginning to wonder if "accommodations" is even the right word. (And it's one that I use often, so this is something I'm wondering about and I invite you to wonder with me.) "Accommodations" implies that you, whoever the "you" is, are special, and so we'll do something special for you to be a part of us. We don't call stairs an "accommodation", even though there are some people in church who could move from one floor to another using nothing but a rope. Nor do we consider electric lights or toilets or microphones and speakers to be "accommodations". Here's another book to consider, Turning Barriers into Bridges: The Inclusive Use of Information and Communication Technology for Churches in America, Britain, and Canada by John Jay Frank.  In that book he argues that what some of us think of as "accommodations" are actually just ways for people to participate. So in the case of the man you describe, the unplugged mic is not an accommodation for the man who would use it sometimes, it's an opportunity for the whole congregation to be more the community that God calls your congregation to be. So I wonder, if we don't use the word "accommodation", what would be a better word? 

Bekki you don't know me but you DO know well some of my family members Doug, Leslie, Kiel, Liz and Jack. Jeri is my husband Bill's oldest sister. You, my dear sister in Christ, are a blessing to so very many. I forwarded this write-up to Doug and family, as I'm not sure they get the weekly CRC Network. THANK YOU for your beautiful testimony, your sunshine nature, and for being such a blessing to the Hoek family, in particular over the past six months through their loss of Jeri. You have indeed been "baptized in sunshine"!! :) 

Love this article!!  Thank you Bekki for sharing with us.

This is an amazing testimony! I am truly left without words.

Thank you, Bekki and Staci, for sharing this very special and purposeful story! 

Thank you for your question. I emailed the rest of our Faith Formation Ministries team to compile some resources for you and below is the list we came up with:

We hope these are helpful! Please don't hesitate to reach out to us with any more questions. 

Pages